Online Sales

Rethinking Email.


I’m thinking a lot about reinvention lately.

So much of what we are able to do for clients and agencies is new. Yet how we go about communicating and selling is not. As I work with managers and sales teams our conversations almost always turn to Email and the fact that it’s just not working for us anymore, externally or internally.

Generally speaking, we tend to send badly-structured Emails that are too long, too predictable, to too many people. We use email as a blunt-force instrument, overwhelming our prospects and coworkers with unendurable detail and word counts. What was once a promising chance at immediate connection has jumped the shark and become a burden to all involved. It’s time to stop the madness. Here’s how.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

Deserve their attention. If you haven’t done research on your customer and don’t have a specific way to help him, don’t reach out at all. Inboxes are flooded every day by people who want only to learn about your business or introduce you to my company. Not having a legitimate customer-focused agenda is a non-starter.

Write to the screen that’s being read. When you send email to a prospective customer, write to the email interface on the mobile device where they are no doubt screening and reading it. Write no more than what fits on a mobile screen.  Nobody wants to read a cold, 400-word recitation of your company’s value. Say less.

Have a communication strategy. While you’re whittling your message down to 80 or 90 words, know that it’s just one of the messages you’ll be sending. For a legitimate potential client for whom you can create real value, a couple of short messages followed by an intelligent voice mail followed by a LinkedIn message every couple of days is the perfect cadence – and the perfect blend of media, timing and approach. Stop trying to accomplish everything in one epic Email. Serialize your approach.

Lead with need. Assume you’re getting maybe a glance at your subject line and – if really lucky – a look at the first two lines of your message. Start writing thoughtful, concise, provocative subject lines about topics relevant to the customer, and stop wasting the critical first words with small talk and fake friendship.

Get to the point. Start your emails with I’m writing you because… Then immediately say something about your customer’s situation. This simple technique forces you to elevate the client agenda to the beginning of the communication.

Address to one, send to no more than two. Sending emails to several people or whole teams is just a bad idea. Whether you’re writing externally or internally, it becomes quickly apparent if you’re just covering your ass. Start limiting those distribution fields and speaking directly to your customers (and co-workers) and their agendas.

When it comes to understanding our customers and reaching out to them, there is an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. There’s no reason anyone should be bludgeoning customers with uninformed, cold email in 2019. This is a change you completely control. Make it today.


Into the Void… Boldly.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the big empty space at the beginning of many sales calls and business ‘relationships.’  It’s the Bermuda triangle of connection and progress; a black hole where the bright star of an insight or an idea might have shone. It didn’t have to be this way.

Across scores of seller interviews I conduct in preparing workshops each year, I hear a consistent litany of frustrations and complaints:

Is your team asking the hard questions that would better qualify opportunities and decision makers? For the customer, there’s no upside in communicating a negative decision. Sellers have to work for the real answers. That work can begin with an Upstream Group sales workshop. It’s easier and more cost effective than you might imagine. And the consult is free. Reach out now to talk it over.

The buyer puts us in a box with a bunch of other companies…

They don’t really listen to us…

It’s all about the numbers…

They’re not seeing the big picture…

We don’t really get a chance to compete…

But blaming the buyer, your marketing team, fate, God or anyone else makes no sense. You’ve got the power to fix this yourself. You see, there’s a fleeting moment at the outset of the sales discussion that you’re not filling with anything meaningful and urgent. Call it the “agenda vacuum.” Sometimes the vacuum is there because the rep just didn’t do the work, choosing instead to walk in with a canned presentation and ‘see what’s up.’ Other times the rep chooses passivity and caution: “Be polite and find out what the buyer wants to talk about.” Or the agenda is something incredibly lame like…

I want to really understand your objectives for the year…

I just wanted to introduce you to our company….

Let me update you on… whatever.

If you don’t put something urgent and provocative in front of the buyer in the first 90 seconds of your call, your buyer will step into the vacuum and fill it themselves. They’ll fill it with rote questions, flawed categorization, indifference, false objections, a recitation of numerical parameters or something worse. I’ll leave you with a tip to help you fill the void. Make this the first sentence of your next sales meeting:

We’ve looked at your business, and there’s one big issue we don’t think you recognize. And if it’s not addressed, you’ll be missing a huge opportunity.

Do the work. Think. Plan. Fill the vacuum.

These ideas were originally posted here in January 2013.


The On-ramp and the Off-ramp.


As sometimes happens in our sales workshops, someone in the group tossed out a brilliant metaphor the other day. If I could remember who said it I’d give him or her the credit.  (If it was you, please go ahead and raise your hand to claim it – you deserve the notoriety!) With a little embellishment and polish from me, here it is.

A sales call or meeting is like a drive on the highway. The two most critical moments – the only ones that matter, really – are the on-ramp and the off-ramp. Survive these and the rest of the trip will take care of itself.

If you want your team to be terrific, make them specific. Speaking directly to customer needs is good business, and all it takes is a plan and some discipline. A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Let me explain. The opening of your meeting – the on-ramp – is when you create a strong environment, set the agenda and truly engage and involve your customer. (Or… not.) Like the act of merging onto a busy highway, this moment demands that you be alert and decisive. You must speed up and create momentum while very intentionally finding your spot. At the very moment when this kind of decisive action is called for, too many sellers dawdle and meander through the opening of the call, wasting time and squandering trust with meaningless small talk.

