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"The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows."

Coffee’s For Closers

February 27, 2016
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….but only if you have an established sales process.

I’ve given this talk a few times. It started out as a flash talk and turned into a full 30-45 minute presentation. I’d like to write out this presentation in long form, that way the next time I give the talk, I’ll be able to direct people to it afterwards.

Let’s begin

How many people here are familiar with the scene “Coffee’s for Closers” in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross? To give a backdrop, Glengarry Glen Ross was originally a play turned into a movie depicting the lives of real estate salesmen. “Coffee’s for Closers” is a scene in that movie where Blake, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, comes down to motivate the other salesmen.

“Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for closers, ONLY! You think I’m f*ck!ng with you? I am not…”

He’s basically saying that if you’re in a sales capacity at an organization and you’re not closing business, don’t drink the company’s coffee, let alone make the base salary that you’re making. And is that true? Should coffee be for closers? The answer it YES!! Absolutely! Coffee should be for closers….but only if you have an established sales process. Because if you don’t, then you can’t expect your sales people to close on a continually basis.

We need a sales process to integrate ourselves into. To focus on it, to make it a standard, and then finally to improve it.

Introductions

So, who am I? My name is Adam Lamagna, sounds like lasagna! Easy to remember!! I am a sales consultant for Sucuri, I help agencies pick the right solutions to secure their websites and their clients’ websites.

When I turned 18 and graduated high school, I flew out to Hollywood, California to become a rockstar, that dream was short-lived! I got into sales and I’ve done everything from cold calling, to door-to-door, inside sales, to high-pressured, hard selling. I got into technology about around 2012 and haven’t looked back since. I’ve worked for a small web agency and a large (enterprise-level) agency. I love business development and sales. I believe sales to be a noble profession!

History of Sales

The history of sales is super important, it gives us an overview of how sales has progressed and where the pivotal moments were. If anyone wants to read more about the sales process, you can always check out my blog post on the history of sales. Starting at the beginning of time, we had the bartering system. You give me this, I give you that — still relevant to this day. But when money was introduced, it turned the bartering system into markets and gave us a system to improve upon.

Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, Snake-Oilthis is when the modern day salesman comes into play. He’s also known as the exaggerated salesman, the guy who would sell you snake oil. And from there up to the 1950’s, when we see the fast-talking salesmen come in, it’s really important to note that all the information in the sales process was owned by the seller. If a consumer wanted to know more about a product or service, they had to go to the seller to get that information.

Consumers finally got wise to this, so in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, we see things like SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need) selling, and Solution selling, and Strategic selling. They were kind of variations of themselves, but they all aimed to bring the consumer into the process, and make them feel like they were making informed decisions based on data. When the 2000’s hit and information was readily accessible, it rocked the very foundation of the selling world. Sellers were no longer in control, it was the age of the buyer!!

Sales Process

What is a sales process? Simply put, it is your view of your customer’s buying journey. With all the tasks, steps, procedures, and resources it takes to effectively manage that buying journey. I separate the sales process into 3 areas: 1—Pre-sales, 2—Engagement, 3—Post-sales.

The 3 areas of the sales process
Sales Process

 

Pre-Sales

Pre-Sales is planning and preparing to effectively engage the right prospects at the right time with the right tools.

First off, you need to know your buyers. Who are you selling too? What verticals/industries are they in? What do they care about and what do they need to make a decision? You can do your own buyer personas with this link to a HubSpot template — http://offers.hubspot.com/free-template-creating-buyer-personas — this is a really easy way to figure out who your buyers are.

Next is the marketing collateral. What are you using in your ‘sales tool-bag’ to sell people with? Your marketing collateral should do two things. 1). Showcase your talents. 2). Answer your buyers’ questions. You can answer your buyers’ questions by writing blog posts. You probably get asked the same questions over and over again. Well, write a blog post about it! Then showcase your talents through case studies and portfolio pieces. You can also reach out to the giants like WordPress or WP Engine to see if they have any marketing collateral you might be able to use. They’ll have written white papers that are available to download and use. Check it out!

