There’s Nonverbal Communication even in our Verbal Communication

So when you think of non-verbal communication, the first thing that probably jumps to mind is body language. And I think it’s probably a normal assumption to think that stuff like body language, and facial expressions, and certain physiological triggers (like talking with your hands) don’t really matter when doing business over the phones because the other person can’t physically see you.

Well, at the risk of sounding cliché, motion creates emotion, and the way we move affects the way we sound, and what I’m talking about here is tonality.

We sound different when we’re standing versus when we’re sitting (or when we’re slouching down), and we all know when someone sounds prepared or when they sound unsure of themselves, right? There’s just a certain level of confidence (or lack of confidence) that comes across in our tonality, and what this does, whether you realize it or not is …

I mean, yes, the other person can’t physically see you when speaking on the phone. I get that. But you have to realize, that on the intros of calls, we all quickly tear each other apart and form a mental image of whoever it is that we’re speaking with – and it’s either going to be a positive image or a negative image – and it’s all based on how the person sounds.

Think of how someone sounds when he or she is distracted (perhaps you’re guilty of this? I know I am).

Say you’re in the middle of something and a potential client calls you up for the first time. You take the call, but your mind is elsewhere, and stuff like this can adversely affect the way you sound, the way you come across – especially in comparison to times when you’re prepared, focused, and distraction-free.

I’ll bet that 93% nonverbal number is starting to become a bit more realistic now, right?

When it comes to tonality, we all know how to speak with certainty about things that we’re certain about, and we all know how to speak in a matter-of-fact tone about things that are a matter-of-fact. And of course we all know how to speak like something’s no big deal, and we know how we sound when we’re talking about something that everyone despises.

Typing about tonality is a little weird, considering how written text seems to lose the subtle nuances of tone and inflection, but this is why I’ve created digital courses on all of this where I actually talk through and show real examples of everything in action.

And of course there are lots of other variations of tonal patterns, but I’m sure you get the point: different tonalities can make words mean different things, which can either enhance the experience you provide or detract from it.

Think about how when we want people to listen – we RAISE OUR VOICES, RIGHT? But if we really want people to listen, we lower our voices.

Dropping down to a whisper tone at the right places – especially when on the phones – is powerful. It just draws the listener in because it implies you have something special, something exclusive, and they’ll really want to know what you’re about to say next.

When it comes to cadence, the rate at which we speak, you have to realize, that when we’re nervous we naturally tend-to-speak-faster-which-RAISES-the-pitch-of-our-voices, and that registers subconsciously to the listener as: “This person is nervous, therefore something must be wrong …”

On the other hand, when we speak a little slower, it lowers the pitch of our voices, and we come across as more authoritative, so it registers subconsciously to the listener as: “Whoa … better listen up and take this person seriously!”

And of course there’s a balance to all of this, too, meaning: you can’t speak so slowly that you put the other person to sleep. You also can’t speak so authoritatively that they’re afraid of you, and you can’t speak so boldly that you sound pompous and arrogant.

But at the same time, you can’t speak too humbly because then you’ll come across as timid, and you can’t speak so quietly that they can’t hear you or understand what you’re saying – and all these subtle nuances help to make up that 93% that’s lurking beneath the surface (which is getting much more in focus now, right?).

Different tonalities can literally make words mean different things (think of the “HEY MOM !!!” versus “Hey, Mom?” examples from earlier), and I know what you’re probably thinking right now … like: “Oh my goodness, I have to learn all these different tonal patterns?”

The answer is “NO!” because … you already know them.

You already know how to do all this, so when you take a concept like “Advanced Tonality” and purposefully use the right tones at the right places? Especially on the intros to calls and at the right places throughout the calls? It will literally enhance and optimize the experience in your favor.

I mean, this stuff literally registers favorably in the subconscious minds of whoever you’re speaking with and it lets you tiptoe past the Reptilian and Mammalian parts of their brains without setting off alarms and it quickly gains you access to the listener’s Neocortex. And of course this means they’re now consciously paying attention because they feel safe and feel like they’re working with someone who can actually help them out.

This is some more secret weapon stuff right here.

Seriously, what do you think will happen when you purposefully incorporate this kind of stuff in how you communicate with your potential clients, especially on the first time you speak with them?

I know I mentioned this earlier, but I find that it’s become increasingly normal for people to struggle with communicating in real-time (meaning speaking). So, if my theory is true, then you’ll find yourself with a competitive advantage if you can just sound “okay,” right?

Now, if this is true (and I think it is), what do you think will happen if you up the level of your communication game?

You’ll seriously annihilate your competition.

I know this will sound cocky, but back in the Army days, when I competed during boards, it was never really my goal to just win or get selected for promotion. I know this will sound bad, but my goal was to embarrass my competition and make them feel dumb for even stepping up against me.

And I know that sounds way cocky, too, but I mean it when I say that we were all the same on the surface, like we were all experts at our individual jobs; experts with weapons; experts with physical fitness and first aid and everything; so really, what was the difference between those who won and those who lost?

It was the way we communicated and presented ourselves – and it really was as simple as that.

Experts vs. Novices & the Science Behind First Impressions

I have a theory that reasonable, mature adults will gladly pay a little more (within reason, of course) for quality products and service. By default, people will go with the cheapest option when they:

  1. need help with something that they can’t figure out on their own, and
  2. everyone they spoke with pretty much sucked at communicating

If you represent a company that had one of the more expensive options, they may get back with you and let you know that they “went in another direction” – or considering we’re primarily talking about business that transcends geographical boundaries, they may just go dark and stop answering your calls and returning your emails.

