Category

Sales

"In sales, it's not what you say; it's how they perceive what you say."

We see this word a lot: value  —  but what exactly does it mean? What is it? How do we measure it? How do we determine whether or not it’s something we provide? These are all good questions and in the agency world, value is what separates us, it’s what links us, and it’s what drives conversations and interactions with clients and partners alike. But how do we truly define it? Value has a few definitions, so let’s start there (courtesy of Google):

val·ue : /ˈvalyo͞o/

noun

  1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
    • “your support is of great value”

But it can also be used as a verb!

verb

  1. consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
    • “she had come to value her privacy and independence”

As we can see, value is something that’s a little ambiguous, right? If you look at the first sentence that uses the word value, you can see what the value is – “your support is of great value” – the value is your support. “She had come to value her privacy and independence” – the value in this sentence is a little trickier, it’s her privacy and independence, but it’s also linked to the noun “her” – so I’d like to define value in this way:

Value measures the worth of something, but is dependent on the measurer’s desires, fears, opinions and considerations.

We all know value is worth something, but my value will be different from your value. Your value will be different from their value, and so goes the succession. This is so because value is fueled by desire from the one who views the value.

“Value sits on a foundation of action while being built by intelligence, insight, and observation.”

The hard part is answering the ‘why’ of value. Why is “your support” of great value? And why does she value her “privacy and independence?” If you look at it from more of a cognitive stance, you’ll see that the answer of ‘why’ is dependent upon the ‘who’ and the ‘what’. It’s that desire that compels a client to buy, it’s that fear that can mean the difference between success and failure, and it’s a line that’s very thin and almost impossible to distinguish when value is at the forefront of every conversation and people’s desires/fears aren’t necessarily apparent.

Action is the foundation of value. What we do and what we say adds value (or takes it away). Our actions reverberate. Action progresses the sale, it can also stall a sale. But it is action that is at the root of all value. Without it, we cannot provide value.

While action is the foundation of value; intelligence, insight, and observation are the materials you need to build it.

Short Story

I was on the phone with a nice woman from one of the big organizations in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. I asked her to give me a high-level lay of the land (what’s the current situation and what are you looking to do?). She gives me some background on her role and her company, then reveals that she’d like to create and build a WordPress site where her sales team members can come to find more resources on the products that her company was selling.

It was a great conversation, but I asked one question that made her pause and really think about her situation, and the question was simple – it was “why?” What is your major goal and why do you want to accomplish it? Now, everyone knows to ask these questions, but not everyone on the other end of that line might know the answer, or be totally truthful. She did know the answer and was truthful, the answer she gave was simple too – “I want my sales people to have the right information in order to sell more products….and it’ll make me look good.” And there’s the value (for her) or what I like to call the value gratification.

The value gratification is the major accomplishment and its ability to fulfill the desires one has, it’s the way the people involved with the project feel after it’s finished. In this case, it’s the value of having a more cohesive and effective sales team, which will essentially sell more products and make her look good in front of the bosses. That achievement will not only make the client happy, but it hits those hidden goals as well, which if you can uncover, will just give you more value as a salesperson.

The action was the phone call, observation and insight led to the question, and intelligence is what you do with that information. The question showed value in her mind because when she went looking for a partner to build this WordPress site the desire to look good was already there. She just needed to find someone who cared about it enough to ask about it. The question just disclosed the ‘why’ — we know the value is her cohesive sales team selling more products, but why does she want to do that. Well for all the normal reasons someone would want to do it, but also because it’ll make her look like a rockstar at her company and that’s the gratification or desire behind the value, which can be much more potent than the value itself.

Fear overcoming value…or the absence of value

Now this was one example of action, and an easy one because she gave up that valuable tidbit about her hidden goal. Let’s take an example from one of my old freelance days when I didn’t really know what I was doing or how desire plays a role in uncovering real value.

I was just learning how to code and still doing construction when I met one of the homeowners that we were building for. We got to talking and she uncovered that she’s big into photography. She sells her photos at craft fairs and she’s looking to do a website where she can sell her photos, but she didn’t know of a web designer/developer. In walks me! Naive little ole’ me! I say “I can do that! And I’ll give you a really great deal!” So she leapt at the offer to have me build her a website where she could sell her photos.

