Storytelling: Why It Rarely Works in Sales Prospecting

Many a book has been written on storytelling. Especially in marketing. Today, storytelling (as a practice) is creeping into sales prospecting. But is it effective to start conversations from cold?

Many a book has been written on storytelling. Especially in marketing. Today, storytelling (as a practice) is creeping into sales prospecting. But is it effective to start conversations from cold?

Like so many “best” practices this one rarely works for sales reps. Because stories are usually presented:

  • Outside the buyer’s decision-making context (not buying context … the many parts preceding it)
  • Selfishly, in a way tries to force conversation about the seller’s value
  • To help uncover a “hidden pain” the prospect has yet is unaware of

Yes, B2B buyers are concerned more with business value, how your solution is different … less with features and benefits. But until prospects discover, on their own:

  • why buying might be needed,
  • a way to manage their own internal change

… they won’t be in a position to want your story.

In many selling contexts, this reduces your story to a self-centered means-to-an-end: A discussion clients don’t see value in (yet).

Sellers using storytelling as a conversation-starter often suffer. Especially when clients don’t routinely invest in what is being sold.

After all, why would prospects want to hear a story (about a problem they don’t know they have) unless they were ready to consider change? Biased questions create push-back.

In Defense of Storytelling

“Sometimes prospects aren’t willing to open up to sales rep’s questions which are aimed to discover and build pain,” said a colleague who co-founded a SaaS company selling solutions to leaders of sales teams. His targets are often reluctant to invest. The status quo feels just fine.

“Sometimes prospects get frustrated at answering questions without being told why. Sometimes its difficult for prospects to understand ‘whats being sold to them’ and need the context. Storytelling helps prospects resonate with a sales person as they can relate to another customer in the same sector, with the same job title, with similar objectives.”

But here’s the problem: Buyers (who are not buyers yet) aren’t interested in helping you discover pains … and build upon it.

“Qualification or discovery questions on cold calls can sometimes feel like traps to prospects,” says sales trainer, Josh Braun. “How are you going to use this to sell me? Where are you leading me? It’s like when a mall kiosk person says ‘Can I ask you a question?’ You look away because you know they are asking to lead you somewhere.”

Prospects are very good at identifying and resisting your biased questions. Sadly, these are the questions sellers are trained to ask … which serve only their (not the client’s) need.

“This situation happened on a sales call I reviewed for one of my own reps today,” my colleague continued. “The prospect pushed back on my rep’s questions which were aimed at discovering how he could help and where the opportunity existed. As soon as he told a relevant customer story, the conversation changed for the better.”

But did the conversation continue? In most cases they do not. Prospects may get clear on what you’re trying to sell to them; however, they may become less motivated to continue the conversation!

Instead, what if the sales rep asked, “What would need to happen for you to give sales managers a way to monitor and act on how reps are interacting with prospects?”

The “why” is obvious: The rep asks because he’s interested more in the prospects’ current capabilities… less about qualifying them into a deal. By focusing the prospect on their own (lack of) capability there is no need to be put into a defensive posture.

Bottom line: Avoid the push-back completely, save the story for later.

Assume a Neutral Role First

What if your communications technique re-framed: Away from coaxing the prospect into talking about their “why” (which they don’t have), toward a neutral role.

What if you first helped the client realize a problem exists with neutral questions?

The question, “What would need to happen for you to give sales managers a way to monitor and act on how reps are interacting with prospects?” is not asking to consider what they’re missing out on. Instead, it is asking the client to consider a problem (or advantage) they don’t (yet) know exists.

Here is another neutral question my colleague should be asking when calling-in cold: “How are you measuring your sales managers ability to help reps drive qualitatively better sales conversations?”

How, not “are you.” This forces introspection: “Gee, I’m not measuring managers’ ability to help reps communicate better…. why should I be?” Now they’re on a path to developing their ‘why.’

Under your neutral guidance.

If prospects don’t have a need for your tool you cannot nurture that need out of them. You must help them, first, develop a ‘why’ that is not tied to the pre-determined need you have (for prospects to develop a why enabling your eventual sale).

Here are action items for you to consider:

1) Why would a customer who is not, yet, able to initiate the change needed (to bring you in) want to hear a story?

2) What if you, instead, got better at facilitating conversations addressing clients internal decision systems? (helping the champion navigate their internal decision process… and, thus, shaping the RFP)

3) What if you got better at identifying what created the buyer’s status quo — then helped internal champions create a business case within the framework of their decision process?

Stories may be of (better) use when we are invited to share them by the prospect — for their reasons rather than being a means to convince them of something they’re overlooking/not seeing. That feels too much like persuasion.

As Edith Crnkovich, of DXC Technology and self-proclaimed sassy storyteller, says,  there is more value in “having the sales person first seek to understand the customers business issues before launching into a story. I don’t think we spend enough time doing that and this is mostly about asking a lot of questions first.”

