This is a true story.
It highlights three highly important aspects of business development that could have a positive effect on your ability to win more business in the future.
Here we go then.
In a previous life I owned and ran an IT recruitment company. One of our targets was a water company who we conservatively estimated spent £15m ($22m) on contract IT people each year and we badly wanted a piece of that action.
The person who gave out the work, we’ll call him Brian, and I didn’t really get on. Our moral compasses pointed in different directions and I wasn’t prepared to do what others did to secure business from him. He would mess me about no end: cancelling meetings at the last minute and breaking promises but I pressed on.
Then two things happened at pretty much the same time.
Firstly, a contractor who was working for me and had worked at the water company before, let’s call her Alice, was contacted by her old agency to go back to work on a specific project that she had extensive knowledge of. She refused to go back unless it was through me.
Secondly, Brian called me up to say he had good news and bad news: good news was they would let Alice come back through me (whoopee); bad news was they had just installed a supplier panel for 3 years and I wasn’t on it (booooo). He also added that he was moving to another part of the organisation, I took this as more good news but didn’t let on.
Then a new resource manager turned up, why don’t we call him Pete, who I only got to see because I had Alice on site. Had I not then he would have given me the brush off like all the other wannabe agencies (lesson #1).
My relationship with Pete was different from the start: identical moral compasses, the same interests and an amazingly similar sense of humour. Added to this early on he gave me a really obscure technical requirement that his panel suppliers had drawn a blank on and after working solidly on it for 2 weeks I found somebody. Our relationship entered a new phase as a consequence (lesson #2).
Roll forward three years. We had over 70 contractors on site making us the second biggest provider of contractors even though we could only get the requirement 3 days after the panel suppliers. I also had excellent working relationships with Pete and all the hiring managers (lesson #3).
So let’s summarise those key lessons: -
- The difference between zero and 1 is greater than 1 and a hundred. Being on the sales ledger makes all the difference so do what you need to in order to make it happen. Had I not had Alice on site I would not have got to see Pete and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
- Do something exceptional. The other agencies gave up because the requirement I satisfied was hard and one of many so they just pressed on to the next easier one. I didn’t. If you succeed where others have failed great things can happen and frequently do.
- It’s all about strength of relationships. When it comes down to it people buy from those they like, trust and feel valued by, Pete certainly did and it helped me to overcome the strictest of supplier rules. Added to that I also established a relationship with all the line managers who actually had the need for IT contractors. Relationships based upon trust and affinity will always trump those based on process and rules.
For what it’s worth this is the best of several very similar stories from that era that all deliver the same key messages which are as relevant today as they were then.
If you have time I would really like to hear comments from anybody with similar relationship-based success stories. Thanks you.
Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It comes down to one question that you need to ask of each client relationship you have:
“Can I send non-work related texts to this person and feel confident that they will reply?”
That’s it really.
- Yes – your relationship is where you need it to be. Keep it fresh and keep it active.
- No - keep the dialogue going, get to know them more and add whatever value you can. If nothing improves give the client to somebody else to manage; sometimes the spark just isn’t there.
You’re really seeking a client relationship which is 5% off being the same as you have with your friends. When you can pass the “Text-test” you’ll know you’ve reached it.
Given the choice people buy from those they Like, Trust and feel Valued by.
Why do we buy branded bottled water when tap water tastes just the same and is cheaper?
Why do we choose the branded breakfast cereal when we know that the supermarket own-brand is made in the same factory?
Why do we buy VW rather than Seat when they use the same technology and are built to the same standards?
Why do we buy designer brands that are often inferior quality when less popular alternatives are much better value for money?
Because the companies that sell them have collectively spent billions of pounds creating brands that we like, trust and feel valued by. So if you want to be a consistently great sales person all you have to do is make people feel liked, trusted and valued and wait for the orders to roll in.
Is it that simple? Yes, it is and here’s what you need to do: -
- even if you are trading with other businesses it will be a person who decides to use you and they will opt for people they LTV.
