4 Simple Steps to Describe Your Company and Your Client

There’s that time when I walk into a room and see smiles or concerning eyes attached to a face with attentive ears and I hear the many voices sending a low, escalating rumble throughout the room. This is networking. At my left and at my right, there’s a hand to shake, a smile to give, and an opportunity to seek. And then, of course, there is always a time when I’m asked, “What do you do?” I could simply say “I’m in sales.” Then, I’d leave it to your imagination that I’m the annoying cold-caller who makes you wish you didn’t answer your phone. Or, without a word, I could slip you my business card and walk away. I’d then leave you to believe that I’m awkward, unapproachable, and, most devastatingly, unwilling to collaborate.

Although those options may produce an opportunity, they won’t produce many. And, therefore, there needs to be a concrete dialogue to specifically present who you are, what you do, and who you do it for. Here’s a way to present yourself and create dialogue:

1. Describe your company clearly.
This is your “who you are” statement. Starting and ending with a one-word description isn’t as exciting or engaging as you’d imagine it to be.

For example:
The forgettable intro: “We’re a digital marketing firm that works with small businesses that want to improve their online presence.”
*What is wrong with this one? There are a zillion digital marketing firms and a zillion “small” businesses. Too many to stick in any one’s mind.

The one you’ll remember: “We are a digital marketing firm that serves private physician practices.”
*Why is this memorable? Because if the person you’re talking to knows a doctor in private practice, you’re the first person that comes to mind if they mention marketing or growing their practice to you.

2. Describe what you do.
This phase easily flows from the preceding statement. It’s more than just cold-calling. Step-by-step, what do you do? Example: We help them improve and maintain their brand online. More importantly, we make their websites bring them new patients, and serve existing ones.

3. Describe the client.
They want growth, are on the uphill of growing the practice, not on the downhill. They value the effects of digital marketing and clearly understand that long before that new patient walks in the door, they’ve all but met their health care practitioner personally.

4. Who do you do it for?
This is always a kicker. People want to know that you have a source, that there’s someone in your corner to vouch for you, that you’re reliable and, most of all, that you’re so good at what you do, there’s lasting impact for your clients, and the right referrals.

Your end result should look or sound something like this:
We’re a digital marketing firm that works exclusively with private physician practices. Our clients are aggressive in growing their practices. They are as entrepreneurial as they are educated and patient-centered. And one of the ways they serve their patients is by making it easy to find them and get what they need on the site. We are their outsourced digital marketing department.

Step 1 of the 4-step pipeline plan: Objectively Assess Your Sales Opportunities (From “Get Real with your Sales Pipeline” Series)

I will assume since you are reading this post that you’ve bought into the idea – or, are at least intrigued by the idea – that it’s time to introduce and leverage some process into wrangling (aka managing) your sales pipeline.

We introduced this idea of a funnel management process in the first post, “Get Real with your Sales Pipeline.” We made the case that for start-up companies the ability to accurately forecast sales is a key business need. We proposed that managing and assessing the sales pipeline is more effective if you have a good process to fall back on. Then, we introduced a 4-step plan to act as a process for managing the sales pipeline.

This second post discusses the first step in that 4-step plan.

Step 1: Objectively assess the strength of the sales opportunities in your pipeline so you can focus your efforts on the right ones.

The first step in creating an accurate and reliable sales forecast is to have a handle on where each prospect is in the buying process and what it will take to close the sales objective for that prospect.

The important word here is objectively. As you objectively qualify an opportunity, you will determine the strength (aka probability of closing) of each opportunity. As you learn more about the sales situation you will also flow naturally into developing the next steps and actions required to move each sale forward –either to a close or forward and out of the funnel.

Fortunately, there is a bonus to putting time into qualifying! When you can more effectively assess where your opportunities reside in the sales funnel, you can prioritize your account management efforts. Including, for example, when you need to put more effort into prospecting for top-of-funnel activity (aka lead generation efforts), so your funnel doesn’t dry up.

So, let’s get started by going through the key questions you can use to objectively qualify where a prospect is in their buying process.

As I mentioned earlier, the nice thing about these questions is they also will foster great discussions with your prospective clients about their vision and needs, and they will lead you into defining next actions to move the opportunity forward.

