Thursday, May 27, 2010
Three productivity tips to work less & get more done this summer
- Take Tuesday and Thursday evenings off. Leave the office as close to 5:00 as possible, and turn everything off until the next morning. No email, no Blackberry, no working. I guarantee those days will be your most productive of the week. Why? You have a deadline. You can't leave things to work on or "finish up" later in the evening. You'll be more focused on cleaning your plate and preparing the for the next day before you stop working for the day at 5:00.
- Choose & finish a major project by Labor Day. Go back to your list of priorities from January, and find the one thing that's both most important to you and hasn't been completed (or started) yet this year. Set a goal to have it completed by Labor Day Weekend, and set milestones for the end of June and July, respectively, to get yourself there. Then break down the specific things you need to do for the next four weeks (by Friday afternoon) to stay on task.
- Take a lunch and get to work (but not on work). At least 2-3 times a week, break for lunch. Get away from your desk, leave the building if possible, and separate yourself from the day's immediate priorities. Walk in the sunshine, eat in a park, but do one of two things. One option is to have lunch by yourself, but with purpose. Bring a specific topic you want to think about and focus on - without interruptions, and outside of your normal environment. Bring a paper and pen to record your ideas as you eat. The other option is to be more intentional about catching up with those outside of your office, your company or even your industry. Find people you can lunch with and learn from. Gain from their perspective well beyond your own, to bring renewed energy and creativity to your own areas of expertise and focus.
Want more business from LinkedIn? Do these five things
Like many social, networking and productivity tools for business, LinkedIn can deliver significant measurable value for your business and career, but also suck way too much of your time if you’re not careful. Finding the right balance between investing for results, and getting out to focus on real-world priorities, is key.
In a B2B context especially, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool to find new prospects, research competitors, passively nurture and stay in touch with those in your network, and quickly identify customers who are ready to buy. Here are five things you can do with LinkedIn, starting today, to improve your LinkedIn productivity and results.
Carefully consider the keywords in your bio and capabilities summary. Think like a prospect, who is searching on LinkedIn for someone who can help them with (fill in the blank). What do you know? What problems can you solve? What help can you provide? Think not just about solutions, but the pain/problems your customers and network faces, and the objectives/outcomes they’re seeking. They’ll search for those things, so make sure the right keywords are in your profile.
Add everyone you know to your network. The more connections you have, the more discoverable you are. LinkedIn search results are by default ordered by network proximity, meaning those who are closes to you (or closest to those who are in your network) show up first in search results. If you know someone, put them in your network. Make sure you are in theirs. The bigger your network, the more likely others can find you and reach you. I especially encourage the use of LinkedIn’s Outlook extension, which provides one-click LinkedIn invites right from inbound emails.
Join and actively participate in the right groups. The long tail of groups in LinkedIn is incredible. It’s a great way to meet people with similar business interests and needs, plus immediately provide value back to those communities in the way of answering their questions, posting articles and generally making yourself visible and available. There’s a fine line between being visible and dominating the group/conversation, but with value-added content (i.e. don’t sell unless you’re asked for a recommendation or solution) you can build trust & credibility in a one-to-many format focused on a very targeted audience.
Give testimonials to everyone who deserves it. Make a habit, every week, of giving a public testimonial in LinkedIn to everyone you know who you can vouch for. You’re doing this both to help them with their objectives and visibility, but also so that you’ll get a greater share of trickle-back testimonials in return. It’s not only the right thing to do, but more testimonials on your profile demonstrates to new people you’re someone they can trust, who has credibility with others. That goes a long way towards differentiating yourself and getting the benefit of the doubt when a trusted relationship doesn’t yet exist.
Follow (and respond to) network updates. The front page of LinkedIn.com is like a business-oriented version of Facebook. It’s full of updates from everyone in your network – things they’re saying, things they’ve published, changes to their careers, etc. Get in the habit of reviewing this information daily, and responding to those in your network with notes of encouragement, congratulations, responses with additional information related to something they’re seeking or researching, etc. You can follow these network updates via an RSS feed, or get a daily morning email with updates from yesterday, or simple get in the habit of visiting LinkedIn.com each day. It’s a treasure trove of excuses to reach out contextually to people, rekindle a connection, and spark a new opportunity on one or both sides.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Five common mistakes with sales collateral (and how to fix them)
We've all seen awful sales collateral. We could go on and on about why it's bad, why it doesn't work, and what it should look like and do instead to drive customer interest and action.
