Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Closing the Loop: 7 Tips for Finalizing Sales

November 23, 2013

It happens in an instant: Your prospect finally says “Yes.” How to make that moment a reality more frequently.

Todd Martin 111313 image 1You’ve identified a prospect and learned a great deal about his or her needs. You’ve nurtured the relationship. You’ve followed up. You’ve focused on benefits, not features, in your communications, and you don’t know what in the world else you can do to close the sale.

There are many, many ways to approach this final step. Hire five consultants to advise you on this issue and you’re bound to get five different techniques. And what works on one prospect may be the absolute wrong way to deal with another.

So when you’re trying to close a sale, your chosen tactics will depend in part on:

  • Who the prospect is
  • What kind of relationship you have
  • How your conversations and negotiations have transpired, and
  • The size of the sale.

That said, here is some of the most effective advice I’ve come across for clearing that final hurdle:

Be confident, and display that confidence. Confidence in your company’s products or services only comes from deep, intimate knowledge. You can’t sell something unless you understand it thoroughly and believe in its benefits. Prospects can sense a lack of enthusiasm in a salesperson, and believe me, it can have tremendous impact on the outcome of a selling relationship.

Ask leading questions. Successful closers listen as much as they talk. And they’re able to steer the conversation in a direction that can prompt Todd Martin 111313 image 2their prospects to see the benefits of your product without you having to tick them off first. If you don’t think you can do this off-the-cuff, always have some questions prepared ahead of time.

Recognize the signs of a near-sale. A good salesperson pays as much attention to a prospect’s words, body language and speech patterns as a good therapist does. Look for indications that you may be winning your prospects over. They may either accelerate or slow down the pace of the conversation as they’re getting closer to an affirmative response. Their questions may seem more focused, and they may inquire about things like delivery charges, the last day for the sale price, warranties, etc.

When this happens, don’t rush your prospects. Again, this goes back to the need for a healthy confidence level. You know you’re offering a product that will solve some of your customers’ problems. You believe that they’re ready to buy. Keep those two thoughts in mind and your positive attitude can move them forward.

If possible, give them a space to think it over. I visited a furniture store once that had a few tables and chairs, coffee and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Customers were encouraged to spend time there if they were mulling over a buying decision.

Rephrase some of your prospect’s concerns and problems and needs. If the conversation starts to lag, do some active listening. Repeat back some of what you heard and try to reinforce the benefits. “So you think your daughter likes this car’s looks and drivability, and she’s going to need a car on campus, but you’re still not sure about the price? Can I tell you a little more about its safety features and its minimal maintenance requirements?”

Todd Martin 111313 image 3Be gracious. Acknowledge an obvious no-go, and thank prospects for their time. But send them away with a business card that contains multiple points of contact for you, and maybe even an inexpensive promotional item. A lost sale shouldn’t diminish your confidence in your selling abilities or your company’s products. And a friendly, self-assured sendoff may trigger a return visit.

Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

9 Tips on Getting Your Emails Read

November 14, 2013

Do you sigh and start deleting when you look at your inbox? Your customers do the same thing. Don’t let them.

I’ve talked about it before here: Email is still one of the most effective social sales tools you have available. While you need to continue to build your brand on social networks, your email communication has the potential to bring you a greater return, say many experts.

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The trick, of course, is to get your prospects and customers to keep their fingers off the delete key when they see your company name as the email originator.

Think about your own reaction to email subject lines and senders. What makes you open some and not others? Here are some of the approaches that make me at least pause before deleting sales messages:

  • One-day or limited-time, limited-customer sales from recognized vendors
  • A “Welcome Back” message with a special offer from someone I haven’t patronized recently
  • A clever or funny or otherwise-unusual subject line that looks like it took some creativity and effort, and
  • An offer for something free from a credible source.

So how do you set yourself apart from the onslaught of emails that greet most people most days? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t write your emails like you’re addressing a crowd. Compose — personally — like you might to a business associate. Use the word “you” instead of “small business owners.”
  2. Use an individual’s name (From: Your name, or the appropriate co-worker) as the sender.
  3. Be careful with “clever.” Be straightforward unless you can engage a twist in a natural, unaffected way.
  4. Try to put a number in your subject line when you can, and just enter the numeral. Grammar rules want you to spell out some numbers, but “7” is more effective than “seven” because it looks quantifiable and factual. And the digit itself actually stops people briefly and catches their attention.Todd Martin 103113 image 2
  5. Take note of any email “envelope” that catches your eye and start making a list of what works.
  6. Tell your audience what might happen if they read your message. Will their hair loss stop? Will they avoid a mid-winter breakdown of their home heating system? Will they finally find a holiday gift for that one person on their list who is impossible to please?
  7. Focus on benefits, not product specifications. You’re selling something tangible, but what they’re really buying is a solution to a problem.
  8. Use vivid language where you can. Scan your inbox and see how many of the sales-oriented subject lines sound similar, even using the same buzzwords. So open a thesaurus. Jot down effective language when you see it. “Speak” like you’re communicating with a 9th-grader (no complex words or phrases).
  9. Above all, be judicious in your scheduling of mass sales emails. Experiment with various intervals between dispatches, but don’t make your audience roll their eyes when they see your name again.