But what they won’t do is be honest and say something like:

  • “Well, everything looked great and the price was definitely within our established budget range … but there was just something about you that rubbed me the wrong way right from the very beginning. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I just had this gut feeling that said I should look at other options …”

So, the point is, is that if you know how to relieve those primal, instinctive concerns and influence the other person’s gut feelings to be favorable about you and the company you represent, then it’s not about price at that point (as long as your solution is within range of their budgets, of course).

 

So just to briefly touch on the rest of the tumblers that represent the primal, instinctive concerns:

I was at Home Depot the other day and I was looking for a battery tender to charge my motorcycle’s battery. At first, I looked in the electronics section and couldn’t find one, so I asked an attendant, and he told me that he’s not sure where they are, but thinks they may be over in the tools section. In this instance, I did not sense reward, so I shut down and moved on.

  • “Okay, great … thank you!” I said, and started walking off in that direction (it was way across the store).

It was early in the morning, and the guy was trying to be friendly so he started to tag along and said something to be friendly, but at that point? I could care less what this guy had to say. I was tuned out to anything he had to say (which sounds mean, I know), but I had determined that there was no reward in engaging with this person any further, so I was tuned out and moving on.

I know status seems like a superficial thing to be concerned with, but instinctively speaking what this means is EXPERT versus NOVICE.

Think about it: no one wants to work with novices. You know who gets cut some slack for being novices? Girl Scouts. Not pros, though – no potential client from any industry is going to give anyone the time of day if they come across like novices and here’s why:

The lower the status, the lower the credibility. Think about it: higher status equals higher credibility, and really, what this comes down to (and I know this will sound harsh), but this is how people instinctively determine if someone is worth listening to.

I mean, think about it; you can come across as non-threatening, make people feel safe, be the biggest subject matter expert in the world about whatever it is that you specialize in, but if you come across in a way that undermines your credibility, people will tune you out.

(Potential client rambles about a problem that they’re experiencing).

  • “Oh, well I’m actually on the marketing response team here …”

In this example, using the word “actually” undermines your status. I’m not going to spin off into this rabbit hole here, but know that there are lots of ways that we can shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to using words and tonalities that undermine our status and credibility.

This next piece should probably be a no-brainer, but think about how if what you’re presenting is not useful, then people will tune you out. There’s really not much more to say on this, either.

Like, if the attendant from the electronics section started telling me about some solar-powered contraption for charging batteries that I could find if I looked at some website that sells them for way cheaper than anywhere else on the planet, I simply wouldn’t care. In that moment, I had a dead motorcycle at home and I want to ride it, so I needed a charger so I could ride it later, right? Enough said on that.

You can make people feel safe, know everything there is to know, be the world’s biggest subject matter expert on whatever it is you specialize in, have the greatest information prepared for the greatest solution ever, but if you come across as boring? You’re done.

People like their information fast; they like it visual; and they like it new – exciting, something different, even if it really is the same old thing. Our attention spans are short, and they’re getting reduced more and more by how much information we all get bombarded with every day.

I know some of this sounds harsh, too, but getting a NO for any one of these concerns can keep you from ever actually getting through and connecting on a conscious level. I mean think about it:

Your expertise may never have the opportunity to shine through if you don’t get through the first :28 seconds WITHOUT setting off alarms. And also, I want to mention just because you make it to the Neocortex, it doesn’t mean you’ll always stay there.

The reason for this is that the Reptilian and Mammalian parts of our brains are always running. Think of them like subconscious anti-virus software, constantly running in the background and scanning for threats in an effort to keep us as safe as possible.

But I think that it’s very important to know that you’ll never connect on a conscious level if you set off alarms right at the very beginning of your initial interactions, and really? This is the science behind why first impressions are just so powerful.

I mean, think about it:

I know I mentioned this earlier, but plenty of sources indicate that it takes eight subsequent positive encounters to overcome a bad first impression, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall ever being given eight additional attempts to get it right. This stuff is just mission critical – especially in sales environments where your potential customers are empowered with options (and geographical distance) – to get right as much as you possibly can.

Here’s a chapter pertaining to “the Mindset”

And then Novice Communicators will say something like:

“Don’t worry – it’s not really that expensive for my [product / service]. Here, let me just go ahead and answer all your questions and then I’ll tell you about all the features and benefits in an attempt to put your mind at ease.”

Meanwhile, what this does is it just dumps fuel on the fire and causes things to spiral even further out of control.

I mean, think about it – when you jump to features and benefits too soon, the other person’s brain just jumps right to: “What’s this gonna cost me?” which, in other words, is “opposition” so now it’s even more of a fight, and we’re only 90-seconds or so in on this relationship.

And remember from earlier how buyers today, because of how much access we have to information, have the relational power dynamic shifted in their favor by default. So often times, they’ll go into the initial interactions even more aggressively (people tend to talk tough when hiding behind screens and phones, right?!), so sales people will go to push back because no one likes being pushed around or talked down to.

This all can quickly devolve into a state of chaos, and opportunities, all across the board in every industry, are blown every day because of this, and then the people will sit back and say things like:

  • “Well, I didn’t want to sell to him anyway … that person was an a-hole!”
  • “Oh, this COMPANY? Yeah, they’re a bunch of jerks … I spoke with them … buncha idiots over there!”

So under the surface of initial interactions, what’s really happening is a death match between two primal, fear-based creatures who are sizing each other up and fighting to establish dominance of the encounter. This happens every time two people interact for the first time for any reason.