What do you think?

Should You Be Cold Calling When ‘Social Selling’?

Ever notice how the argument against cold calling is actually against cold pitching? (a concept that has never worked in B2B.)

Mobile megaphoneEver notice how the argument against cold calling is actually against cold pitching? (a concept that has never worked in B2B.)

“The best cold call I ever overheard was 15 minutes of a sales development rep (SDR) discussing how the consolidation and vertical integration of the optical industry made it harder for new players to gain space on the board in the shrinking independent retailer market,” says Brandon Gracey, VP of Sales at Handshake Corp.

“If that leaves you scratching your head, it’s probably because you don’t work in the optical industry. Neither did the SDR in that call, but he booked a meeting with a prospect who eventually bought from us. In part because of that call and how we understood their industry and specifically addressed their challenges.”

Gracey says every buyer out there is receiving the same “Who should I talk with?’” email, going through the same screening, getting the same spin about “a product specialist who will be able to dive into that deeper.”

Fact: Successful B2B sellers use cold calls (not just email) to open discussions; not pitch.

Top sellers find prospects, qualify buyers and close them — using all available tools.

Want to consistently out-perform your peers? Become a superior researcher, be a diligent hunter and an exceptionally un-biased communicator. Don’t make calls biased to the meeting or demo you seek.

Don’t ask for the outcomes you want. Avoid having them on your mind.

Instead, use the phone to facilitate change-focused conversations that put customers in control.

An Absurd Debate

“Some CEO is in his office, busy running the company, a thousand things on his mind and suddenly … ring ring ring … ‘Want a demo?’ Some pimply faced SDR is pushing a demo on this dude,” says Noah Goldman, adviser to CEOs of early stage companies.

“Think of the absurdity of it … and you wonder why your cold calling sucks?”

“You wonder why your ‘opportunities’ (Hint: they never were opportunities) push or go dark?”

If you’re using the phone to prospect, successfully, you’re not cold pitching. You are helping buyers either qualify-out or get ready to buy.

What Is a Cold Call?

“If you ever walked up to a stranger at a bar and said ‘h=Hi,’ that was a cold call. But unless you were a total dunce you didn’t say, ‘Hi … want a date?’ right off the bat,” says Goldman.

There’s nothing wrong with cold calling — people do it every day.

“There’s a little preamble that is required. And you know that! So why would you treat your sales communications differently?”

Goldman says cold calls:

  • serve to move you from unknown entity to known entity…
  • do this in a way that is well received…
  • over some medium that is well received.

However, he also says we endanger the entire process when we ask for things that are unreasonable — given that level of familiarity.

“So the next time you think of cold calling … and fear shoots down your spine … realize that’s a sign that, yes, you are doing it wrong,” says Goldman.

“You are asking for too much. But when you step back your asks … and things become more comfortable … realize that’s a sign you are doing it right.”

Proof: Calling Works in Most B2B Scenarios

Meet Mark Hunter of Omaha-based The Sales Hunter. He has a story of coaching a large national sales team, where his reps were selling to IT departments:

“We had huge success by integrating the telephone, email, social media and even in-person meetings together. The sales reps who had the most success were the ones that used the telephone the most,” says Hunter.

There were reps who claimed the phone didn’t work. In fact, they fought it.

“But it was a short fight,” says Hunter, “because their results were so poor. The phone worked because it was used in conjunction with other prospecting tools.”

The First Step to Better Cold Calls

Success in sales demands a facilitative communications technique. But where to start?

Re-frame it: What if the purpose of your call wasn’t to get anything? (e.g., information qualifying the prospect as a buyer)

What if you put the decision (to speak) 100 percent into the hands of your target? And what if you started the conversation in a way that didn’t expect, nor hope for, another call?

Josh Braun, of Sales DNA asks, “Are you tired of the debilitating feeling of rejection when cold calling? Don’t like cold calling because it feels bad to intrude on people? Don’t like getting cold calls because it feels bad to be sold?”

Braun says stress comes from the pressure of having to get something from the call.

“The root of rejection comes from assuming what you have is what someone wants. But what if the purpose of a call wasn’t to get anything at all?”

Indeed, what if your goal was to see if the person your calling is open to how you might be able to help them do something better? Even better, what if the purpose of your call had nothing to do with you taking information from the customer?

The idea is to align with customers earlier … during their pre-sales change management steps that drive the eventual purchase. But how best to insert yourself with a call?

There Is No ‘Getting’

When calling resist the urge to qualify customers based on their need, purchase capability, or timing. Because this ignores the many people who don’t know exactly what they need yet!

Braun says the purpose of a cold call is not to get a meeting nor demo. He’s right.

The purpose of a cold call is to see if your prospect is open to learning how you may be able to help them do something better.

“If the prospect has no interest, it’s because you’re not interesting to them at this moment in time, which is a perfectly reasonable outcome,” says Braun.

