Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 1, 2013

Book Review: Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul

principled-selling-cover-191x300Ethics.

Honesty.

Integrity.

Principles. 

All of these terms are on the tip of virtually every seller’s tongue.  We sellers talk about them, we proclaim we exhibit them in our personal and professional life, and we bombard our prospects and clients with the claim that we epitomize them and they can, thus, trust us without reserve.

To a great extent prospects have heard these claims so often and so loudly that the integrity and ethics of salespeople are a running joke.  For many as soon as a seller says they can be trusted the prospect expects to get screwed.

To top it off many sellers work for companies that preach integrity and ethics and then turn around and practice the worst possible business practices.

Many sellers are working hard to be the ethical, disciplined seller they claim to be.

Nevertheless, the question can legitimately be asked if it is possible to sell with integrity.  Can we as sellers be principled and succeed or is selling by its very nature an endeavor that demands a bit of larceny, manipulation and deception?

David Tovey has addressed the issue in Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul (Kogan Page:  2012).

Tovey argues that it is in fact possible—and not only possible but profitable—to with integrity than to sell using manipulation, deception, or by stretching the truth and trying to be all things to all people.

Principled Selling sets forth a comprehensive look at the sales process—both how it has been practiced in the past and how it should be practiced in today’s rapidly changing sales environment. 

The heart of Principled Selling is the five principles of selling:

Principle 1: selling is about motivation not manipulation

Principle 2: profitable relationships require investment

Principle 3: there must be congruency throughout the business development process

Principle 4: long-term relationships depend on being authentic

Principle 5: being human gets results

From those five principles Tovey constructs a process and shows in detail how to find and attract prospects and then turn them into clients. 

Unlike many books that start out and stay in the ivory tower of sales theory, Principled Selling gets down to the real world through the use of case studies and fleshing out the skills and attitudes necessary to successfully sell with full integrity.

If you’re struggling with how to become a fully transparent and ethical seller or if you’d simply like to learn more trust based skills, pick up a copy of Principled Selling—you really can sell more without selling your soul.

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February 25, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Pt 3: You Don’t Need Referrals, You Need Introductions

How often as a B2B seller have you been advised to ask your client for referrals?  If your experience is typical then you’ve heard that advice just about every time you turn around.

Most of us have had it pounded into our heads that we need to ask for referrals after the sale has been completed. We just need to do a good job for our client and then, after the sale, ask them if they know of anyone who could benefit from our products or services and we’ll easily and rapidly grow our business.

Depending upon the seller you ask, that referral question can take many different forms, such as:

“Ms. Client, who do you know that could use my products or services?”

“Mr. Client, who do you know that I should be talking to?”

“Mr. Client, who else do you know that I could help?”

“Ms. Client, if you happen to run across anyone else that I might be able to help, would you give them one of my cards?”

But no matter the specific language of the question we’ve been taught to ask, almost all of them have the same root problem that results in our receiving few high quality referrals: all of the questions most of us have been taught to ask require our client to do our work for us.

In virtually every case we are asking our client to come up with the name of someone they know who they believe could use our services—even though our client really doesn’t know who is a really strong prospect for us; even though our client doesn’t know all of our capabilities; and we’ve put them on the spot asking them to come up with a great referral for us with only a few seconds to think about it.

Not surprisingly most of the “referrals” we get—usually nothing more than the name and phone number—prove to be no more qualified than if we had thrown darts at the phonebook and are, thus, nothing more than time wasters.  Certainly one here and there turns into a client—but for most of us the pickings are pretty slim.

So if asking your client for a referral to someone they know who might need your products or services doesn’t work very well, is it possible to get a large number of high quality referrals from clients?

Yes, absolutely it is.

But instead of asking a weak question like “who do you know that might be able to use my products or services,” it makes far more sense for us to do the hard work of finding out who our client can refer by figuring out who our client knows that we know is a great prospect for us and then asking for a direct introduction to that person.

