Executives are getting harder to reach from all the pitches and cold calls. (Image source: http://www.channelweb.co.uk/IMG/475/87475/hiding-under-table.jpg)
I first heard about John Greathouse from one of David Cummings’ posts of the top startup blogs he follows. I admit that I don’t often read his blog, but his recent post “How To Network With Really Busy People” is resonating with me well.
Currently, I’m working with a startup to get leads and sales. I’m not full-time with them, or officially employed in anyway, but I’m helping out because it’s one of the slickest marketing tools I’ve ever seen. That, and the chance to continually learn and hone my business development skills is very much welcome. I haven’t quite figured out my Next Move (with this company or otherwise), so taking this approach gives me some latitude to do so – figure things out.
Anyways, John’s article is titled Networking, but let’s call it what it’s really about – sales. Or at least, what he’s really writing about. I’ve been working with this new startup, and it’s been a bit of a challenge, to be honest. These days, cold calls can definitely lead to opportunities, but they’re also becoming more difficult per John’s post.

“[High-profile] people deployed brute force to screen out unsolicited, inbound communications.” – John Greathouse

Indeed, in my recent efforts, it’s fascinating the routes many people take to deflect calls. Cold calls are hard for a reason. The CEO of a sales organization I recently talked to isn’t so bullish on cold calling – “that’s so 90s”. What I’ve found, and what John writes about is the need to really pay attention to your messaging. That’s stupid advice, right? Good. Then you’re onto something, too. No, seriously, here are some methods I’ve been using that has been finding some more success mixed in with John’s advice:
  • Get the appointment. The goal of the first communication is not to sell a product (though if you do, awesome). Instead, it’s about getting an appointment/ introduction.
  • Respect and Flatter the Gatekeeper. I read in “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, Founderand Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight and networker-extraordinaire, the need to respect the admins, secretaries, and assistants of execs. These pros have the holy grail of the execs you’re trying to reach – their schedules. If you’re nice to them, not only can they find time to fit you in, but they also overhear a lot of the strategies potentially giving you a leg up.
  • Subjects Lines Are Key Lines. When you’re going to email someone, think about that subject line intently. That can either inspire someone to open your email, or immediately put you on the back foot if you’re too “salesy”.
  • Track what you say. If you’re going to do some cold communications like calls or emails, it’d be smart to have a script ready. You don’t have to necessarily memorize it word for word, but know the gist to be able to speak naturally, not like a robot. Test the script with different audiences and fine tune as you go along to develop a message that truly resonates.
  • Use every tool at your disposal… timely. With the ascendency of social media in business, it’s not a surprise to find execs of large companies using things like Twitter to communicate and have a presence. Depending on their position, industry, etc., Twitter can be a very easy way to interact with an exec vs. the “not cool” phone or email. At least, not at first.
  • Quality is to warm as quantity is to cold. Cold communication can be a simple way to quickly advertise/ outbound market to people you don’t know. However, you’ll need to reach out to many in order to get a response, let alone an enthusiastic appointment. At the end of the day, warm leads are obviously better, but you definitely need to put in a little thought so that you’re not burning a personal connection or wasting a potentially great connection. In the end, a mix of the two can do wonders till you create that inbound marketing machine.
  • Be creative. This is more of a hypothesis because I’m still fiddling with what is creative and what can be creepy weird. However, sometimes you need a little interesting way of getting your product/ service out there, especially if it’s truly innovative (startups!). Whenever people see a demo of the product I’m selling now, people get excited and their imaginations run wild with what they can do with it. However, it takes them to SEE it. Pictures don’t do it justice for obvious reasons. Instead, I’m going to try including a GIF where I can record a demo, and insert it as a picture into emails. I’m unsure if it’ll work, but it should be a quick and easy way to demo, while being educational.

I’m in the midst of testing out many different strategies for sales. It’s not a clear process all the time, and in fact, it’s a living and breathing process of meeting a prospect on the other side of the table. Some of the above are learned and experienced by myself and borrowed from John, but things like the last one are so open that they’re hypotheses in flight. I’ll have to follow up with what works and what doesn’t work later.

What are some tips for selling your product or service via cold communications/ networking? How would you sell a new product or idea that many entrepreneurs or startups often do? 

On any given day, there’s about a 60% chance you’ll find me at Starbucks working.  It’s a great, free working space complete with vibrant energy, wake-up aromas, and, especially this time of year, snowman sugar cookies.  Ah, and there’s usually a fascinating collection of people hanging out/ working.  This past Friday night, I was writing some Holiday/ Thank You cards to our customer-partners and other prospects when I was complimented on our cards by a fellow Starbucker (yes, handwriting them – crazy in this day of keyboard and touchscreen typing, I know). 
My new friend is an MBA student at Georgia State, and was a previous Psychology major in undergrad.  She was worried a bit about having a non-business background and post-graduate opportunities.  This was a great conversation for me because I’ve long appreciated how psychology intertwines with business.  It’s not readily apparent, but it really is.  Talk to any good salesperson, and he’ll know exactly how to talk to you and potentially what makes you tick and tock. 
Some quick thoughts on how psychology is engrained in entrepreneurship and business overall…
  • Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses.  Assessments like the Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, Berkman, etc. can be simple ways of finding out more about yourself.  These assessments may help you realize more about yourself to capitalize on your strengths and limit your weaknesses while building your career around your personal interests.  I’d recommend, however, that as much as you limit your weaknesses, to also work on those weakness or what stresses you — this can help you be a stronger performer – “be comfortable being uncomfortable”.
  • Building a Balanced Team.  As a continuation of the Strengths and Weaknesses above, building a team for a startup or small business with balanced strengths and weaknesses allow for a stronger company in addition to its product/ service offering.  For Body Boss, we do actually have differing personalities, and it challenges each of us to think more about why one another feels the way we do when we consider marketing campaigns, licensing and selling opportunities, or even just philosophies that shape our startup’s culture.

