The Role of Email in Your Sales Cycle

 

OK, let’s start with this truth – there is no avoiding email.  In our electronic age, email is as real as gravity and despite the impact of text mail and instant messaging, in the sales cycle, email is still king.

There are about 124 billion emails sent each day and an executive can expect to get 150 – 250 every single day.  So, if you love email as part of your sales process, you might want to re-think about its overall impact. It’s just part of the communication map and it’s up to you where to place it in the journey of your sales activity.

 

 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Emails

 

When we started talking about communications and building relationships with million dollar sales professionals we heard about how they think about every form of communication they use, including email.  Their answers, behaviors, and perspectives about communicating formed Secret # 9 – SELL SMART. Here are some things that could help you, a link to a podcast we did on the subject, and some helpful statistics for you to take a peek at. 

 

 

AT THE BEGINNING 

Pinnacle sales performers know the value of the “beginning” of building a relationship.  They set the table when the sales process/relationship building starts. The key question is; tell me how you like to communicate? Let the client open the door for your sales communication strategy.  If the answer is email, a million dollar producer might ask; you must receive hundreds of emails a day, is there anything I can do to gain your attention?  Can I add something to the subject line?  Let the client help design the communication approach.

 

KNOW THE GOAL

In a well-laid plan, every piece has its place. Email fits that description. Email has its place. Think like a million dollar seller; what is the goal of this communication? What is the desired outcome?  Is it a “please do this” or an “ask” for something communique? Think of it as strong and weak actions.  Strong actions probably are best served in person or on the phone, but a weak push, like sending support material can be best served by an email.  Sales professionals THINK, they PLAN and choose the right communication tool to serve the object of the interaction.

 

THE ENERGY OF THE PLACE

A good sales process is about energy and momentum.  Each part of a sale process generates a form of force.  Force can change momentum. It can affect the magnitude and direction of the action.   Email can play a key role in the level of energy you find the relationship developing. Email is a great tool for touching base, checking on an action item or just following up during the sales cycle.  It’s low on the energy scale and can, at times, carry momentum, but it’s really hard for an email to generate momentum. So place your use of email in-line with the momentum of the sale’s progression. Here is a simple rule –  three unanswered emails, pick up the phone or get in the car.


 

The key is not to allow yourself to simply default to an email and consider it a full next step in procuring a sale. An email is simply a communication tool. Million dollar producers have a lot of tools in their toolbox and you won’t find them looking for the easy way through a sale!

Are you a true Professional?

It was a San Francisco elevator ride that started me thinking. I was hired to work with eight different sales teams for a client.  They were scattered around the country and the project was going to take a full three months to get done.  I was in the heart of research that would become my book, The 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers.  Each office had three levels of salespeople (my nicknames):

 

  • Up and Comers:  They were young and were just starting to build a book of business.  They were Tier 3 with production numbers in the $250,000 to $400,000.  They were hungry and eager to learn, plus they were under pressure to make the next Tier.  There were also veteran sales folks comfortable in the amount of work and revenue at this level.
  • Solid as a Rock:  These Tier 2 producers were in the $500,000 to $750,000 range.  They were seasoned salespeople and the company hoped they were working hard to make Tier 3.
  • Pinnacle Performers:  These were the elite sales kings and queens.  They were million dollar plus producers and most often industry leaders.

I had the opportunity to work with all three tiers in eight different districts.

OK, back to the elevator.  I was working with a Tier 2 salesperson that so resembled Brad Pitt that I’m sure people asked him for autographs.  We were heading to the offices of an oil and gas executive that the salesman had met at a party. I asked him about his first-time interaction strategy.  He told me; “I work it out on the ride up.” WHAT? “I’ve done this a thousand times.” How many times have you met with this potential client? “First time.” WHAT?

 

What a True Professional Looks Like

 

There are dozens and dozens of definitions of professional and I’m pretty sure a 90 second level of preparation isn’t in any of them.

Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith are the original Broadway stars of the epic hit Wicked (my second favorite musical of all time, next to Les Mis).  Between 2003 and 2005 they did almost 1,000 performances and hundreds of rehearsals. Each performance had to be brilliant. Why? Despite the number of times they sang the same songs, recited the same lines, stood in the same correct spot they knew their jobs;

“ All we ever have is just the next performance.  We aren’t promised anything more. To us, EVERYONE in that audience is seeing Wicked for the first time.  We owe them spectacular.”

Professionals see the big picture and understand the potential of their impact.  They hold themselves personally accountable for their performance. They are constantly building themselves into something better.

That elevator ride pointed me in the prime direction of what is and is not professional. It was an interaction that helped me search for the patterns of pinnacle performers and define what separates and differentiates sales professionalism.   Maybe he was overconfident? Maybe he was on cruise control? Here’s what I immediately knew, Tier 3 was a million miles away!

The ‘That’s OK’ Economy

 

I recently wrote about how companies can provide small, unexpected surprises, based on their normal business practices, to create ‘WOW!’ moments for their clients. Of course, the opposite is true at the other end of the client’s experience spectrum, when you ignore the impact of your daily interactions you can plunge your customers into head-shaking reactions.

 

 

Example

I was at a bakery to buy a loaf of sourdough bread (really good sourdough bread). I waited in a long line for about 15 minutes, an eternity in the right-now-reality of today. Part of the reason, of the three registers, only one was being manned despite the obvious backup of customers (the line was 12 deep). But, the bread was worth it. Even though I had to listen to the customers around me complain about the ridiculous wait, it was worth it. As my turn approached I asked for a loaf of sourdough, thickly sliced. She gave me a legitimate blank stare. I waited and then politely repeated my order. She turned to the racks of bread loaves and asked, “Which one is sourdough?”

Uh Oh! The one with the little beautifully calligraphic sign that said, you guessed it, sourdough. “Can I get it THICKLY sliced?” “Sure.” As she put the properly identified loaf into one of two slicers, I recognized that she put it in the thin slice machine. I said, “No, no, the thick slice machine.” She corrected me, “This IS the thick slice machine.” Though I don’t work for this purveyor of carbohydrates, I could tell by the width of the cutting template which machine was which, but too late to correct. The deed was done and I had a thinly sliced loaf of bread. Oh, by the way, it was the last loaf of sourdough. She apologized and I said, “That’s alright,” and went on my way.

 

 

Example

At the movies, I ordered a medium Diet Coke. That will be $4.11. I gave her a fiver and she counted out the change. She thanked me and said’ “I hope you enjoy the movie.” I stood there and she asked, “Would you like something else?” “No, but I would like my Diet Coke.” What? I gave you the money and you didn’t give me my Diet Coke, thus the transaction is incomplete. She looked at me blankly. We all, unfortunately, are getting used to that look. I politely waited for a reaction and receiving none, I repeated the order of events until she finally perceived that she had yet to complete the transaction. She passed over the drink and as I had a sip on the way to the theater discovered it was a regular coke. “That’s alright,” I figured.

 

 

 

What’s the Problem

We immediately retreat from our expectations into the realm of ‘that’s alright.’ Neither of these incidents was world-changing, but both were evidence of a lack of face to face attention. This spells a lack of training and it is the core reason for our commonplace low expectations. The basics are a big deal and the basics should be the basics. If it is client facing, it’s NOT basic, it’s fundamentally critical to your desired outcome. Front facing is the empirical identity of your brand.

Check out how you’re greeted by the front facing folks at Chick-Fil-A or the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winning teams at Rudy’s BBQ (when you’re in Texas). They make you feel like family and they know their stuff because they are well trained.

We expect things to go wrong, for the service to breakdown, for the ‘that’s alright’ experience.

So, if you are looking for WOW moments, look no farther than how your phone is answered, how your receptionist greets someone entering your office, how well those that are your front line warriors represent YOU.  You know what’s important and you can stop the dipped shoulders of a customer saying, “THAT”S ALRIGHT!”

Start with the Purpose and the Rest Will Follow.

 

Let thy speech be better than silence.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

 

He was a retired NBA superstar and took the stage to a huge round of applause.  It was exciting and I was jazzed. I love studying other speakers with the evil intent of stealing as much as possible.  I had my sketch pad ready and we were off to the races, or so I thought. In my notes, I wrote, what is he talking about?  What is the message? I had ten different ideas on what the purpose of the talk was, but even as he ended, I had no idea. It was a classic scatter-shooting, shotgun approach to content.  He had the public speaking chops, but the heart of the message was hidden in fluff. There was no real purpose to the presentation.

