Sales and Sales Management Blog

November 28, 2011

How to Work the Room at a Networking Event

I hear complaints from sellers and business owners all the time about how much time and effort they’ve wasted attending networking events.  The conclusion for a huge number is that networking events are no longer part of their prospecting activity.

That’s unfortunate because networking events really can be great places to find and connect with prospects.  The problems most have encountered with networking events is they’ve never been taught a systematic, disciplined format for managing and working these events and without having a way to manage the event, they become frustrated as they realize all they’ve done to date is waste their time.

Typically, the frustrations and wasted time arise from three fundamental issues:

  • Investing time at the wrong networking events
  • overblown expectations
  • not having a plan of attack

Networking events, especially those of a general nature organized by the chamber or a general business organization, will not provide you with a plate full of potential prospects.  If you can walk out of a networking event with three or four good potential contacts, you have done well.

Unfortunately, many, especially those who are not networking junkies, attend these functions with the hope of leaving the event with a whole stack of business cards of great prospects.  When their expectations are not met, they conclude that networking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and decide their time is better spent elsewhere.

Besides unrealistic expectations about the number of prospects they’ll meet, a great many attend networking events without thinking through what their real goal is.  Unless you are selling a relatively common consumer or business commodity, you’re not going to sell at these events.  And since you can’t sell, what should be your primary goal?  Mine, when I attend these events, is not to talk about myself and what I do but to listen and ask questions, to learn as much as I can about the other person in order to qualify them, to begin building a relationship with them, and to have them tell me what issues and problems of theirs I’m going to address when we do get around to discussing who I am and what I do (which, by the way, won’t be at the event).

In addition, most attendees waste the majority of their networking time.  Rather than an organized plan to maximize their benefit from the event, they simply attend hoping to “run into” prospects.

Yet, if you attend regularly and with realistic expectations, networking can eventually pay great dividends.  There are three “secrets” to making networking pay:

1.  Know Where You’re Going

Knowing who is likely to attend the event you are considering is as important as attending the event.  If you are considering going to an event you have never attended before, try to get a copy of the host organization’s member roster.  By examining the membership directory, you can get a fairly good idea of the type of people you can expect to meet.  If it appears there are a reasonable number of people and businesses of interest, plan on attending.  If you can’t get a copy of their member directory, call the organization and ask—most won’t mind the inquiry and will be happy to give you as much information as they can.

2.  Know Why You’re Going

Go with a definite number of contacts you want to make.  Determine how many good contacts you will need in order to make the investment of time worthwhile.  Depending on your particular product or service, that number may be only one or two—or may be much higher at five or six.  By establishing realistic, objective criteria, you can easily determine whether or not your time was well spent and whether or not you want to attend the event again in the future.

3.  Have a System for Working the Event

For most business owners and salespeople, the real networking event killer isn’t so much who is in attendance or even their own unrealistic expectations, but rather the time they waste during the event.

Working a networking room requires planning and a clear vision of how you will spend your time.  I and many of my clients that I’ve taught the following networking method have found it to be easy and very effective.  The goal of this process is to spend the time identifying quality prospects, learning as much about them as possible in a short amount of time, and once you believe you have a viable prospect, setting a phone or lunch meeting with them.

Arrive about 15 minutes before the official event start time.  Wear a large, easy to read, high quality, permanent nametag that features your first and last name, not just your first name (your company name is the least important part of the name tag as you want them to remember you, not your company),  Of course, have lots of business cards.  Business cards should be blank on the back.  Wear clothing with two easy to reach pockets.

Station yourself close to the entry door—close enough that people might mistake you for one of the hosts.  Greet each person as he or she enters.  Nothing more than a greeting—and, hopefully, noticing their company name.  All you want is to hear a name, put a name to a face and to make a quick judgment as to whether they might be a prospect.

When arrivals begin to slow, begin your progression around the room.  Move in one direction—left or right.  Greet the first person or group of people you meet.  This round of conversations should be short—two to three minutes at most.  Your goal is to introduce yourself and learn as much as you can in a very short span of time about the person or persons you’ve just met.  Don’t clutter the conversation with information about yourself—keep everything focused on the person or the persons you are speaking with.  Your goal at this event isn’t to sell, it’s to qualify prospects.  This will be your second meeting with many of these people, although you will not remember their names.  Two meetings=two opportunities to put a name with a face.