Engagement

Engagement is the fun part! It’s actively talking to your prospect and funneling them down the sales funnel. There are different stages in engagement and it’s important to know the essentials (my own terminology) of each stage:

  1. Requirement: What is the requirement for a prospect to be in or get into this particular stage?
  2. Purpose: What is the purpose of this stage? Or what am I trying to accomplish with this stage?
  3. Team Member: Who am I using in this stage? Is it just me or should I bring another team member in? If you are a freelancer, then what hat (cap) am I wearing?
  4. Resources: What collateral should I use for this stage? What’s appropriate?

Then you’ll want to grid out each essential for each stage. See below:

The stages of the buying process and their essentials
The essentials of each stage of the buying process

Closing

How do you close on a continual basis successfully? That is a phenomenal question. One that I do not have an answer to! But I will say this — it revolves around value! I look at 3 different areas of value.

  1. Value Relevancy: Is the prospect’s challenge relevant to what I do? In other words, am I the right person to solve this prospect’s challenge? If not, refer them to someone who is. Do NOT chase a client who’s project isn’t relevant to what you do! Please!
  2. Value Perception: This is a really important thing to learn about, value perception. Understand what the prospect’s perceived value is. Ask questions like “have you ever done a project like this one for your company?” and really try to understand what they perceive your value to be. Because, make no mistake, the perception is the reality. If someone values your skill set to be below what it actually is, then that’ll make for a frustrating partnership and project. If someone comes to you with a budget of $15k, and you know it’ll only take you $5k to do, their perceived value of that project is already $15k. You’re going to need to educate your prospects and sometimes that can be really hard to do. Learn value perception and how big a role it can play in the sales process.
  3. Value Diagnosis: Focus on your prospect and what they need. Make them a collaborative partner. Remember, it’s about the observable symptoms of problems and how they can be solved within the parameters of the solution. Encourage things like ownership and have a mutual self-respect/mutual self-esteem with your prospect. This can ultimately make you stand out from the competition.

Post-Sales

Once you close business, you then become a client advocate. You need to do a proper handoff with your new client and the Project Manager. If you are a freelancer, then it’s time to switch roles and become that PM. Make sure you explain what’s going to take place over the next month or two, or 7! Make sure your client understands the role and responsibilities they have. And finally, check in with your new client after the project is in full swing. Ask them about the sales process, what did they like or dislike? Ask them if they’d recommend anyone for your services. Keep in touch and become that client advocate — it will lead to more business.

Quick Tips

In sales there are very few things that are within our control. These are the things you’ll want to keep in check:

  1. Listening: They say great salesmen listen 70% of the time and talk 30% of the time. That is not the case for me, I talk a lot more than that. I wish I could talk less, hehe! I don’t care how much you talk, but when you’re listening, make sure to actually listen. Respond with good feedback and answers.
  2. Time: If you are not a wealthy person, time is your next greatest commodity, spend it wisely!
  3. Attitude: The best sales people are the ones who can dust themselves off from a loss and go after the next deal with the same gusto and rigor as they did the very first deal they ever went after! People can hear when you are not smiling over the phone, believe me, they can!

Recap

The sales team and the marketing team work together. The sales process consists of Pre-sales, Engagement, and Post-sales. And doing all this will eventually lead to closing more business and drinking more coffee.

Recap of the overall presentation represented as a triangle
The team coupled with the process will lead to more business!!!

You can check out my slides here – Coffee’s For Closers (but only if you have an established sales process).

Or watch my talk here!! I’ll be sure to post the talk from WordCamp Miami!

 


A History of Sales

October 1, 2015
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I’m giving a presentation at WordCamp next weekend on establishing a sales process. The WordCamps that I’ve been to are heavily focused on developers and freelancers. So, I asked myself, where does a presentation about sales fit in to this event? My talk is geared towards several different types of people, either for a 100-person agency that has a dedicated sales team, a 10-person company that has one salesperson, but I really want to focus on freelancers who don’t have an established sales process to their business. So, I’ve been reading a lot about the history of sales and I’ve found some pretty interesting things. I’ll share it with you.

Before I begin I would like to say that I believe sales to be a noble profession. There is such a stigma associated with sales and I’m pretty sure being a car salesman classifies you as the least trusted professional out there, Congressmen rank a close second! But sales is the 2nd oldest profession in the world, next to the oldest profession in the world as the adage goes. Go ahead – google “the oldest profession”, but I would argue that there is an element of sales to “the oldest profession”, so sales is technically the oldest profession!

