Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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How Managing Customer Relationships Is Like Herding Cats

October 21, 2014

…and what you can do to minimize frustration and maximize customer satisfaction

Was it easier to manage your customer relationships when you worked off of an overflowing rolodex, a file folder stuffed with lunch receipts and invoices and scribbled recaps of phone conversations?

In a way, it was easier. You could probably use that information and your paper calendar and your memory to summarize where things stood with that customer. You had constructed that rather scattered profile by yourself, and you owned it.

But was it faster? No. More thorough? Certainly not. You may be able to easily find your customers’ birthdays and rattle off the names of their children, but did you know that they called tech support three times about a product they bought six months ago? That they’re opening a new location and are stocking up with competitors’ products because they’ve been asking for opinions online and haven’t heard from you?

Software and websites that help you build comprehensive customer profiles (social CRM) track:

  • Each customer’s status in the pipeline
  • Every contact they’ve made with the company, and
  • Their online “buzz.”

But it is truly like herding cats. Your customers are all over the web, and they may be interacting with other employees at your company without you knowing. Which also means that you may be missing opportunities to “touch” them (which, like with cats, requires knowledge of the feline’s history and likes/dislikes, timing, agility, patience, and willingness to be flexible. And a little bit of luck).

Social CRM helps you manage your human relationships by offering:

  • Transparency. Everyone who deals with customers needs a complete, up-to-date history.
  • Consistent messaging. Some companies don’t want to lose control of their messaging. Guess what? They already have. Even if you give your customer service and support reps scripts, they’re human beings, and will – or will have to because of customer responses – veer off the prescribed path. Social CRM helps prevent polar opposite messages — and helps you recover if it happens.
  • Visibility. I give and give and give, and this is the thanks I get?, you may sometimes think. You provide helpful, instructional videos and text on your website and blog. You’ve labored over white papers and ebooks to further inform your prospects. You’re not pushy. Still, here comes a prospect asking a question about something you’ve explained at least a dozen times. Explain it for the 13th, as quickly, thoroughly, and professionally as you can. Your response may be the one thing that matters to your prospect. So be available in as many places as you can.

My point is this: If you haven’t yet implemented – and implemented fully – a social CRM solution, you’re making the cat-herding part of your job harder. It’s tough enough to know which emerging social networks have staying power, and which of the many social CRM platforms will be around next year. So expect chaos and uncertainty, but minimize it with the tools available today.


Social Selling: 3 Critical Questions Answered By the Pros

October 8, 2014

There are a lot more than three, but here are some of the top social selling concerns that today’s businesses are facing.

As I’ve said before on this blog, many of the core tenets of salesmanship have remained the same since there was stuff to sell and people to sell it.

Todd Martin 072313 image 1But the social relationships with customers that have been made possible by internet connections, combined with our ability to better distribute information about our products and services, challenge us find new ways to meet old needs.

A recent webinar co-hosted by HubSpot, LinkedIn, and Evernote caught my attention because of the three questions asked of the hosts at the end of the presentation. I have my own answers for them, which I’ll explain next week.

Here are the questions and excerpts of the answers provided by speakers Mark Roberge, chief revenue officer at HubSpot; Koka Sexton, senior social marketing manager at LinkedIn; and Josh Zerkel, user education specialist at Evernote.

My sales team doesn’t have the right materials to help my prospects solve their problems. What should I do?

Roberge: “There is no social selling without content.”

Zerkel: “When it comes to sales and marketing, I think it’s helpful to make sure there’s an open channel of communication so that collaboration can occur.”

Sexton: “I think context is something that’s often overlooked because where the buyer is within the sales cycle should determine what type of content you’re handing them, and ultimately how you’re delivering it to them.”

Our marketing team creates a lot of content each month, but the sales team never uses it. How can I solve this problem?

Zerkel: “Sales might not be aware where the tools are or it may be that they feel it’s too difficult to access them.” Or, “… the tools that marketing thinks are so awesome may not, in fact, be so awesome when it comes to real world deployment and social selling.”

Roberge: “It’s next to impossible, at this point, for those salespeople to know exactly the right content to follow up with — there’s just too much out there.” So HubSpot is experimenting with solutions like tagging content based on topic or persona, or having sales designate problems different personas are experiencing in its CRM.

