Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 14, 2015

The “Prospecting” Disease

During my three decades in the sales industry I’ve worked with, met, coached, and observed thousands of sellers from a multitude of industries.  They’ve been new and experienced, inside and outside sellers, big ticket and small, specialized products and services as well as common, commodity products, some very successful and a great many barely holding their own or failing.

Some have been hail fellow well met types, others have been shy introverts.  Some pound the phones, others pound the pavement.  Some are highly attuned to technology, others can barely turn their cell phone on.  Some like to hit the office or the road early, others prefer to work late, a few do both.

But with rare exceptions they all have one thing in common—they’re busy.

They’re all doing stuff.

And a great deal of the time when you ask them what they’re doing they tell you they’re prospecting.

They’re busy trying to find business.  They’re focused on getting a contract in the door and getting paid.

Some, not the majority by any means, are very successful.  Most are not.

So the natural question is what’s the difference?  Why are a few really good at finding prospects and brining in business and most aren’t?

Turns out that most of the time the answer is really pretty simple.

The successful sellers spend their time prospecting.

The majority are simply infected with the disease of “prospecting,” that is, the illusion that what they are doing is prospecting when in reality it is nothing more than busy work to keep them from having to do the tough work of actually prospecting.

These unsuccessful sellers can show lists of several hundred names and phone numbers they have spent hours and hours researching that they have on a call list—a few dozen will have check marks beside them, even fewer will be scratched through.  They can show stacks of fliers and letters they have mailed out.  They can produce a list of networking events they have attended over the past couple of months.  They can produce a passel of emails they have sent out.  They may even have their business card pinned to every corkboard in every restaurant, laundromat, and other business that has a board to display customer’s cards.

Certainly they’ve been busy; no doubt about that.  The problem is although they have been busy, they haven’t been prospecting.  Instead of prospecting, they’ve been “prospecting”—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, making a phone call here and there—and increasingly spending more and more time “connecting’ with prospects via social media, tweeting and updating their facebook page and searching LinkedIn for any warm body that might be a prospect to try to connect with.  They confuse preparatory and busy work for prospecting, with the actual activity of interacting with a qualified prospect.

Although they spend a great deal of time doing busy work, they spend very little time actually prospecting.  They “feel” they are always prospecting, but in reality they are always finding ways not to prospect by spending their time preparing to prospect.  They engage in a great deal of activity, but the activity isn’t the activity that will produce business; instead, it is the activity that makes them feel good, feel productive, allowing them to convince themselves that they are being extremely active.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the business we must have in order to succeed.  But activity alone is fruitless.  Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a way to failure as inactivity.

Prospecting isn’t preparation to prospect; it isn’t finding easy ways to feel like you’re getting your message out; and it isn’t simply being busy all of the time.  Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting and interacting with qualified prospects.

If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to get on the phone.  If you network, it means actually being in front of and meeting prospects or garnering introductions to prospects from referral partners, not researching events or even spending time at non-qualified events where you’ll meet few, if any, prospects, or spending your time at the event hanging with friends and co-workers.

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed as many sales careers as inactivity has.

As salespeople we have three very basic duties—finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them satisfy needs or wants, and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale. 

Everything else is busy work and busy work doesn’t make a sale, doesn’t generate income, and doesn’t move us toward our sales or income goals.

Before you engage in any activity consider whether that activity is income producing or not.  If it isn’t directly producing income, does it really need to be done?  If not, move on to an activity that will directly lead to a sale.

To succeed you need to spend your time prospecting.  Getting infected with the “prospecting” disease where you “feel” you’re prospecting but in reality are finding ways to keep from having to prospect is a career killer.

January 8, 2015

3 Steps to Getting High Quality Referrals From Your Clients

Are you one of the majority of sellers that isn’t converting the majority of the referrals you get because the “referral” is nothing more than the name and phone number of someone who isn’t a real prospect?  Are you one of the sellers who have simply given up even asking for referrals because they have proven to be more of a waste of time than anything else?   Chances are you said yes because that’s the experience of most sellers–weak or worthless “referrals” that cost more time and waste more energy than they’re worth.  Oh, sure, we all have some clients that will give us referrals all day long.  Just ask and they’ll give you name after name.  Other clients, the majority, aren’t nearly as generous with their referrals.