I mean, think of job interviews; first dates; sales calls; walking down the street and someone simply says “hello” (you know the first thing you think is: “What does this person want?” right?). So, business, personal, doesn’t matter, and it’s all rooted in our hard-wired, survival instincts from living in fear for the majority of our human existence.

The world, as we know it, is obviously not how it’s always been. It’s still a dangerous place, don’t get me wrong, but it’s gotten progressively safer in more recent history in comparison to times when a beast could swoop down from out of the sky and snatch you up to feed her family (or just herself).

Who knows how old the world really is – I mean, some say merely 6,000 years or so and some say 6.5 billion years, but I’m sure we could agree that we’ve come a long way from a safety standpoint.

So, there’s no denying that there was a time when the slightest rustling in the bushes could turn out to be the end of us, so when you think about it, from just a survival standpoint, our brains’ main purpose is really to keep us alive. So our brains have been essentially hard-wired to perceive most new information we come across as “threats” and most new people we run into as “foes.”

And what’s kind of crazy (but true) is that we can’t even help it as these snap-judgements are made subconsciously, and this is why first impressions are just so powerful. I’ve read studies that indicate that it takes eight subsequent positive encounters to overcome a bad first impression, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been given eight additional attempts to get it right (especially in a sales setting).

So, in the example from above where the potential client has established control of the encounter, he’s now wildly attacking (with questions) while the novice communicator is like an outmatched boxer, pinned up against the ropes, and just and hoping to make it to the end of the round. And, you know how you can tell who’s in control of a sales encounter? By who’s asking the questions. Seriously.

So beyond this point, the success of the novice communicator will depend solely upon how nice the potential client decides to be because when someone takes control of the initial encounter it sets the power dynamic for the relationship. And typically, once the power dynamic is set, there’s usually no switching roles.

After an initial (sales or anything, really) interaction, one person will emerge in the dominant, alpha-position – the leader, and the other person, from that point forward, will be in the submissive, beta-position – the follower. And there’s really a night and day difference with how things go when you’re in control of the sales process and when you’re not.

And I’m not talking about being a bully or being abrasive or anything high-pressure, either. I’m talking about setting the tone right from the very beginning that influences your potential clients to view you as more of a trusted advisor instead of a typical salesperson, and to view your organization as more of a trusted partner instead of a typical vendor.

These dynamics are all set on the initial interactions, and I have a feeling you know what I’m talking about here.

 

So, we spoke about the mindset of your potential clients before the initial interaction, so after the death match, you have to realize that their mindsets are really going to be either one of two things. It’ll either be in:

  1. I’m working with pros who actually listened, who care – who can help me get whatever it is that I’m after, or
  2. I’m going to have to look at some other options

So, power dynamics are present in every relationship, no matter if business or personal or how long or short (could be a matter of minutes or a matter of years). When you understand this, you can then do things to purposefully influence the power dynamics in your favor, regardless of established titles and ranks.

By purposefully doing this, you’ll establish control of the relationship, but in order to do this, you need to be able to speak with a certain fearlessness that gets the other person to take you seriously right from the start.

There’s a method to doing this, too, to taking control without being abrasive and without being desperate or pushy or anything like that, and I’m a big fan of it because it doesn’t require smooth-talk or high-pressure or anything. By the time you finish this book, you will know how to do it every. single. time.

Think about it: what if you knew how to craft and tailor your communication strategies and approach to go in-line with how the brain prefers to receive and process information instead of going against it? How much more effective would you be in whatever position you happen to hold at this time?

I know it sounds like voodoo at first, but what this means is that you’ll be purposefully and fearlessly communicating in a way that doesn’t set off threat alarms for people who are – by default – in a fearful mindset to begin with. And really, it’s not just your potential clients – it’s you, too.

Anytime we come across anything new, it’s scary to us. Think about how quick we are to jump to negative conclusions versus positive conclusions. Like, seriously – when’s the last time you got a gut feeling that “everything is going to be just fine?”

It happens, I’m sure, but not very often. We’re always much quicker to feel like something is wrong, and it’s because of the evolutionary hardwiring of our brains from living in fear for thousands, if not millions, of years. And think of how our response to threat is to move away from whatever it is as fast as possible whereas our response to reward is to approach it cautiously.

So really, what I’m mapping out for you here through all this is a way to diffuse trust bombs before they have a chance to detonate later on down the line, and think about what this will do when it comes time for your potential clients to make actual purchasing decisions.

When potential clients balk at things like “price,” what’s really causing their hesitation is their mixed feelings of whether or not they trust you and whether or not they trust the company you represent. It’s hardly ever about cost at that point, but no one is going to put their inner monologue on display and come right out and tell you that they love the product and the price is fair but that they just don’t trust you (that would be mean, right?).

So it’s way easier and less-confrontational to go with: “We’ve thought about it and it’s just out of our budget for now.”

*Disclaimer: Please know that none of these methods are geared towards turning NOs into Yesses. With the right qualification standards, you should be able to quickly weed out the NOs and keep them out of your sales pipeline. These methods are designed to capture and capitalize on the MAYBEs and keep them happily moving forward in your sales process because they feel safe and they feel like they’re working with someone who represents a company that has a product or service that can actually help them out. None of these methods are meant to be perceived as a magic bullet that makes everyone sign up immediately.

The Marketing to Sales Hand-off (Part 2)

When potential clients get on the phone with any organization about any product or service from any industry, it’s almost like they’re bracing themselves for a fight because they’re in a heightened emotional state. They need help with something and they don’t know where to turn, so they turn to google.

