Business Development Rants and Resources

Lead Management – “Working a Lead”

As someone that has spent a lot of time on the prospect side of the table, I am often amazed at the “great” follow-up on the part of salespeople to whom and I have spoken and to whom I expressed some interest. While there are some products and services that are quick hits, “impulse items” if you will, like gum or cheesy celebrity magazines at the checkout aisle, often the purchase is part of some larger process going on at the company and constant calling simply can’t affect that.

Our own sales efforts with the AMG Alerts notification system and to a lesser extent, the SalesInSync sales lead management system are typical. The larger the company – and the carrot – the less likely that constant hounding would have any effect. People are positive and give us all the GO signals and then disappear for however long it takes for them to move forward. That can be months, and harassing them in the meantime, while probably not a deal-killer, is at least going to leave a bit of a sour taste in their mouths. What we experience as customers is intense contact followed by a disappearing act. That’s not the way to do it.

Sales resources (and really just about all business resources) are in short supply for most companies. You have to be smart, have a sales process that involves staying visible without invading personal space, and have at least a simple, collaborative CRM System that assists in this. Too many people have a hot list on paper and work those, and as they get new leads to “work”, the old ones disappear to the bottom of the pile and then off the desk completely. I recommend our other blog post about the Marketing Shell Game, which is another commentary on sales process management.

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Lead Management and CRM | , , , | 1 Comment

Lead Management System Deployment to Channel Partners?

Many manufacturers use independent distributors as a primary sales channel. Even if the manufacturer has a great market presence and may appear to have their choice of distributor, a good distributor is still to be coveted in the same way a seller has to covet a customer.

This means that support of the distribution network is key, with elements that include training, good communication, and sales tools.

Good local distributors usually develop their own sales leads and have their own sales operations – and this in fact is a primary selection criterion for a manufacturer. The distrinutor needs to add value in some way, and this is a primary way to do so.

However, some manufacturers like to augment their distributors’ lead generation efforts by supplying leads of their own. Often, these leads are derived through expensive sources. These well-intended efforts, at least as a program, tend to be short-lived for the same reason why many other lead generation efforts are “events” rather than processes – the person paying the bill can’t measure the result due to lack of visibility.

A manufacturer will say “I spend $5,000 per month on my construction leads and I send them out and never know if anything came of it. I stopped doing that. I don’t even know if these things are followed up.” When we mention the possibility of putting in SalesInSync for this purpose, we hear “I can’t force them to use any particular system.”

But that response isn’t completely true. The problem is that the lead program had been rolled out to the distributors without all the tools in place. The program should have been rolled out so that basic disposition reporting was a requirement. Provide at least one SalesInSync user license free of charge, for distribution of the lead. Maybe the program will spread within the distributorship. Maybe it won’t. But the distributor will have to log into the system to retrieve the information and will have to provide some information on the resulting activity in order to keep receiving them. It’s not much to ask in exchange for valuable incremental business, and those (many) sales operations without an effective lead management system may get on board completely, which will make their own lead handling more effective and provide a high ROI for the manufacturer.

July 10, 2012 Posted by | Lead Management and CRM | , | Leave a comment

Unlimited Messaging and Other Wrong Pricing Models

As entrepreneurs, it pays to establish sustainable pricing models. Give away the store in the heat of competition and you might find it boarded up in two years, with all of your potential gone. Yes, it’s tempting to try to “hook” people, feeling that you can make adjustments down the road, but that rarely works, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s really difficult to go back to your original customers, who believed in you and helped MAKE your company, and stick them with a new structure. Second (wouldn’t you know it?),  more often than not, downward price pressure in popular markets will not allow you to bump anything up significantly.

In our AMG Alerts notification system sales efforts, we have encountered many customers who want a one-price “unlimited messaging” plan. And some of the companies in our business actually try to accommodate this. But how can they, when the cost of telephony and SMS and even email messaging is variable?

It’s easy. If you are in the employee notification system or emergency alert system business, you have a clear choice to make. If somebody is to lose, it can’t be you. So it would need to be the customer. Charge enough so that in any realistic scenario, you’re covered. If the customer might realistically send 50,000 messages per year, make sure they pay for 500,000 just in case.