As time has progressed, the industry that changes the most is sales. Sales needs to adapt not only to the market, but the buyer as well. It’s a delicate feat to sell things. I don’t care what it is – cars, commodities, services, solutions, warranties, carbon fiber, umbrellas, whatever – it takes skill to continually do it well. There are so many moving parts to sales. There’s the market, this fluctuates quite regularly depending on what industry you’re in. There are the buyers, consumers, prospects – and they all have different personalities, different thresholds, different emotional triggers. Then there’s the company you work for – this fluctuates – new people come aboard, new features get added to your product or service. And then there’s you – the salesperson – who holds all that together, and still manages to close business month after month. Kudos!

So let’s look at the history of sales:

Big Bang Burst

The Beginning of Time

At the beginning of time, there was the bartering system. You give me three cows and I’ll let you harvest an acre of my corn field – fair deal? Maybe. Maybe not. There has been some form of selling since the birth of mankind because the human instincts of wanting and needing have always been around. I doubt whoever made that first transaction of the acre of corn and those three cows knew they were making the first sales deal, but it created a system for improvement.

Before the Common Era:

Roman CoinWe fast forward all these years later to right around BC(E) and money was born. Now money was really born well before this, I think somewhere around Mesopotamia and coinage had been introduced by the Greeks. But the Roman Empire and Roman currency, which consisted of gold, silver, bronze, and copper had their own system and it was quite sophisticated. They started minting coins and used it as a way to keep track of debts and sell items worth value. I don’t want to take any credit away from the Aztecs, the Egyptians, the Celts, the Chinese, and so on. The point that I want to make is that the invention and implementation of money developed the bartering system into markets and helped initialize sales.

The Industrial Revolution

Centuries later we move into the 1700’s and 1800’s, the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. This ushered in what we know today as the “modern day salesman” – the traveling salesmen (a.k.a. the snake-oil salesmen). Now for those of you who do not know what snake oil is, well, it’s the cure-all potion that turned you into a new person. Snake-oil started being used by the railroad workers who would lay track all across the country. Their bodies would hurt, their muscles were sore, and their bones would ache – so, they
Snake-Oilneeded something to cure that pain. In comes snake-oil and the traveling or exaggerated salesmen. They were showmen, they made big, exaggerated claims, sold the snake-oil elixir, then would high-tail it outta town and move on to the next one.

To give you a little background on snake-oil, originally it had rattlesnake venom in it that would numb a worker’s body when he rubbed it on himself and claim to calm their pain. At that time, snake-oil soon became synonymous with miraculous healing powers, even though, often times the ingredients weren’t made public. Due to rival salesmen in the medicine profession there was a huge push to uncover the ingredients and a century later snake-oil became synonymous with hoaxes. And the snake-oil salesman was the equivalent to a charlatan, a hack, a fraud, etc.

But there were other salesman of this time period and they sold everything. The Industrial Revolution was a time of growth. Products were mass produced and manufactured – textiles, clothing, etc., and all these things didn’t sell themselves.

Time for tactics and techniques

How to Win Friends and Influence People – this book written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie was the first of its kind. It’s a self help book but naturally, salespeople gravitated towards it. It really started the techniques of selling – how to connect with people, how to persuade people, how to influence people. It talked about how to get people excited about things and have a winning attitude towards life and your job. And… it was all in lists – 12 ways for this, or 6 ways to do that. A great, easy read and most of what Carnegie writes is still quite relevant today.

But this sparked a movement in sales, you could actively use and improve your techniques to get people to buy your products or services. You, as a salesperson, could control the outcome of a consumer transaction by implementing psychological tactics. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was still pretty genius!

The Fast-Talking Salesman:

(hello, Kirby vacuum cleaners)
KirbyVacuumAlso known as the Kirby Vacuum cleaner salesman, they were introduced in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These were the gentleman salesmen who would go door-to-door and invite themselves into the homes of housewives and put on a presentation of the benefits of their product. This really is the dawn of the retail age. And at this point in the sales industry, the seller held all the information. The consumer was only told what the seller wanted them to know. So, the seller could say whatever they wanted. If a consumer asked a question, the salesmen could lie or not tell the entire truth. It made for a one way street where salespeople held power over their customers and if a consumer was remotely interested in a product (such as a Kirby vacuum) the only information they could get on it was right from the salesman’s mouth.

