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:
- potential client does a search online, finds your company’s website, likes what he or she sees, submits a request to be contacted
- 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
- 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
- discovery call
- demo or proposal presentation
- 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.
- 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).
I’ve been working hard on compiling everything for the digital course for the First :28 Seconds, and I have everything just about ready to launch. I’m either going on Kajabi, Udemy … or both!
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:
- Intro / Agenda
- So what’s your role?
- How long have you been there?
- 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:
- Intro / Agenda
- So what can we help with?
- So what’s your role?
- 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 (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.
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 or the services / products we provided.
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, 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 for lots of different reasons because Google is always on the lookout for people and businesses who are trying to manipulate the system and do things unfairly (it’s why they have penalties).
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 team that calls out to pre-qualify leads and handle the bulk of prospecting (top of the funnel) efforts so that the sales team can focus more on closing deals (mid to lower funnel activities).
But something that I think a lot of people 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 that a good amount of junk leads can come through this channel, but when you set that aside for a moment, there are a few key characteristics of legitimate, inbound, 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 (at least 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
- Direct website inquiry leads are probably the most informed buyers ever, considering how much information we all have access to
- A good portion of the buying journey has been completed BEFORE you 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 sales process to the point where they can be quite demanding and even disrespectful
- It’s gotten to a point where buyers feel like it’s okay to be pushy and overly-critical and overly-skeptical
- Sales people oftentimes will cave under the pressure of demanding buyers
- Sales people 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 sales funnel behaviors cause a turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest at the middle and bottom of the funnel
- Yes, I came up with “turbo-nuclear hornet’s nest”
- Communication equals behavior; better communication equals better behavior
- More strategic and disciplined, top of the funnel behaviors lead to a sense of order and predictability at the middle and bottom of the funnel
- Organizations that out-behave will out-perform
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 (residing in the middle to bottom of the sales funnel), I didn’t care where or how they got leads as long as I got enough of them to produce what I needed to produce.
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 all those years for everyone (in all industries) to get their hands on lead lists, and of course, some of us started paying attention to lead 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: those leads were way hotter than everything else.
And, organizationally speaking, those hotter leads got mishandled on a regular basis by getting caught up in the mix with all the junk leads and bad behavior.
Several years after my time at that university, I heard that the Qualifying Center was shut down and that the enrollment counselors now have to handle the “first-contact” qualifying / prospecting efforts (in addition to everything else they do), and that introduces a whole set of other challenges (like previously mentioned – sales people trying to move too fast).
Inbound, direct website inquiry leads are hotter for obvious reasons, but just in case, let me try to spell it out a little. If you were a sales person and you had to choose between:
- a lead who visited your company’s website and asked to be contacted, or
- a lead that had been recycled through multiple contact lists that were bought and sold to multiple companies to pick through and call upon, repetitively …
Which would you choose?
It’s a no-brainer, right? I remember a common tactic that 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 the 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 (without a magnifying glass) so you’d 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 – what’s the goal of any company that uses a digital marketing model? 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 to the reasoning for the communication framework that I developed.
Although I believe that neuroscientically-designed communications apply to everything in life, the niche that I’m really focusing in on is more of the medium to larger-sized organizations who use this digital marketing model because it’s modern, it’s relevant, and really, regardless of products or services or even industries, digital marketing is here to stay.
I also really enjoy helping individuals to be more effective in their positions and helping businesses to grow – and to do so in the most honest and ethical manner possible.
Nobody likes dealing with needy or desperate people, right? Of course, this isn’t exclusive to sales people; think of if you both swiped right on some dating app and decided to actually meet up in-person.
If you show up and she’s immediately telling you all about how when she gets married both families are flying to Tahoe for a week and how her dress will look like this, and the bridesmaids will look like that, and the menu will have (on and on and on), you’ll be like: “I’m out!”
And of course you may not say it, but you’re thinking it – and her chances of getting a second date are pretty slim at that point.
Think about how if you need help with something bad enough that you get to the point where you’re doing Google searches and submitting requests to be contacted on different companies’ websites. And of course, we’ve all done this at one point or another, but what if you got called by someone who just sounded … cool, like:
- Confident but not cocky
- Authoritative but not abrasive
- Nice but not too nice (people who are too nice at first are weird, right?)
