Category Archives: Sales

Increase new and repeat sales. Cold calling, follow ups and the benefits of regular sales contacts

Get Your Sales Reps in Touch With Your Prospects Sooner, Not Later

Much has been written lately about lengthening sales cycles and the preference of prospects not to engage with sales reps until much later in the buying cycle. It is accepted as an idea whose time has come and heavily supported with a wealth of statistics.

Some of the highest profile minds in marketing are responding to this trend with a renewed call to improve the development of online content, lead scoring and analytics all to better understand the buyer persona. This will provide enhanced automated marketing programs to provide more product/price/comparative/competitive and benefit/ROI information, for prospects to peruse at their leisure. There is a stampede onto the bandwagon to keep your sales reps away from prospects until they have basically made up their mind about what they want.

There is a misguided perception that the way to win the hearts and minds of your prospects is to leave them in peace to develop their own conclusions based on what they think they know about you.

Years from now, management will look back at this “Slap Yourself On the Top of Your Head”, moment in time and ask, “What were we thinking?”

So, What Are You Thinking?

  • A prospect who would rather not engage with sales teams is nothing new, just a current example of why response rates for hard and soft offers have always been different.
  • There is no difference between a preference for online content and the historical sales brush off, “Send me something in writing”. Sales people used to get fired for doing what companies can’t seem to do enough of now, which is to give value and get nothing in return. This isn’t to say content should be withheld, we are indeed past the point where that tactic is in any ones best interest, but self- service content is NOT king and can work against you. When every selling opportunity is a little bit different, involvement, interest and trust are equally important.
  • While companies are rushing ahead to provide the selective answers to prospects’ most frequently asked questions, they are doing nothing to ensure that those prospects ask the right questions. Those are the questions that will lead them to buy from you.
  • Finally, there’s an assumption that prospects are truly reading and accurately absorbing all the information they’re collecting on their own. This defies human nature.

Keeping Your Sales People Away From Your Prospects is a TERRIBLE Idea.

  1. Many decision makers are highly intelligent quick thinkers, capable of summing up the gist of an argument swiftly. But they have an unfortunate (for you) tendency to ignore the detail once they believe they have grasped the content. A well documented flaw of many quick thinkers is a failure to review ALL the information available to them. So, you can’t be sure what content they have pulled from your materials or the materials of your competitors and you can’t predict what conclusions they have come to.
  1. Your prospects will gravitate to the information that answers questions they already have an interest in and will respond best to information that fits their preconceived notions and preferences. If you need to challenge a status quo or base any of your sales case on something they don’t already agree with or don’t already know, your words will go unread.
  1. In spite of what many prospects think, engaging with a well trained, professional sales rep will save them time and help them reach better decisions.
  1. You don’t really want a level playing field and neither do your competitors. When one of them successfully inserts a sales contact into a one-on-one relationship with a prospect, while your company is content to be held at an arms-length, you have sacrificed an irrevocable piece of the high ground and probably the sale.
  1. Statistics, trends, campaigns and group behaviors do not buy. Purchase decisions are made by people who will not always behave in a predictable or even logical way. Their decisions will be influenced by factors that your company will never understand unless you can establish the dialogue that ONLY comes with personal contact and that point of contact is your sales rep.

Why Are Sales Teams Not Screaming “Bloody Murder”

While They’re Pushed Off to the Side?

Ironically, along with all the leading edge marketing thinking, the role of the sales rep has been pigeon-holed into an outdated and inconsistent cliché: “The Closer”. In a world where the buying cycle is stretching out past the foreseeable horizon, sales reps still live and die by the quarterly revenue goal, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. To meet these goals – the story goes – they can’t afford the time to engage anyone who isn’t ready to buy. That’s half the reason that sales reps are happy to wait to engage.

The other half of the reason is that sales people put themselves on the line. It’s not a pleasant thing to expose yourself over and over to the responses of people who don’t want to talk to you. So, while it’s not to the credit of sales people to be willing to sit back and wait for people who WANT to talk to them, it’s understandable. It’s not acceptable though and unless your sales people are willing to put themselves on the line to make a personal contact with your prospects, your revenue will suffer.

Current stats all point to a failure of many nurturing programs to translate raw leads into sales and the timing and distribution of new content seems to be the leading solution, but the removal of personal sales contact is probably at least partly to blame.