This method demands more than simply popping off a question at the end of the sale trying to get your client to do your work, but it is powerful because:

  • You are making it so easy for your client to give a great referral that all they have to do is say “yes”
  • You have relieved your client of an uncomfortable and often unwanted burden
  • You are far more likely to get a positive response from your client because instead of asking them to rummage around their mental file cabinet trying to figure out who to refer, you’re asking for a specific and easy to fulfill action—an introduction to someone they know
  • The introduction you get will be to a quality prospect because it will be to a prospect that you pick and that you know you want to be introduced to
  • You will have a much greater chance of setting an appointment with the prospect by being personally introduced by your client than if you just get their name and phone number and call them out of the blue
  • Over time, you can get multiple high quality introductions from each client. They become a never ending source of quality referrals by simply asking for additional specific introductions as you earn them

By investing the time and effort to do the detective work necessary to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to you are not only taking the burden off your client, you’re making it so easy for your client to give you a great referral that the only thing they have to do is say “yes” when you ask.

Instead of relying on your client to come up with a top referral you’re insuring that the introduction you receive is one that you want to receive.

The primary issue now becomes how to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to.  That issue demands developing some detective talents such as keen observation, listening, and analytical skills—skills that will be covered in part 4 of this series on referrals.

In addition to being able to uncover great introductions that your client can give you, the question you ask naturally changes.  Instead of asking your client to come up with a name and phone number, your question will now be geared toward confirming that the client knows your intended prospect and then moves on to asking for the introduction.

Depending upon the circumstances the request could look very much like this:

You: “Don, I’ve been trying to reach Janet Smith over at XYZ Company for some time and haven’t been able to connect and it occurred to me that you might know her.  Do you know Janet?”  (Of course since you’ve done your homework you have good reason to believe he knows her.)

Client: “Sure, I know Janet. Why?”

You:  “Great.  Would you be comfortable introducing me to her?”

If you have done your job well and earned your client’s trust and respect, there is an extremely high probability your client will readily agree to introduce you to Janet.  Instead of asking your client to do your work for you all he has had to do was say “yes.”

Although this process is most easily implemented by B2B sellers, it also works well for B2C sellers in situations where the seller has the opportunity to know their client very well.

Rather than asking your client to rack their brain and do your prospecting for you—something they are ill prepared to do—take the time and put in the effort to do the work for your client and you’ll turn introductions from clients into a major source of your new business.

Referrals—rather direct introductions–can be the cornerstone of your sales business if you learn to do a little detective work and make it easy for your clients to give the great referrals you’ve always wanted.

February 19, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Part 1: Understanding the 4 Pillars of a Successful Referral

At first glance, a referral is a pretty simple thing.  For most sellers, managers, and trainers, a referral is just a name and phone number that a client has given once the seller has completed the sale, has done a good job for the client, and then asks a general question such as, “do you know of anyone else that I might be able to help?,” or, “do you know of anyone else that might benefit from my products and services?”.

Once a seller has received a referral, contacting the referred party is just as simple.  The seller will call the referred party mentioning to him or her that the client, which the prospect knows, referred the seller to them, or on occasion they will ask the client to write a referral letter to the prospect and then the seller will call the prospect after they have received the letter.  A very simple, straightforward process.

Unfortunately, this “do a good job and ask for a referral” process is totally and completely wrong, and has been proven by millions of sellers to not work worth a darn.  Nevertheless, this is what is taught in almost every sales course that mentions referrals.  And not only is it a waste of time and effort, it deceives the seller who don’t succeed when using it into believing that the fault lies with him or her, not with a “system” that doesn’t work.

Generating a large number of high quality referrals requires far more than “doing a good job and asking for a referral.”

If you want to generate a large number of high quality referrals from your clients, you must understand what creates a quality referral.

