There’s three phases, if you will, to the sales process. And I always try to start off with walking people down these three paths because they’re all equally important.
The first is prospecting, and that can come in a couple of shapes and sizes. The prospecting piece can be something that a salesperson you hire does for you, or prospecting can be the marketing piece of your business. So depending on the direction of the business or the startup, sometimes there’s salespeople and sometimes there’s not.
Taking Care of Clients
The second phase is taking care of those clients, or selling to them, presenting proposals, if that’s your type of business, or offering exceptional customer service.
Then the third phase, which everybody overlooks—everyone—is retention. It costs five to fifteen times the effort to get a new client as opposed to keeping one. Those are the three kind of phases, and whenever I’m advising folks, that’s the core of where we’ve got to start.
Let’s talk about salespeople that are going to be prospecting This mean there’s no leads coming to them, you’ve hired them to sell your product or service. The big thing that I promote is what I refer to as my top 20. There’s five days in a week, and you need to have four new prospects every day, reaching out with templated e-mails, maybe some promotional videos, which I think are very important, that establish what I like to refer to as polite persistence.
Finding Your Perfect Client
The other side of the business is maybe you don’t have salespeople, you just have an acquisition process where you’re buying Google ad words, you’re doing content marketing, or whatever the circumstances, to try to draw people to your website, to get them excited about your product. So the first place to start is, “Who’s my perfect client?” Develop your own litmus test. Ask yourself questions like “Which client is perfect for me?” and “What does a perfect client look like?”
Be very, very realistic. What I would encourage people to do is build that profile of the four characteristics of the perfect client for me. Once you determine who your perfect client is, then what you can do is begin to figure out where does that person potentially live. Not physically in their home, but really where do they live online. Are there blogs that they read? Are there websites that they frequent? Can I actually target them on Facebook?
Once I figure out where they live, then what I like to do is begin to politely communicate with them. Now I’m a big fan of videos. I love videos. I love podcasts. I love short videos. What I like to do is just reach out to people via email and say, “I’ve got a new idea I’d love for you to take a look at.”
The subject line might be “New idea for you.” The body of the email might say “Hey, Bob, I have a great idea. I’m an inventor, I’m an entrepreneur, or whatever. And I think it would be great for you and your company. Would you mind just taking a look at this quick video? I’d love to talk with you about it.”
You might even say, “I’m not a salesperson. I’ve never grown up thinking I wanted to be a salesperson. I’m just an entrepreneur with a great idea. Love to share it with you. I believe that’s a better approach than the sales mojo where you try to put the “sales trickery” on people. I just feel that the more honest I am with people, and the more direct I am in a polite, humble way, I tend to get a lot more sales.
Don’t think that sales is about building an amazing slide deck in PowerPoint or Keynote. That’s not what sales is about. Sales is about being able to have a connection with somebody, show alignment between your product and theirs, and not a slide deck. Slide decks don’t convince people; people convince people.
Alignment and Relevancy
The next step for me is getting that perfect client to some type of phone call, or even better, some type of GoToMeeting or Skype or whatever the circumstance is.
The worst thing that someone can do in selling a product—the very worst thing—is you get them on the phone you say, “Tell me about your business.” People want you to come to them with ideas that you’ve researched, that you’ve looked at, that you’ve vetted. They want to see alignment, and alignment is critical. So when you say to a millennial, “Tell me about your business,” usually they’re going to say, “Tell me what you know about my business,” because they want to know, did you do your homework?
A lot of people would say, “Well, Ryan, you missed out on a critical step. You need to ask questions to find out if there is alignment.” I believe that you should be able to look at their website, see what they’re doing on social media, see what they’re doing in the open space—videos, YouTube, etc.—to get an idea about whether or not there is some alignment.
Selling Your Product
So when we get on that meeting, what I want to do is make some assumptions. I want to exchange pleasantries such as “Hey, how you doing? I saw on LinkedIn that you went to college in Atlanta and my family is there.” But you want to get into the selling of this product as quickly as possible, which is, “I saw on your website that you guys do A, B, and C. My product does one, two, and three, and I believe—and I could be wrong—but it aligns perfectly with what I think you guys are trying to do. Now could I share with you a little bit about what it does?” And then be brief.
If you can’t say what you need to say in 60 seconds, your product is maybe too complicated. You need to break it down. My go-to line is, “So what do you think?” That’s not a yes or no answer. It engages them, too.
My next go-to phrase is, “So what do you think is a good next step for us?” And typically what most people say is, “I need to think about this. This is great, but I need to think about it.” When someone says that, say “Awesome. What I’d love to do is just get you on my calendar for a follow-up meeting.” If they respond, “Oh no, no Ryan, I’m good. I’ll call you,” I say, “I don’t want to be one of those people that’s going to send you 5,000 e-mails and call you 5,000 times. I don’t want to be that type of person. I’m not a salesperson. So if we can just set a follow-up time, I’ll call you, you call me, if your answer is ‘yes,’ great, if it’s ‘no,’ not a problem.”
You don’t want sound desperate, and don’t leave it open-ended. Open-ended sales calls are a chase when they happen, and you don’t want to be remembered for the chase, that’s for sure. It’s a huge waste of salespeople’s time.