All was going well, I put up a really slick Divi themed WordPress website, integrated the WordPress Photo Seller Plugin that helped with photo management, watermarks, and taking online payments through PayPal. I was super happy with the site! But then my client saw the website, she thought it looked really awesome too, but….she didn’t know how she felt about having her photos online, she was afraid people would steal them. I tried to explain as best I could that the watermark was a good attempt at foiling malicious users from taking her photos, but ultimately that’s the chance that you take putting your stuff out there. She wasn’t satisfied with that answer and the website never got launched and I never saw any money. She saw the value in having a website where she could sell her photos, but she also saw the absence of value through the thought of people stealing her photos. Had I probed enough, and asked the right questions through action and observation, I could’ve saved myself from hours of site-building, but hey, lesson learned!

That client’s desire was to make money through selling her photos, but not at the risk of losing any. Which is a hard desire to bring to light. Looking back, the way I could’ve done it was by asking her about her photos, what did she like about them, what did they mean to her? It most likely would’ve uncovered her fears about people stealing her photos, and if I had done that, I could’ve recommended a more secure option like selling her images on CanStock Photo or Fotolia. Which would’ve given her more value, and quelled her fears.

But again, lesson learned!

Linking value to people and their emotions

Value is inherent to people’s desires and/or fears. Both of which can be difficult to get out of people. Many times desires are selfish, and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. Many times fears are silly and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. But if you can link the desire someone has to the value you’re providing, your close rate should go up. If you can extinguish a person’s fear by showing them that having the value is better than the absence of it, you should win more deals.

Business people, especially, are known for keeping their emotions in check, but it’s those emotions that will give you clues to a person’s hidden goals. From the moment you get on the phone with someone, listen to those emotions. When they talk to you about the project, how do they sound? Are they frantic, are they calm, do they sound miserable or super ecstatic? When they email you about the project, what’s the tone? Is it short and to the point, do they ramble on about it? When you meet them in person, gauge their body language. Do they seem comfortable, are they attentive, or laid back?

Observation is a huge building block in understanding the desire behind value. When you’re around people tune in to their channels. Make insightful observations on what you see, hear, and feel. And continue to ask questions. If someone looks worried, say something like “Hey Tom, you look like you’re a little worried about this project, what concerns do you have?” People secretly want to tell you their desires, they just don’t want to be judged because of it. So, right from the very beginning when you first meet with someone you need to make them feel at ease. You do that by expressing empathy, giving respect, and making genuine connections.

How do you measure value?

If you remember my definition of value, it’s dependent on the person who’s doing the measuring and what their desires and/or fears are. So, with that in mind, you first have to know the “who” — who is your buyer? Obviously individuals will have their own idiosyncrasies, but you can make some overall assumptions about certain types of buyers. And I’m sure you know that figuring out your audience or who you’re trying to sell to is of uber importance. The technology buyer, let’s assume they like quality. And let’s assume that the marketing buyer likes results. Well, that gives you a starting point and you can pivot your observations off of your assumptions to make intelligent assessments.

Then you need to know the “what” — what is the challenge, what is the project, what are the major goals, what is the platform? All these questions will help uncover what you’re doing so you can start figuring out your tactical approach. Things like should I recommend WordPress or Drupal, how long do I think the project will take, who will I need for this project. And also your strategic approach. Things like what’s the best solution for this, what’s the most innovative solution for this?

Throughout this entire process of helping your client or prospect find the right solution, you need to be strategically searching for the “why” — why do they truly want to do this? Is it something their boss said they had to do and they’d rather not be involved, or is this something they’re truly jazzed about, if so, why are they super jazzed about it? The why can uncover hidden goals for you to better position your solution and agency. The why can truly connect you to your client and make you a lifelong advisor. Knowing and understanding the why can separate you from the competition and link you to your client and new business. The why weighs the most.

Casting a wide net, web proposal writing is probably one of the most daunting yet creative activities one can do in the tech space. Proposals can be the gateway to a super awesome project that soars to success and makes the client very happy…or it can lead to a resounding “we’ve gone with another agency, but thanks for all the time you put into this” reply from your prospect. Proposals can also be the beginning of revision after revision to get the prospect’s challenge mapped to the right solution through hours of project scope development. Ahh…the possibilities…I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone that’s liked proposal writing as much as I do. 