Key Questions to Assess your Sales Pipeline

Is this something that your team has decided to implement? Or, are you currently researching and gathering information about going in this direction?

The good thing about this question is that the answer lets you know how close your prospect is to buying.

If they are gathering information or researching an approach, you are entering in at the beginning of their process and the sales opportunity needs to be developed before will close. Not a bad thing, but not low hanging fruit either.

Your aim here is to understand the customer’s needs and vision, and begin to understand (and/or help define) their high-level requirements. Once you understand their concept, you can begin to share client success stories that match their experience.

Ultimately, your goals at this stage: show interest, ask good questions, establish credibility and trust, establish their need, understand their problem and whether you can solve it if you can solve it then define how your offering resolves the problem. Be sure to tell them what your unique strengths are vis-à-vis getting delivering the solution to their problem. Happily, as you go through the process of gathering this information you’ll be building the foundation of a relationship and defining a single sales objective (SSO) that they can buy-in to. What you want to end up with is a shared vision of their needs, and of how you can solve them.

Ask additional questions, like these, to uncover their vision, needs and requirements:

What problems are you trying to solve?
What does a (winning) solution look like?
What results do you want to achieve?
Are you able to do this now? (If yes) How do you do it today? What is working and what isn’t working in your current approach?
Tell me more about what is prompting the change?

Many sales professionals feel that uncovering an opportunity that is early in development is positive because your company can set the bar in your favor by helping the customer define a vision and requirements to meet their objective in a way that aligns well with the unique strengths of your product/offering/company. You can also establish trust and credibility by the consultative nature of this type of selling process.

Defining an SSO (SSO=customer problem + your solution that customer buys into) is what normally triggers forecasting of an opportunity in time and dollars. Prior to defining an SSO, the opportunity is still in the prospecting phase. Once you have defined and have buy-in to an SSO you can begin to gather information about timing, decision budget, and decision process, etc.
On the other hand, if you learn that your customer has a well-defined need, and is ready to find, buy and implement a solution you can ask if they have documented their requirements, and if they will share that document with you.

Then you’ll want to move quickly to understand their requirements and determine their timeline, stakeholders and decision process and the process/plan they intend to use to assess solutions, as well as any steps they’ve already completed (i.e. be sure to ask about and understand the competitive landscape).

If you find that they already have an RFP (Request for Proposal) out, you may want to consider closely whether there is still an opportunity worth pursuing or if you may be too late to the game.
In either case, the answers to these additional questions will help you determine the probability of a close and timeline for forecasting the sale.

A good question to get them talking more about their process is: Tell me how you are going about finding your solution?

As a part of this discussion you will want to understand the following:
• How will they make a decision?
• Who are the stakeholders involved in the decision process?
• What are the stakeholder roles, or expertise, vis-à-vis the process?
• Who else is in the mix? I.e. competition?
• How much are they willing to spend? A good way to ask this is: Tell me what your thoughts are on spend? Or, how much are you willing to spend? What do you want to spend? How did you arrive at his amount?
• When do they want to implement?

As you gather the answers to these key questions you’ll gather more detail about where your customer is in the sales process. You will also understand how your client views your solution, strengths, and weaknesses, and as a result, you will be able to engage them on next steps. The more thoughtful the questions are that you ask, the more you will build trust with your customer.

The last point to consider: as you go along, be sure to ask questions in order to get your client to confirm that you are reading their situation correctly. You will also want to ask for their commitment to next steps and outcomes, and align these next steps with what you’ve learned about their decision process and the stakeholders that need to be involved. Non-committal replies or a hesitation to engage in next steps are red flags that indicate things are not on track.
These “trial close” questions will serve you well and will test your client’s interest in having your company provide the solution.

About Lilly Ferrick
Lilly Ferrick LLC offers services in part-time or fractional sales management, contract sales, sales process consulting, and one-on-one sales coaching. We help companies win larger, more profitable engagements, decrease length of sales cycle, manage pipeline, and improve closing rates. Please contact us to learn more, or to schedule a complimentary session.

How to Set That Meeting Sooner

Selling – it’s about the speed. Many aspects you can’t control, but the parts you can, take charge, lead the process, wait for nothing you don’t have to.