And of course, the customer is hoping that you will charge them enough to cover 50,000 messages per year, and if they happen to use 500,000, they won’t have to pay extra. The “vendor” will just take the loss. I literally had one of the nation’s largest propane gas suppliers approach us to do customer messaging. It would start at perhaps 10,000 messages in various modes per month. But after a certain number – for which they were willing to pay – they wanted the messaging to be free, even if they sent 10 million per month. Yes, FREE. They eventually did not sign up with us, saying “we don’t like your pricing model.” But alas, the world has tied our hands until many magical things happen. For now, it would be like their buying gas for their trucks from petroleum company XYZ and asking that after the first 100,000 gallons, the gas should be free.

It’s an open economy and everyone is free to do their dance and roll the dice. But we make the point to our sales prospects that our going out of business is not an option. As a supplier of their alert system, they don’t want us to. And even they are willing to take the risk with us, thinking that they will just find another supplier, we owe it to our OTHER customers to stay in business.

So what do we do? We just won’t do “unlimited” pricing. Since we know we would need to offer a price where we would be the guaranteed winners, the customer would usually need to pay anywhere from 5 to 100x more. That just doesn’t make much sense as a LONG RUN pricing strategy.

At the end of the day, it is best to educate your customers on the economics of the business and be fair and establish pricing and policies that reflect the cost of the service. Honesty will cost you business every once in a while, but you will win with increased loyalty on the part of your customers. This is especially true if you are providing a critical service. They may be trained in their consumer lives to look for what appears to be a “deal”, but in a partnership scenario, it gets a little more complicated.

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | , , , | 1 Comment

Calling at Your Comfort Level

A risk sales people often make is calling at their comfort level. This means they make sales calls to people they like, people they think like them or people they are not intimidated by. These buyers are often the Relationship Buyers or Coaches in your strategic sale. Because of their personalities, these people are often in middle management and not in decision making capacities. In order to be successful, sales people have to step out of their comfort zone and reach decision makers. The decision makers may not always have personalities the sales person finds easy to relate to.

Chicago is a huge sports town. I see sales people start a call talking about sports all the time. Theyll talk about whatever is in the media today, what team is hot, or what scandal is taking place. We’ll leave the call and the sales person will have the impression thatthey had a really successful call. The truth is they may or may not have built a connection with the prospect. More often than not they have not built a connection at all. If the sales person was not skilled and kept the conversation at sports they will not have learned anything about the buying process, the goals and objectives, the individual buyers personal agenda. All they learned was how that person felt about changing the name of Wrigley field. This information isn’t so helpul when youre trying to sell your product or service.Some ways for sales people to over come this type of call reluctance and to call outside their comfort zone are to read and be aware of whats going on in the world, not just whats interesting to them.

Learn how to hold a conversation on topics theyre interested in. Stretch. Understand how to create a conversation that is interesting to the listerner. Have an agenda before each meeting of what it is youd like to learn. Make sure you leave the meeting with an outline of next steps.Be careful not to get stuck calling at your comfort level.Broaden your comfort level and you’ll be able to call on any buyer at any time.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | , , | Leave a comment

Pitfalls for Entrepreneurs Part II

“What on earth is he DOING?” is no longer my question, (from the first article) because I have had the opportunity, through one or two subsequent meetings, to figure it out: My friend (were still calling him Kevin) doesnt have a clue about selling.

Now I am not here to make fun of him for that. At the end of the day, it is a skill that is lacking to some degree – sometimes totally – by almost everyone who runs a business. And I’ll raise my hand here too. So whatKevin does is continually expand his product offerings.

I guess I’d liken it to the old days where the soldiers would storm the castle in an attempt to penetrate and overcome the enemy. Imagine 100 troops rushing the castle wall and putting their shoulders into it trying to knock down the wall. A good commander would call them back and say “Boys, that isnt going to work. Bring up the cannons.” Then they would proceed to blow holes into the wall and rush in. Kevin is the kind of commander that says “Boys, keep at it. Im sending another hundred guys to help you push.”

Ever hear the expression If all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail? Well allKevin has is another hundred guys, and maybe another hundred after them. He doesn’t have a cannon, so he solves his problems using the tool he has. In this case the tool is his big brain and willingness to do hard work. It is easy for him to come up with other ideas and set them out there for people. But he doesnt know how to blow any holes in walls. In fact, he took me through a lengthy presentation he was going to make to what could be a significant new customer – if he could do some selling.  He goes on and on about not only the product he is trying to sell, but all ancillary offerings that his company has, almost straining to somehow get that in. In the meantime, I am the customer, saying. “Why do I care about this. Why SHOULD I care? Where are we going with this?”

