Posts Tagged ‘sales’

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). 


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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). 

Value Consulting: “Work with Me, Don’t Tell Me What to Do”

March 22, 2011

Good leaders don’t hire consultants to tell them what to do.   And good consultants don’t tell people what to do.

The best consultants ask questions that help the leader see and prioritize issues, and incorporate the executive’s expertise and knowledge of their organization to develop solutions.  Leaders can include, but are certainly not limited to, CEOs, CFOs, Sales VPs, managers, and anyone leading a team from which revenue generation is demanded.

It’s a collaborative process, with the consultant and leader working as partners to address the company’s challenges.    To become a trusted advisor, consultants must demonstrate the value they can bring to solving a business need by raising concerns that will get to the heart of the matter.

I am always stunned and more than a bit perplexed by businessmen who, after 15 minutes of conversation ask, “So what do you think I should do to solve this problem?”    My response (after counting to 10 in my head) is to ask how they know this is the main problem?  Then I point out that while there are several possible solutions to the perceived challenge, as an astute executive he/she likely knows these obvious fixes already.

I proceed to ask 2-3 questions in addition to the one just posed to get them to think and demonstrate that not only do I refuse to take a cookie cutter approach (because it never works), but that I am interested in providing the right solution for specific needs.  My value comes in providing an outside perspective and asking tough questions to unearth the real issues holding a company back from its desired success.  Some sample questions that have worked to jumpstart the thinking process include:

  • What are the reasons you are focusing on this issue now?
  • What is the ideal outcome you would like to achieve?   How will you measure success?
  • How will these changes impact the bottom line?  Revenue?  Costs?

If, as a consultant, I tell you what to do, there’s no ownership, investment or collaboration.   The odds are that once I walk away, whatever advice I’ve shared, training I’ve done, sessions I’ve facilitated, will not be followed through.  And that’s where you are going to see the results that will grow your business.

If, however, I’ve worked with you and you’ve put your thought and brainpower into developing the solution(s), you feel a stronger connection and see the value.   You have engaged in a process of self-realization, recognizing what your company needs to succeed.   Follow through will be something you want to do—not just because someone told you.

Social Media for Business Growth: What is Your Plan?

October 26, 2009

This past week, we conducted three presentations for a client on the use of social media to grow business.  Being big proponents of online and offline means to increase sales and revenue, we found ourselves preaching messages that recur every time the topic of new media arises. 

You’re on LinkedIn, have friends on Facebook, hundreds of followers on Twitter, post videos on YouTube.  You participate in numerous networking groups, have a well-done website, blog regularly, email your customers.  This all sounds wonderful, but have you asked yourself:

What are my business objectives?

  • How does social media fit in with my current online and offline marketing and sales initiatives?
  • What do I hope to achieve? 
  • How and with what frequency will I communicate with my contacts?
  • How does this help me develop a deeper relationship with customers and prospects?   

It is easy to get caught up in the hoopla of networking and social media, or alternatively be entirely skeptical of the merits of all this hard work.

Somewhere in between is the practical reality of what social media CAN do for your business.  For people who know me, they’ve heard this before and I can almost hear them laughing when I say it again:  The key to successfully networking and using social media effectively is to have a written plan that outlines your goals, objectives, action items, timetable and metrics to measure what is working .

At the end of the day, the result you want to see is “good growth” for your business.  Experts in social media seem to be everywhere, but what you need to do is gauge what is going to increase the revenue for your company.  Which tools are best?  Social media is a tool, not a strategy.  It is a group of tactics that must always align with business objectives in order to be effective.

A Friend Indeed: The Changing Social Contract

October 20, 2009

Recently, a good friend and professional for whom I have high regard, George Tomko, wrote a compelling blog entitled “A Friend in Need, is a Friend Indeed” (http://www.ciorant.net/?p=226).  In it he discussed the changing nature of the work environment and what this meant for relationships—between companies and employees and within professional circles.  Especially as more people continue to be downsized (is that the current term being used?), the depth of connections takes on a bigger role. 

The reality is that the social contract between employee and employer has been shifting for years.  Whether we like it or not, it isn’t going to go back to the good ‘ole days.  People hoping to secure a job for a longer term need to improve skill sets, be visible, and really add value to their organization.  The rise of corporate mediocrity is less able to be the case these days.

In the words of Martha Stewart, “This is a good thing.”  Now the search for and pool of talent extends well beyond the traditional corporate environment, and includes people who are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves, increase efficiencies at the companies they work for or clients they serve.  They will be the real winners.  Performance measurements include more than being seen at the office. The shape of employment has forever been altered.

That means that all professionals need to be connected—in a genuine way.  I like to say that it needs to be without an agenda. In other words, do it because you know these “friends,” “connections,” and “followers” are truly people who trust you and who you trust in return, and for whom you would be willing to extend yourself.  Knowing who these people are is particularly important, regardless of whether you are experiencing trying times or not.  The quality of your network matters more now than ever before.  Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Who’s Got Your Back” offers a wonderful take on this.

In an age of transparency, it is so obvious when someone builds up their network quickly, at an almost feverish pace, that they are friending you because they want something.  While I am more than willing to help those I respect and trust, I admit to a greater willingness to go out of my way for those people who connected with me because of a mutual desire to remain in contact.  The relationships tend to be deeper, based not on quid pro quo or desperation, but on a desire to assist and offer sound advice whenever, wherever and however it is needed.  A true friend indeed.

The Importance of Adding Value

October 13, 2009

Once your social media plan is up and running, with a clearly defined goals and objectives, you will want to continue to build relationships, establish professional credibility, and increase your visibility.  In order to retain your following and keep their interest you’ll want to be sure to:

  •  Be compelling, providing a reason why folks are happy you contacted them
  • Provide advice freely and openly without being at all self-serving—give FIRST and generously
  • Tap into your network for insights on trends and industry news

One mistake people make is building a contact “empire” of 500+ connections, friends, and followers only to find that they don’t know who these people are or what would be of interest to them.  What value do they bring in terms of business insight or shared interests and values?  What information from you will make them more interested and engaged?

It’s not easy to sort through this.  But unless you have an organized plan to reach out to contact people, you will never answer these questions.  And, importantly, if you don’t contact them, the relationship becomes weakened. 

Participation in groups on LinkedIn that focus on specialized expertise, interests and industries, and organizing followers into categories on TweetDeck or FriendFeed for Twitter, are two examples of ways to start sorting through the maze, identify connections with shared interests, and segment them as you develop a targeted touch program.

Remember, as I said in a previous blog, it’s not all about getting business.  It’s about establishing a connection—building a relationship.  People will differ in their approach.  A colleague of mine with a natural gift of gab can connect with people–and does so with sincerity.  If you make yourself available as a source of helpful assistance and advice and listen attentively, people will naturally gravitate toward you.    Remember too that people love to be asked for their opinion.  So if you seek their input, then again you benefit from solidifying a relationship. 

Whatever your way of connecting with others, make it part of a consistent plan and remember to give generously and be responsive.  That way you establish yourself as a valuable resource and a relationship can develop that is mutually beneficial.