Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Give ‘Em Bacon, Not Bullsh*t

A few months back I lucked into cold catching a London-based whale of a prospect on a New York road trip. Even luckier, he agreed to come by my office the following day during an open morning time slot. Later that day, I came across a late-breaking headline announcing that my prospect’s company (which he was senior enough to have had a significant stake in) was being acquired for several billion dollars. An interesting wrinkle, but all I could do was show up with my ducks in a row as usual.

My whale waltzed in on time the next morning…hungover. Very hungover. “An early St. Patrick’s Day” he called it cheekily (I can say that, he’s English), and casually apologized for his bleary appearance, asking only for coffee before opening his ears to my cause. “Will espresso do?” I asked sheepishly. He agreed with a bemused shrug, and I shamed my former Barista training by clumsily pouring a watery double-shot into a chipped mug before ushering him into our balmy, echo-chamber of a conference room. 

He’s slinking in his chair, losing pallor quickly and collecting an impressive string of sweat beads with every slug of ill brew, but I plow through my planned presentation as if all is well.  The poor bloke (I’m just mixing jargons now) winced visibly when several attempts at fiery emphasis reverberated solely off the tinny ceiling. Trying to act unfazed, I concluded my well-practiced value proposition, and earnestly addressed his exceedingly polite, yet utterly feigning, questions. This meeting was going nowhere. I’d lost him.

Now, I’ve seen enough hangovers in my day to know this guy needed more than sympathy. He needed bacon. Bottomless coffee, and bacon. With eggs. All served without fuss or judgment.

We were in the uber-trendy Meatpacking district on an unseasonably sunny day with nothing to do but kill time together. He was a tourist on a victory lap after a big win. Any sales pro worth his salt would have taken one look at the situation and immediately called off any semblance of a formal meeting. This was an opportunity to make a friend, which is a hell of a lot better than a prospect, whether he happens to be one or not. I, however, was sodium free that day. No minerals at all.

Professionalism is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, being a pro meant being a bro. Something I’m quite well suited to actually, but that day I lost my way. I pitched because I had permission to pitch from the right guy to hear it. Sales is about relationships, not pitching. That’s certainly nothing new, but it’s something to remember in all scenarios. More gets done with bacon than bullsh*t. Lesson learned, again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Everything You Need to Know About a Sales Career

Below is an excerpt from the Career Options chapter of a book I'm writing loosely titled
"They Call It The Real World: Mastering Your 20’s in the 2010’s"
A Guide to Thriving Personally and Professionally During the Best 10 Years of Your Life
(Publishers and literary agents, let's talk.)

Everything a college junior needs to know before embarking on a career in sales....

Entry-level sales tends to be a catch-all for likeable, energetic and money-motivated graduates who haven’t yet specialized in a particular skill set or industry. Since few parents encourage their children to pursue the inherently unstable world of sales in place of more steady professions like law or accounting, and since few colleges offer anything beyond the most surface level classroom explorations of sales best practices, the workforce of the sales economy is largely fueled by early career vagabonds seeking a respectable title and compelling financial upside. Often a sales interview is where people end up when they’re just looking for ‘a job’ because nothing else seemed interesting or appropriate, and that’s OK.

Most new grads gravitate towards outside sales, preferring the freedom of face-to-face contact over the heavily monitored phone and email solicitation of with inside sales. Many roles are hybrids though, with the majority of legwork work done remotely followed by physical meetings as needed. Cutting out the majority of travel allows for greater economy of scale hitting on more prospects in a given day, particularly in high volume sales organizations where presumably smaller deals requiring less intimacy are entrusted to the new blood.  It’s also hard to mentor a scattered sales force, so frustrated outside sales newbies often find themselves craving a more structured environment after a few months on their own fleeing security guards and getting literal doors slammed in their literal faces by literal gatekeepers.  My suggestion is to pursue a role where most of the work is remote, with occasional field trips to meetings and trade shows mixed in, curbing the office monotony. This recommendation probably puts you in the ‘appointment setter’ role initially, at least for more enterprise-level sales programs, which is fine. You can learn from more seasoned sales pros while watching them close deals and earn you both a commission. 

