Sales Question and Answer #14 – No response to emails

This is a Customer Management article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.  Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.

Article By Dave Kahle

Q.  Dave, I have been a fan for a number of years, and have a number of your books.  In the last couple of years, I have grown increasingly frustrated.  Why won’t people respond to my emails, return my voice mails, or even see me when I show up in person?  Am I doing something wrong? 

A.  You have asked a question that tens of thousands of other sales people have bouncing around in their heads every day.  I hope the response which follows will be helpful.

First, I can empathize with you.  You are frustrated that people who should be interested in what you have to offer don’t respond to your emails, don’t return your calls, and are hesitant to spend time with you. I can tell you from my personal experience, and conversations with lots of sales people, that you are not alone.  The condition you are describing is shared by hundreds of thousands of sales people.

What’s going on?  First, I don’t think it’s you.  It’s not that they are responding to other sales people’s emails and just don’t respond to yours because they don’t like you.  While that may be the case, (I have no way of knowing) I suspect that it is not.  I hear similar stories, and experience it myself, far too often to think that the problem is you.  It’s not you.  It’s them.

The reality is that things have changed dramatically in the past few years, and will continue to change just as dramatically in the next few years.  Your customers have too much to do, and not enough time in which to do it.  They are being asked to do more, in less time and with fewer resources than ever before.  Blame it on the recession and the relentless development of technology. 

That “too much” label applies to almost everything.  They get too many emails to thoughtfully reply to all but a handful.  They get too many voice mail messages to take the time to reply to anyone that isn’t directly related to a project at the top of their list.  They just don’t have the time anymore. 

They need to be productive, to get today’s project done, knowing that there are dozens of others vying for priority just behind it. So, your emails and phone messages get pushed down the list in favor of something that is top of the mind today.

            So, what do you do about it?

3 Tips to Add Value to all your Sales Calls

Here are some suggestions.  First, let’s think in terms of two classes of people:  Prospects, who have never bought from you, but could; and Customers, who have purchased in the past and know you.

For prospects…

1.  Be visible in the media that they use to do preliminary research on their options. 

A few years ago, most customers would maintain a base of sales people or companies that they knew provided a certain class of solution.  They would see those sales people in order to have some knowledge so that they could make an informed decision when they needed to.  They would allow you the time to identify some issues in their operations or businesses and propose some solutions. 

Today, many of them have replaced that process with searching the web and social media sites to identify the list of players to whom they want to talk, when they want to talk to them.  It takes five minutes to skim a website, as opposed to 45 minutes to visit with you.  It’s not that they will necessarily make a buying decision through these media (although if the risk is relatively low, they may), it’s that they do their preliminary research there.  If you’re not visible in the spaces they choose, you won’t be in the game.

So, do some research.  Find out where they go to make contacts, and put some time and effort in being there.  It certainly should be an attractive, informative website, and it could be certain LinkedIn groups, or Facebook, or even Google Plus.  By the way, in addition to on-line spaces, trade shows continue to be a place where buyers go to find sellers and solutions.  As a seller, they can be a great place to find buyers.  This will increase your chances of receiving a call and an invitation to visit when they have a timely issue.

2.  Do a better job of refining, prioritizing and qualifying your prospects before you attempt to reach them.

A few years ago, you may have had a list of 200 “prospects.”  Today, you will be more effective having researched, qualified and refined that list to a high-potential list of 20. With a smaller, much more highly refined list, your mindset changes. 

Instead of thinking ”I’ll made 30 outbound calls today and see if I can get an appointment or two,” you instead think, “I’ve got 10 people I need to get to see.  How can I do that?”

Your thinking, and therefore the actions that follow that, become less “quantity” and more “quality;” less tactical and more strategic.

This article is too short to address some ideas on how to get to those ten people.  I’d recommend a couple of learning units in The Sales Resource Center™: Cluster Cl-82: Making Appointments, Pod-47:  Making an effective first call, and Learning Action Plan #3: The Four Week “New Customers” Course.

            Now, let’s talk about customers…

3.  Change your mindset when it comes to phone calls, emails and live visits with your customers.

Be cognizant of the value the customer receives from your visit with him/her.  You cannot just “stop in.”  You cannot expect to take your customer’s time, unless you can reasonably expect him/her to get something of value from the time he/she spends with you. 

So, before you make a phone call, send an email and place a live sales call, answer this question, in as a detailed a way a possible, “What value will the customer get from the time he/she spends with this email/phone call/visit?”

This is a long-term strategy.  As you consistently adhere to it, you will gain a reputation with your customers.  As that reputation grows, you will find they will be more likely to meet with you.

When I was selling, I developed a rule which I have tried to stick to ever since.  If I did not have something that I thought the customer would likely think was of value to him/her, I would not attempt to see him.  I wouldn’t see him for the sake of seeing him. Over time, my customers grew to know that about me.  Then, whenever I called for an appointment, they were much more likely to meet with me, because they knew that they would likely walk away with something of value.