- Humble but not timid
- Enthusiastic but not all crazy
- Genuinely wants to help but doesn’t sound like he or she wants anything
You’d more than likely get a good, instinctive feeling about working with that person and the company he or she represents, and things will more than likely go smooth from that point forward.
Another secret weapon on calls is to (and I do this on every call), somewhere towards the beginning, casually mention: “… And I’m just taking some notes as we speak here. I wanna make sure I get everything right …”
This is really a command to: SLOW DOWN.
It makes the potential client feel good, too, because you’re paying attention and taking them seriously. This works EVERY TIME. They’ll slow their rate of speech down just a little bit and they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re actually paying attention. This is literally a piece of “active listening skills,” which is an often-times overlooked aspect of communication. Active listening is an especially crucial component of communication, though – especially when over the phones – so this is a secret weapon way of showing that you’re actively listening.
And to prove that there is a logical flow to the way questions should go, I’ve done an exercise with my team where I’ll randomly ask the questions on worksheet. I’ll talk through the end of the Intro and Agenda Statement and I’d ask:
- “So, what can we help with?”
And then I’d basically rattle off some typical things our potential clients would say and then start asking questions, like:
- “What’s the best number to reach you on?”
- “The one you called.”
- “Okay, and … how did you hear of us?”
- “Internet search for Credit Recovery.”
- “Okay … do you know your district enrollment, by chance?”
- “Um … I think it’s about … 2,800.”
- “Okay … How long’ve you been there?”
- “Um … 2 years.”
- “How many students would we be looking to serve?”
- “… about 80.”
- “And what’s your role at the school?”
- “I’m the principal.”
See? It makes no sense and I sound like some novice who’s reading off some checklist.
Meanwhile, if you have your questions strategically mapped out, they’ll sometimes even start connecting the dots and they’ll give you answers to questions before you even ask them, and this is really how you can get people to open up and feel like they can trust you.
Not to get too crazy into neuroscience here, but when people start “clicking” like this, their brains start producing dopamine and it feels good! (This is also how real rapport gets built and why if feels good).
And then, have “What Comes Next” mapped out, and be able to confidently (and accurately) say what they are. All of this only serves to further solidify the fact that your potential client is working with an EXPERT.
I was in Austin, Texas, working with our teams there on stuff like this (communication frameworks), and one of the team members there laughed at the part where I was talking about this.
“You laughed,” I said, and she felt embarrassed for a moment. “No, that’s a good thing!” I said, “you laughed because of how simple this is, and that’s a good thing. Like, ‘Duh!’ right?!”
And they all laughed and got it.
When I map out frameworks and process flows of any kind, I really do it with a reductionist viewpoint. Meaning: I do my best to reduce the complexity and make things as simple as possible. Communication wants to flow in a certain way, so identifying how it wants to go and channeling it in a way that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved is a good thing.
So, if your organization has a team like mine that handles leads before they go to sales who operate on this level, what this does is, is it lays the groundwork for this “next-level” type of optimized experience throughout the entire sales process and beyond.
Potential clients LOVE this. And account executives love this, too, because what we’re doing on these calls, asides from basic qualification (surface level activity), is we’re purposefully aligning what the potential clients want (some help) with what the organization wants (to help them) and doing it in a way that doesn’t set off alarms.
“I’m not concerned with what potential clients KNOW about the organization when they get off the phone with us,” I’ve told my team, many times. “I’m concerned with how they FEEL.”
If your organization has sales reps who handle first contact to close, then all of this still applies.
I think a big risk that runs in environments like those is the sales people get eager and they want to jump straight into sales mode whenever they speak with anyone. If you get eager and jump the gun, it spooks people and they get scared off, so even if you handle first contact to close, it would be wise to have a clear line of delineation between your marketing / qualification / sales efforts.
Lead qualification, at least from what I’ve seen, typically gets classified as a “marketing” function, but realistically, it should classified as a “sales” function because the sale starts the moment humans first start to speak.
You see, a big misunderstanding that I’ve seen out there (I’d go as far as to call this a fatal flaw), is that people think the sale starts when they’re walking a potential client through a demo or a proposal, because this is the point where money can finally be exchanged for goods and services. But, if you are picking up what I’m putting down here, then you’ll understand that the sale starts the moment the humans start to actually speak – it starts when you go through qualification and intelligence gathering, and how you transition to the next phase of the operation, and the next.