The biggest problem in both cases is so often the referral we get isn’t much better than pointing at a name in the phonebook at random.

How can you guarantee that you get great referrals?  Simple.  Make sure the client gives you a great referral by creating the referral for them to give you, rather than relying on them coming up with a quality referral to give.

The reality is that clients really don’t know who we’re looking for and most of them just don’t have a real incentive to invest the time and energy to come up with a great referral.

But we know who is a great referral for us.  And certainly we’re willing to invest the time and energy to find a great referral (if we’re not, we have some real serious issues to deal with).

Since we’re the one with the need; and we’re the one with the desire; and we’re the one who knows who makes a good referral for us, why would we rely on anyone else other than our self to come up with the referral?

So how can we create a great referral for our client to give us?

Here are three steps to guaranteeing you get great referrals from your clients:

  1. Get Your Client On-board to Give Referrals.  Most sellers wait until after the sale has been completed before they bring up the idea of referrals.  Bad idea.

    Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, so bring up referrals early in the relationship.  Don’t ask for referrals; just let your client know that your business is built on referrals and then drop referral seeds as the sale progresses.  Since your prospects and clients aren’t stupid, if they hear you mention referrals often in a casual manner, they’ll get the impression referrals are important to you and they will be expecting you to ask for them at some point.

  2. Find Out Who Your Client Knows.  We’ve already established that in order to get great referrals you have to do the work for your client, so do it by discovering during the course of the relationship who they know that you know you want to be referred to.How do you find out? Through small-talk (who do they mention in conversation they know); paying attention to what’s in their environment (pictures, association directories, membership plaques, and such); their background (where did they work previously); their work (what vendors and suppliers do they interact with).  Your job is to be a detective and to uncover the relationships they have with people or companies that you know you want to be referred to.  The more you uncover the more quality referrals you uncover.
  3. Don’t Ask for Referrals, Ask for THE Introduction.  Now when it comes time to ask for referrals, you’re not going to be like every other seller and ask a weak question such as, “Donna, do you happen to know anyone else (or another company) that might be able to use my products or services (or that I can help—or any other such weak question)?”

    Instead you’re going to ask for a direct introduction to someone you know is a great prospect for you and that you have reason to believe your client knows:  “Donna, I’ve been trying to connect with David Jones for some time without success.  You mentioned that you’ve worked with David for several years, would you be comfortable introducing me to him?”  You know she knows David.  You have reason to believe David is a good prospect for you.  Don’t waste Donna’s time with that weak general referral question; ask to get connected to a person you know she knows that you know you want to connect with.

Referrals can be the foundation of your sales business if you just develop the skills necessary to be a referral-based salesperson.  If Donna knows three people or companies you know you want to be referred to and you can get introductions to them from her, how much time and energy have you saved getting those three introductions through referrals instead of cold calling or sending out direct mail or hoping to bump into them at a networking event?

Forget what you’ve been taught about asking for referrals.  Referral generation is a PROACTIVE process where you do the work, not your client.  Your client doesn’t have the motivation, you do.  They don’t have the understanding of who makes a good referral like you do.  Your client doesn’t have the time to invest in figuring out a good referral like you do.  It’s your business, not theirs.

February 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, absolutely it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Client: “Sure, I know Janet. Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Pt. 2: Asking for Referrals is Bad Practice

OK, I know, you’ve been told your entire life as a salesperson that you have to ask for referrals and that if you don’t you’ll fail.  But if you’re like most sellers you’ve asked and on occasion get a name and phone number of someone that turns into a new client, but most of the time the names and numbers you get are about as targeted as taking a dart and throwing blindly at the phone book.

The above situation is so common that a great many sellers simply stop asking, thinking that referrals are nothing more than sales mythology, while others, thinking they are the cause of the failure to generate significant numbers of quality referrals, continue to ask with little success and a growing sense of frustration and failure.

The reality isn’t that generating quality referrals are nothing more than a myth or that the seller himself is the root cause of referral generation failure.

