And the answer I gave was probably not sufficient at the time (hence the Seeking New Opportunities, haha!).
On my first Monday of not having a job to worry about in quite a few years, I:
- Updated my resume & LinkedIn profile (I even posted a new article!)
- Hit the gym
- Ran two miles with the dog (I even cannonballed in the pool afterwards—it was freezing!)
- Applied for 2 jobs
I even walked into some place that’s hiring and asked: “Who’s in charge around here?” I got to speak with the manager for a few minutes, he gave me his card and asked me to send him my resume … and, get this: that place is 4.5 miles from home. That would be amazing after commuting about 30 miles each way for the past coupla years!
So, I’ll land a job somewhere, of course … that’s not a problem. But I’ve had a few days to reflect on that question, and here’s what I think would have been a much better answer:
- Our sales team is remote, scattered all over the country … they’re on the road regularly, they’re busy, they’re in meetings, which means they don’t have the capacity to do all that and be available to monitor and sort through web inquiries and take random, inbound calls from potential client who may or may not be in their territories.
- We have the luxury of working for an organization that has high inbound lead flow with lots of direct website inquiries every day / week. Some days are busier than others, some days are slower, but they’re always coming in.
- Web inquiries are awesome and everything, but there’s a lot of junk that comes through on that channel … so we dig through and identify the legit opportunities and keep the trash out of the sales pipelines so our Account Execs can focus on selling to legitimately interested, conversation-ready potential clients.
- Fast responses isn’t all there is to it, either … that’s not enough. This first “qualification” interaction is a crucial, high-stakes encounter that sets the tone for the entire relationship, so I ensure that the experience provided is consistently ideal so we don’t blow opportunities before the sales team gets to work with them.
- We’re purposely vague with the information that we share so potential clients have a reason to look forward to speaking with their Account Executive, and the handoff process I developed buys the AE time so that when they speak with the lead, everyone knows what to expect and no one is caught off guard.
- Using a personalized, introduction email handoff, the next step (discovery call) is pretty much always scheduled, so this bypasses communication barriers (like gatekeepers) and kills cold calls. Who likes making or receiving cold, unexpected calls? No one. Is it possible to catch someone by surprise and have a meaningful discovery discussion? I don’t think so. Is it possible to prepare and make a solid recommendation without a proper discovery? I don’t think so.
- This process turbocharges our organization’s efforts to sell by slowing things down a bit at the top of the funnel. The purpose of the first interaction is to make the potential clients feel like they’ve been heard, verify their interest, and set the next step in the process up—not to sell them or diagnose issues or give recommendations and explain features & benefits.
So what do I do? I make sure we maximize opportunities by converting the highest percentage possible of web inquiries into “Conversation Ready Leads” for our sales team and make sure they don’t go dark on the handoff. I pick up where the digital marketing efforts leave off and bridge the gap between Marketing efforts & Sales Efforts.
This is huge, and it’s a trouble area for lots of organizations. What would it mean for your organization’s revenue generation efforts if you simply converted more of your web inquiries into Conversation Ready Leads?
There are so many opportunities that that get blown out there every day because of poor initial interactions. Inbound calls? Outbound calls? Scheduled calls? Doesn’t matter.
When your ideal customer first speaks with a member of your organization, it sets the stage for everything that that comes after that, so what does that experience look / feel / sound like for your team?
With advanced communication tactics and simplified frameworks, I help organizations “Get it Right” from the beginning, so if you know of any teams that could use some help with organizing their communications at the top of the sales funnel, I’d love to help out. I’m in Phoenix but can work remotely on a project-basis.
I’m open to new opportunities at this time, but one day I will go full-time with consulting and helping organizations with fixing this problem. Digital marketing is here to stay and the modern purchasing process (regardless of industry) typically starts with internet searches, and at some point (unless you’re strictly ecommerce), humans have to speak.
But for now, it’s time to head to the gym … thanks!
There are a few key items from back then that are worth a little further explanation, and it has nothing to do with the higher-education industry itself. Digital marketing was still a relatively new concept when I worked there (it’s still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, even though 1999 was 20 YEARS AGO!), so there were a lot of things going on that were trial and error.
This may be no surprise, considering how the digital landscape is always shifting, and so there will probably always be a degree of trial and error with digital marketing. As an example, what worked well six months ago may not work well now because Google is always on the lookout for businesses that are trying to manipulate the system and do things unfairly (it’s why they have penalties that knock websites off of page 1).
The concept of having a qualifying center is not new, either. When a company grows to a large enough size, it makes sense to have a Two-Stage Sales Operation with a team that calls out to pre-qualify leads and handle the bulk of prospecting (top-of-the-funnel) efforts so that the account executives can focus more on presenting and closing deals (mid-to-lower-funnel activities).
