Entries Tagged 'Initial Communication' ↓

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.

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.

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!

Cold calling script example

Cold calling scriptI’ve gotten several requests to provide a sample cold calling script that I use. We’ve given some sales tips in “Getting the initial sales appointment” that should alleviate much of your need to conduct cold calls – but it’s still an important part of your overall sales arsenal.

Some folks call this a script – I tend to call it a cheat sheet. The idea isn’t to memorize the text, but only to force yourself to think through a few scenarios and be able to talk confidently to get that first meeting.

For this example I’m going to stick with our now familiar package tracking technology example. The sales script is numbered to help put some structure to this. Here you go…

  1. Hello, this is [NAME] from [COMPANY], I’m hoping to talk to the head of the logistics department. (response) Great! Oh, before you transfer me, could you please give me the name and extension in case we get disconnected. Thank you so much for your help.1a. (If you get resistance here) Let me tell you just a bit about our technology and perhaps you could recommend what department I should be talking to. We have a product tracking technology so much more efficient than the RFID technology that you use now, it would save each of your stores over $1.25 million. I was assuming that this would be the logistics department, but perhaps you could steer me elsewhere?
  2. (Now transferred to the correct person) Hi Mr. Prospect my name is [NAME] from [COMPANY], I was hoping to set up a time to talk with you about our new product tracking technology that can be used to dry and wet goods from underwear to crinkled up bags of frozen chicken nuggets. Initial tests show it as 28% more efficient and by our calculations, it should save each of your stores about $1.25 million per year. (pause as long as needed here until Mr. Prospect talks)2a. (If you get resistance here) Look, I understand that you are extremely busy. I also understand the awesome responsibility that you have in tracking each and every product in each and every store on the globe and on every truck and in every warehouse. If you give me a ten-minute meeting and we can’t convince each other that there’s a possible match here, I’ll do the honor of throwing myself out the door. (again, long pause here)
    Fantastic, I’m going to be somewhat in your area in two weeks, would you have 10-minutes the morning of the 22nd?

When he finally agrees to meet – anyone and everyone has 10-minutes to spare – it’s going to be tempting to keep him on the horn and ask more questions. Don’t. Just go prepare for your actual meeting. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

Sales qualification in reverse

Sales qualification refereeIn “Getting the initial sales appointment” we made mention of the fact that we need to disqualify our sales prospects as rapidly as possible. I think this strategy is worth a few more paragraphs to fully flush out the meaning of this counter-intuitive statement.

There is a slightly gray line that needs to be walked between disqualification and stupidity. I’ve seen some folks go way overboard here and lose business that they shouldn’t have.

One guy sat there and told a client “You wouldn’t want to buy that from us, we won’t be cost competitive.” He was trying to basically get them to beg him to sell to them. And this can work – but in this case he wasn’t the only player and he lost the business due to his arrogance. By the time I explained what he did wrong it was too late and the relationship was permanently strained.

Here is an example of what you might say to a prospect during the initial sales call to allow them to tell you that they might not be a qualified lead – and it gives you the lead-in to begin your disqualification questions. I’m sticking with the product tagging product that we often use here.

“Mr. Prospect, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about your product tagging needs. I want to make sure not to waste any of your time, so at any point in this conversation please feel free to jump in and say that this doesn’t seem like a good fit – and we’ll stop right there. Also, instead of me jumping in and telling you all about our company and products, I’d like to start off with a few questions to make sure that I’m convinced that we can help you out.”

Once you’ve put them at ease and made them comfortable with the idea of telling you to hit the road, they will be more likely to open up and have a mutual discovery process to find out if they can actually use your product or service.

Why start high?

Aim highIn Getting the initial sales appointment, we begin to stress the point that you need to start as high in your prospect’s company as possible for the initial contact. When you start high, one of two outcomes are likely. Either (a) the contact will give you immediate buy-in, or (b) they will point you to the correct subordinate to talk to – this is the most likely scenario.

Let’s imagine that you contact Susan, VP of Logistics at Wal-Mart to sell your new tracking hardware. She tells you to “Talk to Larry, he’s in charge of innovative logistical technologies.” Now when you talk to Larry, you can say “Susan thought that our new tracking technology was interesting enough for further consideration and suggested that I contact you to see how we should move forward.”

Well if Larry’s boss said to look into it, you better believe Larry will look into it.

There is a key word in the above quotation. Note the use of “how we should move forward” instead of “if we should move forward.” Subtle indeed, but a very powerful difference.

Consider the alternative of starting with Larry. He’s a busy workhorse that already has a solution that no one is complaining about, why would he want to spend time evaluating a relatively unknown technology. You’re now dead. A company’s top brass consider themselves as ambassadors to the public and most often won’t immediately shoot you down.

