Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 4, 2013

The Keys to Creating Effective and Productive Referral Partnerships

It is getting harder and harder to break through the relentless marketing and sales noise to reach new prospects.

Prospects today are finding new—and better–ways to insulate themselves from sellers.

Many of the tried and true methods to connect with prospects are becoming increasingly less effective and demand a larger investment of time, often for a much smaller payoff.

Whether you’re facing the above issues or not, aligning yourself with others who can expose you to new prospects, help set up the sale for you, and help make life more enjoyable is one of the most effective prospecting and marketing methods you can employ.

Enlisting other sellers or companies who sell to the same prospects as you to help you find and connect with quality prospects has been a staple of marketing for top producers for decades—and unsuccessfully imitated by countless others.

Why have top producers found working with other professionals for referrals to work so well while so many others have failed to capitalize on them?

I often hear sellers and managers–and even some sales trainers–talk about seeking out ‘referral sources’ to help them find and connect with prospects.  These referral sources tend to be sellers or companies who are likely to deal with people or companies that would be great prospects for the seller and who might need or want their product or service.

These ‘referral sources’ discussions always interest me, so I’ll engage the seller in a conversation about their experience with them.  Typically my first question will be how much business they’ve closed through these referral sources.  A few will indicate they’ve done well, most indicate they’ve seen very little to no real business from their sources.

When I ask the seller I’m speaking with what the other seller gets out of making the referral, they mention that they are giving the referrer the assurance that they’ll take exceptional care of the client, allowing that seller to become more valuable to the client by becoming a trusted source of additional advice and services; or they’ll give the seller’s client a discount of some sort that only that seller’s clients get, or they’ll give the seller a cash incentive–in other words, nothing of value to the referrer.

When I assert that the other person is getting nothing of value, I often get a scornful look and verbal resistance.  Some of the responses I’ve received are:

•    From a mortgage loan officer: “Their client has to have a loan and I’ll make sure their client is well taken care of and gets a great deal—and that the loan will close on time.  That’s real value to that Realtor and their client.”
•    From an insurance agent: “She doesn’t offer insurance, just securities.  Her clients need insurance and she can be assured that I won’t try to steal her clients or infringe on her business in any way and if she doesn’t help her client through me, her client is likely to see an agent that will try to steal her business.”

•    From a seller for an IT service company: “I often find additional needs the client has and when I do, if he (the person who referred him to the client) sells that product, I’ll send the business to him.  I’ll be a source for additional sales for him to his client.”

•    From a specialized printing seller: “My referral sources are also in the printing business.  Their clients will on occasion need some things done that they can’t do and that I can.  My appeal to them is that by referring the business to me, they are assured that I’ll talk up just how good they are and it keeps their client from going to another company that might be able to not only do what I do but might be able to replace them as well.”
•    From a management consultant: “I focus exclusively on helping companies evaluate and hire more effective employees.  I look for other consultants who work in other areas who can recommend me to their clients who are having employee selection and retention issues.  By recommending me, they prevent the client from seeking help elsewhere which just might be from a company who could replace them in addition to helping with their hiring and retention issues.”

In each of these cases (and these responses are the norm, not the exception), the reason given for the referral source to send them referrals is that they are doing the referral source a favor.   “I’ll talk them up,” or “I’ll close the loan on time,” or “I won’t try to steal her business,” or “I’ll help them protect their relationship with their client.”  The worst part is these sellers are serious when they make these statements.

Lazy, delusional thinking at it’s finest.

Why do these “referral sources” need these sellers?  A promise of making them look good, or not trying to steal their business, or closing the loan on time is a dime a dozen.  Actually, they’re more like a penny a hundred.  There isn’t a mortgage loan officer, IT salesperson, consultant, or printing salesperson alive that isn’t likely to make the same promise.  If you think you’re doing your referral source a favor and that is going to earn you their business, you’re living in fantasyland with Unicorns and Hobbits.