For some, proposals are merely an estimate of what it would cost to get a project done. For others, it’s a templated document where little changes are made except for the company name and date. For me, proposal writing is a journey. It’s a journey of discovery, understanding the challenge, mapping the right solution, building a relationship, and finally presenting that journey with conviction and delivery. 

Many agencies churn out proposals like a shoe factory because they feel proposal writing is just a formality, a number, another template, a means to an end. But it’s not. A proposal is the gift one gives to a company or brand to solve their problem. And that needs to be done with thought and care, strategy and information, good design and presentation, and maybe even a little love. I am not an expert by any means, but I have years of experience writing proposals for web agencies. I wanted to share my evolution of proposal writing and how the actions that proceed the proposal writing process are of the utmost importance.  In order to write strong proposals, you need to ask smart questions.

Proposal writing starts with a question…

As many biz dev people know, proposal writing starts with a single question:

“What is the challenge that needs to be solved?”

This starts the conversation! Now, often times, companies and the people who work for those companies may not know the true answer to this question. And that’s where things like qualifying and scopingQuestion Mark  really help in identifying a few things.

The way I would usually start the process is by having a phone call with the prospect to understand their needs and objectives. One question I always liked asking or opening with was “what do you want the world to know you succeeded at when this project is finished?” – it’s a great way to get them jazzed about the project and get them feeling good about the conversation they’re having. Keep in mind, they are probably having similar conversations with other biz dev people at other agencies, so anything that’s a little different might surprise them and make you stand out.

The absolute must-knows when writing web proposals..

  1. NEEDS — every company has a need (maybe many) that should be addressed and this may require some digging on your part to really understand those needs. There’s nothing worse than writing a proposal and totally missing the mark on the objective!
  2. AUTHORITY — establishing this is very important. Who is the true decision-maker? But this can be tricky in the beginning stages of scoping a project. Since big brands/orgs will usually send those lower on the totem pole to vet agencies, this may take some prying (and some demonstration on your part that your agency is good) to get to the right person.
  3. TIMELINE — understanding expectations around when a company wants their project to be finished can make or break the proposal writing process. If they have a huge project, but want it done in 3 weeks, that would put the fire out instead of lighting a fire, catch my drift? Onto the next proposal.
  4. BUDGET — getting a sense of what your prospect is willing to pay for their desired outcome is really important. Many people don’t want to give you a number and say “well, just write the proposal with the price tag you think should go in it” – ugh!! That’s a sure-fire way to failure. So, make sure you get some sense of what they are willing to pay, even if it’s saying “projects like that typically fall somewhere between $30k and $50k, does that sound like it would be within your budget?” – anything’s better than no number at all.

Now that you’ve taken care of the absolutes, you can move into the decision making part of the proposal writing process. That’s right…you need to decide whether or not this fits within your parameters. That’s something only you can answer, but I would look at a few things:

  • Lead source: where did your prospect come from? Are they a referral or did they find you in a Google search? I’d opt to go for the one who came in from someone you know than the one who just searched “web agency boston” and came to your site.
  • Project Challenge: is this project challenging for your team and their skill levels? How long would it take them to do, are there any aspects of the project you’re unsure of?
  • Timeline / Budget: is the budget where it needs to be for the project? We all know different agencies charge different prices and can deliver projects at different paces. Does the prospect have a reasonable timeline?
  • Project Match: is the project good for your agency, your brand reputation? Would it be something you’d want to put your name on? I know many agencies who won’t work with the cigarette companies or adult entertainment companies because they don’t want to put that out in the world. So…ask yourself if this is something you’d be proud of when the project is finished.
  • Location: is this company nearby? Can you meet with them in person? In the age of digital, many projects are all done online, and that’s ok. But maybe you’re an agency that likes to meet face to face. Or maybe the client is in Shanghai and you’re located in New York, that’ll make for many a late night!
  • Gut feel: I think this is a good one to mention. Your instinct — how do you feel about the project as a whole, the people you’re engaged with, the company’s objective? Do you think you have a shot at winning? That’s always a tough question to answer (I never thought I’d lose any bid, lol!).

Really scoping the web project and minimizing the creep..

We’ve all heard it—Scope Creep—the infamous added feature that sneaks its way in after the project discovery session when a new stakeholder rears their head and says “hey, but what about this…”

Well, sometimes scope creep is inevitable, but if you can minimize that while you’re scoping, the web proposal writing process will be a little easier.