Referral generation fails primarily because of the way most sellers have been taught to seek referrals.  The seller isn’t the problem; the strategy they’ve been taught is at fault.

How have most of us been taught to get referrals? 

For the most part out referral training consists of nothing more than “do a good job for your client and ask for referrals with a question such as, ‘Mr. Prospect, do you know anyone else who I might be able to help as I’ve helped you,’ or ‘Ms. Prospect, do you know of anyone who might benefit from my products or services?’

Certainly on occasion the training may be a bit more in-depth—one trainer might encourage sellers to ask the question early in the sale while another stresses the need to ask only after the sale has been completed, or one trainer might use slightly different phraseology or might encourage the seller to ask for a specific number of referrals, but the essence of the training is the same—do a good job and ask for referrals.

The problem is the process taught causes more problems than it solves.

First, the good news—the traditional referral training solves a major problem—it encourages the seller to seek referrals.  Although the success ratio is typically very low, it does produce the occasional prospect that turns into a client. 

Now the bad news—it fritters away one of the most valuable business generation resources a seller has—the potential quality referrals from a satisfied client.

Let’s take a look at the primary problems the traditional referral “method” creates:

  • The Referral Question Comes Out of the Blue:  Most clients are not comfortable when put on the spot to give referrals.  When we ask for a referral we may be thinking that we’re asking a small favor but most clients take the request far more seriously.  When a client gives a referral they believe they are putting their reputation on the line, something most don’t do lightly.  Clients need time to become comfortable with the idea of giving referrals.  If we really want quality referrals, we have to allow our client the time to become comfortable with the idea of giving us referrals before we ask.
  • We Don’t Give Our Client the Opportunity to Give Quality Referrals:  When we follow the traditional training of “do a good job and ask for referrals” we literally stand in front of our client (or are holding on the phone) expecting them to pop off the names of great prospects for us.  We are asking them to go through their mental file cabinet and come up with great referrals in the course of 10 or 15 seconds.  That is simply an unrealistic expectation on our part and we usually get what we deserve when we put a client in that position—little to nothing of value.
  • Our Client Doesn’t Know Who a Great Prospect for Us Is:  Not only do we expect our client to be able to give great referrals just off the top of their head, we expect them to know exactly who we can help when much of the time our client hasn’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate what we’ve done for them, much less know what all of our capabilities are and who is really a top prospect for us.  We’re asking our client to do the impossible—know our business as well as we know it.
  • It Ignores Human Nature:  The traditional referral request is one-sided and offers the client no reason to give referrals.  There are, obviously, clients who will give referrals even when there is nothing in it for them, but human nature being what it is, the referral request can be far more successful if it can be shown that it benefits the client as well as the seller.
  • It Makes the Client do the Work:  Rather than making it easy for our clients to give us great referrals, we make it as difficult as possible by asking them to do something they are ill prepared–and often not inclined–to do.  Giving high quality referrals should be so easy for our client that literally all they have to do is say “yes.”

Although referral generation as traditionally taught is laden with self-defeating issues, referral generation when practiced properly can be a highly successful business generation tool—one that can literally be the cornerstone of a successful business.

February 19, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2012

Make It Easy for Your Client to Give You Top Quality Referrals

Are you finding that you’re just not getting the number of quality referrals you want from your clients? Chances are you said yes because that’s the case with most sellers. Oh, sure, we all have some clients that will give us referrals all day long. Just ask and they’ll give you name after name. Other clients, the majority, aren’t nearly as generous with their referrals.

The biggest problem in both cases is so often the referral we get isn’t much better than pointing at a name in the phonebook at random.

How can you guarantee that you get great referrals? Simple. Make sure the client gives you a great referral by finding the referral for them to give you, rather than relying on them coming up with a quality referral to give.

The reality is that clients really don’t know who we’re looking for and most of them just don’t have a real incentive to invest the time and energy to come up with a great referral for us.

But we know who is a great referral for us. And certainly we’re willing to invest the time and energy to find a great referral (if we’re not, we have some real serious issues to deal with).

Since we’re the one with the need; and we’re the one with the desire; and we’re the one who knows who makes a good referral for us, why would we rely on anyone else other than our self to come up with the referral?