Since many, if not most, will offer you a business card, you will begin to segregate cards into an interest stack and a non-interest stack.  When you meet someone you believe you’d like to get to know better—i.e., a potential prospect put their business card in your right-hand pocket.  Those you don’t believe are prospects, put in your left-hand pocket.  This system allows you to immediately find the cards of those you want to reconnect with during the event without having to try to remember their name.  Simple: Right pocket card=reconnect; left pocket=don’t reconnect with today.

If you meet someone you believe might be a real prospect for you, before moving on to another group let them know of your interest in learning more about their business and ask their permission to contact them via a phone call at a later date.  Once they agree, take one of your business cards and on the blank reverse side, write the day and an hour span of time during which you will call:  “Thursday, March 12 between 10:30-11:30.”  This day and time will be the same for everyone you meet that you want to call.  It keeps you from having to remember when you will call, but because it is an hour span, you’ll have time to make several calls without concern that you won’t keep your appointment.

Now, move to the next group and continue in this manner for the majority of the event.  About 30 to 45 minutes prior to the end of the event, go into your last phase.  The last phase is taking the few cards in your right-hand pocket and seeking to reconnect with those people.  This will be your third chance to meet them and to put a name and face together.  In addition, since it will be your third meeting, they’ll begin to feel like they know you and they will probably greet you as a friend rather than as new acquaintance.  Just as you are implanting their name and face in your mind through multiple meetings with them during the event, you’re planting your name and face in their mind.

This conversation will be a little more in-depth, but, again, keep the focus on the other person.  During this conversation move the conversation to the point that instead of a phone call on Thursday, you can invite them to lunch or to a coffee meeting.  If you can’t set a meeting, prior to moving to the next person, again reiterate the phone call on Thursday and give them another business card with the same information written on the back.

On Thursday, make your phone calls and close for a get to know one another meeting.

This structure allows you to “meet” a prospect three times during the course of the event, set up a definite telephone conversation—and very possibly a lunch meeting–and help both you and the prospect move from the “just met” stage to acquaintance stage very quickly, and all without having to remember any details during the course of the event.

The goal of the conversations is to learn as much as you can about the person you are meeting, not to talk about yourself.  You’re there to learn and to qualify.  You can’t sell at a short networking event unless you’re selling a commodity, but you can sure learn a great deal and identify new prospects.  But to do that you have to listen a great deal more than talk.

Since people love to talk about themselves and if you get them talking about themselves and their company you can learn how to laser focus the conversation when it does get around to what you do, give them the freedom to open up as much as possible. In addition, never finish a conversation with a real prospect.  Intentionally leave the conversation hanging—and then invite a further phone or lunch conversation.  I never really talk about what I do until the lunch meeting.  By that time I’ve learned a great deal about the other person and I can tailor my discussion of what I do to the exact issues they’ve disclosed.  Instead of some weak, general elevator speech, I give a pointed response to their needs.

If you keep your expectations reasonable and focus you time during the event on the few true prospects you meet, you’ll find your time at networking events to be both more enjoyable and profitable.


November 21, 2011

It’s Time to Vote for the 2011 Top Sales Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 12:49 pm

It’s the end of the year and that means time for the second annual Top Sales Awards. Top Sales Awards is an online award celebration of the best in sales—from the top sales book published in 2011 to the Top Sales Though Leader to the Top Sales Productivity Tool.

Last year’s inaugural voting and ceremony were well received and honored a number of top men, women, and companies who are committed to helping sellers and sales leaders perform better.  This year’s list of nominees is not only bigger but expands the number of categories in which medals will be awarded.

For the past few weeks nominations have been gathered and now each category has anywhere from 10 to 12 finalists to be voted on. The top three vote getters in each category will be awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals with the gold going to the top vote getter, the silver to second highest, and the bronze to the third place finalist.