The first rule in developing referral business from others is that they don’t need you.  They don’t need your promises, they don’t need you to make them look good, they don’t need you messin’ with their clients.

The second rule in developing referral business from others is they need business just like you.  They need referrals to quality prospects, just like you do.

The ‘secret’ the top producers have discovered when getting referrals from other sellers and companies is to forget about ‘referral sources’ and develop referral partnerships—real partnerships where the referrals go in both directions, not jut one.

Sellers and companies need the same thing you need—business.  If they need someone to make them look good or to help one of their clients, they have no problem finding dozens of sellers willing to help.  What they need are reciprocal relationships where the people they refer clients to also refer prospects back to them.  They need partners, not moochers.  And if you’re not giving back in kind, that’s exactly what you are—a moocher.

Setting up Referral Partnerships

1.  Identify Your Potential Partners: Look for other sellers or companies who deal with the same prospects as you.  Define your ideal prospect—you may have more than one ideal—and then look for others who target the same prospect.  You want to find sellers who are already established in the market; who have the reach and reputation you wish for yourself; and whose quality of products and services match yours.

There is no need to waste time and energy on low producing sellers as they won’t be able to feed you many prospects.  In addition, the quality and cost of your products and/or services should closely match your potential partner’s since you will be looking for the same prospect.  If your product is top of the line and expensive, don’t partner with a salesperson whose products are on the bargain end of the spectrum.  Likewise, if you are selling modestly priced products, don’t think you can partner with a premium priced company to enhance your image—their clients are more than likely not going to be interested in your company’s products.

2.  Know What You’re After: Once you’ve identified a number of potential partners, develop a plan of approach for each.  What are you looking for with each partner—joint marketing?  Maybe joint sales calls?  Simply referring clients back and forth?

Take a close look at the activities of each seller or company you’ve identified to get an idea of how they operate.  Do they do a lot of advertising?  Are they constantly running specials?  Are their sales materials high dollar—or maybe they don’t really use collateral material?  Are there gaps in their offerings that you can help fill?  Do they tend to sell mostly to existing customers or to new prospects?

How your proposed partner works will lead you to know what to propose to them.  If they do a great deal of advertising or direct mail, maybe a joint advertising campaign would be of interest to them.  If they work primarily with their existing client base, referring back and forth might be most appealing.  If they use a lot of high dollar collateral material, you better have material that is equally impressive.

3.  Set an Appointment with the Partner Prospect: Invite your partner prospect to lunch.  Your partnership discussion is important and shouldn’t be a viewed as a casual phone conversation.

Many of your potential partners will be men and women you either don’t know or have only met once or twice very casually.  Many will not know who you are.  Since the men and women you’ve identified as potential partners are the best in their industry in their local market, a very effective way to gain a lunch meeting is to acknowledge their success and superior reputation.  Just call them, introduce yourself, and then tell them that you know them via their reputation and the quality of their work and that you’d like to take them to lunch as you have found that it is always good practice to know top people in the business.  Most will accept—people like to be recognized for their work.  Seldom have I been turned down with this approach.  And best of all, it’s true.  I do want to know the best people in the business and they are among the best in the business in their area.

4.  Make Your Proposal: During your meeting, present your proposal.  Your proposal must focus on what the partnership will do for your potential partner, not what it will do for you.  Sellers are people, meaning their natural interest is ‘what’s in it for me.’  If you approach the conversation from a self-centered point of view, your proposal is dead before you even begin.

If you’ve done your homework well, you should be able to relate exactly why your potential partner would be interested in working with you, what type of working relationship it would be, and what the potential results for them will be.

Since there is a very good chance your potential partner doesn’t know who you are—and possibly they know little or nothing about your company—you’ll have to be able to quickly create a relationship with them and to provide credibility for yourself and your company.  Hopefully you have mutual clients or testimonials from individuals or companies your potential partner will recognize and respect.

Don’t expect a commitment during your initial meeting.  Most often if the person is interested, they’ll need time to do some due diligence, as well as additional discussions to develop the model for the partnership.