The role of a sales rep shouldn’t be diminished, but it needs to evolve. The challenge facing sales teams is to approach your prospects with enough knowledge and skill to serve the needs of both the buyer and seller. The new sales rep is the voice of your marketing program and will subtly take ownership of the sales process by ensuring that your prospects are not cherry picking information, but actually absorbing the right information that will lead them to make the choice to buy from you.

Does Cold Calling Still Work?

The debate rages endlessly. Does cold calling work?

If you read the articles and posts coming from the leading edge marketing writers and Sales 2.0 experts, it seems that the consensus is that cold calling is dead. Their reasoning for cold calling being a thing of the past is because no-one wants to get cold calls. Well, since no one ever wanted to get cold calls, I don’t think of that as a strong rationale.

Recently I noticed a post to a group on Linked In with the heading “Does Cold Calling Work? Stop Whining….it Does..” written by Jeff GoldbergThanks for the “Stop Whining” in the header, Jeff.

Jeff is a major proponent of cold calling and his career has been built on teaching people to master the art of the cold call. In his article, he refers to recent meetings he has set with VPs and decision makers at large corporations. If cold calling didn’t work, this would not have been possible.

I’m totally with Jeff on this one. Cold calling works. It always has and it always will. I’ll also add that most sales people have always hated cold calling and that’s not likely going to change either.

The biggest hurdle of cold calling, besides being willing to simply pick up the phone, is making the connection to the person you want to reach. Of all the aspects of cold calling, nothing has changed as dramatically as the connection rate. Only 5 years ago you could easily expect to reach at least 10 out of every 100 business contacts on your list. Now that number is averaging between 2 and 7. Gate keepers are probably less of an obstacle than they used to be, but now one of the culprits is Call Display. The person you are trying to reach doesn’t know you, they don’t know what you want and they aren’t going to pick up the phone.

This is the perfect opportunity to make Call Display work to your advantage. Never fail to leave a voicemail when you don’t connect. Identify yourself and the purpose of your call. Leave a timely, clear, respectful message and lead with your benefit.

Combine a short message like this with some intelligent persistence and patience and eventually the name and number that appear on Call Display will be familiar enough to help you make a connection.

Numbers Can Lie

Did you ever play “Telephone” when you were little?  Remember what happened to that whispered message passed through 10 kids and how easily “Strawberry Jam” turned into “I am a banana”? It was funny then.

Research findings, passed via content marketing and social media are a lot like “Telephone” because once a number is repeated often enough, small changes in the interpretation can create a very different story. Even worse, every time something is repeated, it takes on a greater authority – even if it’s questionable to begin with.

Here is a finding from the CEB, MLC Customer Purchase Research Survey, 2011 which is quoted extensively by subject matter experts and in other reports including “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing” among others.

It states that:

On average, customers progress nearly 60% of the way through the purchase decision- making process before engaging a sales rep.

This finding – fine tuned in an included chart in the report to show that almost 60 is actually 57% has surfaced, over and over and over in countless discussions and B2B studies. An additional comment about the response distribution indicates an upper limit of 70% so that number shows up quite frequently as well.

  • 57% being close to 60% is frequently represented as two thirds- once it hits 2/3’s  well, that’s  “almost 70%”
  • 70% – well that’s pretty darned close to three quarters, which is almost 80%

I’ve seen all of these numbers passed on as absolute fact.  I’ve also seen it written as 2/3-3/4  of companies have made the decision before calling in the vendor. (Just a little slant on the interpretation – It’s a “Telephone” thing)

But even the original number isn’t telling the whole truth.

In a direct quote from the Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, about how this number came to be it states:

” To understand the scope of this issue in the B2B context, CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) surveyed more than 1,500 customer contacts (decision makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase) for 22 large B2B organizations (spanning all major NAICS categories and 10 industries)….”

1500 contacts involved in a recent major business purchase sounds pretty impressive, but 22 companies?   What that means is the “recent major business purchase” involved an average of 68 decision makers and influencers. (1500/22=68.18)  A distribution chart in the original report clarifies that yes, indeed we are talking about only 22 companies, or a total of 22 purchases.

For 22 major purchases, each involving an average of 68 decision makers and influencers (and I’ll stick my neck out here to also suggest literally millions of dollars) the customers delayed engaging with sales reps until they were 57% through the process. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first 50% of the process was about figuring out what each of the obviously many involved departments required- not to mention whose budget would be taking the hit. It’s hardly what I would describe as a “striking finding” – more like a bit of a snore. But look at the fuss that number has caused.