But something that I think a lot of people (and companies) didn’t realize (and probably still don’t realize) is how direct website inquiries throw a (good) MONKEY WRENCH into this traditional machine. In the grand scheme of things, (legitimate) inbound, direct website inquiries are probably the hottest lead type ever.
Yes, anyone can find your website and submit a request to be contacted, so there’s a chance of junk coming come through on this channel, but when you set that aside for a moment, there are a few key characteristics of legitimate direct website inquiry leads:
- They’re experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on their own
- They don’t know who to ask, so they turn to Google
- They found your website because it ranks high for whatever it is that they searched for
- They clicked around and liked what they saw enough to feel compelled to submit a request to be contacted
- They probably clicked through other top-ranking sites, too, as everyone has competitors
- They probably submitted requests to other providers
- They are probably the most informed buyers ever, considering how much information we all have access to
- A good portion of their buying journey has been completed BEFORE you even have a chance to actually speak with them
- This empowers buyers to make even more informed decisions than ever
- Under the surface, this empowerment, by default, shifts the relational power dynamic in favor of the buyers
- These buyers feel empowered going into the initial interaction to the point where they can be quite demanding, hyper-critical and even a bit rude and disrespectful
- It’s gotten to a point where buyers feel like it’s okay to be like this
- Salespeople oftentimes will cave under the pressure of moody and demanding buyers
- Salespeople oftentimes will fight back because no one likes to be pushed around
- This causes lots of deals (in all industries) to go sideways before they even get started
- Chaotic top-of-the-funnel behaviors cause a turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest at the middle-to-bottom-of-the-funnel
- Yes, I just came up with “turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest”
- More strategic and disciplined and controlled top-of-the-funnel behaviors lead to a sense of order and predictability down at the middle-to-bottom-of-the-funnel
Now, that was a bit of a tangent, I know, but I think it’ll help you to see where I’m going with all this. When I worked at that university, I was part of the sales force, and I’ll admit: during those years, being in the mix of a sales-environment, I didn’t care where or how they got leads as long as I got enough to produce what I needed to produce (and keep management off my back).
From what I understand, the qualifying teams there would call out on lead lists that came from all kinds of different sources. I’m not sure where they came from, but I suspect there was a lot of internet voodoo and trickery going on throughout those years for everyone (in all industries) to get their hands on lead lists, and of course, some of us started paying attention to the leads’ source codes.
I won’t list them here because they won’t make sense (internal jargon), but we knew the codes for leads who were direct website inquiries, meaning “a potential student who went to the university’s website and submitted a request to be contacted,” and we all recognized a very distinct pattern with those leads:
THEY WERE WAY HOTTER THAN EVERYTHING ELSE
And, organizationally speaking, those way hotter leads got mishandled on a regular basis by getting caught up in the mix with all the junk leads and bad communicative behaviors. Think of all the blown opportunities, right? Inbound, direct website inquiry leads are hotter for obvious reasons, but just in case, let me try to spell it out a little. As a salesperson, let’s say you had the choice between working with:
- a lead who just visited your company’s website and asked to be contacted, or:
- a lead who had been recycled through multiple contact lists that were bought and sold to multiple companies to pick through and call upon, repetitively …
IT’S A NO BRAINER
I remember a common tactic that the university used for lead generation was pop-ups on job sites. Remember when you were doing a job search on monster.com many years ago, during that time period (somewhere around 2004 to 2009 or so)?
A screen would randomly pop-up and cover your whole screen that asked you a bunch of questions about different jobs and your qualifications. There was also a small “X” hidden somewhere to close out of the screen, but you couldn’t seem to find it, so you’d just fill out the information to make the pop-up go away so you could get back to your job search.
Well, that’s how we got a lot of our leads back then. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, either—I’m just illustrating the fact that direct website inquiries are the hottest leads in comparison to all other digital lead sources, and, really … I mean, think about it: what’s the goal of any company that uses a digital marketing / sales model like this? TO GET MORE DIRECT WEB INQUIRIES, RIGHT??!!
This should all really be a no-brainer up to this point, but I felt it was necessary to give a bit of background and context to help you understand the reasoning for the communication framework that I developed.
Another glaring opportunity that I noticed throughout my years at the university, was how the teams that handled leads first, the qualifying center personnel, were oftentimes junior as far as age and experience goes. Add to the mix that they weren’t (in my opinion) paid enough to even take their jobs seriously in the first place, and how (I think) they were directed in a way that conflicted with the sales teams’ efforts.