Public voting—that’s you and me—accounts for 50% of the vote with the other 50% coming from a panel of three expert judges.  Once the public and expert panel voting has been done, results will given over to an independent auditor for final calculations.

The 2011 Top Sales Award categories are:

Top Sales Assessment Tool

Top Sales & Marketing Thought Leader

Top Sales & Marketing Book

Top Sales Article

Top Sales & Marketing Blog

Top Sales & Marketing Resource Site

Top Selling Solution

Top Sales Productivity Tool

Top Social Media Site

Top CRM Solution

Top Sales & Marketing Blog Post

Top Sales & Marketing EBook

Top Sales & Marketing Webinar

Top Sales Job Board

I encourage you to head over and begin voting.   You’ll find names and sites you’re familiar with–and maybe some that are new to you.  Whether some are new to you or you’re familiar with them all, your input is needed—so go support your favorites (and by the way, I’m honored to have been nominated in three categories—and I’m not too proud to ask for your voting consideration).

Then tune into the awards ceremony as Gerhard Gschwandner of Selling Power and Jonathan Farrington of the JF Corporation host the virtual award ceremony in a massive conference call.  You’ll not only hear the winners, but you’ll get to hear from a lot of the winners as they are informed of their win.  Last year was great fun, this year will be even better.

November 18, 2011

Sometimes Unconventional is Better than Being “Good”

Filed under: attitude,management,sales,Sales Process,selling — Paul McCord @ 2:58 pm
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Won’t ever make it. 

Worst I’ve ever seen. 


He makes a mockery of football as a game of skill. 

You can’t play the game like that.

I suspect every NFL fan recognizes those as recent statements by various football commentators and pundits about Tim Tebow.  All of these men have a certain vision of what an NFL quarterback should be.  For them there is a set of skills that anyone who wants to be a successful quarterback must have.  There are also accepted offenses that can be successful in the NFL and by extension there are others that are doomed to failure if tried.

Football for these folks is a predictable sport—right skills with the right offense mean success and anyone who deviates will inevitably fail.

These guys recognize that Tebow doesn’t fit their predetermined concept of what an NFL quarterback should—must—be.

But the rookie quarterback has something that doesn’t fit into their nice, neat, predictable formula—he has a knack and a drive to win.

He is a winner—one who finds a way to make the football world bow to his talents and more importantly, his will.  Despite all the predictions of failure, he wins.

Certainly Tebow isn’t the only individual who seems to be able to will success.  There are many in every field—including sales.

Unfortunately many times these natural winners end up losing.  Not because they can’t win but because their coaches and managers try to force them to conform to what they believe a quarterback—or salesperson—should be. 

They try to force them to work with a process or system that the individual’s skills can’t support.  They try to make the individual win pretty according to the industry accepted definition of pretty, and thus destroy the individual’s ability to be successful. 

I’ve seen many sellers who had an unconventional sales style (unconventional, not unethical) fail because their manager forced them to work within a system that they were unsuited for.

Process and systemization is currently a hot topic within the sales field.  I’m a big advocate of process.  I have a disciplined, proven process for almost everything I do.  I think most of us need to work within a system that gives us order and as much control of the outcome as possible and every company should have a universal process for their sales team.

But I also recognize that there are some—a few—who are more comfortable and more suited working within their own unconventional, seemingly haphazard system.  Their sales style may be ugly.  It may not make a great deal of sense to the more conventional sales mind.  It may break all the “rules” of selling.

So what?

If it is ethical and the seller is meeting the needs of the prospect without shortchanging or cheating his company, what difference does it make?

Why managers can’t recognize a winner when they see one—as it appears the football commentary world can’t recognize an unconventional winner when they see one—is beyond me. 

Why must we try to force everyone into the same  box just because it works for the majority?

Is it a misguided need to treat everyone the same?  Well, folks, not everyone are the same.

Is it a need for the manager to be in control? 

Is it a trust issue that if the person is successful outside the “rules” he or she must be doing something unethical?

Is it just laziness since it’s easier to treat everyone the same instead of dealing with individuals?