But here are five things most bad sales collateral has in common. Don't let it happen to you.
Too Much Copy: Whatever you wrote for a first draft, you can probably cut the word count in half. Say the same thing with far fewer words. Let the words on the page breath with more white space around it. Let the shorter copy put greater emphasis on the points you want to really sink in, that you want the prospect to remember.
No Customer Testimonials or Results: Unless this is your company or product's first rodeo, you've got successful customers behind you. Why not feature them? Demonstrate that others have made the leap to use your product or service, and succeeded. Don't just use the typical "I'm so happy" quote, but back it up with real data. How have those customers quantified the ROI? How has their business changed, how have their results improved, because you are in their lives?
No Compelling Visuals: If you surround copy with clipart, that's not good visuals. If you use pictures of your building…you get the point. What visuals will reinforce the points you're making? What visuals could - alone - communicate what you're about and what you can enable for your customers? It might be a chart, it might be physical examples of your work. But think carefully about what you're showing, and what it's communicating.
Features Before Benefits: It's bad enough when collateral focuses on features without explaining what they do. But even if you're including both features and benfits, too often marketers put them in the wrong order. List the benefit first, then follow with the feature that enables that benefit or outcome. Prospects want the benefits, they want the outcomes your product or service represents. Start with what they want to hear, then (if you must) explain how you do it.
No Call to Action: Your sales collateral is not meant to be a direct-response piece. But if you do everything else right and the prospect wants to learn more, what do you want them to do? Plenty of collateral lists the company's main line. Do you want motivated prospects to call the receptionist? Or could you promote a dedicated line to a sales consultant? Better yet, what about including a value-added offer so that both ready-to-buy and not-quite-ready-to-buy prospects are equally compelled to respond, engage and keep walking the path with you towards a sale?
Monday, May 24, 2010
The seven words that can transform your sales
You can get lost in the never-ending stream of suggestions, advice and best practices to improve your sales & marketing performance. And although much of it is great, we still need to boil things down to simpler direction that can be quickly & easily folded into the work we do on a daily basis to close new business.
Here, then, are seven words to live by. Seven words that individually represent important concepts in accelerating sales & marketing performance, but together encapsulate a strong strategy and roadmap for improving results.
Give: Give freely, early and often. Give away ideas, training, best practices and insights that can make your customers more successful. Publish articles featuring your “secret sauce”, prospects will run back for more. Give free samples of your product or service, free access to your smartest people. Deliver value early and without pretence. It’s a quick way to develop trust, rapport and credibility with your new customers and prospects.
Benefits: Don’t talk about features. Don’t talk about solutions. Talk about benefits, results, outcomes. What you sell is a means to an ends. Focus on the ends. Your customers don’t want to buy solutions, they want to buy what happens after putting the solution in place. Talk about those benefits, those outcomes at the beginning, middle and end of your sales process. Constantly remind your prospects that you represent more than just a purchase, you represent the achievement of something bigger that will improve their business and/or their lives.
Partner: You’re not in this alone, and you’re not the only company addressing the needs of your target customer. No matter how important you are to your customers, you’re merely a part of the puzzle they need to piece together to achieve their ultimate end-goal. Find the other puzzle pieces in the market, and work closely with them to deliver a bigger, more valuable outcome to your customers and prospects. Pool resources, campaigns, marketing budgets and more to collectively and individually capture even greater market share than you could on your own.
Listen: Don’t talk so much. Ask questions. Understand your customer – their needs, their pain, their dreams, their objectives. Listen to them before they’re ready to buy, before they even know a solution to their problem exists. Use social media & listening tools to keep watch for signs of the pain, signs of trouble, signs that your prospective customers have a problem and are seeking a better path to the outcome they desire. Spend more time listening than talking, and your prospects will tell you exactly what they want, and exactly how to help them to buy (from you).