I think this is something a lot of organizations are guilty of, too. SDR roles are often times treated as “entry-level,” which kinda makes sense in the grand scheme of things, considering how a lot of organizations use sales development teams as the training grounds for their account executives. But if you treat people (on any team, in any role) like they’re lower-level, entry-level people and pay them as such, then how can you expect anything other than entry-level type results?
This is a recipe for all kinds of behavioral issues (i.e. high turnover, people abusing time off, working the job and going through the motions until something better comes along, etc.), and it makes no sense to me to allow all this to negatively affect your organization’s potential clients’ experience during their initial interactions with your humans.
With anything, as leaders, we encourage what we tolerate. Here’s how I fixed it for my organization:
- I impressed upon senior leadership that this team plays a very important, crucial, high-stakes function for the organization
- I then got the go-ahead to revamp the incentive plan for them to make it possible for my team members to earn a respectable living (they’re not filthy rich, but they can pay the bills okay)
- I provided the strategy and guidance that took the team’s performance through the roof because with the right earning potential in place, it incentivizes the best, top of the funnel behaviors
- The incentive pay my team members earned was pocket-change compared to the massive amounts of revenue generated from having the relationships with potential clients consistently and predictably start out the best way possible
Seems simple enough, right? It starts with breaking through the limiting belief that “this is an entry-level position that’s so easy anyone can do it” and understanding how these crucial, high-stakes initial interactions impact the entire relationship, no matter how long or short it is.
I also think that ultimately, this is a job, so people have to get paid. You can have the best strategies in place, the best guidance and training, but if your people are struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table, then that will always be on their minds and it will negatively affect the quality of their work and the experience they provide.
I think that it’s far too normal for marketing and sales teams to be pushed and pulled in different directions, too, and I’ve seen this at different organizations now, so I know it’s not exclusive to the university and other places I’ve worked at. They just seem to have goals that are oftentimes mismatched, like pushing for quantity of leads versus quality of leads.
Realistically, I think it’s possible to have both quality & quantity, but only if the goals for the teams are aligned, so I strive for alignment of marketing and sales, where the actions and behaviors of each team sets each other up and complement each other instead of competing, complicating and ultimately confusing things.
I don’t know this for certain as the qualifying center at the university was housed in another building, but I believe it was their main mission in life to dial at least several hundred-something dials per day and whenever they got a live body on the phone, get her connected to sales ASAP via warm transfer.
Although I’m unsure on this, I believe that this was probably a key performance indicator for how they were rated for their positions, like X amount of dials equals Y amount of transfers, which equaled Z amount of opportunities for the sales team. Number, numbers, numbers … number, numbers, numbers.
It didn’t matter if it was a good time to speak, or if the person was a good fit for the programs, or anything that had anything to do with any sort of actual qualifying criteria; they just pushed bodies through to us no matter what. And the experience provided—on a very consistent basis—was less than stellar.
It seemed like if I got 40 leads transferred to me in a month (as an example), 4 or so of them would be actual decent fits. I’d then have an expectation of helping 8 to 10 new students get started per month—but I noticed that on a large scale, the experience provided by the organization at the top of the funnel was regularly sabotaging our efforts to sell all across the board.
And I know this sounds like me being pessimistic and making excuses, too, but I found myself consistently having to make up for the poor experience, especially in the instances like when a lead would say something like: “I gotta go … the other guy told me we can schedule an appointment to speak.”
In cases like this, I could just sense the frustration. We’d then schedule some time to speak and then I’d be left hoping that the other person remembers the day and time and that he’s available when it comes. A lot of times, though, they just went dark—and I couldn’t really blame them.
I mean, think about it: if the first person you speak with from an organization sounds like some novice (I almost said sounds like some “dumb kid,” but novices come in all different age ranges), you’ll probably be justifiably biased against that company from that point forward. It’s nothing personal, either, it’s a matter of:
“Oh, [COMPANY]? Yeah, I spoke with’em … buncha idiots over there. I’ll never speak with’em again!”
Think about it: potential customers don’t care what your title is, how much money you make (or how little money you make), or what stage of your process that they’re in. They’re instinctively determining answers to those primal, instinctive concerns, and in short, it boils down to two big, burning questions in the back of their minds:
- “Can this person that I’m speaking with right now actually help me get whatever it is that I’m after?”
- “Does this person represent an organization that I can trust?”
If the answer’s NO to either one of these? Your chances of actually doing business are significantly reduced.
In a lot of ways, the experience at the university and the qualifying center people are really foundational for the Black Hole of Digital Marketing concept. I just knew the system worked sometimes, sometimes it didn’t, and lots of opportunities were blown before we really even had a chance to get started due to the organization’s chaotic initial interactions and misalignment between Stage 1 and Stage 2.