- never fake it – folks will spot this at a 100 paces and they WON’T like it.
- being likeable is about being yourself and recognising that not everybody will like you – get over it and move on.
- being trusted is easy-peasy: never make a promise you can’t keep and if you are going to let them down tell them ASAP and make up for it in some way.
- being valued means being appreciated, recognised, rewarded and cared for. I’d start with how you like to be treated and go from there – not rocket science really.
- building relationships takes time but is totally worth it.
- keep in regular touch with your peeps. Relationships only exist through interaction. Without some kind of interaction they are just people you know.
So there you have it dear reader. Build strong LTV relationships with people who you can help by exchanging your products or services for their money and you’ll never have to sell another thing in your life.
There are a number of definitions for the words “sales” and “marketing” but what follows are the ones I prefer to use. Many would shrug their shoulders and say “who cares” but I think they would be wrong. Have a read and see what you think.
Why is it important to know the difference?
Put simply if you are relying on the wrong approach to help you secure new clients or win business then you will be working harder and spending more but achieving less. In today’s business world that is a luxury few can afford.
So here are a few key points about marketing: -
- it’s made up of 1:many activities such as mail-shots; advertising; mass events; PR and broadcasting
- only practical when what you’re selling doesn’t cost very much
- is pointless unless your offering is different enough to pass the “so what” test.
- “here is what I am offering - come and get it if you need it” approach
- typically you do not know who your actual client is going to be
- can help to build and sustain a brand
- is usually expensive and you cannot easily measure a return on your investment
- can be habitual – do the same thing over and over even though you aren’t sure if it works.
- When challenged a common defence is “we need a presence” – I don’t buy this and neither should you!
And the same for sales: -
- it is a 1:1 activity such as taking somebody for lunch; calling them to invite them to an event or asking for the business
- most effective where the average business deal is larger – the bigger the deal the more you should be selling not marketing
- “let me understand what you need and then propose a way forward” approach
- you know the actual name and contact details of your target – or can easily find them out
- is not about establishing a brand – it’s about individual rapport, trust and understanding
- Is very cheap (unless you “lunch” at the Ivy) and you can easily measure the return on your investment
- should never be habitual – you should be “going where the money is” right now or is going to be in the near future.
- In most cases you don’t need a presence or a brand – it’s all about finding a way to get to your target, understand their needs and propose an attractive way forward.
Don’t get me wrong traditional marketing does have its place. It’s very useful as a “poke” or reminder to your external stakeholders that you still exist and you still love them but as a means of winning new business I’m not so sure.
Marketing activities tend to be expensive in time and money and since you can’t really measure their effectiveness I can’t see that it’s sensible to keep pouring money into it especially in these difficult times.
If you’re product or service costs more than a few thousand pounds or has a high probability of a repeat sale then I would suggest sales over marketing. You will spend less, have a clearer idea of which activity provides the best results and achieve more revenue in less time. True, it’s harder (which is why most people don’t bother and rely on the marketers instead) but that isn’t a valid excuse to avoid doing it.
So here’s my advice if you want to sell more and market less: -
- Get a CRM system and add all your clients and prospects to it
- Learn how to sell
- Know what your ideal client looks like
- Go where the money is – put your time and money where you are most likely to make a sale!
I’ve seen it a thousand times; done it myself even. A person tries to influence a second, and more reluctant, person to do something and their approach of choice is to bombard the aforementioned subject with messages, pleas (very ugly), advice and suggestions followed swiftly by the million dollar question: “so can we move forward then?”
All of us go through a maximum of four stages of emotional response when we are faced with somebody trying to persuade us to do something whether it’s a sales person selling us double-glazing or an employee asking us for a promotion. The following states are the ones that any subject will experience; 3 of which you have some influence over.
- Resistance: just how open to your proposal is the subject. Picture this as a scale from 0 (there is no resistance at all so stop persuading and close the deal) to 100 (really not convinced at all). You can easily work this out by looking at body language, listening to how they say things not just what they say and by their initial response to your suggestion.
