This is a great guest post by Martin Bragg who is a business development professional with over two decades experience in the professional services arena. Here he explores a crucial aspect of business development and one where many people fail to hit the mark with serious consequences.
If you would like to know more about Martin please click here….
Turn assumptions into questions…
Over the years I’ve learned that “Assumption is the mother of all cock-ups” particularly when it comes to sales. For some time now we have been casually telling potential clients ‘we know your issues’. But do we really?
We may know the issues our clients are having, and this is great insight to have, but we cannot assume that every client is facing the same challenges as these.
Assume nothing and never guess
The hard work in sales is done in the conversations leading up to a proposal. It’s our opportunity to find out all the little facts that prove we care and that we understand their situation. In short: we demonstrate we know the client better than anyone else. Gaining this insight also shows that the client already trusts us.
If the client has given you some insight during this phase, remind them. If they haven’t, don’t guess. Use phrases like:
- “You told us that X is a major issue for you…”
- “From our experience in your industry we see clients with the following key concerns…”
- “We will work with you to identify and solve the critical issues that you need this project to address…”
Take action – do this today
So here is a practical way to improve your awareness and sharpen your technique in this critical business activity: -
- Take a piece of paper and write the name of a client at the top and divide the page into two columns.
- Down the left hand side write the issues you think they have.
- Next to each issue write down how you know about it. Did the client tell you? Is it your or your firms’ industry insight? Or is it a guess? Be honest.
- For every piece of industry insight ask yourself how can you prove it and for every guess turn it into a question you can ask your client.
Basing a proposal on facts rather than guesswork will always improve our chances of success and in today’s marketplace we need all the help we can get.
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.
So here they are; my top 10 TED videos and the reasons why you should check them out. Just on the off-chance that you don’t know what TED is it’s like YouTube for grown ups where the contributors are invited to contribute. Video clips tend to be less than 20 minutes and covering an eclectic mix of subjects – at home we often watch TED instead of the TV!
Read on if you want to be educated, inspired or just plain entertained. Beware though: TED can lead to addiction issues!!!!!!!
1. Steve Jobs – Stanford Address - http://bit.ly/rZL53R
The inimitable Mr Jobs is speaking at a Stanford University graduation ceremony. He recounts three different parts of his life each offering at least one important message but beyond that these episodes provide a fascinating insight into what made the great man tick. Seriously it nearly moves me to tears every time I watch it.
2. Simon Sinek – why do people buy from you - http://bit.ly/vLk0ev
Sinek recounts some real-life examples (again one of them being Apple) of how people buy what you believe above all else. If you have to persuade people or sell to them as part of your job this brief clip WILL make a difference. I changed the way I present what I do after I watched it.
3. Sir Ken Robinson – Killing creativity - http://bit.ly/us1MOy
I’ve seen Sir Ken speak live and he never fails to entertain, educate and perhaps most importantly make you contemplate. Here he is talking about creativity especially in kids but you can relate to what he says no matter what you do or how old you are. Particularly relevant if you have kids at school I might add.
4. Derek Sivers – Starting a movement - http://bit.ly/sZtLY8
Sivers narrates a video clip of somebody who starts an extraordinary movement at a pop festival, of all places, and then draws lessons that anybody who wants to be a wow on the internet will want to learn. Want to grow a community? Well check this out. Also it really is fascinating to watch the community form before your eyes.
5. Malcom Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce - http://bit.ly/tdTAKn
Ever wondered why some people prefer one product over another? Could this help you to promote your offering to better effect? I think so and the way Gladwell achieves it is by recounting how the perfect spaghetti sauce was developed; or not as the case may be.
6. Sheena Iyengar – How to make choices easier - http://bit.ly/x7Wqll
When I watched this clip for the first time I was struck by the simplicity of Iyengar’s argument: put some effort into the way you build features and choices into your offerings and the way you present them to your clients. Love it!
7. Niall Ferguson – the 6 killer apps of prosperity - http://bit.ly/s2vd9z
You may have seen the TV programme but either way this is a great talk which explores a) why the west was so successful in growing powerful and rich nations even though it started later than the east and b) why the east is now overtaking the west. Very thought-provoking and ingeniously presented by using the modern concept of Apps but for nations.