I, personally, became quite burnt out with the environment there, but I wanted to finish the degrees I was working on, so I wound up working there for quite a while. I never really meant to make a career out of working there, either, but it was my first job after leaving the Army and they treated me well for a long time, so I really can’t complain.
I maxed the salary for my position but did not seek promotion to management, so I really hit a point where for a long time I felt stuck and burnt out and luckily, I wound up catching a round of layoffs—which was both terrifying and exciting.
I got to visit the Austin office for some training back in September and while there, I had a chance to meet with Mike (one of our inside sales account executives) and his manager. We spoke about a concern that they had over a certain piece of wording that my team uses on our calls, a certain specification that we make, and the reason I’m sharing this is because it’s a perfect, real life example of what I just mentioned.
The concern they had was about how when my team tells potential clients what to expect next, we tell them (and this is from the scripting I wrote):
“ … And since the next call with Mike’ll be a much more thorough, much more in-depth, discovery call? … he’ll reserve thirty-minutes for ya? … just so you guys can comfortably discuss all the necessary details of what you’re looking for help with … and ensure we have enough time to answer all your questions …”
You see, they felt like us mentioning the 30-minutes was basically scaring leads off, like: “they’re busy … they’re on the go … no one has time for a 30-minute call …” that kind of thing. I’ve even had team members of mine who felt the same thing where they felt uncomfortable mentioning the 30-minutes when explaining “What Comes Next.”
So, of course, I heard them out, and I’m willing to adjust things if there’s a better way of doing them, but, in that particular meeting with Mike and his manager? We really got down to the root of it. And I’m not going to speak ill of anyone, but … I had a team member who I had to let go because he couldn’t communicate on the level that I think is necessary to be successful on my team—and he DIRECTLY supported Mike for quite some time (he was one of the original team members I inherited).
There were plenty of leads he spoke with first and assigned out to Mike who went DARK, and it WASN’T over the specification of “30-MINUTES” for the next call; it was because he sounded like he was afraid any time he spoke with leads and his being nervous is what was really scaring them off. It was almost as if he had crashed into all the under the surface hazards out at the lake and then turned the boat over to the account exec after scaring all the passengers to death.
Meanwhile, when anyone else on my team delivers that exact same line mentioning the reservation of “30-minutes” with the right, no-big-deal, tonality (after opening the call like a pro and guiding it like an expert), by the time we get to the point where we’re telling them what to expect next, the leads consistently say things like:
“It all sounds perfect!”
“I’m excited and looking forward to speaking with Mike!” (or whoever we assigned them to work with)
“Thank you so much, this is exactly what we were hoping for!”
So the problem wasn’t the words here; it was how they were being said, how they were delivered, and Mike was getting unfairly judged & disregarded before he even had a chance to speak with the leads based on the poor Stage 1 experience.
So, after all that, I had a new team member who was kinda struggling with that same 30-minute specification, too, and she thought the same things, how it’s potentially scaring leads off. We reviewed a couple of her calls and we nailed it, immediately.
It was coming across in her tonality like it was a bad thing, like she was about to deliver some bad news. We were able to pinpoint EXACTLY where she would essentially tense up and brace herself, like she was about to deliver some bad news like:
“ … he’ll reserve 30-minutes for that, just so you guys can …”
And that nervousness, coming across in her tonality, was registering negatively in the potential client’s Dog Brain, which means that something MUST BE WRONG. And so I said to my team: “Look, I’m NOT gonna do this … but check this out … if I were to deliver the lines like:
“And since the next call with Mike’ll be a much more thorough, much more in-depth, discovery call? … he’ll reserve an afternoon for ya? … or a morning session, if you’d prefer? … just so you guys can comfortably discuss all the necessary details of what you’re looking for help with …”
They would still say that “THAT SOUNDS PERFECT” and that they’re looking forward to it.
SO WHAT ARE WE REALLY DOING HERE?
We’re using advanced tonality to communicate in a way that instills trust and confidence and gets the leads to TAKE US SERIOUSLY because, think about it:
We all respect experts; we typically don’t sharp-shoot them with a bunch of crazy questions; we happily follow their guidance and thank them for it. We defer and let them guide us to the solution—but if we feel like we’re dealing with a novice? That’s when we start asking tons of the skeptical-type questions and throwing out smokescreen objections, and it’s because FEAR BREEDS FEAR. If something is a BIG DEAL to you, it’ll come across in your tonality and set off alarms (think of how uncomfortable some sales people are when talking about price).
Negative energy goes out and it gets picked up by the potential client’s Dog Brain and recirculated in a negative feedback loop that gets picked up by the rep’s Dog Brain and just causes things to spiral out of control.
