Separate Prospecting from Sales

Sales have a common peak and valley pattern which I propose is often created by the strategic management mistake of mixing prospecting with sales.

The pattern is set up like this:

  1. Sales rep makes cold calls until they get enough deals in the air to keep them happy.
  2. They stop prospecting and work the better and more profitable deals because that is how you incentivize them.
  3. This creates a gap in sales pipeline that becomes the next valley in their sales.
  4. When they get hungry again, because as deals close or dry up, they go back to step 1.

Sales Reps Bring the Business In

There are other problems with expecting sales reps to keep up their prospecting. The most obvious is that sales reps, in general, hate cold calls because of the high rejection factors and they see the upside in the later stages of the sales cycle. Seeing this connection requires a vision that very few sales reps have and quite frankly you do not want them to have that vision. You want the sales rep focused on bringing the business in.

Prospectors Gets Permission to Communicate

The other challenge here is that a top flight prospector is very differently skilled than a top producing sales rep. The prospector needs to pay attention to getting permission to communicate from lots of people, while the sales rep needs to advance the business relationship to a point where they can bring the deal home.

Different Positions – Different Skills

The performance metrics are also very different for these activities. The prospector needs to make lots of calls getting permission to communicate. This means they need to clearly articulate the basic value your business delivers and ask the prospect if they are interested in that. They will hear the word ‘no’ lots of times but if the offer of value for permission is strong they should be able to establish a success rate that you can plan from.

The sales rep on the other hand has to have extensive product and industry knowledge. Generally speaking they cost more in payroll to recruit and retain. The sales rep has to have the ability to advance the relationship from the prospect stage of “This is what we do – is that of interest to you? “ to a trust relationship.

Prospecting is hard work and some people burn out from the high rejection rate and repetitive nature of the work. Like most positions within a business this is because the wrong type of person gets recruited into this position. The same attributes that make a great sales rep great are not the same for a prospector. The prospector has to find value and success in the work.

Divide and Conquer

Sales is a process not a project, and as such it needs a continual flow of deals in all stages of the sales pipeline and it can take some time to find the right balance. Separating the prospecting and sales positions is a great way to maintain a steady flow of prospects for the sales rep to approach.

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7 Rules for Writing a Telemarketing Script

Writing an effective phone script is often the difference between success and failure of a phone campaign. The script is the guideline for the phone staff and the control of the message for the business. Ultimately the goal is to start a conversation that your business can continue with the prospect. So having a standard of what got delivered helps the sales personnel pick up that conversation and continue it.
We see lots of scripts written by lots of different specialists and many of them violate several common rules regarding phone scripts. In this article we will explore some of these rules.

1. Keep your script short

This is the first rule that most businesses violate and you can tell it instantly because if the script is longer than one page on a first contact prospecting call then you are over the line. You have to remember that you are interrupting the person you called and you need to be respectful of their time. If your script cannot be delivered in one breath then it’s too long.

2. Avoid Industry Speak

From getting your “Industry Leader” to “Thinking outside the box” to “User Friendly” and hundreds of others use of this jargon will instantly put your reputation in question with the person who knows nothing about you. Remember this is a prospect call and the goal here is to advance the relationship with the prospect. There will be plenty of time for your cute words later but right here and right now you want a very clear and concise script that clearly communicates with your audience.

3. Get to the point and ask your question

Many scripts go on and on trying to set the stage and organize the evidence that your proposal requires immediate attention. The problem here is that you are interrupting the person and in many cases they would like you to get to the point because until you do you are wasting their time.

4. Remove all unneeded words

Every word in a script should be examined and removed if it is unnecessary. Ask yourself – If I remove this word does it change the meaning? If the answer is no then delete it! Here is an example:
We are a world class manufacturer of gold plated widgets and we are seeking business partners that need high quality gold plated widgets for their space craft.
This can easily be trimmed to:
We are a manufacturer of gold plated widgets seeking businesses that need widgets for their space craft.
With no impact to the meaning of the statement the script was reduced from 27 to 17 words or about 37%.