So how can we come up with the referral for our client to give us?

Here are three steps to guaranteeing you get great referrals from your clients:

  1. Get Your Client On-board to Give Referrals. Most sellers wait until after the sale has been completed before they bring up the idea of referrals. Bad idea.

    Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, so bring up referrals early in the relationship. Don’t ask for referrals; just let your client know that your business is built on referrals and then drop referral seeds as the sale progresses. Since your prospects and clients aren’t stupid, if they hear you mention referrals often in a casual manner, they’ll get the impression referrals are important to you and they will be expecting you to ask for them at some point.

  2. Find Out Who Your Client Knows. We’ve already established that in order to get great referrals you have to do the work for your client, so do it by discovering during the course of the relationship who they know that you know you want to be referred to.

    How do you find out? Through small-talk (who do they mention in conversation they know); paying attention to what’s in their environment (pictures, association directories, membership plaques, and such); their background (where did they work previously); their work (what vendors and suppliers do they interact with). Your job is to be a detective and to uncover the relationships they have with people or companies that you know you want to be referred to. The more you uncover the more quality referrals you uncover.

  3. Don’t Ask for Referrals, Ask for THE Referral. Now when it comes time to ask for referrals, you’re not going to be like every other seller and ask a weak question such as, “Donna, do you happen to know anyone else (or another company) that might be able to use my products or services (or that I can help—or any other such weak question)?”

    Instead you’re going to ask for a specific referral: “Donna, I’ve been trying to connect with David Jones for some time without success. You mentioned that you’ve worked with David for several years, would you be comfortable introducing me to him?” You know she knows David. You have reason to believe David is a good prospect for you. Don’t waste Donna’s time with that weak general referral question; ask to get connected to a person you know she knows that you know you want to connect with.

Referrals can be the foundation of your sales business if you just develop the skills necessary to be a referral-based salesperson. If Donna knows three people or companies you know you want to be referred to and you can get introductions to them from her, how much time and energy have you saved getting those three introductions through referrals instead of cold calling or sending out direct mail or hoping to bump into them at a networking event?

Forget what you’ve been taught about asking for referrals. Referral generation is a PROACTIVE process where you do the work, not your client. Your client doesn’t have the motivation, you do. They don’t have the understanding of who makes a good referral like you do. Your client doesn’t have the time to invest in figuring out a good referral like you do. It’s your business, not theirs. Make it easy to give quality referrals—you’ll get a ton of them if you do.

August 15, 2012

Guest Article: “Building Your Sales Pipeline Is Not a One Step Process,” by Lori Richardson

Filed under: lead generation,prospecting — Paul McCord @ 10:34 am
Tags: , ,

Building Your Sales Pipeline Is Not a One Step Process
by Lori Richardson

Do You Have a Sales Funnel?

For many years, the “sales explanation industry” has worked with and discussed a Funnel or a Pipeline model to explain how you need many more leads to eventually turn into prospects, and then ultimately a smaller subset who become actual customers. Hence using a picture of a funnel gives a visual on how you need more at the top to end up with some at the bottom. I’ve used a pipeline for years rather than a funnel,  so am used to talking about the front, middle, and end of a pipeline. Whichever works for your visual, use that.

To use a CRM, or Contact Relationship Management system well – you need more than tools – you must have a way – a process and a methodology –  to do the following things we will be talking about to grow revenues.

Can you find prospective customers – ideally who are “more likely” to do business with you than “less likely”. There is little point to attracting thousands of people your way who are not likely to do business with you. There is a whole lot of sense in drawing thousands of people your way who are more probable to do business with you someday. These are company and individual relationships that you want to nurture.  The phrase “nurture marketing” came from this idea.

People go wrong because they just buy tools– they import their mish-mash of “contacts” – names in whatever system they were using, such as their e-mail application. Contacts get imported in, and then sometimes people just wait for the magic to happen.

Magic?  Just like there is no crying in baseball, there is no magic in selling. It takes a clean set of nurtured contacts over time – who know and trust you, and who find the value in your offering to grow sales. Through multiple contacts to the right contacts (decision makers) you can create sales opportunities and bring them to closure.

