Connecters versus Collectors Revisited

Over the years, I have written about and have aspired to be a good networking contact for friends and business colleagues. Recently, relocation to the Austin, Texas area has caused me to reexamine my personal networking motivations as I begin to connect with local people and businesses who are interested in revenue growth, sales enablement and sales best practices.  I also follow content from a number of networking experts, like Michelle Tillis Lederman, who is also a serious student of what it means to be a good “Connector”.  Michelle is doing a survey in preparation for her new book on Connectors, and is looking for input about how people assess their skills as Connectors. (You can access her survey here if you are interested in giving her feedback.)

During my dialogue with Michelle, I recalled that Malcom Gladwell coined the term “Connector” in his book The Tipping Point – by Gladwell’s definition, Connectors are seemingly connected to everyone important to your business. They can generate all sorts of introductions to key prospects, identify new sales opportunities and have the personal relationships to enable the right pipeline.  I think we can all agree that true Connectors in the sense that Gladwell describes are fairly rare individuals. But working to become a true Connector is something to aspire to, especially when so many people benefit from their unselfish acts as resources and colleagues.

Networking has always been an important element of sales, and even more so in the current market, where connection via social media, marketing automation and the ability of buyers to access information about products and services limits how sales people can have dialogues with prospective customers.

As a sales person and consultant, I use LinkedIn extensively to learn more about my potential clients and their businesses. Important insights can be gained just by looking at LinkedIn profiles and reading about the background of your potential customer, who they are connected with and how they communicate about themselves and their business to others online.  I have great respect for what people put online, and I try to connect with them when I can add value to that connection through a personal relationship, information that I can provide, or help that I might offer them as a potential supplier.

However, this is not always the case for many people who participate in social media like LinkedIn and Facebook.  On a regular basis, I receive connection requests from people whom I don’t know or are connected to me indirectly (in LinkedIn parlance, 2nd or 3rd degree connections). They don’t personalize their request, and for all practical purposes, they have no obvious reason to connect with me. I call these people Collectors.

If I request a connection, I always personalize my request by explaining to the recipient why I am connecting. When people request connection, I usually send them a thank you note after accepting their connection. I also ask they why they connected, and I offer to be a resource to them.  Some people take me up on this, but in many cases, they just respond that they are looking to communicate with me or they may request help in the future. The important aspect of this is that they respond to my message.

Conversely, a Collector never responds to my message, and I never hear from them. In some cases, especially when I don’t know the person, I will even remove them from my network if they don’t respond.  It’s so easy to click the Connect button and expect someone to agree, even though there may be no real benefit to them in doing so.

The important (often lost) point about networking is that if you are a Connector, connecting is not a gratuitous act.  While connecting on LinkedIn is not as high on the importance scale as personally meeting people or interacting in a sales conversation with a customer, how you treat your connections and what you do when you connect, in my opinion, sends a message to others about who you are and your motivations. My theory is that Collectors send out connection and friend requests because they want to have more connections on their profile to promote their personal brand and be found by searches on the social media product. Certainly, they have no motivation to communicate or to be a resource.

I applaud Michelle Lederman for her efforts to expand on the process and value of network connection, and I am looking forward to her future book on Connectors.

What are your thoughts on Connectors and Collectors?  Why do you think Collectors connect the way they do?

Help Michelle gain insights into Connectors by filling out her survey – you can link to her survey here.

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Sales as a Second Language – Learning to Speak “Sales”

If you follow the media coverage these days, you would think that everyone in business is learning how to speak a foreign language. It seems there’s a widespread perception that speaking a second language is a real asset: Rosetta Stone, the popular language training software firm, continues to report double digit customer growth. Here in Chicago, Language Stars (the firm that specializes in teaching kids foreign languages) caters to increasing parental interest by jump-starting kids’ second language skills. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe learning a second language wouldn’t be valuable in a future career?

I make this observation, because when it comes to sales effectiveness, I find that many senior executives haven’t learned “Sales as a second language”.

My colleague Spencer Maus recently pointed this out in a discussion about how business leaders decide they need help with their Sales team. He asked, why do executives decide that they need your sales effectiveness services? We reviewed this question in depth, and I want to share the valuable insights I gained from Spencer.

