The first number is the number of emails I get as a marketing manager each quarter from sales people. The second number is the number of phone calls I get from sales people each quarter. The last number is the number of letters and notes I receive from sales people each quarter. Read More…
That was the point where he lost me. Actually more like the point where some rude sentences scrolled across my mind.
“Uh yes, dude, we have clients!” I’m the marketing director here. “What do you think I do all day? Sit around and play with my Scrabble set?” (OK, some other words we’re in my mind but this a ‘”family blog.”)
So this is how you follow up on inbound leads. I’ve been thinking about the best approaches to that recently. The approaches to this vary and this approach had not occurred to me.
I had registered to listen to a webinar. The content of the webinar seemed very “Sales 2.0” to me. It was all about metrics around lead generation. The webinar promised that these metrics were derived from analyzing thousands of real life sales calls and deriving the best practices.
It sounded impressive to me. To fess up I haven’t listened to the webinar yet so I don’t know if it really is impressive but I still have it on my list of things to do.
But before I could get to the webinar I got a follow up email from one of the company’s sales reps. “You signed up for our webinar on xxx. We wanted to learn more about your business and vice-versa, see if we can help out in any way. What are your thoughts on taking 15 min to chat?”
OK I liked the wording of this email too. Open-minded, open to discussion. Sounded like there was a decent chance I was going to get value out of a call not just be sold to. This seemed like a good approach to webinar follow up to me and it made me think this was a company that had its act together. A nice content rich webinar as an offer than a “light touch” email to follow up that also seemed to add value. Impressive.
So I was feeling a little guilty a couple of weeks later when I got a third follow up email from the company’s sales rep requesting a call. I mean these guys seemed to really want to add value, perhaps I’d go as far as saying they really want to help me. By this point their approach had been so good I did want to speak to them. I was even open to “partnering” with them in some way. I could not guarantee I was going to buy their product but if figured I may be able to help somehow.
I like to be a straight shooter and I like salespeople. So I try to give every salesperson the scoop–at least the ones that like and can get around to replying to. You see I believe our time as salespeople is our most valuable resource. I like to inform salespeople before they spend their valuable time with me what the real situation is.
So before we spoke I thought I’d help this salesperson by telling him the real situation. I knew my employer would not be buying this company’s product in the short term. There was no way we would need something like this in 2014.
On the other hand I’m not a one-dimensional bloke. As you know I put a fair bit of effort and passion into this blog to help sales people (and their companies) sell better. I was impressed by this company’s approach and given their product it appeared to me that they would want to reach salespeople, sales managers and marketing people. The type of people that read this blog.
Some people might even call me an “influencer” in this space. I know quite a few of the other people who write about sales and so I can often connect companies like this to other people that have a bigger following than me.
So I emailed this sales rep. “I don’t see anyway my (media) company is I going to buy your product this year but I’d be ok talking to you guys since I like what you’re up to. Probably makes more sense for you personally to connect me to your marketing colleagues so we can talk about how my blog can help you guys. Then down the road when we know each other through this effort who knows if the timing here at the media company will have changed enough so we need your kind of product.”
The response came 3 mins later via email. “We’ll I’d be ok having someone talk to you about your personal blog but I’m sure your firm should get our product [now]. Let’s talk about that.”
My response 3 mins later. “Actually there really is no way our media company will buy such a product [now] but I would like to see if I can help through my blog.”
2 mins later: “You see any company with clients needs our product. It’s so good.”
My response:”I’m not sure you heard me. My senior management will not pay for something like this in 2014″
2 mins later, “I don’t understand. Do you guys not have clients?”
This company’s brand just went from impressive to shoddy in my mind in those 10 mins of emailing. Now I’m not sure I ever want to talk to them.
This was anti-social selling to the max.
This rep basically told me buy now or go…
He also told me he did not really care if something benefited his company. He told me he did not care if his marketing department got help. He only cares if he makes his quota this year.
I have not listened to this webinar yet. I’m still interested in what metrics this company’s research has uncovered. I’m now guessing one of them must be if you don’t close now then you never will. Or maybe it’s that salespeople should never nurture contacts that don’t buy now.
What do you think? Should salespeople nurture relationships? Should they focus only on the deals they can close now and not get involved in anything else, even passing on contacts to other departments? Should salespeople stay away from being social and focus on dollars?
Should they sell like The Wolf of Wall Street? (At the end of the movie he’s a sales trainer.)
When I first came to the US (in 1991) a fellow student asked me this question as we were walking by each other in Philadelphia. I’d heard that Americans were much friendlier than Brits so I thought it was very nice of this person I did not know to care about my well being.
In typical British style I answered “not bad”. That apparently concerned my new friend and lead to a 10 minute conversation to make sure I was not seriously ill. Apparently the correct response is “awesome” or better still, nothing at all…and it’s important to keep on walking.
I now know that most folks around here ask that question without expecting an answer. In fact, they don’t really care how you are. They just ask the question like Brits say “good morning.”
Fast forward 23 years and I was sitting around minding my own business when I heard a sales person call a prospect and say “Hi Stan, Jane here, I’m just calling to touch base”.
“Touching base” in my opinion is the sales equivalent of asking “how are you?”–the version where you don’t expect a reply. Or in a sales context any prospect to call you back.
Sitting in the prospect’s chair (you know I get to be a prospect and a sales person these days), I know when a sales person calls me and says “hi Nigel, Joe from Cool Tech Tools here I’m just touching base as we spoke 3 months ago” that what he really means is “Hey Nigel, Joe from Cool Tech Tools here I’ve hot a quota to make and I’m hoping you need to buy my widget now”.
I don’t feel the love. I don’t feel you care about me. If I desperately need your widget right now maybe it will work. But if I really needed your widget right now I’d probably call you.
