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Oct 25 14

“Dear Occupant Or Current Resident….” More Horrible Prospecting

by Dave Brock

I’ve decided to write a periodic series about bad prospecting letters.  Every week, I receive dozens of just horrible letters.  Fortunately, Outlook does a pretty good job a sending them to SPAM, so I don’t have to deal with the “I’m following up with the terrible prospecting letter I sent last week with another terrible letter.”

They are from sales people who are just executing poorly.  Maybe they haven’t been trained, they are getting bad templates or materials.  Even though they are bad letters, there are too many to single out.  An in some sense, it may not be fair.  They are doing what they are told to do.

This series, will focus on bad prospecting letters from people who should know better.  They’re from sales and marketing experts.  I always study their communications, thinking it’s a demonstration of their prowess and philosophy around sales and marketing effectiveness.  I think, if their approach is so bad, do I want to buy their services to have them teach me terrible approaches?

Recently, I wrote about a sales expert who wanted me to promote his books.  You can read that here, “The Perfect Prospecting Letter (???)”

This week, I get a note from a “Digital Marketing Agency.”  Their website talks about their deep experience in developing impactful, relevant content, engaging customers and prospects in relevant ways.  The email, in it’s entirety, is below

“Hi Folks,

We’re big fans of the blog over here at [Digital Marketing Agency x}! It just so happens that we’ve been working on some really exciting content with our friends at [One of their partners]  that we think would be right up your alley.

This particular piece is a really detailed article all about creating a sales team that’s titled “[Article Title.]” We’re looking at everything from [everything about sales including the kitchen sink (I've never really figured out how to use a kitchen sink)]  This is a killer, easy to publish piece of content that we think is a perfect match for your audience.  

I’m going to attaching the URL in case you guys decide to run with this. [URL to the killer article.]

Keep up the awesome work and feel free to contact me with any questions! We’d love to hear your feedback!”

First, in fairness, the article wasn’t bad.  It would be one I’d tweet because the ideas were interesting.

Frankly, the letter itself wasn’t bad.  Except for one major thing, which made the whole effort hollow and meaningless.

When you are asking someone to “buy” something from you, do you really want to use a “Dear Occupant Or Current Resident” approach?  If you are able to get the email for sending something to me—you have to scroll to the very bottom of the page, why don’t you pick up my name.  My name is plastered all over the blog (as well as my smiling face).  Even bots/scrapers have the intelligence to scrape that information.

Mail merge programs are have been very sophisticated for years.  Every email program, every email marketing service allows for personalization.  We know personalization is important in prospecting–at least using a name, perhaps a company.

So the lack of personalization makes everything else in the letter seem a little disingenuous.  “We’re big fans of the blog here….”  Yes, along with the 500 or whatever number of emails you sent out.  I would have been really impressed if they had inserted the name of the blog–even if they sent out 500 emails.  It would have made it feel more like they were addressing me.  The problem is not the 1, 100, 500, 1000 emails that are sent out with the same message, if you want to engage me, address it to me, personalize the communication.  Make me feel like you are talking to me, not that I’m just one person in the crowd.

Likewise, the second compliment, “Keep up the awesome work….” seems  a little hollow.  Again, I know it wasn’t addressed to me, it was addressed to the crowd of people they were mailing to.

So just doing the basics personalizing the prospecting letter could have had such a different impact.  Personalization is so easy, there are so many tools that enable us to do this.  It takes virtually no time.  So the absence of personalization shows thoughtlessness or laziness.

Prospecting is difficult.  Finding customers, effectively engaging them, creating interest and developing a relationship is tough.  People are deluged with too many “fantastic offers.”  They are overloaded and overwhelmed.  So we have to do something to stand out.  We have to have meaningful, relevant and impactful communications.  We have to target the right people, at the right time, with the right message.  If we want to stand out, we have to execute with precision.

The simple omission of any kind of personalization can take an otherwise good message and destroy it’s impact.

Professionals–people who sell their expertise in this area should know better.

Every sales and marketing professional should know better.

Connection, relevance, impact, authenticity resonate in the minds of everyone.  Make sure you are doing the best you can, don’t settle for anything else—it simply doesn’t produce results.

Finally, more as “fine point,”  leverage some sort of service that enables you to track the prospecting email.  There are all sorts of them out there–those that can track mail from your email client, email marketing providers, even some embedded into your CRM systems.  It’s great to know that someone received your email.  That they opened it, that they clicked on a link, how much time they spent on it.  It gives tremendous insight into behaviors.  This email from a content marketing expert had none of that.  So they couldn’t track the results of their marketing program.

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Oct 23 14

Finding Time For The Decisionmakers

by Dave Brock
Appointment Time

I wrote, Finding The Decisionmaker, discussing the consensus buying process and the increasing number of decisionmakers involved in complex B2B sales  (  Average of 5.4 according to CEB.)  My good friend, Martin Schmalenbach, always calls BS on me in such interesting ways.

