Please offer your two cents on this sales challenge.
We sent it, followed up with an email a couple days later, followed up with one phone call each week the following two weeks, and with another email last week. Finally, having heard nothing from the folks we were working with, I elevated to higher ups.
As you can imagine, I got a response from my Director contact, and of course, anger and irritation from the unresponsive project folks. Was I wrong to elevate? The logic of the project folks (my prospect) is that if we weren’t hearing from them, we should keep contacting them.Where is it written that only sellers have to exhibit professionalism, not the client?
My Thoughts: The game has changed in the corporate world today. But honestly, it's not that they're bad people. They are literally expected to do too much in too little time.
They're running so lean and mean that it's impossible for them to keep their head above water. I have chosen to have compassion for them. Personally, I would hate to be in an environment like that.
But that does mean that we need to change what we do. With every project you do, ensure you have full communications going at all times with multiple people in the organization.
Let the project people know that you're communicating with the execs. Be totally transparent about it - it's how you work. That way, it won't seem like you're going around them.
What would you suggest?
When I was in NYC last week presenting for the Wharton Alumni Club, I got together with some of the top sales & marketing experts in the nation.
Over the past few years, I've met all these people online, talked a bit on the phone and read their books. But we'd never met in person. So the big question was, "What were they really like?"
In short, they're just the kind of people I want you all to know about because they're great resources So here they are:
On Wednesday morning, I had a long breakfast with this cast of characters:
(Right to left: Me, Charlie Green, Robin Fray Carey, Josh Gordon)
Hard to believe I could meet so many cool people in one 24-hour period! If you have a few moments, check out their websites, sign up for their newsletters and learn, learn, learn.
Alex works for a company that sells to smaller accounts. He's confident that their service would fit well for larger clients and has started to pursue them. While Alex knows it takes a while to land bigger deals, his "close a deal a week" sales manager isn't happy - especially since he isn't on the phone as much as others.
So Alex wants to know: How do I build a business case to convince my boss that it's worth going after these big companies?
Alex, I have no doubt that your service will fit well with larger accounts. And, you're absolutely right about it taking more time to crack into corporate accounts and get their business.
However, I'm not sure you'll EVER get your deal-obsessed manager to value of the preliminary work you're doing to get your foot in the door.
People who think that sales is all about smiling & dialing literally have no comprehension of the new way of selling. For them, unless you're making calls you're not doing your job. They think research, analysis, and preparation time is all wasted time.
If you talk with your sales manager about your ideas, he may agree to let you give it a try. However, when the sales don't come in quickly, they start to panic. Then they start putting pressure on you to make more calls.
Before long, they want you to abandon your corporate account entry campaigns and go back to sure deals with little firms. Unless, of course, you happen to strike it rich with a big company right away.
I suspect that's not what you want to hear. But that's what I see – over and over. Management is under intense pressure to deliver short-term results. If they don't, their own jobs are at risk. So fear prevents them from investing in the very strategies that could take their sales to the next level.
So where does that leave you? In my opinion, you have 3 choices:
1. Keep pursuing the smaller accounts. Do what you're expected to do.
2. Keep pursuing the smaller accounts, but target a few big companies to pursue in addition to your normal workload. Let your boss know what you're doing, but don't make a huge deal out of it. Be willing to invest personal time on research, etc. When you get the business, that's proof enough.
3. Leave the company. If you truly believe in the "Selling to Big Companies" approach to sales, you'll have a hard time working for a boss who thinks it's all about dialing for dollars. There are lots of companies out there who are desperately seeking a true consultative salesperson.
If any of you have ideas on how to convince the "close a deal a week" sales manager that pursuing big companies is a good investment of time - even if it takes a while to get results - please share them ....
What are the main issues you face when you target new vertical markets where you don't have any experience in that area. Also, how do you overcome these problems?
I get asked those questions frequently. But usually it's after the decision has already been made and the poor salespeople are struggling to gain a foothold in the new vertical market.