A quick story to illustrate this point. I invented a garden product a few years ago that allowed those of us with challenged green thumbs to create our own little garden patch in five minutes. Users didn’t even have to remove the grass or sod from the ground. Anyway, I wanted to try to team up with Pennington Seeds to provide seeds and help distribute the product. Now Pennington has sales of well over $1 billion and I was at that time probably selling about $5,000 worth of product. Doesn’t seem like I had much of a chance of even talking to the right person.

I did my research and read their annual reports and got the CEO’s name, but the only number I had was their corporate headquarter number. How could I possibly get through to such a busy man who had to have five gatekeepers guarding his phone all day? Simple, call when the gatekeepers aren’t there, but not in the middle of the night when it’s painfully obvious that that’s what I’m doing. I called very early in the morning and got the automated phone system that let me put in the CEO’s name to get his extension, but it didn’t tell me his number, it just dumped me in his voice mail – no matter this is my big shot.

“Hi, I’m in the process of launching a new gardening product that allows green thumb challenged consumers to take seeds and create a garden plot right over their existing lawn. I’m not calling to make a sales pitch, and I know that you are extremely busy – I’m just hoping that you can spare a few minutes of your time to talk with me and tell me if you think my idea is crazy or not. I have initial sales that seem to point to an exciting future, but would truly value your experienced opinion before I invest too much more money into the project. My name is Eric Bono and here’s my number – I would be so appreciative if you would give me a return call at any time that may be convenient for you.”

I got a call that night at about 11:00 as he was driving home from the airport. He didn’t talk long but gave me the right person in the company to talk to. Bingo.

This is getting slightly lengthy, but I can’t pass up this opportunity of relaying a story told to me by a good friend. He worked in the marketing department and was getting a lot of calls from designers, printers, mailers, etc. pushing their services on him. He teamed up with the IT guy and set up a voice mailbox for a fake person called Tom for the receptionist to send these hopeful vendors to. The messages that were left were hysterical. One of the most common was along the lines of “Hi, Tom, not sure if you remember or not, but we met last year at a networking event. Anyway, I’m calling ….” That is absolute gold. I tried to talk him into putting the recording on-line for the world to enjoy, but he was afraid of legal ramifications. My point here is to be sincere and honest with folks – don’t forget that they’re people too.

Get your foot in the door

Opening up doorsIn Getting the initial sales appointment, we talked about the importance of gathering background information before you dive into a sales call.

What you’re looking for in the information gathering session is an “in” into your prospect’s heart. Let’s say that you developed a novel technology that will make RFID tracking a thing of the past and you want to roll it out with the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart.

So in preparing for your initial call to the logistics department, do you need to memorize that Wal-Mart is projected to add 170 super centers in two years? (note that super centers carry groceries unlike their standard discount stores) No, but you do need to understand that Wal-Mart is moving toward all super centers and away from standard discount stores. And it just so happens that your technology works fine on crinkled up bags of frozen chicken nuggets while the competition was designed for standard square boxes above freezing temperatures.

There’s your in.

What I’m getting at here is the fact that you need to find out how you can add value to your prospect’s organization before you call. Otherwise you’re stuck with a complete cold call and that typically isn’t a fun thing to do. So we’re going to assume here that you at least know that your product can be used by your prospect and you’re never in a position where you have to ask, “Would something like this interest you?”

This procedure of finding an in and leveraging it to get your prospect to beg you for more information is the same whether you’re selling high-tech gizmos or bath soap. So go out there and get your in.

Getting the initial sales appointment

After reading “Where do sales leads come from?” you no doubt have a threatening large pile of leads – now what are you supposed to do with them?

The most obvious answer is that you should get in touch with them and setup an initial meeting. And in fact that obvious answer is the correct answer. This post will begin to give you the tools to get your foot in the door. The accompanying article will get your entire leg in the door.

It seems that at every layer in the sales funnel, you can say that you’re at the most important layer. But getting that initial appointment is truly one of the most important steps in the sales process.

Initial Communication Layer

It should be noted here that the goal of this meeting, once we get it, is to disqualify the prospect as rapidly as possible. Yes, you read that correctly, disqualify. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Using the selling techniques that we’re developing here, you will soon have more leads and repeat business than you can handle.

As such, we need to make the best use of our precious time. And that is accomplished by catering to our repeat customers and focusing only on the best fitting prospects. This may seem counter-intuitive, but prioritizing prospects will save you time and make you more money in the long run.

It’s time to put some meat on the bones of this abstract idea of getting a lead to invite you to do a sales pitch. Going from the pile of leads to setting up a meaningful meeting is a five step process.