A high quality referral is built on a foundation that has four solid pillars—and as the seller; you have control over three of them:

  1. Your relationship with your client:  Most clients don’t give referrals because they like you or even because you did a good job.  Certainly there are a few clients that will give referrals at the drop of a hat, but most clients hate to give referrals and unless they have a deep trust that you will not embarrass them and that you’ll deal honestly and competently with the prospect they refer, they won’t be willing to give quality referrals.Most clients believe that when they give a referral they’re not just suggesting that someone they know speak to the person they are referring, they believe that they are endorsing the seller, in essence telling the person they refer to the seller that they don’t need to do any research because the referrer has already done it and this person they’re referring is the best choice.  To get clients to take this step doesn’t come without having built a strong bond of trust.
  2. Your client’s purchasing experience: Discover what your client’s purchasing expectations and priorities are, then meet and, hopefully, exceed them.Few sellers ever exceed their client’s expectations because even though they think they know what the client’s expectations are, they never really try to find out, they never ask.  You cannot afford to guess or “think” you know what your client’s expectations are–you must know exactly, and you can only do that by discussing them with your client and then making sure you meet or exceed them–nothing less will do.If you don’t specifically ask your client what their expectations are, the best you can do is meet or exceed what you think your client’s expectations should be.Clients assume that anyone they refer you to will have a similar or WORSE purchasing experience than they had.  The further away from their desired purchasing experience they have, the less likely they will be to give a quality referral.
  3. The relationship between your client and the prospect:  This is the one pillar you have no control over.  Clients will refer you to people they have very strong, positive relationships with–and people they have very negative relationships with.  If the prospect trusts and respects your client, some of that trust and respect will be automatically imbued to you and you start your relationship with them from a position of strength.  On the other hand, if the prospect distrusts or doesn’t respect your client, some of that distrust or disrespect will also be imbued to you and you will start your relationship with them from a position of weakness.  Your job is to find out exactly what the relationship between client and prospect is and then plan you introduction approach to them accordingly.
  4. Your initial contact with the prospect:  To this point you’ve invested a great deal time and effort in establishing your relationship with your client, making sure they have exactly the purchasing experience they want, and finding out what the relationship is between your client and the prospect they are referring.  After investing so much time and attention to get this far, the last thing you want is just a name and phone number.  Instead of getting a traditional “referral” consisting of the name and phone number of the prospect and permission to use your client’s name, get a direct introduction from your client to the prospect.There are three primary methods of getting a direct introduction:

    Letter of introduction from your client to the prospect:  Ask your client to write a letter introducing you to the prospect.  However, once you’ve asked your client to write the letter, let them know that you know how busy they are and then offer to take the burden off of them by writing the letter for their signature.  If you allow them to write the letter it won’t communicate a reason for the prospect to meet with you and it will be written on their schedule—which could be never.The letter you write should give a brief overview of what you’ve done for your client and why the client believes it would be beneficial for the prospect to meet with you, as well as the time and date to expect a call from you.  Have your client sign it. Phone the prospect at the exact time your client indicated you’d be calling.

    Introductory phone call from your client to the prospect:  An even stronger introduction is a phone call from your client to the prospect to introduce you.  This method puts additional pressure on the prospect to agree to set an appointment with you as it is difficult for the prospect to say “no” to your meeting request when they know that their friend, co-worker, or associate is standing next to you when you ask.The downside to a phone call is it gives the prospect the opportunity to ask questions of your client. If there were aspects to the sale that didn’t go well there is a good chance they will surface during the phone call.

    Lunch meeting with your client, the prospect, and yourself:  A tremendously strong introduction method.  Have your client invite the prospect to lunch or coffee with the three of you. Encourage your client to let the prospect know this is NOT a sales meeting, just an opportunity for the two of you to meet one another.

    One of the strange things that often happens during the meeting is the client ends up being your salesperson and you are there simply as the consultant.  And, again, it is very difficult for the prospect to say “no” when you request a meeting.

As seen above, you have control of the majority of the pillars upon which a referral is based.  If any of the above is weak, your likelihood of generating quality referrals will decline and the weakness must be made up elsewhere.  In actuality, if one of the first two segments is weak, you will not be getting quality referrals–period.  However, you can mitigate the third one by using a strong method of introduction.

Generating a large number of quality sales isn’t done by chance or luck, and neither is generating a large number of high quality referrals.   Just as you need a well thought out process to consistently sell, you need a well thought out process to generate quality referrals.  You can significantly increase the volume and the success of your referrals if you understand the dynamics that generate quality referrals and then control those dynamics.

