Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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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.


Manage Relationships with Your Star Customers Using These 7 Tips

June 26, 2014

CRM solutions can be tremendous sales tools, but the old rules about customer relationships still apply – and still contribute to successful sales.

Todd Martin 062514 image 1Although I survived – and often thrived – as a salesperson before I started using CRM software, I can’t imagine going back to a bulging Rolodex and file folders and paper scheduler. I still spend my days chasing leads and talking to people and continuing to school myself about the myriad ways that people can benefit from using my company’s products and services.

My CRM solution does a lot of the heavy lifting now. I’m not as mired in tedious administrative details, and my workflow is much more economical. I’m more productive both in the office and on the road, thanks to mobile technology. And I’m able to make more – and better targeted – connections through email and social media.


7 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at CRM Solutions

June 18, 2014

Choose your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution carefully.

Todd Martin 061714 image 1What’s the most popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application in use today? If you said “email,” you’d be right. Many businesspeople live in Outlook or Gmail or whatever their preferred email client is. By taking advantage of their integrated apps, extensions, portability and customizability, you can cobble together a reasonably effective CRM solution for your team.

The operative word there is “cobble.” It makes more sense to me to implement an application that was built from the ground up to accommodate very specific customer service and sales needs.


Redefining Social Selling, Part 3

June 9, 2014

Has social media redefined the concepts of sales and marketing? Not in the all-encompassing way that some will tell you, I don’t believe.

You can spend an enormous amount of money these days flying off to conferences, reading books and hiring consultants all focused on how social networks have fundamentally changed the role of salespeople and marketing professionals.

I only know of four ways that things have really changed for me:

  • Customers have a lot more information – and opinions — about my products and services when we first connect.
  • I’ve saved time and money using the internet for some tasks I used to do manually.
  • It’s good to have multiple ways to reach prospect and customers, and
  • I have felt enormous pressure to invest resources in social selling and marketing, and found that what some of the “experts” claim will improve my sales sound good, but don’t translate well into practice.

That’s just me, and I’d love to hear if your experience has been different.

But on to B.J. Mendelson’s Social Media is Bull***, a book you can pick up for the Kindle and in hardback at Amazon for a few bucks. It’s a good read, and like I said earlier, I agreed with much of it, though I believe that there’s more gray area – more exceptions and possibilities — than he does.

Here are Mendelson’s main points:

  • Offline matters more than online. Your location, your circumstances, your audience – that determines everything.
  • 99 percent of the things that are often referred to as “viral” are driven by offline forces: real-world connections, traditional media, legitimate celebrities, corporate spending. Right place, right time explains the rest.
  • The concept that if you put something online “people will see it” is not true. Most YouTube videos go unwatched and most Web sites go unvisited.
  • Momentum is everything on the Web. And that is built by using the connections you’ve already established the old-fashioned way to help get the word out.
  • Be skeptical of metrics like “awareness” and “engagement.” The only metric that matters for small businesses is sales. If you’re not making money, you can’t keep doing what you’re doing (and as far as the Web goes, the only metric that matters is unique visitors coupled with how much time they spend with you and what they click on. The number of unique visitors on its own — like page views, users, free app downloads, followers, fans, likes and YouTube views – is meaningless).
  • Do not hire someone until you’ve exhausted all of your free options. Candidates must be able to give you actual facts and figures, testimonials, case studies and other data. The hype that “You’re just leaving money on the table if you don’t use social media” is just that – hype.
  • The only thing you need is a Web site. One that’s clean, simple, easy to navigate, fast to load, and fun. A Web site won’t cost you a fortune, either. You should also consider having a self-hosted WordPress blog because you control it. All traffic that you get should go to your Web site.
  • Social media is bull****. Search engine optimization (SEO) is not…Build inbound links to your Web site that use keywords associated with whatever you’re doing, and post frequently. The more content (posts, pictures and video) appropriately tagged, the better.

You’ve probably been in the sales profession for years, and you know what’s worked and what hasn’t. I continue to explore how social media might help me build relationships and make sales, but I listen to my gut and only do what I think makes sense for my unique situation, products, target market, resources, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social media, and you should be wary of anyone who preaches otherwise.



