Recently, I was a bit stunned to read a statistic from an Inside View survey cited in Harvard Business Review. It stated that 90% of C-level executives said they 'never' respond to cold calls or e-mail blasts. Yet I have experience with the best enterprise inside sales outfits, and some outsource operations, that still get excellent results. InsideView is a compelling market intelligence company because the core idea is based on tracking and leveraging Trigger Events which is why they also facilitate great results.
So what does work for establishing connection and interest with a prospective client? And a second question, I have consistently been asked not just by sales pundits is: "What if my target segment is not in social media yet?" I did write a post that referenced a Domo survey that found that 68% of CEOs have no social presence at all on the top five social platforms, and of those who are on social, 73% are solely on LinkedIn.
The problem here is a bit like a tiger chasing its tail. If you cannot reach them live by phone (voicemail is the new PA/EA screening obstacle) and if they're not on socialacross all verticals, how do you meaningfully connect? Waiting for 100% adoption of LinkedIn, Twitter and such is really not an option. We need to close business now - yesterday.
So here are some non-sequitur ideas that may work. Think 'back to the future' with social and technology as mere channels and tools:
- Advertise in industry trade publications and professional journals targeting verticals and/or roles. It's become so unpopular, your creative, edgy ad will stand out! Or, lend your subject matter expertise with a good old fashioned article.
- Host plenary sessions on the hottest topics and facilitated by independent draw-card, thought-leaders at conferences in your industry.
- Network at oblique conferences where C-Levels actually attend. Yes, the ones where you have to fly to an exclusive alpine destination to rub elbows. Typical tech conferences are filled with enthusiastic people trying to 'sell you' and CXOs send their agents. It's quite comical when thousands are mingling to meet potential buyers and none of the decision-makers are actually there - it's an intelligence gathering exercise, not effective selling.
- There's been an amazing focus on social selling and that's brilliant but this assumes the audience is in the network (social channel). Why not write a letter and deliver it via a plain, hand-addressed envelope VITO style? Leverage pith, whimsy and eloquence in a well-researched business case to set an appointment between both your executive teams. How refreshing!
- Mailing lists are often inaccurate and e-mail open rates are dwindling. There's rarely time for executives to read them which is why I've placed a rare focus on my LinkedIn Publisher contributions as the focal point to my strategy. This being the case and in order to catch a broader niche market, I also speak at conferences and sales kickoffs. This gives me analog reach that exceeds social.
- Referrals - Digital referrals via LinkedIn are extremely powerful. But what aboutcalling your clients and asking them if they know any "nice people" who could also avail themselves of your solution. But only those who may have problems you can solve. You'd be amazed at how far you can grow your business nonchalantly calling up everyone your organization has ever sold to, meeting with them, listening intently and prospecting at the close. While you're there, find out / reaffirm why they bought your solution. What problem did they have? What triggered the need to finally do something? How's your solution working out for them? Win reviews with the right focus are very powerful.
- Thoughtfulness in handwritten notes, a paperless post or a meaningful postcard. Send someone an article with an intriguing or funny e-mail title that pops, that catches them off guard. Print a unique article out and mail it to them, writing a cover letter of why it pertains to their business or a discussion you had. These analog activities will paradoxically stand way out. The way you engage is what sets you apart rather than what you want to discuss.
- CRM oddities, bits and pieces: Remembering someone's name is huge as is their birthday but now a digital birthday is just Facebook wall public spam. Everyone you've never met congratulates you. Make a birthday count by personalizing a card. Build a universal field in your CRM to jot down peculiar things about each customer contact: 'Loves to juggle, collects stamps, spends summers in Denmark, is a polyglot who does Shakespeare in the park, Rugby enthusiast, committed atheist and loves The Selfish Gene, won't hire amiable people, big fan of Jim Collins on leadership.'
- Good ol' coffee or tea still cuts through. Just happen to show up in their geo in the afternoon; you'd be surprised how many senior executives would love to pop out for coffee because they do already. I've heard of a salesperson who literally showed up in offices and was able to catch executives off guard to grab coffee in a non-threatening way. There's still something to be said for spontaneity.
- Please understand the enduring hierarchy of human communication that will never change. A money manager of a multi hundred million dollar fund once told me: "Never do anything in business that's important if you're not face to face." E-mail is 1/10th as viable and social (anything that whirs, buzzes, bings and dings) completely devalues a relationship if it's a crutch. To be effective, it must be supplementary even tertiary. Be the person who makes the time to meet rather than lazily send a major contract by e-mail. Also, always send concise e-mails with relevant headings, context before details, a logical flow and a clear request concerning what you want them to do. Stand out in how you respect their time!