This didn’t last very long because consumers got wise to the information exchange and their reactions to “The Fast-Talking Salesmen” changed (yet again) the face of the selling world.

The 1960’s

This was a time of cultural divide, opposition was growing for the war in Vietnam, racial tensions were stirring, class issues were
Peace Symbolstarting to get noticed, and great music was born! But, selling was also taking a drastic turn. Instead of the salesman having all the information, we started to see this shift from “ask me a question and I’ll give you the answer” to “here’s some information, let’s figure out what you need” – and in comes Strategy Selling in the 1970’s – a salesman was trained to do an effective analysis of their consumers’ business or company and would make the consumer more a part of the process of selling, so the consumer would feel like they were making a sound decision with the help of their salesperson who knew about their business.

We see SPIN Selling – Situation, Problem, Implication, Need, then payoff! Or Consultative Selling in the 1980’s which was really about asking as many questions as you could (being a salesman), this would build rapport and uncover the true meaning of the consumer’s inquiry into your business (be it product or service). SPIN selling is an interesting methodology. Situation – understand the facts about the customer’s situation. Problem – focus the buyer on his actual, current problem. What is it now that we need to solve? Implication – discuss the implications of a). what happens if the customer stays with their current service or product, and b). what happens when they switch to your product or service. Then finally, Need – you want the customer to tell you about their needs, having them articulate their need is better than you articulating it for them! Remember that – people buy when you ask questions that get them to uncover their own needs, people resist when you tell them what they need. The 1980’s was when Glengarry Glen Ross (the play) came out and Always Be Closing started gaining popularity moving into the 1990’s. This is when we see a shift from uncovering the problems of the customer to being a well-liked salesman by building trust through connection, relationships, and your willingness to provide the right solution.

The 1990’s

In comes Solution Selling – the salesperson focuses on the consumer’s pain and addresses that particular pain point. But there is a huge element of connection with salespeople. They want to know about their consumers’ lives, they ask about their kids’ little league games, they ask about the extended family. Solution selling was about the solution, but it was also about the relationship. People do business with people they like – bottom line – still holds true to this very day! But the 1990’s brought with it the confident salesman, the detail-oriented salesman, the salesman that would build strong relationships with the buyers to encourage them to commit to buying, but also working with them side by side to understand all facets of the solutions and which one would be the most appropriate fit. The economy grew in the 90’s and it was a good decade for salesmen!!

GordonGekko

Gordon Gekko – the ultimate solution seller (not really!)

The information age totally rocked the selling world:

And then the internet came and took with it the old school salesmen of the last 3 decades and a new breed of seller was born. This new breed of salesmen had their own way of doing things, it was all about acknowledgement and understanding that the buyer already had the information. Salesmen had to adapt literally overnight. I mean, if you think about, you can walk into a dealership tomorrow and say “Hey, that Hyundai Accent on the lot, well, I want for $12,000 because it says right here (holding up your smartphone) that I can get it for this price.” – Rock the boat a little more why don’t you. This is when I got into sales, we were right on that cusp of “old way” tactics to developing pitches and strategies that would let our customers see we were all about diagnosing the problem and working with them before any contracts were signed. Salesmen had to give up more of their commission because they spent more time in the life cycle of the sale.

Now, a great deal of effort goes into selling complex, big-dollar, high-stakes sales. That’s just the way it goes. In order for companies to compete in this landscape, they have to forfeit more time in the beginning to nurturing the relationship, diagnosing the problem (and essentially bringing more employees to the table) with their buyers, and having some type of deliverable before any contracts are signed.

But that’s how people win these days. They give something for nothing. Salesmen are generous and authentic. There’s a stigma because we still see cold calling, knocking on people’s doors, email blasts, Linkedin inmail messages piling up, solution after solution coming out, cloud-based SaaS products that people need (or don’t). But the bottom line is, in order to be a salesman in this game, you actually have to want to help people. The sales guys who are super slick are laughed out of the room these days. No one buys anymore from a pushy car salesmen, I wouldn’t. But I would buy from someone like me. I’m invested in getting people the right solution, even if that means it’s not from my company.