- Suspicion: you must create the merest suspicion in the mind of the subject that there might be something in this for her. If she can imagine that whatever you are proposing might, just might, be of advantage to her you have achieved stage 2. Try to illustrate financial gain; an easier life; more for less; reduction in risk or making them look good – there are others but these are the major persuasion benefits to aim for.
- Belief: reaching Suspicion will effectively give you a stage on which to perform and a limited time in which to deliver your message; a bit like one of those comedy theatre auditions you see on TV. “Next!” Make an impression here with your proposal showing the benefits to them whilst mitigating the downside. By creating belief in your subject you enter the home stretch – might even get called back for a second audition.
- Conviction: you can reach this stage from Resistance, Suspicion or Belief but if not you must create it yourself. Find out what the obstacles are that prevent a successful conclusion and overcome them. This is a crucial stage. By now you should be talking to somebody who wants to be convinced but keep a sharp eye out: as soon as they are convinced stop persuading and close the deal. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a very real threat here.
So the 3 key messages for successful persuasion are: -
- Don’t rush the process; assess your subjects initial resistance levels and then proceed accordingly
- Concentrate on achieving the next level of persuasion but don’t lose site of the end-goal
- As soon as you reach “Conviction” STOP PERSUADING and close the deal. You could talk yourself out of a sale!
Why not try it out today and let me know how you get on.
This is a picture of a flyer my local Mercedes garage sent me. I have no idea whether they dreamed it up themselves or it was produced centrally by the Mercedes marketing people but I think it is a very telling document – have a look at it in more detail here.
What they have done is take a common or garden car service and turned it into a product that they can customise, differentiate and promote. In my opinion it changes the game.
From a psychological point of view we like to buy things in a box which are easy to set-up and use (engagement) and with a very simple set of options attached that help us to choose the right version of the product for us. If you’re interested in the thinking behind choice (and you really should be if you want people to choose you) check out this TED talk by Sheena Iyengar.
So if you believe the research (and your very own buying habits) the more you can productise your offerings the easier it is to differentiate and ultimately sell them.
Does this apply if you only “sell” internally? Well if your internal stakeholders have a choice of whether they engage with you or perhaps more importantly, how they engage with you then it very much does. If you are an IT person offering a range of services to your internal customers then exactly the same rules apply.
So what does “productise” actually mean? Well here is my take on it: -
- Give your service a name that would indicate an outcome rather than a process. “Limousine Premium Valet” is better than car wash (tongue firmly in cheek their folks).
- Provide different levels with prices to match. Each level has a very simple set of features and benefits attached – notice the tick-box approach Mercedes took. Each option should have also have it’s own name and fixed price attached.
- Talk about outcomes not features. Nobody cares if your your “Limousine Premium Valet” uses one bucket of water per wash but they do care that you don’t need to keep asking them to refill your bucket with clean water” .
- Make the engagement as easy as possible. Apple does so well because their approach is plug and play: see an app, download it and use it straight away. Compare this to loading software onto your PC.
- Choose a brand look and feel to present your product. After all it has now become something much more tangible than when it was a simple service.
- Make it very predictable. When somebody buys your product of choice they know precisely what they are going to get. In many ways this aspect of a productised service is the most important: consistency builds brand identity, improves referral rates and creates many more satisfied customers.
Ultimately we do what we do so it shouldn’t really matter how we present it but just ask any chef and she will tell you “the first taste is with the eye” and so it is when we buy things. The way we present our offerings will have a gigantic influence over the way in which we attract our clients and how they go through their decision making process.
So my final message: productise to accumulise (I may have made that word up for rhetorical purposes).
The other day I attended a lunchtime networking event in Birmingham. I had gone to meet somebody who I believed would be there but at the eleventh hour had to duck out (I learned later) leaving me at the mercy of a heaving mass of smartly dressed, enthusiastic and fragrant professionals. My worst nightmare!