So, for most the the B2B vendors out there who are wondering what to do with your apparently antiquated sales team, may I suggest – “Turn them loose.”

Think of it like this – Does 68 decision makers and millions of dollars look like a representative B2B sale?

More to the point – does it look like one of yours?

B2B – Back to Basics But Better

In its heyday outbound marketing even in B2B embraced a huge list of media options. In addition to email we had:

  • Direct mail – in regular letter, postcard and dimensional versions
  • Voicemail
  • Online Advertising
  • Newspaper, Business Magazine and even Outdoor Advertising
  • Telemarketing
  • Radio
  • TV

While not everyone could afford all the arrows in the outbound quiver, there was a widely used mix of options.

But, there were some big issues with B2B outbound marketing . Personally, I don’t consider that those issues were either that they were interruptive a.k.a. intrusive ( which used to be considered a good thing) or that they attempted to force the dreaded sales presence on not quite ready to buy prospects.  Rather, the issues were that Outbound was not well targeted and most of the options cost too much. Looking back, its easy to see that in many cases the issue of cost would have been easily addressed if we had done a better job targeting the messages.

But, that was the Heyday.

Right now, B2B Outbound is in a sorry state. In an effort to correct the problems of the past, and because the shiny new automation tools pushed us that way, we’ve thrown too many  eggs into one basket – email.

Let’s face it, email is (relatively speaking) cheap, fast and easy. It’s the darling child of the automation platforms and hence the darling child of social media, which in many areas is manipulated by the staff and content farms selling us inbound marketing and marketing automation software and services.

Oh yes……and it is brutally over used.

Check out this report. “The State of B2B Lead Nurturing” produced by Bizo (about to be aquired by LinkedIn) in association with Oracle Marketing Cloud. Two conclusions drawn in this report are:

1. “Email marketing is widely used, but does not reach a significant proportion of known contacts. On average, 79 percent of marketers say their email open rates don’t exceed 20 percent.”

So, in other words 79% of marketers who are actually measuring their opens know perfectly well that 80% of the people they need to message – aren’t reading their messages. Now, I ask you, “Does this sound like effective, affordable outbound?” Nope – I don’t think so either. So it’s pretty hard to disagree with the second conclusion.

“In order to help fill the sales pipeline, marketing must embrace a truly multi-channel lead nurturing strategy that goes beyond traditional email marketing strategies.”

It would seem like a good time to re-invent B2B outbound marketing and take advantage of the lessons we have learned.

Lesson # 1 – No more blasting out one size fits all messaging. Not only is it wasting your money, even worse, it’s wasting your influence. Even though many of you have databases that are in (kindly) a semi-sorry state, you can at least segment company and contact information to the extent that you can produce messaging that fits the priorities of the people you can talk to.

Lesson # 2 – Embrace a multi-media outbound lead nurturing strategy. You’re missing too many opportunities with email. For lead nurturing opt first for choices where you can target your messages.  Voicemail, live voice, text messaging, direct mail are choices that offer control, cost efficiency, speed of deployment, timeliness of messaging and a degree of automated delivery.

 

 

 

Bad execution means poor results

One thing that has always puzzled me in business is that once someone gets good at something, they probably stop doing it.

For instance, (while its not the best practice) successful sales people are often moved up to management where they don’t do any more selling.  Great buyers get promoted so they don’t have to do the buying anymore.

The higher up you move the more likely you are to plan and the less likely you are to actually “do” and while that might be just dandy for career tracking and personal development, it means that the dirty end of the stick- the work- the executions- are handled by the least experienced and sadly often least capable people.

Am I the only one who has a problem with that?

Selling a business service, we make sales calls, hold meetings and promise benefits to Directors and VP’s, but when push comes to shove the actual campaign work is most often executed by a comparatively junior person with precious little oversight.  And that’s what there needs to be more of, oversight and supervision on those seemingly insignificant, but truly deal breaking details.

Ideas are a dime a dozen guys. What separates brilliant from mediocre is all execution.

Stop Throwing Leads Away

Generating quality leads is – according to some very sensible sources- the #1 priority for marketing and with priorities come expenses!  So just how much of your lead generation expense is being tossed out the window when your painfully generated leads don’t get timely follow up?

When research shows that 35-50% of the sales go to the vendor who responds first it makes sense that 61% of B2B marketers will send leads directly to sales.  But,  is your sales team following up on every lead in a timely fashion?  Sadly, probably not and one of the major contributing factors is the difficultly experienced by B2B callers when it comes to reaching leads, responders and even current customers live on the phone.