The face of the selling world has taken on many different looks over the years, and I guarantee that it will continue to evolve and change. I see the sales industry going in one of two directions. 1). Sales people will become more commoditized, and they’ll be ranked by number. The great sales people will be getting offered large salaries to come to work for the buyers of the industries to help vet other salesmen trying to sell them something. Or 2). The effort salespeople put in will continue to increase, the demands of the buyers will increase, and the information out there will increase, therefore turning the decision-making process into a lengthier lifecycle. Because either way, the market and the buyers now own the selling world. Information is there, people just need to take the time to sift through it. But great salesmen are like chameleons, they improvise and overcome, and trust me when I say – the last man standing on this earth will be a salesman!!

Presentation & Slides from WordCamp RI

September 30, 2015
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Hey everyone, the open source community had a great turnout for WordCampRI. My presentation went really well and is up on WordPress.tv – check it out below!


And if it’s hard to see my slides, you can follow along with the PDF version here – http://beingajile.com/pdf/coffee.pdf – there’s more text on this version because I wanted to keep my talk as text-free as possible. I wrote a short post on WordCamp and the Open Source Community, it’s a great group of organizations, companies, agencies, teams, and individuals, I’m honored to be a part of it!

Hope you enjoy!

And if you ever want to check out the scene of the real Coffee’s for Closers, enjoy this video! PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN!

Proposals and Timelines….and Why Most Companies Get It Wrong

September 10, 2015
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If you’re involved in business in any way, be it the President of an architectural firm, a manager in a government-run organization, advertising, digital services, whatever, you probably know what proposals are and that many companies set stringent deadlines to receive those proposals by.  In my line of work, which is digital services, most companies expect proposals within one to two weeks. That’s a bit aggressive and I explain why in the following post. But before I get into that, let me give you a quick rundown of what a proposal consists of….

What’s in a proposal??

Well, that’s a great question! Depending on what type of a digital company you are, what types of services you offer, and what types of projects you work on will determine what type of proposal you write, and they’ll all be different. I’ve seen all kinds of proposals. Ones that are boiler plate, cookie-cutter, templated proposals, and others that are pure works of art, thoughtful, well-organized, with a clear direction of what the solution is, how much it’ll cost, and how long it should take. Proposals are simply a proposed solution to a company’s (client) particular challenge.

Google says a proposal is “a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration or discussion by others.” This is true! A proposal is a plan, and in order to propose a suggested plan, you have to put in a great deal of effort. So, what goes into a proposal.

I’ll break it down for you…

Contents of a Proposal

  1. Usually, proposals start with some kind of Summary explaining that you understand the prospect’s business challenge and are prepared to offer your plan for solving that challenge.
  2. Approach – this is the part of the proposal where you highlight your approach, usually called your methodology or your working style. You can outline what working sessions will consist of, the day-to-day operations, or what to expect when engaged with your agency.
  3. Scope of Work  – this is a pretty integral piece to the proposal. Some agencies like to detail exactly what they’ll do for your company from a digital standpoint. It’s important to note that the Scope of Work (or SOW) articulates the specifics of a web project. This causes both parties to have an understanding of what is actually being done, so that there’s no confusion as to what a company is getting and what the agency is going to do for them. It’s a liability thing. If you have a super detailed SOW and halfway through the project the company is like “well, we thought you were going to do X, Y, and Z.” – you can refer to the SOW. Put it in the proposal and take your time on it, this can really mean the difference between $10k and $$100k.
  4. Most agencies will outline the Team that the company will be getting. Some like to give the actual team members and their profiles or bios. And other agencies just give you the title, like your team will consist of a WordPress Engineer and Lead Designer, etc.
  5. Another semi important part is the Technology you’ll use in the engagement. Are you using a WordPress CMS, Drupal? Will you integrate with HubSpot or Salesforce? Are you going to be using Foundation as your framework and so on. This gives the company some semblance of components being used. But (a sidenote), I have seen proposals that leave the technology out, they say things like “we’ll find the right open source CMS in Discovery.” Which can be beneficial and non-beneficial. It totally depends on the engagement. Sometimes there’s too much gray area for what a company actually needs, like when doing an intranet or some site application. You’ll have a better idea of what technology would be the best fit once you discover more about their needs (which can sometimes take a while), and that’s okay!
  6. Timeline – a breakdown of different phases and how long each of them will take. Some agencies give it in months, others in weeks, and it’s usually dependent on start dates (which always seem to change!!).
  7. Budget – some people, like me, put the budget right at the beginning of the proposal because this is what people/companies are hugely concerned with. Does it hit my budget? Yes, No, Maybe!! Some agencies like putting this at the end. I usually do an overview of the numbers upfront and a breakdown of cost to its associated task deeper in the proposal next to the timeline.
  8. Almost all agencies will add some kind of About Us section to the proposal, telling the history and story of their agency. How long they’ve been in business for, what types of other clients they have, etc. Some agencies put this in the beginning and others put it at the end. I consider it the “fluff” stuff, because if your company is engaged with an agency, chances are the already “know” who you are and what you do. Putting it in the proposal just regurgitates that. I throw it in at the end of the proposal.
  9. Case Studies – this is pretty important, but again, if your company is engaged with an agency, you should be familiar with their work. It’s always good to show quality work and something that’s relevant to that particular web challenge or company.