The presentation should have been heavily customer focused, shortened, and broken up into bitesized chunks that allowed for better focus. (kind of like this blog article) There probably should have been an outline in the front. And before that, some reference to the problem or challenge that the customer has expressed that he has and a direct statement about what he was offering to address that challenge. But let’s stop there because we are getting into sales training and that is a whole other topic.

The bottom line here is that if you are an entrepreneur that has an offering that you KNOW can and should be more successful in the market, think twice before looking to increase sales revenue with another offering and then another. Yes, there are some legitimate reasons for that sometimes, but we all must question whether we should be spending our resources getting ahold of a cannon and breaching the wall in the way that a good commander would.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | Leave a comment

Quantum Mechanics in Sales Forecasting

I am not sure that this doesnt simply qualify as a Rant. I mean, I feel like I am ranting, but that is a common feeling for me as I am pounding at my keyboard.

Often when working with a sales or marketing manager in setting up their SalesinSync Lead Management System system I will suggest setting up their Probability (of close) percentages in increments of 10, i.e. 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, etc. Every once in while someone will say, “oh, come on, nobody can guess that close. Gimme 0%, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%.” Sometimes the choices are even more limited, like 0, 35, 50, 80.

Okay now I KNOW that this is a rant because it doesn’t happen often. But when it does it is irritating. The point of ALLOWING SALESPEOPLE TO GIVE THEIR BEST GUESSES is that, collectively, the data will be more accurate and precise. This is a simple statistical exercise. This will always be the case unless some extremely weird mechanism is in place due to bad management elsewhere. The sum of all these supposedly problematic uncertainties makes for a the BEST guess, most of the time!

So why not have a dropdown that allows 1 percentagepoint increments? Simply because then it becomes a bit of a farce and salespeople will not like using the interface. Our suggestion is to provide to the sales force the highest level of granularity that is reasonable. Maybe it is in 5 point increments. Who knows? There is simply no reason to force someone to select a number that does not reflect what they feel. Frankly, it can be frustrating and cause the user to question the process, as well as the value of the information. Once that starts happening, the game is lost because salespeople want to be making money and not punching numbers into a system they don’t believe in

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Lead Management and CRM | , , , | Leave a comment

Pitfalls for Energetic Entrepreneurs

“Focus, Focus, Focus.” This is a mantra common in the world of entrepreneurship and small business startup. I have a friend (let’s say “Kevin”) who runs a multimedia production business. He is a brilliant, personable guy, who is very technical. His business focused initially on development of training programs. He is no salesman nor a sales process guru, and where his new business in the area of multimedia training came from was really a mystery. Like a lot of us, he probably just had some faithful connections. He branched off into some web development because a lot of the talent and tools that he had on hand for multimedia lent themselves to that area. So Kevin threw paint on another wall, and the incremental revenue from web allowed him to keep the doors open. I mean, throw some paint here and there, and a passerby will see it and something might happen.

Fast forward about eight or so years, and Kevin and I get together to see what each other has been up to. He shows me a new CRM product that he has developed – a competitor to SalesInSync – for tracking the sales process (not sure if he used it himself!), and then a complementary offering that does lead generation. Mind you, nothing has changed in his business, fundamentally. He still has the same business size. He still does multimedia training, and a web site or two. But more paint on the walls means he doesn’t need to sell as much multimedia training to maintain his revenue. On top of that, Kevin showed me customer support offering that he also had developed. I am not sure that he has sold any of that as of yet, but that was a major streak of paint on another wall. The we go back into a production area where an employee is working on – you guessed it – a multimedia training program, and he shows me a 3D rendering of a modern office building, with cutaways and wiring diagrams and equipment layouts that just knocked my socks off.  I said, “you know Kevin, I’ll bet architectural firms would drool over that.”  He got excited and said “Yes! That is something we should go after!” I thought to myself as I left, “Man, what on earth is he DOING!?”

When I got home I noticed a pilots supplies catalog on my coffee table which really only had been used for putting my feet on if I had shoes on and my wife was around, and I took a stack of those mini PostIt notes and marked every page where there was some multimedia training program being sold. The catalog was absolutely thick with them, and I thought that if Kevin could just sell to ONE of those companies, he could increase his business tenfold. So I have lunch planned with him and I am bringing my dogeared catalog.