99% of the time I don’t need your widget right now. And when you call me to “just touch base” I’m not impressed. You’re not showing that you care about me. You go straight to the bottom of my priority list. You don’t care about me and you’re not stating any compelling reason we should talk.
So please, if you’re going to call me every 3 months (you know that quarterly touch thing for those prospects that are not in your “hot list”) please find a reason and incorporate it into your call.
One of the best things to include in your call is a trigger event–something that has changed in my environment that your product or service can solve. If there’s something going on in my world that is heating up and starting to cause me pain then I may well be up for talking to someone about it. Or if you know of something going on in my industry that’s causing blokes like me issues and I don’t know about it, I’ll be up for talking about that too.
Ideally, customize that trigger event with something you know about me through your research and you’re on the way to getting my interest–and a call back.
So please don’t just “touch my base”, have a reason for calling. And maybe even show me you care about me–just a little.
I’m juggling burning knives over here. Give me a reason to speak to you.
Deals rarely slow down then close.
Deals that close have momentum. The pace of the communication accelerates as you get near closing. The prospect has questions. They are about to make a commitment. As they draw closer to making that commitment questions crop up in their mind. They want to be sure they are making the right decision so they ask questions. This is a good sign. These are buying signals. So the pace of communication speeds up. It’s more frequent. They ask a question about how your product works. You answer. Then they ask something else. And so on until it’s time to sign up.
What about those opportunities that go silent? Those are the ones to keep an eye on it. Why has the momentum slowed?
Sometimes it’s legit. Sometimes the momentum has not really slowed but you just can’t see the communication. Behind-the-scenes the buying organization is going through its buying process. The people you know in the prospect account may be talking to people you don’t know in the prospect account (remember there could be up 21 people involved in buying your product in there.) You’re not plugged into this internal communication. So you don’t see the momentum. But it’s there.
But often deals that go silent have really lost momentum. They’ve slipped OFF the buyer’s “must-do list” and onto the buyer’s “nice-to-have-someday” list. And guess when things on “nice-to-have-someday” list get done – usually NEVER. Or if ever, not this year. Certainly not this quarter. Essentially these deals have slipped out of the sales pipeline.
The best way to think of these deals is that you need to start again. That does NOT mean all the sales work you did is wasted but I’d take these out of your pipeline. Be honest. Start again. Your forecast will be so much more accurate if you do.
Take a close look at your pipeline. How many deals have been hanging out there for a long time? By a “long time” I mean for more than one sales cycle. By “sales cycle” I mean the average time it takes you from when you find a real opportunity to the time it takes to close it – based on your historical data on past deals that you end up closing (see this post for more on my definition of sales cycle.)
Take a look at the deals hanging out in your pipeline for a long time very closely.
If you’re a sales person, do you know for sure that your buyer is moving this deal forward? Have you spoken to them recently? Have they replied to your emails? Is there information in those communications that tells you definitively the deal is moving forward, taking the next step, building momentum?
If you’re the sales manager ask your reps about these factors. Can they show evidence that these aging deals are alive and momentum is building? If not, consider taking the opportunity out of the pipeline and put it into your nurturing process.
By the way, CRM’s can give you a handy-dandy report showing the age of your opportunities. I’d suggest you have at least one report that is sorted by the age of each opportunity in your sales pipeline. Take out your magnifying glass on the opportunities that are oldest. Ask some questions. Dig around. Convince yourself those oldies are alive or move ’em out of the pipeline and into the nurturing process.
Deals have momentum. They don’t age well. They are not Merlot.
The companies I talk to are always looking for sales “hunters”. It’s almost a sure thing that if a sales candidate says they are a “farmer” then they are out. But why are farmers so uncool?
Hosting Brain Carroll’s webinar reminded me of the importance of lead nurturing. It’s clear from Brian’s research that companies that stay-in-touch with target buyers greatly increase their revenue (one piece of data: leads that are not ready to buy today are 77% of all leads coming in to your company.) But lead nurturing is another way of saying farming. So companies that utilize only hunting techniques will do far worse than companies that farm.
If we want our sales outcomes in the future dramatically improve, perhaps we need to think of our human history in agriculture. Once upon a time there was only hunting – no farming. Many companies still run their lead generation efforts like early man, foraging in the forest for wild berries and boar.
Here’s a very brief history of agriculture I found on a Rice University website. The beginning seems to have many parallels to how sales and marketing works in many companies:
Before agriculture, people lived by hunting wild animals and gathering edible plants. When the herds were plentiful and the plants flourishing, life was good. But, when the herds migrated elsewhere, people had to follow them and often discover a whole new set of plants to supplement their diet.
This “feast or famine” lifestyle had its definite drawbacks including starvation.
Eventually, people decided that life would be a lot easier if they always had the animals with them and if edible plants or their produce were always available.
So are farmers so uncool?
How many emails did you get this week? How many hand-written notes or letters did you receive?
I suspect most people have no idea what the answer is to question #1 since the number is so large. I suspect the answer to question #2 is zero but no greater than one.
We are all grappling with breaking through the “marketing noise” today but as more and more of this noise moves into electronic media, like email and (yes) blogs, there is an opportunity opening up. It’s the opportunity of old fashioned media like letters, note cards and faxes.
Here’s the story of purportedly the world’s greatest sales man from the Guerilla Marketing for Consultants blog. The secret to the world’s greatest sales man was that he sent lots of postcards! And here’s a recent success story from a small business owner who used hand-written notes to prospect, from the Duct Tape Marketing blog, he generated ten leads from twenty hand-written notes!
So if you want to break through the noise out there and connect with new people or keep-in-touch with existing contacts, it just might be time to pick up your old fountain pen…