Experience plays a HUGE role in how people make purchasing decisions, so it’s mission-critical to have a standardized framework for how your teams interact with potential clients in the pre-sale relationship (as well as the post-sale relationship).
Because of how precise and thorough my team is when handling leads, the account executives we support never have leads ask them:
- “So, how long is this gonna take?”
We diffuse that bomb before it has a chance to go off because of what we explain when we tell them about “What Comes Next.” From our scripting:
- “And since the next call with [Cara] will be a much more thorough, much more in-depth needs analysis call … she will 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 …”
Potential clients also never demand quotes immediately, because my team takes the few seconds or so to explain that:
- “Alright, so first off, I just wanna let ya know that we don’t have any sort of like, set packages or one size fits all solutions … so if we do anything for you, it will be customized according to lots of different factors,” and of course after that we tell them about the next call with Cara.
And what we’re doing with this style of communication, really, is we’re getting the leads to TAKE. US. SERIOUSLY.
And I know I showed some conversion rates earlier, but this is why there was a drastic shift in lead quality for my organization throughout 2018. It’s because of these strategic, communicative tactics that are used by the team that resides at the top of the sales funnel.
When I first started at this organization, not even kidding – I’m talking about my sixth day on the job; I had scheduled calls with the sales managers and this one says to me: “Well, your team sends us all these leads and they never even answer the phone, so what’s the point?!”
Well, things have changed for my organization, and I’m sharing my secrets with you. This is all some SECRET WEAPON, GAME-CHANGING STUFF, and the words in these frameworks are just a fraction of it: seven percent.
Ninety-three percent of it is having the right information for this point in the relationship, organized in a logical and coherent manner, in a FRAMEWORK, and having team members who know how to use the right tonalities and inflections at the right places.
This style of communication is powerful! And this is really WHY the leads that go through this process are responsive and happy to take the next steps and speak with our account executives, and it’s all on one page – it’s not complicated at all!
I mean, what’s the alternative? Just get on the phone and wing it? And hope for the best?
I’ve designed a few pretty simple worksheets for a couple different organizations now for their reps to use on calls. And of course the worksheet I designed is really more of a template, so you could design one like it that has a different format or flow to it, but there are some key advantages to using something like this.
Having a strategic tool like this helps to ensure that your reps are:
- Gathering and sharing the right information for the touchpoint
- Staying on track and not skewing off into tangents that pull them off course
- Not letting potential clients skew off into tangents that pull them off course
- Providing consistently excellent experience from rep to rep
- Ultimately, meeting the goals of the particular touchpoint
Those are all surface-level, too. Not to say that they’re not important, because they are – but remember, under the surface, there are some very consistent psychological things going on during initial interactions.
The brain is a pattern recognition machine, so if you have questions that are random and sporadic, it throws the other person’s brain a cognitive monkey wrench. Meaning: if they don’t make sense or if there’s no rhyme or reason to the questions, then it makes it seem as if you’re a novice who’s just reading random questions off some survey or checklist or that you’re winging it with no plan.
Cognitive dissonance causes people to tune out because it causes threat alarms to go off in the other person’s subconscious mind. If we were on the phone right now and you’re trying to influence me about anything but what you’re saying doesn’t add up, I will very quickly check out of the conversation as my inner monologue races off about what’s for dinner (or something random, you get the point).
So, with this simple, one-page worksheet that has the questions strategically sequenced, I’d suggest taking a few minutes before the call and fill out what you can (name, company, who the Account Execs might be, stuff like that), and after your intro and agenda statement, use it to ensure that you stay on track with the call.
How can you tell who’s in control of a sales interaction? By who’s asking the questions.
So the questions you ask should go in a logical sequence, starting with less-invasive questions to more invasive, and doing this makes it easier for leads to answer because, check this out:
If you jump on the phone and go through your intro and agenda statement then immediately ask: “So, what’s your budget for this?” then you have just created a massive, uphill battle for yourself from that point forward. And of course budgets are important to discuss, I’m not saying to avoid it, but you’ll find that potential clients are typically much more forthcoming with that type of information after getting basically warmed up to it.
So, I get that BANT makes it easy to remember:
but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going in that order.
As an example, on my team, we always (towards the beginning of calls) either verify or ask a person’s role, like:
- “And you’re the [ROLE] there, right?”
