Takeaways from a LinkedIn Seminar–Making the Most of It

August 18, 2011

On the heels of our successful LinkedIn public seminar, we were treated to a glowing write up by one of the attendees.  An experienced internet and social network user, we considered her insights valuable.  She summed up her perspectives in a blog, “LinkedIn—Making the Most of It,” (http://bit.ly/ooQVvS).

I particularly enjoyed the comment that, “It is possible to get fixated on Connections and not see the value of all the layers of information available to every member.”  Very well put, and it addresses a common complaint that LinkedIn is primarily for recruiters and job seekers.  Indeed, she goes on to point out what was shared:  Connections are extremely valuable and important, but it is how you use them that makes the difference.

And so to the main point.  I find it enlightening, every time we discuss LinkedIn as a business development tool, to see what others take away as the greatest piece of information learned.  In this case, it was the ability of LinkedIn—and you, as the personal connection—to help others within your network who may be of benefit to each other.  That’s right.  It’s not about what others can do for you, but how you can help others.  That is a blog all by itself.  For now, take a look at Stringing Words Together and feel free to subscribe to the Good Growth blog and hers.  She is always a good read.

You can subscribe to the Good Growth blog, join our LinkedIn group, Sales Effectiveness (http://linkd.in/ql6C81), and follow Opus Partners’ company page on LinkedIn (http://linkd.in/ozpa8K).  We’re also on Twitter (@GoodGrowth) and have an Opus Partners Fan Page on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/qAFrPj). 


Value Selling vs. Price Selling

July 28, 2011

I read an article in Inc.com about selling on value vs. price (http://bit.ly/pGk1vd).  It makes some valuable points, though I believe others are missing that are equally important.

The article begins by stating that you need to target your prospects, but I believe this is more than ”researching the potential client to see if they are a good candidate to meet your price needs.”  (I’ve written blogs on the topic of negotiating price and its relationship to value.)  It is important to identify your ideal prospect on multiple levels and ask questions to decide if there’s a fit.  This takes about an hour of time and is worth it.

A key missing piece is—What questions are you asking to clearly identify client needs?  Inc. talks a lot about presenting and “wielding the full weight of your company’s strengths.”  Shouldn’t one of those be asking clarifying questions to ensure you’re on the right track?

For most of us (I’ve been on the giving and receiving ends of these situations), presentations are a bore.  As the prospect, I am sitting with you because I already have done my own research on you and your company, probably checked references, and have a sense of your capabilities.  I have enough confidence to bring you in.

What I want to know is how are you going to learn about me and my company and solve my real needs?  Talking at me is unlikely to achieve this result.

I enjoyed some of the points in the article, including its premise that “selling on value, not price, involves a balance of confidence, personal rapport, and doing your homework.”  Yet it felt a bit outdated.  It focused on selling and presenting.  It only briefly touched on building rapport, which is such a key component to developing long-term business relationships.  Rapport is based on trust, and hopefully is nurtured during the thoughtful exchange before contracts are signed.

Another point to add:  Today’s market is buyer-focused.  It’s become a bit of a cliché.  We call it the buying process, not the selling process.  It’s more than a matter of semantics, don’t you think?  This mentality shifts the focus away from you, your bravado and presentations, and works to identify client needs.

There is also another aspect regarding price that was overlooked.  Assuming the seller has done their homework, you can discuss budget parameters, but it is often good to step back and summarize what you’ve heard throughout your conversations.  In all fairness, each situation is different and the Inc. article points to generalities.  However, if you have the opportunity to send a summarizing document and be sure you’re on track, a brief follow up conversation can be held.  That’s when to discuss price.  A question we have found to be helpful is:  “How does this fit with your budget?”  Simple and direct.

Confidence, another factor mentioned, is certainly important, though it needs to be balanced by recognition that you don’t know everything.  Prospects want to know you’re going to ask questions to learn their specific business challenges and understand their needs, not sell a cookie-cutter solution.