There are really only two ways to mitigate against scope creep. One way is to understand the full breadth of the project, which can be really difficult, right? Sometimes things just pop up or change happens due to a shift in business, market, or whatever. The second way is to use parameters or boundaries in your web proposal writing. I like to do a combination of both.

Obviously, every project you encounter is going to be different, so depending on what needs/objectives your potential client has, it will guide the questions that you follow up with. If a prospect tells you that they want you to do a branding and logo design, are you going to ask them if they want to use a membership plugin or module? Probably not. So, instead of articulating what to ask on every type of project (that might be impossible, or entirely too long of a blog post), I’m going to type out a mock call so you can get an idea of where to take things.

I’ll set the stage for this scope call…

The potential client wants to do a redesign of their website — they are a travel blog that want their users to sign up for their newsletter and they offer readers ratings and reviews of travel destinations. You’ve spoke to them one time and have gotten the logistical stuff out of the way (Needs, Authority, Timeline, Budget). Here’s the email you were sent with information from Tony at TotallyTravel Blog (fictitious blog..or so I hope!).

Hi Adam,

Thanks for the intro call, I liked learning a little more about your agency and your approach to a website redesign. Here's a little more information on our project. We have TotallyTravelBlog.com that's a custom PHP homegrown content management system. We have about 5 writers that write content for us, but would love to have more. We also have a newsletter that goes out once a month and our goal is to build our subscriber list. We offer travel ratings and reviews on our site and we would like to improve our SEO. We can definitely hop on another call to go over any questions you might have.

Best regards,

Tony

Ok — first and foremost with a prospect like this, they will almost always send you some sort of RFP RFP on blackboard(request for proposal), so you’ll have information of the basics and maybe even a little bit more. I’ve never read an RFP that’s given me everything I need to write a proposal. So you’ll need to get on a call.

But, right off the bat, we know a few things, right? They are in the media space because they blog about travel, and they have subscribers, so what does that entail? They also have writers (so think WordPress roles), and they’re concerned with their SEO (what does that look like?). Here’s a mock call:

Begin Conversation

Adam: Hey Tony, it’s Adam calling from Being AJiLe, how are you?

Potential Client: Good, good, Adam, and yourself?

Adam: I’m fantastic, thanks for asking. So, I’ve received the information you sent over on the project and I do have some questions. The first one is about the PHP CMS, how much legacy data do you have? I imagine there’s going to be quite the migration involved with this redesign, correct?

Potential Client: Yes, so all the posts will need to be migrated to the new CMS.

Adam: Ok, cool. But just to clarify, the posts aren’t all that need to be migrated, correct? I imagine there are images, authors, tags, categories, and other content types that will need to be moved over as well?

Potential Client: Yes, yes, all that stuff will need to be migrated as well.

Adam: Ok, awesome. What would be super helpful is if we could get an idea of how many content types you have and maybe we could even get a sample of the content types to get a gauge for how relationships are set up? (Sidenote: how many content types are important to know, usually content types (or post types in WP) are going to have different outputs, which could mean unique designs. Also relationships between content types can get tricky with migrations. On this one, more than likely, certain scripts will have to be written to map relationships to content types)

Potential Client: Sure, no problem, I can get that for you.

Adam: Perfect! Now you said in your email that you have about 5 writers? What does their workflow look like with the current CMS? (Sidenote: this will give me an idea of what permissions might look like, and if there’s any way to minimize steps to make things easier for them)

Potential Client: Yeah, so this is big problem internally. We actually have our authors write the posts in Google Docs, they share it with our two editors that approve the posts and then work with our web admin to put them in the current CMS. It’s been quite the hindrance, so that’s why we’d like to migrate CMS’s. We’ve heard good things about WordPress.

Adam: Yeah, so WordPress has got certain user roles written into the CMS. So, your whole workflow that you have right now could be done a lot smoother with WordPress. We could assign your writers roles of either contributors or authors depending on permission levels and they could work right within the CMS instead of outside of it. Editors and admins, also WordPress user roles, would be able to approve things in WP and could push content live. The whole workflow would be much easier to handle.

Potential Client: Ok, that’s great and exactly what we’re looking for.

Adam: Cool, yeah I think WordPress might be a really good fit for you guys, but you also said that you offer certain ratings and reviews? How is that currently done?