I’ve witnessed many sales professionals, be it the employee or the CEO (if they are the salesforce), be passive in getting that call or meeting with the prospect. That email looks like this:

Hi Mrs/Mr. CEO,

Last we spoke, you indicated you’d be interested in talking further with us about how we may be able to help you solve problem X.

When is a good time to connect?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Passive Peter

It should look like this. :

Hi Mrs/Mr. CEO,

Last we spoke, you indicated you’d be interested in talking further with us about how we may be able to help you solve problem X.

We have availability next Tuesday between 2-6ET, or Friday AM before noon.
Will any of these time slots work for you?
If not, please suggest a few and we can make something work on our end.

We look forward to talking next week.

Assertive Anne

You drive, not the prospect. If you sell to executives, they are accustomed to driving. If you want opportunities to get to the next stage faster, this is what that email should look like. (And mind you, that email should follow that phone call in which a voice mail probably picked up.)

About Lilly Ferrick
Lilly Ferrick LLC offers services in part-time or fractional sales management, contract sales, sales process consulting, and one-on-one sales coaching. We help companies win larger, more profitable engagements, decrease length of sales cycle, manage pipeline, and improve closing rates. Please contact us to learn more, or to schedule a complimentary session.

Get Real with your Sales Pipeline: 4 Steps to Managing that Pipeline

For many startups or small companies the CEO is the salesforce.

The good news? Most CEOs, by nature, have strong sales instincts. CEOs are passionate, accustomed to pitching ideas (and their companies) and can usually determine which relationships to target and what solution to pitch. The downside? The CEO is the sales force.

For all companies, but particularly for startups and small organizations, it is critical to forecast revenue. Investors want updates, budgets have to be managed, and talent acquired in tight alignment with growing revenue. Being able to deliver a solid sales forecast is the answer to that cliché CEO interview question – “What keeps you up at night?”

Two major challenges companies encounter when the CEO is the salesforce are bandwidth constraints and the lack of a formal sales process. These challenges can make managing the sales pipeline tough.
Introducing and committing to an ongoing process for managing and accessing your pipeline will go a long way to helping you address these challenges.

If you want a forecast you must accurately assess and manage your pipeline. Implement this 4-step plan and you’ll see the accuracy of your sales forecast improve:

1. Assess the strength of your sales opportunities so that you can focus your efforts on the right ones.

2. Determine what actions to take for each of your target opportunities: to move it forward to close, or qualify it out of the pipeline.

3. Prospect Weekly: aka, finding or engaging new opportunities – so your funnel doesn’t dry up.

4. Commit to a weekly review of your pipeline. It is dynamic and you must be disciplined to keep track of where you are and what actions are needed to move each opportunity forward.

Oh, and the last thing is most important! Don’t do this process in a vacuum. A pipeline review is not a solitary activity. If you are a small start-up or even a sole practitioner, you will need to find a teammate or a coach to participate in your weekly pipeline review.

Stay focused on the right things!

This post is the first in a series on Sales Pipeline management. Subsequent posts cover the 4-step pipeline management process in detail, and will discuss activities and specific questions that you can apply to your sales calls to help you continuously assess your opportunities and generate accurate forecasts.

About Lilly Ferrick
Lilly Ferrick LLC offers services in part-time or fractional sales management, contract sales, sales process consulting, and one-on-one sales coaching. We help companies win larger, more profitable engagements, decrease length of sales cycle, manage pipeline, and improve closing rates. Please contact us to learn more, or to schedule a complimentary session.

How Much Money Is In Your Pipeline?

Do you know? Can you quantify what’s in there? Can you reasonably estimate the likelihood of close and the time it will take to get there?

A client had with a tall order to nearly double revenue during a specified period of time. My question: “What’s in the pipeline?” Their answer, “I don’t know”.

How much is in your pipeline? To look, to count, to quantify can be unnerving. It’s what we beat ourselves up over as business owners, not knowing important stuff. Last week I HAD to do some clean-up bookkeeping. I had paid invoices I’d not marked as “paid” in nearly a year. So, my accounts receivable was deceiving me and I was nervous. Alas, I got help. “Bookkeeper, hold my hand please as we get to the real number. “ I was pleasantly surprised. I had more coming in than I expected. I’d beat myself up more than necessary. Avoidance causes me (and you) more stress, less good. We need good, pleasant surprises.