Stories: The best salespeople don’t pitch. They don’t present. They tell stories. Stories of success, stories of redemption, stories of pain and problems that are converted to results and achievement. Your customers would prefer to listen to stories, especially stories that resonate with their situation, featuring companies or individuals they want to emulate. They want to hear stories of what their future can and should look like. Pitches and presentations are often dull. Stories bring ideas and outcomes to live. They inspire and drive action.
Appreciate: Never take your customers or prospects for granted. Look for ways to remind them, every day, how important they are to you. Do big things and little things to make them feel special. Your competitors don’t do this. Fill the void, and create remarkability and loyalty with little more than a few well-placed words, a few more thank-you’s, and a few simple gestures that cost little but deliver reams of value back to you.
Experiences: Do they remember you? Did you give them a reason to? Were you remarkable enough to create word-of-mouth to their friends, colleagues and peers? Were you memorable enough to get the coming back for more? This isn’t just for customers. If you’re delivering value in the sales process, you’re creating differentiation and value vs. your competitors. Commoditization goes out the window, and you win.
Is your sales & marketing customer-focused? Two simple tests can find out
Think your sales process and marketing strategy is focused on the customer? Here are two quick & simple ways to find out:
Marketing Materials: Take your most prominent collateral, email templates, advertisements, etc. Get a red pen and a blue pen. With the red pen, circle any word that’s focused on you and/or your company (we, I, us, company name, product name, etc.). With a blue pen, circle any word that’s focused on the customer (you, your, customer name, customer goals/outcomes, etc.). Do you have more red than blue?
Sales Process: Look at the name of the stages in your sales process. Are they customer-centric words like discovery, diagnosis, consensus, delivery, etc.? Or are they company and sales team-centric words like approach, presentation, negotiation, close? Now check out your primary sales presentation. How many slides up front focus on describing your company? What % of slides focus on the company and your solutions vs. your customers’ situation, problems, objectives and expected outcomes?
This may not be exhaustive or conclusive, but it may be an indicator that there’s room to improve how well you’re creating credibility, trust and connectivity with prospective customers.
Is marketing aligned with the business? And who's fault is that?
Too often we see departmental objectives not quite aligned with the overall business objectives for a particular organization. This isn’t a good thing, but it’s not uncommon either.
Surprisingly, this lack of alignment doesn’t necessarily come from different ideas of what marketing should be focused on. I’ve had CEOs clearly outline for me their business objectives and revenue goals, then two minutes later explain their vision for what marketing should be doing – and those focus areas have little if any linkage to the business goals.
Marketing isn’t about tactics. It isn’t about brand. It isn’t about leads or PR or sales collateral or any of that.
Marketing is about driving revenue. Marketing is about accelerating market share. Marketing is about delighting customers. Marketing is about growing the top-line, and increasing margins.
Marketing (just like any department) is still responsible for executing at a tactical level. But if those tactics don’t match the objectives, and the objectives don’t align directly with what the organization cares about most, there’s a problem.
In a well-aligned organization, there are no cost centers. Every department is a profit center. Every department is focused on delivering customer value and accelerating organizational growth.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Calculate the cost of the problem, not just the ROI
Return on investment is a great tool to use in the sales process. It demonstrates clearly that a company can make more (or save more) by using your product or service.
The major problem with ROI on its own, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily create urgency. There’s a positive return on the investment, fine, but I could do that for dozens, even hundreds of things. How do I determine if the work & cost up front is still worth my time? How do I, the buyer, prioritize this? How do you, the seller, create urgency with your prospects to want, to need, that ROI?
The answer often can be found in calculating the cost of the problem. Understanding there is a problem is just the first step. If you can quantify the problem, then calculate the cost of the problem over a period of time, you may just create urgency to change now. The risk of staying the same needs to outweigh the risk and time/cost of making a change. That comes from understanding the true cost of the current problem.
You also need to make sure you’re speaking to someone who understands and directly feels the pain and cost of the current problem. Let’s say you’re working with a company and want to help them reduce the margin of error on a current process. You make a case that by eliminating 50% of the current errors, you can save the company significant money.