Potential Client: We integrate with TripAdvisor

Adam: Ok, interesting. Do you know if it’s just a snippet of code that’s pulled from TripAdvisor or are you using some sort of API?

Potential Client: I believe we just take snippets of code that TripAdvisor offers and insert it into our website.

Adam: Ok, I’ll have to do a little digging into TripAdvisor and see what technologies they offer, they could have a widget or plugin that might work with WordPress. If not, then we’ll have to take a deeper look.

Potential Client: Ok, sounds good.

Adam: Awesome, ok so since you’re in the media and publishing world, I have to ask about ads, will there be any ad-serving on the site?

Potential Client: Oh, yes, absolutely. That’s our biggest money generator. We use Double Click for Publishers.

Adam: Ok, cool, I know of a good DFP plugin for responsive sites and ad-serving, so that should be pretty straightforward. But you said that ad-serving was your biggest money generator, what other revenue do you get off of the site?

Potential Client: Oh, yes, we syndicate our content to a few other blogs in the travel industry.

Adam: Ok, and is that done through an XML or RSS feed?

Potential Client: Yes, they go out through a simple RSS feed that other travel blogs can grab on the site and we have certain agreements with them.

Adam: Ok, that makes sense. Another question I have is around your subscribers. Are these subscribers to your blog, or are they members of your site, do they get certain perks, or are they just subscribing to an email list?

Potential Client: Yeah, so we don’t have any members on our site, although that’s something that we’ve been thinking about doing and offering perks. But right now we only have subscribers through our email list for our monthly newsletter, and users also sign up to get updated blog posts.

Adam: Gotcha, so your readers can sign up to an email list to get blog posts or the monthly email newsletter, do you use a certain email newsletter provider like Constant Contact or something similar?

Potential Client: Yes, we use MailChimp. That’s what we use to send out our monthly newsletter and blog posts to users who subscribe.

Adam: (Sidenote: awesome, MailChimp is pretty easy to integrate with. There’s a plugin for that!). Ok, that’s fantastic. Now you said earlier that your team was thinking about maybe doing some kind of membership on your site, can you talk a little about that?

Potential Client: Yes, so there’s been some talk internally about offering tiered memberships where members could get access to travel deals. But I don’t see that happening for at least a year or more, we’d like to get this redesign done first and then maybe do something a little more with memberships.

Adam: Ok, cool, it’s just good to know because before anyone starts building the platform in WordPress, it’s something that we could potentially prepare for. It would obviously cost more money, but I know there are some pretty cool membership technologies that work well with WordPress like MemberMouse or Membership 2 Pro from WPMUDev. So, that’s good that we’re talking about it, I could send you some more info on those membership technologies to see if it’s something that your team might want to think about implementing sooner.

Potential Client: Yeah, that would be great, I’d definitely take a look and at the very least will have the information for if/when it happens down the line. Thanks!

Adam: Sure, no problem! Ok, I just have a few more questions. Since this is a redesign, I have to ask about actual design. Is there any rebranding initiative involved with this like logo design, brand guidelines or standards, or will all that stuff be provided?

Potential Client: Yeah, we went through a rebranding initiative about a year and a half ago, so we have everything that you need there.

Adam: Ok, great, and in terms of information architecture, would you like to revise the menu? Maybe do a little user testing to see if the terminology connects with your users?

Potential Client: Yeah, you know, I didn’t think about that. That definitely sounds interesting and something worth doing.

Adam: Ok, great, and you mentioned that you wanted to improve your SEO. Are you looking for an on-page SEO specialist or were you just talking about the technical aspects of SEO? Making sure your tags are all set properly, alt image text and meta data is setup, etc.?

Potential Client: Yes, that’s what I mean. I think we have good content, but I’m not sure what goes into SEO on the technical side, so we would be looking to our agency of choice to help us out with that.

Adam: Yeah, fantastic, so we definitely design and build with SEO best practices in mind.

Potential Client: Ok that sounds good!

Adam: Well, Tony, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks so much for giving me all this information. I think I have a good handle on things and I’ll start putting together the proposal. Sometimes as I’m putting together the proposal and discussing it with the team, more questions arise, will you be available to discuss if I have any more questions?

Potential Client: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Just give me a call or shoot me an email and we’ll connect.