“There is no ‘getting’ or setting meetings because you don’t know if the person your calling needs your help. It’s the assuming that creates pressure for both you and your prospect.”

Tactically speaking, you mantra is: Don’t assume they do. And don’t try to place your solution. Just don’t!

Instead of starting conversations with “getting qualification information” in mind, take the pressure off. Qualify customers by focusing on their internal change. Research what may be happening before your call.

Put yourself in a position to help them manage it — if and when it’s what they want.

Focus your approach technique on how they will go about becoming excellent. Address what has likely stopped them until now. Focus on what will they need to do … to ready themselves for change you see on their horizon.

Until buyers are able to avoid disrupting their status quo, they will not buy.

What is your experience?

The 2 Biggest Problems With Your Sales Communication

There are two of huge problems with sales communication techniques — they make you look weak, and like every other seller out there.

If you’ve ever written or spoken the words, “I just wanted to …” stop. If you’ve ever sent emails to clients pushing on pain points, stop that, too (because that’s exactly what your competition is doing).

These are two of the biggest problems with sales communication techniques — they make you look weak, and like every other seller out there.

Here’s how to understand if your mentality and pain-point-pushing are, in fact, causing you to start fewer conversations than you deserve. If so, we’ll get you on track with stronger written and voice-based digital messages.

Stop ‘Wanting To’

Subconsciously you may be on the defensive. We all are. In life and with our work. Defensiveness and uncertainty are part of the human experience. But it can destroy your ability to communicate effectively.

Case in point, “I just wanted to …”

Author and sales trainer, Jeb Blount, recently said, “You’re saying it on the phone, you’re saying it in emails and InMails, you’re saying it in person … ‘I just wanted to check-in’ … ‘I just wanted to set an appointment’ … ‘I just wanted to grab a few minutes of your time’ … ‘I just wanted to stop by’ … I just wanted to reach out.”

“Just wanted to” is poor grammar. I’ve taken heat from my students on this for a long time. But I feel empowered by Jeb to stand firm. Stop it.

Yes, we should strive to write as we speak. But when we speak weakly, we are average. And average in sales isn’t effective. Especially in digital communications — like voicemail and email.

“‘Just wanted to’ is yesterday … it is passive and weak. It makes you sound insecure,” says Blount.

Perhaps because you are insecure.

The cure? Well, be confident. But also shift to active tense. Take an active stance. Be confident. Don’t sound average!

“Say, ‘I want to.’ Say ‘I am.’ Be active. Be confident,” says Blount. “Because confidence transfers to your prospect. Stop saying, ‘I just wanted to.’ Just stop it.”

Are You Needy?

We all need. To need is human. But needing a reply, a conversation or a closed sale can set you up for communications failure. Just like when we date to find that perfect life partner: The more you communicate, subtly, you really need that second date, the less often you get it.

The more persuasive your tone (during the first date) the less you attract. Because persuading inherently puts you on the defense. It assumes you must convince. Instead, what if you confidently provoked your prospect to convince him/herself? Slowly.

Bottom line: A more confident mental attitude drives more productive behavior. Because confidence attracts, in personal and professional life. Word choice is everything.

“When I stop being needy, I can focus on my reader’s needs — like being respectfully short, factual, interesting … and ending with an implied choice,” says copywriter David Morrison.

“I think of this instruction as a prescription, and I think effective cold email is also a prescription for the reader: declarative, unambiguous, single action,” says Morrison.

Indeed, a cold call or email should be strong in tone. However, to be effective it should not be forceful. Instead, the message’s tone must be openly at peace with rejection.

“Doctor’s don’t beg. They tell you what to do and leave it up to you to follow instructions — and if you want to fix your pain/problem, you decide to take action. No one can persuade you or motivate you to do something. That desire comes from inside.”

Is what you sell prescriptive? Then David’s metaphor works.

Why ‘Pain Points’ Are Such a Pain

Marketers and sellers instinctively push on pain points. If a customer has a pain, tell them you can relieve it. But everyone is pushing information that touches on pains. If you want to blend in with the scenery, pushing on pains is an excellent way to get ignored/deleted.

Also, you cannot start near-term conversations with clients who don’t (yet) realize they have pain. Yet, sellers continue to turn to marketing prose for language that pushes on pains.

My Best Short-List of Digital Sales Prospecting Tools

What tools do most of my best (most productive) students use when prospecting? Glad you asked. Here’s the skinny on “top picks” that have been crash-tested by me, my team and my customers … soloprenurs and sales reps from large corporate teams.

Email, Mobile and Social Media Marketing: Lessons from top-performing B-to-B and B-to-C brandsWhat tools do most of my best (most productive) students use when prospecting? Glad you asked. Here’s the skinny on “top picks” that have been crash-tested by me, my team and my customers … soloprenurs and sales reps from large corporate teams.