5.  The Monkey is on Your Back: The partnership was your idea, not theirs.  That means you’ll have to do the work to get the partnership going.  Even if you gain agreement from your potential partner, they won’t be committed until they see results.  You’ll have to take the lead in getting the partnership moving—and most importantly, you’ll have to provide them with real leads, referrals, and potential business before you can expect them to begin feeding you leads and referrals.

If you’re just looking for free, easy business, don’t bother with a partnership because it won’t do you any good.  However, if you’re willing to invest the time and effort, focusing on creating partnerships with the top sellers and companies in your area that work with your prime prospects can bring in business you would have had a very difficult if not impossible time reaching.

Partnerships are great door openers and business builders.  But they aren’t magical.  They take work.  They take time and effort.  And most of all, they require you to do what you say you’re going to do—be a source of new business for your partner, just as they are expected to be a source of new business for you.


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 15, 2011

3 Keys to Networking Successfully Through Business and Industry Associations

Filed under: Networking,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 10:40 am
Tags: , , ,

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
Tags: , , ,

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.

September 28, 2011

Seller, Do You Know Who You Are and What You Should Be Marketing?

Filed under: career development,marketing,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 11:55 am
Tags: , , ,

Although I’ve addressed this issue before I think it should be dealt with again as I continually see a great many sellers make the mistake of marketing the company they are selling for rather than marketing themselves.

There is a tendency for many salespeople, especially if they work for a well-known company, to place the emphasis of their marketing on the company they sell for rather than focusing on themselves.  They identify their sales efforts with Wells Fargo or Merrill Lynch or GE  more clearly than they identify themselves. 

However, despite what we tend to think, and certainly, what the company believes, the prospect usually isn’t buying GE, IBM, or UBS.  They’re buying the seller and the seller’s trustworthiness and integrity.  The relationship in most cases isn’t between the company and the customer; it is between two human beings—the client and the salesperson.   

Companies continually market their name, whatever that name may be.  Whether it’s Caterpillar, Ford, or HP, the company markets itself because it wants to establish its brand, its name recognition and its image in the mind of the prospect. 

Sellers should be no different.   

No matter whom you sell for, if part or all of your income is produced through commissions or bonuses based on your sales, you are self-employed.  You are your own sales company– you are simply currently leasing yourself to sell for a single client company.  The company you sell for today may not be the company you are selling for this time next year. 

In addition, your competition isn’t that major company in your industry.  You don’t compete against Citibank or NY Life.  Glaxo isn’t your competitor.  The individual salespeople who sell for Citibank, NY Life and Glaxo are your competition.   Selling in a relationship driven industry requires you to develop and nurture relationships.  Sales are made on a personal level, not by the magazine ads or the direct mail piece.  Sales are ultimately made by you, not the company or its name.   

This isn’t to say that your company’s name may not help create interest or give you some upfront credibility.  Nevertheless, that interest and credibility is insufficient to close a sale.  Furthermore, it typically isn’t even enough to secure an appointment.   

That Merrill Lynch salesperson is digging for prospects and sales just as you are.  That Glaxo rep is trying to get into the same offices and sell the same people you are. 

Furthermore, if you’re selling against Microsoft today, you just might be selling for Microsoft tomorrow. 

In reality, you only have one thing of value to market—yourself.  Prospects buy from the men and women they trust and who solve the prospect’s problems and issues, not the ones they like or the ones with the big name company behind them. 

Examine your marketing carefully.  Who are you marketing?  If it isn’t you, then change everything about your marketing to focus the primary identity on you, not the company you’re selling for (that’s the focus identity, not the marketing message).   

If you are already marketing yourself instead of the company you sell for, examine your materials for their effectiveness and image. 

If you’ve done your job well, every contact you make, every client you sell, and every dollar you spend on marketing will go with you if you ever decide to lease your selling services to another company.  However, if you’ve marketed the company you are selling for instead of yourself, you may find you’re leaving your hard-earned clients, contacts and reputation behind, loyal to the company, not to you, forcing you to build your sales company from scratch once again.

