Marketing Works for Sales

How does marketing best function in an organization?

Marketing works for sales. Marketing works to generate revenue. Marketing is part of the sales engine.

The primary role for marketers is to coordinate with revenue-generators on the required plans, tactics and activities to successfully identify buyers, build pipelines of opportunities, accelerate conversion of new customers and grow existing business.

Marketing must work hand-in-hand with those that have the responsibility for generating revenue to grow and sustain a business. As head of both sales and marketing in my career, I can definitely affirm that success only happens when the two work as one!

Marketing is not a silo and should not operate as one. Marketing must have a symbiotic relationship with those responsible for selling. Unless a business takes on debt to fund operations, there is no revenue in which to function until something is actually sold. The more that is sold, the more operating cash there is to flow into marketing programs and initiatives. If marketing requires a bigger budget, it must facilitate more sales.

Sales is also not a silo and should not be looked upon as a single functional group within an organization. Sales must inform and coordinate with marketing to make this relationship achieve maximum success. The fact is everyone in the company is in sales. Every employee has influence and everyone should directly or indirectly support the selling of an organization’s products and services.

One of the most important steps for sales and marketing leadership, along with the CEO, is to agree upon how the organization will communicate and measure success. The organization needs a common language that everyone understands.

A CMO or head of marketing must ensure the entire marketing function is equally accountable for revenue based on these terms, as are those working in a sales role. Everyone in the marketing organization must be knowledgeable and operating daily to achieve and/or improve upon the identified business performance metrics. The marketing benchmarks must also align to how the entire organization articulates business goals and measures success.

Key Business Metrics for Sales and Marketing

Revenue – Revenue is the amount of money a company takes in over a specific time. It includes deductions and discounts. Most companies will reference this in a P&L as top line and measure it over time as top line growth. Sales and marketing share responsibility in generating revenue for a business.

Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) – This is the price paid to acquire a new customer. It is the combination of sales, marketing, research, and product or service related expenses used to bring in a buyer. Businesses can utilize this important value to set budgets for sales and marketing. CAC management ensures the business is putting enough capital toward winning the number of customers it needs each year to achieve the revenue goals. CAC should also be used as a barometer for efficiency and effectiveness, along with a benchmark on how the company performs related to their competition.

Customer Retention Rates – Customer retention rates are the percentage of acquired buyers (customers) who continue to buy services over a certain time period. You will often hear that it costs seven times more to find a new customer than retain an existing one. Retention is an important metric. Existing customers are also a gateway to value-add services. Retention should also be analyzed over time and value.

Customer Attrition Rates (CARs) – Opposite of the retention rate is rate of attrition, also commonly called “churn.” Customer attrition rates is the percentage of customers lost over a defined time period. This metric is also usually a leading indicator for customer satisfaction, efficiency in delivery, product use and product or service value. Sales and marketing strategies to reduce CARs are as important to acquiring new customers.

Lifetime Value (LTV) – This is also sometimes called lifetime customer value (LTCV). It is revenue (value) of a customer over the life of the relationship (time). LTV helps sales and marketers understand the potential impact of growing the value and extending the timeline as a customer. This important data point also helps businesses understand the costs of losing a customer. LTV can be used to measure brand equity.

Overhead – Overhead is all non-labor related costs used to operate the business. It is considered fixed expenses regardless of the number of customers or revenue generated by the business. Overhead is often seen as controlled costs and a topic of discussion during budget reviews. Sales and marketing should combine efforts in overhead management to ensure processes, technology and people are not overlapping or creating extra costs. For example, sales automation and marketing technology should be evaluated together to ensure the business maximizes value and works unilaterally to combine all data inputs and resources to effectively manage the customer journey.

Fixed and Variable Costs – These are the monthly expenses used to operate the business. Variable costs align to the amount of goods or services produced and these will increase or decrease based on the volume of production. Fixed costs are not associated to production volume and include costs such as office space, equipment, advertising and insurance. Businesses will utilize costs as a metric on how much is invested into sales and marketing for production.

Profit Margin – Profit margin is the percentage of revenue above the cost of the product and/or service. Think of it as the mark-up. Profit margin can be evaluated by the overall business revenue, as well as by product and service lines to determine the health and ROI on costs related to sales and marketing. Gross margin is the percentage of difference between revenue and cost of goods sold (COGS), divided by revenue. Net margin is the percentage of revenue after operating expenses, interest, taxes and preferred stock dividends. If you are operating in the black, your profit margin is positive and if you are operating in the red, your costs and expenses are greater than the revenue coming into the company. Profit margins can also be utilized to evaluate the health and sustainability of individual customers or segmented customer profiles. It is an important metric for sales and marketing in strategic account management.

Pipeline – Pipeline is a defined series of steps and stages between starting and completion the sales process. It is often valued by the total dollar amount of all identified sales opportunities. The process can be defined as a variety of sales and marketing actions, most commonly prospecting and buyer identification, qualification, meeting, proposal, close and retention. For evaluation, each step or stage will often be assigned a weighted dollar value (percentage) based on the likelihood to close (win). This calculation is often used in forecasting and predicting sales run-rates.

Pipeline Growth – This is the percentage of growth of the associated dollar value of the sales pipeline over a period of time. Pipeline growth can also be measured by numerous variables such as number of prospect opportunities (deals) in the pipeline, types of opportunities, product or service lines, or by territory. Most organizations evaluate pipeline growth monthly. It is important for sales and marketing to analyze growth over different intervals to determine any seasonal or buying cycle variables that will impact sales. Pipeline is a critical metric to determine the future health of the business. Sales and marketing activities are directly connected throughout the pipeline journey and coordination is critical for supporting growth, conversion and retention.

Sales Forecast – This is an estimate of future sales. Forecast accuracy is often a hot topic within a business, as it enables a business to make operational and investment decisions based on predictive future revenues. The sales forecast, often prepared by sales reps and weighted based on analytics and accuracy, informs the business leadership on how to manage daily cash flow and resources. Ideally, forecasts should be visible to the entire organization in real-time through shared sales automation tools and online pipeline reporting. It helps inform employees how the business is predicting performance. Transparency keeps people accountable.

Conversion Rates – Conversion rates can be applied to multiple marketing and sales tactics within the sales pipeline. It is calculated as a percentage of specific actions. Marketers often use this in the early stages of the sales cycle, as defined by a call-to-actions. It is measuring the rate a person converts to the next stage by taking all types of actions. These can be measured as response rates, volume of calls, incoming emails, online comments, web visits, clicks and purchases. Sales often measures conversion as a percentage of win/loss on proposals or quotes and purchases. This is a valuable metric and it should be combined with the length of the buying cycle to determine where sales and marketing can invest resources to accelerate conversion rates.

