Breaking Up with a Client

Happy 2018!

January offers a fresh start, a time when we make resolutions to do better, to be better. It’s also an opportunity to take stock of your business by asking three “W” questions:

  • WHAT: Are we doing the work we want to/should be doing?
  • WHO: Are we working for the right customer?
  • WHY: Is the work we are doing lucrative or moving us in the right direction?

Your business will evolve over time, as can a client’s needs, so what do you do when answers to these questions point to a client relationship that’s no longer working?

What would make you need to break up with a client?

Let’s face it: clients keep us in business. But sometimes, as in any relationship, it may be time to walk away. Breaking up is hard, especially when the other party contributes to your bottom line.

Consider this example:

Retail shop owner Claire hires marketing expert Sue to craft a strategy to increase the visibility of her store. Sue and Claire agree on objectives, budget, and schedule. Sue presents the plan to Claire, who gives her approval for Sue to proceed. Halfway through the execution of the plan, which is working as expected, Claire decides she wants to modify the approach, believing her new plan will magnify their results. As a professional marketer, Sue immediately sees issues with Claire’s adjustments and raises her concerns. Sue points out that not only will Claire’s strategy fail to achieve the agreed-upon objectives, it will also undermine the work they have done to-date. Sue tries unsuccessfully to reach a compromise with Claire, who insists that Sue move forward with executing her new (flawed) plan, with the expectation that it will produce amplified results. Sue is in a bind. Not only has her professional advice been ignored, but she knows that if she continues with Claire’s plan, it will not produce the desired outcomes, reflecting poorly on her.

Sue is clearly in a no-win situation, and her best option is to “break up” with Claire before her reputation is damaged. You may also need to break up with a client if:

  • Your client’s goals and/or the approach to reach them differ from your own.
  • Your professional partnership has stalled, with neither party experiencing growth.
  • You feel instinctively that an issue exists with the relationship. (Refer to our “Measuring the Hunch” blog post for ways to test your theory.)

How do you prepare for a break up?

Think of breaking up as pruning a shrub; you must cut off the old to allow new growth to flourish. These steps will walk you through what to consider prior to a breakup:

  • First, you must be able to clearly articulate the reasons for the breakup. If you cannot state why you want to dissolve the relationship, it’s in your best interests to reflect further on the decision.
  • Next, assess the impact of the breakup on both your and your client’s business. Be prepared to address any issues that may fall out. For example, if your client will require further support, be ready to make a recommendation for another service that could help them.
  • Then, prepare for the financial implications of the breakup. Fill your pipeline to replace lost income and adjust expenses as necessary.
  • Finally, prepare your internal team for the breakup. Ensure they communicate the same reasons for the breakup and that you are all on the same page with respect to timing.

It’s time to break up. How do you do it?

Follow these guidelines to make your client breakup as smooth as possible:

  • Don’t delay. Once you’ve prepared for the breakup, act quickly. The goal is start the new year fresh.
  • Express gratitude for your professional relationship to-date.
  • Explain the rationale for the breakup. Keep the reasons simple and avoid over-explaining.

After the breakup – what next?

Post-breakup is an excellent time for active self-reflection and recalibration. Ask yourself:

  • Where did this client relationship go off-course?
  • What could they or we have done differently?
  • How can we avoid the same mistakes moving forward?

Breaking up with a client is a big step.  By “pruning the branches,” you’re allowing for more energy and focus on growth and creativity.  What you learn from the breakup may propel you onto greater things, so be optimistic! It is a new year, after all!

How to Derail “Send me the presentation.”

“Send me the presentation.”

As a salesperson, these four words are equivalent to the kiss of death for a burgeoning business relationship. In my experience, this request is (polite) code for, “I am remotely interested, but not wowed enough to take this relationship further.” Or perhaps, “There are some good things here, so I’m going to email your presentation around the office. Once we’ve gleaned all the information we want, the file will be placed in a folder and we’ll forget all about it (and you).”

Too often I’ve seen potential relationships fizzle out when a well-meaning salesperson gives in to a request for an electronic copy of the deck used in a meeting. How do you break this pattern? It starts by understanding your role in the sales process.

A sales meeting should have a specific agenda, set by you, the salesperson. Prior to the meeting, you and your colleagues must determine the answers to two critical questions:

  • What are we asking of the prospect?
  • What commitment or action do we want in response?

The ball is in your court. At the beginning of the meeting, you lay out the agenda.  At the end of the meeting, ask your prospect for their thoughts. Listen. Answer questions. Don’t sell. If what you offer is right for the prospect, you’ll know it. If both you and the prospect agree your solution is viable for them, you define what subsequent actions each of you will take. This is when you ask for the next interaction, if necessary, making sure to include all interested parties.

When you’re in control of the sales process, the odds are on your side that you’ll avoid the kiss of death. Sometimes, however, people in the sales process are new to working together, roles are not clearly defined, or the team finds themselves on the defensive. You may also discover that the prospect has their own way of moving, which will alter the flow of the meeting. I’ve been in situations where I’ve held back so I could better understand the prospect’s dynamics or keep them from feeling overwhelmed, thereby sacrificing some control.

In such cases, when the dreaded presentation request cannot be avoided, honesty is the best policy.