But, when it comes to:

  • qualifying new leads,
  • staying in touch with current customers  and
  • intelligently deciding which contacts stay with sales and which go to automated nurturing

 

There is no substitute for a live conversation.

  • Email might communicate some features
  • Voicemail can draw attention to your message
  • Downloads and web responses can hint at interest levels

But only a dialogue with someone in your company can INSTANTLY ask and answer the questions to identify which leads should demand your immediate attention.

If you are not talking with every person that your marketing programs are identifying as a lead, then why are you spending the money on lead generation?

There is a low cost, very simple way that Boxpilot can help your callers talk more and dial less. Click here to ask about it.

Attn B2B Sales – Pick Up The Phone!

Are are tired of reading about how a typical B2B sale is 50 -60-70% complete before the prospect engages with a sales rep?  I am.  And that’s because that “finding”  which might be true with some mature product/service categories does not apply to what I sell.

It doesn’t apply to what most of my clients sell either. But it seems that their marketing teams are too enamored with the content they’re finding online, which co-incidentally supports ever increasing expenditures on marketing automation software and just about every possible idea to find, nurture and score potential prospects without every actually talking to them. And this is insane, because –

There is NO substitute for a live conversation.None. Nadda. Zip. Zero. Zilch! (Did I make the point?)

But the whole trend towards online, email and demand driven content- which will move your potential sales along a predictable path of their own choosing, is also supported by two simple facts.

  • The first is that most people (and here I’m talking about anyone from a business owner who needs to drum up their own new customers to a seasoned sales executive) really don’t want to  make cold calls. Often they don’t even want to make warm calls either.
  • The second fact is that it’s so hard to reach people live on the phone that calling – while it might actually be the only reasonable alternative available to many companies- demands too much time, too much frustration and a level of dogged determination that’s a drain on most people.

Frankly, there’s another problem with cold calling, too and here – sigh- I speak from experience. When you make calls to countless prospects, and end up leaving voicemail after voicemail, that odd person who actually picks up their phone can stop you dead in you tracks.  You’ve repeated the same spiel so many times that your brain shuts down and you blow the call. This is not good. It kills the immediate opportunity and feeds call reluctance.

Then of course there is the issue of incomplete and/or out of date data – another huge time waster.

Then there’s following up each voicemail with an email message- which is necessary, but also the wrong kind of mental activity for a sales person who will normally be at their best when reaching outside of themselves to connect with another human being versus sending an email, updating a database or – dare I add- writing a post for the company blog 😉

But a sales conversation, a real dialogue with a potential customer can leapfrog over 6 months of marketing’ s measured lead generation or nurturing efforts. (hah- I’ll make a lot of friends with that comment!) But, that doesn’t change the fact that its true.

Voicemail messages are important. They will only rarely get a returned call, but are the best “Passive” means available to cut through all the clutter and start (repeat start) to build you case. And they’re the inevitable outcome of many of the dials that are made, so it stands to reason to make the most of the opportunity.

Email messages are important. They fill in information gaps, point people to useful information and offer an easier (more passive) means for a prospect to either tell you that they’re maybe a little interested, or ask you to get lost.

But nothing trumps a conversation. When want to make more sales- you need to have more conversations. (Do I really need to qualify here that you are having these conversations with the right people in the right kinds of companies???)

Here comes the sales message –

With this simple principle in mind, Boxpilot has put together a sales support service that utilizes our guided voicemail, synchronized email,  desk alert and database cleaning capabilities.  T understand how we can help you and/or your sales team have more live conversations with fewer dials, leave voicemail and email  messages that say the right things and clean up your data – just send a message to Sales@Boxpilot.com and we’ll get back to you.

Stop the Summer Sales Slump

It a sure sign that summer’s here: Sun is shining, birds are chirping, kids are playing, sales are slumping (?!?!?).

What was that? you say.  Sales slumping?  That’s right, 68% of businesses report a drop in sales over the summer months.  Now, I can buy that some of those businesses may actually be seasonal, but 68%?  Surely not.

But if you think about it, summer is full of productivity killing (but certainly fun!) distractions: vacations, beaches, backyards, patios, etc.  And, if productivity is down, sales are sure to follow.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  As a manager, I’ve been faced with this obstacle myself, and have come up with a few ways to overcome this challenge.