Adam: Thanks, again!

End of Conversation

Let’s breakdown the call for the web proposal writing process..

First thing I wanted to know about was the migration, that could end up being a big piece of the project depending on how much legacy data there is, and remember that scripts will most likely have to be written to migrate all the content, but 301 redirects as well from legacy content because they still want to maintain (and improve) SEO.

I also asked about author workflow, this won’t be too difficult because it’s already a part of what WordPress does natively, but it’s good to get clarification. Noticed how I kept repeating what the Potential Client (PC) said, that just reinforces things. I also got the PC to uncover a pain point that they are having internally — remember that when you start to write the proposal — challenges to solutions!

Then I talked about the ratings/reviews, and the PC revealed that they integrate with TripAdvisor. You would have to do a little more digging here. I would search if there were any plugins that do this TripAdvisor owl eyes(honestly, I’m not sure if there are), but if not then TripAdvisor might have snippets of code to use. But keep in mind, with any 3rd party, that there might be some speedbumps that could slow down the project. If you use any 3rd party, you need to play by their rules, and that means things aren’t entirely within your control. So..I would put some buffer time (and price) in the proposal for this implementation.

I also asked about ad-serving. Often times, people in the media publishing world will just consider this a part of the package and not mention it. Remember, that these things are so ingrained in their heads as just being a part of their world that sometimes they’ll forget you’re not a part of their world. And the PC also said something that caught my ear – he said “our biggest money generator” – so that means there’s got to be other “money generators” right? Well, looks like there are, good thing I asked! I always err on the side of caution on things like this and ask. I’d rather end up looking a little stupid in their eyes than having an unhealthy project down the line. You can always play off the “looking stupid” part by saying “yeah, I thought that was the case, but just wanted to be 100% sure.” Ask, ask, ask—you’ll thank yourself in the long run and so will your team!

Then we got to the subscribers, and in Tony’s (PC) email I wasn’t sure if he had members on his site or just email list subscribers. But I asked him about members and uncovered it was something that they were thinking about internally. Now, this could be an opportunity to potentially upsell or increase the scope. I said I would get him the information and he’d take it from there. Now, you can get that info to him pretty quick and you can reach out to him in a few days to see if it’s something he’s had time to discuss with his team. He might not have, but it’s always good to get out in front of that stuff because when you’re in the midst of a project and another stakeholder enters the picture who wants the membership piece to the site, you can say “hey, we talked about that, it’s going to be $XX amount more.” You never know when the opportunity will arise. I sold one of the biggest projects of my career after I thought I had lost it! (Story for another day)

Then just to finalize, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a rebranding initiative along with the redesign, believe me, there are people out there who will get that messed up. It’s just a matter of semantics sometimes and it pays to be clear. And then we talked about SEO, because let’s face it, SEO is a beast within itself. Many people who have homegrown CMS’s don’t have great implementation on the technical SEO. Things as simple as setting up their H1 to H6 tags could be poor. Often times they don’t have meta-descriptions or tags, alt image text, an XML sitemap, or a robots.txt file. And if you want to get really fancy you can talk about microformatting, schema.org might have certain microformatting tags that it can classify their content as. Oooooo.

The needs of web proposal writing..

Now, that was obviously a mock call, but I did have very similar conversations and I went more in-depth than I did in this post. But notice how I left the communication lines open. I told him how when writing the proposal and talking with the team, often times, other questions arise. Set the expectation that they will be hearing from you again before they receive the proposal. That will also set an expectation that they’re not going to get the proposal in a day or two. Remember to leave the door open.

The trick to writing solid proposals is asking smart questions. And more importantly, it’s about asking the right follow-up questions. I know many people think web proposal writing is just a formality, but I think it’s one of the most creative activities one can do in the tech world. Why, you ask? Well…I’ll show you on the next post when I write about my web proposal writing evolution.

 

….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!

 


I’ve had two really bad performances in my career as a tech professional. One was with about 8 stakeholders from an association in New York (a well-known association) where I presented with my Director of Strategy at the time (who totally saved the presentation) and the other was yesterday at WordCamp Miami. Of course, I am my own worst critic, so it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought is was. But I know how good I can be (*insert humility here)!