I would offer that this article would be best turned upside down.  Begin with a focus on building rapport with the client and understanding needs and company background.  Begin by incorporating personal touches. (Yes, we believe strongly in the value of personal, hand-written thank you notes.)  Go in knowing that value is long term and that’s what’s important to your business relationship—and growth.  If the first few questions focus on price, than either a) you didn’t do your homework and/or b) you didn’t ask qualifying questions before your meeting.

It is the steps you take to discover and connect that ultimately get you to that all-important meeting.  Hopefully it will be an exchange and not a presentation with you, the salesperson, speaking most of the time.  The 80/20 rule is certainly the topic of another blog.

The prospect already invited you to the party.  Be a gracious, thoughtful guest.

You can subscribe to the Good Growth blog, join our LinkedIn group, Sales Effectiveness (http://linkd.in/ql6C81), and follow Opus Partners’ company page on LinkedIn (http://linkd.in/ozpa8K).  We’re also on Twitter (@GoodGrowth) and have an Opus Partners Fan Page on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/qAFrPj). 

Trust: Why It Matters Most to Business Growth

July 22, 2011

Lately there have been some questionable business practices exposed by the media.  Regardless of the size of the organization, one point is obvious—these companies will have a hard time, if ever, of shaking their reputations as scoundrels.

They have broken the sacred trust bond.

Charles Green, in his book Trust-Based Selling has an equation that we find is a powerful reminder to our clients of the power of trust:

TQ = C + R + I / S

The trust quotient = the level of credibility + reliability + intimacy divided by self-orientation.

Let’s start with the denominator.  Recalll your days of school algebra.  If the bottom number is high, the end result will be smaller.  So, the first important factor is minimizing the “me” orientation of many salespeople.

You need to build a relationship.  If you were out on a date with someone who droned on about themselves, you likely would not go out again.  It is a one-way interaction.  Successful relationships must be two-way and, in the best of these, each party carefully listens to the other to see how they can help each other and give.  Business growth—for you and them—depends on this exchange.

Credibility and reliability are gained by what you ask, your experience and how responsive you are with your actions.  Some of this is hard data.  The final piece, intimacy, is important, reflecting how you share and open yourself up to the person, offering assistance to the new acquaintance and others.  In today’s more transparent environment, it is easier to get a sense of how someone interacts.  Doing a quick search can put information at your fingertips to answer some questions.  Is this person:

  • Too self-promotional?
  • Overly critical?
  • Collaborative?
  • Actively offering advice and insights?

In addition, there are always ways, such as LinkedIn, to determine who knows your contact and do a quick check of credentials, etc.

I would go so far as to say that the TQ equation points to value, which is a key component of trust.  (Value is the subject of a future blog.)  In every instance, where there is someone I trust, it is the result of their providing value to me in one way or another during the developing stages of our relationship.  They assisted me and I them.

People trust those who have gone out of their way to help.  It’s the giving principle.  Trust and value are inextricably linked.  It is in the process of articulating value and developing mutual respect in a relationship that trust is enhanced.

In a previous blog on negotiating, we raised a question in a LinkedIn group:  How well are you articulating value and building trust before negotiating on price?  One response, from Steven Forth, CEO of LeveragePoint Innovations, Inc., said, “I think articulating value, which shows an understanding of your customer’s business, is a good way to build trust.” 

It’s also good for business growth.

How do you give and add value?  What have you done to improve your TQ?

You can subscribe to the Good Growth blog, join our LinkedIn group, Sales Effectiveness (http://linkd.in/ql6C81), and follow Opus Partners’ company page on LinkedIn (http://linkd.in/ozpa8K).  We’re also on Twitter (@GoodGrowth) and have an Opus Partners Fan Page on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/qAFrPj). 


Social Media: No Magic Talisman for Sales Success

July 18, 2011

I read a terrific blog today by Shoba entitled, ”The Challenge of Social Media—Keep Realistic Expectations” (http://bit.ly/qrS4Vs).  It offers a perspective on the concerns by many businesses to attempt to qualify and quantify sales successes attributable to social media.

Indeed there are many self-proclaimed “experts” on the topic, but those who have read my blogs in the past know what I think of those claiming such status in a field that is constantly changing, and therefore allowing no one to call themselves that.

