Entries from June 2008 ↓

Sales leads – LinkedIn

Internet networking for sales successContinuing in the “Where do sales leads come from?“, posts, we’re talking today about using Internet networking sites, LinkedIn in particular, to help keep your sales funnel full. I use LinkedIn extensively and have made numerous initial contacts via this route – here’s a three step process to get the initial sales contact.

  1. Identify a name, company, industry or product and search on it.
  2. If you can contact the person directly (i.e. they’re in your network) do so, otherwise ask for the referral. If they are completely out of your network, you either have to buy their email address from LinkedIn (I pay $200/year for this service and it is well worth it), or search the Internet to try to uncover it somewhere else.
  3. This is one of the rare times I feel it is better for the initial communication to be via email rather than a phone call, so shoot them an email saying something like the following:

Hi Steve, I came across your name on LinkedIn while searching for individuals in the automotive industry in the Tampa region. I’m doing some market research to determine if there are opportunities for our gizmo product in automotive and would be most appreciative if you would be willing to spare 5-minutes to talk with me. I promise no sales pitch, we’re just getting our feet wet and want to make sure that we’re not going into a market that we shouldn’t be in.

Getting the press on your side

ReporterI was asked to do an interview a few weeks ago by a freelance writer, Jackie, on tactics and trends in business cards. There are tons of crazy examples out there, but as Guy Kawasaki points out on his blog – sometimes a simple solution is the best solution.

This post isn’t about business cards at all, but about how I should best deal with my new freelance writer friend. So I asked her three questions and here are her responses.

Q1: Is it appropriate to pitch story ideas to freelance writers like yourself or should that be saved for known editors of interest? (in other words do freelance writers have the freedom to write what they want to?)

A1: It is appropriate to pitch ideas to freelance writers. Most have the freedom, and incentive, to generate story ideas. If a writer isn’t coming up with ideas, they’re waiting for editors to assign them work. A more proactive approach nets more assignments and therefore more paychecks. That being said, pitching to the appropriate editor is a more direct tactic, and might work better in some situations.

Q2: How do you know if your writer is the one you should be talking to?

A2: I would ask the writer what publications they’ve written for and what kind of work they typically do; most have a specialty or two. It’s a waste of the writer’s time, as well, to receive pitches outside of their expertise, so I think most would be happy to refer you.

Q3: What is the best way to pitch a story idea to you?

A3: It’s always good to ask how a writer prefers to receive pitches, whether via phone, email, etc. Many prefer email, but a follow-up phone call usually doesn’t hurt. Also, make it brief, to the point and include all the relevant information. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving a press release that lacks crucial information (like contact info) or one that requires lots of of time and effort to wade through. If a quick scan doesn’t provide the basics, it will probably get tossed.

Bottom line: Since we preach that you should run your sales efforts, and sales funnel, like your own personal business, cultivate editors and writers so that when you have a meaningful press release your story has a chance of being heard around the world.

The long, long sales cycle

Long sales cycleOne of my favorite sales podcasts is the SalesRoundup Podcast, the hosts, Mike and Joe, are funny and are actually selling – i.e. not trainers, and it shows in what they say.

That being said, I have had a slight bone to pick with them for quite some time. I LinkedUp with Joe over a year ago and we exchanged a few emails talking about sales cycles. I explained that a sales cycle in my industry (advanced materials) can be as long as five years. Well the next Podcast I hear them taking a few shots at an unnamed person (me!!) and making fun of me a bit. I was jogging when I was listening to it and it really fired me up for about a day – I even shot them an email about it. So this post is to clear the air and explain my very complex sales cycle.

Among other things, I help develop and sell advanced metals to the aerospace industry. From the time of a first call with, say an engine OEM, to a production sale it can indeed take over five years. Would you feel comfortable flying across the country on an unproven material? There is so much testing and evaluation that you can switch jobs before you make the big sale.

So what is my solution? I obviously can’t wait for five years to make a sale. The solution is twofold. First, you better have more than one material at various levels in your sales funnel, or you better make the majority of your pay via a salary for the first few years as opposed to commission.

The second solution, and what I choose to do is to find more forgiving and risk taking markets to sell to before your main aerospace customer blesses it. Let me show a quick example to keep this post from getting too long.

