Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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“Hello, I’m Todd, and I’ll Be Your Customer Today.”

November 20, 2014

2014 hasn’t brought any significant new messages to social selling. Some of today’s most promising voices are reinforcing what we already know.

As every year winds down, I like to spend some time replaying the last year in my mind. If I’ve been diligent enough to keep copious notes about my successes and failures, this task is a lot easier.

If I haven’t, I try to put in writing my thoughts about what worked and what didn’t work. I ask myself a variety of questions during this process, including:

  • Who responded to me in the most positive way?
  • What might I have done or said that prompted that?
  • When did my best efforts fail?
  • Where could I improve?
  • Why did I make repeat sales with some customers, while others faded away?

Sensing Patterns

Like a journalist assembling the critical elements of a story, my own story starts to take shape. By being brutally honest with myself (since I don’t share of the results of my reflections with anyone else), I critique the last year’s highlights and lowlights – not unlike a sports coach reviewing games tapes and seeing in hindsight what wasn’t obvious at the time.

Compare and Contrast

I’ve been reading a lot of advice from the country’s top sales leaders lately. I think it’s important to see what the most successful people are saying about the current state of the sales process, though I encourage you to listen to your own inner, critical voice.

You know the one. It’s not the one that just tries to cheer you up after a rejection. It’s the one that you know is being objective. Seeing the whole picture. Telling it like it is. Pick your cliche.

Sometimes it takes awhile to hear that voice. Wait for it. That’s why I do this comprehensive analysis after a year has passed.

Hearing From the Pros

Once your marketing efforts have delivered a prospect, it’s time for you to put in practice those basic principles of social selling that have been repeated over and over the last few years. They’re said over and over — by people who’ve been there — because they work.

Not in every case, of course. Some prospects can’t be converted to sales, no matter what you do or say. But play the percentages.

So at the risk of being repetitive, here’s what I’ve gleaned from my recent reading:

  • Focus on the customer. Like “they” say, It’s not about you. Certainly, you come into sales relationships with your own goals. Maybe it’s not even to make a sale, not right at first. Maybe you’re working on the second meme that keeps being hammered into today’s sales professionals, which is…
  • Learn about the customer’s problems and needs. Your problem may be that you’re a long way from quota. The customer doesn’t care.
  • Make the customer feel important and valued. It’s a simple thing, really, a basic human need that you can fill.
  • Make a personal connection. Reach if you have to. Keep swinging until you make contact.
  • Listen. Then listen some more. Sometimes, we’re planning our next element of the pitch while the customer is still talking. Undoubtedly, we miss important cues. It’s OK to have a couple beats of silence here and there. If you’re stuck, repeat back what was just said so that you’re sure you’re understanding it.

No Magic Formula

You know as well as I do that sometimes you have to throw a Hail Mary pass, to use yet another sports metaphor. The internet — as well as your own personal research, skills, and knowledge — should make that a rare occurrence.

How to Get Your Marketing Emails Read: 4 Tips

November 13, 2014

Email marketing campaigns have proven themselves to be effective through extensive use. Those that get read, that is

Todd Martin 111314 image 1

If you’re like most people, you receive dozens of marketing emails every day. That’s because they produce leads and contacts.

Sometimes. You probably send most of those emails unread to your spam folder. If you’re putting together an email marketing campaign, avoiding that fate for your emails is crucial. Here are some simple tips that will help get your email marketing letters opened and read. That’s the first step for success.

  • Subject Lines Matter Most
    Many email marketers treat the subject line of their email as an afterthought. It should get your full attention if you expect it to get the attention of the recipient. Treat subject lines as your initial call to action. Keep them short, simple and personal. Questions like “Can I help you…” or “Are you ready to…” naturally lead the recipient to take action and open your email.
  • Use Mail Merge Fields to Personalize your Message
    If you’re using an email marketing app like Constant Contact, it’s easy to imbed contact data in your email. Use mail merge fields sparingly to personalize your message, though, and avoid clumsy merges that give your message a form letter feel. For example, avoid using full names in salutations. “Dr. [lastname]:” is great. “Dear [firstname] [lastname]:” is awkward. Try using the recipient’s [city] field as an adjective in the body content.
  • Keep Marketing Emails Short and to the Point
    Less is definitely more when it comes to marketing emails. Keep your message brief, with no long blocks of text. Use short, direct sentences. Open with a brief paragraph, and then follow that with a bullet list or chart. Wind up with a brief call to action paragraph. That’s it. Your entire email should be visible in your recipient’s email client window without scrolling. Test this by sending it to yourself, and then edit it until it fits.
  • Give Recipients an Action to Take and Ask Them to Take It
    Make it dead simple for the person reading your email to take action. Link to a specific website landing page, social media venue, or an email address you can track. If you want a phone contact, ask the recipient to call, but make sure someone will answer. Provide an incentive to stimulate action. Time-limited offers also work by creating urgency.