They search, find your website, submit a request to be contacted (or call in directly), and since they’re in a heightened emotional state, they’ll regularly come out swinging with questions about pricing while demanding quotes and sharpshooting with tons of in-depth questions, all within the first :90 seconds.

And all this has to do with how humans are essentially hardwired to perceive most new information as threats and new people as foes, so these questions about pricing and quotes, at this point in the relationship, are merely smokescreens, because what they’re really trying to do is find answers to these TWO BIG QUESTIONS:

  1. Can you actually help me get whatever it is that I’m after?
  2. Do you represent an organization that I can trust?

So, the process I developed is geared more towards not getting caught up in the the surface-level stuff of products and pricing and it gets at the under-the-surface, emotional currents. It’s neuroscientifically designed to go inline with how the brain prefers to receive and process information, instead of going against it.

I’ve said this many times in training sessions and meetings, and I truly believe this: “I’m not really concerned with what a potential client KNOWS about my company after that first phone call … that first interaction; I’m concerned with how they feel.”

So yes, we gather and share high-level information on the qualifying calls, but realistically, what we’re doing is, is we’re:

  • taking charge of the situation without being abrasive (Intro and Agenda Statement + Advanced Tonality)
  • getting potential clients to calm down (by using “tactical empathy” and hearing them out)
  • we’re calmly and clearly articulating what the potential client can expect next (we literally describe the hand-off process which sets up the next step in the process)

 

All of this slows everything down and buys our account executives some time so they can be as strategically prepared as possible for when they step up to the plate. My team (and this process), figuratively speaking, is what takes that pitch and alters its path to make it go right down the middle at a speed that makes it possible for the sales rep to consistently crush it. The next step, often times, is still taken the same day, but it’s a much more comfortable experience for everyone involved because no one is put on the spot – no one is caught off guard.

There’s no pressure on the potential clients with this method, and in turn, this reduces their naturally-occurring, fear-based sales resistance. They willingly move to the next step in the process, and we hear it all the time how they’re looking forward to it.

There is a script / framework for this, but you have to understand that the words are 7% of it – 93% is how it’s all organized and delivered. If you jumped on the phone and ran through the “What Comes Next” part of the script a minute-and-a-half after the call starts, the words carry no weight.

What gives this part of the script its weight is you taking charge without being abrasive on the “Intro and Agenda Statement,” then hearing them out during the “Vital Signs” section where you’re asking strategically-sequenced questions and gathering high-level information.

All of that can take merely five or six minutes, too, so it’s not a long, drawn-out conversation by any means. It’s just that when people feel like they’ve been heard out, they instinctively feel compelled to reciprocate and hear you out. This is how you make those words mean something. This is how you get potential clients to really pay attention and take you seriously, versus just blowing through some words on a script.

This type of experience is really music to the ears of a serious buyer, too.

Now, I don’t pitch this as a magic bullet for your sales process, or anything, either. Some products or services will need slight variations to this, but if your organization offers customized solutions, then I know this model will work for you.

If you’re more of a business-to-consumer, commodity, one-and-done type of business? Maybe not!

 

But seriously, what’s the alternative?

You get a live potential customer on the phone, blow through a few high-level questions to qualify him or her, then force a warm-transfer to a sales person who may or may not be ready to take a call? No thanks!

Sales people are busy and time is one of their most precious commodities. I probably could write a small business book about this marketing to sales hand-off topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave you with this:

 

How many opportunities do you think are blown out there in the business world every day by people warm-transferring leads for the sake of speed?

Here’s a few realistic outcomes:

  • the lead gets the sales rep’s voicemail – leaves a message, then never hears back because there’s a hundred other messages on the rep’s voicemail box
  • the sales rep takes the call and immediately reschedules it because he or she is in the middle of working on a proposal that he’s / she’s presenting in 45 minutes
  • something about the way the sales rep came across rubs the lead the wrong way and causes him or her to go dark
  • sales rep calls at the appointed time, leaves a voicemail, sends an email, never hears from the lead again
  • sales rep takes the call but was getting ready to leave for an appointment, sounds super-distracted during the call, doesn’t really listen or take notes and doesn’t set a follow-up appointment

 

The Marketing to Sales Hand-off that I’ve developed heads ALL OF THIS OFF, which will help your organization maximize every opportunity.  

The Marketing to Sales Hand-off (Part 1)

I was in a meeting last week and was asked why I don’t care for warm transfers from Marketing to Sales.

It made me think about it all weekend, and here are a few reasons I’d like to share:

  • I think a key to success in sales is to reduce as many variables from the equation as possible (Jordan Belfort thinks this, too)
  • I also think that accomplishing any task while using the least amount of force is good for everyone involved
  • I also believe that well-orchestrated, optimized experience at the beginning of a potential relationship gives consistency and predictability to how the relationship forms because … things that start well tend to end well
  • I believe that it is chaotic to wing it and do things different every time

If an organization’s initial interactions with potential clients are NOT controlled and well-orchestrated, then – unless everything just lines up perfectly – it can literally undermine the organization’s efforts to accomplish the task of selling and doing it in a way that is streamlined, efficient, and mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

Sounds pretty dire, I know but check this out:

 

Here, let’s use a sports analogy:

  • the potential client in this instance is the pitcher – your sales rep is the batter
  • the pitcher winds up, delivers the pitch, and he (or she) is consistently throwing 92- to 102-mph fastballs and curveballs and sliders
  • some are strikes, some are balls, and they’re just all over the place as far as speed and pitch location goes
  • your sales rep swings and connects with some, but with the pitches being all over the place and having such variation in speed and everything, he (or she) is swinging and missing more than swinging and connecting
  • some pitches are even blowing right past him (or her) without even getting a swing in
  • even when connecting, your rep is getting some base hits (and even a few homers here and there), but he’s (she’s) still hitting a good amount of pop flies and foul balls and ground balls and just getting out a lot

 

What if … and this is a BIG WHAT IF …

But what if you, the sales manager or sales director … the batter’s coach, in this analogy … somehow had a way to alter the pitch right after it leaves the pitcher’s hand?