Back to that pipeline.

Put a dollar figure to every prospect you’ve connected with in the last three months that has indicated they need a solution. (They can go back in queue to be called on if it has been longer than three months. They can’t be counted as a likely buyer, even if you had the warm fuzzies when you talked.)

Did you talk about money? Hopefully so. Name that number. The next questions to answer: When did you speak with them? Where do your services/products stand as a solution for them? Was there confirmation that they would buy from someone? Was your company on the short list, i.e., are you a top three pick? If so, you can call that a 33% shot at winning the business.

If money was not discussed, you have no number unless you have a general amount of money you typically charge. If that’s the case, estimate low on both money and probability of close. I’m not skeptical. I am realistic about likelihood of purchase if money’s not been discussed and you don’t know where you stack up against other options.

For those in the pipeline in which timing and money have not been discussed, go back to the prospect and find out their intentions.Their intent determines your next actions and if the next steps involves the prospect, be sure to secure a commitment from them so your selling process has no loose ends.

Can a Communal Mindset Help You Close a Sale?

I had an insightful conversation with a missionary to Haiti, where two of my children are from. She spoke of a communal mindset where people are not inclined to “get ahead” of the pack. For those that do advance, what is gained belongs to the community. This philosophy is opposite of our American concept of climbing the ladder and living our own American dream. We are encouraged to be aggressive in our career goals, put our success first, and move on from companies/organizations when our season is over, our feathers have been ruffled too often, or our talents have outgrown the place.

Underdeveloped countries and communities may have less cash flow in their economic system but their communities are rich with regard for the whole and their dependence on one another. The whole comes first, individual desires are secondary.

How can we incorporate community minded actions into a mature business culture that focuses on driving the sale, filling the pipeline, innovating, thinking out of the box, and winning deals?

What our team commits to is to keep everyone informed, every team member is up to speed on issues, goals, and expected outcomes of a project. This communication helps us work as a cohesive team toward the same goal, one that wins for us and our client. As a project progresses, there will be fewer surprises that occur from lack of communication. The old adage rings true – “Many hands make light work.”

How Yoga Improved the Sales Process

An a-ha moment from an interesting place.

In yoga class the other morning, the teacher said, “Rather than criticize your body for what you can’t do, just make an observation.” That comment redirected my thinking through a frustrating work situation.

Our principles and methods for lead generation, managing the sales cycle, and closing deals rely heavily on process and the absence of one upsets the apple cart (mine). I first lean towards criticism, rather than observation-the application of wrong energy in places that need positivity and improvement, not criticism.

As a sales consultant I better serve our clients by assessing how to improve their sales process with the human resources they do have. The perspective, criticism and frustration removed, allowed us to optimize our client’s situation and focus on positioning them to win.

Getting A Response To Your Email

Scenario: Someone gave you a good lead or you’ve developed a lead yourself over time. These leads warrant pursuit. In either case, they’re at the top of your list to contact – whether they’re a new prospect or someone in your pipeline.

The secret to getting a response from someone is to not just use email as a standalone communication effort. Apart from making birthday wishes and blowing out candles in hopes of a response, it’s the weakest formula to use if you’re trying to make contact.

Business owners receive over 100 emails daily. I was speaking with a CEO interested in working with us. He said, “Lilly, I’m sorry I’ve not gotten back to you. I get over 100 emails a day, so thanks for your persistence.” I called, emailed, and texted multiple times over the course of three weeks. Persistence indicates your hunger. You won’t go away unless they tell you to do so. Your perseverance tells them you’re serious about making contact.

In another interaction, a VP said to me, “We’re looking forward to reconnecting on this in Q1 of 2014. We’re not ready to do this work just yet, but I know how you are Lilly. You’ll call early January and won’t let me off the hook until we do something. We want to work with you.” Here’s how I pursue this VP (Mark), and his manager (Ron):

Monday
1.Leave a voicemail for Mark: “Hi Mark, this is Lilly. I’m checking in so we can determine what happens next. Last we spoke, you indicated you would know more after budget meetings this month. I’ll send a follow-up email to this same effect. Feel free to respond electronically, if that’s easier for you.”