August 11, 2011

When Does It Make Sense to Outsource the Call?

Filed under: sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 7:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post suggesting a few ways to maximize salespeople’s time by helping them spend more quality time in front of more qualified prospects.  I’ve since received a number of questions asking in essence when does it make sense to outsource the sales call or the initial cold call setting up an appointment.

The first question to consider is: does your product or service demand that a highly experienced salesperson or sales engineer with immense depth of product knowledge and application experience make the call?  If it does, it probably doesn’t make sense to try to outsource the telemarketing or appointment setting aspect of the sales process.

However, if your product or service—or at least the initial contact with the prospect—doesn’t require that level of sophisticated knowledge and experience, outsourcing can be an excellent alternative to having your salespeople beating the phones trying to set appointments and make the initial contact. 

Likewise, if your product or service can effectively be sold over the phone, outsourcing the telemarketing may be the most logical and cost effective selling process.

Evaluating your investment
As I stated in the previous post, it can cost hundreds—even thousands—of dollars to simply find, connect with, and set up an appointment with a prospect.  Does it make sense to have your salespeople sitting at a desk making call after call to unqualified suspects when they could be out in the field meeting with qualified prospects?

 How much does it cost to identify a group of suspects or purchase a list of leads?

How much time and effort must a salesperson invest trying to connect with a new suspect?

How many suspects must the salesperson go through to connect with one qualified prospect?

How many qualified prospects must they connect with in order to set an appointment?

How many qualified prospects must they meet with in order to make a sale?

What is all of that time and effort worth to the company?  To the salesperson?

What if instead of investing all of that time trying to simply set one appointment the salesperson was spending that time in front of pre-qualified prospects?

What would it cost to outsource the setting up of an appointment with a qualified prospect?

What would be the return if outsourcing the appointment setting allowed your salespeople to get in front of two or maybe even three times the number of qualified prospect?

Simple math should make the choices clear. 

Phone Selling
Maybe an even more stark contrast between having your team do the work and outsourcing it is in the area of selling over the phone, that is, telemarketing.  For many companies hiring and training an inside sales staff can be a huge investment what with floor space, equipment, management, training, and sales and clerical personnel.  Even a small force can cost many tens of thousands of dollars.

The alternative to the massive upfront investment is to outsource telemarketing services.  Instead of incurring a large upfront investment, hiring a telemarketing company can allow you to pay as you go, that is, pay as sales come in.

Which is best for your company? 

Do you have to have your sellers directly under your control for legal, emotional, or other reasons?  If so, hire them directly.  If you don’t have that need for control, consider outsourcing your telemarketing function.

Do you already have the infrastructure in place?  If so, consider hiring your team directly.  If you don’t, consider outsourcing.

Are you going to have to train all or most of your sellers from scratch?  If so, consider outsourcing.  If you already have trained salespeople in sufficient numbers, stay with them.

Do you envision needing a telemarketing team for years to come?  If you do, consider hiring your own team.  If you aren’t sure or don’t envision a long-term team, outsource.

Do you already have the sales and marketing tools and processes in place?  If so, consider a direct team.  If you are still in the process of developing your sales process and marketing approach, outsource.

Outsourcing some or all of your phone contact needs can make great sense for your bottom-line and your sales team. Although the choice might not be easy, answering a few basic questions will make your choices much clearer—and just might make it easier to choose.

May 9, 2011

Register for the 2011 Sales and Marketing Success Conference

Article first published as ‘ Help Japan and Attend One of the Web Sessions of the 2011 Sales and Marketing Success Conference Beginning Monday, May 9</a> on Technorati.

The 2011 Sales and Marketing Success Conference, a five day web-based conference featuring 35 of the top sales minds in the world begins tomorrow, Monday, May 9 at Noon Eastern as Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies and SNAP Selling,  starts the conference off with a session titled Selling Successfully to Crazy-Busy People.