To speed up, we must first slow down. In 2015, in a sea of social media noise and confusion, the prevailing winds will seek to push our sales onto the rocks. I've written favorably of social selling but it is no panacea. If you are to engage with it, I want to empower you with the top flight tool-set and strategic selling underpinnings. That being said, a return to the rock solid approach of SPIN with a sprinkle of Challenger Selling, face to face, socially, civilly, e.g. in front of a real human being is the rub, because 'seeing the whites of their eyes' trumps everything else in a mad mad world gone batty over digital by hectares. You don't need to fuel executive ADD, nano-second attention spans and the daunting immediacy of the 'instant gratification of everything' movement.
A growing group of us seeks a return to the "social" before social networks. Call it nostalgia or necessity. I think of Neil Young and his high end Pono player for a return to high quality music; audiophiles everywhere rejoice and shell out top dollar. Witness the bizarre comeback that vinyl records have made over piped in digital music. Once Elon Musk gets us to Mars, there will still be pods where you can talk with a 'real live human' or play a game of chess rather than battle IBM's Watson supercomputer. Why? Because it's romantic and nostalgic like a street lamp lit jaunt down the Seine in Paris. It's like watching The Trip movie, gallivanting with your best friend through Europe ever so Sancho Panza, cycling through the French Alps or following the Giro d'Italia, eating amazing food and cracking wise with your best Michael Caine impression.
We use an incredibly small portion of our brain, and we're fundamentally gregarious creatures. I think extroverts have truly suffered from the 'always on' mobile revolution. Sales goliaths are sitting around writing blog content, keeping up with an onslaught of notifications, e-mails and tweets (heads buried in digital devices) and their lives are cluttered with the productivity-focus interruptor slings and arrows that are laptops, phablets and the new appendage (boat anchor, ball-in-chain) that is the smartphone. The bottom line, you're seldom servicing your best customer with your head down in a screen and even if you're interacting with them that way because they're approaching 90% of completion of the buy-cycle, wouldn't they and you much rather personally interact vis-a-vis one of the methods laid out above? We must focus on empathy, EQ, understanding customer's problems, consoling them, creating a synergistic 'thinking' environment to brainstorm with them and pushing the envelope of just how transformational our share ideas, experience and solutions can be.
When was the last time you sat down with a CXO and had a meaningful conversation? How's that for simplicity in a quarterly KPI transcending your dashboard? How many did you meet at the last tech conference - truly? Are you scanning badges in the front or getting to know someone's business soup to nuts? Are you generating real success in social media? How often are you on site? How many of your key clients who spend over $100K with you annually are you meeting with, brainstorming with and investing quality time in to add unexpected value? Social selling can be fructose or real organic fruit. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's up to you - the choice is yours on how you choose to leverage the technology for good or evil. It can be very unhealthy, spike your insulin sending you from a sugar rush to a crash or a life affirming juice infusion giving you energy throughout the day. It's supplemental to a healthy diet of connecting in all platforms but the greatest platform is still you.
Crawl out from behind your computer, get some fresh air, go bond with the great people you serve and then return with something even more compelling to write about. You won't gain much real world experience being the top ranked social influencer in the world: yes anecdotal... maybe. I try to bring real world advice from years in the trenches and I remind myself each day to tune-out and take social selling with a grain of salt. They said e-mail would be the magic bullet, then ERP, then CRM, then marketing automation, then mobile, then social, then cloud and bid data, now wearables. I don't believe that hard dollar ROI with any of these is fully measurable, certainly not in social. Yet they are all indispensable mandatory investments, tactics part of a cogent overall go-to-market strategy, for any serious enterprise.
But amidst the array of technology automation and platforms, analytics and algorithms, blasting and bedazzling; never forget that it's unwise to attempt to close six and seven figure deals with enterprise elongated sales cycles solely in social. The secret to social selling is really about engagement rather than broadcasting and selling. The best sellers in any medium connect meaningfully with clients and work side-by-side as trusted advisors creating something bigger than both of the entities. It's a mastermind. It's a journey of discovery and beyond the realm of what neuroscience or business can fully understand.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Susanne Nilsson
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