5. Proposal steps

Many times the script writer will be the sales staff and that can be a real problem. They are accustomed to a process of proposal for a person that has already qualified themselves. After all, they asked for a proposal. In prospecting you are looking for people with an interest so ask them quickly.

6. If you have a strong brand – get it out there quickly!

If you happen to be lucky enough to have a strong brand that the prospect is likely to know, by all means find a way to put that in the first sentence. A strong brand will dramatically increase your response unless you have lost control of it. For example, almost every business in the search engine marketing business will drop Google’s name in the opening sentence and it happens so frequently that it means nothing at all.

7. Understand your goal for the call

Many script writers try to do way too much in the call. A prospector needs to move quickly through a long list and find the suspects that are really prospects. Normally this means getting one question answered and that question is “Are you interested in my product or service?” If the answer is ‘yes’ then your second question is “Can we communicate with you?” and then the call is over.

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SMS adds WordPress Design & Maintenance Services

Systems & Marketing Solutions announced the addition of WordPress Website Design Services under the SMS Design Lab brand. Dana Simonsen who recently joined SMS as a full-time web designer specializing in WordPress will be the lead Designer. She graduated from UC Irvine in 2009 and recently completed a Certificate Program at Cuesta College in Web Design Technologies. Dana will work closely with the AdWords and SEO Experts to provide the wide range of expertise needed to develop first class websites that produce real results.

Bob Dumouchel, CEO of SMS, stated that: “SMS is headed on a path to provide a full range of Internet Marketing Services with a number of additional services planned over the next few months. Finding a designer is fairly easy but finding site maintenance can be difficult. Finding designer services that are part of a team with PPC and SEO experts is exceptionally rare. Websites require continual tuning to remain competitive and they have to be thought of as a process not a project. You should never stop competing and your website has to continually evolve to win the game.”

For more details on these services visit WordPress Design Services

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The Risk of Asking for Too Much

All of us are guilty of the marketing sin of asking for too much. When we ask for too much we often get less than we could.  We want the market to do what we want, but we get what the market gives us because it is infinitely more powerful than any one business. We want instant gratification from our marketing but it simply does not work like that.

We often run into marketing plans that say “we do this and then that happens” and it’s a nice concept but it never works like that. Marketing is a social process with lots of steps in it. Over stepping can cause the whole process to fail. One good example of this is a recent B2B client that wanted to go from the first visit to an order. This is the social equivalent of getting married on the first date. As you might have guessed the proposal did not work out well and we had to pivot to another approach.  After burning up some of their budget they backed off and started an opt-in process to provide more information to interested individuals and their traffic started to convert. They asked for too much and got zero.

The reason the initial approach did not work is that they were asking for too much too early. They failed to establish a relationship with the customer.  People are complicated and they hate to be sold. What they want is to be educated on the decision they need to make. They need to learn enough about the product/service so they can justify to themselves that this is the right product/service from the right source at a fair cost.

When we ask for too much the downside is that the yes response rate goes down. Typically in a first contact situation the possible offers breakdown into:

  1. One time free offer – commonly product/service information
  2. Free Educational Offer – webinars, seminars, etc…
  3. Subscription – commonly a newsletter or other recurring communication
  4. Appointment setting
  5. Direct Order

The higher the commitment level of the offer the lower the response rate will tend to be and the drop off from level to level can be huge. For example in a onetime free offer it is common to see 10% or better response, while the direct orders can be at less than 1%.  The basic formula is: the more you ask for the less you get.

In most cases there is no right or wrong choice in this situation. What you have to ask yourself is what the business value of each level is and what is the expected response rate. One common decision is to offer a free newsletter subscription or a direct sale. This equates to asking “Permission to Communicate” and “How many do you want?” The response difference between these two offers can easily be more than 10:1. So are 10 permissions to communicate more or less valuable than 1 order. In many cases the 10 new subscribers will flow into a newsletter with a known response rate so you can do the math. We often find that response rates from a repetitive process such as a newsletter can be 3-4 times the response of a direct sale. If that is true for your business then the question is do you want 1 order today or 4 this year?

There are definitely businesses that go from hello to a first order in one contact, but for most of us it’s a journey not a singular event.