Todd Martin 103113 image 3Of course, you still have a challenging task ahead of you in composing the emails themselves. In a way, though, crafting intriguing subject lines is the hardest part. It’s the online equivalent of getting someone to take your phone call or not say “Just browsing…” when you offer to help. There are a thousand ways to direct that ensuing conversation, but you get one shot with your email subject line. Make it count.

Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Watch Their Language: Policing Comments on Your Social Media Sites

July 25, 2013

The comments sections of your online sites can be quickly compromised. 7 tips on keeping them clean.

Todd Martin 071713 image 1Complaining to a vendor about a product used to takesome effort. You had to find a piece of paper and an envelope, write a letter, find the company’s address and a stamp, and mail it off. Or at least hunt for a phone number and make a call.

Not anymore. You know how easy it is for your customers to file a complaint with you. And these days, it can be seen by many, many people, not just the person who happens to open the envelope.

 

 

Be on the Alert

What is now easy for the public has made your customer service work a lot more challenging. You have to be vigilant about the comments that people leave on your social media sites.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s good to have comments on your blogs or social media venues. They illustrate that people are reading your work and caring enough to respond. And they help you get to know your audience better. But here are some things I try to be conscientious about in my constant efforts to minimize the negativity:

  • If you can’t moderate your sites regularly, don’t allow comments. You don’t always have control over that, but when you do, shut your comments sections down unless you’re going to be watching them like a hawk.
  • Delegate this important work if you must. Maybe you simply don’t have time to keep monitoring your feedback. Ask a trusted associate to take this on, or spread the work out among several of them.
  • Handle complaints gracefully. This isn’t always easy, depending on your mood when the Todd Martin 071713 image 3grievance appears and its decibel level. But when one comes in, act quickly and graciously. Provide a contact point for the individual, and handle it away from the site. Use private messaging wherever possible, but do leave evidence near the original post indicating that you’re responding to it so that other readers can see that.
  • Resolve the problem publicly when you can. If the comment may be something that other readers might bring up, post a general reply addressing the issue. But don’t let yourself be dragged into a long, drawn-out comment thread.
  • Delete outright insults and spam immediately. Your readers will probably recognize an unwarranted snark, but don’t leave negative verbiage that can linger in their minds. Competitors may even try to invade your space to do just that.
  • Never argue publicly on a social media venue. Often, the complainer is misinformed or incorrect or just not that bright. Or it’s someone who wants to goad you into a less-than-friendly response. Don’t let sparring mar your personal image or your brand.
  • Block repeat offenders. You have every right to ban visitors who have earned a swift kick.

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I think that the ability to send and receive comments on social media sites is one of the ten best characteristics of those social selling tools. But try your best to keep the conversations civil and positive.

 

 

Hiring a Sales Manager? 6 Tips

May 15, 2013

It doesn’t hurt to get a little creative.

It’s not surprising that sales managers are sometimes plucked from the ranks of the sales staff. Someone who is wildly successful at selling should be able to mentor his or her team and handle the logistics of the job, right?

Not very often. A sales managerTodd Martin 042513 image 1 – which you realize if you’ve ever been one – is a manager, just like the manager of any other division in your company. Department leaders don’t have to have served in positions lower on the food chain. They’re often brought in because of the specific set of skills required – not because they exceeded their personal sales quotas every week.

That said, here are some of the issues I would consider if I was hiring someone to lead my team. Before I even advertised the opening, I would:

  • Think carefully about the job title itself. Make sure it matches the responsibilities that person will undertake – it may have some impact on who does and doesn’t apply for the position. It depends on the level of expertise and talent you’re requiring. Do you want to hire someone who sees himself or herself as a sales manager? Or a vice-president of sales?
  • Articulate desirable personal qualities in the job description. Don’t just request background on previous positions held and their responsibilities. What kind of personal traits do you want to see in your sales manager? Do you want someone who is self-directed? An exceptional communicator? An effective problem-solver? A skilled mentor? (Tip: Also include the phrase, “…and other duties as assigned.” This can help you avoid uncomfortable situations down the road.)
  • Make a list of the most challenging situations the current sales manager has faced. Todd Martin 042513 image 2This will help you shape the job description, and may be fodder for candidate questions during interviews (“How would you have handled this situation?”).