As a business executive, your career trajectory may or may not have included participation in Sales. No doubt, many smaller business founders/owners personally captured their firm’s original customers, or perhaps, someone with sales background was brought in to help the founders with Sales. My personal experience in larger firms is the majority of executive leaders didn’t advance through the Sales ranks.

Whether we started in Sales or elsewhere, our life experiences and business activities always expose us to sales situations. We accumulate personal and business experiences either as a potential buyer or in selling products or services to prospect and customers. Executives often participate in customer relationship development and key sales decisions.

Regardless, it doesn’t mean that person running the business has professional sales experience. For example, young attorneys may witness relationship development and selling by more senior partners and associates, but that doesn’t translate into real sales training, networking skills development, or how to find new clients in the context of a legal practice. More senior colleagues may have relied on personal friends or sales naturally evolved out of existing client relationships – not exactly what I would describe as professional selling.

While there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a personal network or getting additional business from an existing customer (especially true within Professional Services), that’s probably not enough to sustain a growing business in any industry. In my view, there are three important prerequisite elements that define an organization’s ability to professionally perform business development:

Intentional Sales Process

A defined, intentional sales process is the first prerequisite element. Defined, in that someone actually sat down and assessed how business development is done, what tasks are completed, the sales content (deliverables) produced, and how long it takes to perform each sales task. Call this “business process analysis” or whatever technical term makes sense, but as the cliché goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intentional, because everyone has a de facto sales process – it may be an ill-defined process that doesn’t produce intended results, but you still have a process. Management should put pre-meditated thought and effort into creating and managing a process that really works.

Sales (versus Marketing) Messaging

Intuitively, there should be a firm-wide consensus about what customer-facing employees say to prospects and customers, versus what is documented on your website, written in proposals, or presented in marketing collateral. Despite the critical importance of sales conversations, many firms fail to examine whether they have the right sales conversation with prospective customers.

While judging conversation quality can be subjective, there’s no reason why there can’t be internal consensus about what works or doesn’t work in a sales conversation. (I’ve documented in a previous post a detailed process to successfully assess sales conversations and messaging quality using the 99 Questions Methodology.)

Some business leaders believe it’s enough just to have good personal conversations and develop relationships. Here’s a brief story that illustrates why this approach has a limited probability of producing short-term results: one of my clients’ sales people regularly took prospective clients to lunch and they developed great personal relationships. After months of lunches, you would think that all the personal attention would have produced significant business, but these sales people never so much as asked the prospect if they could sell them something! Needless to say, these sales people had great customer “friends,” but no pipeline! They also didn’t have jobs once Management figured out what happened!

Create a System

Another famous cliché I have experienced is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. If you have a reasonable volume of business development, there has to be some way of tracking the process, monitoring employees’ communications, and evaluating whether their sales efforts are successful. For example, hiring more people because there is more work may not indicate real success. In fact, it may demonstrate how inefficiently you deliver products and services, versus generating more revenue and profit. Tangible methods of evaluating sales activities help to determine if the Sales people are producing expected results.

However, tracking the process doesn’t mean simply buying and installing a CRM system to record “sales” activities. There should be intense introspection to identify your target customers, how you connect with them, the steps that go into relationship building, how you know a sales cycle is making progress, how you evaluate each customer-facing person to determine if they are meeting relationship and revenue goals. Many firms acquire sales technology products based on the mistaken belief that a technology solution addresses these questions. By example, inputting data into an opportunity screen of a CRM tool doesn’t translate into effectively managing a client relationship.

Would You Learn a 2nd Language this Way?

To revisit the 2nd language analogy, there is no guarantee that you’ll easily adopt another language just because you are competent in speaking English. It takes training and practice, along with insights about why you need a second language, how you will use your second language, setting goals to become proficient in speaking the language, and making an intentional effort to continually improve. Systems like Rosetta Stone help to accomplish those goals by managing the learning process, and tracking results.

Why would you do differently when it comes to developing new business? Assuming you understand an entire body of business practices around creating, building, and managing a Sales organization is like deciding you can learn French just by reading movie subtitles. The recognition of Sales as a second language should be the realization you have the opportunity to help your business become more successful by learning and adopting best practices.

Bonne Chance!

If you are interested in discussing how to implement “Sales as a second language” or if you want to evaluate your selling process, sales messaging and/or sales systems, please contact me. You can find my colleague Spencer Maus at his website on marketing and public relations best practices, Spencerconnect.

