Our business environment has changed dramatically. Companies must now be disciplined and market-driven if they want to stay alive. They must do more - much more - than create a buzz, or have a well-known brand. Just read the papers: the stock and balance sheets of brand names have plummeted faster, in some cases, than the unknown companies.
As a result the sales discipline is moving into a new-found call to action for lead generation. If you don't take this opportunity to redefine what sales can be, it will remain just another format for finding a way to get your product pitches heard. It's time to recognize that sales is not a one-off event: it is a process that needs to be mapped out and integrated thoroughly - from product creation, to supporting a buyer's discovery of how your product fits into their business initiatives or personal agendas, to supporting the manufacturing of the product, the shipping, follow-up, and service. The longer you hold on to the belief that sales is a tactical activity rather than a strategic one, you're going to be at the mercy of market forces. Not to mention see our products become a commodity.
Indeed, it's time to speak to your customers and prospects, and help them determine whether there are opportunities to help them (and their customers) meet goals and objectives; you must also speak to your own internal support folks to help them understand that while you're bringing in leads, they must establish distribution, r&d, help desk and service initiatives that serve the product creation and support.
If you don't, and continue to use sales and lead generation as a push to promote product data rather than
1. become business partners with your customers,
2. help your customers make complex decisions out of more
complex buying environments,
3. create loyal customers,
4. use your sales folks as brand ambassadors,
5. increase revenue,
6. put your customers into the feedback loop to enhance your
support and product creation,
you're going to end up in the same place you started.
Using the Buying Facilitation Method I've introduced in my book Selling with Integrity, you can actually use this opportunity to become true business partners with all of your prospects. Even if it's retail sales - or software or financial services or large ticket solutions - you can become business partners with your prospects and thus brand yourselves in as opposed to your competition.
I recently went to make a small (very small - $15) purchase at a counter at Nordstrom's. They didn't have the product in. She asked me my criteria: was it the product? The time frame? The store? For me it was the time element. The woman behind the counter actually WALKED me to a competing store to make sure I'd get what I wanted! Now THAT'S branding. She got my criteria and made sure I got my needs met. I suspect if the competing store wouldn't have carried the item she would have done SOMETHING to get me what I wanted NOW.
In this time of slow business and a skittish economy, it's your job to create trust and brand loyalty through each and every client interaction. While seeking and contacting leads, use this opportunity to become a business partner with your client. Instead of telling them about your offering - even if it's clear to both of you that they need it - take the time to go down the Buying Decision Funnel and assist them in discovering all of the issues that need to be lined up in their unique, internal systems, for them to make their best decision.
What has kept them where they are (i.e. without handling the problem or need)? What has been tried in order to fix it - and failed?
What is going on with the people, the politics, the partnerships, within the company that makes it difficult for them to change?
Or add something new into the mix?
Or spend money?
Or possibly create chaos?
What has gone on around the problem area in their history that makes them want to hang on and not consider change?
They won't have ready answers, but with the facilitative questions, they will be able to get a much more complete picture, and may be willing to note congruences to make new decisions.
As you know if you've been reading these newsletters for a while, it's never about your product: it's always about the buying criteria of your prospect, how they need to address their 'problem space' and stay congruent with their values and history and initiatives. You can help them in discovering that which is difficult for them to see, and in the process become a trusted advisor and support.
As a result of using this process, you could even use a front-line lead generation team to 'warm the client up' and hand over to the sales rep the hot lead - knowing that by the time the sales rep gets the lead it's ready to close because the customer has already decided to buy.
Use your lead generation to put your sales initiatives to good use. Use the sales function to be the service providers in your company, regardless of what you are selling. Create the trust that you want to be recognized for and spoken about in your business sector. At this point in history, that's as good as it gets.
Many companies are outsourcing their lead generation even while their sales continue to plummet: the current thinking goes, "If WE can't get it right the way we're doing it, let's let someone else do it for us. Not only that, we can get the outsourcers to give us hot leads and save our sales folks the trouble of warming up the cold ones."
Don't get me wrong. I truly believe in outsourcing. You're not capable of being - nor do you want to be - experts in every field. Let each of us be expert in one or two fields, and hire each other to do what we each do best when expertise is lacking.
But I've seen some problems using outsourced lead generation companies as a vehicle to improve sales. Many companies don't realize the amount of specificity that is necessary to make sure they get it right.
Before engaging an outsourced lead generation company, you need to know exactly what you want going in and teach the lead generation folks how to approach your customers in a way that will support a purchase, not a pitch. As it is now, by just giving them product information to be pushed and shared, you are not setting appropriate parameters for the outsourced providers and thereby losing a wonderful opportunity to turn your businesses around.
Some companies outsource their marketing and sales before fully understanding the potential buyer's profile; the step of market validation is often overlooked, starting with your offerings getting produced and developed using the age-old belief that if you can create it you can create the market for it. Customer demand is often guessed at, at best, and there's no understanding why customers will expend capital on one item vs. another.
One of the problems companies are facing is that they are not visioning the lead generation process as part of a whole: their campaigns are fragmented, with telemarketing, direct mail, on-line ad campaigns, advertising all being done in a fractured fashion. Rarely do companies or the outsourced vendors create the entire process in a coherent, strategic manner. They are thinking tactically rather than strategically when they design a lead generation program.
STRATEGIC RATHER THAN TACTICAL THINKING
Britton Manasco, a market strategist whose company, the Market Intelligence Group, provides market assessment and growth strategy consulting, believes companies aren't clear on their strategies. They say:
1. here are my goals;
2. how do I meet them.
They buy a list, and hand it to telemarketers and in-house sales folks, but there isn't any strategy for ensuring each channel (phone, print, email, mail) gets handled with a similar integrated approach that all happens in parallel.
Again, you go back to the faulty idea of product information: you assume that when folks see how wonderful your product offering is they will know just how and when and why to buy it. It's just not true: people buy when their criteria are aligned, when they know HOW to change, when everyone involved gives their ok - or at least has their needs and fears addressed (Intel has this decision-making strategy for folks who don't agree with a decision. It's called Disagree and Commit. They vocalize their disagreement so everyone hears and understands it, and then they commit to supporting the team. But they've been heard.).
So when you truly believe it's about helping folks decide how to buy, rather than selling a product, you enroll your outsourcing partner with a list of criteria around how they must support your client in relationship with the other initiatives you have put in place, so it's a congruent whole. This not only adds value to your partner or customer, but it gives your company a brand. A brand, after all, is a coherent story line and a relationship with your customers and employees. It must be used with telemarketers and with senior vp's, with help desk folks and assistants, and the CEO.
We all need to be serving our clients now. Each company, each customer, each team or family is an aggregate of human beings. Let's use our products as an excuse to go out there and serve as many of them as we can.
In fact, it's really the only game in town.
sharon drew morgen is the author of NYTimes Best seller Selling with Integrity. She speaks, teaches and consults globally around her new sales model, Buying Facilitation.
Morgen Facilitations, Inc.