I’m talking like, a Game Genie on the old-school Nintendo, where you could slow down the game’s speed so you could time it just right and deliver the best swing, like … Matrix-style, where you warp space and time and just make it possible to adjust your stance and calculate exactly where and how to swing?

The pitch starts out a bit wild, but after leaving the pitcher’s hand – right about halfway down its flight path – it gets somehow channeled to go right down the middle, slowed down just enough to give the batter just enough reaction time to adjust his or her stance and timing so he or she swings strong and makes solid contact.

It might be a home run … or it might be a hard hit line drive right at the shortstop for an out … but it WON’T be a swing and a miss. If this were possible to do for your batters, then there’s no doubt about it – all of their batting averages will increase and you’ll win more games.

 

Now, I know that sounds too good to be true and isn’t exactly possible in real life, BUT …

What the marketing to sales hand-off process that I developed does, really, is it slows things down and puts everything on a level playing field so that your sales reps can step up and really just have the best chance of making contact and hitting it hard every single time.

This process takes those wild pitches with all the variations and funnels them down to nice, right down the middle, meatballs that your sales reps can just crush.

I’m not saying you’ll close every deal because of this, either – but I am saying it’s very possible to reduce some of the variables from the equation and give your reps more of a fighting chance. By doing this, it puts your organization in more control of the process and gives every potential relationship a consistently level (and predictable) starting point.

the Black Hole of (Digital) Marketing

There’s a central, foundational concept for the methods that I’ll be sharing throughout all this, so I think it would make a lot of sense if we go ahead and lead off with it, so here’s the “Black Hole of Digital Marketing.”

A while back, I was in a meeting where we were discussing ways of enhancing the initial interactions between our organization and potential clients and ways to streamline the hand-off from marketing to sales. I manage the team that qualifies leads for my organization, and we’re called the Marketing Response Team.

I had this particular idea for quite some time (going as far back as three or four organizations ago for me), and this meeting gave me the perfect opportunity to really pitch it.

At first, I was having a hard time describing it, so I got out a pen and paper and just drew it out and walked them through it. It almost seemed like a lightbulb went off because they immediately saw where I was going (it’s actually really simple), so after that, I was tasked with creating a digital course on this concept of the “Black Hole of Digital Marketing” for my organization.

This concept is not product or industry-specific, and the way I pitched the idea in that meeting was as if it was (and I mean this), a “discovery” that I had.

To make this discovery, I had to bounce around and work at a few different organizations in different industries. I also had to spend a decent amount of time on both sides off the marketing and sales fence (right about nine years on sales-side and just over three years on marketing-side now).

During this time, I did pretty well and got to make a decent amount of money, but I also experienced some frustration and even career regression for a bit. I went through a divorce and a layoff and went from making pretty decent money to scraping by at times – but it was all necessary to able to experience and connect the dots for everything I’m breaking down here.

So, I basically drew out a timeline. I know a lot of people like sales-funnels, but I like timelines that show a linear order of operations. Of course I’ll use both at times, but in this case, I drew out a timeline of the necessary, fundamental action items that need to happen in order to go from first contact to close for a typical sales process:

  1. potential client does a search online, finds your company’s website, likes what he or she sees, submits a request to be contacted
  2. you then have an initial interaction, like a qualifying call
    • some people try to do this all through email – I strongly advise against this
    • email should be used as a tool for communication, not a replacement, so use emails when necessary but the goal should be to schedule the initial call – not to exchange a bunch of information
  3. if everything is a good fit, you have to have a successful hand-off to sales
    • this process for this handoff should be standardized and while on the qualifying call, the rep should clearly articulate what is going to happen so the potential client has clear expectations
    • if your sales team handles first contact to close, this is where they would transition from the Qualification Phase to the Discovery Phase
    • I’ve seen sales teams try to do everything at once and it gets really muddy really fast
      • sales people want to sell, that’s what they do – so it’s strategic to break up the different phases in your sales process because usually, no one says “yes” when they’re asked to get married on a first date
      • Also, sales people should be able to focus their efforts on selling, so if there are several deals in the works (as there should be), the sales person’s focus should be there, which means: new leads will often times sit unattended for a bit, which is not good because by the time the sales person actually has time to reach out, they could be fully immersed in the buying process with one of your competitors
  1. discovery call
  2. demo or proposal presentation
  3. if all goes well, a purchase is made and you have a new customer

Pretty simple, right? Of course, there can be variations to this, too. Some products or industries need a few more steps (some have even less), but this is basically the gist of it.

Also, there’s another very important sub-point to this: since anyone can search the internet and find your website at any time, day or night, weekday or weekend, there’s a very good chance that people will submit requests to be contacted who aren’t actually legitimate leads.

Sometimes:

  • people will submit a request and then, for example: resubmit it three times because they’re not sure if it actually submitted, so even though it looks like you have four new leads, it’s the same person
  • people who are trying to sell something to your company will submit requests in an effort to get a human on the phone so they can work their way up the chain of command
  • people will submit bad information so that they can get access to the information that’s hidden behind the contact form

So, consider all of these factors, and recognize that another very important function that the team that handles leads first serves is to: keep the garbage out of the sales pipelines. This way, your account executives can focus their efforts on closing deals and not sifting through everything to identify the real opportunities.