These aren’t the coolest tools. Instead, these are vetted products and services that seem to be used by top-performing sales people and entrepreneurs. Do you and/or your team work virtually? Get ready for the goods.

Email Open/Download Tracking and Scheduling

Don’t know your email open rate when sending cold prospecting messages? You’re flying blind. It’s impossible to judge effectiveness of your message without first knowing your subject line is effective.

If you aren’t being opened, your message isn’t getting read. Many of my students report 40 percent and even 75 percent open rates. Sound impossible? It’s not. But you’ve got to get out-of-the-box, get creative … take risks.

To understand email open rates, Mac (Apple Mail) users seem to prefer MailButler. For non-Mac heads, Boomerang for Gmail is a strong option, especially for businesses who allow Google to host their email via G-Suite.

MixMax and SalesHandy are two newcomers who are pushing beyond the usual functionality of Gmail/G-Suite plugins. My team and I use MixMax. These tools offer a wide (and growing) array of simple functions vital to your digital prospecting success. These include email:

  • Reminders (return to top of inbox on certain date based on recipient action taken)
  • Scheduling of message delivery at specified time
  • Template storage and message insertion
  • Open tracking and notifications (showing real-time, location and device type)
  • Download notifications (showing when prospects open your attachments and links)
  • Message sequencing (based on a pre-defined or on-the-fly cadence you use)

Need to integrate with your CRM of choice? No problem. Most of these solutions stand ready to help you move contacts to various popular CRM tools. Many SaaS CRM tools are also able to “suck in” email message data from your cloud G-Suite account.

This kind of practical reporting (open and response rate) makes weekly reporting to the boss (or yourself) a snap.

Email Verification Tools

When prospecting, we’re forced to email prospects. LinkedIn InMail alone is not enough — contrary to what most folks think. There are various, reliable hacks and methods to identify most business email addresses. However, most are a chronic waste of time.

Frankly most free email verification tools (and CRM platforms that include access to contact data/emails) are horrific. Quality lacks. Most generate 30 percetn or less accuracy rates on valid email addresses. This is what I and my students experience.

However, there are a few that seem to shine at understanding which business email address is valid and which is not.

Among the better choices (based on collective experience … please share yours too!) are:

  • Proofy.io (free and affordable paid email verification)
  • Emailvalidator.co (free email validation)
  • Hunter.io (free email validation)

Digital Calling and Telephone Tools

Whether you’re a small business entrepreneur or part of a global sales team you need to be on the phone. Like it or not, cold calling remains essential to success of 85 percent of students I coach.

Thus, you may need (or benefit from) emerging VOIP telephone tools like Grasshopper.com. This service makes it easy for small organizations to look-and-feel big. Once you have a registered toll-free phone number the possibilities begin. Your business can have:

  • Multiple extensions: an automated call routing system (even if there are only 2 of you!)
  • Voicemails transcribed and emailed or texted to you
  • Call forwarding
  • Business text messages

Hardware required? Zero. It’s all in the cloud.

Microsoft-owned Skype should not be overlooked, especially if you’re like me: traveling and working with international clients. Simply secure your phone number and bring it with you no matter where on the planet you are — so long as you have Wi-Fi, you have your local phone number.

Skype Manager is a great team management tool complete with call reporting for your in-office or remote team.

But don’t overlook UpCall.com. If you’re a business owner or manager interested in finding high-quality, vetted cold-callers, this service is for you.

In essence, UpCall.com is “like UpWork (formerly Elance) for cold-callers.” This is a growing database of cold-callers from around the globe. Select language, geographic and other preferences you require for callers. Then UpCall’s search engine suggests callers that best fit your requirements.

You can even listen to successful calls the vendors have made, view training and certifications they hold, and more.

Best of all, callers are rated based on feedback of paying clients they call for. Just like on Ebay or UpWork, you can choose the “safest bet” to start a new vendor relationship.

These are just a few telephone and email tools I have come to use, recommend based on my (and my customers’) experience. What are your experiences and preferred tools? Do they differ? Please share in comments!

What Makes Sales Email Templates Work

Most sellers are using email templates and call scripts because more outreach drives more conversations. However, most emails fail to provoke replies. But those that do are personalized. Yes, a personalized template.

EmailMost sellers are using email templates and call scripts because more outreach drives more conversations. We need to scale. However, most emails fail to provoke replies. But those that do are personalized. Yes, a personalized template.

Here’s the rub: Sales email templates should help you customize — not send — faster.

Just like a good call script, effective email templates are easily personalized. Flexible. Some are even timeless. Because they use mental triggers.

If your call and email templates are completely scripted they fail. They’re rigid and sound canned. They’re not relevant, nor personal.

Want to start more discussions with buyers — and scale your time? Personalize your templates. Open them up. Allow for insertion of information that:

  • Proves you’ve researched the prospect
  • Sparks curiosity
  • Provokes a reply inviting a discussion

The Truth About Templates

Effective message templates help you customize faster. They help you persuade customers to ask for more contact.