Martin posed the issue, “Think of the poor sales person reading this.  They are already overwhelmed with deals/opportunities and managing what they have going on.  Now you are asking them to call on 2-3 times more people.  How are they going to do it?  How are they going to research, prepare and manage their time with the increase number of calls they have to make on each deal?”

It’s a fair concern.  I can imagine all the sales people rolling their eyes, wondering, “Oh sh@t!  How do I possibly do this?  How do I find them?  How do I talk to them?  How do I find the time?”

After reflecting on Martin’s challenge a bit here are some thoughts.

First, burying our heads in the sand/avoidance is not a solution.  Yeah, I know you’re saying, “Thanks for the sensitivity and understanding Dave!”  But the reality is consensus based buying is how customers are making decisions.  More people are involved, it is tougher for them to buy, customers are increasingly risk averse.  That’s fact, avoiding it doesn’t help us win or help the customer buy.

In fact, ignoring this reality causes our win rates plummet!  The natural behavior this drives, is to find and qualify more deals, chase more opportunities, try to fill the gap so we can make our numbers.  Ultimately, this leads us into a death spiral.

So what if we changed our perspective.  The reality is, we have to engage and work with all the buyers (all 5.4–and more).  By working with all of them, by recognizing the reality of the difficulty customers have in buying, by facilitating their buying process, by engaging more deeply, we actually increase our ability to win and reduce no decision made.

Increasing our win rates, mean we have to chase fewer deals.  We have the time to engage all the buyers in those fewer deals.  We have the opportunity to work with them, building greater value and differentiation.

So this part of the argument is simply engaging all the decisionmakers in the deal drives win rates ups, meaning we have to find and qualify fewer deals to make our numbers.  At least the math is going in our favor.

But there’s a lot more than saying “Just do it.”

We have to provide the sales people the tools and skills to do this.  We’re asking them to call on many more stakeholders–people they may not understand or have discomfort in working with.

Reasonable questions like:  “Who are they?  How do I access them?  What do I talk to them about?  How do I work with the buying team, facilitating their buying process?  What if I can’t access them?”

We need to provide sales people tools, training, coaching, and support to help them do this.  A lot of the work being done on “Personas” helps.  It helps us understand the buyers/stakeholders and how we engage them.  Much of the “Persona” work focuses on marketing content we provide these stakeholders directly.  We need to extend this work to the sales person, helping them identify, access and engage these buyers.  We need to embed this in the training, tools, and coaching we provide sales people.

We now have this buying group, we have to engage and manage.  Herding cats is easier!  Facilitation, collaboration, project management, and problem solving skills become critical for sales people.  We need to be training. tools,  and coaching sales people in how to do these.  Without this, we send them in naked–they can work with individuals, but they can’t work with the group.

Managers need to be deeply involved, not only coaching, but in helping open doors.  In setting the example for their sales people (Which makes me wonder, how many sales managers can do this, how do we train, coach, develop them to set the example and lead their people their people?)

I’ll stop here.  Buying has changed (I feel like a broken record), so how we sell, who we sell to, how we engage, and the skills we need have to change.  Our mentality has to change.  Chasing more deals–the natural reaction may not be right.  Chasing fewer deals, engaging more deeply is perhaps the better strategy.

Finally, in wrapping up, this creates another challenge for managers.  What happens to all the deals we aren’t chasing?  How do we pursue those?

If by chasing fewer deals, engaging more deeply, driving higher value, increasing win rates is working.  Then it’s an easy problem for managers to solve in looking at those deals we don’t have the resources to chase.  We now have a great business case to grow and expand our teams.

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Oct 22 14

Finding The Decisionmaker

by Dave Brock
Decision making

We want to focus our sales strategies on the Decision-maker.  Some have referred to that person as “VITO,”  the Very Important Top Officer.

Sales trainers tell us to call high, in the quest for finding the decision-maker.  We talk about gate keepers, influencers, recommenders, technical buyers, financial buyers, and any other label we can find.

Finding the decision-maker is tough!

Part of the problem, in complex B2B sales, there is seldom a decision-maker.  According to CEB, there are 5.4 decision-makers involved in today’s consensus sale.  Even then, they have a very difficult time coming to agreement.  CSO Insights reports only 45.9% of forecast deals actually close (in a win or loss).  That’s forecast deals, so pipeline deals look even worse.

There are a lot of things driving the consensus sale–some good, some….well.  Many of the decisions our customers are making are very difficult decisions.  They are trying to solve complex problems that span many parts of the organization.  More people are involved, more people need to be involved.  People are concerned with risk, they can’t afford to make a bad decision, organizationally or personally.

As my friend Donal Daly often points out–for us it’s only a win or loss of a deal.  For the customer, a bad decision could cost their job or have serious adverse impact on company performance.