Plus, consider how our brains are like pattern-recognition machines.

What happens when a sales person calls out to five direct website inquiries and no one answers the phone? Or two of them answer but they were: “just messing around on the site,” or: “oh, I’m sorry … my kid must have submitted that.”

All of a sudden, ALL direct website inquiries are “junk” and not worth their time to dig through, so the actual opportunities will slip through the cracks and disappear into the Black Hole.

Realistically, it’s hard to wear both hats and switch back and forth between these two functions, and having a team that handles leads first and serves as gatekeepers who keep the trash out of the pipelines really helps the organization to be able to maximize the actual opportunities by quickly identifying them and getting them taken care of.

Here’s an example: in January, 2019, my organization had 253 requests to be contacted on our website and my team converted 97 of them into MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) for a conversion rate of 38%.

This is outstanding, considering how multiple sources indicate that a lot of organizations convert at closer to the 10% mark (but this can vary due to a lot of reasons).

This all sounds great and everything, too, but just imagine if a team like mine didn’t exist and 253 requests were all dumped into the sales pipeline.

The account executives would then be dividing their efforts between:

  • trying to track leads down for the initial qualifying calls
  • determining if leads were good fits or not
  • filtering out the ones who were not legitimate leads to begin with
  • actually giving sales presentations
  • follow-up activities
  • closing deals

So I’m sure you can see how real opportunities could slip through the cracks this way, especially if you have an outside sales team with people on the road all the time who aren’t at their computers for 8 hours a day, readily available to provide timely responses for people who submit requests on the website. My team has a goal of “Less than 10 Minute Response Times,” and we hear stuff like this all the time:

  • “I can’t believe we’re speaking already, I just submitted that!”
  • “Wow! You guys are FAST!”
  • “I appreciate your quick response and I look forward to working with [ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE]!”

If you work in an outside sales-type of environment that uses this digital marketing sales model, you’d still have an initial call, so really, it all starts on the phones.

Of course, you would use that initial call to set up the appointment to go on-site and handle the discovery portion where you go and inspect the job-site and take measurements for whatever you’ll be designing (think of general contractors and pool builders, as an example).

But regardless of product or service or industry even, this typical, digital marketing sales process model has:

  • an open
  • a close
  • and a few necessary, fundamental action items in between

So, something I’ve seen at several organizations now, is that they will go and work really hard at their digital marketing activities to make it so their websites rank high enough to be found when potential clients search for their products or services (as they should).

They spend tons of time, effort, and resources (money) to make this happen, and some will staff in-house SEO / digital marketing experts (Search Engine Optimization) or even partner with external agencies. And this is all good stuff.

When functioning properly, it creates (what I think) are the greatest leads in the world: inbound, direct website inquiries from motivated potential customers (minus the junk that also comes through that we’ve already talked about).

I’ve done both inbound and outbound sales and lead generation, and we all know inbound is typically way hotter – especially when someone is:

  • experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on his or her own
  • doesn’t know where to start so turns to Google
  • does a search, finds your site
  • likes what he or she see enough to fill out a request to be contacted

I mean, seriously: it’s a no-brainer to say that a potential client like this has a much higher chance of purchasing (and purchasing sooner rather than later). Intent to purchase is typically much higher, so these are your hottest leads (in comparison to most other lead sources).

the Contact & Engagement Strategy

Here’s the long and short of it: people make major purchasing decisions based on emotion and then they try to justify it afterwards with logic. We’ve all heard this before, and we all know it’s true – this is no secret.

I know I covered a ton of information throughout all of this, so if I had to sum it all up in a one-chapter elevator pitch, here’s what I would say:

Understand that people who contact you or your organization for help are experiencing a problem that they don’t know how to solve on their own and it’s frustrating, so they’re in a heightened, negatively-charged emotional state.

Whenever we’re in a state of mind like this, we have our guards way up; we’re essentially in a state of “high alert,” which means we’re very easily triggered by the slightest things. Our “heads are on a swivel,” so to speak, and while in this frame of mind, we’re extra vigilant about everything, extra cautious – and this is normal.

Consider all of this, then add in the fact that when we speak with anyone new for any reason, there is a ton of uncertainty and remember how we’ve all been essentially hard-wired to perceive most new things we come across as “threats” and most new people we run into as “foes.”

No wonder initial interactions are so tough, right?

Initial interactions – in business and in personal life – are really high-stakes encounters. Think of how none of us would be married to our spouses right now if we gave them a reason to be scared when we first met.

I was just speaking about this with my wife and we reflected back on our first date. She mentioned how I seemed really guarded but agreed that I gave her no reason to be scared, so of course I got a second date. She also gave me no reason to be scared, so it was mutually beneficial for both of us.

Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but I’ve have had plenty of first dates that never progressed beyond that point for one reason or another. And of course, I’m not trying to turn this into anything about advice on dating – but I am showing how “experience” – especially on the first and second meeting – plays a huge role in how relationships develop (or don’t develop).

I think a key to success in business is to replicate how successful relationships form in real life. If you understand the emotional and social dynamics that are present under the surface of every initial interaction, then you can proactively do something about it, and if you have the right communication strategy in place, you can consistently reduce the uncertainty in your potential clients’ minds and help them move to a state of certainty.

There’s a balance to all of this, too. Like, if you jump on a first call and blow through the words – intro and agenda statement, vital signs questions, what comes next – and you blast through and you’re done in a matter of three minutes, then you may have gotten all the logical pieces covered, but there won’t be any element of emotional connection.