Quick example: I get requests like this all the time:

“Jeff, I am looking for subject lines that have great open rate and content in email to drive the sale. Please let me know if you have any templates that you can share.”

Here’s my point: This person wants to push messages out. He/she wants subject lines and messages that work — at scale. We all do. But these days, sellers are pushing and pushing and PUSHING emails with marketing copy in them.

Non-personalized, catch-all emails that don’t push. They don’t work. They don’t pull.

Pulling (attracting, provoking curiosity) is the key to success. But without personalizing your approach it’s impossible to provoke curiosity in buyers. Because you never earn the right to speak.

People (in general) value more what they ask for — less what you freely offer (what you push).

Effective Templates Personalize Faster

Yes, we need to start conversations — at scale. But standard message templates take all the work out of your effort and readers feel this. That is the problem! Your goal isn’t to send messages faster. It’s to personalize faster.

Think about the last templated email you received. How quickly did you delete it? Because it was easy to spot. It felt … mass. It read like a mass message. The sender sent it along with hundreds of others.

They pushed the words at you. But what if the seller had attracted you to the idea of speaking with them? What if you were enticed? What if their message generated a thought in your head like, “wait … do I understand you correctly? How would that actually work?” or “sure, what’s your idea?”

What if you read their cold email and were piqued? What if they pulled you?

Point blank: Nothing screams “impersonal” louder than an email message you’ve cut, pasted and sent. No research, no personalization. Creating no desire to ask for more contact — based on a provocation.

Yet, there is a way to provoke conversations with buyers — using templates at scale.

Personalize With Observations

One simple and quick way to create personalized templates is to “front load” your approach with an observation about your target. This lets you leverage a templated approach however, removes the impersonal, mass-email feel to the reader.

Here is a quick example to help you take action on the concept. Steve sells Web site hosting services for mid-sized retailers with e-commerce sites.

Subject: Problem with response time

Steve,

Noticing your Web site has severe problems with response times. For example, your e-commerce pages take so long to load customers may abandon and buy at a competitor. Many images are also broken. Like on your main sweatshirts page.

You aware of this? I have an idea. But only if you’re open to it.

Are you open to a different approach to fixing these problems? The costs involved may surprise you.

Let me know what you decide, Steve.

Thanks,
Jeff

Notice how the first paragraph is researched, personalized. Very specific information is offered. This proves the seller did his homework on Steve’s situation.

Feel like a template? Not at all, right? All based on an observation inserted into an otherwise templated (scale-able) message.

Granted, you may not be able to spot something about your prospects online. But there are various ways to glean such observations.

Today, research is key to provoking response using email. Nothing works better.

What Works is Guarded

Message templates you’ll find while Googling don’t spark response. Because everyone is using them. Customers have become saturated with the same approaches over and over. What does work is often closely guarded.

However, what works is within your reach: A customized approach that proves you’ve done homework on the prospect … helps you look less like a pusher.

Personalization of templates stops deletion by making your approach instantly authentic.

Non-customized templates earn the delete key. Customized get acted on more often — at scale. That’s the best part.

Set your goals accordingly. Develop:

  • A set of  two to four subject lines that perform well (earn opens)
  • two to three reliable, customize-able cold messages to start conversations
  • Three to five template drafts that can be applied depending on the response type

Remember: Sales email templates help you customize (not send) faster. Just like a good call script, strong email templates are personalized, flexible. Good luck!

They Replied, Now What? A Better Sales Email Follow Up

Congratulations on earning a reply to your cold sales email. But, for most sellers, what comes next hurts: lack of response. You’re not alone. Most sellers suffer from “too much, too fast” syndrome. Prospects open the door with, “Sure, tell me more” or “Yes, I’m open to hearing what you have to offer.” But this is where most of us go wrong.

Will Slack Replace Email?Congratulations on earning a reply to your cold sales email… or a lead from your marketing campaign. But for most sellers what comes next hurts: lack of response.

You’re not alone. Most sellers suffer from “too much, too fast” syndrome. Prospects open the door with, “Sure, tell me more” or “Yes, I’m open to hearing what you have to offer.”

But this is where most of us go wrong.

We reply with details about our solutions — the problems we fix and how we fix them. We talk about benefits of doing business with us. We yak about ourselves and expect potential customers to continue the conversation they just invited.

But this often results in clients “going dark.” They consistently don’t reply. Why? Because your prospects probably are not:

  • Actively interested; they’re only passively curious
  • Able to be honestly interested (the pain is dull, the status quo is in place)
  • The decision maker after all (it’s a group decision)
  • Ready to assemble the decision-making team
  • Informed about what is needed (operationally) to enact change

I could go on but will stop here. You get the point.

The worst reply (to a client’s invitation to talk) is one about you and/or your solution. Instead, drill further into your prospect’s world.