More decisions are being pushed higher up the food chain for final approval–not so much regarding selection of a vendor, but for whether that’s a part of the business top management wants to invest in.  After all, they are trading investments across all functional groups and the whole organization.  Upgrading the company cafeteria may (and has) take priority over major manufacturing, engineering, software, systems investments.

So our challenge is no longer finding the decision-maker.  It’s become finding the decision-makers, as well as the extended network of people they rely on to advise them in making a decision (some may be outside the company).

Our challenge is even greater.  Once we have found those decision-makers, we have to help them buy.  Each one has different priorities, goals, agendas.  As they work as in a group, power and influence will ebb and flow depending on the dynamics of that group.  So facilitating their decision making process is critical—helping them decide how to decide–then helping facilitate the decision itself.

I’ll pause here, I’ll be writing more about this in the future, but I want to shift a little.

If we reflect on the complexity of decision making, and the increasing trend of “consensus buying,” then contrast that with many of the deals we see, something’s off.

In too many deal reviews, I see sales people focusing on too few people.  Usually, it’s our buddies and sponsors, even though they may not even be part of the decision-making group.  I challenge sales people, “For a decision like this, why aren’t there more people involved?”  The response is usually a frustrated, “Trust me Dave, She’s our guy!  We just need to focus on her, she will make the decision.”

Often, those are the deals that I later lead the loss reviews for.  We know it can’t be one person.  It may not be 5.4, but a number of people will be involved, and it’s our job to find those people and work with them.

Sometimes, I talk to a sales person who has had too heavy a dose of “Vito.”  That person will say, “He’s the top exec.  He’ll stuff the decision on the organization.  We don’t need to worry about anyone else.”  I’m sure sometimes that happens, but I think it’s rare.  I’ve been VITO in a lot of very big decisions.  I’d never stuff a decision–my people have to live with it, they have to buy into it, they have to make it work.  If I don’t involve them in the decision, if they aren’t totally engaged and aligned, we fail–I fail as a leader and business person.  So smart VITO’s never stuff a decision.  They may exercise a lot of influence, but they recognize it’s their teams that have to make it successful, so they push the teams to be deeply engaged.

So if you have a deal, and you think you are dealing with the one person–the decision-maker, know that you are likely to be wrong–even if the customer tells you, “I’m the decision-maker.”  Keep searching, there are more, it’s your job to find them, work with them.

If you are a manager, reviewing deals and your team has identified the decision-maker.  Suspect they haven’t looked hard enough, coach them on who else might be involved, challenge them to look for the real decision-makers.

We no longer can focus on finding the decision-maker.  We have to find and work with the decision-makers.

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Oct 20 14

“I Have To Speak To You In Bullet Points…….”

by Dave Brock
listening 02

Understanding our customers’ behavioral styles is critical to our effectiveness in connecting with and communicating to them.  There are a number of tools that help us understand the behavioral style of our customers (and colleagues).  They go by the names of DISC, Meyers Briggs, and others.

Each of us has a behavioral style—our styles are neither good nor bad, they just tell us how we tend to hear and engage, how we process information, what influences our abilities to make decisions.

If we want to connect effectively and impactfully , it’s critical for us to understand the behavioral styles of the people we are seeking to influence.  Communicating with them in a way that maximizes their ability to “hear” and “understand” is critical.

So I might communicate with one person, leveraging lots of data, with another helping them understand a broader vision and their role in implementing it, with another I might focus on building the relationship.  Our ability to connect effectively is dependent on our ability to understand their behavioral style and communicate in a way that complements their style.

But we forget, conversations are two ways.  We have our own behavioral and communication styles.  We react in certain ways–based both on what people are saying and on the way they are communicating.  Our own behavioral styles impact the way we engage and communicate with our customers and colleagues.

I’d always been aware of the importance of understanding people’s behavioral styles in communicating with them, but had never realized how much my own behavioral style clouded my own ability to engage and be engaged.  But a number of years ago, I was concluding a conversation with my VP of Sales Ops.  As we finished up the conversation (it happened to be a very good one), she said, “Dave, I’ve learned that I have to speak to you in bullet points……”

She understood my own style and was aligning how she spoke to me in a way that maximized my ability to “hear and be engaged.”  She wanted to make sure she was communicating with me in a way that engage me and made sure I understood her point.

All of a sudden, it struck me, regardless how well we may leverage behavioral styles in communicating with others, our own behavioral styles impact the effectiveness of our communications.  Stated differently, a customer may tell us something, but we hear it in a way that it very different than it was intended.

Just was we have to be sensitive to how to communicate with customers and colleagues, so they really “hear” us, we have to be sensitive to how we listen and hear–and our own unconscious filtering.

Engaging our customers and colleagues, making sure we both understand and are understood is important to our ability to accomplish our goals.  We have to realize it’s a two way street–we have to understand how the customer’s behavioral style and our own impact our conversations.

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