Indeed, Shoba is correct that social media must be part of a bigger picture.  As a sales and marketing professional accustomed to linking the two areas and having to justify expenses in both, there is never a clear cut equation that $X marketing + $Y sales = enormous increased revenue.  There are just too many variables and individual human characteristics and behaviors that contribute to success.  If you are lucky, your x + y is exponential in terms of generated results.

And that’s the rub.  Finance types (no disrespect intended) need and want the clarity of an equation.  An investment of $X = ROI of Y.  But that just isn’t going to happen.

With social media, like all forms of marketing, public relations and sales initiatives, it is one piece of a much larger whole.  Assuming you have a plan and are professional, activity in social media can help you and your company gain credibility, improve SEO, provide better word-of-mouth recognition, and keep you top of mind with your target audience.

Importantly, many people lose sight of the integration—and collaboration—aspect.  Neither marketing (and public relations as a part of it) nor sales alone can attain the rate of success that they can together.  As a matter of fact, one of my main career tasks has been aligning marketing with sales.  Marketing materials and messaging needs to reflect what potential and existing customers want, and sales, in turn, must consistently communicate to marketing what they hear in the field.  Two often, without input, salespeople leave material provided by marketing in their offices because they know this information misses the boat in terms of what customers want and need.

My favorite point is the one that remains tried and true for most business ventures: it is a long-term strategy.  Expecting some magic talisman to increase sales has never worked, and social media is no exception.

You can subscribe to the Good Growth blog, join our LinkedIn group Sales Effectiveness (http://linkd.in/ql6C81) and follow Opus Partners on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (http://on.fb.me/qAFrPj). 

Is It Really About Price? Negotiating—Part 2

July 12, 2011

It seems that my previous blog on negotiating (http://wp.me/pxX8q-2d) hit a nerve with folks.  And that perhaps I was not clear enough regarding negotiations based on price.

Let’s begin by saying that in our experience, if one has articulated value and built trust throughout the dialogue leading to the final stages of reaching an agreement, price is NOT a deciding factor.  As many respondents on LinkedIn said, there is a need for balance and fairness in the conversation.  It should not be an adversarial relationship, pitting buyer against service provider.  Hopefully throughout the process, a relationship has been established based on trust.  Two books are fantastic resources on this topic, Charles Green’s Trust-Based Selling and Fisher, Ury and Patton’s Getting to Yes.  (Thanks to Karen Jackson for the reminder on the second one.)

Realistically, a company has a budget and the service provider should be sensitive to it.  However, during the dialogue, the budgeting parameters are often part of the resource conversation.  That is to say, in discussing investments—time, personnel, etc.,–any real financial constraints or concerns are raised.

By so doing, a prospect makes clear the level of priority for the project and the service provider/consultant should offer a solution that comes close to addressing the business challenge while being within ALL resource guidelines.

Compromise more often than not addresses value and principles, and has a high emotional component.  There is a more negative connotation because it is often perceived by one party that they are deviating from a desired goal and are giving something up.  Given the nature of consulting, this human relationship component is key.  If one party is not happy, it sets a shaky foundation for moving forward.

Goals should be covered early in the discovery phase with the prospect.  The question should be asked:  If necessary, what objectives should be pushed aside given resource limitations?  By the time numbers are discussed, both parties should be close.  Yes, that is the ideal, and usually we’ve been on the mark.

Negotiating, on the other hand, is derived from the Latin word meaning “to transact business.”  Interestingly, in searching both online and in the Oxford English Dictionary, nowhere is negotiate listed as synonymous with compromise.  Rather, it is about reaching an agreement.  Perhaps the project goal is a compromise, and that is something that takes place early on in the process while setting objectives and reaching agreement based on those.  Negotiating, if handled properly, merely is the final step to “carry on business.”

Thanks again to those who added their insights and perspectives on this issue, especially members of the LinkedIn group Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF) who live and breathe these issues daily.  One professional said that “dignity and grace…[are required] in the negotiations process…to build relationships on trust.”  I agree that these characteristics are central to trusted relationships.  I would add that these need to be exhibited behaviors in the process of discovery and carried through to the end.  Trust must already be present.