Each session will be a quick but highly targeted 30 minutes.

Each day features 7 different sessions, each lead by a different leading light in the world of sales training and coaching.

Just a few of the top names featured during the week are: Linda Richardson, Dave Kurlan, Colleen Francis, Nigel Edelshain, John Doerr, Wendy Weiss, Dave Stein, and many, many more.

Sessions will cover virtually every segment of the sales process, including how to successfully use social media, as well as sessions on leadership and sales management.

You can see the whole list of sessions HERE

And here’s even better news—when you attend any given session you’ll be helping the Red Cross in their mission in Japan.

Jonathan Farrington, the host of the conference says,

Just four weeks after the Magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and a tsunami which delivered 46ft waves, we learn that the death toll is likely to top 25.000, and recovery is going to take not years, but possibly decades, maybe even a generation, at a cost of at least $250 billion.

This is our opportunity to show that the sales community – so often derided for being shallow and materialistic, amongst other things – actually has a very big heart.

We plan to charge just $5 registration fee per presentation, and we are limited to 1000 guests per session, so places will be allocated on a “first come – first served” basis.

Can I count on your support? Together we can make a worthwhile *contribution to the people of Japan.

That’s right, it only costs $5 to attend any one session and 100% of those dollars will be donated to the Red Cross specifically for Japan.  At the end of each session you’ll be given an opportunity to donate an additional $1, $5, or $10 if you so wish.

Here is a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the efforts in Japan and get great training at the same time. 

What a great deal!!!

I encourage you to seriously consider attending my session Friday, May 13 at noon Eastern time as I’ll be giving you the tools you’ll need to do the detective work to figure out exactly who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to—and knowing that will allow you to both greatly increase the number of referrals you get and, more importantly, get referrals to prospects that you know are great prospects for you.

Here is the registration page for my session.

Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to help yourself improve your sales while helping those who are in desperate need of help.

April 11, 2011

Results of the 2011 Richardson/McCord Training Social Media in Marketing and Sales Survey

It has taken a bit of time and a lot of effort, but we finally have the 2011 Richardson/McCord Training Social Media in Marketing and Sales Survey results.

Some will be surprised, some won’t like the findings, and others will find they confirm what they suspected.

Two things stick out for me:

1.  Both salespeople and companies, whether they currently use social media or not, are struggling to figure out how to use it effectively. In fact, few—even those with sophisticated marketing departments investing time and effort into the process—have any real social media strategy.  Undoubtedly, this will be true for quite some time to come–and, of course, that means there are and will be thousands out looking to take your money to help you learn the hows of making Social Media work.  The lesson here: be extremely careful as there are many who know little more than how to construct a tweet who are anxious to take your money.

2.  To date, social media has been pretty useless in generating actual sales.  By far the most use salespeople and companies are getting from social media is in the area of prospecting–finding new prospects to contact using traditional means, not in making sales.  Again, this will probably be the case for a long, long time–it may always be the case.  Except for web-based sellers, few are realizing any real sales volume from their social media activities.  The lesson?  If you’re thinking you’re going to make easy money by spending time on social media and not having to do the hard work of prospecting, well, good luck with that thought.  On the other hand, if you’re not using social media to help identify and research prospects, you’re probably wasting a heck of a lot of time elsewhere.

Find out what else we discovered–it’s all in the survey.

I’ve decided to divert from the typical approach of requiring you to register to receive a sales oriented White Paper or making you subscribe to our newsletter.  Instead, I’m offering the report as a simple PDF download with the download link below.  I would encourage you, though, to either subscribe to the SELLING POWER Newsletter by simply shooting me an email at with the subject line “subscribe,” or clicking on the “Sign Me Up” button at the top of the sidebar to the right and subscribe to receive notification of new blog posts.  Subscription appreciated, not required.

If you have questions or anything needs a little more light put upon it, by all means, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Download social media survey

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