Who Belongs:
Hustlers, jokers, studs and princesses, it’s time to capitalize on the charm that’s helped you skate through situations where less captivating characters get tripped. While sales experts correctly stress that achieving sales success is more about technique, attitude and process than the squishier concept of having-sharp tongued people skills, social confidence is still a core building block on the path to sales greatness. Lovably clueless jocks and divas, a career in sales is the best way to harness your natural magnetism. Goofballs, even annoying ones, there’s room for you too, as you tend to thrive when people only meet you in small doses. Entrepreneurial types score favorably in sales aptitude as well, because they inherently accept that fluctuating pay is a necessary obstacle on the path to big paydays.

Success and failure are both public information in sales. It takes resiliently thick skin, but really just about anyone with a positive inclination, high risk tolerance and steadfast work ethic can find their niche. Being good looking helps too…oddly, even over the phone.

Who Doesn’t Belong:
Whiners, downers, sloths and anybody else with a self-righteous air of entitlement. Fundamentally, sales is about listening to other people’s problems and presenting solutions, so those too caught up in their own plight or opinions need not apply. Many know-it-alls who fancy themselves to be charismatic leaders get their first dose of humility failing early at sales, finding that clients are looking for a consultation, not a lecture. Regardless of industry, and especially in the early goings of establishing a book of business, your compensation will be directly tied to your output of effort, so you need the mental toughness to continue plodding towards goals in the face of near-constant rejection. Organization is profoundly important too for prioritizing a sales pipeline and executing orders, so frequently late and lost scatterbrains tend to get fired quickly after repeated bungles do serious damage to a company’s operations. You can’t be too rigid though, because uncertainty comes in waves when deals go bad and quota deadlines loom. The key is a preference for managing chaos rather than avoiding or causing it.

What to look for:
Unless you’re willing to deal with the pay and lifestyle instability that comes with a startup, look for a growing company with at least somewhat of an established reputation in an industry you actually find intriguing. The interview should be one-one-one, not a cattle-call, and the job should come with a barely livable base that allows you to pay your rent while ramping up a book of business. The base may in fact be a ‘draw’ in industries like real estate and ad sales, meaning it needs to be paid back from future commissions, but that’s fine so long as you at least get health benefits. Training should extend beyond a few days of boot-camp style company indoctrination, with regularly scheduled meetings to review your performance with a direct manager who can help you find your legs. Activity metrics and process documentation procedures should be clearly laid out, explaining in detail what best practices are expected from new hires for them to meet expectations and how this impacts their income potential.  

They should be investing in you. Grooming you. Giving you every chance to grow with the company so long as you stick with the program.  Churn, a term referring to the frequency of employee turnover, should be low. Everyone lies about churn, and sales managers are the biggest offenders, making it seem like the only people who don’t make six figures within two years are lazy wretches, so run from anybody who admits they lose over half the sales force within a year.

Leads should not be confused with lists. A sales lead is somebody who has actively indicated an interest in purchasing your product. A list is what’s handed to you just before being told to piss off. Whenever possible, choose a sales job where recently submitted and verified leads are provided for you to pursue the business. These may be the small potatoes handed down from rainmakers too busy for the scraps, or they may be collected through your company website or a marketing partner. Regardless, you’ll most likely be in charge of qualifying lukewarm leads and then passing them along to be closed by somebody else once hot. This is entirely better than cold calling a phone book or office complex, and the best sales jobs let you learn slowly with a team instead of throwing you to the wolves running the whole process solo from start to close.

What to avoid:
The bottom rung of sales careers goes by many names - Multi-Level-Marketing, Pay-to-Play, Pyramid Schemes, even Entrepreneurship. Usually it starts with posting your resume on a site like Monster or Career Builder, followed by a call from an enthusiastic recruiter at an impressively named financial services (really, life insurance), telecom, health and beauty supply, medical device or office products company. On interview day, they’ll bring you and the rest of today’s ragtag crew into a conference room, parading a few spit-fire high earners to the front so they can charismatically weave their inspiring rags-to-riches stories between a few vaguely informative slides. Next, whether you’re interested in selling their wares or not, they’ll ask you for a list of your family and friends along with their contact information so they can “reach out on your behalf”. Some will even ask you to pay a ‘franchise’ or ‘membership’ fee, buying the right to build your own business by hiring a harem of young bucks under you and earn ever-growing piles of commission the same way they did. It can be a cult-like experience, making you intensely want to join and run away at alternating moments. Choose the latter.