How do you present yourself on social media in order to do social selling? How do you leverage your social presence as a salesperson?

Sexton: It’s about, “…how you use your online persona, building your reputation and becoming that brand that draws people in… If a salesperson is consistently posting great content about the industry, provided by the marketing team, it will be so much easier for that salesperson to build that personal brand and that social media credibility. That’s really what social selling is all about: Giving salespeople the tools they need to have genuine interactions on social media that help them in their sales processes.”

How would you answer these questions?

Back to Basics: 5 Ways to Blow a Sale

September 28, 2014

Here are some sure-fire ways to minimize your chances of closing.

Todd Martin 072814 image 2The internet and CRM applications have altered our profession dramatically. I’ve said this many times. You know this. Everyone in the business – anyone who has been paying attention the last few years — is aware of it.

Your increased knowledge of your customers, though, sometimes leads to a sense of false confidence. It still takes more than a head full of details about a prospect to successfully navigate a potential sales transaction.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m very faithful to my CRM solution. I do any required maintenance and consult it frequently. It rewards me by giving me comprehensive, collaborative profiles of my business contacts.

Stepping Back

If you’ve been in sales for many years or decades, you know the unwritten rules. If you’re new to the profession, learn from the mistakes we old-timers have made. Here are some things you can do that will almost surely doom a sale.

Extol the virtues of your company’s products and/or services endlessly. Whether or not your prospects have done their homework, no one wants to hear a laundry list of features. They want to know if and how they’ll benefit and how problems will be solved.

Be too technical in your speech or your use of technology. Even if you sell sophisticated technology, you must find ways to explain it simply. Smart shoppers aren’t dazzled by things that sound impressive but which they don’t understand. If you’re good at reading people, which you should be if you’re in sales, you’ll know when you’re talking over peoples’ heads. So dial it back. Or, conversely, offer more complex information if your prospects seem impatient or frustrated.

Be overly familiar. You all know this guy (or gal). The hand on the arm within the first two minutes of your meeting. The close-talking (always respect personal space). The use of your prospect’s first name in every other sentence. This kind of interaction implies a.) sleaziness, b.) a contrived, unnatural manner, or c.) desperation. Or all three.

Show up too prepared. I harp on the importance of using your CRM solution to educate yourself well about your customers, and I do believe that this is critical. But you still have to call on your powers of intuition and flexibility to recognize when your planned approach isn’t working.

Lose your focus. Some people say that George H.W. Bush lost the presidential election to Bill Clinton in 1992 because he looked at his watch during a debate, signaling boredom or apprehension or apathy. If some of your sales meetings take place on crowded convention floors or at busy conferences, potential distractions abound. Keep your focus on your prospect. Don’t digress. Reinforce your understanding of what’s being said by the other party by using your active listening: Rephrase important points to remember them.

Not every potential sale is meant to be, of course. But try to maximize your chances by not doing the wrong thing.

Perfecting Your Pitch: 6 Tips for Preparing Presentations

September 18, 2014 1 Comment

Even if you’re great at delivering them, the proof is in the prep.

Presentations often get a bad rap.

Todd Martin 071713 image 3For presenters, they are a source of anxiety and dread. For the audience, the threat of boredom looms large. Still, they’re an essential part of doing business. Presentations are how we tell our stories.

Effective presentations get past the hazards and present your message in a way that gets results. Before you make your next pitch, here are six proven ways to ensure that you get the most from your efforts.