Think of how someone sounds when they’re in a rush and sound like they’re just going through the motions – they sound like they’re doing you a favor by doing their job, right?

When it comes to tonality, you can most certainly come across like: “If-I-don’t-say-these-words-in-this-order-I’m-gonna-get-in-trouble-so-let-me-just-go-ahead-and-get-them-outta-the-way …”

Think of how someone sounds when he’s talking about something that he doesn’t really believe.

Think of how a person sounds when she’s asking a question but she doesn’t really know why she’s asking it.

All these sorts of little nuances detract from the experience that we provide – it’s like showing up for a first date and giving the other person a reason to not want to see you again.

I think that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to experience during initial interactions.

First call: 8 to 10 minutes, tops. 7 to 8 minutes seems to work, but I wouldn’t go any shorter and I definitely wouldn’t recommend going over.

Go longer and you run the incredibly high risk of disclosing too much information (think of the wedding in Tahoe from earlier). Too much too fast is a turn off for anyone.

Go any shorter than that, and you run the incredibly high risk of not really connecting on an emotional level. This scenario can be achieved by blowing through the call as if you’re just going through the motions.

I have to give an example of this:

My team wanted to tweak how they were opening calls, so I heard them out and we tested it. They went like how I listed everything earlier, but here’s the difference:

  1. Greeting
  2. Intro / Agenda
  3. So what’s your role?
  4. How long have you been there?
  5. So what can we help with?

The calls were landing in the 4 to 5 minute range after they did this. We have right about 3 minutes’ worth of scripting on our calls, so if you could just imagine, a 5 minute call where my team member spoke for 3 of them equaled a severe reduction in engagement from the potential client in comparison to an 8 to 10 minute call with the same 3 minutes’ worth of scripting.

I remember jumping on a call (I still like to make calls) and I naturally went in the order that I had written previously, so it went like this:

  1. Greeting
  2. Intro / Agenda
  3. So what can we help with?
  4. So what’s your role?
  5. How long have you been there?

Boom! 10-minute call with lots of engagement!

Now, what’s the difference? I listened to a few calls from my team, had them listen to mine, and it stood out IMMEDIATELY.

When I asked: “So, what can we help with?” we were right about :30 seconds in on the call. When they asked, they were closer to :45 seconds or so. What’s the difference?

Let me ask: How does it feel when you’re in a heightened emotional state and you reach out for help and the person you’re speaking with won’t seem to let you get a word in at first and then seemingly immediately starts interrogating you?

You’ll shut down and not really engage, either, because this is not optimal experience!

There’s a balance to this, too, of course. When I first took my team over, they had no communication strategy in place. They’d jump on a call and say something like:

  • Hi! This is NAME, calling from COMPANY. May I please speak with NAME?
  • This is NAME.
  • Hi NAME, how are you?
  • Good. How are you?
  • Just fine, thanks for asking. So, what can we help with?

And calls would then immediately spiral off out of control. It was kind of like if they got a giant fish on the line that immediately started swimming away and their reel would be spinning, spinning, spinning, and they’re trying to figure out how to grab it without breaking their hand or the line or the rod or all of the above.

It was very poor experience and they had absolutely no control on those calls. They’d get immediately put on the ropes during those calls and I’d hear them trying to diagnose issues and give specific recommendations two minutes in on the relationship, or they’d try to dodge questions by saying that their account executive will cover that with them.

  • “Well, who’s the account executive? Can I speak with him? Or her?”
  • “I don’t know who that is yet,” they’d say, while looking at charts and maps and rosters while trying to figure it out.

When I heard the potential clients on the recordings, I could almost always sense the frustration in their tonality, and for good reason.

I have this theory that when people need help, they actually like being told what to do – but only if they feel like they’re dealing with an expert. And those calls were not handled by experts. They were chaotic and this was the experience provided at the very top of the sales funnel. This poor experience was literally sabotaging the organization’s efforts to sell.

So anyways, 8 to 10 minutes, tops, for an initial interaction. That’s your sweet spot.

Gathering and sharing high-level qualification information is surface level, too. What’s going on under the surface is you’re psychologically driving the potential client’s decision-making process by getting them to chill out, relax, and open up because they feel like they’re working with professionals. You’re strategically not giving them a reason to not want to go for a second date.

While on the call, if everything is a good fit, end it by clearly articulating what they can expect next. Strategically use this initial interaction to set up the next step in the process, the second date, and then make it happen.

For the second date, the discovery call, reserve 30 minutes for this (and of course schedule it), but have a plan to be finished in closer to 20 minutes. There’s nothing worse than expecting something to take 30 minutes and it winds up being 47. It’s unprofessional and it makes it seem like they’re dealing with novices.

Casually mention the reservation of 30 minutes, but get done in 22, and what happens is, is you’ll under-promise and over-deliver, and it will make the potential client feel good because it will reinforce the perception set on the initial call that they’re working with pros. Plus, it’s ethical in comparison to setting up the next with the expectation it will take 10 to 15 minutes while knowing damn well it will take much longer.

While on the discovery call, if everything is a good fit so far, use this touchpoint to schedule the demo or proposal presentation. Whether it’s an on-site visit next or a webinar, clearly articulate what the potential client can expect next and make it happen!

When scheduling anything, I recommend using calendar invites.

