I was thinking about this the other day. Recently, I've been getting a bunch of referrals from people who are not my clients. For one reason or another, they haven't become a client yet. However, they are in love with what we do at HubSpot, recognize the value we provide and continue to refer people. I'll call anyone that has expressed a need or interest in my service. However, these referrals are rarely as qualified as a referral I receive from a client.
A note that Rick Roberge wrote to a prospect about "referrals from clients" caught my attention:
You asked yesterday how you could help me. Honestly, you can't. We met through an introduction, but the intro came from my client. Client's can refer. If you made a referral and they asked you, "What has Rick done for you?" What can you say? "Nothing. I don't need him." "Nothing. I can't afford him." "Nothing. I don't like him." I refer my clients and they refer me. I become an integral part of my client's business. We over-help each other and we deserve it.
It's very true. People who aren't your clients aren't really equipped to refer you the right prospects. Why do you think that is?
I asked Tony Cole, sales development expert, to answer a few questions about hiring sales people. He recently launched a webinar appropriately named "How to Avoid Salespeople Hiring Mistakes."
1. Why is hiring sales people so difficult?
Hiring sale people is not hard. Hiring the right ones is hard. Why? Too
few good sales people. Poor processes in place to separate pretenders from
contenders. Desparation to hire somone. Wrong profile used for the actual
2. Do people tend to hire salespeople that are like them? If they were
successful, why is that a bad thing?
Success is not always duplicatable based on why one person is deemed
successful. You have to look at criteria to succeed currently and then
determine if the successful person doing the hiring achieved success based
on that criteria or did they get lucky or have an unfair advantage.
3. Are there ways to predict whether a salesperson will perform without
Certainly a pre hire assesment will help. But it is not a substitute for
all the other steps required in an effective hiring process.
Considering that I've been passionate about social software since 2004, you wouldn't think you'd ever see a headline like that on my blog, ha?
Via a tweet from Ellie Mirman, I read an article written by Chris Brogan, a force behind adoption of social media in business.
His article was about how social media isn't that important... in the scheme of things... in most people's lives. And that the people living in the social media world need to remember that.
A specific paragraph in his post inspired me to echo his sentiments:
I met a master salesman this year who sells products that cost more than double my annual salary. He's reasonably new to social media and the web, but he could teach me more about qualifying, prospecting, nurturing, and closing a sale than I could about blogging.
I totally agree with Chris. In most people's worlds, social media doesn't impact them. It probably won't impact them significantly for atleast another year or so, even if they adopt use of it today.
If they don't adopt now, though... when their buyers become the 25 year olds of today, they'll be in trouble then. But right now it's not that important.
What is important is that smart people like the salesman mentioned above adopt and use these sites and technologies and can teach us how to apply hard won business lessons to them.
There are many inexperienced "entrepreneurs" that I know first hand, who seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of social media, trying to make a quick buck. They'd be served well if they took the time to learn that their MBA and youthful energy will be unlikely to deliver them Zuckerberg status. They'd be well served by learning how to "help people solve real problems" and "to act always in the best interest of their clients" like I'm sure the salesman mentioned above knows how to do.
Two great blog posts.
Tony Cole shares the story of his son's heart attack and brain injury.
Al Turrisi shares a story about a man that wrote a book by blinking the letters.
Being sales experts, both of them drew the parallels between life's adversity and how we react to it and selling adversity and how we react to it.
Craig Klein left a comment on my blog this morning. I checked out his blog and saw a great post that I had to point people to. Here's an excerpt from the full article:
Bottom line: Recent experiences like this one show me that too many sales people still haven't gotten the message - sales is not about talking, telling or teaching. Its about listening.
Your goal is to continue to ask the prospect questions about their world. Understand what's working for them, what challenges they face, where they think they're heading and most importantly, what are the greatest risks they see in the current world or in the future. What are they afraid of.
Why? Because people buy for emotional reasons. Especially in business, people buy things because its a piece of a vision in their head or they buy because they're afraid of something. Either way, if you know what that is, then its easy to show them how your product or service can be a crucial part of the vision or protect them from failure, cost overruns, etc.