2.Send an email right after the voice message: “Hi Mark. We’re checking in to discuss next steps. Last we connected, you indicated that working together was probable. So, I’m reaching out to move this along. We’re available for a call {date} or {date}.” Give specific dates and times and end the email with: “Will either of these times work for you? If not, please suggest a couple of times that work for your team and we’ll make it happen.”

3.Leave a voicemail for Ron, Mark’s subordinate manager and influencer: “Hi Ron. I just left a message for Mark and am leaving one for you too. We’re working to get a call on the books to discuss what happens next. I’ll send you a follow-up email and you can respond that way, if that suits you better.”

4.Send an email to Ron, echoing what you said on the voice message and with the same content as Mark’s email.

Thursday

If you’ve not heard back, repeat what you did on Monday.

Monday
If you’ve not heard back, repeat what you did on Thursday.

The point at which you stop pursuing is blog post topic for another day. If the prospect is genuinely interested, they should respond after a couple of your efforts. If they’ve not responded, then something may have changed. How you find out that information is another set of steps we will discuss in the future.

Where Work Ends and Life Begins

On a note that has nothing to do with business and everything to do with living, I’m compelled to get personal sometimes.

I’m an adoptive mother of two Haitian-American beauties – a role more complicated and unpredictable than selling, lead generating, or closing business. In 2009, my husband and I brought home two sisters, ages 10 and 16. In my future is a book about adoption and how everyone can play a part in the global solution, without actually adopting.

Adoption touches everyone’s heart. The thought of any child being parentless, homeless, or nameless brings pain to the surface. There is a global orphan crisis. Are you open to ideas that lend yourself to solving this problem? Orphans matter and so do you. I have ideas for you, lots of them.

Although we’ve been approached on two occasions (both scenarios we turned down because they involved teenage boys), it’s unlikely we will adopt more children.. We have teen girls and a small upstairs – not a wise combination for non-birth siblings. While we’ve decided that two adopted children complete our family, we are forever committed to adoption. I am certain I’ll have grandkids from many continents. I hope reading this post will spark interest and generate ideas.

Here are a few of my ideas:
1. A dear friend is a single parent of an adoptive boy from Ethiopia. We keep him for the weekend about every six weeks so Mom gets a break.

2. A family brings home several adopted sibling girls at once. This family is not financially wealthy, only rich in heart. How about taking the girls out at the beginning of Spring to buy flip flops? $15-$20 buys a fashionable pair at Target. For less than $100, you’ve blessed the socks off an adoptive family.

3. All kids love getting new backpacks at the beginning of the school year, even if last year’s backpack is in good condition. Make a purchase of new backpacks for several adopted children.

4. Offer respite care. Adopted kids may have hurtful pasts. When they are planted in new families, this pain may surface and everyone can benefit from a break. Some behaviors are extreme or isolating and traditional parenting techniques are ineffective. Spare the advice and offer everyone a breather – a movie outing, a weekend, or offer to pay for a week of summer camp.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have any to share?

Originally posted by Lilly Ferrick at Lilly’s Blog.

What’s Your Line? Sales Communication vs. Marketing Communication

Marketing communications seeks to persuade, provoke thought, or change someone’s stance or opinion. It has more fluff, padding, and color. Nike’s tagline “Just Do It” makes me think about discipline and implies intensity. It does not lead me to buy Nike. (I’m brand loyal to Adidas’ wide-width running shoes, but Nike’s famous words do make me think.)

Sales communication is purposed to provoke decision. It is supported by persuasive marketing that lives in marketing channels like websites, newsletters, direct mail pieces, banner ads, email campaigns, etc.

There’s a concrete sense to sales communication:
-“Our company offers services that help you assess and improve your __________ to __________ ratios”.
-“We call on companies that employ upwards of 10,000 people.”
-“Our company services businesses that typically employ more than 100 people.”
-“Our company targets growth companies between $5M – $10M in annual revenues.”

Here are a few tips for developing sales communication:
-Purpose to move your prospect to act.
-Be direct, succinct, and honest.
-Scale back extra words or phrases that do not lend themselves to your effort. Omit descriptor words.
-Is it light, easy to digest, something that won’t info-overload your prospect?

If your content is easy and fast to hear/read, it’s easy and fast for your prospect to respond.

Originally posted by Lilly Ferrick at Lilly’s Blog.