That great line from Saturday Night Live’s parody of Point/Counterpoint never gets old. I’m using it here for a most unusual post. Recently, I read a blog post with which I took objection on several points. I felt it was just plain bad advice. I’m sanitizing the site and author, because my intent is to foster a discussion of the ideas, and nothing but.
The post dealt with an important part of our job – follow up, and how to make it less of a chore and more productive. A good topic, which compelled me to read it. Below, I have posted the recommendations in that post as the “Point” and my thoughts in blue after each one as the “Counterpoint.” Please add to the conversation with your comments.
1. Offer something instead of asking for anything.
Like many professional service providers, the process of giving advice, making connections, and sharing resources comes naturally to me. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to get from the person I was calling, I switched my emphasis to what I could give them. What is everyone’s favorite subject to discuss? Themselves, of course. Directed probing should help define the prospect’s pain points and you should always understand these before emphasizing what you can “give them.” How can you know what you would give them without knowing what they need.
2. Call with a specific, helpful purpose.
I’ve had many salespeople call me just to “stay in touch,” and it always felt like a waste of my time. Instead of calling people just to chat, I now call to invite them to a networking event, introduce them to a new contact, or let them know about a book, blog post, or workshop they might find valuable. This is excellent advice and I would go further. Subscribe to enewsletters and blogs that your prospects would also choose. See the world through their eyes, be current in developing issues, regulations and trends in their markets and you can position yourself as an expert resource.
3. Have meaningful conversations about what’s going on in peoples’ lives.
Making small talk about weather, sports, or entertainment news has never been one of my favorite pastimes. But hearing what’s going on in someone’s life, career, or business fascinates me. Those are the topics I began introducing in my follow-up calls. While I agree it’s important to have a personal connection with prospects when you can, this is a business relationship, not a personal one. If the prospect brings it up, that’s great. Not everybody wants to share aspects of their private lives with sellers. I addressed this in an earlier post: Relationship? Think again.
4. Avoid rejection by staying away from selling.
Phoning someone to ask whether they’re ready to hire me feels awkward and pushy, and I’m sure my prospects often feel the same. I’d much rather help people than sell to them. Unless I am calling someone to follow up on a specific deal already in progress, I no longer ask for business. Instead I focus on having helpful, meaningful exchanges. What is the #2 reason sellers don’t close the deal? THEY DON’T ASK FOR THE ORDER! You are paid to SELL and if you don’t or are dodging rejection, you are not selling. It comes with the turf. IMHO, this is just plain lousy advice. Are there kinder, gentler ways to ask for the order? Of course there are and if you are chasing an order, you should use a variety of approaches, resources and tools to avoid just running straight up the middle all the time. BTW, the #1 reason we don’t close the deal? NOT TALKING TO THE RIGHT PERSON. Your contact is an influencer, not a decider, or there is a hidden decider or a financial decider.
5. Tell people how great your clients are.
While talking myself up feels uncomfortable, talking about my clients’ successes comes easily. I began describing my work by sharing my clients’ accomplishments instead of my own (honoring client confidentiality, of course). These success stories turned out to be much more effective than simply telling prospects what I could do. Beware here, this can easily backfire on you. If you share a client accomplishment that is a problem for this prospect, or puts them at a competitive disadvantage with the client you are praising, you may touch a nerve to cause the prospect to pull back. Worse yet, you could be seen as aiding and abetting the enemy. Much better to share clients’ Best Practices for using your product/service. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas and all accomplished leaders want to learn.
6. Let go of sales that are too hard to close.
It’s important to be persistent and to follow up multiple times with prospects who don’t respond or say they’re not ready, but calling back someone who has actually said no can be pretty confronting. I realized that if I had a long enough follow-up list, I didn’t really need to call those prospects at all. I could spend my time instead with people who were more likely to be interested. I asked a colleague (a very successful one) what were his 3 most successful techniques. #1 was not giving up if he felt his solution was the right one for a client. He will use different media and approaches to keep his brand alive and said it may take a few weeks, months or even longer, but eventually his timing is perfect and he closes the deal. Of course, you must prioritize your time and effort, but also balance that with protecting investments in time you’ve already made. Sammy Davis, Jr., once asked about his meteoric success, was said to have answered “It took me 20 years to become an overnight sensation.” If you let go of a sale you feel is too hard to close, you are merely handing it over to your competition.
7. Design a call that anyone would welcome.
If making a call just to push for business isn’t a good experience for me or to the person I’m calling, why make it? I’d much rather spend my time having conversations both sides can enjoy. I discovered that if I contacted people in a spirit of friendliness and generosity, instead of acting like a salesperson, plenty of sales and referrals resulted without asking for them directly. I can hear the late Joan Rivers saying “Oh, grow UP, people!” I am a seller. I take my job seriously and am proud of what I do. I help clients achieve their strategic goals. Prospects are adults who know you sell and expect that you will at some point ask for their business. Building trust in a “spirit of friendliness and generosity” IS acting like a salesperson. (And a good one.) Come out of the closet and be a professional, be a seller.
So, there you have a little point/counterpoint on these ideas. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section.