Email Marketing Only Works When Your Email is Read
It’s easy to send out hundreds — or even thousands — of marketing emails. Success is based on how many of those emails get opened and read. Spend as much time as necessary to create marketing emails that you’d open, read, and act on if they showed up in your inbox. The value of your marketing email depends on its perceived value by the recipient.

4 Ways to Fail at Implementing a CRM Solution

November 4, 2014

If it wasn’t so easy, thousands of companies wouldn’t have already done it. Here’s how to ensure that your new CRM software will soon be failware.

You know Featured imagehow long it can take to develop a good rapport with a prospective customer. Sometimes you get lucky and hit it off quickly, but usually – employing a combination of emails, social media “touches,” and, in some cases, phone calls and face-to-face meetings – the process is a lengthy one.

Taking on CRM software for your company should be an equally time- and thought-intensive journey. In some ways, this kind of computer-based solution is your most critical piece of technology. While there are all kinds of issues that managers must tackle in making a business run – HR, production, accounting, etc. – your entire staff is focused in some way on the customers you serve.

So your selection and implementation of a CRM solution are more critical than you might have considered. Just ask any of the many companies that have put countless hours into an application and watched it tank. Here’s how you can have the same experience:

Do not put a lot of time into defining your objectives for the system.

CRM software is really just a big database, right? And who knows more about database software than the IT department? Let’s just let them decide.

There are managers at companies who think that way. Even if the decision is left up to them, they go at the process backwards, looking at the available pool of options before they’ve determined exactly what they need a CRM solution to do. It’s easy to be swayed by a persuasive sales pitch, a single review, or a recommendation from a business associate.

What are your goals for the CRM software? What do you hope to be able to do that you can’t do now? Focus on your needs as a sales team and the benefits you hope to glean. Don’t even start looking at options until you’ve completed that step and written everything down.

Buy based on price, not features.

Both of these systems create customer profiles and have links to social media and will my team track the sales process, so I should just buy the cheaper one.

OK, so these two cars have four wheels, front seats and back seats, brakes, and a steering wheel. I’ll just buy the cheaper one.

Introduce all of the solution’s features to your sales team.

If a feature is included in a CRM solution, there must be a good reason, and I must teach my salespeople how to use absolutely every function.”

This is another reason why you made that list of objectives earlier. Use what you need, and introduce even those features in increments. Make sure your team has mastered the basics before moving on to more sophisticated functions.

Don’t bother upper management with the details.

Customer relationship management is a sales function. So I, as the sales manager, have carte blanche to decide which software to buy.

Ideally, anyone in the company who deals with customers at all should have at least limited use of your CRM solution, including management.

Determining your needs, selecting a CRM solution, introducing staff to it, and actually using it successfully can take months. Give this decision and implementation the time it deserves.

Getting Started with Email Marketing Apps: Why You Need One

October 29, 2014

You have a lot of options when it comes to email marketing solutions.

I’ve written a lot about email marketing in this blog, and I still believe that it’s one of the most effective ways to target the right customers and get your message across.

But I’m always surprised when I run across salespeople at conferences and learn that they’re still building their lists manually. Or worse – they’re just sending every sales and marketing email to every address on their lists. And they’re using the old direct-mail 1 or 2 percent is a good return method for evaluating their results.

Their perception may be that web-based email marketing applications are too expensive, too difficult to use, or just unnecessary.

They’re none of those things, and I strongly encourage you to investigate what’s available. I have my favorites, but your mileage may vary. What works for my company’s needs may not be right for you, so explore more than one. Take advantage of free trials.

They all share some of the same features, including:

Import of existing contacts. You don’t have to start from scratch. You’ll be able to upload your mailing lists in popular formats like Excel, or even from other apps. And if you don’t have a good contact list, you can get help building one.

Help creating eye-catching emails. Whether they’re viewing them on their smartphones, tablets, or desktops, your customers have a lot of email traffic. Yours need to stand out – both visually, and in terms of your content. Email marketing applications provide tools like templates to help.

Integration with social media. This is an absolute must for email marketing applications, and it occurs in a variety of ways. You’ll be able to cross-post emails to your social networks, create more comprehensive, real-time contact profiles, and encourage your audience to share your content.

Insightful reporting. Who opens your emails? What links do they click on? Who forwarded your email, and who made a purchase because of it? Which emails aren’t getting through, or are being ignored? Are pictures or text more effective? These are the kinds of questions that email marketing applications can answer.

Automation. Email marketing applications save time and keystrokes by automating emails that should be sent when they’re triggered by a customer or prospect’s actions. For example, new visitors can be sent a welcome message, and more engaged contacts can be sent emails based on their interests and website activity.

Integration with other applications. You can see by now that these apps scream to be connected to your other sales and marketing tools, from Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamix to HootSuite and NetSuite to Pipeliner CRM and Google Drive. Built-in integration and access to APIs provide a bridge to CRM software, in addition to numerous other application types.

If you haven’t explored any email marketing apps, I recommend you try out Constant Contact, VerticalResponse, and MailChimp first. You’ll wish you’d been using one for years.

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.”

 

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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.

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