Why did they reply? Was it a passive or serious interest? Do they actually have pain — or are they anticipating it?

You want to know, right away. The best way to understand if you’ve “got a live one on the line” is to ask. Help the prospect prove they’re serious to you. Start the qualification process.

Don’t Take the Bait

The trick to earning a reply (to your follow up message) is triggering it. Talking about your solution to their problem is usually not a trigger — even if prospects ask you to. It’s a trap. Don’t take the bait. Instead, pivot. Provoke your prospect to reply with more details.

Help them qualify themselves in a way that screams, “I don’t want to pitch you … yet … so let’s talk about you first.”

Like this: “Lisa, I don’t want to waste your time. Before I provide details will you kindly tell me …?”

Make your email about them — honoring their time and asking for a little more information about why they opened the door for you.

Whether you’re trying to provoke a discussion from cold — or continue one — you’re not selling. You’re facilitating: facilitating a conversation about change.

Make Sure Prospects are Worth Your Time

When potential buyers respond to your first email don’t over-react. It may not be as fantastic as you think. You’ve been invited to reply. Great. But is this going to be an actual conversation? If so, will it be a good one?

Sharon Drew Morgen’s Buying Facilitation® model can help. Her methodology transcends sales prospecting, yet, her principles drive effective email and telephone conversations.

Especially if your prospect has yet to invest time in the decision-making process.

Here’s what Sharon Drew taught me — that creates mutually-beneficial conversations for me and my students.

Once you’ve been invited to have a dialogue, it’s time to structure your messages. Consider the desired outcomes and ask questions that help the client reveal where they are in the purchase decision process (are they in it at all?!).

Sharon Drew says this model involves both the buyer and the seller being equally served. Sellers help buyers gain control over private change management issues — thereby helping buyers become ready to buy and helping you close more deals.

Ask Facilitative Questions

Sharon Drew calls the consultative facet of her process “Facilitative Questioning.” It’s part of her Buying Facilitation® process — a change management model.

In an outbound prospecting or inbound lead follow up context, the concept is extremely useful. It helps train us slow down — think less about questions we need answered, more about questions prospects need answered.

We become the observer of their thought-process (if not a trusted guide).

“The time we spend pushing solutions rather than helping buyers facilitate their change process is misplaced, mistimed and misguided,” says Sharon Drew.

She says this results in “a product/solution push into a closed, resistive, private system.” Instead, it should be an expansive, collaborative experience.

If its not, Sharon Drew says, “we end up closing only the low hanging fruit … those ready to buy at the point of contact … unwittingly ignoring others who aren’t ready even though they may need our solutions.”

Give Buyers Time, Space

Basically, Sharon Drew is teaching sellers how dangerous it is to push too hard. When we just launch into our benefits  —or ask leading (biased) questions — we don’t give buyers time and space needed to prepare for their ultimate decision.

We also (usually) don’t get a chance to participate in their decision-making process.

Sharon Drew’s position can be provocative. For example, she says: “Prospecting/cold calling is driven by sellers to gather needs/information and offer solution details … all biased by the need to place solutions.”

She says traditional prospecting, “ignores the full enigmatic fact pattern of the buyer’s environment and change issues, and touches only buyers seeking THAT solution at THAT time at THAT period of readiness, omitting those who could buy if ready …”

The Brutal Truth

Customers value more what they ask for than what’s freely offered. Customers value more what they conclude for themselves than what they’re told.

So you’ve got to ask yourself:

  1. How can I get buyers to ask for help? (get into the conversation)
  2. Then, how can I get buyers to figure things out on their own? (facilitate the conversation)

Answer: An effective communications technique. Cold calling and cold emailing can help.

Once you’ve sparked interest in having conversation, focus on helping customers discover, on their own, what they want, when and why.

Ditch your pitch. Resist the urge to take customers down the path before they prove they’re ready to walk with you. When your next prospect opens the door with, “sure, tell me more” hold back. Ask questions that help them prove an active interest.

Help them reveal why they replied. Dig deeper. They’ll appreciate your doing so and are more likely to reply back.

Are You Making a $250K LinkedIn Sales Navigator Mistake?

Sales teams are spending big bucks this year on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, primarily to access LinkedIn’s database and InMail — allowing full access to prospects’ inboxes. From $30,000 to $250,000, most sales teams are “all in.”

LinkedIn LogosSales teams are spending big bucks this year on LinkedIn Sales Navigator, primarily to access LinkedIn’s database and InMail — allowing full access to prospects’ inboxes. From $30,000 to $250,000, most sales teams are “all in.”

But marketing teams are making a big mistake when training sellers on social selling. They’re failing to focus sales teams on an effective communications technique to spark conversations with buyers. Even worse, sellers are going in cold — with their cold email approaches.

Most sellers are sending InMail messages on a test-and-learn basis. Big mistake considering one cannot test InMail open rates (at all).