Customer Satisfaction – Most businesses utilize a customer satisfaction rating or ranking to measure the health of the customer relationship at a given point in time. A common metric for measuring customer satisfaction is Net Promoter Score®, or NPS®. The NPS rating is derived from participants that are surveyed based on one question, “How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?” Those that provide a rating of 9-10 are considered promoters and 0-6 are detractors. NPS is calculated from the percentage of detractors minus the percentage of promoters. Those that score 7-8 are considered passive. Influence is a strong category for marketing initiatives. NPS can help an organization determine the best way to build a strong influencer campaign for existing business referrals and add-on sales, as well as utilize to increase LCV and retention.

One of the common pitfalls that occurs when businesses align sales and marketing metrics is to try to give single credit to one function. Obviously, this happens inherently through commission programs. However, visibility and communication can be universal in a business. It is a shared responsibility that does not have to be solely recognized through compensation. The common language for defining success is the starting place!

Let it be known, when a company surpasses revenue targets, everyone wins. If a company misses their revenue target, everyone is accountable for the performance. That means everyone must answer to the identified measurements the company puts in place to track performance and results.

The purpose of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is to empower the organization to achieve the business goals through a series of strategies and tactics. Marketing is reliant on the sales function to convert identified opportunities into actual dollars. If we all work united in the pursuit of revenue and customers, then together everyone achieves more! Go TEAM!

Jamie

President + CMO at Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.

What’s Your Story?

storybookImagine what you would say if someone came up to you on the street and asked, “What’s your story?” It’s not the standard, “What do you do?” or “Tell me about yourself.” If you took the time to answer (and you should), you would probably put a bit more creativity into how you would respond, beyond telling them your current job, name, number of years of service and any other rank and file information.

Storytelling taps into pure imagination and goes beyond recitation of facts. It’s bonding. It creates a commitment. There is more of a sensory investment into the word selection, the visual representations and the emotional connection you build with someone when you tell a story.

You have the permission to be more animated, persuasive and invested into getting a “desired” response when you tell a story. Unlike a listing of data points or a mindless update, you can draw people in, get them to behave differently, react or just connect. People pay closer attention to your words when sharing a story.

Storytelling often humanizes your content. As marketers, we continue to look for ways to personalize our message and relate to our target audience. Maybe the first step is to tell a compelling story. Storytelling helps to nurture a relationship between the teller and the listener – an attachment beyond the words.

Can you recall a time you listened to someone tell you a great story that left a lasting impression? How far back in time do you have to go to remember that experience? A great TED Talk? Your favorite book? The perfect sales pitch where you bought all the upgrades? Or was it in elementary school, visiting a grandparent or maybe when your own child read you a story. Maybe it was the co-worker who shared their story about a spontaneous get-away to a tropical island that left you with great envy or surfing online to match that experience. Any single memory of a story that really stands out?

Once you can identify that past experience, close your eyes for a second and picture where you were, what they said and why you felt so committed to their words. Capture that moment. Hold on to it and use it. That is the “mark” for you to measure your own storytelling skills. Use that experience for the next time you create content, provide a presentation, write to a client or sell someone on your invention – tell a story that leaves a lasting impression.

In business, storytelling lets you enter into the consumer psyche to drive behaviors – good or bad. We all know that a really “good” story may get a person to react negatively toward an idea, product or person – a fear of all marketers. We often read about the statistical difference for remembering the bad experiences we are told over the good. Why? We pay close attention to those negative experiences – the stories are often told with great vigor and emotion. We listen intently to the story about bad customer service or being oversold. Perhaps it is because most people are far more animated and creative in warning us to “stay away” versus inviting us in or getting us to buy.

You know the old adage, people buy from people they like. What better way to generate some “buying interest” than creating likability through storytelling. Build a relationship, set the expectation and persuade them to act – with a really good story.

Storytelling is an art. It is harder to do in writing than in person. Both require a lot of practice. Storytelling needs investment, thought, creativity and inspiration. There is no better place to start than with your own experiences.

So tell me…what’s your story?

Jamie Glass, Artful Thinkers

First published on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140423232730-149124-what-s-your-story

The Name Badge Does Not Sell Your Business

Blank name tagAt the close of a large entrepreneur event, a small business owner came up to the registration desk and offered a suggestion. He felt like his name badge should have more than a name. He wanted a badge filled with all his information: name, company, title, website, email and phone. Then, he would talk to more people and more people would talk to him.

In an effort to help himself, he went ahead and scribbled all his identifying details in fine print below his name. Unfortunately, his details were written so small it required someone to lift his badge up close to read it.

In his view, his networking experience was hindered by only having a name to identify himself and others. The name-only tag “forced” him to have a conversation, instead of oddly reading someone’s detailed badge to self-select whether he should engage them.

My empathetic response, “I understand how you might feel more information on the badges could help you. I appreciate your suggestion. I do feel that you can open more doors, when you directly talk to people. Perhaps we have a different view of the value of these type of events and networking.”

My non-empathetic response, “Your name doesn’t open doors. It won’t sell you or your business. Your story, your enthusiasm and your passion are what engages others. It’s awkward to read someone’s name and then turn away. Then again, maybe we have a different view on what sells you and your business.”

What was not revealed to him was that it was intentional to only have a name on each badge. Why? To provide an everyone the opportunity to connect, share and learn. A convenience for each attendee to have an open door to sell themselves, their solutions and their business. Written words never sell. Written words affirm. It is the verbal story, the questions, the conversation that closes the deal. It is the interaction that really matters. It is looking someone in the eye and asking, “What do you do?” The name on your badge only facilitates an easier way to start the conversation.

No matter how many words you use to invite someone into to your lair, the offer is only as good as what you have identified through an engaging dialogue. A conversation. A two-way exchange. It answers, what can you do for me and what can I do for you? Value is created by the time you invest to ask, listen and qualify. It is the ongoing assessment that takes place during the conversation that defines opportunity. The number of conversations you have helps you measure the success or failure of your valuable time spent at an event or networking.

Business owners sometimes feel if they are equipped with mountains of content, leave behinds and written justification, the buyer will sell themselves.  In fact, written content is just an invitation. Invite to learn more. Invite to perk interest. Collateral and content does not sell a product or service. Collateral documents and illustrates. People are best for selling goods and services.

Networking and events give you a formalized occasion to have a dialogue. To learn and share. Those that will not talk to you because of your name-only tag are short sighted and often losing the opportunity to learn the real value of you, your offerings and your ideas. Conversation requires a back-and-forth tailoring of information that can be customized to your address your precise needs.  We only buy what we need. The listener is always waiting for you to make it about them. In their mind, they are waiting for you to tell them how you help them or solve their problems.