In the words of the 18th century English poet and writer Samuel Johnson, “It is difficult to negotiate where neither will trust.”

The Price is Right—or Not: Should You Negotiate?

July 7, 2011

Every once in awhile I have a serendipitous moment, when I’m thinking something and—BAM! (as Emeril would say)—I read a piece on the same or similar topic.

Such was the case the other day.  I saw a blog by a friend and former colleague Andy Eklund on negotiating (http://goo.gl/VvqMA).  He focuses on the creative process, we focus on sales, and I enjoy the similarities in how we think.  There are also some differences because of the nature of our two distinct businesses.

Awhile ago, our company, Opus Partners, Inc., announced its offering of a public seminar on Social Sales Effectiveness.  We set a price for the 3-hour session, offering an early bird discount.  One of the first respondents asked if we’d reduce our cost, offering no explanation as to her rationale.  (In fact, this same person had previously been a recipient of our expertise at a free seminar that we’d done for marketing purposes and said she found it quite useful.)

Though we’d facilitated countless sessions on the same topic for established clients, we were new to the paid public seminar experience.  So I wondered: were we being unreasonable?  Before publicizing, we’d asked folks who’d originally prompted us to do this if the price was right.  The response was universal—it was a bargain!  Then I searched on the internet and found a similar seminar that was almost twice the price!  I decided our offering was more than fair.  If this person saw the value, fine.  If not, so be it.  And I now can happily report that our seminar was well attended.

It’s hard to know when and how to negotiate, especially when the economy is far from robust.  I agree with the advice Andy learned early in his career that negotiating is good business and it should not be taken personally.  I have to say though that I never get into price “wars,” and find myself negotiating very infrequently

I attribute this to several factors:

  1. First and foremost, we qualify prospects.  Someone once said that we ask superior quality questions that get to the heart of the challenges facing a business.  That means asking some tough questions up front to determine early on if we should even take this prospect beyond the first conversation.
  2. We look for red flags.  What potential obstacles are there to working with this client?  Are there market factors, internal issues, personality concerns, etc.?
  3. We commit time for discovery.  We prepare to dedicate 1-2 hours to research our prospect, develop appropriate questions and have an initial 30- to 60-minute discussion before submitting an SOW (statement of work) outlining our proposed solutions.  You need to be sure that you have the information you need to begin the solution process.
  4. We articulate our value.  We are sure to explain how we can help and secure client buy-in.  We educate our prospect about certain realties and simultaneously clarify how we might be part of the solution.
  5. We are prepared to accept the fact that sometimes people either a) negotiate for its own sake and/or b) will not see the value.  Usually in the latter case, our fundamental values are not in agreement or even at odds.  And we part friends.
  6. We recognize that it’s all about relationships.  We develop relationships that are, to quote Andy, “honest, candid and constructive.”  In a competitive situation, the relationship with your prospect can be the difference between turning them into a client or not.  We happily report that our “win” rate—our ability to turn incoming prospects into clients—is over 60%.  We don’t respond to blanket RFPs.
  7. We always ask about the anticipated budget.  In our experience, we do this after the initial 2 hours of discovery and discussion.  We chalk it up to the cost of sale.  We also break out components of the SOW.  Only then, after we have a clearer understanding of client needs, agreed upon roles in the project, and objectives to be obtained, do we discuss the final investment.  At that point, if there are concerns, we are clear what, if anything, can be cut and its likely impact on the overall success and desired results of the project.

In summary, we are judicious about any negotiating.  There have been times when the number we quote is mostly inflexible.  That’s because we know what works—how long it takes and what, as consultants, we need to invest.  We’ve been doing it in excess of a combined 55+ years.  It’s not perfection, but we know better than to mess with it.

And to the woman who may or may not come to our seminar, that’s fine.  If you walk into a relationship only concerned about price, it’s a very rocky start and unlikely to be fruitful.  We’re in it for the long haul.  And, as Andy said, we aren’t going to “go soft on [our] principles.”