Introducing the 99 Questions Methodology

How to use 99 Questions to solve your “marketing” problem

Senior executives always have unique perspectives about what they think drives successful sales in their business. Perhaps it would surprise you to know that despite the fact their businesses are in totally different industries, with different business models, and different types of sales people, executives usually tell me the same thing:

“I don’t really understand what my sales team is doing to find more business”.

The words aren’t always articulated in exactly that way, but I have come to understand they are talking about attracting and acquiring new customers. In a word, they are concerned about prospecting.

Internet Buyer Behavior

We can all agree that today’s Internet-driven buying process has created new behaviors where buyers assess potential solutions by doing Internet searches, viewing websites, reading social media reviews and comments, and finding analyst evaluations. Buyers no longer allow themselves to be subjected to sales prospecting tactics like cold calling and direct marketing. It’s just more difficult for sales people to attract new customers because they are typically required to use prospecting tactics that buyers find objectionable.

Ironically, the same senior executives who complain about how sales team prospecting doesn’t result in more new customers also don’t believe they need “marketing” to solve this problem. If only the sales team would just cold call more; or we send out more direct mail; or we get more business cards at trade shows; or we just get more leads from our vendor partners – then we would get more customers.

Unfortunately, this mindset doesn’t align with what buyers want, so sales teams that execute in this fashion are rarely successful. If buyers depend on searches, social media, websites, and analysts to decide what they are buying, it seems that whatever messages a firm delivers via media channels at least in part determines whether buyers will be interested in their firm OR NOT. Continue reading “Introducing the 99 Questions Methodology”

Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?

As many colleagues and sales people I have trained will attest, there is nothing more important than the sales and marketing dialogue your firm has with the marketplace.  I believe a challenge presented to most businesses is the integration of marketing content and sales dialogue, as described below in my latest guest post for CMSExpo. On May 15, I will be presenting a new approach to integrating sales and marketing messages which was created out of client experiences over the past year with 99 Questions.  My article provides an overview of the issues and  a high level overview of the 99 Questions Methodology.  I hope to see you at CMSExpo on May 15!

Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?

SalesvsMarketing

As a content management professional, no doubt you’ve been exposed to the process of creating and delivering content for your firm (or your client) to market and sell your (their) products and services. A primary use of your CMS is to act as a delivery channel for that content. Hopefully, that content is also used by all members of your firm, including your sales team, your service personnel, or other “customer-facing” employees within your business. The reality is that in most cases, that’s simply not the case. Continue reading “Sales Versus Marketing – What’s the Real Conflict?”

The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI

On Wednesday, May 15, I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion and speak at  CMSExpo, an annual conference devoted to all things content. I am an avid Joomla user  (the tool I use for my website), so I’ve been collaborating with a number of web developers and marketing consultants both to develop new business and to support them as clients. One such colleague is Avery Cohen, principal at Metrist Partners. Metrist and I are partnering to create new thought leadership around integrating sales and marketing content to produce revenue. Here is Avery’s recent article, also posted on the CMSexpo blog site, describing this new thought leadership. Many Thanks to Avery for allowing me to post his article here.

The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI

integrated-bottom-line

It’s a typical day at the office: The Sales Team says that Marketing isn’t producing good, qualified leads. The Director of Marketing is trying to keep up with a changing technical environment and production demands for content.

The Marketing Team is working on advertising, online articles, email and print newsletters, social media along with brochures, trade shows, and presentations. Search rankings are falling, and the cost of customer acquisition is rising.

Marketers are asked to deliver more high-quality leads, at a lower cost per lead, without acknowledging that there is an integrated bottom line. Increasing costs of new customers can be an indicator that we aren’t getting the right messaging to the right people at the right time…

Often, there are disconnects between:

  1. What the sales team is saying (and learning) in the field,
  2. The problems and real needs faced by our customers and prospects,
  3. The messaging our marketers are pushing out through our content marketing initiatives,
  4. The response we are getting from our online community,
  5. The results we are getting from our marketing campaigns.

It’s time to get Sales and Marketing to collaborate on content. Marketing can support the sales team by providing topical content on a monthly basis. This gives the sales team a relevant perspective to share with prospects and their client network. Continue reading “The Integrated Bottom Line: Sales and Marketing for Maximum ROI”