Entries from May 2008 ↓

Reducing client friction

Slippery SlopeWe all know Newton’s First Law of Motion stating that a body at rest wants to remain at rest and one in motion tends to stay that way – I like to apply that to my selling.

I call it client friction. When your prospect is sitting there and not moving he has a lot of friction that helps him stay right there at rest. It’s your job to somehow reduce that friction. This is why many people find cold calling so difficult – their subjects are glued with a high degree of friction. You have to get over that hump to get them into your sales funnel.

We’ve touched on many ways to reduce this friction in previous posts, but what I want to talk about today is the importance of keeping them moving once you make contact.

You should have a structured plan (some call this a sales process) on how you walk prospects through the first layers of the sales funnel. Once you get over that high hurdle of initial contact, you have to keep slight pressure on them to take advantage of their lower kinetic friction – as opposed to the initial static friction that you have already overcome.

There are many ways to do this and it can be company specific, but here are some ideas:

  1. Make sure it is clear at the end of every communication who’s court the ball is in. If it’s in your court, great – you can control how fast you complete your task and when you get back in touch. If the ball is in their court, ask for permission to contact them at a certain time.
  2. Ask meaningful follow-up questions. Perhaps you’re preparing a quote and one of your machining vendors says that he can remove a processing step if a certain tolerance is just increased by 0.001″ – that is great time to call the prospect and propose a money saving alternative.
  3. Send literature of interest. If you come across a press release or article that you think would be of interest to your prospect, send it their way.
  4. Attend conferences that they will be at.

The list goes on and on, but my point is that once you get over that static friction and to a point of kinetic friction – you need to keep them moving toward the bottom of your sales funnel.

Don’t argue with clients

Arguing with customersMike Smith had a great post last week called “5 Reasons Why Arguing with Unruly Clients Will Get You Nowhere“. While most of the work is directed at Internet workers, I’d say that he’s just about right on the spot even in complex engineering sales.

The main point is that it wastes time and typically doesn’t gain you any money. You have to be selective in who your customers are. Any time you spend with a certain customer is time away from another potential customer.

So ask yourself if you’re better off bickering with a jerk in a losing situation or spending that hour calling up a customer that you’ve lost touch with over the years – should be a pretty easy call.

Try this, “Well Mr. Prospect, it seems pretty clear to me that your business would be better off not dealing with us, perhaps we’ll have a chance to work together in the future.”

The importance of your title

I have a strange habit of saving one of my own business cards every time I have a new one (I’m up over a dozen). Thinking about this got me reflecting on the importance of your own title.

My feeling and experience suggests that you don’t want to be called a salesman – that’s a title reserved for sly characters that sell used cars. If you’re an engineer, flaunt it.

One of my favorite titles that I ever had was “Director of Engineering Services”. I was in charge of the sales and marketing department and was initially given the title of “VP, Sales” – yuck!

When I would call on fellow engineers (that’s who I was selling to), I got much more traction with the seemingly technical title than with the flashier sales title.

Most of the times, even when I own the company I’m selling – I don’t use CEO or President, I’ve had much more luck with mid-level technical titles. Your level should be high enough to convey that you can close a deal without running to your boss, yet low enough to suggest that you are on the same plane as your customer – this is why I like Director.

So, talk to your boss and ask to have business cards made up with a title of your choice – offer to pay for it if you have to. And don’t let ego be your enemy, flashy titles are just that, flashy title.

I remember one time, I had a title President and CEO and I was calling on people literally working in the field, they’d shake with a dirty hand, look at my card and say “wow, aren’t you important” with a disgusted smirk on their face – learned a quick lesson there.

Bottom line, put the effort into getting yourself a title that helps you sell to your target customers.

Keeping in touch with current customers

Customer touch pointsSeveral years ago I invented a gardening system that let homeowners create their own little garden space right over their existing lawn. Literally all they had to do was water the thing. People loved it, and it was starting to morph into more of a teaching tool for young children than anything else.