I hope you laughed when you read the title of this post. I laughed when I wrote it. However, I'm also sad that so many people actually operate their business as if this post's title was true.
I had a conversation with Paul Chaney the other day. He's the Internet Marketing Director at Bizzuka, a web content management system.
He said to me, "My job is to generate quality sales leads via the web so our sales team has to do less cold calling. I've had to do cold calling in my career and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."
I agreed with him. That's a great way to describe the job. When I started my first business (an online event registration service), we basically got some brochures made and I started walking down Main Street in Worcester, MA. I walked into Davis Advertising in Worcester and got a meeting with Andy Davis. We discussed events and how he promoted them and I pitched him my vision. At the end of the meeting, I asked him what the likelihood of him hiring (or referring) my Company was? And he said, "Call me when you grow up."
I was in my mid twenties, but he just meant that my firm was too inexperienced and that he wouldn't trust me to interact with his clients. He meant, I was green.
I continued cold calling for a long time and continued struggling to get the Company off of the ground. About a year into it, we got a bunch of good breaks, learned how to network and get referrals, planned and promoted a bunch of our own events so we had some successes under our belts and later learned how to sell a lot more effectively, cold calling or not. (I'm still learning and more of my story is in the about Peter Caputa section of this website.)
Looking back, though, I was, as Andy basically said, "very green" in business. I was very naive.
I thought it was about my idea. Our idea was great. It still is. There's a handful of companies around the country that watched what we were doing, as I blogged about it, and took our "lessons learned" into account when designing their business.
However, ideas don't generate revenue. Solving problems does. People buy because they have a need, they have the budget, they're convinced your solution will help them solve their problems and the timing is right for them to take advantage of what you're offering. They buy for a compelling reason which most likely helps them avoid some recurring pain. Not because you have a smart idea or great product that YOU think will help solve their problem.
The trick is that most engineers and entrepreneurs (I'm both unfortunately) are very poor at asking questions and discovering problems. Most entrepreneurs skip to the presentation, like I did when talking to Andy a few years ago. Most are way too eager to present their product or solution. Most entrepreneurs don't listen, don't ask questions and don't lead their prospects into coming to the conclusion that "this product will help me solve my problem". They don't understand the unique challenges of each prospect. (Yes, they are unique, atleast to the prospect.) They don't frame the solution using the words the prospect used to describe the problem. They don't help their prospects buy. They pitch and hope the pitch resonates with their prospect.
In short, most entrepreneurs suck at sales.
I'm a firm believer that every salesperson must always be a student of
sales. They must always be learning and improving their craft. The
senior and top performing sales person at HubSpot, Heidi Carslon, said to me the other day,
"A savvy sales person is going to be constantly evaluating and evolving their strategy." Agreed. I believe that any salesperson who hasn't
directly sold a Million dollars worth of business in their sales career
to atleast a few hundred different customers, needs to get their sales
skills assessed and their sales weaknesses fixed. Any
entrepreneur without this experience should be doing this yesterday. I
wish I knew that the option was available to me in my first year of my
business, instead of my third.
Despite typical entrepreneurial sales weaknesses, some get by and are still wildly successful. But, that's usually only because they are awesome at marketing and have a perfectly timed awesome product. (You're probably not lucky enough to be one of them: Google, Youtube, Microsoft, Starbucks, Dell, etc).
The problem with most startups is that most entrepreneurs stink at marketing too.
Most successful entrepreneurs understand that they need to constantly be improving their marketing processes too.
I would never suggest that marketing can fix sales issues OR that good marketing will ever replace the need for strong salespeople, especially in a complex B2B sale. But, based on my experience on the other side now, where I have more leads than I can handle at HubSpot, I know that I don't have to be as good... I don't have to work as hard to generate opportunities; I don't have to cold call; I don't have to travel to see people; I don't have to write custom proposals; I don't have to spend money on brochures; I sometimes don't even have to present my product... in order to make lots of sales.