Like, think about how … shoot, I’ll give you another example: Let’s say you need a wrist surgery. I broke my left wrist about 10 years ago now (freak accident, but then again, no one breaks a wrist on purpose). So, you break a wrist, go to the doctor, and he says something like:
“Ooh … I don’t know about this one. I’m still kinda … new? at being a doctor and everything? … and … I’ve only done this particular type of surgery … just a … coupla times now. But … my … schedule’s wide open so … we can get started on it first thing tomorrow morning if you want?”
At this point, you would be CRINGING IN HORROR. But on the other hand, if the doctor was more like this (with the right no-big-deal, authoritative-yet-cool tonality):
“You know what? This is a pretty decent break … and you’ve got the option of … casting it up for the next three or four months or so? Or I can do this surgery that … I mean, check this out … I’ve done this many times over the past few years … and … it’ll take … right about forty-five minutes or so for the procedure and your recovery time’ll be reduced down to right about five weeks. And then after that? If ya follow your physical therapist’s guidance? In right about a year from now … you won’t even be able to tell which wrist you broke.”
Seriously, which doctor would you choose to perform the surgery? The FIRST or the SECOND?
At first, my goal was to develop a resource geared strictly towards communication tactics, but this really wound up morphing into more of a holistic, end-to-end revenue operations strategy, considering how these communicative tactics can be plugged in to every interaction with your clients from first contact to close to onboarding to renewal.
So, marketing generates leads, passes them to sales, and then some go on to close but a lot don’t and no one really knows what happens for a large percentage of them. I’ve observed this problem at multiple organizations now, and I believe this problem should be maddening at every level (individual / team / organization).
And then, further on down the line, there are done deals that have less-than-stellar onboarding experiences, and we all know how rocky starts to post-sale relationships negatively impact the chances of renewal and expansion opportunities.
So where do we begin?
I think that data itself is just data, but there are trends and patterns in the data, and that’s what tells the real story.
Also, I believe Einstein said something along the lines of how “you can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” You have to rise above, get the big picture view, connect the dots on how the different teams’ actions affect each other—and then you can map out a realistic, executable revenue operations strategy.
SO NOW IT’S TIME TO PUT EVERYTHING IN ACTION
- Reverse engineer the “ideal buying experience” from first contact-to-close-to-renewal, from the customer’s perspective, and map out these interactions (goals & mindsets)
- Hone in & capitalize on nailing those interactions by having a communication strategy that provides seamless & optimized experience from team-to-team, end-to-end
- Once you get this down, measure the conversion rates that align with the interactions
- measuring these conversion rates will help you benchmark & establish acceptable ranges
- Once you have acceptable conversion rate ranges for interactions, you’ll be able to see who’s doing really well & why
- You’ll also be able to see who isn’t doing so well & why, and now you have a solid starting point for helping them improve
Executing on this strategy will help you to identify what really works and what doesn’t so you can do more of “this” and less of “that” until you get it all honed down to a science. It’ll take time to develop and benchmark, but doing this will help your organization to generate massive amounts of revenue in a predictable and replicable manner by tweaking something that’s entirely in your control:
THE EXPERIENCE THAT YOU PROVIDE
A solid framework that maps out each interaction and the goals you’re looking to accomplish at each touchpoint will help you to psychologically-drive your potential clients’ decision-making process and keep them moving forward, which ultimately gives your potential clients what they really want:
A PAINLESS & AS-HASSLE-FREE-AS-POSSIBLE BUYING EXPERIENCE
The Tip of the Spear
You see, on this ideal buying journey, it all starts lead qualification—the SDR team is the tip of the spear for your organization. Clients will base their decision to pursue the relationship further or not based on how that initial interaction goes, so that’s Interaction One in this strategy.
INTERACTION 1: the Qualification Call. Get in, get out, leave them wanting more, one shot, one kill—no messing around. Be pro, set an amazing first impression for the organization, and set the power dynamic in your organization’s favor.
The handoff to sales goes smooth and now it’s time for your organization’s potential client to have the Interaction Two with one of its humans.
INTERACTION 2: the Discovery Call. At this point in the strategy, there should be a scheduled time to speak. The potential client and your account executive both know what to expect and have the time set aside, so now it’s time to just absolutely crush. The stage has been set.
Use the P.L.A.T.E. Framework, open the call like a pro, let them speak but guide the call like an expert using strategically-sequenced questions, then transition to what comes next and end the call with the potential client looking forward to Interaction Three: demo presentation. For this to work, you have to have your teams on the same sheet of music.
My wife and I were sitting in the pool talking about work stuff this past weekend, and even though she knows most of what I’ve shared throughout all of this pretty well by now, even she can be a bit skeptical. I know a lot of this sounds like voodoo at first.