August 21, 2012

SEO, Driving Traffic, and Increasing Sales

Filed under: marketing,prospecting,Sales 2.0 — Paul McCord @ 10:27 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve run across a number of small businesses lately that have flushed good dollars down the drain with untargeted or inexperienced SEO (search engine optimization) services.

If you have a website, I’m sure you’ve received the email or call from someone trying to sell you SEO services with the promise of increasing your page ranking in search engines which will drive more traffic to your site and thus increase your on-line sales.  And if you’ve bitten on any of these sales calls you have probably discovered on-line selling isn’t as easy as paying someone to optimize your website.

Don’t get me wrong, you need traffic to your website and SEO can be an important part of attracting that traffic.

The problem with the typical search engine optimization solicitation you get is from a company that doesn’t really understand your business or your market.  In order to gain the knowledge they need in order to be able to really help you target a specific market, they must rely on you to give them information and direction. 

So they ask questions that they believe will help them gain the knowledge and understanding they need. 

The problem is often they aren’t asking the right questions for your product or service.  Worse, many will simply ask you to tell them what you want and need, expecting you to be the expert on what will get you where you want to be.  Even worse, some simply won’t ask anything and will wing it, hoping that by simply driving more people to your site you’ll get more sales.

The fact is you don’t need SEO; you need targeted SEO. 

You don’t need increased traffic; you need increased quality traffic.

You don’t need people visiting your website; you need prospects visiting your site.

You need someone that understands what it is you do and who you need to bring to your site.  You need someone that has the background to understand your business and who has a record of reaching your market.

Search engine optimization does not equate to increased quality traffic and thus increased sales unless it is laser focused to bring you the right visitors. 

By all means spend the necessary dollars on optimizing your website.  But spend those dollars wisely.  Do your homework and hire someone who has a track record targeting and attracting your market.  If you don’t, you may increase traffic but you more then likely won’t justify the expense with increased sales.

 

Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

or on Facebook:  http://www.facebook./McCordTraining

August 6, 2012

Guest Article: “Why You Want to be a Teaching Organization Not a Sales Organization,” by Jim Keenan

Filed under: marketing,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 9:34 am
Tags: , ,

Why You Want to be a Teaching Organization Not a Sales Organization
by Jim Keenan

Do you want to know where the biggest opportunity for sales growth is today? Are you looking for a new, sure fire sales strategy that will increase sales, get you more leads, accelerate sales cycles, reduce cost of sales and improve close rates?

Do you want to know what is the one thing you can do to blow out your number and crush the competition?  It is to turn your sales organization into a teaching organization.

Turning your sales organization from a selling organization to a teaching organization is a game changer. Customers today are looking for more than product information. They want more than pitches and price concessions. Today’s costumers want to learn something that will help their business grow. They want information they didn’t have. They want someone who can help them navigate their complex world. Today’s customers want to be taught.

Take a look at your website.  Can visitors learn anything from it? I don’t mean something about your products or services, but about the industry, regulation, trends, how to tackle a common industry challenge etc? Is your website set up to teach potential customers when they visit? It should be.

Does your sales playbook contain unique industry information your sales people can use to educate their prospects?  Does your sales playbook contain tools your sales people can point prospects to like video’s, eBooks, and white papers that would help prospects better understand HOW to tackle the challenges they are facing? Or, is your sales playbook all about your products and services. Does your sales playbook support your sales people in teaching their customers?

Do you train your sales people to teach? Do you provide sales training that teaches how to teach?

Do your sales pipeline reviews and opportunity review meetings evaluate new and timely educational topics that would resonate with prospects? Does your marketing organization regularly provide the sales team with new, updated, industry data and “how to” information they can use to educate prospects?

Is your sales team built to teach or to pitch?

If, in your mind, you’re saying; “pitch,” it’s time to consider a new approach.

Customer buying habits have changed. Social media; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Blogging, Linkedin have all provided customers and prospects with amazing amounts of information. They know who you are, what you sell, your competition, what people think of you, your customer service, your warranties, everything. In most cases they know all of this before they ever show up on your website or make a call. Customers and prospects no longer need us to talk about us. They don’t need our websites, our sales people or our fancy collateral to learn about us. They learn everything they need to without ever having to connect with us. Because of this, your customers and prospects are much further along in the buying process before they ever contact us and that, my friend, changes the game, BIG TIME!