That's because there is demand that has been generated for the product I sell. That's because marketing was built into the business plan from the beginning. The founders were smart enough to develop online lead generation and sales processes as they developed the product. It's also because I have a bunch of successful clients who refer me business. But, mostly it's because marketing is charged with delivering an ROI, as well as tasked with constantly improving that ROI. They do measurable marketing. They do Closed Loop Marketing.
I talked to 3 people today who have a decent sized sales team who spend their entire day cold calling. Yes. Cold Calling. All day. They don't have a marketing team that generates interest or leads. They all get a lot of business through referrals, so their products and services are good. They've just ignored the internet's ability to help them cost effectively deliver warm leads to their sales team.
I can't imagine why anyone would continue operating like this. Can you?
I've been pondering this a lately. A lot of web designers suck at web design. Many suck at marketing. The majority of web designers suck at business. And pretty much all web designers suck at sales, where sales is a virtuous skill defined as the process of figuring out what's important to their clients and then recommending a solution that helps them solve their problems and achieve their goals.
If you run a small business or manage marketing for a mid sized or large business, especially B2B businesses, and you're talking to a website designer... the most important thing to you is usually figuring out how to improve lead generation for your sales team through your website.
Paul Roetzer has published a few questions you should ask any website designer you're planning on hiring:
Q1: What's your Website Grade, Mr Designer?
Q2: How will our Website be optimized for search engines?
Q3: What Website analytics will we have access to?
Q4: Will we have the ability to change our own content?
Q5: How will our website generate leads?
Paul has some good tips in his article. You should read it if you're doing a site redesign. I'd also recommend educating yourself about the website redesign process and developing an internet marketing strategy first. Way too many people relaunch their website and then expect to figure out how to generate business from it. It really needs to be done the other way around, unless you prefer to waste time and money redoing things.
You learned how to drive before you bought your own car, right?
Tony and Jeni at Anthony Cole Sales Training Group have shared some funny sales stories.
I'm racking my brain for a good one to share as a salesguy.
I have a crazy one to share as a buyer.
When my wife and I bought our house, we needed to buy a mattress for our spare room. Since the most use it would get would be when family is visiting on the weekend, we didn't want to spend a lot on it. We also didn't want one that was going to disintegrate in a year. But, price was certainly the most important factor.
So, we went to Mattress Giant. Here's the conversation as I can recall it:
Me: Could you point us to your cheapest mattresses?
Salesguy: We have a mattress over here that is $550. Try this one. [Amy lays down.]
Amy: This isn't bad.
Other Salesguy with other customers to Our Salesguy [from a few feet away]: Are you selling that one? Do we have more than one of those left in stock?
Our Salesguy to other Salesguy: I think this is the last one.
Salesguy to us: Do you guys want this one? This is the last one. I can give you a good deal on it. Probably knock $50 off of it.
Me: This is the cheapest mattress you have?
Salesguy: No. We have cheaper ones.
Me: Could you point us to the least expensive one?
Salesguy: It's over there. [He points and walks away.] [We go over and lay down. Amy and I agree that it's fine.]
Me: [Had to go interrupt him from doodling on his computer twenty feet away.] How much is the cheapest one?
Salesguy: It's $300, but I don't know why you'd buy that one. The $500 one is going to last a lot longer. The cheap one isn't going to hold up.
Me: I'm looking for a mattress for a spare room. It'll rarely be used.
Salesguy: Well, I guess if you don't care about the people sleeping on it, it's fine. [I give him ridiculous look. Can't believe I'm actually still talking to him.]
Me: Can you give us a minute to talk about it?
Amy: Are you sure the cheap one is ok? [My wife is falling for this asshole's sales moves.]
Me [to Amy]: It's fine. This guy just doesn't make as much commission if he sells this one. So, he wants us to buy the more expensive one. They wouldn't have it in the store if it wasn't going to last.
Salesguy: [Walks back over interrupting our conversation.] You know you can go on craigslist if you want to find a cheap mattress?
Me: I don't want a used mattress. I want a cheap one. We'll take the $300 one. Can you write us up?
Salesguy: Sure. [Walks over to his computer.] [I presume I have to follow him and do.] [Amy and I sit down.] You want the $550 one right?
Me: No. We want the $300 one.