- “Yep, sure am.”
- “That’s awesome! How long’ve you been there?”
- “Who me?”
- “Oh … about four years now, ha ha!”
And you’ll hear them just open up and get a little cooler at that point because (and this is some secret weapon-type stuff here): we took an active-interest in them as a person by asking a personally-professional question that acknowledges their accomplishment of earning whatever title they have – and it MAKES THEM FEEL GOOD.
They get cool and they open up because, psychologically, it feels good to be acknowledged. Is it a play to the person’s ego? Yes – and so what, right? Everyone likes to be acknowledged, but no one likes insincerity, so there’s a balance to this, too.
Shoot, I have to give an example:
- “And you’re the [ROLE] there, right?”
- “Yep, sure am.”
- “CONGRATULATIONS!! How long’ve you been there?”
- “Six years now …”
At this point, the potential client checks out because the rep sounds fake and disingenuous and it sounds like the rep wants something, so it sets off alarms.
In this moment, does the rep want something? Yes, of course.
In this moment, does the potential client want something? Sure does!
So, is there a way to purposefully align what they both want so we can predictably achieve an outcome that’s mutually beneficial for both parties involved? Absolutely!
But first, let me ask a question: why is it so annoying when people are needy and whiny?
Like, there’s a reason for why we get annoyed when people want something (especially strangers), and it goes back to our pre-historic, tribal cave-person days.
If you think about it from a primal standpoint, the world is a dark, scary place to be.
Of course with modern advances in medicine and technology, we’ve come quite a ways, but think about how much safer the world is now versus … 100 years ago. We’ve come a long ways, but – evolutionarily speaking – that’s hardly a blip on the radar.
Now, I’m not going to spin off into some crazy tangent about science and evolution, but we all know the world is pretty old – at least thousands if not millions or even billions of years old. It takes a long time for evolutionary changes to occur in humans (and other species), so when you think about how our brains are essentially hard-wired in a certain fear-based, survival-based way, it should make a lot of sense why someone who is needy is annoying – especially strangers.
Imagine we’re in a tribe, just out there in the wild, fending for ourselves. What sets humans apart from all other species really comes down to two things:
- Our willingness to protect each other, and
- Our willingness to share our resources (namely: food and shelter)
So, let’s say two strangers approach our cave who have (barely) survived an attack from a pack of saber-toothed tigers. Everyone else in their tribe got killed and eaten, but they made it out.
These two strangers are now THREATS TO OUR RESOURCES because they’re going to have a hard time defending themselves and those around them. They’ll be eating our food and using our stuff, so they’re literally threats.
And of course we tend to be a little more forgiving with our own children, right? They can be whiny and needy up to a certain point, sure, but after a while, we’ll want to make sure they learn to fend for themselves. All of these behaviors and tendencies are still true today, but things around us have changed.
We no longer have to go out and hunt down our food and drag it home to our caves, but we still need to eat. And for the most part, we don’t live in caves anymore, but we still need shelter, right? So, we have apartments in the city and houses in suburbia and everything, but we’ll get super-annoyed, super-fast when someone comes over and say: wears out their welcome and stays longer than expected and doesn’t help with anything.
It’s annoying that my 16-year old daughter holes up in her room and doesn’t engage with or help her “tribe” for extended periods of time. Eventually she’ll venture out of her room to get food and then go back to her video games, and then I’ll have to remind her to wipe her bathroom down and do her laundry, but my goodness – imagine if she did the dishes just once a week? Or took the trash out every now and then?
It’s even more annoying over breaks from school because I’ll get up early, go to work all day, and then come home to dishes in the sink, trash overflowing, dirty bathroom, messy room, and I’m like:
- “What were you doing all day?”
- “Existing,” she’ll say.
- “What have you helped with?” I’ll ask.
- “Nothing … I didn’t know there was anything to help with.”
- “Well, you have helped with a few things,” I told her. “You helped with running up the electric bill, and water bill … and you ate the food, and used the wi-fi to play Fortnite all day …”
Annoying, isn’t it? If we were cave people, after a while, this type of behavior would get a person banished from the tribe, and banishment back then equaled death because a person could not survive on his or her own. And this is still true to an extent – modern society is set up to where it’s pretty much impossible to venture out and survive on your own without any help from others.