  • Get an early start – Whether you have just days or months to prepare, start working on your presentation early. Waiting until the last minute is a recipe for frustration. Adequate planning ensures success and helps minimize last minute jitters. The more time you spend preparing, the more effective you’ll be.
  • Do the research – You know your idea, product, or service, so research your audience carefully. Know the people who will be in your audience, anticipate their pain points, and decide how you can help. The more you know about the people who will hear your pitch, the easier it will be to plan the presentation.
  • Outline carefully – Create a topic outline for your pitch that hits the main points you need to make. Your slides should be based on these major points. Make the audience’s needs the first topic, followed by how your ideas, products or services solve the problem. Keep the outline and slide list short and stay on topic.
  • Prepare slides first – Create your slides based on the outline. Keep slides visually interesting and avoid overusing text. If your audience is reading the text on your slides, they won’t hear you. Aim for instant recognition of what your slides convey with bold charts, headlines, and graphics.
  • Punch up your story – With slides prepared, you can create a concise, audience-focused story for your pitch. Don’t ramble; shorter is better. Use audience-appropriate humor sparingly. Stick to the point of the current slide and sell with clear language. Edit your presentation down to the essentials.
  • Rehearse and back yourself up – Never go into a presentation cold. Bring team members in and make the presentation. Get honest feedback and questions. Fine-tune your pitch based on these rehearsals. Anticipate questions and be able to answer them immediately. Back up everything for quick access, just in case.

Relax! You’ve Got This Down
A well-prepared presentation almost delivers itself. Set up for it early and make sure everything works. By the time you stand up, you’ll know the content intimately. You’ve planned it, rehearsed it, edited it, and have it backed up on a USB drive in your pocket. Just take a deep breath, smile and display the first slide. Next time will be even easier.

5 Ways to Make the Website-Customer Connection

September 9, 2014

For every business, a two-way connection between the company and its customers is essential. While small business websites usually do a good job at giving visitors information about product and service offerings, they often fail to establish the other half of the connection.

Todd Martin blog 103012 image 2When that happens, your prospects know a lot about you, but you know nothing about them. Until your site captures email addresses or other contact data from visitors, no useful connection has been established. This reciprocal information-sharing is critical for social selling.

Here are some proven strategies for enticing website visitors into making contact and beginning the dialog.

Connect Through Design
During the design process for every website, much attention is paid to graphical design elements, navigational structure, and selecting fonts and images to get and hold the attention of visitors. Convincing visitors to make contact, though, is often a neglected part of website design. Visually-appealing and compelling contact links should appear near the top of every web page. Making these a part of your website’s CSS template should be a top priority.

Content Should Target the Connection
Providing information to website visitors is the primary objective of every page, of course. That’s what people are looking for when they search for businesses like yours. Content should incorporate SEO effectively and present information in an attractive manner, but that’s not its only job. Content on every web page should also ask your visitors to make contact with you and give them compelling reasons to do just that. Unique calls to action related to the content of each page are essential.

Give Visitors a Reason to Connect
Making a sale or establishing a client relationship is your goal, of course, but your website alone can’t always get the job done. Personal contacts build confidence and let you pitch your goods and services directly. Offer visitors something for giving you their information. Email newsletters, white papers, special offers, and other incentives that cost the visitor nothing are proven methods for convincing casual web browsers to hand over their information.

Social Media Outreach Can Help Build the Connection
If you have active social media programs in place, they’re valuable tools in making and developing connections with website visitors. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social networks can be valuable tools. Visitors who click social media links and like your page or connect with you give you the information you need to communicate effectively with them. Only active and dynamic social media efforts, though, result in successful conversions.

Follow Up to Maintain and Nurture Connections
Once a website visitor makes the leap and shares contact data with you, the ball’s in your court. So:

  • Monitor all contacts closely.
  • Follow up quickly with the incentives you’ve offered.
  • Make every contact relevant, timely, and valuable.
  • Avoid overwhelming new contacts with too-frequent follow-ups.

A careful, balanced approach – aided by automated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools — can help reward your efforts with increased business.

Introducing the LinkedIn Sales Navigator

August 29, 2014

If you’ve been struggling with using LinkedIn for sales, this new standalone solution may help.

LinkedIn has always been considered the serious, professional social network. With its emphasis on work histories and easy networking, it’s the go-to site for learning about a potential employee or employer, scoping out a competitor, or tracking down key contacts at a prospective buyer’s company.

Individuals’ updates tend to focus on business issues and news of the day. There’s a dearth of Look where I went on vacation and Isn’t this cat falling off a ledge funny? kinds of posts.

But how does a salesperson find leads on LinkedIn? Inviting people to join your network, asking connections for introductions to other connections, and building relationships on the site can all be effective activities, but they only go so far.