Once I’d narrowed down the pool of applicants, I would:

  • Ask candidates for a brief set of overall objectives and goals. They don’t need to expound at length, and they needn’t turn in a full-blown business plan. Just 1-2 pages outlining their vision for the team and their expectations. I’d ask that they get very specific at some point and reveal what they consider to be effective tactics. This will not only give you information about their planning and strategizing skills, but it will also let you see what they know about your company.
  • Find roundabout ways to learn about the potential employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, check references. But also ask the candidates what they think their former co-workers and supervisors will say about them (this will also help you gauge their honesty and their self-image). Ask two of your salespeople – the two most disparate you can think of – to have lunch with your top candidates and get their feedback.
  • Introduce your most promising candidates to other department managers. Watch how they interact.

Todd Martin 042513 image 3Above all, give yourself time to make this critical decision. Call candidates back in if there’s no clear winner. Start from scratch if you have to. Make sure that the management of your sales division is in capable hands.

Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Need Some Help with Face-to-Face Networking? 9 Tips

May 5, 2013 1 Comment

Know what? It doesn’t come as easily to other people as it might seem. You have to work at it.

There’s an ongoing argument about whether social media actually brings people closer or estranges them.

Todd Martin 041113 image 1I wonder if people said the same thing when businesses began to use telephones. No more calling on clients in person? Speaking into a piece of metal instead of studying prospects’ facial expressions, their body language and the firmness of their handshakes? What could you learn about them if you couldn’t look for clues in their offices or watch how they interacted with others at events or see whether they salted their food before tasting it?

If you’ve been happily hiding behind LinkedIn and Facebook because you’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with in-person interaction, you’re not alone. And while it may feel forced at first, there are things you can do to ease your anxiety. Eventually, they’ll become second nature.

Build Your Skills

We tend to think of salespeople as extroverts. Monster’s Peter Vogt spells out several reasons why introverts can be quite successful at selling, including their ability to listen well and to draw other people out.

Whichever you are (and we’re all really a combination of both), you might try working on your networking skills instead of just winging it (or, worse, avoiding potentially productive events and meetings). Try these suggestions:

  • Clarify your goals – your reason for attending an event. With that in mind, research in advance who will be there and target a few.Todd Martin 041113 image 2
  • If a promising conversation lags, pick up on something the other person has said and ask him or her to tell you more. This flatters people.
  • Listen. We have a tendency to be formulating what we’re going to say next, which means we miss some of what the other person is saying. You never know when he or she will drop a clue that could spark something.
  • Strike up conversations with other people who are alone. They may be relieved to talk to someone. One of you might be able to introduce the other to new people.
  • If a conversation isn’t working, or if the other person is exceptionally self-absorbed, move on gracefully.
  • Make sure your physical or virtual business card lists multiple ways that you can be contacted. You don’t have to wait until you’re parting to exchange (although it’s one way to ease comfortably out of a conversation).
  • Though it may seem contrived and artificial, have some topics ready for discussion.
  • Take every opportunity presented to interact. You can initiate conversations anywhere – in the buffet line, at the coat check or waiting for your car. These spontaneous exchanges can be more fruitful than those you’ve planned for.
  • Remember that not everyone else is as self-assured as they might seem.

Hopefully, your gathering will just be a launch point, the beginning of at least one beneficial association. Todd Martin 041113 image 3Whether you follow up on social media, call, or email, follow up. You’ve broken the ice successfully, and you can do it again.

 

 

 

Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Salesperson Burnout: 6 Signs That You Have It, and 6 Tips for Beating It

February 12, 2013 1 Comment

It’s a common occurrence, so if you’re feeling it, you’re not alone.

It’s easy to tick off the causes of salesperson fatigue and burnout. You’re in one of the toughest professions there is in terms of staying positive and productive.

Todd Martin blog 020113 image 1OK, neurosurgery requires a great deal more education, skill and experience, and mistakes are far more serious than a lost sales commission. But do neurosurgeons have to face constant rejection? Do they worry about getting enough business to pay the bills? Are hospital administrators hovering over them constantly, asking if they’ve made their quota? Are they often in the position of being turned down for a procedure by a patient who they thought would be on their schedule?

Just because you don’t operate on peoples’ brains or run into burning buildings or face combat situations every day doesn’t mean you have no reason to get fatigued to the point of burnout. Your professional has its own unique kind of stress, and it should be easy to spot when you’re on anxiety overload.