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Data Mining – NetListening Style

Data Mining is about finding interesting patterns within a database that create value. Typically in that description the patterns are within a structured database and that can be fun but not nearly as much fun as finding data in unstructured text. That is a challenge that very few are willing to take on, and for good reason – It’s really hard. But that is exactly the mission of NetListening.

NetListening considers the Internet to be its database and few would disagree that this is the largest and most complex database ever created. The Internet’s data is free-form text with link associations and varying degrees of trustworthiness. One of many challenges in internet text data mining on the Internet is extracting data in a form that can be used by businesses that is trustworthy. While we are long way from completely solving this challenge; we are way ahead of whoever is in second place.

While NetListening has thousands of hours of programming invested and the process is highly complex, understanding the fundamentals is actually pretty simple. Our process starts with a search model consisting of a base keywords and qualifiers/extenders. An example of this would be a business that wants to contact Plumbers and the core might look like this:

  1. Plumber
  2. Plumbers
  3. Plumbing

The qualifiers might be all the city names in the United States or maybe just the major metro markets. The core searches would then become Plumber Los Angeles, Plumber New York, Plumber Chicago and so on. As anyone who has ever conducted a Google Search knows each one of these searches can create millions of results and in the case of LA as of today the result set is 5.33 million and that is just one city.  The output of these searches becomes the raw database of NetListening.

The next step is to filter out some of the junk. As we all know on the Net that can be a lot of the content. NetListening visits each site harvested from the core search and tests to see that the site meets a minimum matching standard. At this point in the process NetListening extracts some basic data including the phone number and address information. At this stage the list is about as smart as a conventional demographic database that a business might buy at InfoUSA or one of the other list brokers.

At this point NetListening is just getting started. As we call the list and get responses to the sales offer we adjust the scoring of the uncalled prospects based on who says yes and who says no. This is where the magic of NetListening starts to happen because now we can call the prospects most likely to say yes. The really great part of this is the list gets smarter the more you use it.

In real world testing and we made 6,000 phone calls and proved we could increase the response percentage by over 40% simply by calling the ones that score better.  We have repeated that test several times and results have varied, but what has been consistent is that the highly scored records respond better. This does not mean that we can predict the outcome of any one call but we can predict the outcome of 1,000 calls.

Comparing text is an exceptionally complex process and NetListening does this using text models built from a collection of pages and documents. From those documents it builds out the words used including density, word type (Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb), uniqueness, alternative forms, and other variables. We use this to match between a document and a model or a model to model.

Models undergo changes using the Model Manager within NetListening to tune the model for use in the matching process. The model manager allows the analyst to add and subtract models from each other and to create special models for unique purposes. One special model is the Common Word Model that is used to remove words that are so common in the English language that they have no significance to the match. Other models could be industry jargon that might supplement a matching process and other special purposes. NetListening can create additional models but adding, subtracting, matching, or filtering the words so more accurate models can be created. Once the models are refined they can then be tested using the Model Harvest Tool to test the scoring process with test data.

This article is a high-level summary of some of the things going on inside NetListening and how they can create value for your business. If you have an interesting challenge that can be answered with data sourced from the Internet please call us to discuss.


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Does Your Business Need an Email List?

Mr. Obvious says that the answer to this question is “Yes” 99.9% of the time. There might be some odd situation where continued communication with your market is not desirable but that is extremely rare. If you are in a business that does not need to communicate with your customer or prospects then stop reading this right now because it will be a waste of your time. All the successful email lists we have seen, have one attribute in common, they create unique and valuable content that engages their audience. Creating engaging and valuable content isn’t particularly easy, so you have to be ready to commit.

Building an Email List  

The first challenge is always to build the list. There are thousands of ways to do that, all of them hard. There are ways to cheat, like harvesting software or buying lists but those can result in branding your business as a spammer. Building an email list requires investment in both time and money. The first step is to gather up all your existing contacts and load them into an email system. Next, build subscription processes into your website so people can subscribe to your information. Then build a landing page to sell the value of your subscription. The problem here is that when you have done all these basics you will not be satisfied with your list because it will be too short. It’s not that you are unreasonable it’s just I know you will not be satisfied because nobody ever is.