Built for You

So now when you log into LinkedIn and click on the Business Services link, then Sales Solutions, you’re introduced to a new, enhanced version of the site designed for sales professionals: the LinkedIn Sales Navigator. LinkedIn says its mission is to help sales professionals “…focus on the right people and companies, stay informed of key updates, and build trust with prospects and customers.”


Todd Martin 082914 image 2

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with this tool yet so I can’t give it a thumbs up or down. But I wanted to tell you a bit about it so you can determine whether it’s a good fit for you.

Be There

LinkedIn shares some interesting numbers that came out of a couple of recent studies.

  • The average buying decision now involves 5.4 people.
  • B2B buyers use social media during evaluation: 75 percent use it to be more informed on vendors.
  • Buyers want to trust their vendor: 76 percent prefer a vendor recommended by their network.

If these numbers are representative of the business community as a whole, you can see the necessity for not only having a presence on social media, but also for being as connected as possible to the key people and companies in your industry.

The Nuts and Bolts

How does LinkedIn Navigator help you focus, stay informed, and build trust? By offering a set of sales-centric tools that include:

Customized lead management. Imports and syncs accounts and leads from Salesforce. Suggests potential leads and supports custom searches to help find prospects.

Networking and communications. Feeds you real-time insight on your accounts and leads. Provides full access to contact profiles and activity for your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd levels. Out-of-network access to profiles of 300 million+ LinkedIn members. Allows InMail messages to contacts outside your network, and shows you who’s viewed your profile in the last 90 days.

Some of these tools have data limitations, and not all are available at every price level. You’ll pay $59.99/month for Sales Navigator Basic, $79.99/month for Sales Navigator Professional, and $129.99/month for Sales Navigator Team.

Considering that there’s a 30-day free trial available (credit card required), I think it’s worth checking out.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Applications: Similar Features, Different Approaches

August 18, 2014

Let’s back up a little and explore the innards of CRM solutions.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “7 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at CRM Solutions.” It occurs to me that some of you may be new to our profession, and you haven’t been properly introduced to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and websites. Others might be experienced salespeople, but you’re still using paper and pen, or a hybrid of computer software and Rolodex, file folders, paper calendars, etc.

Todd Martin 081514 imageSo I wanted to use this space to briefly talk about the elements that comprise state-of-the-art CRM applications. In 2014, there are dozens of them, and they’re all over the map:

  • Some are still desktop-based.
  • Others are desktop-based with links to the internet.
  • Many reside solely on websites.
  • Some offer only the traditional CRM features that we’ve seen since the 1990s, while others have moved beyond those basic capabilities.

All, though – at least the best of them – have similar characteristics. I’ll outline those most commonly found today.

A contact database. There’s a class of software called “contact managers,” like ACT!, GoldMine, and Maximizer. Many of these products are still available as desktop software. CRM software and websites still have this core attribute, a series of pre-defined screens with specialized fields for storing information about your business contacts. If you already have a computer-based file containing contact data, you can often import it.

A history log. Your contact database has another element that is critical in the sales process: a record of your past interaction with every individual and company. CRM software and websites have built-in fields – or entire screens – for logging phone calls, meeting notes, on-site-visits, emails, etc.

A mechanism for tracking opportunities and leads. This means more than a list of dates and meetings and other activities. Many CRM applications offer tools for visualizing the sales pipeline.

Integration with other related applications. State-of-the-art CRM solutions can be integrated with dozens of other applications, ranging from word processing to email marketing to accounting, as well as general productivity tools.

Searching and reporting capabilities. The busier you are, the more critical it is that you can find information quickly and get customized overviews of your sales status.

“Social CRM”

Today’s best CRM applications provide an easy way for you to create a much more comprehensive profile of your customers and prospects. They help you find their activity and connections, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and their needs, by seeing how they interact on social networking sites. You can actually view those “streams” of updates within your CRM application, right in the individual person or company’s profile.

Social CRM solutions fill in some of the blanks, providing insight into who your contacts are, not just how they prefer to be contacted and what they purchased from you most recently. A good social CRM application can help you know your customers and prospects to a degree never before possible.

You’ve Invested in a Social CRM Solution: Now What?