But if you’re speaking to someone who has already built a profitable model with the margin of error baked in, and who is motivated to spend as little extra budget as possible this fiscal year, good luck getting the deal done.
But take that same business case and cost of problem calculation to the sales department (who may have more inventory to sell if you fix the margin of error) or perhaps the CFO (who would enjoy the sales lift while also understanding that the cost of fixing the problem would be a fraction of the incremental sales, therefore also improving margins), now you’re getting somewhere.
Calculate the cost of the problem to drive urgency. Ensure you’re selling to someone who’s direct objectives & desired outcomes are impacted by that problem. Then deliver the ROI on solving the problem. It’ll be difficult for prospects to argue with that.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Want more traffic from search? Focus on pain & outcomes, not solutions
Many paid and organic search campaigns focus on solution-oriented keywords. Not only are these typically the most competitive (and highest-priced) keywords, but it also isn’t how your customers think.
The prospective customers who already understand the category and can enumerate the possible solution may search those terms. But far more of your prospective customers are searching for one of two things: 1) they’re searching based on the pain they’re feeling currently, or 2) they’re searching based on the outcomes they want to achieve.
These are the terms they understand. This is the world they’ve living in now. They don’t know your solution, they might not know how to describe it, and they may not even know what is needed to get them from where they are today (pain) to where they want to be (outcome). This is exactly the entry point you want.
Look at the pain and outcome-related keywords for your category, and I bet you see both more impression volume opportunity as well as less competition (both for paid ads and first-page natural placements). That’s fertile ground for meeting more prospective customers where they are, creating resonance and value right away, and increasing your click-funnel efficiency.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Making your contact center a strategic goldmine for the enterprise
Below are seven specific things to think about, that can help transform your contact center into a strategic goldmine and revenue driver for your business.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Template for a weekly, metrics-driven inside sales rep meeting
Below is a 30-minute sales meeting template you can use or modify for your organization. The key here is to make it as metrics-driven and objective as possible, with a focus on identifying and resolving obstacles to greater success.
Opportunity Pipeline Review (10 minutes)
- Closed-Won vs. Quota, quarter-to-date (or month, or whatever your selling period is)
- Pipeline volume with current-quarter close-date (should ideally be at least 3X quota)
- Discuss roadblocks & challenges (where are some deals stuck? how could the pipeline be bigger? Are there any future quarter deals that can be pulled into the current quarter?)
Lead Review (10 minutes)
- Current lead volume and follow-up (are there any untouched leads? are there any that are active but haven't been contacted in a long while?)
- Which current leads are close to becoming opportunities?
- Discuss overall lead disposition and follow-up (why are some leads not moving forward? what are the primary lead-to-opportunity objections & roadblocks you are encountering?)
Activity Review (5 minutes)
- Metrics review (dials, talk time, demos - last week goal vs. actual)
- Discuss roadblocks and challenges (what specifically is keeping you from hitting activity goals? what tools, resources, etc. would make these goals easier to achieve?)
Additional Challenges & Roadblocks (5 minutes)
- What specifically is keeping you from selling more?
- What specific, additional support do you need to find and close more business?
- What additional support can the business provide to make you more successful?
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
2010 Fortune Sales & Marketing Summit Takeaways
The top salesperson at your company should be...
If you’re the founder, president or CEO, it’s you.
If you’re the founder, you’re the first salesperson. You need to be in front of customers and prospects, gathering direct feedback that not only improves the products & services you sell, but how you sell it. There’s no way you can hire and teach new people how to sell for you if you don’t already have direct experience doing it yourself.
If you’re the president or CEO, you have a sales team that sells for you all day, every day. But make no mistake, you’re still the company’s number-one sales rep. Not by volume, of course, but you need to know the customer and the sales process just as well as if you were doing it every day.
You need to be close to the customer, be in front of your biggest customers, directly gathering feedback on current and future solutions. You may still gather second-hand customer and industry feedback to help guide your decisions, but there’s no replacement for hearing those insights directly.