Customers and prospect are making their early buying decisions based what you know, not on what you have in your product portfolio. It’s your expertise they want the most!

Become a teaching organization takes a commitment. It’s a cultural change. It doesn’t mean you no longer sell. Selling is what we do, that won’t change. It’s how we sell that changes. Turning your organization into a teaching organization means providing your sales people with new customer centric information. It means providing customers with information and data that can help them run their business. It’s not more product information or product slicks. It’s not information focused on you and what you sell but rather information on what they sell and what they need to be successful. It’s creating a teaching organization that has more information and knowledge than your customers and prospects. It’s an organization that knows how to use the information and knowledge to educate the customer or prospect in something they didn’t know and needed to know.

Sales organizations that become teaching organizations become game changers. Turn your sales organization into a  teaching organization. I think you will like the results.

Jim Keenan is founder and partner of A Sales Guy Consulting.  A Sales Guy Consulting is a straight forward consulting company that relishes the challenge of taking companies from point A to point B in as little time as possible.  You can find Jim at his A Sales Guy blog or his website A Sales Guy Consulting

March 23, 2012

Can It Get Any Stranger?

We humans are funny animals.  We tend to do the same things over and over, no matter what the consequences.  Although we are admonished to learn from our mistakes, more often than not we continue to make the same mistakes time after time.  Maybe not the big obvious mistakes, but the little ones that we don’t notice we keep doing and doing.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if we’re doing something that has a negative outcome that we’d stop doing it?  Even more fundamental, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we’d notice that what we’re doing isn’t working?

Seems reasonable. 

But strange as it seems, our lives are full of things that have negative consequences yet we continue to do them. 

Some of these negative things we may be aware of and consciously choose to do anyway with such as smoking, overeating, or taking a tad too many nips of the juice.. 

Nevertheless, there are whole hosts of actions we take that have negative consequences of which we are completely ignorant.  We’re ignorant of these negative consequence actions not because we’re blind, or stupid, or too lazy to see them.  We’re ignorant because we have never examined them to see what the consequences of those actions really are.  We do them because we’re ‘supposed’ to do them or because that’s the way we’ve always done it.  We do them out of ignorance.

Unfortunately, that same ignorance that invests other parts of our lives, worms its way into our sales careers as well.  We do the things we’ve been told are the right things to do or we do them in the way we were told was the right way to do them.  And when the outcome of those actions isn’t what it’s supposed to be, we blame ourselves or chalk it up to bad luck or bad timing.  Worse, we decide the answer is to do more of those actions believing that if we do them more often and with more conviction, the outcome will definitely be better, right?  After all, weren’t we told that those were the right actions, so then the problem must be we simply aren’t doing them long enough or hard enough, never examining them to see if the problem might be with them, not with us.

So our solution is to do more of what doesn’t work.

Can it get any stranger? 

Yet, that is how the vast majority of salespeople run their sales careers.

Cold calling not working?  Make more cold calls.  Not closing enough sales?  Push for the sale harder.  Not meeting enough prospects at the networking events you go to?  Go to more events.  The direct mail piece you sent not producing results?  Send out more. 

The answer is always more of the same.  Do more of what’s not working and it’ll work

What a strange business we’re in.  What other business is there whose answer to the things that aren’t producing results is to do more of it?

Do you think that if the owner of a restaurant decided he wasn’t selling enough fish the answer would be to cook more fish?  Or, if the radiology treatment a physician has prescribed isn’t working they would just prescribe a larger dose without first examining why it isn’t working?  Of course not.  The restaurateur would want to know why he wasn’t selling more fish and he would figure out how to generate more customers who order fish or he would change his menu to reflect the tastes of his customers because if he tries to continue to force fish on his customers, he’ll be out of business.  Likewise, instead of just prescribing a bigger dose of the same radiology treatment, the physician will seek to discover why the treatment isn’t working and change her prescription accordingly. 