So what is focus? It isn’t necessarily sticking to one area. I mean, if you have the talent and tools, why not branch out, as long as you can maintain an identity that is not confusing. Paint those walls, but don’t throw it all over the place! Finish one room before going on to the other. Have a plan for success here before moving there. Or at leastbe willing to abandon here and go there with renewed energy. Just about anyone can look at their business and determine quite readily if they have the processes and resources to be successful on many fronts. Most smaller companies cannot. So therein lies the Focus mantra.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | Leave a comment

Handling the Price Objection

Saying the price is too high, or we cant afford, it is the easiest way to get rid of a novice sales person. If there is value in your product or service, it is priced to reflect the value, and the sales person knows how to communicate the value, theres no reason you have to drop your price – ever.

I bought an email marketing list a year ago. I wanted the list and the price was right. I was just really busy at the time and didn’t have time to make the purchase. A week went by since I received the quote. The salesperson called and dropped the price by 40%. 40%!! I was willing to pay the first price, I thought it was fair. When the price is discounted that much it feels to the consumer like there was a lot of fluff in the pricing and that theyre getting ripped off. Not good for building trust and customer retention.

I recently tried to contact that list company to buy another list. The company is gone. Perhaps they sold services at below cost. This is never a good idea no matter what marketing gurus or analysts will tell you. If you use your common sense, its clear. Never sell at below cost, ever.The salesperson has to understand the value before they can sell it. Do they understand the competitors? Do they understand their strengths and weaknesses? Don’t kid yourself, your competitors have weaknesses. Do they understand your own company’s strengths and weaknesses? A key point – do they really –LISTEN– to the prospect?

If my list salesperson listened to me he wouldve presented ways to make the sale easier for me, managing my time constraints. Instead, as so many sales people do, he gave the product away.I love to help organizations teach their people how to overcome the Price Ojbection. If you listen to the prospect, its the easiest one to overcome.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | , | Leave a comment

Doing it Right

Earlier this month I talked about “earning the right” in a sales process. Recently, I was at an event where I met a salesman who did exactly that. A person with solid sales skills just warms my new business development heart, so I had to share the story with you.

I joined a sailing club. Since I’m a small business owner I spend a good amount of time working. When I’m working I’m totally devoted and committed to what I’m doing. 100% of my time and attention is focused on my goal. My time off is my time off. I was really looking forward to sailing. When I’m out socially I am very vague about my business. I’m not there to sell. I’m there to connect with people and have a good time. I’m in my figurative fuzzy slippers. The captain of the sail boat and the organizer of the event is a broker for marketing services. Hmmm we made the connection pretty quickly that there were business synergies. We did NOT however talk about it on the boat. We talked about sailing, connections, the food we’d have later, the trips he’d been on in the past, the great people that were in the group and enjoyed Chicago’s exquisite skyline in the spring. Our crew consisted of an IT professional, marketing pro, a helicopter pilot, and a high level manager at American Airlines. No one was exchanging business cards. What a relief.

A week or so later, I received a Linked in Connection from the marketing services broker. “yes, I thought.this guy gets it”. We’ve since connected and formally established our mutual synergies. I look forward to doing business with this man for a long, long time.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Business Building | Leave a comment

A Compliment

I was training one of my callers on a new program. We are helping to increase attendance for seminar that a consultant is holding. His target is companies that do not have performance management systems in place.

I was explaining to my caller that the Consultant wanted to use his own staff to call. I talked him out of it. Calling is a special skill. While I wouldve trained his employees, they wouldve never achieved the results our callers would achieve. They’re not dedicated callers and their skill set would not mirror our professional callers after a few hours of training. My caller replied, “Wow, Alicia, you should be in sales.”

The compliment to me is that my caller doesnt realize that I –am– in sales. My style is to listen to the prospect and then collaborate on the best decision possible. The best decision often includes one of my products or services. Im not selling or manipulating them. Were coming to a joint conclusion. If I provide the product or service, I make a fair profit. The prospect understands that. Neither party feels exploited. This process makes my work fun. When its done well, it seems effortless. I was feeling pretty good the day Karen recommended I go into sales.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Lead Management and CRM | Leave a comment