August 7, 2014 1 Comment

Knowing how to use a word processor doesn’t make you a good writer. Some tips on getting the most out of your social CRM application.

I’ve been watching the AMC show, Halt and Catch Fire. Set in the offices of a fictional, very ambitious computer manufacturer in 1983, it chronicles the chaotic early days of PC clone development.

It’s hard to believe in these days of the web, smartphones, tablets, and even wearable computers, but it was only 30 years ago when companies were scrambling to just get those big clunky boxes to respond to input quickly enough that users wouldn’t turn away and do something else.

I’ve read many definitions of the actual phrase “Halt and Catch Fire” (HCF) because I find the concept so intriguing. It’s a decades-old computer command that, according to one definition, “…sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once.” The “catch fire” part wasn’t literal; it simply meant that the computer wore itself out. No instruction won, and the system eventually just up and quit.

Taming the Terabytes

Using a social CRM system can have a similar effect. You can pull your contacts’ social streams into many of them, which can be a very good thing if used wisely. But there’s a temptation to keep following threads and venturing into new social networks. You’re taking in an enormous amount of information and trying to process it in a meaningful way, but eventually you hit a wall, and your prospecting/relationship-building/learning session was for naught.

I was guilty of this kind of energy-sapping exercise in the early days of the CRM-social media marriage. I’m still excited about the possibilities it offers, but I remind myself that social CRM is just one element of my comprehensive business strategy. I’m getting smarter about using my social CRM system, and have established rules for myself for the time I spend on social networking to minimize time and maximize effectiveness. Here are some of them:

I set goals for each online session. What am I trying to accomplish? Am I scoping out the competition? Looking for leads? Finding references to my company?

I create lists of related people and companies. Or Groups, or whatever a particular social network calls them. I can draw on some of these when I do a targeted campaign.

I respond quickly to the comments that I can. Or I make sure that the right person sees them. Where possible, I include links to problem-solving pages on my website, not product-ordering screens.

My tone and content match my brand. This is always in the back of my mind, wherever I go online.

I don’t particularly like the word “influencers,” but I do take note of prominent people who write frequently, intelligently, and fairly about my field.

I set time limits. It’s easy to get caught up on conversations and interesting threads. I schedule my social networking time like I would an appointment.

Turning the Tables

Before social CRM applications became available, I spent a lot of time scribbling notes and sending faxes and emailing other departments. And manually updating my traditional CRM system.

Once I settled on a solution, I spent whatever time I could free up really learning it. And I use every feature that makes sense for me, including:

  • The collaboration tools (keeps co-workers in the loop)
  • The data import and consolidation (helps me maintain comprehensive contact records)
  • The search tools (to discover relationships), and
  • The reports (to understand my sales and activity history, identify potential sales, and adjust my workflow).

Without a social CRM solution, the rules that I set for myself would occasionally produce leads. But by using all of the tools this application offers, I can blend what I discover in the wild world of the web with my existing customer and sales data.

The internet, with all of the information and opinions it publishes to the world about my company’s products, has given more control to prospects and customers in the sales relationship. Social CRM can help salespeople even out that new balance of power.

Changes in Attitude: 7 Habits That Can Boost Confidence — and Sales

July 29, 2014

The word “habit” often conjures up thoughts of bad ones. Here are seven good habits that I’ve found to be effective.

Habits. We all have ‘em, both good and bad.

I wrote about turning New Year’s Resolutions into habits last January, and I’ve been thinking about them more since then. As salespeople, our lives tend to be somewhat fragmented as we rush back and forth to meet with prospects and customers, while trying to keep up with the organizational and planning elements of our work. So it’s especially important for us to develop the habits that not only help keep us on track, but which can ultimately lead to a better sales performance overall.

Todd Martin 072814 image 2I’ve also realized that the positive habits that I work on at home also translate well to my professional activities. Start them at home or start them at work, but the same good habits can improve our lives and our successes in both settings.

Adjusting Attitudes

Here are some habits that I’ve worked on incorporating. They have as much to do with your attitude as they do any particular sales “techniques.”