1) Intelligently stream responsibility:

  • Forget about a vacation “out of office” message
  • Make sure people who reach out to you in your absence are handled appropriately, whether that’s with an autoresponder or a live call— delegate a human to make this assessment.

2) Set up a predictable lead nurture program ahead of time for your active pipeline.

  • Work with your marketing department (or services like Boxpilot 🙂 ) to make sure you have a preset contact stream going out.
  • Schedule emails and/or calls with targeted messages to go out on a preset schedule.

3) Keep your cold outreach going out—your funnel will thank you.

  • Work with marketing to have daily calls and emails scheduled so that it’s like you are not gone.
  • People worry about not being there to accept response, but the fact is, response rates are low, and lower still are the number of people who are ready to buy after that first response.
  • Have cold outreach responses fed to a auto responder campaign or a live call (see #1 above).

It may seem beastly to administer, but without it, sales slump.  The best place to start is by having Sales and Marketing sit down together to lay out responsibility.  Utilizing external support from a service provider, may be the best option to solving this problem without headaches—let the 3rd party enable coverage.

Putting effort into building a great system will not only make a difference this summer, but any slump period your business typically has.

 

Blow Me Away

Have I ever told you how much I love telephone prospecting?

I lied.

Yes. It’s good when I make a connection and open the door to an interesting and potentially lucrative new business opportunity and I like to talk to new people. But, let’s be honest. Not a lot of dials end that way.

But for the dials that do end with a connection, I’ve found  it’s very hard to get their attention. Although they might prove to be interested in what you have, there is a natural reflex that promotes a mindless blow-off, even from normally thoughtful people.

Lately, they sound a lot like this:

  • You’ve got the wrong person
  • I’m in a meeting
  • Thought you were my conference call
  • We’ve got that all taken care of
  • I’m too busy to talk, and of course, the perennially popular
  • I have no money for anything

What differentiates a blow off from a genuine objection is that there is no thought behind it, it just comes tripping out of their mouth. To my eternal embarrassment it’s only recently that I’ve realized that most of those people who told me they were in a meeting were lying,. Ditto the conference call dodge.  (No wonder sales people tend to be distrustful skeptics).

I’ve found five things that help to deal with the mindless blow off:

1- Always leave a preplanned voicemail when I don’t connect and follow it up with an email that offers something I hope will be of value and maybe build up a little equity with a contact before we connect.

2. Refer to previously provided information in my opening to both refresh their memory and try and cash in on the equity.

3. In the face of a blow off, address it head on. For example,” I’m in a meeting.” might be immediately met with ” When can I call you?”  It’s surprising how many too-busy-to-talk people were suddenly ready to open up the conversation with ” Well, what’s this about?”

4. Ignore the blow off and dive in.  This is not my favorite thing to do, but I include it as a possibility because I have so many people do it to me and sometimes it works.

5. Rework your opening line.  You have VERY little time to get someones attention so you have to learn to skip that deadly boring recap of your name, your title, your company, their leading clients, etc, etc.  Why not trying something different – like jumping directly into what you hope to be able to accomplish for someone even before you give them your name? (They don’t care who you are until you have something they want anyway). What are your main points? Now re-order them to get the stuff that your contact will care about upfront.

And finally, while I said there were five points, let’s just throw in number six – Most of us are resistant to change, but if what you are doing right now isn’t working, stop wasting your time (and your financial future- not to mention your mental health) throwing blame onto the market, your leads or the people you’re talking to.

Accept the responsibility  and work with what you can control.  Look at what you’re doing and find ways to improve it for a better result.

 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s Anti-Spam Regulations -CASL- July 2014

If you are selling, doing lead or demand generation to any company or individual employee located in Canada – you need to pay attention to CASL coming into effect on July 1, 2014 because my friends, this could be very ugly.

1- Make no mistake that this legislation applies only to messages sent to consumers – It applies equally to B2B communications.

2- Unlike the US regulations that require (quite reasonably) that companies honor opt-out requests, this law ONLY permits you to send commercial emails – like lead generation, sales approaches, download and event invitations to organizations with whom you already have a relationship OR who have specifically opted IN to your messaging.

3- The legislation will not only impose very severe penalties for violators, it also opens up both companies and individuals to Private Right of Action – which- loosely interpreted means that you can be sued as well as fined.

Here is a link to a copy of the actual legislation:

CASL – The Act

While email will no longer be an option – and this act also applies to text messages sent to a phone – voicemail messages are specifically excluded from the act.