I’ve spoken with my kids about all of this, and how, yeah, I’m not going to banish them, but this stuff, LIFE, is hard, and it’s borderline impossible to do any of this by ourselves. We need to be willing to help each other and look out for each other, and how small teams with members who are self-sufficient who can fend for themselves (to an extent) have healthy division of labor amongst its members.
It’s not fair for one person to:
- go out and hunt down the food
- drag it home
- cook it
- feed the rest of the tribe
- clean up after them
- watch the fires all night to make sure the saber-toothed tigers don’t kill everyone
- then wake up the next day and do it all over again for the rest of his or her life
We all know that wouldn’t be fair, so we all have this instinctive ability to just know when others aren’t helping out with things, and it’s annoying because it’s a threat to our resources and our group’s overall chances of survival.
Now, I know that was a bit of a rant, but it serves two really big purposes:
- It explains why people who are needy are instinctively labeled as threats
- It ties into the basic neuroscientific principles we’ve hit on throughout this [BOOK?]
When developing this course, I ran an experiment on myself.
Check this out … I know this material like the back of my hand …
And, what you’re getting in these … blocks of instruction … are really the tip of the iceberg … I mean, this stuff took me … literally years … of research and development … to be able to compile it all in a logical and coherent manner.
And … I can speak about this stuff with … certainty … and in the most thorough and in-depth manner … so at first, I just … pressed RECORD and … went with it … when starting out on recording all this …
And … guess what?
I didn’t SOUND that good. I mean, I sounded okay … but I didn’t sound … as … good as I sound right now.
And why is that?
Well, I think that it’s very possible to be the world’s biggest … subject matter expert about whatever it is you specialize in, but if the way you come across sounds … like, just … not the BEST … then it undermines your credibility … right off the bat.
You can have the best words, the best information … but if you sound nervous? or like you’re just … winging it? … then you’re sabotaging your efforts to get your point across … whatever it may be.
I think that there’s really only one way to be able to communicate fearlessly about anything, and that’s with the right amount of strategic preparation …and practice and rehearsal …
And so … I’m a fan of scripting things out, and planning … but you have to know that … it goes beyond words here.
I mean, remember from earlier … words are 7% of our communication and 93% is how we come across.
In fact, look … I’ll flip this around and show you … I HAVE THE WORDS RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF ME … for all of this … and you don’t care, right?
I mean, think about it … having things scripted out is NOT the true objection here.
If a person sounds … IF I SOUND … nervous, or inauthentic … or scared … then that’s where the true objection lies .. that’s what sets the alarms off.
Think about how … it doesn’t really matter if we have the words in front of us or not … I mean, we’re still formulating what we’re gonna say next whenever we’re presenting information about anything.
Anytime we’re engaged in dialogue, we’re carefully choosing our words … and sometimes we’re saying things we’ve said a million times already … so it doesn’t matter if it’s all memorized or all right in front of you … we’re still following a “script” of some sorts.
You see, the problem with scripting … lies in the fact that typically when we write, we write properly …
But when we speak? We tend to cut corners … linguistically, that is … and we tend to round things off, and mash words together, and contract things that we normally don’t contract … and stuff like that.
So, let’s say you write out a perfectly-worded piece of information … like … an intro and agenda statement for a call.
If you read it just like the way you wrote it, all proper and everything … you’ll sound forced, and inauthentic … and maybe even nervous …
So the key to preparing communications frameworks that sound authentic … is to write’em the way you speak, which means … write’em conversationally, less formally.
And then practice … read it aloud, and modify it and just really … dial it in … until it all flows naturally and what you have written down is aligned with how you speak … and what this does is … is it allows you to provide OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE every time you hit the phones.
And remember, it’s more than just words … look, I’m a human, too …
I’ve got kids and I’ve got to get’em ready for school in the mornings and it never goes as smooth as we hope for …
And if we miss the bus then I’ve got to drive’em to school … and they actually go to two different schools … and if I miss one, it puts me behind for the other one, then I have to park and walk them in …
AND THEN … I’m like Samir from Office Space, fighting traffic to get to work …
So I get in … scrambling, I’m late … and frustrated from dealing with kids and traffic and everything …
And now … the phone’s ringing. What do I do?
You see, having a framework mapped out … for me … and my team … what it does is … is it really helps us to just TURN OFF ALL THE NOISE … so we can really focus in and deliver the best experience … every time we … make or take a call.