  • Put Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes.  Marketing has psychology all over it.  You have your target audience in mind.  Do you know what language they speak?  What style of communication they perceive?  How about what really resonates with them so that you can grab their attention right away?  Marketing is all about diving into the psyche of your customers and compelling them to engage with you.
  • Sales is All About Your Customer.  Many people will tell you that an effective sales strategy is to have the customer speak.  I think this can be somewhat true in terms of getting engagement.  However, why I like this rule of thumb is so that it gives me a break and a chance to listen to the customer and analyze him/ her.  Customers are all different, and chances are, your product/ service has many value propositions.  By sitting back and listening to your prospects, you can hone in on what matters to them and cater your value message accordingly.
  • Threshold of Pain.  My new friend asked me what signs a successful entrepreneur exhibits/ has.  I have many thoughts to this, not necessarily from my own perspective, but witnessing others.  One of the standout factors?  Mental and emotional fortitude.  Beyond the physical demands of being an entrepreneur (like lack of sleep), it’s the mental and emotional toll of going through the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship including feeling INCREDIBLE when new customers finding out about you to incredibly FRUSTRATED due to low user engagement, then back to a HIGH after a great exhibition at a conference, then dipping back down LOW from unsuccessful trial conversions.  Because much of entrepreneurship is about passions and the creation of your own product, it takes a toll both mentally and emotionally.  I recommend you watch Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk about this in “The Key to Success?  Grit”.

A company, a product… in the end, behind the curtains are people.  Perhaps this is also why psychology actually plays a significant role in business.  For my fellow Starbucker, I think having a background in psychology will give her a different perspective, and with an MBA to help round out her business abilities, she’ll have a strong platform to build on.

What are your thoughts on how psychology plays a role in business and entrepreneurship?  Where else do you feel psychology plays a critical role in business?

One of the biggest, greatest lessons I’ve learned while doing a startup is one that isn’t shocking.  In fact, before I say it I’m going to go ahead and say it’s going to sound stupid.  You’re sometimes told this in consulting projects, read it in some books, but it’s just the very experience of doing a startup and smack-your-face-duh moment when you really appreciate this. So here goes… when you’re offering any product or service, you have to make a TANGIBLE value proposition.  People and companies largely respond to one thing: net profit.  This means there are two big levers – raise my revenue or lower my costs. 
Yeah… sounds simple and stupid, right?  But if you were me, you may think that there may be a grand idea you have that can save time or can “boost performance” or something like that.  Rarely do people really understand in these terms.  You’ll find those who can understand that building a stronger athlete with ancillary benefits like accountability and the like, but most people do NOT get these concepts.  What do they really understand?  Budget. 
I can tout how in 60 days, I saw personally how I increased my strength by 4.86% (read the post here), or how a high school football team’s top 10 players saw 9.13% gains in the Barbell Bench Press and 5.13% gains in their Barbell Power Cleans, but sometimes, it doesn’t quite click yet. 
Instead, listening to some coaches, especially college coaches, they immediately latch onto the opportunity to save money via summer workout programs.  That is, today, colleges spend roughly $20 per book that is sent out to players over the summer with their summer workout plans.  What ends up happening oftentimes is players lose their books, too, so the Strength & Conditioning program has to send out a new book.  Not only that, but the book just sends out the workout with no feedback system.
So the value prop here for Body Boss, for example, is the ability for coaches to use Body Boss to share summer workout programs with one system at a cost lower than printing and shipping books at $20 per book.  For college football teams, for example, if you produce books for 105 players (NCAA Div. 1 squad size limit), that’s a good $2,100.  Further, Body Boss can be the way that players can get feedback, while also accessing a workout program without the fear of losing the “book”. 
Thinking about consulting, this should be a no-brainer.  How often or easy is it to build a business case or even sell a project if you’re just selling soft benefits? 
So in the end, before you get all enamored about your idea and try to build marketing messages set on value props not based on values, don’t.  If you’re touting saving time, perhaps it’d be easier for your customer to not think of the time aspect as much as the value of that time.  What are the opportunity costs you’re experiencing by doing what you do now?  If you used product XYZ, you’ll save time so you can DO that opportunity cost. 
Anyways, so yeah, sometimes you can get enamored on what makes your product so great or why a project would be nice, but if you lose yourself in the wrong value, your message just falls on disinterested ears.

– SC Ninja out