Today we’ll talk about the front end of the pipeline (or for you funnel fans, ToFu – Top of Funnel, as coined by Hubspot).

You MUST have tools that can:

help you find and /or attract prospects

look for the trigger events in their businesses (for compelling reasons to contact them)

allow you to learn about them and what they need

offer them something of value – be it an idea or a whole e-book of ideas

build and maintain a robust group of people who are more probable to work with your company

This is the front-end of your sales process.

So, do you have tools that can do this for you? Do you have strategic partners, vendors or employees helping you with this?

It’s 2012. Don’t put junk in your sales pipeline.

Get rid of those in your pipeline who are just filling space. Remove those problem people who don’t seem that they will ever work with you. Delete them. Remove people you have not connected with in a long time. You need to focus on less companies and work to do more with them.  Why? To keep your focus, to keep your niched offerings (you do have a niche, right?) and to make it easier on yourself and those who work with you.  It’s also way easier to work with people who DO somewhat get what you do, or are more interested than others.

Look for these types of tools and services:

Lead list building

Web visitor tracking

Lead capture

Lead nurturing

Trigger Alerting tools

A Word about e-Mail:

No More Tacky E-Mail in 2012 Please!

Dear vendor: you are part of a business, and you need tools that manage e-mail so that no one is a victim of visible group email anymore. I, for one, won’t do business with a company who openly exposes my email within a group – this is a practice that should have stopped a couple years ago. Further, you need to use a tool that will track open rates so you know how effective you are.  This is very important also: segment your e-mail so that when someone does sign up for one of your offerings, they go into another bucket, and they don’t get any more “last chance to sign up” e-mails. Sophisticated e-mail tools have been doing that for years. If you are still doing any of these things, you need to stop these primitive marketing practices right away!

Let’s step it up this year with better management of the FRONT-END of our sales process. If you are already doing this, fantastic – post in our comments what you are using that is working to help you manage and grow the right prospects for your business.

Lori Richardson writes, speaks, trains, and mentors company leaders on tactical ways to grow revenues. Her company, Score More Sales helps with systems, lead development, and prospecting for technology and financial services companies.

March 18, 2012

Guest Article, Sales Lead Brownouts Produce Sales Dips Wihin Three Months, Leading to Pipeleine Failure, by James Obermayer

Filed under: lead generation — Paul McCord @ 10:04 am
Tags: ,

Sales Lead Brownouts Produce Sales Dips Within Three Months, Leading to Pipeline Failure.1
by James Obermayer

“Companies often decide to curtail lead generation spending because cash flow slows and sales stagnate.”

Please reread that last sentence.  Does it make sense?  It should read:

“Companies that curtail lead generation spending because cash flow slows and sales stagnate see a further decline in sales for three to twelve months thereafter because the sales pipeline has been reduced.”

Of course, I can understand caution when cash is short, but slowing down lead generation is not the way out of the morass.  Whether you average 100 inquiries or a thousand a month, if you cut lead generation spending and your lead count drops by 50% or more for three to six months, sales will correspondingly drop within three months.  What’s more, they’ll remain curtailed for three to six months after lead generation picks up.  It isn’t just a fact, it’s common sense.

This is how it works.

After lead generation spending is slashed, sales continue for about three months as the pipeline is drained of opportunities.  At this point, senior management is beating on sales management to increase the pipeline, and sales management replies with excuses for just about everything except lack of leads; that comes a month or so later when he or she gets desperate and every salesperson cries for leads.

It’s not too late, but recovery is several quarters away.  It takes months to build the inquiry level back up to what it was, and months longer to rebuild the pipeline.   Just consider the average sales cycle for your product and you’ll see that the rebuild time is considerable.  But there is no choice.  You can reignite sales lead flow, but it takes months for the pipeline to come back and months longer for sales to reappear.

What do you do?

First, don’t cut lead generation if you need an increase in sales: increase leads to increase sales.

When management requests a reduction in the lead generation budget explain the consequences:

Fewer leads for six months = smaller pipeline for nine months  = declining sales for three to twelve months.