Checking Credentials: Are They Who They Say They Are?

June 23, 2011

This is a bit of a tangent for this blog, but I felt it was an important issue for business effectiveness and how the internet can help achieve this.  So please allow this indulgence…

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend by some to claim to have done surprisingly remarkable things, including speaking before vast audiences at elite schools or organizations.  When someone tells you they’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of people, declare themselves expert on a given subject and have charisma, most of us, being trusting folks, are likely to believe.

That’s fine if you’re attending a seminar and they actually provide valuable insight.  However, it’s a different story if you are paying for this person’s expertise or thinking of hiring them.

The world is not dominated by charlatans, but there are plenty out there.  In the current economy, with stiffer competition and an increased need to stand out from the crowd, some people are taking liberties and engaging in hyperbole when presenting their “experience and expertise.”  (I’m being gracious here).

As a professional, who prides herself on honesty and integrity, I find this offensive and harmful—to me as a consultant and to businesses that fall prey to such lies.  Thankfully, the internet can help to sort a few things out.  People can claim many things, but how do you know if this is smoke and mirrors or the person is credible?

Simply begin with a Google search.  Carefully check the link.  Is it a LinkedIn profile, Facebook page or company website that is specifically geared to be self-promoting?

Allow me to give an example.  If I type in my name, company and the word speaker after, “Virginia Steinberg Opus speaker,” the only references that pop up are my professional networks.  That’s accurate.  I haven’t spoken publicly for some time.

Now let’s try something different.  If I type my colleague’s name, Opus and the word speaker, “David Leaver Opus speaker,” an entire page lists references to speaking engagements.  The first two are Opus Partners’ pages, but the third is a url for MENG.  There are also links to the IMC, the Institute of Management Consultants USA, and a Facebook recommendation by another individual for the insights David shared one evening.

Frankly, the more elite the claim, the more likely I want to confirm it.  Places like the Ivies, Seven Sisters, Oxford…you get the idea.  In fact, I know David spoke recently at a Wharton alumni function, so I tried “David Leaver Wharton.”  Viola!  The first is a link to the Wharton website.

I don’t tend to be a “glass is half empty” person, but having encountered this recently, I found this alarming and disturbing.  Be sure you know who you are dealing with, especially if the news seems sudden and somewhat implausible.  Let me finish by saying this:  I now check anyone wishing to speak before any organizations with which I am affiliated, and ask that other groups do the same.  You might be surprised at what you don’t find.

Deriving Excellence from Employees: Nurturing and Encouraging

June 14, 2011

I had a conversation with a colleague that went something like this:  We were discussing coaching of his two children and the differences he was experiencing with each.

“The oldest has such a good sense of the game and how to play,” he said.  “The other seems scattered, uncertain where to go, and lacks intensity.”

Granted we’re discussing 9- and 12-year olds.  I asked if perhaps my coach friend had similar misgivings with his youngest several years back.  He thoughtfully acknowledged that he had, though the eldest seemed more naturally gifted and engaged from the outset.

That got me to thinking.  It seems easier to encourage people and build on an already existing and demonstrated talent, and more challenging when no clear “gift” has emerged—yet.

So does this mean that the second child (in this case) is destined to fall short of the successes of the first?

I would argue no.

I see a natural parallel between this example and workplace employees. You hire people because you see talent, skills and behavioral characteristics that you believe fit with your company.  It’s what you do after that can make a difference.

Countless people I’ve encountered had rough starts in their careers or at particular jobs, and I’m happy to report, subsequently achieved phenomenal success.  Sometimes this meant changing careers or companies, but often it was a mentor or supervisor who put in time and effort to nurture still unrealized talents and resources of the employee.

On the flip side, I think it is easier to encourage when you see someone doing well.  Encouragement may be all the incentive an already performing individual needs to continue to produce good results.  Encouraging bosses tend to focus on employees already performing above expectations.  They view their goal as making the individual go the extra step to greatness.

