Category Archives: Sales Strategies

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?

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Expectations – A Painful Wake-Up in a Tough Market

Managing a potential customers expectations is only important if you want to make more than a single sale. Buyers beware. The company that promises more than you have a reasonable right to expect might not be looking at anything more than this month’s revenue.

The biggest problem with managing expectations with integrity is that it will easily and often cost you the business, when a realistic expectation is not what your prospect is willing to hear.  The painful part is that money from companies with head-in-the sand expectations goes just as far to pay the bills.

Do you have any idea just how much it hurts when a sales rep is forced to take your lofty expectations and smash them (probably along with the sale) on the jagged rocks of reality?  Do you thank them for it? Probably not. In fact, judging from past experience, you probably give your business to the other guys- the ones who told you that “Absolutely. We can do that.”  But it didn’t work out that way did it?  And now, you’ll just stay away from that type of service because it doesn’t work.

Let me illustrate:

One of our reps recently spoke with a company and here is how it went:

  • Prospect – A Director of Sales & Marketing for a small software company
  • Target – CEO, CFO, CIO/CTO – Manufacturers
  • List – 2,000 names from inbound leads collected within the last two years
  • Contact Success – Average of 3 attempts – one voicemail and two email follow ups -without a response
  • Campaign Objective – Send one voicemail + email message with a free demo offer to the list to revitalize it with budget of $10.00 per response.

To many, this looks like a reasonable expectation, but it’s not. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

1- For starters, how can you tempt a CEO, a CFO and a CIO to leap from basically no interest to responding to a demo offer with the same message? They are, after all, working with some different priorities. As a starting point you must begin with at least three different message approaches.

2- If the list of 2000 names has been collected at an even rate over the past two years, given that the average rate of decay in a B2B list is at least 2% a month. You can expect that 500 of these records are no longer valid.

3- If the combined cost to reach your list of 2000 contacts is $2/name and you (should) already know that only 1,500 are likely even there to reach, at your budgeted cost per lead of $10.00 you need to get 400 responses. Off a maximum base of 1500 names assuming total delivery  that’s a response rate of 26%.

Usually, it is considered that the fault of the numbers lies in the fact that the cost per name is two dollars when the expectation was that it should be around twenty cents, but if you were making those calls with your own sales team, what would they cost you? – Let me give you a hint – @ 50 calls a day that’s 12 weeks of work for one person.

There is a solution, which involves, stripping down the list, focusing on a single audience, building a case over repeated contacts and setting up these prospects to be contacted by a real sales rep to get that demo trial, which is, a significantly higher quality lead than a $10 click-through-to-an-article download.

The sales environment has changed and the smart money is with those who can change their expectations and approaches to match it.

 

 

 

Boost Your Sales Ratios

I’ve had to cold call through too many recessions not to recognize that while it might be irreplaceable, it’s terribly inefficient. I resent how it wastes my precious time and I suspect that anyone who shares at least part of the responsibility to generate their own leads knows exactly how I feel.

I’m calling into a very competitive market, to a contact list who rarely answer their phone, are swamped with “sales approach” emails and when I can get them on the phone are skittish to the point of paranoia when it comes to giving a time commitment.  What I was seeing within the recent market is that booking a sales discussion – something I used to accomplish in less than 30 dials was now taking over 60.  I was not a happy girl.  Not only were my contact ratios down, but my close numbers were slipping, too – not for lead follow up – those numbers are steady, but my ability to book appointments on cold connections was down to a half of what it used to be.

Like many other reps, I tried different approaches (but that didn’t help) and I tried to compensate by boosting my outbound volume, which accomplished nothing tangible beyond further frustrating me and eventually burning me out.  I left sales.

And then I came back with a different tactic, one that I had the luxury to test and improve because I happen to sell guided voicemail for a living and one I can share with you.

I won’t speak with a contact until I have a reason to believe they already know who I am, what areas (that hopefully line up with their problems) I am calling about and hopefully have managed to grease the wheels just a little bit with some free information.  Using a combination of voicemail with an email follow up, I use several different messaging series, which are delivered to the contacts on my list before these precious little fingers of mine ever hit the dial.