Conversely:

Increased leads for three months  = increased pipeline within six months = increased sales for one year.

The lesson: curtail sales lead generation spending at your peril, understanding that there are consequences to your pipeline and to sales far into the future.

[1] James Obermayer, Sales and Marketing 365,  Racom Communications & Business Marketing Association, Evanston, Ill , #66, page 32.   Buy the book with all 365 Tips, Tricks, and Tactics for making more money all year long; from the publisher: $17.95

July 26, 2011

Managing the Crisis of Time in Sales

Time is one of the most critical factors in sales and it is one of the most difficult to manage.  As I discussed a few days ago, salespeople often are saddled with conflicting demands by management—to sell while still dedicating a tremendous number of hours involved in non-sales activities such as meetings, filling out reports, taking care of internal company matters that could well be handled by someone else, and, of course, customer service issues.

In many organizations there is a virtual time management crisis with their sales teams as they try to figure out how to get their salespeople out into the field selling.

Whether you manage a giant sales force that covers multiple countries or a modest sales team that covers a city or small region, figuring out how to effectively keep your salespeople selling instead of engaged in non-income producing activities is—or certainly should be—a major concern.

For decades managers have tried to find ways to help their sales team members increase sales.  Unfortunately, so often instead of encouraging sales, management ends up hindering their team’s ability to sell by loading them up with non-income producing activities such as attending useless meetings, completing reports, and performing customer service and even collection duties that should be being dealt with by others.

One of the most common activities managers expect their sales team members to perform is that of lead generator.  Almost every company, no matter the size or industry, relies on its sales team members to find and connect with quality prospects on their own.  Many of these companies ask their sellers to simply supplement market’s efforts in terms of lead generation, while others—a great many others—leave lead generation entirely to their salespeople.

In those companies where lead generation is completely the responsibility of the individual salesperson, sellers are required to come up with potential prospect names, research them to determine if they are really suspects or not, contact them, qualify them, set up an appointment, and then, finally, make some kind of presentation.

How much time and effort is spent on generating, contacting, and qualifying the lead?  Depending upon the product or service a salesperson can invest not just hours on a single potential prospect but literally days of time invested in a single lead.

That single lead—that very often results in not only a no sale but turns out to be not even a qualified prospect—can cost hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about all the time these same salespeople invest in developing their own marketing and sales materials, writing and sending prospecting letters, and spending huge amounts of time researching names that never make it to the “prospect” list..

The question then becomes are there realistic and cost effective strategies to significantly alleviate these costly activities? 

Fortunately there are some solutions that can make a great deal of sense no matter the size of the company.

Depending upon company size, hiring a small inside sales group whose function is to set appointments for the sales team can be very cost effective.  Having a staff that is paid on an hourly or percentage of closed sales basis can free up sellers to see more prospects and close more sales while decreasing the overall cost of the sale.  Many companies have very successfully created an inside sales team to supplement and support the outside team, significantly reducing the cost of each individual sale while increasing production.

For many companies who either don’t want to commitment to an inside sales team or who would like to ‘try out’ the concept before making the investment, outsourcing the lead generation and prospect qualification function to a call center outsourcing company is a perfect solution.  Outsourcing gives one the opportunity to free up the sales team without the long-term commitment an inside team would demand.

Another possibility would be to rely on marketing to more effectively qualify and nurture the leads they generate.  Often sellers reject leads generated by marketing because they believe them to be either of inferior quality or to be so far from sales ready that following up is a waste of time.  This isn’t to ignore that many times salespeople simply don’t follow-up on leads or they make a call and when they don’t connect they simply move on to another prospect.  But in many instances the quality of the leads are so poor that eventually sales rejects them out of hand.  Creating a more effective lead qualification and nurturing program can not only change sale’s view of company leads but can greatly reduce the cost of sales.

Whether you look to creating an inside team, outsourcing the function, or developing a more effective lead generation and nurturing program, finding a realistic solution to having salespeople act as lead generators, marketers, and salespeople will help to both increase production and reduce the cost of the individual sale.