Like, it really helps with being able to snap into the right mindset, and this is crucial … like, think of how we sound when … we’re scrambling … or frustrated? It comes across in our tonality … and detracts from the experience.
So … really, having a communications framework mapped out helps us from sounding like … remember Janine from Ghostbusters? When she was like … “Ghostbusters, What do you want?!”
So of course … I think that stuff like this is important … like, mission-critical important … but … check this out:
In all the different industries that I’ve worked in …
I mean, I’ve worked with all kinds of different leads and different personalities … and … I mean, I’ve done business with CEOs and VPs and Presidents of Fortune 500 companies and …
Real estate agents and general contractors … and everything in between …
And I can say, WITH CONFIDENCE … that … in all my experience … that executive-level education leaders are, perhaps … the MOST … professional communicators out there …
Like … it’s their NORM … to speak well and write well …
So … what happens when ANYTHING falls outside of our norms?
It pretty much immediately gets classified as INFERIOR … and remember … from that neuroscience stuff earlier how … when we jump to conclusions about anything, they’re pretty much always negative.
Like, we’re always much quicker to assume the worst about things.
Alright, so we ended that last section with “nailing the greetings on calls,” and … this is crucial …
I mean, inside sales, outside sales … doesn’t matter. It all starts with a phone call … or at least with leads you get from my team.
But there is a variation to this, and it’s when they identify themselves when they answer the phone, like …
RING, RING, RING …
Them: Hello, this is Dave?
In this instance, it STILL WORKS … to say: “Hi-yes, Dave?”
I mean, trust me, he’ll still say “Yes?” and fall right into the trap … BUT … it’s a little weird because he’s already said his name, so it seems like maybe you weren’t … paying attention and it can send off signals that trigger … cognitive dissonance … in Dave’s mind …
I mean, it still works, though … but … the other variation … what I do when this happens, and I’m prepared for it every time I make a call because it’s either gonna be A: they just say “hello?” without identifying themselves, which is the majority of the time … or it’s B: where they identify themselves
But anyways … it goes like this:
RING, RING, RING …
Them: “Hello, this is Dave?”
You: “DAVE! Hey! This is Tom, calling over from Wherever?” And I’m just calling to … (then the rest of the call).
Guys, seriously … That SPARK … of ENTHUSIASM is CONTAGIOUS … and at that point, you got’em hooked.
Does it mean they’ll be immediately ready to sign? Of course not!
But … from that point forward … they’ll be HAPPY TO BE SPEAKING WITH YOU instead of rushing you off the phone … which is what happens when you sound just like everyone else, like:
“Hi, my name is Thomas Hurley, calling from COMPANY… May I please speak with Mr. David Milo?”
“Hello, this is Thomas Hurley, calling from Wherever … Thank you so much for taking my call … How are you today?”
You hear stuff like this, and what does your brain start doing? … It starts racing for a reason to get off the phone!
Like … you’re not saying it, but when you hear normal greetings like this, you’re just, immediately thinking:
“WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?” And “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW.”
And you know what I’m talking about.
Plus, in an industry like ours, where it seems like hardly anyone has a direct line and you’re constantly dealing with Gate Keepers …
I mean, think about it … if you sound just like everyone else out there, then what do they do?
They SHUT YOU DOWN … because … it’s their job to keep intruders out AND that’s NOT … how people … who know each … other speak.
Get it? It’s not … in-the-familiar, like when you sound NORMAL, like everyone else out there … then you sound like a STRANGER, and Gate Keepers are just doing their jobs, really … I mean, it’s their job to keep the strangers OUT.
Meanwhile, say something simple like, “Hi-yes, Dave?” Which is what’s known as a PATTERN DISRUPTOR …
And they’re like, “Oh, no … you got Tom, let me put you through … and they just step out of the way. I’m not even kidding …
My team does this … all the time. We call it Steamrolling Gate Keepers.
Guys … this is some secret-weapon type stuff here …
Like think about it … people hear the same old greetings all the time, so they typically offer up almost … pre-programmed, blow-off responses, especially Gate keepers …
Where they’ll cover and say the person you’re calling for is … “In a meeting right now” or “Out of the office at the moment … may I take a message?” … and they’ll do this even if the person is STANDING RIGHT THERE …
Here, I’ll show you a few examples: