Posts

My [new] wife and I are out in Hawaii checking out the sands and crashing waves of the North Shore, and we’re approached by a man looking straight at me saying, “you look like you’re from around here”. I’m dressed like I am definitely not–pure “tourist” on me. But I know what he’s up to. Before he walked up to us, he grabs a binder, and his face is beaming.

This man proceeded to pitch my wife and I on the problems of rusty, beaten-up old barrels the government is using as trashcans on beaches. Well, he started off showing his business license (a welcome surprise to help bring some legitimacy to his walk-up pitches). Then, the man shows us pictures of these horrendous barrels (much like those used for oil) that are rusty. They’re not only ugly but they are dangerous with their sharp rusty hulls and polluting our environment. He’s got a solution, of course–safe, durable plastic barrels. Oh, but there’s more! They can also be wrapped with beautiful art. In fact, this is his main pitch. He wants to not only provide / fund better containers, but he really means to slap artwork on barrels. He also has a picture of himself and others with the mayor of the local town. Not sure what they’re taking a picture of. After all, I could’ve taken a picture with an A-list celebrity on my flight to LA the other day, but that does not mean he and I are best buds even if I tell you it’s true.

I told him I was “skeptical of people who walk up to me asking for money” without legitimate opportunity to validate. With that, the man agreed that he probably wouldn’t give a couple dollars to someone like him either and promptly thanked us for our time and left.

My wife laughed out how upfront I was, but I mentioned to her that I knew what he was trying to do before he said a word. She asked me how I knew, and it’s quite simple. His opening salvo is employed by countless walk-up salespeople. When I was in Dubai a few weeks ago in the Old City Souq (marketplace much like a bazaar), I was constantly bombarded by merchants trying to lure me into their shops to buy herbs, scarves, etc. Much like this man at the beach, the salespeople at the souq would try to entice me with:

  • “Hi friend! Where are you from?”
  • “Ni hao!” (Mandarin for, “hello”.)
  • “Have you seen such a beautiful scarf?”
  • “Where are you heading today?”
  • “You look like you exercise.”
  • “I think you’re from Trump country.” (I heard this term too often.)

In several instances, merchants would try to lasso me in by actually hooking scarves around my neck to try them on. Subtle, these folks were not.

Today’s encounter made me think about these pitches.

  • Most of these pitches are for low-conversion, high-volume transactional sales. They’re just looking for one thing and are ready to move on.
  • Today’s man was actually quite nice, but he also realizes a “no” when he hears one. Hence, he was quick to give his thanks and take off. He’s ready to find someone else to sell to.
  • His business license made my head turn that he could be legitimate. In the least, I can hear out his plan further. However, my skepticism prevailed.
  • His opening line saying I could be from here was, likely, based on my ethnicity and skin tone. This is much like in the souq when folks would try to lure me by saying hello in various Asian languages. Playing on race is usually not a good way to start things off.
  • By launching full on into a pitch does a couple main things: (1) creates defensiveness to the audience and immediately creates a negative environment; (2) gives the pitcher the opportunity to lay out the message before the listener can say no and risk the defensiveness.

Folks get these pitches all the time. Some are more subtle in everyday life such as a grocery store food sample station or while walking around at a car dealership. They just keep coming.

How have you been pitched? Was there a pitch that worked on you? Why?

I’ve spoken to a few marketers and entrepreneurs recently about reinvigorating old customers in more transactional sales. These types of sales can be layups if done right, and though, would likely not yield 100% conversion, these opportunities can still have a high conversion rate. At least, if customers had a positive experience before.

In one case, a mooted marketing campaign involved a give-away with minimal reward but to buy a new “package” would’ve required planning and an investment over several thousands of dollars. In fact, this type of sale was more luxury-oriented and highly experiential. Though the marketing ploy could’ve been fun, I didn’t feel it would bear much fruit. More importantly, there was a better opportunity—create a campaign around the customers’ prior experiences.  

This luxury service offering meant the cost of acquisition could be higher. This also meant there was a good opportunity to leverage more personalized messaging. A more effective campaign would be to lean on the prior experience. That is, provoke the customer to think back and relive the experience. Building on the pleasurable experience will entice the customer back.

In traditional B2B sales, building a sales opportunity involves provoking the pain point. Then, show the customer how a proposed solution would relieve the pain.

Play up the emotional experience.

Recently, I’ve had a couple confrontations / differences where I reacted very differently. Upon reflection, these two reactions are exactly why I am not yet a great sales person.

There are plenty of research in the field of sales that are key to being a great sales person including:

In general, less skilled sales professionals speak 70% or more in any sale. Less skilled sales professionals feel they need to sell on features and what the product does, rather than on why—let alone listen to the other side. It’s about the sales person, typically, less so on the other side or even both parties.

As I reflect on these discussions, in the “poor sales guy” example, I was quick to jump in with what I have done and what I am doing, etc. I was not quick to pause and ask why. I was not quick to learn more. I was focused on me. I was focused on what I am doing. And as you can imagine, the discussion quickly deteriorated to a non-productive discussion.

I felt the sense that I should’ve taken the pause, but the emotional side of me wanted to jump in and almost overwhelm the other person. And like any sale, good or poor, both parties are not trying to necessarily “outdo” the other person. Instead, typical sales has both parties vying for their respective interests, not the interests of the whole. For me, my interests were to share what I had achieved, rather than hearing more from the other side.

You can take a lot of great sales principles into everyday life and vice versa. For me, interactions on both sides continue to reflect that, though I may be making progress to be a better sales professional, I still have a ways to go.

There’s so much I want to learn. I wanted to write about a couple tools I use to help me write. Then, I thought more about other tools I use to help me do things. That progressed to what these tools do. That then progressed to the areas of business, especially, I want to learn more about. For fun, here are areas I would like to level up in:

  • Writing, or more specifically, copywriting. I want to strengthen my ability to, not necessarily blog, but create interest and buying intention-content. This can be in the form of long form content like white papers or shorter form of blog posts to even ads. Right now, structurally, I like to use tools like Hemingway App or Yoast SEO while I post from WordPress.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This fits real well with copywriting above. I’m not always interested in being the individual contributor for marketing collateral, but given my interest to continue building companies, largely from the ground up, I am happy to: (1) roll up my sleeves to do the work, and (2) mentor young marketers. I believe content will continue to play a big role in driving customers. Meanwhile, driving organic traffic will play a big role in that.
  • Design, specifically, photo editing and graphic design. I do a lot of graphic creation and some light photo editing for sales and marketing – collateral, website, other. I’ve developed quite a bit of know-how with PowerPoint. Folks laugh that I’m able to do so much in PowerPoint, but to do cleaner, more scalable designing, I need a better grasp for more powerful tools like Adobe Illustrator.
  • Sales, of course. I am not in a specifically sales role now at AUTIT. However, I do get pulled in often because of my background. And no matter what, I will be selling our software today, our vision, a future startup, etc. Sales is always evolving.

Most of my interests above are to help me be both a better marketing leader and individual contributor. Right now, I have the basics covered. I’m able to do well, but I’m not able to do great. Meanwhile, the ability to know how to evaluate great either as a reviewer or doer would go a long way towards ensuring what needs to get done is done well.

Next: take some formal steps to level up like a “Codecademy” type of process.

What are some areas you’d like to level up in? How would you go about leveling up?

I’ve built several sales pipelines from scratch over the years. They should be fairly straight forward to assemble, especially, for many SaaS companies today. But there are a few key elements that should be remembered when building a pipeline (“sales structure”) as well as refining a pipeline — the stages of a sale.

Purpose of the Pipeline

To start, a sales pipeline serves three primary purposes:

  • Provides a measurable means of all expected sales opportunities.
  • Enables a sales team to follow the appropriate activities to help guide buyers through a sales cycle.
  • Provides a repeatable process to understand the engagement and status of a sales opportunity.

Typical Sales Pipeline

  • Qualified. This first stage typically follows some prospecting activities (marketing, sales development outreach, other) where initial contact with a prospect signals a qualified opportunity. “Qualified” here includes the right signals for continued sales activity such as the right tech stack, target company size, etc.
  • Discovery. The second stage of a typical SaaS sales cycle includes a deeper dive into the pain points of the prospect and how the product or service being sold can meet the goals of the prospect.
  • Evaluation. This stage can vary a good bit depending on product/ service, size of the sale, etc. Here, a prospect may need to involve more stakeholders in the buying process. This stage may also include a demo, trial, or proof of concept period.
  • Proposal. For many companies, this stage represents an 80% chance of closing (win). Here, the buyer knows the cost(s) and terms of the solution. The buyer understands timing and implementation. It’s here where a seller may send a formal proposal or simply a payment link.
  • Close. The penultimate stage of the sales cycle which would include both Close Won and Close Lost deals. Some companies may mark this stage when there is first receipt of a signed proposal or payment.

What to Watch Out For

  • Building the sales stages in silo — without the input of the team.
  • Building the sales stages without considering the buying process of prospects. Bottom line: prospects determine a lot about the speed and constituents involved to make a purchase.
  • The sales stages should be activity driven on both the sales and buyer sides. The progression into a sales stage (and exit) should be based on the activities involved.
  • Sales stages should be not be overly complicated or sales members will not update the pipeline, and thus, will not yield the insights to assess performance. Of course, too simplistic and the pipeline fails to identify areas for improvement or insight.