Sales is a sink-or-swim profession, making high turnover a surety. Churn (a term referring to the frequency of employee washouts) however, should still be lower than a year on average, meaning most new hires make it through the first 12 months before quitting or being shown the door. Everyone lies about churn, and sales managers are the biggest offenders, making it seem like the only people who don’t make six figures within two years are lazy wretches. Run from anybody who admits they lose over half their sales force within a year.

Recruiting Process:
Large companies tend to make larger sales, and the interview process will be accordingly complex, often with multiple tiers of rapid-fire group interviews, informal personal conversations and mock sales appointments. Study the company hard, and don’t be afraid to disagree when challenged. They want to see if you can hang tough through the ups and downs of a convoluted sales cycle.
Small companies and higher volume sales tend to be more straight-forward in recruiting new hires, looking for “fearless hunters” capable of knocking down doors come hell or tsunami. This sale is less strategic and more dogged. Unshakable confidence and a sunny surface-level disposition will get you an offer. It’s just on you to keep up the show for the offer to be worth anything.

Appearance, tone and attitude can get you in the door of just about any sales organization hiring entry-level talent. Eye contact and an assertive hand shake are a good start too. Separate yourself from the pack by asking questions about competitive differentiation, daily performance expectations and the future of the industry. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into the compensation package, being sure to uncover any hidden trap doors either capping or negating commissions. After all, you’re going into the business of talking about and asking people for money. 

Actual Job:
“You get out what you put in. The sky is the limit” – Heard every first day on the job as a sales newbie.
Look, you weren’t hired out of college for your industry connections and experience. They brought you in because you still have the eager vigor necessary to endure the grinding monotony taking place at the start of a sales cycle. Performance is rewarded above all else, and it’s not necessarily tied to effort. Luck is often the key to success, but you’ve got to put yourself in the right place to get lucky by executing constantly, as luck rarely comes to those who wait.

There’s really no such thing as being off the clock either. You can always do more research, make more phone calls and send another email. Being the first to reach a prospect or reply to their inquiry is often the difference between a sale and a tough conversation about an ‘improvement plan’ with your manager and an HR rep. This means blurring the line between your personal and professional life, taking calls and prioritizing activities at all hours.

Privacy has little place in sales. Discretion with clients certainly does, but internally your performance will be highly visible to peers, creating a healthy competition for bonuses and promotions. If the job is worth having, all customer and prospect interactions will be recorded in an online Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), accessible to varying levels of employees. A popular adage is “if it isn’t documented, you didn’t do it”, because your manager is largely paid to keep you on pace with projections, and they need this insight on demand, so make sure your trail sparkles with the right activity. If you’re following a process that’s been successful, the logic goes that a good hire will succeed with minimal mentoring all outside variables remaining equal.

Your product is the star of the show. Unfortunately, most sales training programs are more about company indoctrination and process reinforcement than actually learning about what you’re selling and why it’s special compared with anything else on the market. Your first week will look something like: Day 1 – Welcome speech from top dog followed by brutal payroll and healthcare paperwork. Day 2 – Obligatory motivational speech by washed up sales manager followed by a sobering review of periodic and revenue production expectations. Day 3 – Product Review. Day 4 – Process review. Day 5 – Role playing. That’s it. Then you’re thrown to the wolves so you can fall on your face, and occasionally a manager will ride along or sit on a call to tell you what you did wrong.

Two important elements typically left out are the nitty-gritty of competitive differentiation and setting up ongoing mentoring opportunities to learn alongside those who have weathered the storm, finding ways to close business in good times and bad. These aspects of training are often omitted for good reason.  The competition is constantly changing to better compete, and nothing stymies the enthusiasm of a new hire like learning their new employer is hiding how tough it will be to outsell the competition in a crowded market with super-informed customers. Take it upon yourself to supplement the cheerleading, basic offering summaries and procedural expectations set out in formal training by becoming a student of your industry and actively seeking opportunities for real-time exposure to the sales process of top earners. Constantly evolve your industry competency and sales technique. Dedicate an hour every day to reading sales and industry blogs, newsletters and discussion forums, and stroke the healthy egos of rainmakers by offering to buy them lunch (which they’ll end up paying for) if you can accompany them visiting clients or calling top prospects. You’ll become an expert, adding to your credibility and attractiveness as a future job candidate in the field, and you’ll be exposed to what actually happens at the top of the sales funnel.