If you aspire someday to start or run a business, remember that sales is a key part of your job. And the better you do it now (whether or not you’re in a direct sales position), the more likely you’ll make better and better decisions that align with the way your customers and prospects think, act and buy.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Marketing is too important to leave to the marketers
Dana Brown from Chief Outsiders said this in a presentation a couple weeks ago. It doesn’t mean that everyone in your organization should be writing their own PR plan, but it does mean everyone can help you execute it.
Empower your people to spread the word. Retain customers. Create thought leadership. Generate leads. Brainstorm the next great marketing campaign.
Find the people in your organization closest to the customer, and make sure they’re helping you write messaging
Motivate and reward your front-line employees for delighting customers, anticipating and responding to their needs, and feeding more positive word-of-mouth.
If marketing at your company is done just by the marketing team, you’re not thinking big enough.
How to avoid commoditizing yourself
Companies and industries that slide into commoditization almost always have a better option. There's always a way to identify, quantify and communicate significant incremental value and results for your clients that your competitors fail to do.
Part of this is in how you approach the customer in the first place. Many sales organizations use the same approach, the same pitch, the same presentation with every prospective customer. Problem is, if you're genericizing your pitch, it's likely going to look very similar to what your competitors are presenting as well. And if they look the same, it's even easier for customers to treat you like a commodity.
Jeff Thull writes about this in Mastering the Complex Sale, under the headline "If You Commoditize Your Customers, They Will Commoditize You." He continues:
When you target customers based on generic qualifications that may or may not actually characterize their companies and situations, you are guilty of treating them exactly the same way that so many salespeople complain that they and their solutions are treated - like commodities. To avoid this trap, you must create an engagement strategy that customers believe could not have been crafted for any other person but themselves.
There's extra work required here with each new prospect, but the result is highly differentiating. And if you can demonstrate value in a way few others are doing, and in a way that clarifies the specific, expected results prospects will achieve by choosing you, you'll have a much clearer path to justifying premium prices.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The three types of content you need to be successful with social media
Social media is nothing without content. The content – what you say, how you say it, where you say it – is at the heart of a great community engagement strategy.
And there really are just three types of content you need to focus on to be successful:
Planned/Proactive Content: You need an editorial calendar, something that plans out for the next several weeks (even months) what you want to say. You won’t stick to this calendar exactly – you may skip a week, flip stuff around, add ideas, etc. But if you don’t plan what you want to say, there’s no way you can string together a narrative that tells the story you want to tell. Without planning and executing content based on a predetermined strategy, there’s no way you’ll be able to consistently stand for something that engages the right audiences, the right prospects, the right customers with your business or brand.
Start with your customers. What do they want to hear, what are they interested in, what are they seeking. You’ll write about that. Then think about how that content manifests itself into a handful of themes, or common threads of content. As you build your editorial calendar, plan for different angles or approaches to helping your customers solve or address issues related to those themes. With this approach, you’ll quickly become an expert and go-to resource for value-added information that draws prospective and current customers closer to you.
Impromptu/Reactive Content: There’s no amount of planning in the world that can prepare you for the story that will show up tomorrow. The issue in your industry that will dominate your headlines. The customer problems that didn’t exist yesterday. These are immediate opportunities, often where little to no other content exists, that becomes an instant and highly-valuable opportunity for you to address, write about and own a topic that is at its peak of interest among your customer and prospect community.
You need to have your ear to the ground daily to know when and where these opportunities come up. You need to be ready to quickly create and publish content (written, video, audio, etc.) that quickly becomes part of what everyone’s reading, how they’re addressing the latest news, and what they’re sharing with others on how to deal with it.
Participatory Content: You’re not the only one creating content intended for your target audience. Plenty of others are doing it too. In these cases, they’ve created an anchor of content that will drive a mini-conversation. In these cases, it’s your job to lend your voice to the fray. Become an active part of the conversation. Not as a seller, not as a vendor. As a peer.
No matter how much proactive content you create, the majority of your online community-building will be participatory, even reactive. But the more you participate, the more people see you out there creating value, the more they see you’re helping them succeed independent of what you’re selling, the more they’ll gravitate toward you to learn more.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Managing the sales process when the buyer is in charge
With so much information widely available to your buyers, managing them through the sales process has gotten more difficult than ever. But smart sellers leave the buyer in charge and STILL fill their pipeline with closed business month after month.