Rethinking Social Selling, Part 2

June 3, 2014

Last week, I introduced some cautionary thinking about the use of social media in sales. Here are some specifics.

“Too many brands today see the ‘bright and shiny’ object called social media and jump right in whenever a new network launches.”

That’s a quote from Michael Brito, one of the contributors quoted in Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend, a free e-book compiled by David Sparks of Sparks Media Solutions, available here.

I have to reiterate what I said in last week’s post before I go on. I am not trashing the concept of using social media as a sales tool. But now that we have a few years under our collective belts using these sites, it’s a good time to step back and evaluate our approach. And listen to some of the voices that aren’t just trying to sell a book or a subscription or attendance at a conference.

That said, here’s more of the advice tendered in the e-book:

Stop “getting your feet wet.” “Stop doing social for the sake of doing social. If you’re pinning to Pinterest just because you’re supposed to, but aren’t getting any traction, stop it right now.”

Stop focusing on your non-existent “community.” “The only thing that matters, and arguably ever mattered, was generating good material and then using the media to get it in front of the right people. At that point, it’ll either fly or die on its own merits.”

Stop endorsing people on LinkedIn. It’s become meaningless.

Stop talking about social media. “What you’re looking to uncover is the story social media is trying to tell. For example, can conversations on Twitter predict future sales?”

Stop following everyone who follows you. Another meaningless gesture when done automatically.

Stop spreading yourself too thin. “Stop thinking your message needs to be everywhere — you can’t engage everywhere so invest in spaces where your clients/customers are, instead of spraying and praying.”

Stop collecting friends. “This giant land grab of users was actually valuable when we weren’t so overwhelmed by social messaging. Now the influx is so overwhelming that we’re reliant on filters to manage the noise.”

Stop engaging in “conversation.” “We need to be focusing on things that are more about action than conversation. Social technology has evolved in a way that enables people to do more, not just talk more.”

Stop responding to everyone. This used to be good advice. But in 2014? “That would be true if everyone deserved a response.”

Stop relying on other social media channels to build your brand. If they pull the plug on a feature, like LinkedIn Answers, there goes part of your online reputation. “Brands should now focus their efforts and resources on driving traffic to owned digital platforms, like self-hosted communities and opt-in email lists. The strategy must be to draw engaged customers and prospects from those third-party outposts back to owned digital assets.”

This post is getting long, and I don’t want to cut short the excerpts from Social Media is Bull**** that I wanted to include. Looks like this will be a three-part post.

Let me say, though, that reading this e-book filled with advice from professionals who have been in social media from the beginning – and practice what they preach — gave me permission to follow that nagging little voice in my head that questioned whether all of the gee-whiz advice online was a little overblown.

It’s time to work smarter on our social selling skills. We’ll call it Social Selling 2.0.


Rethinking Social Selling, Part 1

May 24, 2014

Still skeptical about the effectiveness of social media in sales? You’re not alone. Here’s a look at some contrarian thinking on the issue.

I’ve talked a lot about “social selling” in this blog. And I do believe that social media can play a role in your overall sales and marketing strategy.

But I hope I haven’t – and I don’t think I have – encouraged you to plunge an excessive amount of time and other resources into it. I think it’s a useful tool. Online communications, done well, can clearly help you generate leads, nurture relationships with customers,publish useful information about products and services, and process sales transactions.

But my title is not VP Social Selling. I’ve been a sales manager for over two decades, and in that time, I’ve used a wide variety of tools. Social media is the latest one, and it’s become a highly-visible part of our society.

Not a Panacea

But it’s not the answer to all of our professional challenges. To see it as even a significant part of your sales strategy means that you’re not using your other skills and resources diligently enough. You still need to work your CRM software religiously. Get out and meet prospects and customers in person. Use email in a smart, focused fashion. Make phone calls, send handwritten notes, search for leads using any of numerous methods – you know the drill.

