So how are sales people chosen in today’s market? It used to be that a friendly, enthusiastic person, who was able to find common ground through activities and interests had it made. Frank Bettger wrote a powerful book many years ago called, How I raised myself from failure to success in selling, focusing on these strengths; and they are still relevant today. However, there are millions of sales people with enthusiasm, so there has to be more. Here are the typical things I hear when I ask, “How were you chosen?”:
Word of Mouth. This requires a reputation for results in a market driven by demand. One or two opportunistic deals may come through word-of-mouth, but to rely on this method for new business requires a buzz in the market – meaning you are offering something in high demand and people are talking, and, you are fast becoming a leader in your space. People talk, so make sure your reputation is above reproach. Working higher up in the organization increases the effectiveness of this process as executives exchange ideas at social functions. Few IT people ever interact with peers from other companies so don’t count on business growth through this channel.
Direct Reference. Trusted advisors are chosen by the buyer. Gaining credibility in a crowded marketplace is not easy, but references can help. Sales people that do a good job of collecting and farming references are way ahead if they use this information correctly. When it comes to calling on clients, posting web content, or even sending a letter or datasheet, well placed quotes from recognizable companies can go a long way in establishing trust before work has been sold. Sales people would be wise to take this into consideration on the heels of every well executed engagement.
Vendor Affiliation. Established connections with other recognized organizations should not be underestimated. This is particularly true when it comes to aligning with manufacturers. I know many companies who live on leads from vendors they partner with. That said, don’t be deceived into thinking that being a “Cisco Reseller” or any other brand reseller will help you. It won’t unless the sales people on the street are aligned with you. Channel programs rarely produce any reasonable leads – rather it is the sales people who are encouraged to push business to the channel that feed the reseller. And they generally choose who they feed.
Personal contact. I generally steer away from selling to friends. This is the problem with multi-level marketing; these people have no friends once they sign up. They are encouraged to reach out to the neighborhood, selling to friends, church members, club members, and anyone in their immediate social circle. It won’t be long before everyone is wary of spending time with this sort of sales person, knowing that every invitation or phone call is an underhanded attempt to sell something. However, that said, personal contacts that are not used to overtly sell can be powerful, and establishing helpful relationships in the marketplace through LinkedIn and other business oriented networking tools or events can be powerful. The key here is to become a valued resource to those around you. One of the things that has worked well for me has been helping people who are actively seeking a new job or who have been displaced from a current position. Pro bono, I offer to help them with resumes, interview skill, and contacts. I don’t do this to overtly solicit their help in new business, but by being helpful. The favor is often returned. The idea is to become a valued contact rather than a leech, and as people observe your creativity and value, you’ll be remembered when they need help later in their efforts to succeed. One word of caution, don’t keep score, just be helpful.
Educational Marketing. One of the most effective means of winning new business in today’s market is education. Consumers want knowledge, and those who establish themselves as educational resources become the advisors of the future. Add trust to this equation and you may find yourself being chosen as the next “trusted adviser”. Blogs, articles, events, and even sales calls that center around education rather than widget sales go a long way in establishing value. They also create business where none existed. Become the best educator you can be. This is where your efforts should be spent…read, listen, learn,…teach.
* Advertisement. I’ve purposely placed these last two items, well,… last. Advertising in a crowded marketplace is generally a waste of time. By this I mean, high-involvement selling such as programming, designing, integration, security, etc. Print ads target masses of people who have no interest in hopes of finding that needle in the haystack. Years ago this worked, but junk mail has taken over the US Post Office and they are non-profit. No one looks forward to visiting their mail box any more. When was the last time you received a personal letter in your mail box? And email has followed. Spam is a problem, don’t add to it.
* RFP Response. Here’s another waste of time. Unless you are in the account, writing the RFP (Request for Proposal), chances are you’re wasting your time. Some companies are required to do this (for instance, Government offices), however, when commercial companies do it, they are wasting your time. The purpose of the RFP is to create a level playing ground. Is that what you want? Does it make sense to strip a company of their value, selling skills, creativity, etc. when looking for an advisor or solution provider? No! If you are making tons of money on RFPs, more power to you; feel free to keep going. If you are like most, this is a losing game, one you would be better off avoiding. If sales are lower than expected, choose to educate as stated above and build your pipeline accordingly. Don’t mistake busy work for opportunity.
© 2010, David Stelzl