To date, Tebow’s coaches are giving him enough freedom—at least at the end of the game–to be himself and do what he knows how to do—win.  Time will tell if he can continue to will wins from a weak team. 

Hopefully those managers who have a Tebow on their team will learn the lesson Denver is learning—not everyone is conventional.  Not everyone needs to be.

November 15, 2011

3 Keys to Networking Successfully Through Business and Industry Associations

Filed under: Networking,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 10:40 am
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For many sellers one of the biggest wastes of time and energy are networking events.  They go with the expectation of meeting a host of great prospects and leave having done nothing more than met a couple of nice people and consumed a couple of glasses of cheap wine.

Networking, for most, seems to be nothing more than a show up and “do it” activity that they invest little time in thinking through how to maximize their networking effort. They view networking as a grazing activity, seeking out venues where they can find a sizable group of men and women, and spit out their ‘value proposition’ to as many of them as possible in as little time as possible.  Favorite haunts tend to be the local chamber of commerce; the networking events of various local business associations and groups; lead exchange breakfast groups; and the proverbial family and friends.

Not surprisingly, few salespeople who approach networking in this manner find their time and effort to be well spent.  Like everything else in sales, networking takes skill, planning, and a disciplined process in order to produce quality results.  Grazing for contacts and leads generally doesn’t work because it violates some key aspects of business and human nature.

Location, location, location.  The old real estate adage applies to networking as well.  Where you network is of prime importance.

Although easy, floating into the chamber networking event isn’t likely to produce results.  In most instances, these events are overwhelmingly dominated by other sellers who are also looking for the opportunity to meet new prospects–and who are not the least bit interested in being sold to.  Instead of finding yourself in a room of 125 prospects, it is far more likely to find yourself in a room of 100 salespeople and 25 business owners and managers-of which only one or two would be quality prospects for you.  Certainly you can meet prospects.  And certainly there are sales made from the contacts developed at chamber meetings.  But the return on time and energy investment is usually extremely small.

Lead exchange groups can be very viable opportunities for those selling the right products and services.  A mechanic or quick print company might find a lead exchange group to be an extremely valuable source of new business.  On the other hand, a salesperson selling enterprise solutions or a management recruiter would more than likely find little if any success in one of these groups.  Nevertheless, I’ve know management consultants, copyright attorneys, and financial services salespeople who sell money management services with a minimum portfolio size of a million dollars who invested their time and energy in these groups before they discovered it was a poor match for their services.

This is not to say that networking through groups can’t be worthwhile.  It can.  You just have to spend your time and energy in the right places.  Where are the right places?  That, of course, depends on what you sell, but whatever you sell, the right place is where you’ll find a large number of legitimate prospects and that tends to be in specialized organizations and associations.

If you sell high end printing equipment, you want to spend your time where prospects who purchase high-end printing equipment gather-say the local associations for architects, manufacturers, or design companies.  If you sell financial services, you would spend your time where there are likely a number of wealthy prospects.  You want to be where your prospects are, it’s that simple.

Networking general business groups tends to be low return; networking specialized groups where your prospects gather tends to be high return.  Although this is common sense, it goes against the grain of what most salespeople do.

Human Nature: Networking events are usually a terrible time to try to market yourself because you’re going against the grain of the objectives of most of the participants.  There will certainly be a few participants at these events whose only objective is to meet new people or to mingle with friends, but most are there for one reason-to find and connect with new business connections.  And how do they intend to do that?  By spending their time talking about themselves, their business, their needs, their offerings.

Probably more than 80% of the contacts you make at a typical networking event have little interest in hearing your story because that’s not what they are there for.  They are there to get their story out.  Whether they are looking to make a sale, find a potential new employee, find a partner, or whatever, their goal is to satisfy their need, not to make a purchase.  Their networking methodology is to float from person to person until they find a live target and then to try to wow them with their value proposition and set an appointment.  This is hardly an atmosphere conducive to finding and connecting with quality prospects.

Even if you invest your time in organizations and associations that are full of your prime prospects you can’t go with the intent of collaring prospects and spewing forth your value proposition, your product’s benefits, and how great you are.  Networking is a process, not a one-time event.  Networking is about developing relationships, not grazing for low hanging fruit.