My talk Coffee’s for Closers (but only if you have an established sales process didn’t get bad reviews. In fact, I got about a dozen positive tweets and a few people reached out to me to ask where they could find my slides online. Which I think is great and I appreciate everyone who said something about the talk, and everyone who sat in on the talk. But I really think people thought it was good because my slides have some really great content. I talk about Pre-sales activities, Engagement, and Post-sales. I grid out the four essentials of each stage and it’s compelling information especially for the small agency or freelancer who is unsure of their sales process or even how to start.

But I felt like my speaking style was hurried, rushed, uncomfortable. And it’s absolutely killing me today! I. Hate. This. Feeling. But, there is a silver lining. And if I can take a line from Elisha and Elyssa (@WhollyART) who have an awesome website (WhollyART.com) dedicated to positive principles, that “you need to love yourself ” and I do, I’m just a little upset with myself right now! Which I feel will give me the strength to continue speaking at events like these. Because I’m better than that!

I’m also trying to take another principle from @WhollyART and write in my genuine voice. I’m laying my cards out on the table and telling everyone that I absolutely hated my talk, and feel really embarrassed about it. And now it’ll be online for everyone to see. I also got asked a few really great questions that I’d like to take this opportunity to answer because I don’t feel like I gave the greatest answers yesterday.

So, let me see if I can remember them all:

  1. What’s the difference between a $2,500 project and a $15,000 project?
    • The answer is about $12,500 (*insert sarcasm). But in all honesty, I’ve worked for a small agency that charged $2k to $10k and I’ve worked for a large agency that’s charged $50k to $300k. The biggest difference I see between the two agencies is process, plain and simple. With the smaller agency, clients had a little more say in the project. I know that sounds weird, but clients would come to us with their IA already set in stone, they would have ideas for designs, etc. With the large agency, the process of delivering projects uncovered all those things as the project progressed. For example, the large agency would test information architecture and refine it before we implemented it. Our design process started with IA, went into wireframes, style tiles, and then mockups. The development was based on user stories. It was a more in-depth process, discovery was imperative with the large agency, while the smaller agency would usually start by putting together a few different designs. Which isn’t necessarily bad, just different. I think the main difference is process.
  2. How do you talk about money with a client? What if they won’t give you their budget?
    • Talking about money with a prospect or client is absolutely imperative. You can’t be afraid to ask them about their budget. I generally ask in a very nonchalant way “is there a number range we’re trying to stay between with this project?” as if the question is just routine and no big deal. Some times I actually get a “yeah, our budget is x-amount of dollars.” But more often than not, I get a “I’m not sure what our budget is quite yet.” or “we’re really unsure of what things like this cost, so we’re open in terms of budget.” — So, what I generally do is say “well, typical projects of that scope and size usually cost between $25k and $75k (big range), but you’re probably going to fall somewhere around $50k, give or take. Is that something that your team would be able to spend?” And if they don’t balk at the price, then continue with the conversation. If you can hear their jaw drop, maybe they’re not the right fit.
  3. If you’re a small agency and growing, what type of person should you hire to start a sales branch of your business?
    • This is a great question. So, there are a few different choices.
      • 1. The top salesmen from one of your competitors – offer them more money and they’ll come work for you. But you’ll need to have leads and resources to give this person, but they will sell, sell, sell for you.
      • 2. A sales manager or sales lead from any company in the tech industry – this person will know how to manage other people and manage sales. They’re able to think “big picture” stuff and have leadership skills.
      • 3. The failed entrepreneur – this person has failed in their own business, but they’re fighters and will do everything it takes to get the job done. They’ll work late hours, they’ll learn marketing, they’ll look for partnerships, they’ll cold call people, they will do everything in their power to be successful. I’d pick this guy.
  4. What if a client tells me their budget is $15k, and they want to do a project that I know will only take me $5k to do it. Do I charge $15k, or do I charge $5k?
    • This is another interesting question. But I would do everything in my power to get as close to their budget as you can (obviously, without being unethical). Most likely, agencies can charge higher rates. This depends on a number of different parameters including market size, location, type of client. But if a client comes to you and says we want to do this project and our budget is $15k, then you come back and say “I’ll do it for $5k” – that client is going to start to wonder why things are so cheap. That’s a huge disparity – $10k between those two numbers. Now, it wouldn’t be that much of a difference if your client had a budget of $100k and you came at $90k. But telling a client that you’ll charge them $5k when they already told you their budget is $15k, will make your client shop around to other agencies. There is always that possibility that they will think you’re missing something. And this is a classic example of value perception. They already value that project that you’ll potentially do at $15k (that’s why they gave you that budget), they don’t see the technical side of things, they see a number. And when you come back with $5k, that value (no matter what the actual value is) to them doesn’t seem valuable at $5k. When a client gives me a budget on a web service project, I try to get as close to that budget as possible. And obviously you want to add value (which you can do) but maybe it’s time to revisit your rate.
  5. What are the features you want to look for when shopping around for a CRM for a small agency or even just one person?
    • When shopping around for a CRM you want to look at a few different things. The two most important things are a ‘Contacts’ list and a ‘Deals/Opportunities’ list. Without these, there is no CRM. You need a place where you can keep track of your contacts and all their associated data – phone number, email, company name, etc. and a place to keep notes on them is great too. You also need a ‘Deals’ or ‘Opportunities’ list so you can keep track of what stages opportunities are in so there’s no confusion what you need to do as the deal progresses. Other things I look for are features that log activities, you want to be able to log the emails you have with someone or the phone conversations, etc. HubSpot has a great feature called Sidekick, which will let you send emails right from the CRM, check it out! Also being able to create tasks for yourself, and schedule upcoming calls and meetings is something else you want to look at.