At best, base pay will be about half your yearly on target earnings (OTE), meaning you’ve got to produce new business to get paid, and you’d be hard pressed to lock in a salary beyond $30k. You may have to settle for an equivalent IOU, or ‘draw’, to get by in the short term until sales kick in. Again, commission-only gigs mean the company isn’t investing in you, and I strongly urge you to avoid them. Embarking on a career in sales means you need to constantly close deals in order to earn a respectable living. This is great motivation for staying productive while salary-only friends enjoy their income-capped time off, but it’s also demoralizing when these same friends spend with confidence as you turn down plans to go out because failing to hit quota cost you this month’s beer money. Be patiently consistent and headstrong paying your dues. You’ll out-earn everybody in a couple years.

Part of proper sales execution is creating the mystique of success. This means presenting yourself as financially comfortable and personally confident at all times. Outside sales pros will be required to dress to impress, because nobody wants to buy from a slob. The level of formality varies by industry, but you’ll generally need to be at least equal in apparel to your target customer, if not one step more fashionable. Inside sales tends to be more of a free-for-all, sometimes allowing t-shirts and sandals in the name of a cool corporate culture, which really means the brass can’t justify being hard-asses on attire when asking twenty-somethings to sit in cubicles for long hours grinding out phone calls.

Sports analogies appropriately abound (Manager = Coach. CEO = GM. Sales Rep/Sales Associate/Account Executive = Player.), and the locker room of a sales organization is a cliquey place with veterans and all-stars garnering the majority of attention and influence. In the end, nothing speaks louder than the undeniable power of bringing in business, but advantages like the hottest leads and prime territories tend to be granted to those who get on the brass’s good side. Mistakes and poor results get glossed over for the cool kids, but haunt those out of social favor relentlessly until the numbers speak for themselves, upon which time recent top earners suddenly get an invite to the off-night card game.

Be warned, the underpaid peons actually servicing your orders in other facets of the company will grow to resent your success. They see the sales department as a bunch of lazy idiots profiting without merit while everyone else scrapes by. Pay this no mind. Sales jobs are easy to get, and they are free to apply if they’re willing to sacrifice safety for the pressure of producing revenue by asking people for money. Just make sure you thank everyone helping you, because they’re the people you’ll need favors from getting the dirty work done closing deals with a looming deadline, and the last thing you want is your own reputation and organization working against you. A little goes a long way letting everyone know you appreciate their help.

Sales contests are a peach. Play number one in the ‘How to Juice Sales’ playbook is to dangle a highly desirable prize as a bonus for the highest producer of whatever metric needs improvement in a given time period. It may be a vacation, gadget or gift card. Whatever, it’s basically free money for doing what you’re paid to do, which is make everyone - including yourself – a pile of cash. Sales pros are incentivized to produce of all else. Enjoy.

Job security is flinty in sales. Income stability too. Failures tend to be gruesomely public displays of inadequacy, especially in shops where the scoreboard is kept public for all to see. Cutting the dead weight in the bottom tier of producers and replacing them with a fresh new crop of doe-eyed sales guns simply makes good business sense. The good news is you usually know when the end is coming, which provides the opportunity to hustle for a turnaround or seek new opportunities before the door hits you on the way out. It’s all very much “What have you done for me lately?”

Personal time and freedom are an interesting give-and-take in sales. One on hand, you’re an independent business owner left to define how you spend your time so long as the results speak for themselves. On the other, customers and prospects demand that you be available at their whim, lest they take their business elsewhere, getting more attention from the competitor pining for their attention with promises of 24/7/365 availability. For those incapable of handling a lack of 9-5 structure, the freedom to self-manage can be a burden. Conversely, those who need their personal time to stay that way unquestionably may struggle with the burden of an on-demand industry.

2 Years Out:
Plenty of people start out in sales. Only a select few survive the first 24 months though, and those who do are faced with a difficult decision of whether to embrace an even higher level of risk pursuing bigger accounts at the same company or a poaching, up-market competitor, or to bask in the shelter of management, delivering the same schlocky rah-rah spiel to newbies you half-heartedly bought into only a short time ago. Leaving sales means giving up big dollars for security. Staying in means the pressure to produce remains at large, or at least the pressure to help others produce does. Your bank account and blood pressure will make the right decision obvious.