Less information on a name badge gives you the polite excuse to inquire, “Tell me what you do.” A badge or name tag should never give you reason why not to engage. Ask. Inquire. Question. That is how you benefit from any event. Do not hide behind a 3 x 4 card hanging around your neck. Use it as a chance to address the person by their name. “Jim, what is your reason for attending the event today?”  ”Mary, are you an entrepreneur?”  This provides you the best opportunity to qualify, inquire, learn and discern if the person has something to offer you and you have something to offer them.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – William Shakespeare

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers, follow: @jglass8 @artfulthinkers

The event noted in this post was the Innovation Arizona Summit 2013.  Read more about the event here.

Investing in Co-Selling Partnerships to Grow

iStock_000022899520_ExtraSmallSmall businesses and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit by selecting co-selling partners to drive revenues. Utilizing another company’s sales and marketing resources may be a great channel to aggressively extend reach and acquire new customers.

Co-selling partnerships with businesses selling complimentary products and services to your target customer can be smart business. These partnerships can cut existing sales costs and even accelerate growth in market share. The best sales partners create a synergy between respective offerings. There should be a “natural fit” of how the products and services add value for the customer. The buyer should inherently understand why you would partner, not question as to why you did or if there is any benefit in buying from a single vendor.

Co-selling partnerships can reduce sales costs. There is a required investment in sales and marketing to grow a business. The costs of a sales team can be crippling for a new venture or small business.The overhead expenses that enable a sales person to be trained, productive, and armed with the right marketing tools, technology and product support can be onerous in the earlier stages of an organization.  Lack of initial investment often produces lack luster results and can actually cost the business even more with unexpected turnover or lengthy sales cycles. Businesses need a specific budget and defined cost of sales to properly staff, train and equip a sales organization to get results.

Time-to-market and time-to-close can be reduced through co-selling partnerships. A new sales hire ramp-up time can be 3-12 months, depending on price of goods to be sold and anticipated sales cycles. Ramp-up requires an “blind faith” investment of time and resources. A business has to invest in sales with nothing more than the anticipation and belief that something is going to be sold. It is a huge price to pay and has great risk. Utilizing a trained and experienced sales team through a co-selling partnership can help you bring revenues in while you invest in building your own sales team.

Co-selling is not free. There are costs of co-selling partnerships. A strong partnership requires investment in training and account management resources to keep top-of-mind awareness with your co-oped sales team. You also need to provide sales and marketing tools to properly equip the team to sell your goods and services. You need to be available when they have questions and to support them throughout the entire sales process.

You also need to create an incentive as to why a sales person in another organization should throw your offering into the mix. Higher commissions, faster time-to-close and value-add to the customer, are all good reasons; however, remember — sales people need to be sold too. If you extend the deal time or complicate the sales process, it will never work. Make it easy and valuable for the sales team through your co-selling partnership.

Incentives matter in co-selling. If the paired companies benefit but not the people selling, the partnership will fail. You need to set up a partner agreement for commissions and shared revenues.  A typical commission in a co-selling relationship starts at 10% of net revenue on the deal for a qualified lead pass. This type of agreement puts the burden back on you to close the deal. You are basically paying for marketing and an introduction. If the partner does all the work, including closing the deal, you may provide an incentive of 20% or more just to get that customer on your books. The structure of the agreement and commission rates should be based on your financial projections and cost of goods and associated expenses in managing the customer post-sale.

What doesn’t work? Relying on commission-only sales teams and partnerships that are by name only. There are business owners that believe they can get a motivated, committed sales person to work for free. The odds of making this type of relationship work are close to nil. The relationship between a company and it’s sales team, whether a direct hire or partner, is measured by the commitment from both sides. Small businesses may have to tier commission levels based on the ramp-up of sales or find ways to create early non-cash incentives; however, no one should be expected to go out and sell without a financial commitment. The words “you get what you pay for” should ring loudly if you are thinking about commission-only or finding people to sell for you because they like you.  Sales people that are really good at closing deals are expensive because they have a huge ROI.

Attributes of great co-selling partners to consider are the size of the partner’s sales team, market reach, relationships with your customer and available support the sales team receives in training for new products. The partner must have the means, connections and existing relationships to introduce your products to market. Co-selling means they will take an active role in selling. Again, partners by name only often produce little value.

If you choose to use co-selling partnerships, embrace the model and build support for the partnership. Show your loyalty through your commitment to make the partnership last and benefit everyone including the customer, the sales person and the partners. Create value by talking about the partnership and promoting the relationship. The results you get from this co-selling will be directly tied to the amount of time and resources invested in the partnership. You have to give to make it work and really pay off.

In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” – Anthony Robbins

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Related to a series of posts on partnering.  Also read: Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Racing to Close the Sale

iStock_000003423890MediumThe sales process provides a road map to follow when you are driving toward winning new business. The course begins with identifying a prospect and traverses through a series of events to the finish line. The intended destination on the map is the “close”. The place where you complete the sale, where you can declare you have won the race!

All sales people desire the race to be short from start to finish. Sales people hope to navigate around a few laps versus taking a long and winding road trip with many starts and stops. Experienced sales people have the endurance for the longer trek; where as, new sales people often lack patience and the will to stay seated for the extensive ride.

Most “starts” in the race never make it to the finish line. They breakdown somewhere in the process. The early racers may believe they are driving a qualified opportunity, yet fail to make the needs analysis turn or drive off the road at negotiation. By laws of averages and experience, more than 90% of opportunities that start will fail to get all the way to close. No matter the product or service, for every 10 qualified starts only one winner will result.  In other words, nine out of 10 deals will never make it to the close.

Winning or losing creates great anxiety in sales. The race to closing is arduous. Gripping the wheel, staying on course, focusing ahead requires concentration, skill and patience. The better drivers know they need to use their road map and not veer off course. The effort to get to the finish line can be months and even years with large deals. The pressure to close can drive sales people to make some simple driving mistakes.They take shortcuts to get to the finish line, avoiding key road signs that tell you whether you are approaching the finish or have miles and miles to go. Worst, they give up and quit the race.

One of the best indications for assessing how close you are to the finish line is to ask for agreement at every turn. “Are we there yet?”  It is true, the repetitive process of asking “are we there” can get annoying for some; however, you need to identify your road markers.  You need to know how close you are to the end of the race. The only way to know is to ask if you and your prospect are in agreement. You don’t want to end up at the finish line and find out your paying passenger jumped out long ago.

Every turn you make in the sales process requires a pit stop. Stop. Check to make sure the prospect is still engaged, agreeing to the journey and willing to go the distance.  If you fail to engage at the check points, you will mostly run out of gas and never see the checkered flag. You successfully end the race when you cross the finish line with your new customer seated next to you and you both are headed to the winners circle.