  • I was disappointed at first with the terrible open rates on my emails, but a lot of headline work has improved that.
  • I was discouraged for a while with the limited number of direct responses to my messaging. But you know that just as much as the message – timing is everything (at least in this market) . My contacts are very focussed on today’s problems, not next month’s.
  • I was thoroughly pissed off that the contact numbers were at first, no better than before – averaging 16 attempts to make a connection: however by ensuring that my database was updated after the initial rounds of messaging, grouping different job titles and an increased calling frequency away from the mid morning/afternoon main meeting blocks, there has been a significant improvement down to an average of 12 attempts. It’s not terrific, but its a lot better.
  • As the different messaging series grew in length, I became encouraged with my improved ratios on booking appointments and getting referrals.

Another aspect of this project which cannot be ignored was the benefit I gained in developing the messages in the first place, really having to think about what an interested prospect could want from me and being more mindful of their needs when I did make that first contact.  Sadly, this isn’t a one size/one service fits all world, (wouldn’t our lives be easier if it was?) so sometimes the messaging doesn’t fit with their interests. But opt outs give me a chance to wait a while and come back from a different direction.

Here’s a look at how the numbers are tracking:

Connections to Dials:

  • 2009/2010 1:10
  • 2011  1:17
  • 2013 Fall 1:15
  • 2013 Fall/Winter 1:14
  • 2014 Winter 1:12

Meetings/Referrals to Connections:

  • 2009/2010- 1:2.5
  • 2011 – 1:3.5
  • 2013 Fall – 1:3.5 ( up to 2 delivered messages)
  • 2013 Fall/Winter 1:3.0 (3-4 delivered messages)
  • 2014 Winter 1:2.75 (5-6 delivered messages)

Meetings/Referrals to Dials

  • 2009/2010 1:25
  • 2011 1:60
  • 2013 Fall 1:53 (0-2 messages)
  • 2013 Fall/Winter 1:42 (3-4 messages)
  • 2014 Winter 1:33 (5-6 messages)

This is still a work in progress, but the results are looking pretty obvious, by using advanced messaging to not only clean up my list but warm up the contacts so that they are more likely to either be willing to give up some time or on the other hand, step forward and help to narrow down the subjects that might have appeal to them I am now  accomplishing in 33 dials what was taking as many as 60 before.

This is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

The Definitive Guide to Lead Generation

I think you need to be living under a rock not to be familiar with Marketo and so I expect a great number of people will be delighted to hear that they have just released their Definitive Guide to Lead Generation.

I haven’t read the entire report yet. At a hefty 160 pages that might take a while, but I was very gratified to note a section devoted to Telephone Based Lead Generation.

Considering the number of  people who seem to be of a mind that anything ouside of inbound and social marketing is a passé , it really says something when the company who many consider to represent the gold standard in online and inbound marketing so readily acknowledges that the telephone  and specifically telesales   “..provides the human interaction needed to turn your marketing leads into opportunities and sales.”

 

Go Away – I’ve Never Heard of You

Cold call – definition for this post  -“I’ve never heard of you or your company.  I have no idea what you do, why I should value it or why I should listen to you now or talk to you later” Now, that’s cold.

I’ve made thousands of calls just like that and they used to work, but not anymore.  Yes, it’s easy to point out that the disgustingly low connection rates are the issue, but they are not the only one.  I was talking with a friend who is in marketing and he confided that his outbound teleprospecting group engaged the services of a company that boosted their live connection rate…….and it didn’t make any difference in their final results. Yup, they got them live on the phone, but no it didn’t change the sales results.

Within sales teams, that kind of talk is almost heresy.  It means that what we have always done isn’t good enough anymore.  It means we’re not good enough anymore. An unsuccessful engagement means we did something wrong.  Usually it means we we’re not prepared or focussed on what we’re doing.

I say its time to put down the whip  that we’ve been beating ourselves with.  Knowing something about your contact before you engage them live isn’t good enough anymore.  They need to know something about you. And specifically what they need to know is why they should talk to you.

I have voicemail campaigns delivered for me.  It’s a service I can assure you I never take for granted because I have personally seen the difference between a true cold encounter and a live connection with a contact that my voicemails and email messages have warmed up.  Translated into booked appointments I’m 3-4 times more likely to get a meeting if I’ve warmed the contact up before I call.  Sometimes, they even respond to my warm up messages. Sometimes that response is “not interested”,  but that’s ok. It’s information. It’s an acknowledgement and at least I didn’t waste my own time dialing them 20 times to hear it.