5 Years Out:
You’re pushing 30, the grind has eased, and the time has come for defining your career path long-term. On one hand, you’ve had a good run making a solid living and having fun. On the other, you don’t own any equity, and your entrepreneurial drive is what attracted you to sales in the first place. Maybe it’s time to put that nest-egg to work, finally realizing your dream of working for yourself doing what you love. Maybe that promotion is around the corner, or your seemingly run-of-the-mill early account just became a marquee client paying you solid commissions and referral business for years to come.  You fancy yourself an entrepreneur more than an employee, even if you’re a faithful company ambassador singing the corporate praises all the way to the bank. Without you, the whole region – maybe even the company – would come to a halt. Major impasse.

10 Years Out:
Life is good. Clients adore you. The company compensates you handsomely for the ongoing revenue of your accounts. Everyone who thought you were crazy for taking on the risk of a career in sales ten years ago now asks you for career advice and sends their cousins your way for a favor getting their resume to the top of the pile when hiring. Sure, you’ve got a few over-extended debts from decisions made when money was flush under the false assumption it would last forever, but all will be well so long as you keep up the pace. Can you though? After all, the industry has changed drastically since you came on board a decade ago, and these kids in the new recruiting class are way more technologically savvy and motivated than you are. Some of your contacts at major accounts have been replaced too.

What if the bottom drops out and you have to go back to cold calling? What if you never get to stop cold calling? The phone keeps ringing, and your inbox is perpetually growing faster than you can work. This isn’t the life you want. Or is it? You wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stop Converting and Start Selling

Hey, you. Yeah, YOU! The hip web guru in the ironic t-shirt and thick frame glasses. I know your startup is about to be the next Facebook for Groupon-like YouTube aggregators, but somewhere along your journey to internet domination you’ll be required to get out from behind the keyboard and actually talk to someone as a champion of your company. Right now you likely view these real people simply as data-points with labels like ‘Users’ or ‘Investors’. Regardless of column headings, these living, breathing and opinionated beings will need to see authentic passion behind your brand before committing capital to its cause

Forget the metrics and buzzwords for a moment. Instead, apply more human terms like ‘Clients’ and ‘Partners’. Did this transition make you uncomfortable? If so, good. Asking for money can be unnerving for even the most grizzled sales pros. If not, sign off your avatar immediately and get some fresh air.

Despite the incessant ramblings of branding consultants whonever met a company that wasn’t in desperate need of a fresh new image, real eyes, ears, hearts and wallets only connect with real people. Consumers, investors and corporations all rely on spending to generate income, and they’d rather their money go to a sincerely smiling face than a preposterously polished logo. Companies need sales. Selling requires a problem. Problems require a solution. And as the face of your company, you had better be selling this solution if you’re going to generate income. 

The great tech titans are all phenomenal pitch men, or ‘brand ambassadors’ if you must, although not in the exuberant sense and rarely regarded for it publicly (Steve Jobs aside). Bill Gates, dweeby as he may be, nevershrunk from the spotlight as an advocate for his operating system. Mark Zuckerberg’s genuine love for connecting people shines through his social awkwardness, and had he not been technically inclined, he may well have excelled at developing just about any offline community – say, a new-age hospice center - instead of a social network. Jeff Bezos is fanatical about efficiency, and had he not plodded through countless objections convincing financiers that making purchases on this new thing called the Internet would ultimately prove more attractive than browsing physical shelves, he could not have created the best consumer purchasing platform on the web. Michael Dell certainly doesn’t mind his name in front of his product, and Jobs, well, his shtick did OK building and then re-building Apple into the world’s leading consumer technology company. GroupOn’s Andrew Mason never met a microphone he didn’t like either…although that has come back to bite him of late. Most of these legendary founders are actually quite uncomfortable socially, but they all got out there and sold their visions. 

With so few barriers to entry, starting an internet company has never been easier, and even the best ideas are rarely unique or unable to be replicated. That means the startup whose founder makes the most noise is the only one that will reach a critical mass of acceptance where he or she can stop doing so for a moment to focus on optimization. After all, you can’t optimize without initial user feedback - volunteered or observed - and the internet is a pretty crowded place for a new service to simply rely on being stumbled upon. If the founder is not willing to be the pitch man for investors or early adopters, neither will be compelled to commit.

Don’t confuse marketing with sales either. Paid or free, online or offline - marketing is simply telling. Sales is about asking. It’s the art of posing the right series of questions to get an enthusiastic Yes time and time again when the question is “Can I have your money?”