“The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car, it’s the one who refuses to lose.” – Dale Earnhardt

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Sales Referral Partners Lead to New Customers

Coins and plant, isolated on white backgroundUsing partnerships to grow your business is smart business. Partnering drives market awareness, aligns your brand with other credible brands, opens doors to new customers and can even provide value-added products and services to increase your average sale.

There are different types of partners, which are defined by the level of engagement and the agreements each party enters into to manage the relationship.

Sales Referral Partners are the entry level of business development partnerships. This type of partnership has little accountability and responsibility for performance. The value of this strategy is often used to grow market credibility or to align with a partner that has strong relationships with your prospective customers.

Entering into a partnership for referrals is a first step to test the waters in a relationship. It allows both entities to measure the commitment, willingness and effort required in working together to develop business. A sales referral partnership gives you the ability to determine if this is simply a PR initiative or will actually grow revenues. You can also monitor the organizational support in sales and marketing required to get deals closed.

The relationship can be a one-way lead pass or a two-way referral agreement. Both parties need to determine the best opportunity to refer business by passing on leads, receiving referrals or both.

Sales Referral Partners can be “handshake” in nature if you do not plan to hold anyone accountable for the outcome. It is commonplace for business service professionals who network together to develop non-binding relationships to help open doors and extend value by making credible introductions to other service providers or their respective clients.

If you plan to use compensation as an incentive to drive referrals you need a legal agreement, signed and executed between both entities. Compensation is a way to show appreciation for the referral and is an incentive to work together. If your partner offers to pay you for referrals, you also want to make sure it is in writing.

There are two ways you can determine the referral compensation.  Referrals can be compensated at the same rate as your sales commission.  For example, you can offer a set figure between 5-10% of the net proceeds of any closed deal.  You can also set the commission rate at the percentage of your average marketing spend to acquire a new customer. No matter the rate chosen, it should be perceived by your partner as rewarding and drive the expected behavior. Make it worthwhile for someone to act as your front-line sales person and help find you new customers. If the rate is not worthy of the effort, you can expect to pay few or no commissions, as you will likely not drive the behaviors needed to get a referral.

If you do choose to enter into a binding agreement that includes compensation for referrals, you need to set rules just as you do for your own employees. Specifically outline in your agreement how payments will be made and when the partner will be paid. For example, will you pay when the sale is made or when you are paid by the new customer? Be sure you state in your referral agreements if the referral fee will be paid over the lifetime of the relationship or for only the first sale.

It is critical that you track all your sales referrals, whether you enter into a formal agreement or simply take an email of a lead pass from a trusted business partner in your network. Enter the lead into your CRM with the proper tag to identify who gave you the lead. Enter when you receive the lead and monitor the progress of the lead as it moves through your sales pipeline. Measure all your partners quarterly to see how they are helping you grow revenues. It will provide you intelligence in how to manage the relationship for maximum profitability.

If you do enter into a sales partnership where the other entity is representing you on the front-line, you need to equip your partner with the same tools and resources you provide to your own sales team. You need to give them the ability to introduce you, what you do, the problems you solve and the value proposition of your products and services. Spend time providing regular updates about your business and services to keep your partners informed and engaged.

Top of mind awareness in this type of partnership is essential to getting value from your relationship. When you provide value, you will get value in return.  A partnership requires efforts by the giver and the receiver. Be persistent in developing good partnerships, measure activities and reward the efforts of those that help grow your business.

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather to become a person of value.”
– Albert Einstein

Other types of partnerships that will be discussed in future posts include Co-Selling Partners, Channel Partners, Strategic Partners and Investment Partners.

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Growing Your Business by Word of Mouth

ChatIf you had to solely rely on word of mouth and referrals to grow your business, could you? Would you?

It depends on your word of mouth power, the factor from which you attribute new customer acquisition by recommendations from others. The ultimate test to measure your word of mouth power is to forecast the growth of your business through a single source — referrals. Would you miss your revenue target or exceed financial expectations?

Word of mouth (WOM) requires talkers. People who are willing to stake their reputation on telling others about you, your business and your value. Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) may be the most cost effective way for you to grow your business, if you have invested in creating an army of talkers. Talkers are promoters, followers, happy customers and raving fans.

WOM marketing and advertising is often advocated as free. This is simply not true. The outcome of word of mouth may be free from cost of sales. WOM requires a significant investment. An investment in resources that will carry your message forward. An investment of time educating others on the value of your products and services. An investment in exceeding customer, partner and employee expectations. Acquiring new customers may factually require a smaller investment than buying ads and cold calling; however, it is not investment free. You need to invest in your word of mouth strategy to make sure it really pays off.

You can invest in a WOM strategy by giving people a reason to talk and by continually asking others to talk about you and your business.

Invest in WOM by giving people the proper tools to share your message. Talkers are your most valuable source for marketing, if they can speak from first hand experience. You can buy fans. Buying fans does not create loyalty or truth telling. The best talkers are those that trust you will deliver your value. They are someone who has found your solution to be worthy of sharing and promoting to others.

Knowing what others are saying about you and your business is measured by the amount of customers acquired through word of mouth.  If no one is referred to you by WOM, that is a danger sign. People are not telling others about your value. A bigger red flag might translate to a reputation problem.  When is the last time you asked your fans, customers or employees to spread the word? Are they enthused to get the word out or hesitant to refer others to your business?

People talk about what they like, what they trust and what they value.  All of these are earned markers of success in business. You earn them by doing a great job and exceeding expectations. The markers are currency. A currency that is transferred by word of mouth referrals. Start by setting your marker to do great work and then ask people to start talking. When they start talking, you have power. You have the power to win new customers by word of mouth.

“I would rather earn 1% off a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.”  J. Paul Getty

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Don’t Confuse Confidence with Enthusiasm

Enthusiastic blonde woman wearing big glasses.

Business leaders, entrepreneurs, sales people and marketers utilize enthusiasm to draw people to their ideas. They passionately motivate us to follow and take action.  Enthusiasm creates an emotional attachment.

Beyond the emotion, we soon find ourselves wanting more.  We want to trust that we should follow, not follow blindly. We need proof that the words are supported by facts. We need evidence. We are convinced by confidence.

Enthusiasm opens the door, confidence is the closer. We are attracted by enthusiasm. We believe in confidence.  Enthusiasm is selling, marketing and promoting.  Confidence is demonstrating, providing proof and creating trust to solve problems and fulfill needs.  Knowing the difference is very important.  Knowing how to balance the two requires expertise.

A person that lacks confidence will often exude excessive enthusiasm to mask insecurities or lack of evidence.  Have you ever found yourself so engaged by a sales person that you forget you are being sold? Enthusiasm wins. The result may be buyer remorse or worse, deception. Perhaps a new hire enthusiastically convinces you that they can “do the job” and soon the facts do not support reality. A very expensive mistake for a small business – costing the company time and money.