In the short term, try to do some of what you would do in a live visit in other media.  For example, email and use webinars to deliver information that you would previously have done in person.  Don’t limit your thinking of webinars as large group presentations. You can do a webinar product presentation privately for just one person.  We do a couple of those every week. Use some of these electronic media to save time for both you and your customer.

There are a number of other ideas that may be helpful to you, that I just don’t have time for in this article.  Let me suggest that you invest $97, buy a one month’s subscription to The Sales Resource Center™, and take this lesson, among others: Pod-48:  How to add value to all of your sales calls.

Unfortunately there is no simple, easy answer to this question.  You are going to have to challenge yourself to learn, change and constantly adjust, with no guaranteed solutions in sight.  This is why they hired you.  If sales were easy, they would have a computer doing it. 

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved.

Image “Matthieu on the phone” by Andre Mouraux on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Using CRM to Shorten the Sales Cycle

Clock Work ManOne of the biggest dangers in sales is letting a prospect hang out there too long.  Most sales people will tell you that time is traditionally your enemy and not your friend.  The longer a prospect waits to move forward; the risk of losing the deal greatly increases.

Today’s sales professionals are constantly in a race against the clock. Not only are they trying to close deals as quickly as possible but they are often racing against monthly and quarterly quotas.  The good news is that there are now very good sales management tools available to help shorten the sales cycle. One tool that many sales professionals utilize to help shorten the sales cycle is CRM software.

Sales Management Software

Most CRM systems include the ability to manage the sales cycle from introduction to closure and create alerts along the way if a deal is not moving in the right direction.  There are a couple key features however that some CRM systems offer that will help shorten the sales cycle.

Salesforce Automation

A CRM with a customizable sales process management tool is very valuable to sales professionals.  Tracking potential deals throughout a sales process helps sales professionals track the amount of time it takes to close a deal, forecast when they expect the deal to close and communicate effective messages to prospects based on where they are in the buying cycle. Some CRM programs also offer sales analytics making it easy for a sales professional to get an overview of his or her entire business.

sales-process-pipeline-by-stage
Sales Process Management

Organizational Structure & Decision Making

A CRM with an organizational chart can really help shorten the sales cycle as well. One of the first things a sales professional learns is to get to the key decision maker as quickly as possible. Identifying key decision makers is a huge challenge in sales. An organizational chart makes it easier to see who the executives are in the company and who may be making the final decisions.

OrgChart Reporting Structure
Use an Organizational Chart to identify Decision Makers

Shortening the sales cycle is the key to success for many sales professionals. Tools like CRM software are helping sales professionals better manage the sales process and remain focused on the most promising opportunities.

Image “Clock Work Man” by Sean MacEntee on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Has the Shine Come Off the Salesforce.com Apple?

Fruit - Juicy Red Shiny Apples

Commoditization now Helping Competitors

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Salesforce.com paved the way into the cloud based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software sector with a unique offering that made good sense for customers who were tired of spending months of time and thousands of dollars struggling to implement desktop software applications.  Being the first company in the SaaS, or software as a service sector, Salesforce.com was able to charge a hefty price for their offering and companies were more than happy to pay it. But that was then and this is now.

Today the CRM software sector has become highly competitive with literally hundreds of vendors offering some component of what is known as CRM.  In fact many industry analysts and consumers of CRM software believe that CRM is quickly becoming a commodity market and I would tend to agree.

CRM Software Pricing

The first sign of commoditization of any market is price erosion.  We have seen this across numerous industries like consumer electronics for example and we are now seeing it in the CRM sector as well.  In fact, over the past 24 months we have seen Salesforce.com repackage their offering on several occasions.  The repackaging is really nothing more than a clever way to reduce the cost to the consumer by offering product editions with fewer features.  But let’s be fair here. The same can be said for Salesforce.com main competitors SugarCRM and Commence CRM. However these companies never had super high price offerings to begin with so they don’t have the same business challenge going forward that Salesforce.com does and that’s customer renewals.

Customers who were once happy to pay premium prices for Salesforce.com’s unique offering may not be so eager to renew at the same high cost particularly when similar offerings from top rated CRM companies like Sugar and Commence offer significant savings.  I don’t think customers will be racing to change CRM vendors, but I do think that Salesforce.com will be forced to reduce the renewal cost to these customers or risk losing them to competitive offerings.  Either way this has got to be a concern for the company.  Of course time will tell.  History has taught us that the commoditization of any product or service is only good for the consumer.  But hey, that’s not a bad thing.

Image “Fruit – Juicy Red Shiny Apples” by Digital Wallpapers on Flickr under Creative Commons license.