We had decent sales through the Internet and boutique shops and catalogs and had preliminary interest from some of the big box stores – although we were shying away from them. To make a long, long story a little shorter, I sold the business to pursue other opportunities that my heart was more into, and thus the point of this post.

The new owners (I still had 25% ownership, but no say whatsoever), never followed up with any of the current customers. I hope that seems as ridiculous to you as it does to me. I would have people calling me saying that they wanted to re-order. When I would pass this information along, my response was always the same: “you’re focusing too much on the small customers, we need to think bigger.” It got so bad that I stepped out of the picture all together.

It ended sadly with them closing the business down because sales dried up. I called some of the customers after the fact and they all said the same thing. They had way too many products to worry about and if someone doesn’t come to them to get their order, they’re not going to chase you down to order it.

So my point should be pretty clear. Keep in touch. If you don’t get another order, why not? What did you do wrong – what did your competition do right? Can you call back after you’ve addressed their concerns? You get the point.

Take care of the bottom end of your sales funnel – it is one of the easiest places to increase sales.

Sales Choreography

Sales choreographyIt is absolutely critical that you know all the touch points that your company and product has on your prospects and customers. The vast majority of salespeople out there worry only about their direct touch points, such as calls, visits, emails and the such – but you don’t want to act like that masses, you want to stand out.

We need to think about our sales position as if it were our own business and act accordingly. I’m talking about treating anyone and everyone in your organization as if they are part of your sales team. Don’t like the way the receptionist answers the phone; then write them a new script.

Sit down and go through your company’s entire system to see where your customer gets touched from initial inquiry through sales fulfillment. The list is long and is different for most companies, but here are some examples:

  • receptionist
  • accounts payable
  • accounts receivable
  • customer service
  • MSDS documentation
  • Web site
  • building (if it’s a local business)
  • shipping documents

Let me just take the last bullet as a quick example. Let’s say that you sell widgets and each one that gets shipped contains a packing list. What does it look like? Most of them look like something thrown together by an intern the day before they left to go back to school. Why not put in the two hours some evening and design a nice clean one to give to your shipping department? Many of your customers will be given a copy of all shipping documents when they receive their package from their shipping department – and for many of us, our customer is also the shipping department.

A messy packing list reflects that you might not really care about anything after closing the sale.

My point is twofold:

  1. understand that the sales process involves your entire organization and lasts the entire life of your customer, and
  2. take the time to choreograph your sales process and your sales funnel will thank you for it.

Customer service before the sale

Customer service in salesWhen I was pondering starting this blog I talked to as many people as I could. One gentleman that kept coming up as a recommendation was James Durbin of Durbin Media. I emailed him for a quote on designing and setting up the blog site for me.

We talked on the phone for about an hour and by the end of the conversation James recommended that I take a stab at designing the blog by myself to not only learn the process, but to reduce costs until I was sure that I had a sustainable Web presence – which can take a year to determine. He further offered to have me email him when I had it set up so that he could take a quick peek and offer any suggestions.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is a prime example of having your customer’s best interest at heart regardless of any sale that might be on the line. Here were James’s options as I see them (and my personal analysis of each).

Option 1: Close on a sale with me by frightening me into needing his service. This might have worked, I was pretty green at this in the beginning. I’ve only done Blogger blogging previously and the thought of actually coding up my own site was daunting. The end result of this option would be a one-time sale of $x. Kind of sounds like a used car salesman.

Option 2: See me as a waste of time because I’m just starting out and won’t likely be spending a large amount of money. This can be a tempting option for busy people whose time is literally money. I find myself struggling with this option from time to time when dealing with graduate students that want to buy small amounts of material from me.

Option 3: Lend a helping hand and put me on a successful path without closing a sale. This is the option that James chose and it is in keeping with everything we talk about here. If this site grows and becomes more than I can handle, you can bet that I’ll look James up. Or if anyone comes looking for a reference I’d be happy to pass his name along – just look at this post.