That’s pretty much what most proposals consist of…. 

What’s a timeline look like? Well, I guess it depends on who you are talking to. A timeline means different things to different people. A timeline can be for a project or a proposal. Let’s talk about the latter.

Most companies that have marketing, communications, IT, sales, and other departments have internal schedules they need to hit in order to be successful (or unsuccessful). Which is why, when they send out an RFP (Request for Proposal) they attach a deadline for submitted proposals. Most of the deadlines I’ve seen are within 2 weeks of sending out the RFP (not always), but what most lack is the time it takes to a) Qualify the prospect, b) scope the actual engagement, and c) leave anytime for SOW revisal.

Most RFP’s will come equipped with objectives, history of company, scope of work (which often times can be unclear), timeline and budget that the sending company would like to hit. Now, with that being said, many companies will have unrealistic expectations (e.g. – we want four separate API integrations and we need it in 6 weeks – UNREALISTIC!). You need to set those expectations.

That’s why 2  weeks isn’t enough time to get you a solid (non-boilerplate) proposal. In the beginning, when we have that initial call to qualify the prospect (company) on our end, we make an effort to educate the prospect. If they have unrealistic goals, I’ll be completely honest and say that. Now, that might cost my company the deal, but in the long run it’s much better to underestimate and over-deliver, instead of overestimate and under-deliver!

That first call is also to “feel” each other out. You can tell a lot by first impressions. Often times, on the first call you can tell whether or not they’d be a good fit. And vice versa, the company has got to trust their vendors and unless I start building that trust on the first call, the relationship (and essentially the deal) will fail.

What happens on a second call?

A second call (usually the second week, because we need some time to check out their site and do a little research) is about diving much deeper into the scope of work. What types of functionality do they need on the site? What types of integrations? Does it need to be custom? Will a WP premium theme work? Is there any branding work? Lots of questions on the second call. This also helps solidify the relationship. By asking all these questions you’re showing the prospect that you really do care about their project and want to understand what they need. Many times when companies send out RFP’s, their scope of work section will uncover a plethora of more questions that often times the company has not thought about.
Confused computer keyThere’s confusion there, which causes a cascade effect in their organization trying to scramble to get the answers so they can meet that 2 week deadline. That second call gets much more in-depth and armed with this new information we can then begin writing the proposal. So, to recap this – we don’t start writing proposals after the first call – Qualify, Scope, then begin!

Now when you are writing this proposal, it’s inevitable that more questions arise, especially on a heavy technical lift project or one with many levels of complexity. Be prepared as an agency and a company, because good relationships and successful engagements stem from this process that I’m talking about now. In order to do great work, you have to know what you’re doing and get the majority (if not all) of the answers before contracts are signed.

More scoping in the beginning means less surprises and clearer expectations, on both ends.

Now the writing is finished and the agency needs to present, usually the fourth week. But questions will arise on the company’s end and they will need to understand any parameters you’ve put into place and any assumptions you’ve made. Clarity is the friend of the agency and the company. It helps everyone. And then there’s always the possibility of things shifting even before they begin. New stakeholders love coming in and changing things up at the most inopportune times, be prepared for that! I’ve done several revised proposals, it does happen. And once there’s a finalized proposal, companies need to sign contracts….which is an entirely different post for another day.