Me: When can we have this delivered? [My parents are visiting the following weekend.]
Salesguy: I have to look that up. But, we do deliveries every day. Do you guys want to add the stainguard cover? It's an extra $120.
Salesguy: Do you need a base for the bed?
[There was one other add on thing he tried to upsell us.]
Salesguy: Are you sure you don't want the slightly more expensive better one?
Me: Yes, I'm sure [insert his first name].
To top it all off, the guy checked off that we didn't need a base for the bed. The guys that delivered it, had to go back and get us one.
And for the record, the mattress is just fine. When Peter was born and Amy was nursing him in our bed, I slept in it a few times. And my parents, Amy's parents and my sisters and brother in laws have slept in it. They get good night sleeps. They know we care about them.
Do you have a funny sales story?
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Jen from The Ladders. We share a common investor, so we were just trading notes. She brought up the fact that our lead intelligence was pretty cool.
I pointed her to my post on HubSpot called "How to Use Your Blog as a Sales Tool" which talks about our lead intelligence tool and how I use it.
Then, I had a random thought that most company's inside sales teams are untapped internet marketing workforces. If trained in internet marketing, they could be very powerful forces for a company in the social mediasphere and blogosphere.
Sales professionals should use the web to:
- Attract traffic to their company's website. Generate their own referrals online.
- Assist in lead capture by sending people directly to register for marketing webinars and white papers.
- Nurture prospects that need more education by guiding them towards website-accessible information - helping influencers to get the attention of decision makers. (The phone and figuring out what is important is critical here too.)
But, imagine your 5, 50, 500, 5000 salespeople fully trained in internet marketing best practices, driving traffic to your website from linkedin, the blogosphere, Twitter, etc. Imagine them asssiting with SEO, link building and lead capture. And imagine them using the web to educate engaged prospects.
That's a lot of untapped potential.
Do you know any organizations that are this forward thinking?
Leave a story about how you, as a salesperson, have used social media to engage or nurture a prospect. I might use your story when I talk at the Central New England Sales Summit. Share your story over here if you're interested in potentially attending for free.
Marshall Kirkpatrick on the early success of Flickr:
Customer Service is The New Marketing
One of the most important elements of Flickr's early success was its incredible engagement with its users. Flickr management spent what might have seemed like a totally unreasonable amount of time welcoming new users to the site, participating actively and promptly in forums and highlighting the best photos uploaded.
That kind of engagement can turn passing early adopters into ongoing community stakeholders and advocates. It's something that any startup could benefit from emulating and a role we're seeing formalized in an increasing number of companies hiring community liaisons.
I recently wrote a guest post on Aaron's ColdCalling2.0 blog talking about how happy and successful customers are the best inbound sales lead generation strategy:
Referrals & Brand Searches - Your best marketing is happy customers. In my previous company, after a few years of working at it, 100% of my business came from referrals. Customers have the ability to sell your services for you because they have little to no selfish interest in you bringing on new clients. So, when they recommend your product or service to a peer, they're not only establishing that you're credible, but trustworthy. The trust implicit in their relationship with the prospect they're referring is transferred to you.
There's an old saying that says it's hard to predict referrals. It's also expensive to build a brand (although fairly easy to measure brand awareness). However, I'd argue that if you're doing the right things for your clients and you're truly a stand for their success, it will happen. On the web, you can accelerate the pace by entering the conversation, setting the precedent for receiving referrals by giving them and by generally making yourself available to speak with new people whether there's an immediate direct connection between their need and your service or not. Practically speaking, I recommend starting a blog and reading these tips on using a blog to improve your sales process and how to use LinkedIn to drive traffic to your website.
What are you doing to:
- ensure your clients' success?
- refer business to your clients?
- facilitate connections between your clients who'd benefit from knowing each other?
- give your clients the tools to talk about you to their contacts online?
- ensure that your clients are referring people to you online and these referrals are receiving vip treatment?
- acknowledge the customers that refer you business?
Is this stuff part of your customer on-boarding process? Are you rewarding your account managers who excel at fostering mutually beneficial interaction swith and among clients and generating referral business?