Make sure they’re typo-free and clearly state what is coming up next, even if it’s just a few bullet points. Accepted meeting invites are a conversion metric – I used to have a folder in my inbox set up specifically for accepted calendar invites. When I got an accepted meeting invite, I could almost always count on the potential client being available for the next step with the appropriate amount of time set aside.

This contact and engagement strategy eliminates a lot of the runaround associated with sales as far as all the phone tag and email tag goes. It’s very professional and potential clients love this type of experience because it makes them feel like you’re taking them seriously and really looking out for them (because you are).

This strategy makes it where you can go from first contact to second contact to demo presentation to closed deal in a very streamlined and cohesive manner with no pressure, no games, no gimmicks. When each touchpoint strategically sets up the next step in the process, it creates the ideal, optimal experience for your potential clients because – get this: it’s impressive – especially when they’re dealing with more than one person.

By the time your potential clients reach the end of this strategy, they will have interacted with you at least three separate times. This gives them plenty of time and space so they’re not feeling rushed or pressured, and by this point, they should have all the information they need to be able to make a very well-informed and comfortable YES or NO decision.

If it’s a YES, then awesome! If it’s a NO? Then so be it – but don’t lose deals over something that you can, in fact, directly control: the experience you provide!

Whenever we speak with anyone new …

Whenever we speak with anyone new (or come across anything new), they instinctively determine answers for these questions:

  • Do I feel safe? YES / NO
  • Do I sense reward? YES / NO
  • Is the person / source credible? YES / NO
  • Is the information useful? YES / NO
  • Is the person / information interesting? YES / NO

Think of these questions as filters that anything new has to make it through in order for a person to really pay attention to whatever it is. Business, personal, doesn’t matter. Marketing? Sales? First dates? First time meeting your kid’s teacher at open house? First time meeting your neighbors? First time meeting your new doctor? Doesn’t matter.

If there is a NO for any single one of them, you will instinctively tune out whatever or whoever it is. You’ll either simply disregard the information and ignore it, or if it’s a new person, you’ll pretend like you’re listening – but meanwhile, your mind is on other things and all you can think about is escaping the encounter.

A person’s personality doesn’t even really come into play at first, especially considering how naturally guarded we are when we come across anything or anyone new. We all tend to fake it at first, right? We all put our best foot forward and suit it up and show up 15 minutes prior at first, but we all know how that will wear off after a while.

So, set the personalities aside, and understand that if you make it through the first :28 seconds and the other person has instinctively answered YES to those instinctive concerns, then they will want to work with you because they feel safe and they feel like they’re working with someone who can actually help them out.

And then after that (and it could be as little as 120 seconds after that), if it just so happens that your personalities align, then that’s just icing on the cake at that point, really.

Of course, I’m not saying that personalities don’t matter, but what I am saying is that if you make it past the first :28 seconds and there’s a NO for anyone of those instinctive questions, then alignment of your personalities doesn’t matter at that point. Neither does your expertise, when you think about it.

Like, think about how your expertise may never have the opportunity to shine through if you rub people the wrong way in the first :28 seconds of your initial encounter.

So really, what I’m showing you throughout all of this is how to strategically diffuse trust bombs before they have a chance to detonate – by mapping out where and what the hazards are – and then I’ll give you the framework on how to safely navigate them.

I see this as no different than turning your GPS on prior to taking a road trip. Like, why in the world would anyone just point their vehicle in the direction of (San Diego) and just hope they get there in a decent time? Like, that makes no sense to me considering how we all know that the quickest route from Point A to Point B is as straight of a line as possible. Why spend 16 hours on the road when you can spend 6, right?

Everything I’m mapping out is pretty simple to understand, too, but I know that if you were pulled into a conference room with some stranger consultant-guy for 90 minutes, much like what I experienced all those years ago, it wouldn’t be enough to do these concepts justice. Those were great ideas, too, but the organization experienced failure to launch with the rollout because no one really seemed to understand the “why” behind it all.

Come to think of it, I think it’s possible that the trainer didn’t even understand the “why” behind it all, and I really don’t know what the best execution plan would be for rolling those concepts out, either, asides from scrapping everything and starting fresh (which I know isn’t exactly an option for most organizations). Or writing an actual book, I guess.

I had success with this communication framework several organizations later, but it took time and it took having the right people, and I can tell you this: because of it, we got to a level of performance that was just amazing!

Everyone on my team knew exactly what they were doing and why; the quality of work was indistinguishable from team member to team member; and the quality of experience that they provided was consistently excellent and replicable from rep to rep, and we could tell because the calls all ended in a very predictable manner.

Potential clients would literally be relieved (you could tell by their tonality) to know that there was a chance that we could help them, and they’d sincerely thank us for following up with them and getting them pointed in the right direction. They would happily move to the next step in the sales process and work with our Account Executives, and our Account Execs were happy because they received leads who were happy to speak with them who had a legitimate need for the solutions we provide.

And by having everything broken down and mapped out, I was able to onboard new team members and have them fully functional and sounding like they had been with the organization for years after only being there for several weeks.

This made it where we were all aligned on the best way to do things versus having a system of chaos where everyone was doing things differently, and we resided, organizationally-speaking, at the top of the sales funnel; it all started with my team.

And I told them on a regular basis that: “I’m not interested in doing things differently, because we can always do things differently … I’m interested in doing things the best way possible!”

So, if anyone had suggestions on how to do things better, we would test whatever it was out, and if it withstood scrutiny and proved to be better than what we were currently doing, we would all adopt and align on it, and that way, everyone had the best ammunition for the fight. After a while, it got to a point where it was all running like a finely-tuned machine and, as the manager, I had the easiest job in the world. It took a lot of work to get there, though.