Leveraging Existing Relationships to Jump Start Sales

In the latest issue of The Daly News, Jack Daly offers some excellent suggestions on what companies and sales reps can do to protect revenues and business pipelines during the economic downturn.

Jack notes, and I don’t disagree, that although the economy is definitely soft and there are legitimate crises within certain market sectors, a great deal of the doomsday predictions are most likely little more than hype in advance of the Presidential elections. 

Whether that’s true or not, companies do need to protect their bottom lines while we wait to see who our next President will be and what that will mean for the economy. And that means sales reps need to get creative about keeping their prospect pipelines full. 

To that end, Jack notes that while sales reps do need to continue cultivating new accounts and relationships, selling “wide and deep” into existing clients is key to an immediate infusion of business.

To sell “deep,” identify new opportunities with existing client companies, such as with other offices or locations that you’re not currently selling into, and leverage internal referrals to open those doors. To sell “wide,” find opportunities to encourage existing customers to buy other products or services you’re offering and act on those to leverage existing solid relationships.

Jack also recommends that companies consider implementing a series of overlapping contests to amp up the energy throughout the organization. He notes that, in most cases, contests pay for themselves through additional sales and inject creativity and fun into the process.

There is no question that these are all great ideas for jump-starting the sales process. But I’m willing to bet that A Players have been doing this all along, a least in terms of leveraging existing relationships.

Maximizing sales through existing customer channels has proven itself time and again to be the key to long-term sales success.

Can podcasts boost sales?

More businesses are tapping into the power of social media by integrating podcasts into their online marketing strategies. In fact, a study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research found that the number of Inc. 500 companies using podcasts has nearly doubled in the past year from 11% to 21%.

I like it. When done right, podcasts are a simple, effective and relatively inexpensive way for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition. They demonstrate that the business can offer customers resources beyond just products and services.

One example that stands out for me is actually one of my recruitment firm’s customers, Nerac, Inc., a research and advisory firm for companies developing innovative products and technologies. 

On its website, Nerac offers podcasts featuring interviews with and discussions by its analysts on a range of issues related to the industries it serves. It also keeps things fresh by adding new podcasts on a regular basis.

I use the Internet for almost all my preliminary research on prospective vendors, clients and partners.  I like to listen to the podcasts I come across whenever I can because they give me a different, more personal, perspective on the company and insights into the trends associated with their business and industry.

As long as the podcasts are well done, informative and meaningful (rather than a hit-you-over-the-head sales pitch), those companies tend to edge up closer to the top of my list.

Thus, from my personal and very subjective perspective, podcasts do boost sales. They create value and establish a relationship even before the first sales call is made. That can only serve to accelerate the sales cycle.

What are your thoughts; do podcasts really impact sales and is there a valid way to quantifiably measure their ROI?

Would an A-Player use YouTube to compete for a sales position?

If my own experience is any indication, video resumes are becoming more popular.  I’m definitely seeing an uptick in the number of resumes I receive from sales professionals that direct me to a link on YouTube or another website to view their video resume.

For me, it creates a dilemma. There are some very real discrimination concerns because videos reveal information about the candidate such as race, gender, disability and age that, by law, cannot factor into the hiring decision. Should a candidate be turned down, the video can become fodder for a discrimination lawsuit.

Beyond the legal issues, video resumes can spark personal biases. We’re only human, which is why we’ll almost always come down on the side of a candidate who is most like ourselves or who is most like our best employee.  It’s not legally wrong, but it can lead to a major hiring mistake.  Just because someone isn’t photogenic doesn’t mean they won’t be a great sales person (although if they haven’t bothered to invest in a professionally produced video, that’s pretty telling on its own). But we’ll never know if we automatically disqualify them based on their video.

Then again, I question whether an A-Player would risk calling their professional judgment into question by using a video resume, knowing how subjective the hiring manager’s response can be. The A-Players I work with wouldn’t take that chance or, if they did, would make sure that their video resume was polished and professional.

What’s interesting is that this dilemma is apparently not shared by the majority of hiring managers. According to the annual employer survey from Vault Inc., 52% of employers said they were receptive to video resumes and 89% said they would view one if they got it because it’s a good way to determine the candidate’s professionalism, presentation, attitude and dress. However, the survey also found that only 17% of hiring managers had used a video resume to make a decision on a candidate.

For me, video resumes are not an effective job hunting tool.  Where do you stand; should we encourage (or at least not discourage) candidates from using them?

Scripts—the most outdated tool in Sales

This week, SalesJournal.com is pleased to present a guest blog by Tony L. Smith, a national accounts manager with The Brooks Group, a reputable sales training firm that specializes in customized B2B sales.

“Work on your script” and “change your pitch” are phrases the majority of salespeople have heard at some point in their career. In fact, the phrases on their own often conjure up negative feelings. Yet sadly, they are still being used in the world of selling today.

Why?

I don’t know about you, but if my day is interrupted by someone who drones on and on for minutes on end, following a script and sounding like a machine, I begin to tune out and want to end the call as quickly as possible. Do you want to be “pitched” to?

I don’t blame the salesperson in this instance; I blame the management team that advocates and commands such outdated selling techniques. I once worked for a company whose turnover was in the 80% range. This company would hire kids directly out of college and, in some cases, have these young minds move several states away to come to a “high growth organization.”

Once the new salespeople arrived, they would be crammed together in cubicles or marched off to a training room where they would spend a day learning the product, a day practicing a script, and then hit the phones running — ready to bust out 100 calls a day and make lots of money. Armed with their sure-fire script and the “perfect pitch,” they were poised for certain success.

Does this sound familiar to you?  

Those salespeople who dared not follow a script were quickly chastised and brought back in line. The promises of success were great. “Just follow the script. It works!”

Baloney, I say. If the script works so well, why were so many salespeople who followed it to a tee not making any sales?  They did what they were told. Then a month goes by; it’s late one Friday night and they get called into a room and let go. Some were devastated. This was their first job out of college. They had signed a year-long lease on an apartment, were away from all their friends and families, and within a month they had lost their job. One even stated, “but I followed the script. I did everything I was told to do.” 

“You just aren’t cut out for selling,” was the feedback given. Talk about sadistic! 

This may be an extreme example, but it still happens.

Why did the script not work?  Well, it goes back to the very fundamentals of selling. People buy from people who understand what they want and need. The only way to do that is to have a real dialogue and ask questions to uncover those wants and needs. A script just cannot do this.

Here’s a better approach:

  1. Have an objective to the call.
  2. Prepare your questions in advance of the call, so you know where you are going.
  3. Focus on what the prospect wants and listen to what they are saying.
  4. Be flexible.
  5. Have a real dialogue.
  6. Stop pitching and start allowing the prospect to buy!

I’ve seen managers hound salespeople who do not read the script and then wonder why they are not making sales when the script is read. If you are one of these managers, open your eyes! Salespeople want to succeed, but are sometimes hindered by management.

For the rest of us, let’s get rid of the word pitch. It puts the focus on us and not the prospect or customer!