To successfully network takes time, commitment, and a sincere desire to get to know-and help-people.   Networking isn’t a short-term sales generator; rather it is a long-term business builder.

Networking in an organization or association requires a commitment on your part to the organization.  Thinking you can just show up at a networking event and have an impact is going to be disappointing.  But becoming involved-becoming a part of the group can generate a great deal of sustained business because it caters to the way human beings think and how they respond to others.

Humans have a tendency to view their own problems as somewhat unique.  Intellectually they recognize the universality of their own issues, but emotionally they view their problems as distinctly their own.  This tendency to view problems as unique can be one of the most powerful opportunities a salesperson can take advantage of.

Although few problems a trucking company encounters are truly unique to the trucking industry, most decision makers in trucking companies view their industry’s issues as unique to the trucking industry.  Likewise, most decision makers in the printing business view their issues as unique to the printing industry.  This isn’t to say that the issue per se is unique but that the particulars of the issue are industry unique.  If the particulars are unique, then the solution is undoubtedly somewhat unique also.  If the particulars and the solution is unique, then it is natural that the decision maker wants to work with someone who really ‘understands’ their issues.

That ‘understanding’ of their ‘unique’ issues is where your opportunity comes in play.

By joining and becoming a part of their industry’s association, you become one of the team-in other words, you’re perceived to really ‘understand’ the ‘uniqueness’ of their problems and issues and consequently you understand the solutions they need.  People want to work with people they believe recognize and understand the uniqueness of their needs, issues and problems, not someone who treats every business and every situation in the same manner with a canned ‘solution.’  The heart specialist can charge more and is more highly respected than the family generalist because she has a unique understanding of the issues and solutions of the patient.  When seeking a divorce, most people seek out a divorce lawyer rather than a generalist because they believe the specialist has knowledge and skills the generalist doesn’t.

By becoming a part of the team you put yourself in the position of an industry specialist-you ‘know’ and ‘understand,’ and that knowing and understanding sets you apart from your competitors.  You go to the top of the list when one of the members of the organization needs your services.  You become an expert, not a generalist.

The key to successfully networking within these organizations and associations is to become an actual part of the group.  You can’t just show up at networking events-if you do you’ll be viewed as nothing more than an opportunist.  You have get in and work with the group-volunteer for committee work, help on fundraisers, and pay your dues-both in terms of money and sweat.

It’s About the Prospect, Not You: Networking is about relationships and relationships are built on mutual respect, understanding, and a sincere desire to know the other person.  To connect means to bond with the other person and bonding takes time.

Most people love to talk about themselves and they tend to naturally like and respect those people who allow them to do that.  Instead of spending your time talking about yourself and your value proposition, spending the vast majority of your initial meeting-even your initial two or three meetings-learning about the other person will pay great dividends in the long run.  Don’t rush to talk about your value proposition, your products or services, what you do for companies, or even your background.  Concentrate on getting to know the person in front of you-there will be plenty of time later to get to you and what you do.

When you let people talk you learn a great deal about them, about their likes, their history, their wants and needs, their hopes and dreams-and very quickly you learn whether or not they are viable prospects.  The more they talk, the more you learn.  The more you learn, the better opportunity you will have later to direct the conversation in directions that naturally lead to how you can serve them.

Most salespeople spend far too much time talking and far too little time listening.  This is especially so when networking.  Learn to keep your mouth shut and your ears open.  Allow your new acquaintance to lead the conversation by doing exactly what you want them to do-talk about themselves, their business, their needs.  If you remember, Peter Faulk as Columbo didn’t speak much, asked a great many questions, and always got what he wanted in the end because the suspect always ended up telling him what he needed to know-either directly or indirectly.  Turns out selling is similar-prospects always tell you what you need to know in the end if you can keep your mouth shut, ask lots of questions, and like Columbo, know how to listen.

Networking can generate a tremendous return on investment if done correctly.  By just going where your prospects go, understanding the natural tendency of humans to view their problems and issues as unique and becoming that uniquely qualified specialist who understand their issues and the solutions, and allowing your prospect to talk will open a lot more doors than trying to graze the low fruit at artificial networking events.