On the flip side, a confident person can be so overtly confident they fail to listen to others or fail to create a following.  Confidence is not arrogance. Confidence can easily delude rational thinking.  The love of power convinces the most confident they can not fail, thus losing all sense of humility and gratitude. When you look around you and no one is cheering you along, your confidence has removed your ability to attract others. There is no emotional appeal. You are now the leader of no one.

Confidence is defined as full trust; belief in powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing, belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.

Enthusiasm is defined as absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit; lively interest.

How do you create balance and avoid the extremes? The perfect blend of confidence and enthusiasm is pitchman Ron “Ronco” Popeil.  He used demonstration to prove his inventions were viable and trustworthy. He used hype and selling to capture our mind share and imagination.  Who can forget his famous, “But wait, there’s more!”  Son of an inventor, Popeil is one of the most famous marketing pitchmen.  He showed you how you could dice onions, so you won’t shed a tear.  How you could depend on his electronic dehydrator to feed your children healthy fruit snacks instead of candy.  The lessons in all the infomercials where about solving a problem. Confidently.

What is the financial impact when you expertly blend confidence and enthusiasm?  Many of the Popeil inventions, most designed by Ron’s father, sold over 2 million. Ron Popeil is not rich solely from his fishing poles and spray on hair inventions. He is rich because he used enthusiasm to get our attention followed by confidently demonstrating how he solved our problems. He sold it. We bought it. We bought his confidence.

Whether you are pitching for investor dollars or motivating your sales team, you must build trust.  Demonstrate reliability and accountability.  Show the why.  Why you, why your company, why your ideas, why now.  Then use your persuasive personality to make sure the message is received, understood and people are left wanting more.

Enthusiasm without evidence is hype.  Hype doesn’t convince anyone, only gives us reason to be suspect.  Don’t oversell, don’t undersell. Confidence alone is mundane. Lead with enthusiastic confidence. A moderation of the two, equal but not separate, wins.

“Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” Norman Vincent Peale

Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Take the Chill Out of Cold Calling

iStock_000014805390_ExtraSmallCall reluctance is experienced by all business professionals, no matter their role.  Executives returning messages from upset customers, accounting personnel calling on past due notices and technology team members shopping for service providers.  Imagine if your entire day’s success was measured by the number of calls you made to convince strangers to buy your goods and services.

No. Not right now. No, thanks. Not interested. Maybe. Not in our budget. Hang up. Send me information. Yes.  That is the typical day of a sales person who is building their pipeline, repeated over and over again.  And we wonder why it is hard to find and retain great sales people. There are not many of us who would put at the top of our career ambitions to be rejected several times a day.

Cold calling is rarely listed as a favorite work activity; however, for millions it is what pays the bills. Selling is fundamental to our economy. There is no business until something is sold. Embracing the fact we all need to make cold calls, how can we take the chill out of one of the most important activities in business?  Here are a few tips to prepare for a day of cold calling:

1.  Know your target market. Every buyer is unique; however, they will have similar demographics, sociographics and psychographics. Spend time understanding the common data characteristics, along with behaviors and motivators.  For example, if you are targeting a small business owner, know what drives them to change.  What fears do they face in making buying decisions? What would benefit them the most personally and professionally when they say yes?  The more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to make a “warm call” into a known, targeted buyer.

2.  Feel the buyer’s pain. There is a natural tendency for inexperienced cold callers to talk about their reason for calling more than finding out why the buyer would benefit from their products or services.  Stop. Listen. If you are doing the most of the talking, you are losing.  You will never hear the buying signals when you are spewing facts, features, and generic benefits.  The best technique is to understand and relate to your buyer so they have confidence you are doing what is best for them, not you.

3.  Quantity matters. It is far easier to deal with rejection if you can get a “win” during your calling spree.  Plan with enough time in a single day to make calls in blocks of several hours. One, right after the other. Hang up, dial the next.  If you stagger your calls throughout the day or over longer periods, you are simply prolonging the pain. Dial until you get to yes and then dial more. Target how many yes calls you need in a day to hit your weekly and monthly goal.

4.  Needs analysis pays off.  Do your research on your buyer. You will be expected to speak to their individual business needs. There is no excuse to cold call blindly. “Google them”. It takes seconds now to find valuable data online about buyers.  You have access to profiles in LinkedIn, you have company websites with executive profiles, products and company information, public reports and news. Do your homework.

5.  Call with intent. What is your goal in cold calling?  What qualifies as a “yes”?  As with any business function, have a goal and objective with every call. The only way to get to the yes is to ask – ask for the sale. Get agreement along the way of your presentation and make sure you are aligned in your mutual objectives. You are solving a problem for the buyer. Countless deals are lost because people think making the call is the goal. That is not the win. The win is getting the deal.  Ask for their business.  It only counts when they say yes. When they say no, ask again.

A sales person has to remain calm in the chaos of measurable rejection. They have to keep their eye on the “prize”.  One more call to a yes.  One more opportunity to use their real skills and talents of negotiation and the power of persuasion to fulfill a need.

Respect and reward those that you depend on to make the calls to grow your business.  If you are the cold caller, prepare to win.  Know your target, be diligent in your process and never forget to ask.  It is the glimpse of hope, the possibility of acceptance and the incredible satisfaction of closing a deal that keeps a cold caller motivated. Commissions aside, most sales people will say they get the greatest reward from winning.  Winning when a customer says yes!

For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.” – Zig Ziglar


Jamie Glass, Founder, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers

Additional Sales Related Posts by Artful Thinkers

http://www.artfulthinkers.com/prepare-to-hire-a-sales-person

http://www.artfulthinkers.com/questions-sales-candidates-ask-that-should-stop-the-interview

http://www.artfulthinkers.com/a-bad-sales-hire-can-crush-a-small-business

http://www.artfulthinkers.com/5-essential-topics-for-a-winning-sales-proposal

 

 

Prepare to Hire a Sales Person

It is the time of year that businesses start to look at their anticipated revenues and question if they can increase the top line with additional sales resources.  A sales person is an investment in your business. Preparing for the role within your organization is as equally important as hiring the right person.

Before you hire anyone, have you created a sales plan?  The sales plan is where you define your revenue goals for the year, the budget for required headcount and support resources, and the tactics you will employ to achieve your goals.  At a minimum, you must define what you are willing to invest into the selling of your products and services for every expected new dollar of revenue.  Once you make this calculation, set your budget based on your investment requirements and expected returns with new sales.