Just remember, expectations need to be set on that first call. E.g. – “our typical timeline for getting you a proposal is usually four weeks.” If that closes the door, it’s better that happens right at the beginning before you start sinking your time into the endeavor. The great proposals out there take time! And the great agencies out there don’t rush into anything without getting all their ducks in a row, otherwise you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure…..and that doesn’t suit anyone!

Purgatory: The Worst Place to be in Business

January 19, 2015
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A business relationship starts with a need. Someone reaches out because they hear you can offer something they need. Whether that’s a digital engineering team or an SEO strategy, it’s all about the need. While this relationship is being nurtured and tended to by (usually) the two main points of contact for each company, sometimes certain circumstances lead to a lonely place called Purgatory. It’s the worst place to be in business, I’d rather have a “no thanks” and be on my merry way, than just have silence. But you, as a business development individual, are responsible for keeping that door open at all times. So, how do you manage to keep the door open, even if people aren’t walking through it?

You close it!! That is until it’s time to open it again!

I think of it as a revolving door, right? Revolving doors don’t let the wind in, they don’t let animals in. They basically keep everything out until someone’s ready to walk through it. And that’s kind of your job if you do business development. But let’s walk through some scenarios to see if there’s a way to stay out of purgatory and keep those revolving doors active at all times.

Scenario No. 1 – You meet with the web guy of a medium sized organization that specializes in gizmo-gadgets for musicians. The problem they’re having is that they want to market these gg’s but aren’t getting enough engagement from their website users. So, you sit down and ask a lot of relevant questions, go over business objectives and user personas. Then you take things internally. Up until this point you’ve had maybe a dozen emails with the web guy about possible next steps and meeting more people in his organization (the stakeholders), the web guy’s correspondence has been very engaging and he always gets back to you. You come up with (what you believe to be) some pretty great ideas for end-user engagement and are ready to present to the stakeholders. You present, and then…….nothing. Yup, nothing. What do you do?

You go back over your approach, your process, your ideas, and your engagement with the web guy. Several possibilities – the web guy quit (probably not), they went with another company (maybe), or they just didn’t like you or your ideas (most likely). But how do you get that definitive “no” and still keep the door open?

Side note: I’ve learned to just let it go. If someone doesn’t have the business sense or courtesy to tell you “no thanks”, then you probably don’t want them as a client anyway. But if it just eats you up inside and you don’t want to wonder, then get personal. Usually an email or a voicemail asking if you did anything wrong or said something that upset them gets a response. Nobody wants to feel like they alienate someone and most business savvy people will never burn a bridge. I’m not sure I like this approach all that much because it kinda makes me feel like the girl at the prom who doesn’t have a date and wonders why the football captain won’t dance with her. But, get personal, apologize and say – “hey, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and your company, if you ever need anything down the line. End of story, you’ve done your job.

Scenario No. 2 – You’re dealing with another guy at another company who’s in charge of putting together their content strategy and optimizing their website for maximum organic traffic. You have a number of emails and phone conversations with this guy who’s totally jazzed about working with your company. You write a proposal for an on-going optimization package that machine-readies their website, optimizes it for mobile, caching, and speed. And lay out a 12 month plan to up their SEO. You present your proposal to him and he gives you a verbal yes. Then you send out your own master service agreement or statement of work to be signed and nothing…..absolutely nothing. What happened, what went wrong?!? In all honesty, we may never know. So, what’s your next step? Just keep the door open. At this point you can probably still assume the sale, but it most likely fell through and I doubt it had anything to do with you.

I could go through a whole bunch of these scenarios but the end result will still be the same – you will still be in the dark on a lot of this stuff and it’s because things happen and deals fall through. But there literally is still an endless sea of businesses out there that will need your services at some point. So, how do we make sure to never get stuck in purgatory ever again. There is a formula, believe it or not.