You don’t have to change outfits. Just your environment and attitude. You can’t focus on converting users until you first get out in front of clients and investors selling them on your company. And selling is all about the basics…none of which require A/B tested proprietary digital tweeting algorithms.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Successful Sales Programs Are Built, Not Hired

A recent conversation with a client I’m helping launch a high-volume and scalable B2B inside sales program reminded me that those who don’t touch the sales process tend not to think of it as a process at all. Rather, sales success is viewed as correlating directly to one’s talent for charismatic persuasion. Sure, a gift for talking people into making good decisions can help you close more deals, but it’s not something you can build a team around. Coachability tops swagger as a sustainable recruitment priority, especially in the early stages of a sale career. 

Founders of growing technology companies often struggle with hiring the foundation of their rank-and-file, because they make their own choices by not thinking like foot soldiers. Leaders capable of taking on management responsibility will emerge in due time as the company matures. In the meantime, you should absolutely hire likable, money-motivated and energetic sales talent all day…just with one eye on long-term fit and the other on management potential. 

There’s more to a first sales hire than posting on a job board. A documented methodology is needed to recruit, train, coach, monitor and compensate the first sales hire and improve the chances of success for every subsequent sales hire thereafter. Keep in mind we’re not talking about team members responsible for creating long-term strategic business alliances. We’re talking about your bread-and-butter sales team who predictably sell your core product to a target market in order to bring in the revenue that keeps the doors open. Predictability is actually the goal of an effective sales program, and it can only be achieved through process, not talent scouting on its own.

In case this seems too nebulous, let me break down the elements of sales program that need to be in place before the first prospecting call can be placed:
-          Recruitment strategy
o   Job description
o   Where to post / which recruiters to work with
o   Interview process
-          Compensation plan
o   Designed around expected activities and results as they relate to target earnings
-          Sales process from cold lead to closed deal
o   Daily expectations
o   Lead tracking (see CRM)
o   Call structure
o   Competitive analysis
o   Management reporting procedures with management
-          Customer relationship management (CRM) system
o   Technology sourcing
o   Lead importation
o   Activity reporting (calls/emails per rep/account)
o   Deal flow tracking (lead status and closing probability)
o   Revenue forecasting
o   Quota reporting (for commissions)
o   Email templates
o   Customer support ticketing
-          Sales scripts
o   Initial conversation structure
o   Email templates
o   Voicemails
o   Objection rebuttals
o   Follow ups
o   Closing
-          Sales collateral
o   Product/service description
o   Differentiating value proposition
-          Training Guide
o   Product and market education
o   Basic sales execution training
o   Sales process introduction and coaching
o   Performance expectations and compensation review
o   Role playing/practice

As you can see, the gift of gab is just an (important) aspect of the recruitment process, which is only a piece of a larger commitment to building a winning sales team. Talent is great, but it shines brightest in the context of a scalable process.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Un-Template Your Sales Process

Any sales organization or professional worth their commission checks understands that the fundamental key to driving new revenue is having a repeatable sales process. Along with any scalable process comes standardized procedures in the name of efficiency. Procedures form habits. Habits are hard to break.

What this translates to in the world of sales execution is the verbal and written ‘templatization’ (yes, we made that up) of prospect interaction. Basically, your pitch becomes generic to serve the broad audience instead of customized for the particular situation and need. The widespread adoption of CRM tools, like, has made the trap of boiler-plate emails and robotic conversations all too easy to fall into by giving well-intentioned sales managers the ability to provide instant access to canned replies and scripts. It’s almost effortless to email the team and say “Use this template when asked about ___” and pat yourself on the back for arming the troops with hair-trigger copy-and-paste artillery. 

The outcome is that a sales process that should look like this:
  1. Uncover needs
  2. Confirm buying interest
  3. Negotiate
  4. Close
Ends up looking more like this:
  1. Introduce yourself by saying this…
  2. Send this email…
  3. Follow up at this time by saying this…
  4.  Reply to objections with this email…
  5.  Wait for reply to generic email blast…
  6.  Send in activity report…
  7. Use this closing technique…
  8. Harass prospect mercilessly
Intelligent buyers - the kind you presumably want – know the difference between personalized thoughtful responses and recycled content. They’re constantly bombarded by newsletters, webinar invites, sales collateral and other database email marketing SPAM, and they intuitively know the difference between consultative selling and having their purchasing decision left to the whim of automation and canned responses. Nobody wants to spend money with a company that doesn’t deliver a sincere personal pre-sale experience, especially if they are going to expect attentive customer service after they’ve committed to the deal.