Don’t Be a Typical Salesperson
A common stereotype is that salespeople are overly persistent. Good salespeople drive you crazy. They pester you on the phone, they pester you with e-mails, they pester you on social media. So I try to use those stereotypes to my advantage. I always say, “I don’t want to be a typical salesperson. Actually, being in sales is not why I got into this business. I just wanted to come up with a great idea. But I’m being forced to do it.” People are usually impressed with my honesty and will grant me a follow-up.
Now half the time they will bust that meeting, which means half they’re not going to show up. Then what I do is I begin to politely be persistent. Approximately every three days, I begin to reach out to them: “Hey, sorry I missed you. We had committed to a time on Tuesday at two and I missed you. Sorry about that. Love to reconnect.
The next touch point is sending them customized emails such as, “Michael, came across an article and I thought I’d share it with you. Have a great day.” It’s a non-sales sales touch. So it puts my name in front of them again, but in a non-sales way. Then my next touch point is to say, “Hey, I’m going to call. I thought that we had some really good alignment. I enjoyed speaking with you. If your answer is no to this, it’s not good timing, I’ll be respectful of that.”
So what I do is I alternate sales and non-sales touches after the person busts my meeting. After about four attempts, you say, “If your answer is no, just let me know. It’s not a big deal.” What I found is, the more desperate I sound, the the less I sell and the more people negotiate.
The fastest way to handle an objection is with the success story of another client. So once you get one client, you’re over that hurdle. But if we go back to prospecting for a moment, you have to use the law of large numbers to your advantage. So you need to get your information in front of a lot of people. In doing so, you don’t need to be worried about not getting every deal. Closing 40 percent of people you present to is a very admirable goal, in my opinion. If you close about 40 percent, you’re doing great. If you’re closing 90 percent right now, you should write a book, go on tour.
On at least a monthly basis after I complete a sale, at least once a month, they’re getting some type of thank-you email from me that says, “Hey, John, just really appreciate having you as a customer. If there’s anything we can do to assist or help you out, please let me know.”
What you’re going to want to do is send a text-only e-mail because that seems a lot more personalized. HTML-formatted graphic e-mails look like, “Oh, you sent that to everybody,” so it needs to be a personalized greeting. Use people’s first names when you’re addressing them in the email. I have my little text, and I sign it ‘Ryan,’ and I put in my signature. Then I hit the enter key say five timesand I put a little dash. And that’s going to take that MailChimp and kind of push it down just a little bit.
So I have a program that is a monthly thanks. I also create monthly themes, so I might do something for spring, St. Paddy’s Day, of course Fourth of July, Memorial Day. Any of this type of themes—Thanksgiving’s a good one. Obviously, you want to be careful on the holidays, because of people’s different sensitivities towards different faiths and things like that.
What I also like to do, and depending upon the size your client base, is write a handwritten thank-you note. The reason handwritten thank-you notes work so well is because nobody does it anymore. I mean, you could even go and use Bond.com to write your handwritten thank-you notes for you for $7 or whatever if you wanted to. But what I do is I will send out a handwritten thank-you note with a $5 Starbucks card and it, say on a quarterly basis, a small little token of my appreciation. And then at least once a year, I like to have the owner, founder, or someone of significance, reach out via phone to clients and ask them personally about our product or service is working for them.
You need some monthly initiatives, quarterly initiatives, and yearly initiatives from a retention perspective. And I’m going to guess that most companies might only invest about half of a percent of their net in retention. I’ve noticed that successful companies will invest 2 to 3 percent, maybe a bit more of their net, toward those retention initiatives. People just don’t realize how expensive it is to get a new client as opposed to retaining a current client.
Hiring Good People
There’s a couple of components to hiring good people. The first is, try to look for people when you don’t actually need people. So when you wait until you need someone to look, it puts you in a precarious hiring situation. You feel like you’re a little desperate to find someone. The next piece of that is, I like to hire slow and fire fast, and I think that’s important. I want to really put people through a process to hire them, and if they’re not the right fit I want to move on fairly quickly within the laws as your state defines them.
The next piece is sales assessments and that assessment should give you a glimpse you’re your clients personalities. It should give you a glimpse into their tendencies, it should give you a glimpse into whether what they’re saying is matching the assessment. Now if you think about it, it is moderately expensive. It’ll cost you $350 or something like that. But what does it cost for you to hire somebody that’s bad?
Then the last piece is, have multiple members of the team, or at least have other people, I don’t care if it’s your mom, have other people besides you interview this person. Now from a sales perspective, I don’t like the slick salesperson. I’m looking for a conversationalist. I’m looking for somebody that maybe is a former teacher, somebody that would rather teach and have a quality conversation with somebody than sell them something.
Everybody thinks that salespeople work for commission only, and salespeople don’t do that. So what you do have to budget for is what it’s going to take for them to live for a few months until they get up to speed. You need to be prepared in your budget to pay them some type of base and then the compensation plan—there’s hundreds of them—but the compensation plan has to be robust enough to steal him away from somebody else, and that’s tough.
Also, don’t forget that a lot of entrepreneurs will find a salesperson and then can’t pay them. So what they immediately do is give the salespeople a stake in their company. That is very, very dangerous because if you don’t have alignment with them and you don’t get along, you are stuck with them. So what I would do is if someone asked for that, I would say, “After we’re together for 90 days, let’s reevaluate to make sure that there’s a good marriage here.”