Anyways, she asked me something along the lines of:
“Is it really systematic? Can you really replicate authentic experience … on command, basically … and teach others to do it?”
“Yes. Yes I can. And here’s how you can tell …”
As the manager of my team, I don’t have to make calls and speak with leads or do anything client-facing, really, but I do. I actually get a kick out of doing the job and using these tactics, and making at least a few calls per week or so helps me to stay sharp with all this stuff.
When I make calls, I never tell the potential clients that I’m the manager or give any indication that I should be taken more seriously than one of my reps because of my title or anything like that. I simply follow the process that I’ve laid out here, and get this:
IT PRODUCES THE SAME RESULT EVERY SINGLE TIME
I’m not kidding; every call produces the same result, which is either the creation of an “ideal lead” for one of our account executives, or I turn it away if it isn’t. Sometimes, with everything going on as a manager, it can be a couple of days or even a week or two between calls of mine, but they still go the same way every time: consistency!
INTERACTION 3: the Demo. If the first and second interaction were made following this strategy, then the potential clients will be excited and looking forward to the demo, and if they perceive you as an expert who represents an organization that they can trust, then they’ll be very receptive and appreciative of the recommendations that you make on during the demo.
When this step is complete, they’ll have interacted with you and your organization at least three separate times, either over the phones or in person (or a combination of both), so they won’t feel rushed or pressured or anything like that. At the end of this interaction, they should have all the information they need in order to make a very comfortable (and quick) YES or NO decision, which is INTERACTION 4: Decision to Purchase.
Now, on the other hand, if they perceive you as a novice? Then they’ll go into the demo presentation emotionally kicking and screaming by asking tons of sharp-shooting, hyper-critical questions and raising smokescreen objections along the way in an effort to mask their uncertainty.
I know I mentioned this earlier, but remember this: your potential clients will go into the demo with either a good or bad instinctive feeling of whether or not they’re going to do business with you, and this is regardless of what information you present or say during the demo.
Emotionally-speaking, the decision has been pretty much already made; so logically-speaking, keep the demos brief, pro, to the point, interesting, and treat it as more of a formality that you have to get through in order to close, and run through it like it’s no-big-deal.
Our attention spans are limited as is, and plenty of sources indicate that people check out after about 20-minutes anyways, so if I could recommend anything here, have 13- to 18-minutes’ worth of information prepared, tops. Schedule an hour for this third interaction, sure, but have a laser-focused, dialed-in, professionally orchestrated and well-rehearsed short presentation, and this will leave plenty of time for discussion afterwards.
I’ve ranted quite a few times at a few different organizations now about how you don’t need more leads to get more deals; you need to be smarter with the leads you get. Implement this strategy and watch what happens!
You’ll have increased conversion rates for each interaction, shorter sales cycles, more business with the right types of clients who view you and your team as trusted advisors instead of typical salespeople—and this is all behavioral / communication-based. Anyone can do this regardless of language, cultural backgrounds and personalities.
INTERACTION 5: Onboarding. Alright, so the deal is done, purchase order’s signed, everyone’s excited and getting ready to get started, so now it’s time to officially kick things off. In this strategy, account executives notify account managers when they’re about to close deals so they can prep for their welcome calls. I recommend using the same personalized introduction email handoff strategy, which keeps things clean and consistent.
Last year when I got involved with the account management department, some AMs would make welcome calls, some would try to do everything through email, so it was a bit of the wild, wild west, and I basically helped them establish some law and order:
- No more cold, unexpected calls—use the introduction email to schedule the welcome call
- Send a calendar invite with an agenda
- Let them know to set aside 30-minutes for this, but have 15-minutes’ or so worth of information prepared to walk them through (with visuals)
- Walk through a presentation using Go-to Meeting or Zoom
- Be a laser-focused pro and take charge of the post-sale relationship
It’s imperative to keep lines of communication open with your new clients in the post-sale relationship, and doing all this for your first post-sale interaction will set the tone and help your new clients to take the account managers seriously instead of dodging their calls and emails further on down the line. Account managers manage accounts, yes, but they’re really relationship managers, and effective relationship management means practicing the art of not giving your clients a reason to look at other options.
A big part of the training I gave last year had to do with influencing our clients’ views of the organization to shift away from a “typical vendor” type relationship to a more “trusted advisor” type relationship. You do this by showing that you care, by looking out and keeping lines of communication open, and by being laser-focused pros who deliver value at every touchpoint, and it all starts with how the account managers came across on their welcome calls.
I helped them develop a framework to follow that was very similar to P.L.A.T.E. in its simplicity, but it was more directing versus asking questions. When I was in Austin, Texas, working with the account management team there, I remember one of them suppressing laughter when walking them through this part.