Here are a few tricks to show personal attention without sacrificing too much time from a pipeline flush with prospects:
  1. Create an FAQ with all your template answers rolled into one document. This was you can write a personal email referencing where this answer is in the FAQ and providing a few key clarifications to show thoughtfulness. WARNING: Be careful not to lose a deal by noting weaknesses in these FAQs. These are for technical selling points only. 
  2. Make a few intentional spelling or grammar errors. Nothing that can be perceived as stupid or careless, but something that makes it appear like you typed the message just for them and fat-fingered in a few places. After all, who would a mistake in a boiler-plate response…it must be on the spot.
  3. Makes inoffensive jokes referencing your previous dialogue as early as possible, both on the phone and in the opening of an email. If the conversation starts out in a way that would only make sense for them, they’ll assume the rest is just for them too.
  4. Follow mass emails with a personalized note referencing the impersonal nature of batch communication and volunteering to answer any questions. Essentially, follow a boiler-plate with an anti-boiler-plate boiler-plate.
  5. Opt your best prospects out of all automated campaigns. This means you’ll have to be extra-diligent with your follow up, but it takes away the risk of losing your rapport to the Sales 2.0 automation machine.
As always, sales is about relationships, and relationships are personal. Don’t let yourself rely on the crutch of treating all prospects the same, or you’ll get the same reply from them all: “Please Unsubscribe”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Turning (Green Technology) Wants into Needs

Selling to wants is fantastic when a surging economy leaves businesses and consumers flush with discretionary income, and it’s admittedly been a while since I took an economics class, but I don’t see the spend-happiness of 2003-2008 coming back soon, so any business looking to penetrate new markets better learn to position their product or service as a need. To be clear, needs are essential and wants are just nice to have. This is a serious dilemma for the green technology industry. Our solutions deliver long-term savings and soothe the ailments of a deteriorating planet, but they’re not an immediate necessity for homeowners, business owners and real estate pros struggling to stay above (murky) water.

Sure, all things ‘green’ come with immediate karmic satisfaction. This just isn’t enough on its own to offset the realities of needing to put food on table and make payroll first. Green technology projects cost more than traditional building for new property development, and they require additional investments for existing structures serving their current inhabitants adequately for the time being. This means sales and marketing professionals in the green industry have to compete with cheaper materials and the short-term inexpensiveness of doing nothing. It’s not a fantastic position…but it’s also not unique to the green industry. Just about every technology sector has successful players facing this challenge, and it can be effectively overcome through the tried and true sales best practices of having your objection responses polished and appealing to the emotional desires of potential buyers.

Here are some examples of turning wanting to green into a need:
Objection: “Building for LEED (or some other sustainability standard) is expensive.”
Response: “I understand that, but companies and individuals that buy or rent green properties are 7% more likely to fully honor their loan or renew their lease.  They’ll pay a 5% premium too for the space. Are you trying to attract buyers and tenants that stick around and appreciate a superior product, or would you prefer dealing with people that don’t think sustainability is a priority?”

Objection: “My building operates just fine. I’m sure we could save a bit on energy, but cash is tight right now.”
Response: “Well, I agree that you could save on energy, and I believe you that cash is tight. The last few years have been rough for everyone. Where I disagree is that your building is operating just fine. Buildings are a lot like humans. They’re not getting any younger and it’s best to address problems when they’re detected instead of waiting. Energy prices are only going to go up too, so wouldn’t you agree that we’d be wise to get healthy before the symptoms get worse?”

Objection: “A 10+ year ROI just isn’t within our investment scope for property improvements.”
Response: “I appreciate that, but let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about hard upfront costs and projected energy savings or revenue from selling energy. We haven’t taken into account increased property value through a cleaner, more desirable neighborhood and creating a more profitable long-term asset. There’s also something to be said for employee/family pride in their company/home and the productivity/values that come with it. Don’t you think?”