Here are several tips for building and managing a buyer-centric sales process.
The buying cycle is always longer than the selling cycle. Every sale, since the dawn of time, began long before the salesperson was involved. Long before the cold call, long before the lead was generated, long before the first presentation. Buyers start by recognizing or establishing a need, typically based on a gap or pain or obstacle in getting what they ultimately want. Then they consider what they think they want, do some research, and eventually reach out to (or accept calls from) prospective providers.
As a seller, your visibility to pre-sales buying stages used to be non-existent. But now, thanks to the social web, you have greater access and visibility to the buyer’s early consideration stages than ever before. They’re asking colleagues and peers about it on forums, pontificating about it on Facebook and Twitter. And smart sellers get to know their buyers so well that they begin addressing the source of the gap/pain/obstacle before it becomes acute for the buyer. Smart sellers are working themselves upstream with buyers, creating trust & credibility before their products or services are needed.
Most leads aren’t ready to buy, and you can’t force them to go faster. According to research from MarketingSherpa, only 10-15% of sales leads are qualified and ready to buy. That means the majority of prospects you meet, though the right company or individual, aren’t going to do business with you right now.
Know this going in and you can model your activity and output accordingly, without creating outlandish expectations about what’s possible. But more importantly, respect the buyer’s timeline, give them the space they need, and build a long-term sales development pipeline for yourself by nurturing those leads actively and regularly. Stay with them, with value-added content, as long as you need to. Yes, you can drive some urgency to make a decision faster. But in many cases, you simply cannot (and attempts to do so are counter-productive).
Add value, and give it away for free. Teach your prospects. Give them something unexpected. Help them do their jobs, or lead their lives, easier, better, faster. Become a trusted source of information not about what you’re selling, but the outcome it enables and represents. Become a go-to and referable resource of information that addresses the core needs, objectives and situations your customers and prospective customers live in on a regular basis.
Creating that value does take time and resources. It’s an investment on your part. And you should not only do it, but give it away for free. This strategy accelerates the impact of your content, exponentially increases the size of the very top of your prospect engagement pipeline, and ensures that the volume of “natural” inbound leads will not only increase over time, but remain a sustainable resource for months to come.
Enable buyers vs. managing sales. The right buyers want what you’re selling. They want to remain in control. They will make decisions based on their own criteria, not yours. Honor these boundaries, and build your own sales process based on the way your buyer buys (not based on the way you want to sell, or are used to selling), and you’re far more likely to gain the buyer’s respect and business.
And you can’t just do this once. The way buyers will buy is guaranteed to evolve. The steps they take, the tools they use, the influences that affect their direction and decisions. In a B2B sale, even the roles of buyers and buyer influencers within an organization can change dramatically, and quickly. Know your customer, your buyer, and their processes well enough and you can set and modify your sales strategy accordingly to create frictionless selling environments.
Join the buyer community. Sales yesterday meant sponsoring or advertising in places where your buyers congregate. Today, to build credibility, you need to participate. You need to become an active part of the community in which your buyers exist, and you need to do it by participating as a peer, not as a seller.
This doesn’t mean impersonating a buyer, but does mean sharing, exchanging and seeking information to make the buyers smarter. Not smarter in purchase decisions, but smarter in doing their jobs in general. Those you directly engage will benefit from and appreciate your perspective. And others in the community will also see and respect what you’re doing, and will be more inclined to engage or work with you in the future.
Turn buyers into sellers. If you make the sale, provide a product or service worth talking about, enable your customers to become sellers on your behalf. Actively collect and share their success stories in a variety of formats and mediums (written, video, audio, online, etc.). Give your customers incentives and tools to share your content with others.
This doesn’t just mean referral offers and tell-a-friend incentives. It also means giving them a steady feed of the same content you may have used to engage them in the first place, and encouraging them to directly share and distribute that content to their own peers and networks. This ensures your message gets in front of exponentially more prospective buyers.