“You’re laughing,” I said, and she felt bad. “No, go ahead, laugh! This is simple, isn’t it? Like, duh! Right?”
So, the welcome calls are a bit fluid as far as what’s covered because there are different product lines and services and everything, but they now have a solid strategy and framework:
- Schedule the welcome call
- Use a Purposeful Greeting, Intro & Agenda Statement that takes charge without being abrasive
- After the opening: “Now, I know we scheduled 30-minutes for this, but if we go ahead and get flying, I can have you off the phone and back to your day in right about 18-minutes?”
- this is a command: buckle up, let’s get moving, I’m driving this bus, and this is music to the ears of a busy, executive-level leader & it will keep them from asking crazy questions
- Have information prepared ahead of time, such as:
- a few statements on what your role is and how you serve to support the success of the client
- what to expect while working with you, map out the touchpoints for the near-term future
- set up the first 30-day check-in while on the phone
- Be disarmingly honest, with statements like:
“I don’t know everything, but I know where to go to get answers, so don’t be afraid to ask … I am the liaison between your company and ours, and your success is our success, so it’s my job to make sure that you’re fully supported.”
“You’ll experience issues along the way with us, and that’s okay … I’m here at our headquarters with access to everything you’ll need, support-wise, so if you’re experiencing an issue, I better be the first to know because I can’t help to fix problems that I don’t know about.”
DO NOT CALL AND WING IT
Also, no cold calling or winging it for the check-ins, which are the 6th INTERACTION: Scheduled Check-ins. Things should be modified for your business from here (some businesses need weekly check-ins, some need monthly or quarterly), but basically, don’t do all the work that it takes to get married and then stop caring once you both exchange vows. Typical vendors will sell a bunch of things, set’em and forget’em, and then hope that their clients renew at the end of their contracts, so being proactive and executing on strategies like this is how you show that you care.
Realistically, this strategy makes it to where the natural thing to do at the end of the contract is to renew and keep moving forward, which is INTERACTION 7: Decisions to Renew / Expand.
Think about it—if your organization is:
- providing a solution that helps fix the problem that they came to you with in the first place, and
- doing it within a budget-range that they can afford, and
- treating them like this throughout the relationship
Then what your organization is doing, realistically, is:
PRACTICING THE ART OF NOT GIVING YOUR CLIENTS A REASON TO LOOK AT OTHER OPTIONS
Consider this: our brains are pretty much like super-computers. We can process information literally in milliseconds, and remember how no one stops for a minute to analyze and interpret the tone of someone’s voice and then consciously decides to feel threatened or safe, or skeptical or open-minded. This is all done instinctively.
I was at a party at my neighbors’ recently, and there was a guy there that I never met before. This guy had recently turned 50 years old, he was about 6 feet tall, had a full head of hair, barrel-chested with big, thick forearms, and one of those deep, booming voices that everyone immediately takes heed to.
And on first glance? He was one of those guys who can be a bit intimidating. We’re all told not to judge books by their covers, but we all do it anyway. We instinctively size up every single person we come across and make decisions to engage or avoid based on how they look and sound. In fact, I avoided him for quite a while at the party, but realistically? He was actually a really nice guy.
We hung out and spoke for a bit that night, and it was funny because someone jokingly said something about his voice, and he told me how there’s been many times throughout his life where he’d approach a group of people, say something, and they’re all like: “Whoa, tough guy!”
“No, it’s just my voice!” he says, laughing.
So we wound up speaking about tonality and nonverbal communication (not at length, it was a party), and I explained the neuroscientific order of operations and how our tonality gets picked up by the subconscious parts of other peoples’ minds, and that explains why the others felt immediately threatened when he first approached and spoke with them.
That, and like I mentioned, on first glance, he just looks like the kind of guy you don’t mess with.
“There’s a balance to this, too,” I told him. “I mean, think about how if you were on the opposite side of this spectrum … like, if you were some skinny nerd. Ya walk up to the group, go to say something but ya have this high-pitched, squeaky voice that comes out a little crackly …”
“No one would take me seriously then!” he says, laughing.
So, it can go too far either way on this spectrum, of course, but the last thing you want to do is immediately set off threat alarms when you first speak with anyone new, especially if you’re trying to sell something or get them to go along with some idea of yours. I mean, think about it: it doesn’t matter how much you actually know at that point—if people feel threatened? They basically shut down and go into survival mode (fight-or-flight).
So now that you’re aware of all this, know that you can strategically prepare yourself before engaging with anyone new and tailor your approach to avoid setting off alarms—and this is really the science behind charisma. Some people naturally have it, most don’t, but it’s an entirely learnable skill.