“Sure, Ms. Prospect. I’d be happy to send over the deck. My one reservation is that when we’ve done so before, it is difficult to keep the conversation alive. So, if we send it, can we also agree to set up our next interaction, be it a call or in-person meeting, to keep the ball rolling?”

People like a straight-forward approach. It’s polite and is not a dishonest sales tactic. It feels like the truth — because it is — and a good prospect will be comfortable with the truth. Moments like this show the prospect you can be trusted, you want the business, and you expect to move forward. Building trust allows you to resume control of the conversation.

Do you need help avoiding or navigating the kiss of death? We’re available to help you win new accounts, improve your selling skills, and implement best practices that will positively impact your selling process.

Measuring the Hunch

Intuition is a powerful tool in a business setting. Sometimes, a situation just “feels” right (or wrong) and it makes sense to trust our instincts. However, relying on hunches shouldn’t be the basis for your sales strategy. But what if you could measure those hunches? What if you could take a feeling and turn it into facts?

Consider this example:

Bob has had considerable success selling his company’s technology services to small- to medium-sized insurance companies. He’s developed a great relationship with a client named Jill. In fact, Jill likes Bob so much that she introduces him to her neighbor Tom, who happens to be an administrator at a local private school. Tom and Bob hit it off and, before you know it, Tom’s school becomes Bob’s newest customer. Based on this experience, Bob has a hunch that he should explore selling into the education industry.

Bob now has a choice:

  • He can continue to focus specifically on the insurance industry, where he has a proven track record, and chalk the new relationship with Tom’s school up to good fortune. In doing so, is he ignoring a viable and untapped market?
  • He can divert his sales efforts to the education sector. This will require a learning curve and a new contact base, but the payoff could be great. Or it could fizzle out. Given that there are only so many hours in the day, is the time Bob will put into developing this new sector worth the risk of missing out on acquiring more business in the insurance industry, which has already proved to be a successful market?

Rather than move blindly into this new industry segment, a fact-based assessment can be used to measure Bob’s hunch and determine the viability of the market. Outreach to a sampling of prospects in the education industry can provide measurable data about whether his technology services are a good fit. With the right information, Bob can decide to follow his hunch or not without sacrificing sales along the way.

Measuring the hunch is a systematic way to use metrics to drive your sales strategy and process. It can be applied in a variety of sales situations:

  • You have a database full of prospects, but are concerned they are not the decision-makers. Your hunch can be validated or refuted by reaching out and ascertaining the prospects’ authority and interest in your company.
  • Your sales team gets potential customers to the finish line, but repeatedly fails to close the deal. You have a hunch that something specific in the sales process is being ignored or overlooked. Your theory can be tested by probing into the key questions that are left off the table during the sales process.
  • You’ve got a hunch that sales are down because you’re having a tough time connecting with your target audience. A variety of approaches can be used to identify key areas of focus and breakdowns in the sales process.

Intuition is helpful, but a sales strategy based on measurable data takes away unnecessary risk and positions your sales team for a greater chance of success. If you have a hunch you’d like measured, we are here to help!

How to (REALLY) Get Through to Your Prospect

Aim to find three prospects inside the company: decision makers, influencers, or someone who will refer you to the right person.

When clients have databases built for the purpose of selling to their ideal prospects, most of what we see is an attempt to reach only one person, per company- a division head, VP, or CEO. It makes sense. But it’s not enough.

If the companies you are calling on are small(er), and you know there’s only one decision-maker or influencer, then continue to call on just that one person. However, if the company is larger, your ideal prospect will be anyone with the power to make a decision or to influence amongst dominant peers.

When you have confirmed that there is more than once influencer, what you don’t want to do is put all of them in queue for your inside sales person or lead generator to make multiple calls to a few people in one week – yes, we’ve seen this happen, so we have to say it. It may be obvious but not to everyone. This looks bad. It can look to your client like desperation or (sales) operational sloppiness. Your prospect should sense assertiveness from you, not annoyance.

As an example, here’s an easy formula and it looks like this in the calling cycle. First, we recommend starting at the top of the organization or division:

President of Company (person #1)
4x contact process (call/email)
Call in September

Senior VP (person #2)
4x contact process (call/email)
Start calling process in October if no success with person #1

Director (person #3)
4x contact process (call/email)
Start calling process in November if no success with person #2

Each calling cycle can take up to two weeks, maybe longer if you find out they are out of office for any length of time. You can start calling the next person right after, or wait until the beginning of the next month. If the only numbers you have send you through to the same receptionist, you may have to schedule them a month out, lest he/she will pick up on your pattern of calling nearly everyone in the executive suite. Both ways work. It’s the principle of creating and maximizing your opportunity to gain a conversation.

If you’ve not been successful at getting through to the first person, when you start calling on the second person, SVP in this instance, it’s ok to even reference that you’ve called on their boss. People like transparency. I don’t know of any concrete evidence to the efficacy of this, but we do it and it feels natural: “Hi Brenda, this is Lilly Ferrick from the ABC Company. We left a couple of messages for John Buyer but did not hear back from him. We offer XYZ services for companies that (insert criteria here)…..”

Your objective is to connect with someone who carries the power to influence or decide. Unlike UPS or FedEx, who can drop the package at the nearest door in plain view, then text you that the package was dropped, you have to knock on multiple doors to get attention and win that first conversation.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.