Prioritize prospects

Even if it’s not politically correct to say it, not all prospects are created equal. There are countless people out there that are more than happy to slowly bleed technically competent salesmen out of all their knowledge and then simply walk away as a smarter jerk and leave you hanging. You need to rank those leads.

Sales appointment flow chart

The first step is to see if you know any of the companies in the list – this is a great way to pull out top prospects and dump a few losers. Next look at what industries the leads come from. Maybe you want to steer away from the automotive world because of the oppressive cost pressures or perhaps you want to get in good with academia to get your name in publications. Finally, look at your prospect titles and choose accordingly.

Gather background information

Even with a manageable stack of leads now at your fingertips, you’re still not quite ready to pick up the phone and try to close a sale – although many so-called professional salespeople will do just that. What we’re going to do now is become somewhat knowledgeable about our prospect’s company and industry. You can become knowledgeable by looking at the prospect’s Web site, searching for news articles and press releases, reviewing annual reports and talking to others who have insight into this company. We’ll cover many ways to do this in upcoming posts.

A word of caution is in order here, as I’ve seen it happen multiple times. You need to be careful that you don’t come under the illness know as “analysis paralysis”. This happens when you feel like you’re doing meaningful work, but all you’re really doing is printing out Web pages and reading stories and filing papers. Always ask yourself if what you are doing will help you make that initial contact. If the answer is marginal, sit down and make the call instead of wasting any more time. This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see salespeople make.

Make the contact

You might already have the right phone number of your contact from your lead list. But many times your only lead is that you think you could sell into, say, Wal-Mart with your new inventory tracking technology. You can usually guess the title or at least the department of the right person to talk to.

You want to start the contact off at the highest practical level that’s possible.

You’re not going to call on the CEO of Wal-Mart, but Susan, a VP of Logistics would be a great fit. Typically when you start high, the end result will either be an excited buy-in right from the start, or at least a referral like, “Talk to Larry he’s in charge of innovative logistical technologies.” Starting high has major, major benefits because now when you talk to Larry, you can say “Susan thought that our new tracking technology was interesting enough for further consideration and suggested that I contact you to see how we should move forward.” Well if Larry’s boss said to look into it, you better believe Larry will look into it.

There are a lot of tricks to finding and making the initial contact; here are a few of them.

  • Google them – what more needs to be said about this one?
  • If your prospect is a technical contact, conduct a journal article search. If they were the lead author, their contact information will typically be contained within the article.
  • Search on-line networking sites such as www.LinkedIn.com and www.Jigsaw.com These two sites are worth their weight in gold and cover tens of millions of contacts.
  • Call the base number and change the last two or three digits. A typical corporate number is 123-456-7000; what you want to do is call 123-456-7xxx, until someone in the company answers. You respond “Oh, I’m sorry, I had this as Steve Smith’s number, is this extension 7xxx?” They will respond with the correct number. Sneaky? Yes, but terribly effective.
  • Search on “(123) 456-7” Oftentimes, this will pick up at least some of the contacts in the office you’re targeting.
  • Nothing yet? Well a last resort is to call the main number and deal with the gatekeeper. Here’s how to do that: “Hello, this is Joe Schmo from Schmo’s Industries, I was wondering if you could help me find the person responsible for purchasing widgets.” If you read up on sales, most texts will say that this approach is crazy and should never be used. I think that’s bologna, and I’ve used this exact introduction to reach countless prospects. There are very few hard core gatekeepers anymore, most places have a central receptionist/secretary that serves twenty people or so – they’re too busy to be guarding gates. See the accompanying article for a more formal guide to this technique.

Disqualify, disqualify, disqualify

You made the initial contact, congratulations! Now do your best to try to get rid of them. What?? You can spend your entire professional life consulting with and selling to prospects that will never buy one thing from you. You can’t waste your time here.

So the trick is to try to disqualify prospects without coming off as rude or insensitive. Because if they happen to be qualified, you don’t want them to think you have the tendency to be a jerk. You can easily walk this thin line by being upfront and letting the prospect know what you’re doing.

Set up meeting or phone call

So now you’ve made the initial contact, and haven’t been able to disqualify the voice on the other end of the line. Let’s get them to agree to a meeting or at least another phone call.

“Well, Mr. Prospect from my side it would make sense to set up a meeting and talk a bit more about a potential project here – would you say the same from your point of view? [Yes] Great! I’m on an east coast road trip in three weeks; would you be available say on the 14th around 2:00 PM? [Yes] Fantastic! Is there anyone else in your organization that we should bring in at this point to participate in the initial talks?”

Good job! You’re now in a position to take your pending sale to the next layer.