ImageI started thinking about all of this for two reasons. First, I always get a little uneasy when I hear intelligent people promoting the view that a massive network of computer servers connected to desktop PCs and mobile devices has changed anything about the nature of human relationships and the core philosophies that we embrace as salespeople.

Over 15 million copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People have been sold since it was published in 1937. Go to a sales seminar or read a sales how-to book in 2014 and you’ll often see echoes of Dale Carnegie presented as some kind of revolutionary new theory.

The Other Side

Second, two books I read recently both affirmed some things I’ve always thought and made me re-think other elements of my own social selling strategy. I wanted to share some of the thinking from both of them with you to balance the posts I’ve written promoting the use of social media in your sales and marketing efforts.

I still think that you should use social media. We can’t ignore the potential of blogs and Twitter and LinkedIn. But if you’ve hesitated to invest a lot of time and resources in social media, or if you feel like you’re doing too much with too little return, I want to introduce some of the other, just-as-credible voices that are providing commentary on the effectiveness of social media in business.

Here they are. One is an e-book called Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend that you can download free of charge here. It was written by David Sparks of Spark Media Solutions; it’s based on the wisdom of 56 industry “influencers” (more on that word in my next column).

The other is available for a few dollars on Amazon. Its title is Social Media is Bu****it, and its content isn’t as one-sided as it sounds. I agreed with some points and felt that others were not as black-and-white as the author contended.

I’ll highlight some of the thinking in these two books next week. And I’ll be very interested to hear what you think.


Are You Leading Your Sales Team? Or Just Managing It?

May 12, 2014

There’s a big difference. Here are 5 qualities shared by the best sales team leaders.

Salespeople are mavericks. To be effective, they know they can’t always color inside the lines, because there’s more than one way to make a sale. They have to be ready to change directions without any notice sometimes. They have to be creative. Intuitive. Driven. Flexible. High-energy with one prospect and laid-back with another.

ImageNo wonder managing a sales team is like herding cats.

Your title may be “Sales Manager” or “VP of Sales,” but what you really need to be in order to effectively do your job is a leader. Certainly, you have management responsibilities. But the most successful sales managers have in common many of the same leadership traits.

I’ve observed numerous individuals at the top of the sales food chain in my 20+ years of sales management. The best of them were:

  • Trustworthy. Relationships don’t flourish without trust. This is true in friendships, but it must also be earned by leaders. Are you honest? Do you always follow through when you say you’re going to do something?
  • Constantly giving feedback. It’s hard for your sales team members to improve if they aren’t clear on what they’re doing badly – and well. Setting goals and reviewing their progress is one way to do this, as are quarterly or annual reviews. But try to catch things on the fly, as they occur; this will increase the chances that your feedback will be internalized and heeded.
  • Stressing the importance of fast responses. The best leaders model this behavior so that their salespeople know that they walk the walk. If a customer complains to you about a product or service – or about a salesperson’s words or actions – respond as quickly as you can. This may mean staying late or coming in to the office very early some days. How do you feel when you report a problem to a company and your complaint isn’t addressed for several days, if at all? It changes your perception of the business, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel like a valued customer.
  • Supportive of ongoing learning. Your salespeople should be increasing their knowledge and stretching themselves constantly. This doesn’t mean doing an occasional session on cold-calling or dealing with rejection, though sales-related training should be offered as frequently as it makes sense for you. Stress the importance of self-growth, of your salespeople taking the initiative and working on areas of personal weakness on their own time, whether that’s done by reading books or joining organizations or taking classes. And encourage them to learn as much about their customers as they can. That’s one of the tenets of social selling.
  • Accessible. Good leaders make themselves available, even if that means you shift some of your administrative tasks to hours when your staff isn’t likely to be looking for you. Let your team know that you’re available to go out on sales calls with them occasionally, or just to go to lunch and talk through a stumbling block.

When you lead capably, your salespeople are likely to improve their own attitudes, work ethic, sense of company loyalty, and, ultimately, their sales.




Is Blogging Dead?

April 30, 2014

Yes, some say. Many disagree. If you don’t yet have one or you’re questioning the value of yours, here’s some encouragement.