Advertise Your Email List

If you have unique and valuable content then advertising should be straight forward and highly responsive. Since email subscriptions are normally a free offer, the conversion rate should be very high in Search assuming you are staying on topic with your keywords. In this area you need to make sure you consider the Display Network because free stuff can often work well in that world. One thing you need to do here is make sure that you figure out what a subscription is worth to your business so you know if this is a good investment.

Pick Up the Phone

Another tried and true method for building your email list is to use the phone to gain permission to email. To make this work you need to have a very quick offer of value that the person finds attractive. This is also a good way to start the conversation with potential customers or clients.

Why You Cannot Buy an Opt-in List

First let me get this out of the way, there is no way to buy an opt-in email list because any list you buy or harvest is spam. Even if the person opted-in to receive information they did not opt-in to receive your information. There are plenty of places to buy huge lists for some very cheap prices but just know that using that list clearly puts your business in the spam email business. Some people offer tools to gather up email addresses published in various parts of the Internet to build your list and again this is spam because you lack permission to send them email.

The world is not black and white and there is plenty of Gray in marketing

There is a gray area here where reasonable people disagree and that has to do with contacting a public email address for the purpose of obtaining permission. The purest will say this is spam but some believe that posting a public email address is an invitation to contact that email for business purposes. A public email address is an address published on the website specifically for the purpose of contacting the business. If the business took any steps to stop the gathering of the email, such as the use of a form rather than a public email address, then gathering that email is spam. Gathering any type of personal email from any source is spam.

You have an Email List – now what?

Share your knowledge and expertise with the world and build relationships. In this day and age it is nearly impossible to “Sell” the majority of the people and that is why direct sales efforts fail 98% of the time. What you can do is demonstrate your skills and expertise in your field. When they need what you do they will invite you to compete.  Today people do business with those they trust; they trust those that help them understand.

The DIY Audience

Some people have expressed concern about sharing what they do because they think the customer will just do it themselves and to some degree that is true. However those DIYers (Do It Yourselfers) are never going to engage your business either way so the business you lost you never had. The DIY audience will try to do the job and sometimes fail. When that happens, they will turn to real experts to finish the job. We have seen businesses that actually play off this dynamic with tag lines like “We Repair What Your Husband Fixed”.

What if your writing skills are challenged?

Let’s face it not everyone is a great writer but that should not stop you from talking to your audience. You can engage a ghost writer that can add the words and prose to your thinking but you need to make sure that it stays within your voice and message. When you work with a writer make it clear what your values and beliefs are and that they express those in the written product. There is nothing worse than turning this over to someone that lacks your passion for your business.

List Maintenance

Your email list requires maintenance because the more you use it the more you lose from it. Losses come from many sources with the most common being unsubscribe requests and email address change. Email lists have different attrition rates driven by the quality of the content you send, the frequency of the use, and most importantly how the receiver feels at the moment of review. In many cases with a monthly distribution to a qualified list the loss will run from .5% to 2.0%. This varies widely but once you start sending your list it will settle into a range that you can plan from. Look at your monthly loss and use this to create your plan for replacing those losses.

Email Services

There are lots of great systems for authoring and sending your email content, our favorite is Constant Contact. It is a solid system with all the services most businesses need. A good system will help maintain multiple lists, monitor errors, and help track the result from your content. Some CMS (Content Management Systems) will include a simple email system but you want to make sure you check this out before committing to it. We have seen several CMS that do a fair job of publishing the site but a lousy job of managing an email list. There are some great services out there that are fairly cheap, like Constant Contact, so there is no good reason to compromise on the quality of your email system.

Quality Counts

The purpose of the email newsletter is to create an image of your business in the minds of your prospects and the paint for doing that is your content. If the stories you tell are of value to the audience and engaging, then email is doing its job and the sales will happen. It is nearly impossible to sell someone something they do not want and you are not going to change that. What you can change is who they contact when they want your product or service and in that game 50% of the battle is showing up and being top of mind.  The newsletter gives you the opportunity to do that.

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