Then there’s the end of the call – the off-ramp. This is the part of your journey that calls for careful braking… the part where you slow it all way down. This is the moment in the sales call where the thoughtful seller picks up most of the good information – where she truly qualifies both the buyer and the opportunity; where she identifies hidden decision makers and learns how she might get the deal done. But it’s at this exact moment when slow, deliberate and careful are warranted that many sellers speed up and rush through the close. As a result, they don’t ask for the sale and never get the chance to ask any of the important questions that follow – questions that could open up possibilities and close business.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Have a plan and practice it.

To hit your on-ramp at just the right speed, do some research and create one slide with a few headlines about your customer. Show the customer that slide and – before you say or do anything else – get them talking about it. You will immediately frame your meeting squarely around client needs while also immediately bringing them into a collaborative conversation.

For the off-ramp, write out and practice the question you’ll ask at the end of the meeting; a question that contains a verb (e.g. budget… approve… recommend…), a number (the amount you’re asking for) and a date (to activate the program, a start date, for the next commitment to be made). Role-playing the questions that follow (Tell me about how that decision will be made… Setting aside the outcome, is this something you’d personally like to see happen? … What other budgets might contribute to something like this?) is one of the very best ways a manager can support his sellers.

Open your calls quickly and decisively. Close them slowly and thoughtfully. And watch your numbers improve.


Things We Say Instead of Selling.


In the dozens of sales workshops I lead every year I can’t help but get hung up on the words. Specifically, all of the non-sales language that erstwhile sellers get stuck on. While they might never actually come out and say Please don’t buy anything from me today, these anti-selling clichés may be the next best thing.

We just hope you’ll keep us top of mind. This is the perfect ending to a sales meeting with no purpose and no agenda. Like Brigadoon or Shangri-La, Top of mind is a beautiful but non-existent place. Buyers today are stretched thin: if you don’t have an urgent sales agenda, they sure won’t either.

This is just an introductory callYou’ve just told me that you can do me absolutely no good in the important half hour you’re about to subtract from my life. You’re either immediately useful to me or you’re irrelevant. And you’ve just chosen irrelevance.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Can we talk about next steps? This is what we say when we don’t want to directly ask the customer to buy from us or commit to anything. In spite of what may have been a very good and persuasive call, this is the kind of question that lays on the table like a dead fish and tells the client you’re not all that sure about, or committed to, your product.

Let’s touch base in the next few weeks. There’s just so much wrong here. It’s the verbal equivalent of awkwardly backing out of the room. You’re telling the customer I know you’re not interested and I’m going to save embarrassment for both of us.

Let me send you more information. Great plan!  If we’re not talking about me buying something from you today then perhaps your ninja writing skills will do the trick. Because we all know how much customers love to pour over documentation and product description.

Today’s buyers have more ways to keep us away than ever before. If you’ve been lucky enough or diligent enough (or if your product is good enough) to have earned an in-person meeting or a scheduled phone appointment, it probably means you’ve got some kind of shot. Why waste it with lazy, ineffective language that lets the air out of the room?

Real sales is about persuasion, and the language of sales is the language of commitment. Practice asking questions that contain verbs like recommend, approve and budget. Then ask even more questions that either advance the sale or tell you why it’s not happening. To do anything less is to cheat your employer, your customer and yourself.


One More Question…


You’ve been with the customer for close to 40 minutes. From your perspective, the meeting has gone well. You got through all your recommended products and background and the customer seemed engaged throughout… she even asked some really great questions. All seems positive and optimistic.

And then you say… So, what do you think our next steps are ?

And then she says… Give us some time to get our direction and budgets aligned. Maybe in the meantime you can write some of this up and send it to me?

And just like that… it all goes away. Once again, you’ve ended up in the friend zone. You’ve had a polite, inoffensive, inconclusive call that will not lead to any kind of business commitment. It didn’t have to be this way.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

What if instead, you’d asked… So, Jen, based on our discussion, will you recommend this program to the client for $800K and a Q1 activation?

She might still have said something like… Well, I don’t know yet. We’re still waiting to see what the budget will look like.

And then you could have said… Can you tell me more about the budgeting process? How are you feeling about it this year? Does the client seem like he’ll be thinking expansively?

Or… If the budgets come in at a reasonable level, can you tell me how the decision to move on this would happen?  Who’d be involved in making that call?

Or… I know there’s more work to be done. How do you feel personally about the idea? Is it something that you think makes sense for the client?

The initial closing question – the one about $800K in Q1 – may sound abrupt to the ears of the average seller. This may be because of Impostor Syndrome — not feeling like you deserve to ask it. Or because your meeting was just a recitation of your company and your products and there was really nothing to ask for.

But it may also be because you misunderstand the real purpose of closing. We don’t ask a firm closing question because we expect the customer to say yes. We ask it because we want to get to all the other questions… the ones that qualify the opportunity… that help us understand the decision process… that identify other decision makers… and that give insights into the opinions and motivations of the person across the desk.

There’s always one more question to ask. The quality and value of your sales calls depends on how they end. That’s why they call it closing.