ImageYou may occasionally come across articles claiming that blogs are a waste of time for businesses.

Tell that to Marriott. Or to Kia Motors, or to Virgin Atlantic.

Sure, you may be saying to yourself. But they have dedicated writers and other resources that I don’t.

You also don’t have global eyes on you, and high-level expectations. A blog is your little corner of the internet – the only one you have complete control of – that you can use to introduce yourself to customers and prospects, helping them solve problems and be a part of a community.

You can also market your products and services on a blog, occasionally and quietly, but your website is really the best venue for that.

I’m a strong proponent of business blogs for many reasons, including:

  • They’re very inexpensive — or free — to produce.
  • They provide value to your customers and prospects.
  • They can serve as a marketing tool.
  • They help you hone your communication skills.

The best blogs share many common characteristics. They have intriguing titles and strong first paragraphs. They’re not overly long, and they don’t use a lot of ten-dollar words. They incorporate eye-catching visuals, both in their designs and as content (photos, videos, etc.). They provide information that helps people, information that educates or otherwise engages them. They might answer a nagging question, help the audience help their own customers, or make them laugh or get misty-eyed.

Probably the number one reason why some businesses haven’t started blogs is because they don’t think they have the time or talent to do it well and/or keep it going. They may also think that there’s no way to “monetize” it, to generate sales from it.

I know companies who used to have that mindset – until they sat down and put some effort into it, recognizing their own goals, strengths and limitations. And while they didn’t often see prospects coming on board or existing customers upping their orders as a direct result, they realized that a.) it was not always easy to know whether a blog post triggered a sale, and b.) they looked at their blog as added value to their customers.

If you’re not blogging – or not blogging well – because you’re struggling with creating compelling content, consider these suggestions:

  • It doesn’t always have to be compelling. A how-to on looking for warning signs of trouble with your vehicle or your furnace or your accounting software isn’t going to sizzle, but it shows concern for your audience’s problems.
  • Know who you’re addressing. Create a set of “buyer personas,” groups of customers and prospects with similar needs. Some posts may have universal appeal, but write some with a more targeted focus.
  • Tell a story sometimes. Make it about yourself or a friend of business associate. You might write one as a problem/solution scenario related to a benefit of a product or service you sell. Find ways to market your company’s offerings subtly.
  • Be clear on your content’s purpose. Know ahead of time what you’re trying to accomplish. Put it in one sentence for yourself.
  • Read other blogs. The best way to improve your writing is to read.
  • Just write. If you lack confidence, do it anyway. You may surprise yourself. Write your posts as quickly as you can the first time, without stopping to scrutinize or to search for pithy phrases. That’s why they call it a “rough draft.”

And finally, isolate yourself. Don’t check email or Twitter or give into any of the internet’s other temptations. It takes time to get back into blog-writing mode every time you’re interrupted – as long as 25 minutes, according to one expert.

Months down the road, you can start to evaluate your progress. Blogs take time to build an audience. And they can build an audience for you, once you find a formula that matches your company’s own values and goals and personality.


Your Best Customer is…

April 21, 2014

You know how to finish that sentence. Are you marketing to existing customers enough?

If you’re old enough to remember when “shopping” meant going to a mall or your city’s downtown, you’re probably astounded by the voluminous buying options the internet has spawned. You may be able to still buy from your old favorite retailers online, but do you?
Maybe you do, but you may also have replaced your old brick-and-mortar stores with the web’s new merchants. Because of email and online advertising and social media, you probably frequent some of the same sites consistently because of their prices, their product lines and their customer service.

ImageAre you doing the same with your own customers? Look at your own experience as a shopper to see that familiarity often breeds loyalty. There’s a good reason why merchants are so eager to market to their existing list, like you should be doing: It’s much cheaper to bring an existing customer to the buying stage than to attract a new one.