Now that you have your sales plan outlined, here are some steps to help you get ready for hiring a new sales person:

  • Sales Role: Will your new hire be a direct, field sales person or an inside sales person?  A direct sales person will have a larger budget for travel and expenses, in addition to higher compensation.  The expense of a direct sales person can be offset by a putting in place a higher quota.  A direct sales person is expected to negotiate larger contracts and develop profitable long-term relationships over the phone and in person.  An inside sales person will conduct all of their selling over the phone. They will be qualifying opportunities, making online presentations, negotiating and asking for the business over the phone.  Inside sales people will have a smaller quota and also typically sell smaller priced products and services that do not require face-to-face presentation and negotiation.
  • Job Description:  Create a job description that clearly defines the requirements for the role, responsibilities and expectations of what the sales person must deliver.  Be specific. State the sales goals, types of customers they need to sell and how they will engage with prospects.  Will they be a “hunter” or a closer or both?  Will they need to have existing relationships?  How much experience in your industry?  Note how your sales person will be measured and how you view success.
  • Quota and Territory:  Generally inside sales quotas will start at $100,000 to $250,000 in new business revenue per year.  The defined quota will always depend on the sales price.  A direct sales person can be expected to have a quota of $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year in sales.  Again price of product will help set the quota, along with experience of the sales hire.  If you hire someone with no experience in achieving a million dollars in sales, they probably won’t hit a million dollar quota no matter how much they sell you on the prospects.
  • Comp Plan and Incentives:  Detail how the sales person will be compensated.  Typically there are three factors in sales compensation:  sales commissions on new business, incentives to exceed quotas and bonuses for quality or quantity.  Define your compensation and commission rules.  When will the sales person be paid?  You can set different commissions for different products, based on profitability.  The average sales commission is 4-8% of top line sales revenue.  One word of advice, the easier the plan is to follow, the more focused your sales person will be on achieving plan instead of trying to figure out when and how they get paid.
  • Sales Process:  The sales process defines the steps a sales person will engage to find, qualify, present, negotiate and close a deal.  If you know the process, you can better hold a sales person accountable to how they manage their sales funnel.  It will also provide you data on how many leads you need to support the number of deals you expect to close each year.  Data is your friend in sales.
  • Marketing and Sales Support:  Sales people will typically work independently; however, you can shorten the sales cycle by providing sales tools and marketing support to help educate the customer, drive the process forward and substantiate the value propositions of your products.  Prepare a training plan to educate the new hire on what they will sell.  A minimum requirement for any sales person is a CRM tool.  Your prospects and clients are a company asset.  Track and manage the data and make sure it is stored in a company repository.
  • Measurable Success:  Before you make the hire, know exactly how you will measure their success.  A sales person, no matter the level of experience, will have a ramp up before they start closing deals.  Your sales cycle can range from weeks to years.  The more complex the sale, the higher price of your products and the more consultative the sales process, the more likely it will take six months or more before you see traction with even the most experienced sales person.  Your only exception will be to hire a person that already has relationships with your targeted customers.  The ramp-up will decrease with selling experience; however, you will pay a lot more for this type of sales person in base and expected overall compensation.  Do the math.  Can you invest more early on to increase odds of higher returns with a shorter sales cycle?

An investment in sales is one of the most important decision an owner makes in the life cycle of a business.  Making a bad sales hire can crush your business.  Prepare and plan for success.  Set reasonable expectations and measure performance.  Sales is a numbers game.  Know the numbers, inside and out.  Know what you spend.  Know what you want in return. Know how the sales person will achieve the sales goals.  Prepare your plan so you know what success looks like and then execute your plan.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Ready to Engage Your New Customer?

The buzz in marketing circles today is engagement. How do you effectively hook potential customers into a committed relationship? The investment a business makes in the engagement process should be directly tied to revenues. If you expertly and skillfully engage, sales will increase.

Competent engagement helps a business target, influence, nurture and convert prospects to customers.  The more expeditious a business is in engaging with prospects, the bigger impact to the bottom-line.  How are you engaging your potential new customers?

The easiest way to initiate engagement is to view customer and wedding engagements as the same.  The difference between the two are in the details of tactics.  How you move from targeting into proposal are nearly identical in overall strategy.

Engagement begins by determining how to get someone to respond to your offer.  First, identify the target based on the qualifications of a “good match”.  Who is a suitable candidate for engagement?  What are the qualities you are seeking, both in demographics and social behaviors? Then you need to determine what makes you attractive to others.  Packaging and presentation of your “stand out” qualities are critical in the initial step of the engagement process.  Know where to direct your message and selling to the most qualified targets.

Second, you start the courting process, where all long-term valuable relationships begin. This step is more difficult to measure and needs careful preparation. You can spend a tremendous amount of resources influencing others and never get to the proposal. Laws of attraction and suitability apply.  Who you target, what you say and why they are a good candidate must already be known to successfully influence the “right” prospect.

Using engagement tactics like research, focus groups, asking for referrals can speed progress directly influencing better qualified prospects when cultivating relationships. Put out a few “asks”.  Look for agreement.  Identify the buying signals.  Know what makes this prospect want to engage further in the relationship.  Define what is in it for them. It might take some sampling and analysis to reach a successful outcome.

Third, define acceptable terms of the relationship.  Nurture your relationship to fully understand the “how and why” you need to partner.  Build upon the strengths of your bond through mutual consent. Constant communication, validation and envisioning the success of your relationship solidifies the “why”.  This is the beginning of a potentially long-term committed relationship, one that must be mutually beneficial.   Are you both in agreement? Create timelines and set expectations to help control spending, time and resources while nurturing your relationship.

Fourth, make the BIG proposal.  It is time to go all in and ask for the close.  Whether it be a hand in marriage or to partner in business, the only way to get to a “yes” is to make the proposal.  If you have taken time to go through an engagement process, building consensus along the way, you will have eliminated most of the risk in making the proposal.  Converting a prospect to a buyer requires you to “pop” the question.  It is time to seal the deal.

The opportunity to engage is there, are you ready to start the process?  Only if you are able to commit to an engagement, will you be ready to “tie the knot” with a new customer.

[W]hen you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.  ~Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

A Bad Sales Hire Can Crush a Small Business

The decision to bring a sales person into your business is the most important decision you make as a business owner. Financially, it can be very rewarding or it can be devastating to your bottom-line.  The reality is that your hiring decision can propel you to mega-success, crush your business or land you somewhere in the middle.

There is no absolute science in making good hiring decisions.  Know your associated real and opportunity costs of making a bad hire.  Calculate the risks of the person not working out before you sign the offer letter.  Will your business survive making a bad hire?  How soon will you need to pivot if performance is substandard?

Based on the financial risk assessment, you can qualify whether you should invest in a professional resource or hiring profile tool to reduce the risk.  In other words, decide if you will pay now or potentially pay later.

What else can you do to protect your long-term financial security as a business owner and make an informed decision about hiring a sales person?