Graceful Interruptions
Prospecting is all about interruptions. Cold calling is part art, part science. And it ain’t easy. But when a seller masters the ability to earn discussions, look out! They churn through prospecting lists — booking appointments like mad.

When a seller figures out how to interrupt customers gracefully, everything changes.

Today’s top reps are effectively interrupting prospects gracefully. Effectively. Using the phone, LinkedIn, email … whatever it takes.

As Hank Barnes of Gartner Research puts it, the best sellers

  • are relevant to the buyer’s situation
  • quickly help the prospect tell if they should care (they’re to the point)
  • offer a clear next step that honors the buyer’s time-frame

Good cold calling and cold emailing techniques leverage graceful interruptions. Problem is, most marketing teams undervalue (or just don’t plain understand) this part of sales.

The Problem With LinkedIn Sales Navigator
“The simple truth is most people and companies on Linkedin use it to sell to other companies and members,” says Simon Marley, CEO of Growth Logik. “But ironically they don’t want to be sold to.”

Marley conducts surveys of CEOs and studies how C-level contacts are using LinkedIn. He’s been documenting a growing problem for sellers using Sales Navigator.

LinkedIn’s InMail is a new piece of the prospecting puzzle. Small, middle and large businesses are spending serious money testing the waters. Yet for most sellers (and teams) it’s been problematic.

Honestly, it’s been a bust, because little investment is being made to help sellers master earning the right to speak with buyers via digital.

Is Your Team Spamming?
Most likely, they are. Specifically, most sellers are sending email (InMail) with nearly zero confidence in their ability to earn response.

Are you or your reps being reduced to figure it out on their own — for $10-plus per InMail!?

I see one practice more than anything else: Spamming on LinkedIn using InMail. Yes, LinkedIn does everything in its power to prevent such use. Yet I see it repeatedly. Why?

Reps aren’t receiving training or communications guidance. Sadly, they’re getting LinkedIn guidance from marketing teams — without the crucial communications guidance.

It’s crazy. Sales reps are given cold calling training. Why not cold emailing training?

Is It Time to Re-think Your InMail Approach?

Are you sabotaging yourself when using LinkedIn InMail to prospect new business? Or is your team spinning wheels, generating less than the minimum 40 percent response rate? It might be time to re-think your InMail communications approach.

Are you sabotaging yourself when using LinkedIn InMail to prospect new business? Or is your team spinning wheels, generating less than the minimum 40 percent response rate? It might be time to re-think your InMail communications approach.

Here are three deadly trends I see emerging with sellers and what to do instead.

Are you/your sellers:

  1. Believing InMail is more “powerful” (able to produce appointments) than cold calling or standard email?
  2. Investing in LinkedIn training, but overlooking communications methodology?
  3. Using InMail to request meetings with status quo buyers, but failing to earn them?

Many sellers are getting frustrated out-of-the-gate. Because InMail places so much pressure on getting response. Performance. Sellers often get turned-off to prospecting in general! Or they become more turned-off by it.

It’s best to develop a successful communications approach using standard email — then bring that success to the realm of InMail.

A Better Way to Use InMail When Prospecting
Any written message’s strength is founded in the writer’s ability to provoke a response that invites a conversation. The better you are at provoking replies — that lead to conversations — the more InMail provides advantage.

That’s a communications thing; not a LinkedIn thing.

I’ll be brutally honest. Many sellers are failing to develop new business leads with InMail. Not because LinkedIn Navigator or Premium is a bad investment. It can be a good one. The trouble starts with false beliefs.

Beware if you think InMail is

  • powerful
  • better than standard email
  • able to replace cold calling efforts

Remember, LinkedIn does not make any substantiated claims about better response. InMail is also not trackable. Unlike standard email, you cannot track any open or click activity! (This is huge)

Attract Buyers With Your Message
We’re only human. We are all looking for a short cut to what we want. Something that will do all the work for us or — in some way — produce better results with less effort. Right? But for most of us InMail is not earning better response from potential buyers.

And I know why.

Email can make prospecting more scale-able, faster and feel more effortless. But only if you master a communications methodology that can be applied systematically, at scale.

Email can speed-up your prospecting. It is creating more appointments, faster, for those who understand one odd but powerful concept. And this idea takes practice and diligence.

The idea is attraction.

Attracting potential buyers to ask you for the meeting allows leads to self-identify and qualify themselves.

This is vital to practice when courting prospects who won’t budge off of the status quo. Being able to get invited to an educational conversation (eg., Challenger Selling) with a new client demands this approach.

This way a discussion with you is seen by the buyer as less of a risk. Talking with you becomes attractive.

Thus, getting invited to discuss a challenge, fear or goal your prospect has is the beginning of an email-powered process. It’s a sign they’re attracted to you based on the message you just sent them.

And that’s a cool feeling.

Make InMail Messages Part of a Process
The best way to use InMail to your advantage is to shift how you’re looking at it, what you expect from it and how it “fits in” to your prospecting process.