If you're considering moving your company in a new business direction, here are my suggestions:
Your biggest issue will be credibility. Corporate decision makers don't want to be your first client in a vertical market. They don't want to have to educate you since it takes up their precious time.
Even though you're a good company, they know that your lack of experience could lead to time-consuming and costly errors. They don't want to risk this happening.
1. Move into the market slowly.
Don't bet your company on success in the new vertical. Study the industry. Learn their terminology. Know their competitors. Double check for "fit". I've seen way to many companies leap into new markets because they sense greater opportunity there than in their current market space.
2. Define the business case.
Uncover how they're currently handling things related to your offering. What are the common status quo scenarios? What business objectives will they have difficulty achieving unless they change the status quo? What are the financial ramifications of these? Then define the value they'll get from changing to your product/service.
Potential clients need to hear a strong value proposition that clearly articulates the business outcomes they'll realize by using your offering. Use business terminology, not techie talk.
3. Create linkage.
If possible, try to create a link between your current customer base and your new one. If all your clients are schools and now you want to move to theme parks, you need to be able to clearly articulate why it's relevant.
As an example, last week I had lunch with a good friend who spent over 20 years in marketing with a large accounting firm. She was laid off a while back. Now she wants to work with technology companies.
After analyzing both industries, combined with her experience we realized that her expertise was in helping company's implement strategic changes in their marketing. That positioning makes sense to potential decision makers - and minimizes the "you don't have any experience with companies like mine" objection.
4. Pursue smaller opportunities first.
This significantly reduces the decision maker's perceived risk in moving ahead with a new player in the market. Then, make sure you do a superb job on delivering on what you promised. After that, pursue additional opportunities within the account to expand your footprint.
5. Train your salespeople on all the above.
Without this knowledge, they will flop. That I can guaranteed 100%. Ultimately these people have to make it happen. Don't send them into the field with some worthless PowerPoints explaining your technology in excruciating detail. They need to be able to have intelligent business conversation with decision makers.
6. Create field-ready sales tools.
Focus especially on the early stages of the sales cycle. Your sales reps are going to have a tough time setting up meetings. Show them how to integrate their value proposition into phone calls, voicemails and emails.
Give them relevant white papers and case studies that are closely aligned with this new market segment. They must be able to show your company's expertise to customers, so this is a necessity - even if you're moving to a new market.
Create a "question matrix" that outlines what they should be looking for on calls and the questions they should ask to uncover this information. Develop customer-focused PowerPoints to use on follow-up meetings.
It takes a lot of hard work to succeed in a new marketing segment. Implement the above suggestions and your chances of success increase. Rush blindly ahead and you'll most likely waste tons of money, put your firm in financial distress, frustrate your sales force and create incredible internal animosity.
Turnover is common in sales jobs, so this salesperson's dilemma is likely something you'll encounter in the upcoming months.
Question: One of my peers resigned and I've inherited some of her big accounts.
My boss has asked me to make a personal call, then follow up with an email to introduce myself and begin a dialog with them. Also, I've been asked to send a card with a note that says, "I'm looking forward to working with you."
What should I say in my phone call and follow-up email? Any other suggestions?
Jill's Response: Think about things from your customer's perspective first.
Check out what happens when you let clients very graciously know that your time is valuable too. In this post, you'll find the question sent to me, my response, and what happened when he followed my advice.
Business Professional's Question
I'm dealing a lot with bigger companies as of late, which is a good thing. However there's one issue I'm facing right now that I'm not sure how to deal with. It's the good 'ol "dropping off the face of the planet" trick that prospects AND clients seem to think is okay to inflict on freelancers and sales-folk.
Currently I'm working on a project for a firm and the VP is pretty good at getting back to me. But the rest of the staff call me at the last minute, have me quote in a big rush and then disappear without a trace for days or weeks on end. No calls, no emails, no notes. Zip, nada, nilch, nothin'!
I find this to be terribly rude and disrupting to my planning and work flow. So I've been wondering ... is it appropriate to let these folks know that I too have rules for conducting business? And that one rule is that if we're in discussion about moving forward on a project, that I expect the professional courtesy of a phone call or email within two days of our last conversation.