The no-purgatory zone formula. It all starts with knowing how to ask for things and setting expectations. When you’re on an initial phone call with someone they are going to ask you questions like, “is your firm qualified to handle a project of this size” and “have you ever done anything like this before” and “do you do all of your own design work in-house”??? So, my rule of thumb is this – for every question a prospect asks, you get to ask one back. Questions like “do you have a process for vendor selection” and “will you notify the bidder regardless of the outcome” and “will we be able to present our proposal to you”??? – these are all valid questions, questions worth asking and seeing if this prospect is also a good fit for you and your agency, just like what they’re doing. Because let’s face it, there’s an even trade here, right? They are buying your agency’s time and that time does not come cheap. And all that time that you, the biz dev guy, spends coming up with the right solution and then writing it down on paper into a proposal, takes a serious amount of time. And that’s time that is not billed toward the client, that’s called pre-sales, and it’s up to you to make sure you do it as efficiently as you possibly can to not only save your company money, but to save yourself countless hours spent on a company who’s just getting as many bids as they can and then going with the cheapest solution. Oh, that reminds me, another great question to ask is – if we’re more expensive than the other bidders, but clearly have the better solution, would you still consider going with us? Or some variation of that.

Be brutal and be honest, it’ll save you time and money to ask as many questions about their process as they ask about yours.

Work/Life Balance

November 8, 2014
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As I sit here on a Saturday morning totally neglecting my life/fun/relationships/and other commitments, it makes sense to quickly talk about work/life balance, of which I have none of!!

Life

Ok, so this is pretty straightforward, right? You should only be working 40 hours (yeah, right) a week, or so that’s what the American government says is fair. Which, I do work 40 hours a week, I just also tack on about another 20 or so hours for events, and meetups, traveling from office to office. I enjoy it, but others in my life tell me it’s always going to be like that unless you find a balance. So, I’m trying to find a balance. And how do I do that? I go back to why I first got into this tech game, to code. I’m starting to learn the command line once again! I haven’t had much time to continue to code ever since my job took ahold of me. But what I’ve learned over the last few years is that I like being in front of my computer. I have a number of digital properties that need my attention and require that I spend some time on it. My idea of adventure (nowadays) is learning, that’s my exploration!

Work

This is where it gets tricky. You want to perform, you want to make things happen for the company you work for, but where do you draw the line between what you do for them and what you do for yourself? I think this answer is pretty simple. When you’re on the clock, you’re on the clock. That time is what you’re getting paid for and for 40 hours a week, it belongs to your company. The other time spent working is not only for your company, but also for you. Network with other companies, get a sense of what’s out there and how you could fit into the landscape as a whole. Think about your career and not your job. Don’t think about that next promotion or title you could get, think about what makes you really happy and healthy in a work environment. Is it running around all over the place and talking with people to try and sell them your company or is it sitting behind a computer and conquering the world of programming languages. What do you want to do??

You

This is where you should focus your time. Do things that further and better your own life. Because in all honesty, life is about you, your life. Not anyone else’s. Not your family’s, not your company’s – yours, and yours alone! At the end of the day, at the end of your life, you’ll look back and thank yourself for following the path you wanted to. Not what someone else wanted you to follow. Be bold, be brave, be you!

NEWDcamp

November 3, 2014
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Yeah, it sounds kinda provocative, right? NEWDcamp, pronounced nude camp, it actually has a double meaning and none of them are inappropriate. New England Drupal Camp and the New Drupal Camp. It was a great turnout for the first ever NEWDcamp!

Even though I stood behind a booth for the majority of the event, I still met a lot of great people and managed to see Jeff Robbins keynote talk. It was right up my ally because he incorporated his life as a rock star into the speech.

Jeff Robbins was the front man for a band called Orbit in the 90s, when all those grunge bands were around. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc. There was Orbit too, and maybe they didn’t get the fame that Pearl Jam got/has, but they were in the game!

Jeff talked about keeping things fresh and challenging yourself. Instead of going after every client out there, pick the ones that are right for your company. Qualify them a little more. I did get the chance to ask Jeff a question about qualifying potential leads. Is there a criteria for what Jeff calls the N-B-C (No Bad Clients)?

He had a great answer – NATM, Name, Authority, Timeline, and Money. Is this a client that can go on your portfolio or is it a client that just wants you to do some design that they already mocked up. What is their role in the company that’s looking for an agency? Are they a stakeholder and have significant pull or authority to make decisions? What’s the timeline? Is it something that needs to be done within two weeks, do they have a strict deadline? And how much money do they have? This is the tricky part, not too many people want to give me their budgets, but I need to know a range because it will dictate what I propose for you.

So, thanks Jeff, great answer! I really enjoyed being a part of the first ever NEWDcamp. It was a blast and hopefully next year I can go to more sessions.