Do you have a defined prospecting process?

In most cases, InMail should be supplemental. It should not be your first choice for making initial contact with buyers. Instead, use InMail as part of a systematic prospecting methodology.

You should also be using the phone, standard email and (sometimes) direct mail. InMail snaps-into your multi-faceted process.

Invest in Your Communications Technique First
Before you invest in “LinkedIn training” make sure to invest in perfecting your own/your team’s personalized communications technique. Make sure it:

  • is practical, repeatable and based in traditional copywriting skills;
  • helps you take “first steps” to turn the methodology into a process you enjoy;
  • provokes response and appointments, in less time.

One of the most common reasons social selling or LinkedIn training fails is lack of focus on how to get response. Effective messaging is vital to your success.

Invest in the right training. Be sure you get more than lessons on managing LinkedIn’s privacy settings and controls!

Best of all, if you stick with the above criteria you’ll be able to measure the performance of your training investment.

This is how the best of the best use InMail … as part of a system that doesn’t rely on email alone.

Good luck. Let me know what you think in comments.

Stalking Your Business Prey: 5 Ways to Fail at Follow-up

I could feel his eyes on me, watching my every move.

I opened his email, scanned the content, clicked on the link and arrived at the landing page. I carefully filled out the registration form, clicked on the download button … and BOOM! The phone rang with his follow-up call.

I gasped, picked up the phone and without even identifying myself said, in utter disbelief, “Don’t tell me you’re following up on the paper I downloaded TWO SECONDS ago?”

I could hear him chuckle before he said “I just wanted to see if you had any questions.”

“How could I have any questions?” I exclaimed. “I haven’t had a second to even open the PDF!”

Have we moved to an era where salespeople are so desperate to meet sales pipeline quotas that they think it’s appropriate to contact a potential lead within seconds or minutes of a download?

Needless to say, he’s tried calling me back again, and again, and again over the last few weeks. But since I enjoy call display, I’m going out of my way to avoid answering. Why? Because his behavior was so creepy, I don’t want to engage in any sort of dialogue with him – ever. In fact, he’s turned me into a “brand evader.

In this pressure-filled business world, using content to lure potential prospects into the sales funnel is an extremely common marketing strategy. But the follow-up needs to be carefully strategized: whether it’s message, timing or contact channel. And I find most marketing and sales people have already picked up a dozen bad habits.

The Random Connection
I seem to attract lots of interest from others on LinkedIn. I get invitations to Link In with dozens of people each week — most of which I ignore. Why? Because the only note attached to their invitation is the LinkedIn default message “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

I look at their name, title and the company they represent and think, “No thanks. You’re just going to try and sell me something.”

While LinkedIn is a powerful relationship building tool, it would work harder if you DO NOT use that default language. Instead, just like you test outbound email copy, try testing different introductory email messages. Try making note of the relationship between our two businesses and why it might make sense to connect. Or highlight what it was about my profile that made you want to connect with me. Test, refine and learn. It’s direct marketing 101.

Email Invitations to a Prescheduled Meeting
I don’t know who came up with this strategy, but it’s got to stop. The first time I got one, I thought “Wow. I’m really getting old. I have no memory of talking to this guy, let alone agreeing to a conference call/demo meeting.”

Since the time suggested for the meeting was a conflict on my calendar, I politely declined. But another one arrived about 2 days later – same guy, same company, same meeting invitation strategy.

I declined again. And, placed his name on my SPAM list.

Persistent Personal Email
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails that say things like “I’m following up on my previous email, in case you didn’t get it …” Oh, I got it all right. I deleted it. And now, I’m flagging you as a spammer, too.

The Inexperienced Phone Caller
One of my colleagues recently posted this unbelievable inbound phone call to her Facebook page so we could all enjoy the idiocy of this inexperienced sales guy. This is verbatim.

“Hello Denise, this is Enterprise.”
“Hello Enterprise.”
“Yes I’m calling because, like, we see you have an account.”
“Ding Ding Ding correct.”
“So we noticed, like, you’re not renting cars like at all.”
“That’s right.”
“So like why is that?”
“Because I haven’t needed a rental car.”
“Like is that gonna change?”
“Like I don’t know.”
“Because we want to know if you’re gonna lease a car.”
“Well I will certainly let you know. Can I get a free ride sometime?”
“Like I don’t think so but I can check.”

Come on. Who hired this guy? Who trained him? Who had the bright idea to give him a list of past customers and set him loose?

I get it. Selling is hard. But I can guarantee that NONE of these strategies will be successful.

Oh, and by the way, let me download and read my business article in peace. Then try emailing me with similar articles that I might like. Keep doing that and I’ll soon become familiar with your brand and, perhaps, engage in a conversation. But I warn you. More likely than not, I’m merely doing research on behalf of a client and I have no influence over purchase whatsoever.