In person, we communicate with how we dress, how we stand or sit, our posture, the distance we keep from others while speaking, and even with how we style our hair and groom ourselves (more of that 93% nonverbal, right?), but over the phones? All you have is your voice.
So basically, if you can safely navigate the opening of the initial interaction and avoid setting off alarms by strategically relieving the primal concerns in the right order, then what you’re doing, essentially, is you’re helping your potential clients quickly move from a state of uncertainty to a state of certainty.
This ties into the URT (Uncertainty Reduction Theory), which is a communications theory that’s pretty simple to understand. In short, when you first meet someone new, you exchange superficial pieces of information to get to know each other, and then as time goes on and the relationship develops, you exchange more in-depth information.
There’s this concept of “appropriate disclosure of information,” too, so basically, you don’t start with your secrets because too much information, too fast, is a turn off in any scenario.
I’m a big Jordan Belfort fan (the Wolf of Wallstreet guy), and I know the movie was pretty crazy but in real life, he’s a business communications genius. He says: “There are THREE THINGS that a potential client must feel certain about,” and he puts them on a scale of 1 to 10, like this: “the Product, the Company, and the People.”
“The closer to 10 on these, the better the chances of closing. But, if any one of them is off … you’re DONE!” he says.
And to take it a step further, if one (or more) of these is low and the person does purchase, the post-sale relationship has increased likelihood of not going very well. This makes a lot of sense, right? But what a lot of people don’t seem to realize, is that there are actually two types of certainty: Logical and Emotional.
And something I’ve seen at multiple organizations now, is that they expend vast amounts of their energy building the case for logical certainty, which is very important, of course—but they tend to overlook the client’s need for emotional certainty.
Jordan Belfort talks about this, but not in the movie (you’ll have to read his book Way of the Wolf and search YouTube for interviews / speaking engagements).
So as you raise your potential clients’ levels of logical and emotional certainty, at the same time, you’re also increasing their trust levels (in you and your organization) because you’re reducing their uncertainty by s.l.o.w.i.n.g t.h.i.n.g.s d.o.w.n and easing your way into the relationship.
If your initial interaction goes like this:
Rep: “So, what can we help with?”
Lead: “I’m looking for help with [this, this, & this] …”
Rep: “Oh, we can definitely help with all of that … let me tell you all about it!”
And then you launch into a 4-minute tirade of verbal machinegun fire, explaining all the features and benefits, it’s TMI—it’s too fast, and it’s overwhelming. This is how you get people to check out on you. Unless everything was just a perfect fit (which can happen sometimes), there won’t be any interest in a second interaction. Giving all the information away on the initial interaction is like telling all your secrets on a first date; it scares people off. So s.l.o.w t.h.i.n.g.s d.o.w.n a little and replicate how successful relationships form in real life in your sales process.
- Purposeful Intro & Agenda Statement
- This will help you to tiptoe past the Turtle and Dog Brain and quickly access the other person’s Neocortex
- This is how you take charge without being abrasive
- You should be asking: “So, what can we help with?” at right about :30 seconds
- Let them Speak
- No one likes to be interrogated on initial interactions
- They’ll speak, but they’ll keep it high-level because of your Intro & Agenda Statement
- Ask Intelligence-Gathering Questions
- These questions should be strategically-sequenced, no more than 7 to 10 questions on interaction one
- Discovery Call should have more in-depth questions
- Transition to What Comes Next
- Have your next steps planned out
- Script out commonly-used next steps so that when it comes time to speak about them, you speak naturally
- End the Call
- Experts are in control, therefore they know how and when to end the call
Consider this: people who do a Google search for [YOUR SERVICES] and submit requests to be contacted are undoubtedly in a heightened emotional state of mind. They want help, but they don’t want to be “sold” to, right? No one likes being rushed or pressured into making decisions about anything—even when they asked for help!
It’s weird, I know—but true. If you sound like you want something on an initial interaction about anything, you’ll be sending off the exact type of signals that cause your potential clients to tune out and run away.
So, having a team that reaches out first but purposefully doesn’t sell anything is a counterintuitive and strategic approach that caters to the heightened-emotional mindsets of your potential customers. Employing the art of being “purposefully vague” on initial interactions, Team 1 shouldn’t:
- provide in-depth explanations for how anything works
- diagnose issues or prescribe recommendations, or
- provide quotes or estimates
Interaction 1 should be strategically brief to give the leads a reason to look forward to (and set up) the next step in the process (kinda like how a really good opening band plays a quick set before the headliner goes on and gets the crowd pumped).
I’ve said this many times in training sessions:
“I’m not concerned with what a lead KNOWS when they get off the phone after the initial interaction … I’m concerned with how they FEEL.”