Neither the restaurateur nor the physician is just going to say, “oh, well.  What I’m doing isn’t working so I’ll just do lots more of it.”  We’d think they were nuts if that were their answer.

Yet, that’s the answer most salespeople come up with when their sales career isn’t progressing in the direction they want.  And the strange thing is few of their associates or their manager thinks they’re crazy for simply doing more of what doesn’t work.  In fact, they are often the salesperson’s biggest cheerleaders egging them on to do exactly those things.

Can it get any stranger?    

Why would a rational person decide the answer to correcting something that isn’t working is to do more of what isn’t working? 

Although there are a number of reasons such as the advice they are getting from their sales manager, many of the sales books they read, and their associates, all assuring them that all they need to do is make more calls, push harder for the sale, send out more direct mail pieces, often the real culprit is that they have no idea what they are doing that is working and what they are doing that isn’t working.

Salespeople for the most part tend to work off gut feeling.  “I feel that my cold calling isn’t producing the desired results.”  “I feel that my closing skills are really good, I just don’t feel that I’m getting to make enough presentations.”  “I feel that I’m getting a lot of referrals, they’re just not very good.” 

Working off gut feeling is a surefire way to feel–and be–broke. 

The problem is few salespeople take the time and put in the effort to examine their sales business in detail to discover what they are doing that is really producing the results they want—and what they are doing that isn’t.  Few salespeople know exactly:

  • What activities they are investing the majority of their time in
  • The characteristics of the prospects they really connect with
  • Where their sales–not their prospects but their sales–are coming from
  • What prospecting and marketing methods are actually producing sales and not just bodies
  • What they are doing in the sales process that is working and what isn’t, furthermore, most have no real idea of what their sales process is
  • Or know exactly how many qualified prospects they talk to, how many of those prospects bought, what specific products or services they bought, why the prospects bought—or didn’t buy

In order to run a business, the business owner must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their income statement and their balance sheet.  Those two documents tell the business owner what’s really going on in their business.  They tell them not only how well they are doing, but where to invest more time and money, they warn of potential problems, and they reveal new potential opportunities the business owner might not otherwise have seen.  The balance sheet and income statement are the history of the business and the business’s history tells the business owner what’s going to happen in the future—good and bad–unless the business owner makes changes to the business.

Salespeople need the same roadmap as any other business owner.  Salespeople are not employees—despite getting a W2.  Every salesperson is self-employed.  They run their own sales company.  For those salespeople who are W2’d, it just happens they have only one client—the company they are currently selling for.  Like any business owner, they must have a historical document that alerts them to problems–as well as opportunities.

Rather than having a balance sheet and income statement, salespeople must take the time and invest the effort to reconstruct their sales and marketing history in numerical form.  They must create a document that informs them of not what they think or feel has happened in the past, but tells them exactly what has happened.  Such a document will tell them in no uncertain terms where they have really spent their time; what they have really done in terms of prospecting and marketing; who their ideal prospect really is; what prospecting and marketing methods are really working; what their closing ratio really is; and a great deal more.  And it tells them that if they continue doing what they’re doing, exactly what will happen in the future.  On the other hand, it will also tell them exactly what changes must be made in order to change their future.

If a sales history document is so powerful, why do only a handful of salespeople have one?  Although one of the most powerful tools any salesperson—and their manager—can have, reconstructing one’s sales and marketing history is tedious, takes a good deal of effort, and for many the results are very uncomfortable. 

If you are serious about changing your sales business, you must learn to run it like a business and to take full responsibility for what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.  You can’t do that unless you know–and you can’t know by guessing or going on gut feeling.  You can’t change your career if you simply continue to do what you’re doing. 

For salespeople, finding and selling quality prospects is how they make a living.  Yet, most leave their success or failure up to chance and gut feeling.  Can it get any stranger than that?  You don’t have to be like 85% of all other salespeople who meander along with no real idea of what to do to be successful. 