Objection: “I’m afraid all this green talk is a trend, and I can’t put myself in a position where look foolish as an early adopter of something that never took off.”
Response: “I understand that what’s fashionable today will likely be appalling tomorrow, but the misconception about green and sustainability is that they are labels instead of building standards. Environmental impact requirements are being worked into building codes worldwide, and in many places, like California, rigid sustainability protocols are mandatory for all new builds and capital improvements. Would you rather be proactive about meeting future requirements or look backwards using outdated practices that will soon be prohibited?”

Objection: “I can’t interrupt my business operations by making changes to reduce environmental impact.”
Response: “Reducing impact just means operating more efficiently by getting more done with fewer resources. If you don’t learn to be more efficient, your competition surely will. Can you afford to fall behind?”

I'm not under any illusion that the “green has to make dollars and sense” mantra is anything new, but so many good-willed and environmentally conscious professionals in the green industry forget that our industry can’t thrive without a bit of sales persuasion applied to the non-converted. Some people will make changes because they feel good, but most need to feel like they’re acting out of necessity, not a desire for warm and fuzzies. 

Given a choice between investing in green and falling behind the competition, most companies and individuals will make the right decision. We’ve just got to help them understand it’s about needs.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lose the Inferiority Complex. Build a Better Story.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re buying the 2nd best of anything. Educated buyers are well aware of the ‘best of breed’ brand for their purchase, but they likely lack the budget, fortitude and ego required to pay the top dollar required to obtain it, and so begins the process of attempting rationalize the comparative value of the viable alternative they hope will present itself.  That’s great news for those of us who don’t represent the high-end luxury route with all the bells and whistles. We’ve just got to stay the course helping them build the story of their decision making process along the way. Put more simply, your goal is to make the prospect feel like buying the top-end is for ignorant suckers who are too lazy to make intelligent purchasing decisions.  

In the IT world, the old adage of “Nobody ever got fired for choosing Cisco” is true enough at organizations with plenty of cash and limited ingenuity. But nobody got promoted for their innovation and cost-consciousness choosing Cisco either. My reply is always “Cisco never made anybody a hero either. Wanna be a hero?” Of course they do, or at least they want to try. It’s a matter of helping them see that winners don’t pay more to play it safe. Heroes do more with less.

A chip on your shoulder can be a shackle or a piece of flare. A burden, or an inspirational thumbing of the nose at the incumbent. To use cities for example, I’ve fallen in love with Chicago since moving here three months ago, but there’s an inescapable 2nd-class self-perception within the entrepreneurial tech community. The names of two best business blogs in town, both written by fantastic guys that have been very good to me, reek of inferiority complex: and Conversely, Austin TX, another city I recently fell in love with, clearly revels in their booming green technology scene staying off the radar of the general public with their “Keep Austin weird” credo. Chicago will never get over its ‘not New York’ status until it stops trying. (Full Disclosure: I’m a native NYer still trying to do the same)

Hertz car rental’s classic “We’re #2. We Try Harder” and Apple’s brilliant-till-it-wasn’t-anymore ‘Mac vs PC’ campaigns are perfect examples of reveling your role in the pecking order to the chagrin of the top dog. Instead of shying away and hoping you don’t ask the hard questions, they proactively address the needs of their core audience and glare a spotlight on their relative strengths. Ask a Hertz or Apple sales rep what makes them different and they’ll tell you everything they are that the top brand isn’t, not the other way around. People that buy their products and services feel like they’ve one-upped the chumps who blindly follow the market leader.

Another approach is to simply ignore the rest of the market in favor of an earnest emphasis on your product’s value. Take the (admittedly by them, I presume) entirely unsexy brand of Eddie Bauer. I was recently in the market for a new winter coat (Chicago will do that to you), and in the land of down jackets they repeatedly hit you with how their product provides superior warmth and functionality with classic styling that you won’t regret next season. If you want to buy a coat that you’ll never regret, but a coat from Eddie Bauer. “Ours down coats have the highest quality materials and tailoring. That’s it. The rest of the market can be trendy. We stick with what we do well.” Their retail reps don’t even think about the competition. Simple, effective and warm too.
There’s basically two strategies to succeeding by admitting you’re not the top dog. Either point out your obvious strengths, “It’ funny you mention them. We were actually created to provide a better solution by…” or stick to your guns “You can shop around all you want. You won’t find anyone better at this specific aspect of what we do.” Whichever one you choose, there’s no room for resentment.

Make people proud of their choices by never letting them feel like they settled.