So the bottom line is to think long-term and always, always have your customer’s best interest at heart. This is the only way to ensure a full sales funnel.

I recently asked James to comment on his sales philosophy and here’s what he had to say:

Social Media consulting isn’t about just billing hours, it’s about discovering what clients need and determining if your services make sense for them. Most of what I teach can be done without a trainer, but it’s a question of time versus money. Companies can’t get the results without putting one of the two in, and my job is to figure out which makes the best sense. Eric has a great idea for sales engineers, but he needed to build an audience before he put money into the site. Sometimes the best policy is just paying it forward.

P.S. I talked to a lot of other folks that would probably be considered James’s competition – and you won’t see me writing any glowing reviews of their service here!

Sales leads – cold calling industry codes

Cold calling Who out there likes to cold call? I didn’t think so. But for most of us, it’s a necessary evil. A great way to get prospective leads, as pointed out in our “Where do sales leads come from?” post, is to look up SIC codes that your customers fall into.

You can run to the local library and look up SIC and NAICS codes for businesses that you typically sell to and then generate a list of similar companies. After you generate that list, you cold call your heart out and get to the right decision maker in each new company.

This can often be a dreary way to spend your time, as you might only get to actually talk to one in ten people so I’m not going to go through the steps to make this happen here. It will be covered in another article or two. I do, however, think cold calling should be at least a small portion of your overall lead strategy. I try to spend about two hours a week cold calling once I have a stable customer base. That’s not enough time to wear me out, but it helps bring new blood into the sales funnel.

Sales leads – Issue press releases and newsletters

NewslettersIn our never-ending quest to help you uncover more sales leads for your sales funnel, here is another addendum to “Where do sales leads come from?“.

What we’re talking about here is authoring press releases and newsletters for all your adoring fans – and those that don’t adore you yet.

I’m a firm believer in the power of press releases and newsletters. I gathered hard data that showed a sharp increase in inquiries, and resulting orders, immediately after releasing a press release or newsletter.

A word of caution here – make sure that you have your client’s permission before mentioning their name or even giving any clues as to who they are.

A quick story is in order here, as this is an important point. I was selling into the medical device industry, which is very secretive by nature. My competition was pumping out press releases left and right (literally a few per month) bragging about all the clients that they picked up. I knew the fingered customers would be fuming mad, so I followed up with them innocently congratulating them on the positive press release. Most of them flew off the handle and invited me in to become the major supplier for the program. Interestingly enough, that company still regularly puts out inappropriate press releases.

The beauty of a press release is that you control exactly what is said and they are typically short and sweet – although that doesn’t mean they don’t take some time to craft. The downside is that you can’t guarantee its publication or that your prospects will ever see it.

A newsletter, on the other hand, is much more involved in technical detail. I’ve found newsletters to be wonderful tools of conveying your capabilities to your customers. Many times I’ve gotten busy and let a newsletter slip by a few weeks and would get emails from clients asking me where their next free installment is. The key here is to not make it salesy. It should be informative, lighthearted, and possibly highlight case studies if you customer will allow it.

If you’d like to see an example press release and newsletter, please email me at Eric.Bono@EngineersCanSell.com and ask for a free sample – I’d be more than happy to send you one over.

Contact press release sources

Contact press release sourcesYet another sales lead generation strategy that I employ is to contact press release authors. In addition to technical articles, you should also feverishly track press releases of your competitors, customers, and prospects. Whenever something new hits the wire where your product/service could be used, shamelessly contact the source of the release. An opening phone statement could be something simple like this:

Hi Jane, I saw your press release announcing your expansion plans in Houston and was hoping to talk with you for three minutes about your networking needs. [don’t leave time for a response here] I promise that this won’t be a hard sales pitch and at any time during the discussion you are free to tell me that it doesn’t sound like a good fit and I won’t bother you again. Our widgets have been used in similar plants to increase network speed by 60% and I just want to see if we can offer you that same type of value.

This should buy you at least the initial three minutes – keep to that three minutes and ask for permission to talk longer if you need to.