In 1974 we sent the first radio wave message into space.  It was called The Arecibo Interstellar Message. Its design and message were INTENTIONAL, PURPOSEFUL and SIMPLE – “we are here.”  Just in case anyone is looking, “we are here.” In a simple visual form it looked like this:

 

 

On November 4th of this year, a bunch of smart guys at MIT had a better idea.  If the core of the message is just “we are here” you should use lasers.  “If extraterrestrial life exists (see the Fermi Paradox – https://www.space.com/25325-fermi-paradox.html ) somewhere in our galaxy, we should use laser technology.  We can create a celestial front porch light.”

 

 

They knew what the purpose of the communication was.  They created their projects with a purpose at the core of their design.  The purpose of a message is at the heart of a great presentation.  What is the core message? Define it and embrace the message in a story and you have the fundamental beginnings of a well- crafted presentation.

Stage presentations, like stories, have a definable beginning, middle, and end, but without knowing the real and true message, the actual purpose of your actions, you may as well fire a shotgun and see where the pellets land.

Simple Things

Chaos is inherent in all compunded things. Strive on with diligence.

-Buddha

I opened one of the cupboards in my office and looked in with disbelief – it was a chaotic mess.  Impossible!  I had just cleaned all of these out, what, maybe a week ago.  OK, maybe a month ago.  How in the heck had they returned to their cluttered state?

I knew the answer.  We spend almost 80% of our client project time around the idea of simplicity.  I have spent 32 years committed to its strategic impact, so I knew exactly what happened  –   THE CREEP.

 


Keeping an Eye on the Creep

Simplicity is about a small sense of order, not a big one. The universe fights against big order, but you can get away with the success of small order.

 

 

Simplicity needs a rather constant level of attention.  If you pass off keeping the simplicity train on track, THE CREEP will step right in. THE CREEP loves and thrives on a lack of attention.  One of the favorite homes of THE CREEP is your garage.  You spend an entire weekend cleaning out all the junk that had a gravitational attraction to the garage.  You stand with hands on hips with a triumphant smile on your face.  You conquered the black hole of order.  A month later, with tears streaming down your face you cannot comprehend how the whole damn mess has returned.

THE CREEP is the creator of operational complexity.  It gives birth to bottlenecks and backward thinking that stops your forward momentum and leaves you asking, “How did this happen?”  Given an empty space, THE CREEP looks to fill it.

 


Simplicity Requires Attention

During a recent project where we were working with a client to simplify their client experience, this happened; he said, “Despite the success of our simplicity work, we just let it get away from us and started adding stuff until we were right back where we started.”  THE CREEP.

If you are genuinely committed to the benefit of a simple approach to anything, PAY ATTENTION.  It takes discipline to become simple and even more to stay simple.

Nothing, and I mean no strategic focus, can gain more impact than a commitment to simplicity and no strategy can collapse faster than simplicity ignored.  We consistently default to our bias for more.  Come on, we can add another feature, another service, we have the capacity and I think our customers really want it.  BOOM, say hello to THE CREEP.

You hear people talk about simple all the time.  It’s EASY, just get rid of stuff.  What?  No, no, no, it’s not about reduction, it’s about THOUGHTFUL reduction and then subtle adjustments until the simplicity you’re searching for fits YOU, fits your culture, fits your company, and fits your clients’ needs. It’s about allowing simplicity to be your lighthouse, providing you direction on your course.

Let it slip and you’ll find yourself loosing another weekend to a garage full of stuff, courtesy of THE CREEP.

The Art of Doing

 

It’s a dangerous business going out your door.   You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”

Bilbo Baggins – The Hobbit

At Creative Ventures, we get to spend a lot of time in the realm of ideas.  We often act as the genesis point for new ideas or we move and shape existing ideas.  It’s a wonderful creative playground, but it’s not the final act on the stage of creating value.  No, it’s not the sketches and the roundtable discussions.  It’s not the ideation or the Skunkworks group.  At the end of the day, it’s about doing. The actual application of an idea in the real world of business, of client connections and generating profit while cementing value.  Doing is a damn scary business.

 

 

There is an insular aspect to the world of ideas.  It’s safe.  It’s kind of like staying indoors during a storm.  When you don’t venture into the cold of the world you can stay warm and comfortable, but ideas are about motion and movement.  They’re about making something happen and making something happen is always a riskful proposition.

 

The world is not found in your books and maps, it’s out there. . ..

Gandalf to Bilbo

 

 

Roy and Ryan Seiders are brothers, brothers that were tired of the cheap and fragile coolers they took with them every time they went hunting and fishing.  They started to play around with an idea for something better.  They made model after model until they figured they had it right.  It was big.  It was a hard shell tank of a cooler. It kept ice for days.   It was EXPENSIVE.  It was the evidence from idea to a real something.  It was the birth of the YETI brand.