July 16, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Sales Success

A little over one hundred years ago the father of a young 8 year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon encouraged her to write to a then leading New York newspaper, The Sun, and ask the question she’d just asked him—if there were in fact a Santa Claus, for all of her friends were telling her that he really didn’t exist and she wanted to know if they were correct.

The Sun answered Virginia in one of the most famous editorials ever published—Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.  The reply was a resounding YES, there is a Santa Claus and the writer of the editorial laid out his proof.

Unfortunately, today all too many deny there is a real secret to sales success also.  Like Virginia’s friends, the claim is made that there really isn’t one single thing that if done can guarantee success in sales.  No, they say, you must become a master of every aspect of selling and then you’ll be prepared to become successful.  Oh, sure, they’ll admit, a few here and there appear to succeed by blind luck, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  Forget your silly search for the magic bullet of selling and resign yourself to learning the minutia of sales before seriously turning your eye to becoming truly successful.

Many, many others are all too eager to promote the idea of the sales secret—and to let you know that they are the sole keepers of the great secret that so few have known.  Better yet, they tell you, they’ll be happy to share the secret with you, but since it is such a valuable thing and should only be shared with those who are truly deserving of knowing, they must make sure you are worthy.  But since they really don’t have any other way of discerning who is and who isn’t worthy, they must charge an exorbitant fee to keep the riff-raff and undeserving from attaining it–and since you have the money to acquire it, you must be worthy and deserving of being given the great secret (as soon as your check clears, of course)..

Lucky for you I know this great secret and I’ll give it to you—and it won’t cost you $1,995.  Won’t even cost $995.  Heck, I’m not even going to charge you $9.95.  I’m simply going to give it to you—no charge.

Why in the world would I give such a tremendous secret away for nothing?  Because I know that once learned, the vast majority won’t put it into practice.  You see, the secret is simple, but it is far from easy.

Anyone can take this secret and become a successful seller—just how successful will depend on their commitment to implementing it.

So what is this secret?

Is it a super-duper sales process?  No.

Maybe a super special leads list?  Nope, not that.

How about some special words that will immediately connect with prospects?  Not that either.

Could it be a special super power like a super hero has?   Now we’re getting warm.

The secret is a super power of sorts–one that few are capable of acquiring.

This super power is tough-mindedness.  It’s the ability to out work and out prospect your competitors.  It’s the ability to take the rejection, the ‘no’s’, the frustration of making calls and not reaching anyone, of being stopped dead by a gatekeeper, by having the phone slammed down in your ear, of networking until you feel like you can’t network anymore–and to then do it again and again and again until you’ve reached your goals.

The secret is simple—if you have the determination and commitment to prospect longer and harder than anyone else, you will become successful.

I’ve seen this truth worked out time after time as new sellers enter the field and out work and outperform even the top sellers in their office. They know nothing–but work their tails off and sell like crazy. Unfortunately, many times after they “learn” that they’re not supposed to be having the success that they’re having their production craters. They’ve “learned” how to be average. Sometimes we simply learn the wrong things–such as there isn’t a secret to sales success.

This isn’t to say that all the other things in sales aren’t important.  They are.  You need a great sales process; you need to know how to probe and discover needs and wants; you need to know how to solve issues.  There is a great deal that every professional seller must learn.

But there is still one key to being successful in sales above all others—prospecting.

The better you become at qualifying suspects; the better you become at finding and solving real needs; the better you become at finding and connecting with your quality prospects; the easier success will be and the less time you’ll have to spend prospecting.

That being said, even if you know nothing about sales, have the world’s worst close ratio, have no discretion in who you spend time talking to. and haven’t the slightest idea of the difference between a closed-end and open-end question, if you outwork your competition in prospecting, you will reach a measure of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t a simple secret to success in selling that alone can make you successful because there is.  It certainly isn’t complicated—but it is hard.  And it can be claimed and implemented by anyone. 

By all means, acquire a great sales process, learn the most sophisticated and effective prospecting strategies you can, learn to become great at identifying and solving prospect issues, learn all you can to make selling easier, but if you aren’t having the success you want, take heart—you now have the secret.

Take it, claim it as yours, implement it, and enjoy the rewards.

And know that even if your competitors know it too, few, if any, will claim it as their own because it simply costs too much for most.

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