November 2, 2011

Is Sales 2.0 Making the Buying Process More Difficult?

Filed under: marketing,sales,Sales 2.0,selling — Paul McCord @ 12:31 pm
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Sales 2.0 has been lauded as giving the customer control of the sales process since they can now research their options and make purchase decisions long before ever speaking to a salesperson—IF they ever speak to a salesperson.

Much has been written about how this new buyer controlled process will destroy the sales industry since more and more purchasing decisions will be made without ever consulting a salesperson; how buyers will continue to demand access to more and more free, objective information; and how all of this information will make the purchasing process quicker, easier, and more efficient for buyers.

I suspect that all of the predictions will prove to be absolutely, totally, unquestioningly incorrect.

I’m willing to bet that there will be a huge increase in the number of professional,  highly specialized sellers as a result of the avalanche of information made available to buyers.. 

I’m also willing to bet that the sheer amount of information available at one’s fingertips will increase the complexity of the purchasing process for most goods—even relatively simple purchases.

Just two very quick examples:

My wife and I are in the process of a major home improvement project.  We have ripped up perfectly good carpet from two rooms and perfectly good ceramic tile from three other rooms in order to put down a stone floor so we can cover it with more carpet in the form of rugs (what humans do sometimes makes no sense from a logical standpoint).  In years past the selection of rugs for the foyer, den, dining room and kitchen would have been easy—we have a few stores in town that sell rugs and we’d make a selection from their inventory.  In reality we’d select from maybe a few hundred rugs with a couple dozen being actual contenders.

Not now.  Not with the internet.

My wife has spent weeks searching through literally thousands and thousands of rugs from hundreds of vendors from across the world.  Her choices in terms of size, design, colors, and pattern are almost limitless.  Whereas in the past she would have been satisfied to make a selection from a very manageable number of options, she is now virtually paralyzed in making a selection by the sheer number of options.  More options mean more uncertainty.  

To help make the right decision, she’s brought in a design expert—a professional service provider who would never have been hired if not for the complexity of the decision created by the volume of choices the internet provides.

Further, the design expert says that Debbie is hardly her first new client she’s acquired because of the increased design choices offered by the internet. 

Such a simple thing—buying a few rugs—should only be a day’s work.  Instead, Debbie has invested hours and hours and hours over the course of weeks searching for rugs—and still had to bring in an expert to help make the decision.

But Debbie is far from the only one who has had to call in an expert and a simple consumer purchase is scarcely the only type of purchase the internet has complicated.

A manufacturing client of mine needed to acquire a phone system for a new office they were building.  The office would open with about 25 employees but was scheduled to staff more than 100 within two years. 

They had a committee assigned to do the research and make recommendations.  Over the course of a couple of months much time and effort was spent researching options on the internet.  In a relatively short period of time the committee had stacks and stacks of articles, brochures, and a massive amount of highly technical information.  Certainly they had enough factual information to make a decision.  However, it fairly quickly became obvious to the committee members that they needed an expert to help them wade through all of their options and make a well informed decision that maximized their current investment and gave them the flexibility for the anticipated quick and large expansion.

The result was another specialized seller was hired.  The internet gave the committee members everything they needed to know, but it couldn’t give them the background and experience to make the best decision on their own.  They could, of course, called in a seller from every possible vendor, but even then they would need someone to help sort things out in order to make the best possible decision.

Now certainly it can be argued that these are simply two isolated incidents and don’t represent the norm.  It can also be argued that neither case involved a salesperson per se.

I don’t think these are unusual cases in the least and I could give many more examples.  Further, both of the experts hired are individual consultants, so they are very much salespeople.

I don’t doubt that in many cases the flood of information provided by the internet will eliminate the need for engaging a salesperson.  But I am also convinced that the very same flood of information is going to explode the need for highly specialized sellers to help consumers and businesses make sense of the enormous volume of options, technical information, and the inevitable conflicting opinions and advice buyers will be confronted with.

Information and options are good—knowing what to do with them is priceless.

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