Sit down and do a thorough review of your prospecting, marketing, and selling activities for a reasonable period, say a year.  Dig out your records of what you did and exactly what activity produced what business.  Figure out what produces business and why.  Likewise, figure out what you’re investing time in that isn’t producing business—and why. 

Once you know those two things you can begin to put together a solid plan to exploit those things that are producing for you and take corrective action on those things that aren’t.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in control of your sales business and you’ll no longer have to wonder where your business will come from—or if it will come.

follow me on Twitter at: @paul_mccord

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 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.

October 24, 2011

How to Make Word of Mouth Marketing Really Work

Last week while I was teaching a group of CPA’s in Newark how to work with their clients to generate a large number of direct introductions to high quality prospects, one participant mentioned that he would often hear from a client that they had given his name and number to another business owner but he would seldom hear from that prospect.  His question was how he could use the introduction generation process I was teaching to capture that word of mouth prospect.

Great question—and one that most sellers are faced with.

Everyone would love to have their clients out talking about them.  They encourage their clients to tell their friends and acquaintances about them; they hope and pray that people are talking about them; they try to use social media as a springboard to get even more word of mouth marketing.

Unfortunately, even though you want word of mouth marketing and do whatever you can to encourage it, it has one primary disadvantage that is hard to overcome—you have no control over whether the person your client spoke to will take the initiative to pick up the phone and give you a call.

How much business are you losing because you never hear from the people your clients mention you to?

Right, you don’t know because you have no idea how often your clients mention you.

That’s the intrinsic problem with a passive marketing method—no control means no accountability, no way of knowing how effective or ineffective it is.  If you get prospects calling because clients mentioned you, you think that word of mouth is working.  If you don’t get calls you think your clients aren’t talking about you.  The problem is that those calls you get might be just a fraction of the people who are hearing about you from your client, and those no calls might not be an indication that your clients aren’t talking about you but instead might be an indication that their message isn’t resonating with those they are speaking to.

So is there a way to turn word of mouth encouragements into real connections?

Although you’ll never be able to track and connect with every word of mouth mention your clients give you, you can significantly increase the number of connections you have with those your clients have mentioned you to by simply becoming more proactive in the way you work with your clients regarding their word of mouth mentions.

In the case of the CPA above, he mentioned that he often received emails or verbal statements from clients saying something to the effect, “Just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you to Joe Blow the other day.”  Sometimes the client will mention the name of the person they spoke to, other times they won’t.  In both cases, however, the CPA knows that a client has spoken to someone about him and recommended they give him a call.

Like most sellers in that position, the gentleman at the presentation simply hopes that he’ll get a call.  Way too often the call doesn’t come—just another wasted mention by a client.

Fortunately this CPA and everyone else who has a client or anyone else mention that they’ve spoken to someone about them can easily turn that weak word of mouth mention into a direct introduction by simply ASKING for the introduction.  It’s really as simple as asking:

Client: “Hey, Joe, just wanted to give you a head’s up that I recommended you to Nancy Drew and encouraged her to give you a call.  I hope you hear from her.”

Seller: “Bill, that’s great; I really appreciate it.  I haven’t heard from her yet but I’d love to.  Come to think of it, would you be comfortable introducing me to her?”

Couldn’t be simpler. 

What are the chances your client will introduce you to the prospect?  Very high indeed since they obviously like your work and think that you can help the prospect—and they obviously have some type of relationship with the prospect. 

Before asking for the introduction find out what the relationship is between your client and the prospect and why they suggested the prospect call you. 

All the pieces are in place for a direct introduction.  And what happens if your client says no?  You’ve lost—nothing.

But what about all those suggestions they make to prospects to give you a call that you never know about?  How can you learn of them in order to try to turn them into an introduction?

These are certainly more difficult—but not completely impossible.

First, once you let your client know that you would love for them to mention you to anyone who might be in need of your expertise and services, let them know that you’d appreciate it if they’d let you know through a call or email when they mention you to someone.  Once they do, thank them and then ask for the direct introduction.  Don’t expect everyone to let you know when they speak to someone about you—but many will and that will give you the opportunity to ask for the introduction.