I have nothing against enthusiastic professionals (especially if they smell nice) in fact I earn my living from them but to see a huge posse of them all swigging away on free orange juice and engaged in the art of “networking” was almost too much for me to bare.
[ <---- Thanks to Nick Lincoln at V2VFP for the caption]
I deal with medium to large law firms. The decision makers within those firms rarely go to those kinds of event and if they do they aren’t going to make a purchase worth tens of thousands of pounds from somebody they’ve just met over a sausage on a stick! So this is my key message: if you sell to medium to large organisations you are wasting your time attending networking events.
I’m not saying business doesn’t get done at these gatherings because I’m sure it does but the conversion rate is so low as to be laughable. Think about it. You have to meet a decision maker who right now has a need you can help with and a budget that matches your expectations but does not have incumbent suppliers who can already deliver what’s required. Not really very likely when you consider it that way is it?
Of course the argument goes that networking events are also about building relationships which is true but if that’s the best way you can engage with your stakeholders you may find your depth of relationships a bit on the shallow side. If you want to build strong relationships you’re much better off arranging to meet people on a 121 basis; at least they know you cared enough to make the effort.
For my own part I have built all of my businesses (the biggest tipping the scales at a hefty £40m turnover) on the firm foundation of relationship selling; it’s easy, efficient and really quite fun. I cannot recall a single client I have won from a networking event and nor can I honestly say that going to them strengthened any of my relationships. Remember: people attend these events to sell not to buy!
So in closing if you must attend these frightful shindigs learn how to work a room (personally I can think of nothing worse) and get stuck in but don’t expect to win loads of business as a result.
Alternatively you can avoid them like the plague and reinvest the time you have saved into one of four alternative approaches to finding and connecting with new clients that I will be talking about in my next post!
Just in case you’ve never watched any of the Terminator films let me give you a quick rundown. Big computer (Skynet) goes mad, tries to kill off mankind but is thwarted by plucky Americans and/or killer robots sent back from the future. I bet if you haven’t watched the films you’ll be scheduling a trip to Blockbuster on your way home tonight. I certainly hope so.
So what’s the connection with sales? Well our heroes had worked out all they needed to do in order to save the day was destroy this big computer and everything would be all oojar cum spiff but sadly they had a nasty surprise coming their way in the final film of the trilogy: there was no super computer; Skynet was the Internet and was actually made up of millions of small computers dotted around the world. Major bummer when you only have a couple of sticks of dynamite in your pack.
So back to sales then. I find time and time again that leadership teams feel they can solve their business development woes by the equivalent of killing Skynet: strategic reviews and sweeping initiatives. The poor old client-facing types have a grand unveiling of yet another BD initiative followed by the usual dismal drift into obscurity: “one more BD white elephant”. The answer is not doing big things but the exact opposite: taking care of the ground level details.
So what should you do? Well here are the top three components that I believe will help to create a strong foundation on which you can construct your grand business development edifice: -
- Sales meetings: not talking shops and not informal gatherings but rather they are structured, highly controlled and very focused on inching individual prospects closer to a sale and making sure our clients are being cared for consistently.
- CRM: without a widely adopted CRM system you will not be able to manage large numbers of prospects efficiently and neither will you have the necessary management information to run the sales meetings. Oh, and “adopted” means utterly depended upon by the way.
- Pipeline: almost everybody in sales reckons they run a pipeline model but when you look at it the thing actually turns out to be list of companies they’ like to do business with. A real pipeline model is a finely tuned people-focused instrument that enables you to partition your prospects, monitor their conversion into clients and ensure that your time, money and resources are all focused on the targets where the best results are to be gained. A world apart from the traditional “pipeline”.
So the Big Sales Myth has been blown away: there is no BD equivalent of Skynet so best not go chasing around killing people and blowing things up looking for it. The answer to your problems is to spend some time (and NO money) getting some simple things in place.
Hasta lo vista baby!