Let’s say that your company has a new material called Xmetal. It is strong, lightweight and will never corrode. GE and Rolls-Royce are both very interested and in the initial stages of testing. Revenue from them buying your test material is maybe $150,000 per year, and your company is probably losing money at it.

Who else can use this awesome material? How about the motor sports industry? They will die for a lighter metal that can shave a few pounds out of their chassis – there’s another $200,000 per year. The medical industry has a need for a super-corrosive resistant metal for certain surgical tools. That equates to $500,000 per year at a healthy margin.

You see where this is going? You might have to support your big breakthrough with supplemental sales in the early years so that you don’t starve while waiting for the big payday.

Oh, so it’s five years later and your material is finally approved and you got your first repeatable production order – for $7MM.

I trust that my honor has been restored, in my own mind at least.

To show that there are no hard feelings and that I still love these guys, I asked Joe to comment on this strategy and here’s what he had to say.

Heck you should be put on a pedestal for taking on a product line with an average sales cycle of five years. – And I thought nine to twelve months was long. First let me comment on your strategy. Whenever you have a cycle that transcends fiscal years (and could up to five) you really should develop a laddered approach to the business timing. In your example, you close the $7M deal in year five. Hopefully you started a second and perhaps third cycle four and three years ago respectably. This way you will have built a nice pipeline of “large” deals and a predictable success rate.

I particularly like the creativity of approaching adjacent markets to supplement your revenue in the short-term. As you so nicely pointed out you do need to generate a steady stream of revenue! Although not your prime source, adjacent markets could be what your company needs to sustain operations during the “startup” period.

One final point I would like to underscore. In your post you alluded to the fact that many sales professionals will not make it the five years needed to realize success. Having said that, I would pursuit large deals with a team of sales people to mitigate the risk of turnover systemically affecting the outcome.

As far as the honor goes, anyone who successfully takes on a product line with a multiple year sales cycle is tops in my book. Five years! Man I still think you are crazy! LOL

Make sure to check these guys out – it’s about 40 minutes a week of free sales training.

Beware of busy work

Sales busy workAs we talked about in the previous time management post, managing your sales time is of paramount importance to keeping your sales funnel loaded. Let me explain this post with a personal example. I had a inside salesman working for me, let’s call him Steve. Steve was always at his desk working – filing, reading, stapling, Web surfing – you name it, he was doing it.

He made me look like I was lazy.

To make a too long story shorter, this went on and on and very little actual sales fell through his sales funnel, but he was always “close to closing”. It got to the point where I literally sat right beside him for an entire day to observe his sales tactics. And all he did was busy work.

For example, if he was supposed to call on someone, he would spend all his time printing out Web stories about them and highlighting meaningless passages – in face he showed me a collection of binders filled with this “intelligence”. I forced him to stop and we made a quick cold call to the company, got an appointment and he was on his way.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Steve and I had to let him go, but there is a year’s worth of posts that will come out of my working with him – as well as some good lessons for me on when to let people go.

Bottom line: Don’t get sucked into thinking that just because you are doing something, that it’s counts as selling – a single call is worth more than a dozen reams of printed paper of contact information.

Time allotment for salespeople

Time managementWe all know that there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything, so take a lesson from all the time management gurus that are springing up and allocate your time wisely.

I suggest laying out your plan of attack for the week on Sunday evening – this is in the form of major goals, such as “Finish XYZ’s sales proposal” and “Make 15 cold calls”.

Then at the beginning of each day (before anyone else is at work), lay out your daily plan. I do this at 6:00 in the morning. These tasks should be as detailed as you need them to be. Some folks respond best to tasks laid out on a time line, so that you know from 9-10, you’ll be cold-calling; while others respond better to a short listing of tasks.

My personal style is to make a list of general tasks for the day and knock them out – except cold calling. It’s not my favorite activity so I have a specific day and time that I shut down and do nothing but prospect. And make sure to leave lots of slop in your schedule for all the things that crop up and demand your attention.

One more tip – write your sales proposals and quotations at night when your customers aren’t at work; use the daylight hours to sell. Writing a proposal is not selling.

Experiment and find out what works best for you.