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.

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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.


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.


Don’t Speak!


Quiet down now. Don’t speak, just for a little bit. Let the moment marinate.

Most of us in sales are running over-programmed sales calls in which every pause, every quiet second, is something to be filled and patched over like so many cracks in a leaky boat. We believe that there is just so much to say and explain that to waste even a second means perhaps missing the one point or feature that might create the magic moment. But it’s a fool’s errand: the magic moments were there all along… we just talked over them.

Those empty seconds of silence are actually filled with anticipation, consideration, curiosity. They are the wellsprings of customer collaboration and commitment to the idea. But as the seller you have to do more than just listen.  You have to program these white space moments into your sales calls.

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In the sales workshops I conduct for media and technology sellers, the problems to be solved are always remarkably similar: the seller has far too much information and detail to share; the buyer is far too jaded, distracted and evasive; the marketplace is confusing and filled with far too many competitors; the time together is brief and fleeting.

Too many managers – and sales trainers – give the shallow admonition to “do your homework” and “listen more than you talk.”  But that means little to the seller. What she really needs is a plan… a plan to provoke and manage those quiet moments of consideration and commitment. That’s what I try to provide, and there are just five parts to the plan.

  1. First, show the customer a slide that tells them a few things you’ve learned about their business, their situation, their needs, their competitors. Ask them what they think is most important on this slide and what else you might have missed. Then shut up and listen fully.
  2. Next, show them a slide or page that clearly (and briefly) outlines the problem you hope to solve for them. Ask them how much this issue means to them and what else is critical to talk about. Then shut up and listen fully.
  3. Before talking about your solution, show them a page that makes a handful of promises about the standards and practices your company will employ in solving the problem for them. Ask if these are important considerations and what else they value. Then shut up and listen fully.
  4. Now talk about your potential solutions. Stop the conversation at several points and invite some silence by asking “How do you feel about this? … What would you do here?” At each point, shut up and listen fully.
  5. Finally, ask the customer for a commitment: If we can deliver this will you approve $X budget for it? This may be the most important silence of all. Shut up and let your customer fill the void.

This is what programming the silence looks like. At each step in the process you are provoking a thoughtful response from the customer. The opposite of talking isn’t just listening. It’s being in the moment. And it works.

I first posted this idea in 2016. Is it still just as relevant to you and your team? A customized, collaborative sales strategy workshop is easier and more cost-effective than you might think. Visit upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


The Dirty Secret of Sales.


The fact that you chose to start reading this post supports my premise:  People love secrets and shortcuts.  The dirtier the better.  That there’s a technique, phrase or trick out there that would make the whole sales thing fall into place is a seductive idea.   Indeed, sellers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on books, videos and seminars in search of this particular grail over the last several decades.

But after selling for my entire adult life and being a voice-in-the-ear for sellers in the digital marketing business for the last 20 years, I’m here to give away “the secret” – such as it is.  Here goes.

Discipline, grit and hard work.  Lots of it.

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Disappointed?  I get it.  But true is true.  Being a good seller is like playing good defense on the basketball court.  While only a select few can soar above the rim or hit more than half of their three-point shots, anyone can play good defense.  And, if fully committed, anyone can be a good seller.

Discipline, grit, hard work.

Good sellers have a strong sense of discipline.  They make lists, they stay organized.  They respect the clock and the calendar.  They know when three days have passed since the last contact.  Good sellers embrace process and pipeline.  They develop positive habits.

Good sellers have grit.  They stay in each conversation a little longer than is comfortable.  They go and find one more name on an account…then they go find another one after that.  They inspect their own work and progress.  If prospects are elusive, they don’t assume the door is closed; they assume it’s worth knocking again.   They don’t fall apart in the face of criticism or rejection.  They don’t fear falling down; they obsess about getting up again.

Good sellers work hard.  Great salespeople aren’t born that way.  They are forged by labor.  They get up a little earlier and stay a little later….not to be seen, to achieve.  They always believe there’s one more thing that can be done to help a deal close.  They take the time to properly thank their customers and their team members.  They do homework.  They go to see the customer, they visit the factory, they take the extra trip. Having estimated what it will take to succeed, they do 50% more.

Is this what it takes to be in sales?  No. It’s what it takes if you want to be good at it and deserve the business you get.   All of it – every single word – is fully in your control.

And not for nothing…it’s the same secret to success at everything else in life.


Your Sales Strategy is Fatally Flawed.


All the elements are in place.  You’ve identified the key accounts that you need to land or expand in order to get to your number.  You’ve tallied up the number of deals that need to close per quarter and assigned them each a probability. And you’ve marshaled all the resources you’ll need to get the job done; aligning with other departments and making certain the presentations and demos you’ll need to sway the market are in production.  Your sales strategy is perfect except for one thing.

It won’t work.

Failure is predestined not because of anything you’ve done, but rather because of a flawed assumption at the core of your strategy:  You’ve based it on the principle of inclusion. You started with who’s budgeting for what, when the agency planning teams are going to receive those budgets and how you’ll win your share of each.  It’s all about how you’ll be included in the budgets and plans and buys.  But the game is rigged. The playing field is not level.  This is not a fair fight.

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In addition to the natural consolidation in the market – the rich platforms getting richer – the politics and economics of the agencies themselves come into play.  Never forget that as they spend their clients’ money, they are also running their own businesses…enterprises which are inextricably linked to one another through their parent companies.  The choice of vendors, approaches to buying, pricing models and more are all impacted.  And even if you don’t completely agree with my premise, you still see distribution lists for RFPs getting smaller and smaller.

No, in a time of consolidation, a strategy of inclusion is no longer valid.  You must embrace a strategy of disruption.  From who you call on to how you approach them to your pricing and business models to your range of services, you must disrupt.  Not on a handful of accounts, not once a year…every day.  Pull your team’s focus away from fully formed budgets and planning cycles and push them toward opportunity creation – identification of business and marketing problems and the relentless pursuit of senior customers who care about them.

Disruption means getting there earlier and fighting for senior customer access harder than any of your erstwhile competitors.  It means operating left of budget – letting the customer decide which budgets she’ll draw from or combine to pay for your smart solution.  Disruption means getting out of the media spending business and signing up for the business value creation business.

It’s not easy and it can be daunting.  But it’s the future of digital sales. And there is no long term alternative.