I still believe in calling and outbound marketing.  I truly enjoy the opportunity to talk with someone new about their business and how we might be able to help them, but I won’t make another icy-cold dial ever again.

 

 

 

Want Renewals? Step 4 – The Close

Yes! You Need to Close.

You’ve done all you can to provide the best possible customer experience.  You have a terrific customer success team and you regularly communicate with all of your customers to offer help and suggestions – without being too sales or spammy.

Throughout the year, you’ve kept your customer success and your renewal sales team talking and working together so you know who is really using all the features, who might be needing something with a bit more horsepower (or less) and you’ve shared stories with your customers about others  who’ve had success using different features or solving different problems.

At least 120 days out from your annual deadline, your renewal sales team has executed a contact plan that has intelligently added voicemail messages to your email reminders because this is no time to risk emails being ignored. A goodly portion of your renewing customers have let you know that “Yes” they plan to renew.

So don’t screw it all up now by just sending out the bills and crossing your fingers that the money will come rolling in. Some will, but not enough.  This is the time for your sales team to directly engage with your renewing customers and close the deal!  Better yet, wherever there is an opportunity, this is when your sales team truly pays for themselves by up selling and cross selling your renewing customers.

I worked with a company once who made the mistake of backing off the customers as soon as they agreed to renew.  The reps never really closed the sales and even worse, since each sales group handled a distinct product, intra departmental conflicts precluded any attempt to up sell or cross sell and each sales team jealously guarded their client rosters.  If you don’t believe I don’t blame you, because this is crazy talk.  But it’s true never-the-less.

Book appointments. Your customers deserve that much respect for their time from you. Take the opportunity for your sales team to deliberately review their business needs. Look at changes that have happened in the last year. Look at new opportunities on the horizon.  Somewhere along the line, you probably told your clients about how you didn’t just want to take their money, you wanted to be their partners.  Make good on your promise to add some value.

Even the best-managed companies are going to lose some customers every year and the bigger you grow, the harder it is to replace the customers who churn out. So, employ every possible defensive strategy and the rock solid close, the up sell and the cross sell are among the best defenses.  It only takes a small increase to make a big difference.

Yes. If you’re thinking that you can’t possibly do this for business that renews every month, you’re right.  For larger sales or multiuser licenses, think about how often you can sensibly re-engage and create the “new close” opportunity

 

 

Want Renewals? Step 2- Customer Nurturing – Think Negative Churn

It would be nice to believe that your customers are loyal; that their relationship with you is valued, and they will give you a chance to respond to any claims or promises made by your competitors. Yes, it would be nice to believe that but not too bright.  Even though you can assume that a certain percentage of your customers will renew their agreements with you, on a case by case basis, it risks the health of your business to look at any one account and assume their continued business.

Until that renewal agreement is closed and the next period is paid, your customers are really not much more than warm leads. Until it’s time to close that next payment, you might want to think about the advantages of keeping those leads warmed up with a customer nurturing program.

“But wait!” you say.  You have an account management and/or customer service/satisfaction team assigned to existing accounts and this is part of that job.  You’re totally correct, your account management/ customer satisfaction team has that objective firmly on their plate. But, this type of customer nurturing is NOT based on building satisfaction for the current state of affairs. This customer nurturing program is truly a sales initiative with three distinct goals.

  • Reinforce your competitive preference
  • Introduce and build interest in cross sell possibilities
  • Introduce and build interest in upsell possibilities.

In terms of a communications plan, what does this look like?

Look at a quarterly message that’s distinct from your newsletter or other easily ignored (sorry, but its true) email communications.  Woo them, just like you did before they became your customers, with invitations to events, demonstrations and webinars.  Feed them a generous diet of market and issue oriented content that’s genuinely useful to them.  Don’t bombard them with your specifically self-serving propaganda. Believe me, that gets boring very quickly and will damage your share of ear. Instead, stay within your market niche and offer content on issues, trends & problems relevant to their business.  That kind of information gets read…. and remembered…. and valued.

Naturally, you’ll want that content to also illuminate the opportunities and dazzling benefits presented by your cross and upsell products and services. Afterall, this is a business you’re running, not a library. When it comes time for your renewal sales team to close the business, set them up with a reasonable chance to actually grow your YOY revenue. Without upsells and cross sells, your business has nowhere to go but down. Think negative churn.