Ask candidates questions related to sales activities.  Don’t focus on their industry knowledge.  Industry knowledge is trainable.  You don’t need a nurturer or relationships person.  You need a sales person that will ask for money!  It is the secret skill that will bring revenue in the door.  There are two types of sales people:  hunters and closers.  In the beginning, you will need someone who is good at both.  They will cold call, with or without leads, and they will ask for the close.  These are “rare birds”.  Ask questions about the candidates history with sales cycles, average size of deal, average daily cold calls, number of customers sold each year, and presentation-to-close ratios.  These are all indicators of past performance and predictors of future success.  When a resume lists awards for exceeding quota, that does not tell you what they sold in the past is going to translate.  You want to know what they did to exceed quota.  What activities made them successful?

Invest in training and sales support materials.  Basic training materials should be product feature and benefit lists, industry keyword definitions, product overviews, competitive analysis, market positioning statements and scripts of common objections and how to overcome them. Utilize your team of in-house experts to train your sales people.  Set up daily Q&A sessions with product engineers, marketers, customer service personnel and anyone else that touches the customer.  Share all the secrets, good and bad.  The more knowledge and access to experts the sales person has the better prepared they will be to overcome objections.  The first two weeks of any new sales hire should include at least two hours a day training and practice calls.

Set sales quotes and activities quotas. An experienced sales person may only close 1-2 deals per year, with an average deal size of $2 million.  You need to clearly outline your expectations and what you will inspect regarding number of calls, meetings, presentations, proposals and closes.  Assigning the closing numbers without understanding how many calls that might take will cost you severely.  You must know, for example, 500 calls or 20 face-to-face meetings may result in five closed deals at an average sale of $10,000.  If this doesn’t meet your expectations, adjust accordingly.  Then measure the number of calls to see if you are on pace each week.  Early indicators will provide you the opportunity to pivot quickly.

Know your exit strategy.  What is the maximum time you can invest in a bad hire?  The answer can not be zero, because every hire has inherent risk.  If it is 90 days, then have a very specific plan with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can inspect every week.  You only have 13 weeks to determine if you will terminate employment or keep on staff.  Sales people are used to 90-day probationary periods.  You should have inspection points with planned exit strategies at 6 weeks, 90 days and 180 days.  Cut sooner and learn from your mistakes.  A year-long bad hire could close down your business if you are not well capitalized and depend on this new hire’s revenue to sustain your business.

Identify the characteristics that could be a threat or high risk to your business.  Character matters as much as sales skills.  You need to adequately assess the “fit” of this person in your business.  You are handing over the keys to your future.  Can you trust this person? Is this a person you would take with you to all your important meetings?  Does this person dream big?  Are they kind, friendly and positive?  Will your customers like this person?  If you can afford a hiring assessment by a professional, with tools that can define their character and skills, it will be worth the investment and potentially save you from making a big mistake.

Do your homework.  Never, ever skip reference checking.  Dig deep!  Ask community and business people that might know the person, look at their LinkedIn connections and recommendations.  Reference and background checks are as important as due diligence when buying a business.  You will be writing substantial checks to this person on a promise.  They will be creating your business first impression.  Reduce the risk by learning from other’s experience.  Again, it may be in your best interest to hire someone to do your reference checking to get a complete picture.

Finally, use your gut.  Do they represent you?  Your professional and personal instincts will serve you well.  A bad hire can scar you and make you timid in making a future decision.  Know that it can take four or five hires to find a rock star.  An early success in hiring a sales person is rare, so have a backup plan.

Sales people can make or break a business.  Know your upside and downside when hiring a sales person to promote your business.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers.  Creative. Strategic. Results.

Who Makes the First Impression for Your Business?

Who Greets Your Potential Customers?

First impressions for your business are made by people that open doors, make cold calls, attend networking meetings and answer your phone.  They are delivered by your marketing communications like social media and websites.  How confident are you that your potential clients are greeted warmly and with a direct invitation to do business?

Years ago businesses paid someone to sit at a front lobby desk and answer every inbound call and greet every walk-in appointment.  The receptionist qualifications were measured by friendliness, service-orientation and attentive disposition.  The standard phone greeting of this time was “Thank you for calling, how can I help you?”

When is the last time were greeted this way?  Today we are often met with automated attendants and empty lobbies.  Some businesses have completely eliminated any dedicated space to a welcome station and filled it with another cubical. My impression is that first impressions are not a priority for this business.  The decision that customer experience may be too costly to employ a dedicated person, may be costing you business.

It is not difficult to think back to a bad first impression.  I recall three in the past weeks.  One top restaurant asked me to wait outside in 110 degrees because they did not open for four minutes, yet the door was unlocked.  Another restaurant hostess asked me to stand until my party arrived even though every table was empty.  A technology company, which had a sitting place upon entry, left me for 20 minutes while employees stared at me.  Not one person asked why I was there or if I needed help.  I remember all of these first impressions, vividly.

Noted in a recent New York Times article Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Sited from Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University in a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”

How your employees are greeting the public, networking, making introductions, and opening doors for others is a direct reflection of hiring skills, company culture and leadership.  Business owners, CEOs and managers own the customer experience.  Every employee is responsible for making a positive first impression.  How are you reinforcing how positive first impressions are made in your business?

Customer experience is a financial decision in business, unless revenues are low on the priority list.  Reputation management is critical and costly.  A bad review is hard to overcome.  You can’t erase the Internet or someone’s memory.  People use others professional and personal experiences as a reason to buy or not buy. Bad experiences are viral, whether online, through social media, on sites that track reputations or by word-of-mouth.  Once word is out, it is permanent.  You own it!

Welcome!

Every experience starts with the greeting.  Take time to review how your potential and existing customers are greeted today.  This applies whether you are selling B2B or B2C, for every industry, in a building or online.  Use “secret shoppers” and have them rate how inviting, caring, and enthusiastic they were welcomed to do business with you.

Customer service is a pillar to good business.  Customer experience starts when the phone is picked up, the door is unlocked or a web site is visited.  We may not all have the luxury of hanging up a flashing “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to greet everyone.  We do have the luxury to manage and train our messengers to provide an outstanding first impression.

Invest in your greeting.  Define, train, test and continually reinforce how you want to insure a positive first impression.  It your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customer.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.

What is Your Marketing Meme?

Will Your Meme Go Viral?

A meme (pronounced meem) is a packet of social information.  Marketing memes are word associations, beyond a tag line or slogan, that take complex concepts or ideas and make them simple and easy to communicate.

A meme is defined in Wikipedia as “a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.”

Effective memes are potent messaging serums, dripped out over time that enter into our brains and stick. Think of your marketing meme as your viral message.  Who you represent, what you do and what you offer, tightly packaged into one memorable soundbite.

Memes are easy to replicate.  Good memes always communicate value and benefit.  It is the message you want propagated all over the world about you and your business.