They presented it to a small sporting goods store and the owner was skeptical.  “That’s a lot of money for a damn cooler.”  Roy and Ryan told him; “this is no ordinary cooler”.  After a few rounds of “pitch”, he agreed to take a few, which to his surprise were sold in two days.  Proof of concept.

 

 

Next came the famous tumblers of which I am never without.  Mine follows me around the house and the golf course.  It’s a miracle of modern design.

Roy and Ryan are still on the Board of Directors of YETI, which now employs close to 600 people.  They went from idea to model, model to sale, sale to a dominate new thing!

It’s hard to let your idea go from its warm and comfortable flipchart, but making an idea real, even in its earliest stages is the only way to really get it out there.  Make something.  Test a service.  Create a model.  That’s the road from idea to value to impact!

 

Table Stakes – Stick to the Basics

 

“This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. Got it!”

Skip – Bull Durham

We were recently in a Dazzling Blue meeting with a client, a meeting where the focus is on the remarkable small space between ordinary and extraordinary when designing and delivering a “Dazzling” client experience.

The conversation centered around a batch of new client experience ideas. One element of the meeting that was quickly glossed over was the standard deliverables, what the meeting leader referred to as “table stakes”. In my sketchnotes, I rapidly drew a stop sign, followed by an exclamation point. “Can we go over the current delivery of your basics, those parts of the product/service expected by the client?” You can’t brush the basics under the rug when talking client experience if you want to be DAZZLING. You have to be a master of the basics. You have to look at the basics as the heartbeat of what you do.

At Disney, they are always looking at the next big thing, the next must-see attraction. In fact, since the 1971 opening of Disney World, new attractions multiply like rabbits. EPCOT, Disney Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, Animal Kingdom and the 2017 opening of Pandora- The World of Avatar. Despite the entertainment push, Disney focuses like an electron microscope on their table stakes, their basics. Let’s just look at one, CROWD CONTROL.

I grew up in Southern California and a trip to Disneyland was an annual staple. I can remember my mom telling all us over-excited kids to remember, we parked in BAMBI. The control of the massive number of guests that visit the parks (+/- 150,000,000) is a power basic for the Disney guest experience.

 

 

What does a real focus on “table stakes” look like?

  • An underground command center that monitors all things related to the guests and can give real-time responses. A yellow warning light at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride generates a call to launch more boats. The length of the line at certain food concessions generates a call to open more registers. Fantasyland a little crowded, send a mini parade to will shift the guests to Tomorrowland.
  • Anticipate the impact on your basics. Disney tracks weather on satellites. It looks at hotel reservations, airline bookings, and park history to anticipate needs.
  • Long line at an attraction will generate a character interaction. Hey, there’s Mickey!

Every “basic” impacts the product and when the product is “happiness” you better strategically pay attention. At Disney, table stakes are a science.

So, take a long hard look at those things that make up the primary stuff. At McDonald’s, it’s consistency. Is every Big Mac the same? Better be sure before you introduce a new sandwich.

Your table stakes are the heart and soul of your current reality. Before you add a bow, make sure the package is well wrapped. Remember you are judged on a daily basis on how well you stick the basics!

As a leader, do you have your feet planted in the past?

I am a child of the west. Born in California. Lived in Idaho and now a long time Texas resident (I don’t think an outsider is ever a true Texan). I always marvel at travel back East. When a client says; “Take the train from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, I furrow my brow and say, “Train?” When I hear the train I think of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

During a recent trip east I watched an old-time engineer backing up his engine. He had his head craned out the window looking backward at the ground crew for hand signals. No rear view mirror on this engine, or simply an “old school” engineer. Trains are used to going forward.  They don’t often think about reversing. Leaders do.

During our two-year study into leadership (The DNA of Success), I was amazed at the role the rear view mirror played in great leaders. They were great at stopping, turning around and thinking about what they did. They were great decision reviewers.

From this key leadership characteristic, here are some of those rearview images.

 

Keeping Perspective in Leadership

 

  • THE SEARCH FOR PERFECTION: When you take time to look at how you responded to a leadership situation you quickly learn to forget about perfection. In leadership, it simply doesn’t exist. If it is your goal you can’t catch that leadership train. Mistakes, getting it wrong, missing a choice by an inch is just part of the deal. I love the quote that “perfection is the enemy of good.” Leaders love good.