If I’ve forgotten any, I apologize! But I want to take this time to say thanks for all who came to my presentation.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I know a number of people who have had horrible speaking experiences and end up never speaking again. I cannot be that person! So, I’ll get back on the saddle and give it another shot. But before I do I’ll be reading a number of public speaking books and I will definitely be prepared for the next talk I give! Upwards and onwards!

I recently had an appearance on the Talking Drupal Podcast — Had a great time with John Picozzi, Stephen Cross, and Nic Laflin. That episodes topic was Selling Drupal, so they had me on to talk about sales in relation to…what else….Drupal.

Here’s the video:

I had a really fantastic time! Steve, John, and Nic are great guys to be around and we always have thought-provoking conversations! Even though, I feel like this conversation fell into a talk about Drupal versus WordPress, that’ okay!

Now that I’m in website security, I would love to be asked back on to speak about securing Drupal! Hopefully, in a few more months you’ll see me back on there to discuss security matters.

Love being a part of the open source community and the Drupal community!

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!

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.

I’ve asked myself many times – how should I present that next big proposal? It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? I guess a lot of it depends on who you are presenting to. But I also think that presentations can be dry and long-winded, and just plain boring.

I’ve done my fair share of presentations from college to career and I think there’s one universal truth to keep in mind when giving presentations – be YOU!!! It’s so easy to say hey, let’s just repurpose that last presentation and spin it so it’s not exactly the same. Just copy another Google presentation and change some of the text on the slides so that it’s tailored (a little more) to this presentation we’re giving. But it’s still generic!

I’m a firm believer in telling stories. Why, you ask? Because stories stick, that’s right, they stick! People hold on to stories, they relate to stories. Stories are how we’ve been handed down life lessons from generation to generation. There’s this great book called Weekend Language, and it’s all about doing away with power points (because we all know they’re totally awesome, not!) and working on your narrative.

Bullet points, a lot of bullet points kinda suck. Would you want to sit there and listen to someone just regurgitating the bullet points on a slide? Probably not! I also understand that they’re necessary, sometimes people want to see that information and we can’t always tell stories. So, my advice is to find that happy-medium. Maybe start off with a story or anecdote, then move into some data points or statistics about whatever you’re trying to get across. There’s many different ways to approach a possible presentation. Preface it by saying, “hey guys, we don’t want this to be boring for you, but there’s some slides in here we have to go through. We’ll try and make it as painless as possible.” That way you’ve built a rapport, you’ve kept it open, and just let them know to interrupt at any time to clarify something, or ask a question.

Sales Presentation

Processes like these are the best way to ensure you make a good presentation and the people sitting on the other end are receptive. Best of luck, I actually have a presentation in about 2 hours. I got my narrative, but my slides could be better, lol! Hey, if you get a chance, check out Prezi, it’s a cool way to present things, but it also has to be done in the correct way. There’s a lot of animation in Prezi, so sometimes people can feel like they get a little sea sick. But check out these really cool Prezi presentations, hope you enjoy, and explore!