Certainly, you need to do both. But look at your sales and marketing strategies to see if you’re incorporating practices like:

  • Reminding them that you’re there. This tactic has worked on me with companies that I’d gladly buy from again, but which just haven’t been on my radar for awhile. If you have a modest-sized web-based storefront, you probably do this through occasional emails and special events for existing customers. If you sell big-ticket items, it’s worth picking up the phone or sending a handwritten note when a respectable period of time has passed since their last purchase.
  • Upselling. You probably experience this when you run into a convenience store to get a 12-pack of soda after you’ve filled your car’s tank. Did you want a lottery ticket or some snacks to go with your soda? Strategically-placed impulse buys at retail stores must net big bucks for their owners. Amazon is king here when it comes to online upselling, but many other web-based merchants offer specially-priced bundles and suggest complementary purchases.
  • Showcasing your entire product and service lines. I buy the same product from a vendor every few months, which happens to be at the top of a page. Recently, I scrolled down a bit and found something else that I could use that had been there for a long time. Do you find ways to let customers know what else you sell, even if it doesn’t fall into their buying patterns? In a retail outlet, rotate stock frequently. On a web storefront, find better ways to display what’s there. Certainly, make sure that new offerings are positioned prominently at their introduction.
  • Taking advantage of effective timing. When you highlight products or services is almost as important as what you’re selling. Your emails, flyers, store layout, special promotions and stock changes can all tie into some season or event or even time of the day or day of the week. Consider giving existing customers early previews and buying opportunities.

Treat your existing customers like you treat your friends. You know that you’re likely to get acquainted with new people throughout your life, just as you’ll attract new customers, but always be trying to expand your relationships.



The Wrong Assumptions Can Kill a Sale

April 9, 2014

Are you losing some sales that could be saved by changing your own thinking going in? Here are four things to look for.

A child psychologist or development expert could probably give you the answer for this: At what age do we humans start making assumptions? These thought patterns probably start pretty young. Dad is in the kitchen; maybe there’ll be food. Mom is putting on her coat; she’s going outside. My brother pulled the cat’s tail; she’s going to hiss.

ImageAs sales professionals, we can’t avoid this natural tendency to assume. But we can learn to check our assumptions about clients before we go into sales settings. See if you recognize yourself in any of these four statements.

I shouldn’t ask prospects direct questions that might make them uncomfortable.

This involves a judgment call on your part. But if your prospects seem amenable, it’s OK to ask questions about their business. They’ll tell you if they don’t want to discuss it, or you’ll at least sense that they’re uncomfortable. You may be able to glean useful information this way, and it shows that you have some concern about the success of the prospect’s business. Try:

  • What are your company’s biggest problems right now?
  • Who do you see yourself competing with?
  • How are you doing compared to this time a year ago?

An old manager of mine used to preface such questions with “Can I ask …” It softens what can be tough questions a bit.

Prospects always make low cost a high priority.

Undoubtedly, some will. But some buyers will weigh others factors equally in the mix, like customer support, quality and company reputation. Perception plays a role in it. Why is this so inexpensive?, some may think. Others will balk at a higher price. It’s a delicate balance.

I should have all of the information that I need about clients before I meet with them.

You should do your homework, of course, so you have a good sense of who clients are and what they might need. But leave yourself open to the possibility that you might learn something as you draw your prospect out. Go in with a tentative plan, but be ready to turn on a dime if you discover a new angle or need.

Prospects know everything they need to know about my company and products.

They certainly know more than they would have 20 years ago, before the web became a hotbed of reviews and word-of-mouth. Your job as a sales professional has become less about educating and more about engaging. But you undoubtedly have insight that they don’t – in part, because of the interaction you’ve had with other prospects and the more informed questions you’ve fielded.

You can assume that they’ve at least looked at your website and maybe some user comments. So make sure that you know what people are saying so that you’re not blindsided. Browse online sites where your products or services are discussed and look for any negative chatter. Type your company name and words like “complaints” and “reviews” into a search engine to find any of these pockets residing in out-of-the-way places.

There’s one major assumption that we all occasionally fall prey to: I’m not going to make this sale. Find the sweet spot between being overconfident and exuding pessimism. After all, you can safely assume that your customers are reading your attitude as well as hearing your words.


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