8. Nigel Marsh – how to make work-life balance work - http://bit.ly/sqqQT5
One of the biggest challenges we face in the modern world is getting balance in our lives: how much time for work; how much for our friends and families and how much special time do we need for ourselves? A relatively easy question to answer you’d think but if you can’t seem to get there (you’re definitely not alone if you can’t) then try this talk by Nigel Marsh for size.
9. Paul Gilding – the Earth is Full - http://bit.ly/zhUmyQ
I don’t want to get into the whole green debate but wherever you stand on the subject this talk will certainly make you think. Gilding avoids the easy targets of lonely polar bears, shrinking icecaps and unusual weather patterns and comes from an angle that even made me sit up and think. If you watch it do so with an open mind – the logic behind his arguments is sound and irrefutable.
10. Cat vs Washing machine - http://bit.ly/fFQ6O1
OK so this isn’t a TED video; I’ve watched it a hundred times and it makes me laugh every single time so go on, cheer yourself up and watch the cat who’s left his iPhone in his jeans which are now in his washing machine. One of many TRANSLATION vids by Chris Cohen.
So there you have it; my very favourite TED videos but I’m sure you’ve got loads others so please add your favourites as comments so others can share.
Vive le TED!!!
Why does anybody swap suppliers? Sometimes it’s because there is a cheaper alternative but mostly it isn’t. Would you swap dentists because a cheaper one set up next door? Unlikely. In reality people keep the status quo and only move on for a reason and in most cases whether they stay or go is up to you.
Here are three of the most popular causes for client departures: -
- “Perceived indifference” - the client thinks you don’t care any more even though you do. They feel neglected and can only look back with wistful fondness to the days when you were courting them and couldn’t do enough for them. They just want to be loved and cared for but sadly you’re just not hitting the spot anymore.
- Poor quality – you simply aren’t delivering the quality they expect for the money they’re paying and because of point 1 above you don’t even know it. Regardless of the product or service you offer great quality is the best form of protection you can get.
- Knock-out deal - one of your competitors has a brain-wave and comes up with a new and innovative product that totally blows your client away. Sometimes this innovation can lower the price but keep the quality; sometimes the price is irrelevant.
So how can you make sure your clients don’t wander off and misbehave with the competition?
- Treat your clients like your friends – contact them often and not always about work, shoot the breeze with them, show you appreciate them rather than just tell them, make them laugh, surprise them, listen to what they have to say, be there for them and take an interest in them as people not just as a source of revenue.
- Never become complacent with your quality - treat complaints as a way to improve and not a nuisance to be side-stepped, genuinely ask people what they think (avoid questionnaires), hunt down poor quality and deal with it at source and never accept “it’ll do” as an answer.
- Make time to innovate – if you’re running at 100 mph you can only just manage to keep on top of your BAU let alone come up with great new innovations. Watch, listen, ask and think before gathering some of your key support team together and asking them “so what does the future look like?” Full heads means full diaries and full diaries mean no head-space for creativity.
Simples innit? Treat your clients as you would treat your friends and never become complacent and your client estate will only grow and, as a nice bonus, you’ll get more client referrals than you know what to do with!
When I talk about the virtues of CRM systems with people I get one particular response more than all the others added together “That’s Great Mike but I just don’t have the time”. Well I’ve got news for anybody who shares that view – you don’t have the time NOT to use CRM and here’s why.
Speaking as one of the world’s laziest sales people I depend upon a CRM system to manage my sales activities by using the “set and forget” method: I set a future action against a contact and then forget about them until the system reminds me it’s time to do something. And here’s the really great part – working in this way I spend less than 5 minutes a day using my CRM system!
Typical start to the day: -
- 8am every morning CRM reminds me to contact up to 5 people that day and tells me what I am supposed to do with them. Any more than that and I will probably reset the reminder dates for the next day. 5 sales activities a day really is my limit.