The Signs

Everyone experiences some of these things in their work from time to time, but if you’re feeling several of them on a regular basis, you’re heading for burnout:

  • Procrastination. You’re putting off even critical tasks to the point where your work output is shaky.
  • Indifference. Lost a sale, and you’re not even that bothered by it?
  • Malaise. You have a hard time getting motivated to do anything, even tasks you used to enjoy.
  • Dog-sees-squirrel syndrome. You’re easily distracted.
  • Illness. You’re undoubtedly heard that too much unmanaged stress can make you sick. Medical professionals list stress as one of the causes of numerous physical ailments.
  • Spinning-your-wheels syndrome. You feel like you’re working harder than ever but not accomplishing as much.

So how do you deal with burnout if it happens to you? You may have heard some of these suggestions before but they can work, especially if you want them to and you’re able to push past your current state of mind.Todd Martin blog 020113 image 2

  • Evaluate your expectations. Are you expecting too much of yourself? Even if you’re not a perfectionist, you may still be comparing yourself to others too much. Don’t. Steer your own canoe.
  • Get a life. If you’re spending most of the weekend either obsessing about the last week’s low points or anticipating next week’s, stop it. Try to compartmentalize your life more. Set a limit on the amount of time you’ll allow yourself to think about work during your personal time and stick to it.
  • Disconnect from the cloud. Nothing can make you feel like a failure faster than Facebook. Minimize the time you spend with your wired electronics away from work. They can be time-wasters and ego-busters. Remember that when you see glowing reports of professional and personal successes from your connections that you’re just seeing the highlight reels, not the day-to-day.
  • Read positive motivational books and articles. Even just one important insight gained from an hour of reading it worth it.
  • Tell someone how you’re feeling. Here, too, you might come away from such a conversation with a suggestion for one thing you can do. And everyone needs empathy sometimes.
  • Reconsider your approach. Social networking is changing the whole customer-salesperson relationship. Try focusing on your customers and what’s missing in their lives. When you do reach the point where you’re discussing your products, focus on benefits – how your company can help them – instead of features.

Todd Martin blog 020113 image 3Your state of mind may just be a temporary thing, like post-holiday, mid-winter blues. Something distressing in your personal life that’s spilling over into work. Or maybe you just can’t get over the fact that Ben Affleck didn’t get nominated by the Academy for “Argo,” though he’s winning the other major director awards.

If it persists, though, tackle it like you tackle tough sales. Make a plan and be tenacious about implementing it.

Stock images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Social Selling Impact Quantified By Study…

November 1, 2012

A recent study revealed some good news about the efficacy of social media engagement– and a bit of caution. Here are 6 tips to consider.

It used to be easier to measure your sales success, didn’t it? You worked your list by making phone calls or personal visits, or maybe sent out a mailing. When someone responded, you knew which effort had closed the deal.

Today, people have unprecedented access to information and opinions about what you’re selling. And when they do buy, was it that Facebook ad? The how-to series you posted on your blog? A particularly intriguing Tweet? It’s hard to be sure.

Keeping it in perspective

A recent report, the 2012 LoyaltyOne Social Media Transaction Impact Study, found that social media engagement led to a direct, tangible, positive impact on the business.

The study’s authors predicted that customer engagement through social media would continue to be important, but warned that it should be considered a relatively small element in a much broader marketing mix, a rudder rather than an engine.

Making social selling work

I think this is good advice. Having worked in the technology field for a couple of decades, I’ve watched businesses quickly incorporate a new tool or technique simply because it was being talked about so much.

The social selling model is here to stay, and I’m a firm believer in it, but I agree that it should be approached with a great deal of consideration and deliberation – and as a part of your overall sales and marketing strategies. So:

Be flexible and adaptable. The social media universe is just beginning to unfold. Prepare to modify your strategy as it evolves.

Experiment. Try out different tools, approaches and sites. Pay close attention to what works and focus your attention there.

Always be soliciting feedback. Social media is about dialogues, not monologues.

Create strong calls to action. Do you want prospects to call you? Download a white paper or attend a webinar? Request a sample? Tell them clearly and frequently.

Find or develop a good tracking system. Social selling involves your active engagement on numerous sites and with a wide range of individuals. Document these relationships conscientiously.

Finally, try to resist succumbing to the constant hype. Take social media in stride, and budget a reasonable amount of time for it. Don’t overextend yourself at the expense of your other sales efforts – and your core work responsibilities.

Got a comment? “Not enough time” is often named as the biggest problem small businesses face with social selling. Is that your most significant stumbling block? If not, what is?