Be purposeful, be daring, be creative, be likable and have fun. If that doesn’t sound like the droning recession and recovery advice you’re hearing on the cable news stations, I’m not surprised.
These are just a few of the many lessons I gathered at the 2009 TechServe Alliance Conference & Tradeshow in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. Since the event, my head has been brimming with bright and bold ideas I took in as an attendee and as a speaker on IT services marketing. I want to share some of what I learned at the Conference with the hopes that these lessons inspire new thinking and clever 2010 strategies for your organization.
Do They Like You? It’s a Question Worth Asking.
In business, being liked is not a question of feeding egos; it’s a matter of closing deals. Ken Schmidt, branding guru for Harley-Davidson, shared this insight in his keynote address, which explained how people buy from people (brands and businesses) they like. No matter how clever an ad campaign is or how ambitious the sales person, a prospect will not buy from a company if they don’t actually like you and want to work with your organization. So how do you get prospects to want to work with you? Here was Ken Schmidt’s seasoned advice:
- Don’t rely on subtle cues. Be clear and consistent in your messages and goals. Don’t be afraid to ask bold questions like, “What do we need to do to get you to try our services?” And remember, the meeting is a much bigger deal to you, than it is the client.
- Be clearly, noticeably, purposefully different. It doesn’t matter how any other company does it. Only worry about conducting business the way you know how, with clients and prospects’ needs at the top of your mind. Let them know you value what they say. If they want to see X happen, tell them you’ll take their idea back to headquarters. Making them feel important and valued will help build and strengthen your relationship.
- Do something they won’t expect. Here’s an example: On your way to your next sales meeting, call the client 15 minutes in advance and say, “I thought about stopping at Starbucks on my way to our meeting, would you like me to bring you anything?” It’s different. It’s something they won’t expect. It will make them feel like you did something special for them. If they say no, you don’t stop. But at least you asked.
- Listen and understand. You MUST understand your clients and prospects’ needs, even if those current needs do not include you. If a client or prospect says they don’t need your services at this time, respect that. Send a note with an article you think they would find interesting, and let them know you look forward to having them as a customer-but until then, you hope they’re well. It’s polite and courteous. And who doesn’t like that? Just remember to stay in touch with them from time to time until they are ready to become a customer, and try to give them reasons why they should be.
Be Focused, Firm and Fun
Keynote speaker Cynthia Pasky, who is the founder, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3), shared her firm belief in how client relationships built on trust are the ones that last. Pointing to S3′s rigorous, unswerving focus on specific industries, she explained how that strong focus on building rock solid relationships across those industries has allowed S3 to enter its 20th consecutive year of growth and profitability. Pasky offered the following ideas for how IT services organizations could replicate their success:
- Define the market-don’t let it define you. Understand what you want the market to be. And know what you want your business to be in terms of clients, size, industry and what type of GM%. Be clear from the bottom up, and stick to it-even if it means you have to walk away from business.
- Don’t overlook account penetration. Ask yourself what else you can sell to existing clients. Is there market share to be had? Do you see competitors when you walk the clients’ halls? If so, there’s share to be had.
- Keep cold calling. Cindy still does it and believes it should be part of every sales rep’s approach.
- Be creative and have fun. If you don’t have a badge that allows you to get into your clients’ halls, sneak in behind someone who does. You haven’t done your job if you haven’t been thrown out of your customers’ offices a few times. While this approach isn’t for everyone, being bold in the right cases can help set you apart and show you’ll do anything to win the business and service the client. Do everything you can to be selling and take good care of your team as you do it. Have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing.
Make Your Message Your Own
I was privileged to lead two marketing discussions energized by enthusiastic participants who are eager to differentiate their marketplace messages and become more effective sales and marketing professionals. One of the primary keys to increasing sales and marketing effectiveness is better collaboration between these two groups.
A poor sales-marketing partnership means longer sales cycles, increased cost of sales, missed opportunities and the risk of looking incompetent to clients and potential customers. A strong sales-marketing partnership equals a rich, qualified pipeline of prospects that feeds a successful, strong sales cycle. Here are a handful of the winning strategies ClearEdge shared with Conference attendees for improving sales and marketing relationships and performance.
- Alignment to the sales cycle. Marketing teams need to design tools that effectively support their sales teams at every juncture of the sales process.
- Targeted account lists. Every sales professional/account executive should be working off of a short, targeted account/prospect list. By building separate, vetted targeted account lists, a business maximizes its sales efforts. Account execs will no longer end up calling into the same account or accidentally calling an existing client.
- Role reversals. Neither sales nor marketing should work in a vacuum. Send marketing out with sales to meet customers and see their environments, learn customer and prospect challenges first hand, see hard jobs like cold calling and presentations first hand, and understand the responsibilities, stress, routine and tools of sales professionals. Send sales over to marketing to learn how programs are developed, the science behind marketing, the people behind the work and the work behind the work.
- Metrics and measurement. To know the effectiveness of a marketing tool or program, you must measure new revenue and clients by program and campaign, the number of lead generations that can be tied to a specific marketing program or tool, as well as how clients and prospects responded to each program or tool. Successful measurement requires a simple reporting system for sales (e.g. CRM, Excel, or an online tool like Salesforce.com), as well as open and honest communications between sales and marketing.
- Centralized tools and information. Easy access to critical information-for both marketing and sales-will ensure a continued symbiotic relationship between the two departments. Marketing should ensure that up-to-date items like collateral, program results and success stories, as well as tool and program training resources are available to the sales team in a central, easy-to-find location. Sales should make information on program progress, program results and in some cases, prospect lists, readily available to marketing teams.
We’ll here’s hoping you still like me and ClearEdge despite the length of this blog. As you ponder my likeability, please remember I have only covered three sessions from a Conference that was packed with more than 30 lesson-rich sessions. Of course, I might share more next month so be sure and tell me what you’d like to hear more (or less) about and I will gladly oblige.
Founder & President