I first learned about crafting memes from a Fortune 500 marketing expert who spent his time coaching several solopreneurs on how to market their own businesses.  To some, it may seem odd that an experienced marketing executive would spend weeks learning how to market themselves.  Admittedly, I was resistant at first. After all, I have been responsible for marketing multiple million dollar business for years.

Attitude and all, I threw myself into doing something I was avoiding — marketing me! It is hard to market yourself, let alone dedicate the time required to build your own marketing communications plan.  Truthfully, I needed the discipline and focus to develop my own meme. In the end, besides a business card, it was the best marketing investment I made in starting my own business.

An effective marketing meme is a single powerful statement that communicates the benefits of your products and services.  Here are some simple steps to help you craft an effective marketing meme:

1.  In one sentence, write down what you do for your customers.

2.  Next sentence describe the value you provide to your customers.

3.  Outline the problems you solve in the last sentence.

4.  Now start cutting! Combine the three sentences into one very simple, benefit-oriented sentence.  Answer who, what and why it matters in a single sentence.

5.  Test your meme with the following questions:  Can you repeat that sentence over and over again?  It is easy to remember?  Will your meme invite people to want to know more?

Memes are clear value propositions that roll off the tip of your tongue at every introduction.  An effective meme is not a slogan or headline. It is not an elevator pitch.  You rarely get 30 to 60 seconds to cite a rehearsed sales pitch.  It needs to be tight, concise and memorable.

Use your Meme Everywhere

Memes create lasting impressions. They are the words people will carry with them and tell others about you and your business.  Marketers often suggest that it takes seven times before a message really sticks.  It’s called the Rule of Seven. Will your meme be repeated by every person you tell seven times or more?  If so, then you have truly created an effective, viral marketing meme!

Invest time in creating your meme and start sharing it with world.  Repeat it often, in presentations, in meetings, on the web. Make sure your meme is a simple message that leaves us wanting more.

Special Note:  This post is dedicated to my friend and marketing mentor John Coyne.  He patiently worked with me to create my Artful Thinkers meme. His influence and teachings are still making an impact. He will always have a lasting impression. RIP my friend.

5 Essential Topics for a Winning Sales Proposal

Selection of Offerings

A sales proposal is your persuasive argument as to why the client must choose you now to solve their problem.  Proposals need to be positively articulated with a sense of urgency and demonstrate how the client wins.

Sales people and consultants often neglect the most important part of a sales proposal, the statement of why the client needs to buy now.  I have watched presentation after presentation where sales people talk about themselves, their company and their amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind solution.  It’s the feature marathon and often leaves you falling asleep or gasping for any air left in the room.

Successful sales proposals must always begin with a conversation about the client.  Those inclined to start talking about themselves before the customer are likely to fail. Why? Customers want to talk about their issues, not you!

Whether you plan to present your proposal in writing, in person or through an online presentation, every sales proposal must include the following five essential topics in this order:

1. Statement of Understanding
2. Needs Analysis
3. Recommendation
4. Pricing and Terms
5. Next Steps

The Statement of Understanding is your opportunity to showcase the research you have done prior to presenting to the client.  Always start your proposal with what you learned about the client.  Gather facts about the client from their web site, annual report or press release boiler statements, along with facts gathered in talking to the prospect.  Make it brief and affirm that you have done your homework.

Be sure to include one or two sentences about the area of business you are targeting for your proposal.  If this is a finance proposal, talk about the financial situation.  If it is a technology proposal, talk about the functions in the company that will be impacted by your solution. The Statement of Understanding is a confirmation.  It should be no more than one or two paragraphs (one slide) about your knowledge of the client.

Needs Analysis details all the work you have done to qualify the prospect.  Here is where you make your case as to why the company needs your services or products.  Whether you are a single person selling advisory services or a Fortune 500 company sales executive, you must define why the client needs YOU based on their needs.

Warning!  Do not use the needs analysis section to sell.  It is a series of facts of why they need your help.  Think of it as your presentation of due diligence. In conclusion of your detailed needs analysis, summarize the needs in bullet form to easily reference again when the buyer reviews your proposal.

The Recommendation portion of the proposal is where you will highlight the features AND benefits of your offering.  Now you can start selling. The same order that you outlined the needs of the client, is the order to present your recommendation.

Often sales people believe this is the most important part of the proposal; whereas, the buyer will still be stuck on their problems outlined in needs analysis.  This is why recommendation follows understanding and needs analysis, clearly stating the problem you are solving!  It is imperative to be clear and to the point in your recommendation.  Use key features and benefits in one or two sentences – outline format is best.  Don’t create a sales whitepaper on your product.

Provide supplemental collateral to the buyer separate from the proposal if more product information is necessary in making the final decision.  Hopefully, you covered product reviews and demonstrations earlier in the sales cycle before delivering a proposal.

Remember, PROPOSALS DO NOT SELL.  Proposals are affirmation to conversations you had prior in qualifying the client and getting agreement that you can solve their problem.  If you are using your proposal to unveil your services or product features and benefits, you have not qualified your buyer.  You will likely fail.

Now on to Pricing and Terms.  This should be one page (one slide).  Outline your pricing based on your recommendation.  If there are specific terms to the agreement, add them to this area of the presentation.  Terms and conditions should include time of agreement, dates for implementation, and milestones or KPIs to assess progress.  Avoid the dreaded commission breath when talking money by making it all about you.  Be steady, assertive and remember it is about the customer winning!

The assumptive closer will always conclude a proposal with the list of Next Steps.  Number the steps and make them fewer than five so you do not overwhelm the buyer with the fact their decision will require more work.  Be succinct and use action words.  The list should show the commitment by you, the seller, and the expectations of the buyer.

The Customer Bites on Your Proposal

Selling is creating a story that you can tell convincingly face-to-face, in writing or over the phone that addresses a customer need followed by an effective recommendation. Your sales proposal needs to be enticing and compelling to get the buyer to bite.  Organized proposals that put the customer first, will get more attention than those that solely focus on what you are selling.  When you focus on the buyer, you are a problem solver.  People like people who help them!

Best Networkers Go Where Others Won’t Go

Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert.  The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients.  It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.

One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers.  In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.

An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share.  Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust.  In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.

This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.

Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:

1.  Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.

2.  Research your influencer.  Where do they meet?  Who is in their network?  Who are their customers?  What events do they attend?  What association and industry groups do they belong to?

3.  Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+.  What are they talking about?

4.  Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.

The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact.  I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical.  More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.

How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening.  I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues.  Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.

The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business.  Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business.  You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise.  Don’t expect to get customers at these events.

When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.

Venture Out and Be DifferentNetworking is a skill.  Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts.  Venture out.  Be different. Go where others won’t go.