Knowing that many won’t inform you when they mention you, you can also take the initiative and ask your clients if they have mentioned you to anyone.  When speaking with a client simply ask in passing if they’ve had an opportunity to mention to anyone lately.  Asking will let you uncover any unmentioned recommendations they’ve made to prospects to call you and will also remind them that you seek word of mouth recommendations.  Again, you won’t uncover a mountain of unknown mentions, but you’ll uncover some which will give you the opportunity to convert them into introductions and it will allow you to gently remind your client to mention you whenever they have a chance.

Word of Mouth Marketing is hardly a marketing format to hang your business on.  That being said, by all means encourage your clients to mention you to those they come into contact with that might be able to use your products or services.  But at the same time seek to move those word of mouth recommendations into something far more concrete—a direct introduction. 

Don’t settle for being passive.  You can turn word of mouth into far more effective introductions without being obnoxious or overly aggressive—all you have to do is ask your client for an introduction once you know they’ve recommended you.  The key is learning how to uncover the recommendation.

October 7, 2011

A Simple Way to Distance Yourself From Your Competition

Every seller, no matter the product or service they sell, is looking for ways to demonstrate how they differ from their competition.  Most of us will go to great lengths to try to make our prospects and clients recognize how unique we are and how fortunate they are to be working with us.

In order to create that sought after difference we’ll talk up how great our customer service is, some will give out cute or useful freebies, others will bring in other vendors to help create the perfect comprehensive solution to their prospect’s or client’s issues.

Certainly we should be giving exceptional customer service.  The problem is every one of our competitors is claiming to have the best customer service also.

And by all means we should be doing everything in our power—including partnering with other vendors if necessary—to give the best and most comprehensive solution possible.  The problem is most of the time our prospects and clients don’t really grasp the true extent of our solution until after the product or service is delivered and has been in place for awhile.

But there is a much simpler way to not only demonstrate a real difference between yourself and your competition, but to give your client a very different experience than what your competition would give.  Furthermore, this strategy is so seldom used that it really stands out to the client.

What, pray tell, is the fabulous strategy that is simple yet can make such an impact on your client?

It is simply giving the client the purchasing experience they want rather than the one you think they want.

So simple, yet so few sellers do it because frankly they have no idea what their clients want to happen during the purchase because they simply don’t ask.

Yep, that’s it; couldn’t be simpler.

Most sellers mistakenly think they know what their clients want to happen during the course of the sale.  Ask a seller what their client wants and they’ll rattle off a number of things such as on time delivery, prompt service, a quality product at a fair price, a seller they can trust, and a number of other “expectations.”

These are so general that they are almost useless in defining what a client’s purchasing expectations are. 

What does “on time delivery” really mean?  Does it mean the same thing to each and every customer?

What does prompt service mean?  To one customer it may mean that a phone call is returned within 24 hours, to another it may mean the call should be returned within an hour.  To another client a phone call might be totally out of the question as they prefer to communicate only through email.

The fact is that no two of our clients have the same expectations but we treat them all the same because we assume we know what they want.

We never ask the most basic and simple customer service question—“What can we do to make this the exact purchasing experience you want?”

That question is asked so infrequently (some customers have never been asked that question) that many customers won’t know how to respond; they really won’t understand the question.

In that case you’ll have to ask some follow-up questions such as: “How do you prefer to be contacted, phone or email?”  “If something comes up and I really need to speak with you, is there an emergency number that I can reach you at?”  “Do you want me to keep you posted daily or weekly, or would you rather I only contact you if there is an issue or question that needs to be dealt with?”

Obviously the number and type of purchasing experience questions you need to ask will depend on the particular product or service being purchased. 

And a great side benefit is you can find out upfront if your client has an unrealistic expectation, and if they do, you can deal with it before it becomes an issue later in the sale.

If you want to really make a quick impact on a client and put yourself in a different category from your competition, quit forcing them to live through the purchasing experience you want to give them and begin giving them the purchasing experience they want.

It’s simple—just ask them, they’ll tell you—and then all you have to do is give them the exact experience they wan—and  that no one else can give them.  You’ll be a hero—and all you had to do was ask a few questions that you should have been asking every client anyway.

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