- Any telephone actions I will try and get in before 8:30am because I am 4 times more likely to actually speak to people then than later in the day. Why waste time leaving voicemails?
- After I have spoken to the person I will make a one-line note on CRM, set the next action and reminder date and forget about them.
- I will then deal with any email actions linking each email to the appropriate CRM record with the click of a button. Finally I will reset the next action and reminder date and they’re done.
During the day: -
- If I meet somebody I will either email or call my PA so that she can update their CRM record. Typically this will be their notes and next action, perhaps their pipeline and conversion stages (just a flag on the system) and sometimes to add an interest or preference. Brevity is all, dear reader.
- If I meet a new person I will pass my PA their business card, any notes, the next action and reminder date (if applicable) and she will add them to CRM for me.
Even if I didn’t have a PA I would only be adding an extra few minutes a day to my CRM commitment. CRM really is the lazy-persons dream tool!
People who complain that they don’t have the time for CRM probably: -
- Don’t understand how to use it properly as outlined above.
- Have too many actions cropping up each day and succumb to a sort of action paralysis.
- Keep way too many notes on there.
- Haven’t partitioned their pipeline so try and treat all their prospects and clients the same – shame on them!
So here’s the advice of the laziest sales person in the world: get organised and let CRM take the strain; you just concentrate on the clever stuff.
It’s that special time of year again. All the stress of getting things closed down before the Christmas break whilst also attending all those parties, after-work drinkies and catch-up festive lunches. Added to that we have to do some present shopping – it all adds up to one big Yuletide headache but thank goodness we no longer have to worry about Christmas cards eh?
That’s the great news; all we have to do is make sure that everybody we know, sat next to at that boring seminar we went to or anybody who might know us from the dawn of our career is on the mailing list and hey presto! They get a lovely e-mail Christmas greeting with the added bonus (excuse?) that we are giving a donation to charity instead of buying nasty paper cards. Oh, won’t those pine forests sleep easier tonight.
Well actually that isn’t such great news really and here’s why: -
- The people who receive a Christmas message from you will value it in proportion to the amount of time, effort and expense you invested to get it to them.
- E-cards rarely get printed off and displayed anywhere so provided the recipients spam-checker hasn’t intercepted it you will be in their minds for about 90 seconds tops.
- Nobody really believes you are doing this to save the environment or to be charitable – face up to it.
- Getting an e-card is not a personal act. Relationships are built on 1-2-1 contact not 1-2-many (which do have their place by the way).
So what is a body to do? Well if the firm has decided to embark upon an e-card campaign there is little you can do to stop them but there is something you can do to mitigate the effect: -
- List out your top 30 very special clients and contacts (50 would be better).
- Go out this lunchtime and buy each one a decent Christmas card – this could run you a whole £15!
- Write a personal message in each one.
- Put stamps on them rather than swish them through the franking machine.
- Deposit in the post box.
I reckon that should take no more than an hour of your time and in exchange for that you will stand out from all the other lazy beggars who can’t be arsed; will have provided one of the required 27 personal connections for this year and you will also feel just that little bit more Christmassy. Go on now, you know it makes sense!
Years ago we were on a family holiday in Menorca at the sort of place that families with a shortage of disposable cash tend to go: cheap and cheerful. One evening we were sitting having a drink whilst the Animation team (mostly Germans and aspiring actresses from England) were entertaining the kids and then I heard those fateful words “OK kids go and get your mum or dad and bring them up here on stage”.
My sons rushed over and dragged me up along with several other hapless and slightly tipsy adults. I can still see the sly smile on the lips of the head honcho as he said “vell done kids you can all seet down now. Get ze costumes guys!” at which point the rest of his merry troupe arrived on stage with various “amusing” costumes. To cut a cringe-worthy story short I ended up dressed as a sugar-plum fairy complete with pink tutu and magic wand doing various dance moves on stage much to the cruel delight of the audience.
Now, you may be wondering, how can this help me engage with my clients? Fair question so let me elucidate. Imagine if the so-called Animation team had stood on stage and said “we now want a number of adults to come on stage so that we can ritually humiliate them for the delight and delectation of the audience”. Not many takers I’d guess so what they used was a decoy, a sort of trick really but it worked.