Nurturing requires going a bit deeper—looking through the prism from a different angle.  Identifying the skill set and then applying it differently may be the key to success.  It’s about taking untapped talents and applying them to the right job.

Both are nurturing and encouragement are important.  But it takes a really superb leader—a mentor—to tap into an underdeveloped skill, lead it to success and encourage excellence.  Recognizing the difference and when one is required instead of the other is the mark of a great leader—and of a corporate culture that is highly individual and appreciates each employee for who they are.

Fear of Writing—Status Updates, Blogs, Emails,…

May 31, 2011

I like to say I play at writing.  That’s not to diminish the fact that I can indeed write.  However, I distinguish between the fact that I feel I put words on paper in a relatively coherent fashion and other people make words come alive.  They can write.

Many people cringe at the mere thought of even composing status updates.  I understand and empathize.  Ever since we’re in elementary school, more often than not we are told to “work” on our writing; that it could be improved upon, etc.  That’s all true.  Like any subjective matter, though guided by certain rules, what is excellence to one might be mediocrity to another.

So status updates on social networks, writing blogs, even drafting emails can be moments of writing paralysis in which one feels incredibly insecure.  What should I say?  How can I make the best impression?  How can I engage the reader to want to learn more about me and what I can do for them?

Fear not.  Particularly in a day and age in which grammar is all but forgotten, if you are generally articulate, you usually pass the test and avoid risk of embarrassment.

Perhaps the concern is how to be both professional and human while sharing an insight.  While there is a demarcation between sharing experiences and expertise and revealing too much, the rule of thumb usually is to be yourself.

There are ways to incorporate familiarity into professional writing and business-like ways to share personal experiences.  To some extent this is dictated by two factors: 1) your style of communication and 2) the depth of your relationship with the intended recipient.  Some people are more casual than others and that can be reflected in what they post and the language they use.  Others have a more formal style.

When in doubt, err on the side of being more formal rather than less, but always try to insert some element that makes what you are writing non-generic.

As far as subject matter for your status updates, that’s the subject of a future blog.  As long as I don’t have writer’s paralysis…

Beyond the Basics: The Art of the LinkedIn Invitation

May 24, 2011

Recently, I’ve been struck by how people connect with each other on LinkedIn, both the language they use and their response to invitations.  Frankly, it seems some folks need to brush up on their etiquette.  Granted, the internet is a whole new ballgame, where people often don’t use salutations or complimentary closings, but it seems certain social graces should still apply:

  1. Personal invitation.  LinkedIn has a rather perfunctory default invitation: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”  Everyone is capable of writing something a bit more personal, and you should.  This is about making a connection and that means you need to treat the contact as an individual.  At least some pleasantry about how you noticed them on LI, reference how much you enjoyed working with them, etc…You get the idea.
  1. Give first.  Taking the above a step further, in addition to expressing a desire to catch up with them and inquire how your contact is doing, etc., you should mention that part of your goal is to help them with their work.  A relationship develops when both parties work for the benefit of each other.  Be the first to offer.
  1. Write back.  It can be quite frustrating to extend a thoughtful invitation only to have the recipient click “accept” without any personal response.  While I understand people are busy, would dropping a simple “nice to hear from you” along with the acceptance be too much to ask?  When I receive these responses, it offers a wonderful opportunity to begin a dialogue on the way to strengthening the relationship.
  1. Pick up the phone.  If you’re connected without the courtesy of a response, pick up the phone and call.  Something like, “I’m so glad we’ve reconnected.  I figured I’d give a call so we could catch up…”  Many people will be shocked that you even picked up the phone.  Lately it seems phones are only good to take messages or send and receive texts or emails.
  1. Look at your connection’s groups and books they’ve read . Ideally before picking up the phone, take a peek at your new or newly reconnected contact and see what groups they belong to and what they’re reading.  This is as personal as LI gets, and provides insights into the contact’s hobbies and interests.  It also makes it easier to reestablish a relationship and build on it.

So go ahead and try these steps next time you reach out to someone or they contact you.  You’ll be surprised at how much more pleasant and fruitful the experience is.