Am I batty thinking I can ask for this, or is it the smart thing to do?
How is selling to smaller firms different from going after larger corporations? That's a question I get asked frequently. In my book, Selling to Big Companies, I lay out a step-by-step plan on how to crack into corporate accounts.
But when you're pursuing business with small-to-mid market companies, there are some key differences.
A marketing manager asks: How can I make a bigger impact? There's so many things I could do, but what's the best way to invest my time?
Immerse yourself in your customer's shoes.
Your value as a marketer depends on understanding the customer's world – and I don't mean just academically. Understand their status quo: How are they doing things today? What are their business challenges? Why would they consider changing? Find out about issues related to your product offerings. Learn how customers make decisions. Get out in the field to meet and talk with them.
Engage your sales force.
Their input is essential. Ask them the same questions as you'd ask the customer. Don't only seek advise from the old pros who have long-term relationships with established accounts. Their job is entirely different from that of their less experienced colleagues. The best advice often comes from sellers with much shorter tenure who have achieved success fairly quickly.
A sales manager asks: My sales team has not been performing well. Since I took over this position, I've come to realize that part of the problem relates to a value proposition that isn't clearly stated. We also have a wide product and service range. The biggest challenge has been getting commitments once we introduce ourselves. What do you suggest we do? How can I better motivate my salespeople?
Don't you hate it when someone asks, "What are your rates?" or "How much do you charge?" It especially bothers me when they ask it before I even know what they're trying to achieve or what their current status happens to be.
Recently a consultant asked me how to handle the above questions without being cagey or evasive. Since she never charges by the hour, but instead negotiates a project price once the parameters are well defined it was a particularly sticky issue for her.
Here were my suggestions ... and please feel free to add your ideas as well.
I recently attended your L.A. workshop. When I got back to my office, I had an interesting response email from the CFO of a very large corporation that I've been trying to get to see. The CFO politely (and conversationally) said he:
• Appreciated my sales letter.
• Was very happy with his present supplier with whom he has a multi-year contract.
• Had a bad experience with our parent company five years ago.
Then he concluded that he would be happy to "talk to me" anytime." Now what do I do? Invest hours researching the other vendor's fees, benchmarking programs and more so I can show him why he should do business with us again? HELP!
Jill says ...
Question: When trying to get into prospective customers, I run into the "we're happy with our current suppliers" and "we're not interested in any new vendors" response. What 5 provocative questions can be asked of a person whose head is in the sand?
Question: I'm interested in finding ways to attract larger companies and to sign them as clients. My product line/services are promotional items (imprinted pens, apparel, bags, coffee mugs, etc., and printing of business cards, forms, brochures.) Thank you for your insight.
Question: I was recently reading an article on sales where the author said that when it comes time to ask for the potential client's business you should say, "What needs to happen in order for us to work together?" It just doesn't feel right to me. What are your thoughts on this?
The question, "What needs to happen in order for us to work together?" is an old-style closing question that is no longer effective in today's market.
Whenever I hear it, my gut wretches and I want to scream, "You haven't shown me why it's worth my time and money to do business with you. You just want my money." The question itself puts the seller in a one-down position. It makes me feel that the seller is a commodity type player, not a pro. As a result, my usual response to them is, "I don't know."
Here's what you should do to close the call:
Question: I've just started selling and really want to do well. My company is small and doesn't have a training program. Where do you suggest I start? How can I get better without spending a lot of money?
Answer: Small companies rarely have the financial resources to train their salespeople. Instead, they hope a truly talented person joins their staff and saves them from worrying about where the revenue will come from. But sales miracles rarely occur.
If you happen to be the new seller, you likely receive little direction beyond comments such as:
- Go get 'em!
- Make lots of calls.
- Bring us in for the close.
That kind of support is essentially worthless. It's given by people who think that sales is all about strong product knowledge, motivation, aggressiveness, enthusiasm and schmoozing.
They're wrong! It takes lots of knowledge and skill to be tops in this field. Here are 3 no-cost, low cost things you can do to help you become a top sales professional.