To do this in sales you use a thing called a Latch key. In short it’s a product or service designed to engage the target in a low risk and low-cost kind of way. Once you have the engagement you can dispense with the Latch Key and focus on moving the sale process forward.
Here are a couple of examples and then I’ll give you a check-list of conditions you can apply to any possible Latch Keys to measure their strength.
- Phone Apps. An easy one to start. Anybody with a smart phone will be used to down-loading a free “lite” version of an app and then being reminded every time that they use it that they can update to the full-fat version for a fee. This approach creates engagement between the user and the product which will often lead to a sale even though they may not have been prepared to buy the app in the first place.
- Methodology. We know a lot about recruitment having been in it for over twenty years and so we also know how the client should organise their internal recruitment capability to make it efficient and highly effective. We brought the two things together into a Latch Key product called Resource Integration. This is an 8 step methodology that will transform the recruitment function of any company to a) be as effective as it is possible to be; b) be entirely bespoke towards the needs of the client and c) be designed to change as the needs of the business change. We offered it on a risk and reward basis and won new clients with it.
The following list describes Latch Key characteristics; the more that apply the stronger it is: -
- They look like a real product or service offering. They have supporting collateral and are present on your website.
- They add real value to your clients. They solve a problem or help to capitalise upon an opportunity.
- You are able to deliver them for free or on a risk or reward basis. Budget restrictions can prevent engagement.
- They are very low-cost for you to provide. You may not charge for them so cheap is good.
- They are unique or uncommon. If everybody provides them they won’t work.
- They are easy to engage with. If it’s a hassle the recipient probably won’t bother.
- There is a tangible result. Something the recipient can touch even if it’s it only a report.
- There should be no risk for the recipient. Just like hassle, risk is the kiss of death for a Latch Key
In my opinion if you’re in sales and you don’t have two or three latch Keys at your disposal you are not only making life a good deal harder than it needs to be, but you also at a distinct disadvantage to your competitor down the road who does have some.
Latch Keys open doors for you in more than one sense of the words!
- You can’t make rain. Obvious I know but frequently ignored by the rainmakers themselves. They’re, fakes; frauds even. You can dance about waving your arms in the air and making a big show as much as you like but not a drop will fall. Sacrifice some innocent livestock – nada. Even hiring a light aircraft and flying around sprinkling silver iodide into the atmosphere is not guaranteed.
- Raining on my parade. When it does rain it is less than a pleasant experience: grey, cold, wet – uuuggghhh. All it conjures up for me is BBQ’s in the garage, playing scrabble in a caravan somewhere in Wales, Wales, and a lots on umbrellas on wedding photos. Nobody ever says “we are planning a picnic for the weekend, oh I do hope it rains”.
- You have no control. Even if your ludicrous rainmaking activities happen to coincide with a nasty ridge of low-pressure hitting your region and it rains you have no control over it at all. How much, where and for how long rests with Dyeus and not with you dear readers.
The word rainmaker really does lack any redeeming features and I urge you to stop using it forthwith. But what to use instead?
Let me introduce you to the word firestarter – now that’s a word I can deal with. Let me share: -
- Everybody loves fire. It makes us feel warm and cheerful, we can cook things on it (so long as it isn’t raining of course) and it’s great for sitting around and telling salty-sea-dog tales well into the night.
- You can make fire at will. All you need are decent conditions (hurricanes are out), the right tools and equipment (all easy to find and lots of options) and the right techniques (there are several and you can learn them). How similar to business development is that?
- You have choices. Having done the skilled bit and got a fire going you can either build it yourself, draft in a few others to keep it going or hand it over to somebody else to look after. Once again, how BD can you get?
So banish that horrible and totally inappropriate word rainmaker and replace it with the terribly apt and totally brilliant word firestarter. When you have done that why not slip out, get the right tools and equipment, learn the techniques and become one yourself.
Let me leave you with a clip of the great Ray Mears showing us all how it’s done.