Years ago when I started in B2B sales, there was one way to keep track of customers and prospective customers – writing on lined, yellow note pads and putting these precious notes into manila file folders. appointments were kept in our Daytimers and planners - all paper based. Some of my sales colleagues would hand-write on the tabs of the file folders and add tabs to hanging folders– these tools were our “lifeline” to keeping track of potential sales opportunities and all our connections.
Once Microsoft Outlook came out, well – life was anew. Some of us cutting edge sellers gradually started to trust this system to corral all of our contact information, flawed and all - and then the advent of big, high-end customer relationship management systems started to appear. For many years they were cost-prohibitive for small and mid-market companies.
In 2012 there are so many tools to help you with keeping track of business, of clients, of prospects, of deals, of appointments, of webinars, of client communities – we are on overload. Time to step back and focus on what is most critical –
People do business with people – not with companies – not with CRM tools. The growing community interaction online and how brands and businesses are integrating into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest is staggering.
Keep your focus on people, and use tools to having conversations with them. Whether you are with a Fortune 500 company or a mid-market business, you won’t suddenly have transactional virtual business replacing multiple, trust-building phone or in-person conversations. Some of the latest web tools are amazing – but they will only give you an ASSIST in building business. They don’t take the place of a phone meeting, a conference call, or an in-person meeting with your voice and your part of a 2-way interaction with them. Yes, you can offer video messaging – it is a huge step beyond words and still photos. But once you do that, you need to follow-up through voice messaging and connecting live.
If you sell anything that has some nuance or complexity to it, there is no replacement for human interaction. As a seller, work on these two things:
Your communication skills – what you say, how you say it, who you say it to, and how often
What you say is your pitch, your blurb, your intro. This is the point where you have just seconds to engage your reader or listener. If you lose them, they are gone. It’s very hard to get them back. Work on this! Share the value that you bring to your prospective customer, not how great you and your company are.
How you say it is about your conviction, belief, and passion for your area of expertise. When people do not hear or feel the confidence in your voice or words, you can lose them and not get them back.
Who you are communicating to is critical – if you are not reaching those involved in decisions, you are at a big disadvantage, because these folks will basically be selling you to others. Is that what you really want? Work to understand who all is involved in the project and find ways to loop them in.
How often is your follow-up, which leads us to the next point – whether you have a single or multi-faceted strategy for follow-up.
Your multi-faceted strategy – do not just follow-up by email or Twitter DMs. At some point, suggest or create a call, or send a note, or create a short video and send it to your prospective customer. This does not always work, but it is clear that just because YOU prefer Twitter your prospect may not – or your DM might get lost. If they DO prefer this as a communications vehicle, you’d be foolish to keep calling them by phone or sending emails. Be flexible, and when you do connect, ask them how they prefer to communicate.
Follow up is often confusing to sellers - how often to follow-up, and at what point do my many follow-up attempts become a liability? The answer is a bit long-winded – if you believe you have a service or a product that will greatly help or support your prospective customer, it is upon you to follow-up until the point that they understand your offer and accept it or turn it down. In other words, you don’t just stop following up because you don’t hear back from them. Space your contact out – unless there is a time-based deadline, you will follow-up on an on-going basis. The problem for most sellers is that they are just “checking-in” (that’s what you do at an airport, not with your prospects) and not always thinking of how to add value. We’ll talk more about ways to do that in a future post.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012 and speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the "Sales Ideas In A Minute" newsletter for tips and strategies in selling.