  • Try to be as proactive as you are reactive. I’m starting out here with one of the more challenging habits. It’s easy to just go through your deal dealing with the tasks that come your way (emails, expense reports, managing staff, etc.). Those things must be done, but try to schedule even 15 minutes of every day just thinking about how you’re going to move forward. Are there training needs? Should you consider implementing a CRM system (or switching to a new one)? Can you hone your hiring process to improve it for the next time?
  • Focus, focus, focus. You probably have a dozen things that need your immediate attention. When you work on one, you hear the others calling. Again, take time early in your day to prioritize.
  • Evaluate your progress in big and small ways. You can’t know what needs fixing until you know what’s not going well. Be conscientious about applying the standard metrics provided for you, but find ways to measure your performance and claim small victories.
  • Stay positive and confident by reminding yourself of other opportunities that exist. I always try to keep my other prospects in the back of my mind, especially when it looks like a sale is not going to close. It keeps the desperation out of your interaction with customers, which most of them can sense.
  • Think of yourself as a business consultant, not just a salesperson. How can you help this prospect? Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Sell solutions, not just products. If there isn’t a good fit, acknowledge that.
  • Be discriminating. You know that little voice in your head that sometimes tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree but you don’t want to admit because you really, really need this sale to make quota? Listen to it.
  • Cut to the chase sooner sometimes. One of your skills that led you to this profession is the ability to read people. You don’t always have to lead up to your primary pitch with small talk. If your prospects seem fidgety, at least encourage them to talk about their business needs in detail.

Practice Makes Perfect

Act as if. You’ve probably encountered this concept. It simply means going through the motions even if an activity or thought process feels foreign to you. Do it enough times, and it becomes a confidence-builder – and a good habit.

Do You Need a CRM Solution? 5 Clues

July 9, 2014

A Customer Relationship Management system may solve problems that you didn’t even know you had.

“Workaround” is a word often used by companies and individuals that develop and support software and websites. When they use it, they generally mean that the features you’re looking for aren’t available, but there are alternate routes to accomplishing – at least in part – what you’re trying to do.

Do you find yourself applying the same concept to your sales-related customer relationship management tasks? You’ve cobbled together an elaborate system of email folders and extensions and add-ons, used Outlook’s tools to the max, and you maintain your contact database in an Excel spreadsheet.

Todd Martin 070914Most of your competition, on the other hand, is using at least a basic Customer Relationship Management solution. Why? Because they saw the same signs that you have and found a more elegant, centralized, collaborative way to deal with it.

Here are some of those signs that you may recognize in your own professional life:

  • There’s no one computer screen you can visit that incorporates all of the related details about your customers. This is especially problematic if multiple employees at your company interact with customers. Do you want to call a customer who was just mistakenly called by another salesperson who gave him or her the same pitch? Launch into a friendly conversation when a customer has reported a serious service problem earlier in the day?
  • You have to add minutes or hours to your schedule when you return from working out of the office – just to update your multiple contact-tracking sources. Worse, you don’t remember where you’ve been tracking a particular lead or project.
  • Making decisions and managing your time are ridiculously difficult exercises. With all of your sales and relationship data scattered, you don’t know where to turn first every day. Or second or third. It’s difficult to prioritize your work, and you have to pull information from numerous people and other sources as you prepare to make management decisions.
  • You’re communicating with your team and your customers through email, but you often miss critical communications. Email has changed our personal and professional lives in a big way. But considering the volume you probably receive, it’s inevitable that you inadvertently delete one from time to time. This could cost you a sale.
  • Determining where you are in the sales cycle with your customers takes too much time. Plus, you have to consult numerous applications, or even paper files. Even if you have an email folder devoted to each customer and/or a separate document of some sort (or a paper file), there’s no timeline. You have to reconstruct the sales trail every time you want to interact. You may be even failing to record sales properly.

There are numerous other signs, but you get the idea. CRM software and websites help you conquer the three Cs: communication, collaboration, and clarity. They save time and help you avoid duplicate data entry. They can travel with you wherever you go, and you can graduate to more sophisticated functionality when you need it. They’re designed for the sales profession.

So there’s a good reason for that nagging feeling you have that says There has to be a better way. There is. CRM solutions are as necessary for salespeople as a phone, a firm handshake and a friendly smile.



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