  • NOT ENOUGH HELP: I can do this by myself, heck, I’m the leader. It’s my job to make the call. Every leader we interviewed talked about that learning moment where they figured out they couldn’t do this alone. Somewhere along the line, they were embraced; “I don’t know”. This is a classic mindset shift, a moment past a blind spot. I remember Israel Alpert, a tech/video leader using this little gem – PHELP – It stood for “Please HELP”.

  • WHO AM I LEADING? Leaders ask this question all the time. They check their past, both close and distant for key contact points, and don’t lose touch with their direct team. They check in further down the line and become VISIBLE. They hang out with their customers, ask questions, and listen. They check in!

Leadership is a process that centers on the two key timeframes.

 

  1. The Past – They are learners by experience and experience only teaches when you take a look back.

  2. The Future – They are required to shift their gaze from the learning past to peeking into the various potentials that could make up their tomorrows and the opportunities available to their organizations.

Some trains may not have review mirrors, but you should!

The 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers

The Problem with “How”!

 

I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to discover what patterns were followed by great sales professionals.  I had an inkling they were doing a lot of the same things no matter what they were selling.  But, I struggled with the how, how would my curiosity lead me to results?

There have been countless surveys and models based on sales.  In fact, I had been part of many teams for many companies looking at their sales processes with the goal of making them better.  I had seen numeric surveys galore that simply took the scales of 1-10, accumulated the answers, divided by the participants to tell you some number is significant because it appeared in the data.  I was not interested in that.

I wanted to talk to successful sales people.  I wanted them to tell me what is important and I wanted them to use a 40,000-year-old tool, the story.  I wanted their stories.  I wanted their emotional context.  I believed that in the tales they would tell, there would be truly significant patterns of behavior.

As a scientist by education, I always fall back to a simple problem-solving tool, the scientific method (with a few Creative Ventures adjustments).

  • Observe: I had worked on sales projects for Fortune 500 companies for 30 years.  I had a boat load of observing under my belt.
  • Question: I wanted their stories, but I needed a framework for their narratives to follow or you would get an endless rambling of stuff.  Sales people love to talk.
  • Hypothesis: I believed that all successful sales people did many of the same things.  I believed that their successful behaviors crossed products, markets, and businesses.
  • Gather Data: I was willing to take a long time to find the information and a long time it would be.
  • Test: I had the opportunity to see it in action.

So armed with that, I created my HOW framework.

Normally this process comes up with a very OBJECTIVE methodology.  I was not interested in that.  I came up with an insanely subjective approach; ask them questions and let them tell me stories about that subject.  In these stories would be the real ways they FEEL, they THINK and they BEHAVE.  I don’t believe you can find that in any scaled answer.  Not very scientific.

I spent a long time storyboarding the questions that would serve as the foundation for the project (all of which are in the book).  I used my knowledge of story as a strategy to create a framework.

  • Each question would create a sort of subplot to the overall information I was looking for.
  • Each question would create independent stories.
  • In their response would be everything I need to find a pattern.

This brings me to the key to this type of creative procedure:  CONTROLLED STORYTELLING.  This simple sketch below, which drew hundreds of times for the sales people I interviewed, showed the idea.  You can tell me as many stories as you want.  You can pontificate and explore within your response, you simply CAN NOT GO OUTSIDE THE PARAMETERS OF THE QUESTION.  This is controlled storytelling and we became experts at it.

 

 

We used this same systemic approach to the application of story patterns for all of our clients that want an internal version of The 21 Secrets.

I agree, not the most scientific approach.  In fact, I recognize that the results and the interpretation of such a bulk of personal data filled with idiosyncrasies and probably biased stories might not fit with any statistician’s view of “real “results.  But, it yielded me and my Creative Ventures team the most significant strategy in the 31 years of our practice.

My HOW has become a foundational aspect of our consulting services.

Funny how curiosity and discovery can yield something of such great significance!

 

For more about our methods and results, check out our book.

The Challenge of Story and Raising the Quality Bar

emmy

 

Today the nominations for the 2014 television Emmy Awards were announced.  What do think the following categories have in common?

  • Best Original Programming
  • Best Actor in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Lead Actor and Actress in a Mini Series
  • Outstanding Mini Series
  • Outstanding TV Movie

Not ONE nominee from the Big 4 TV networks.  Not ONE!

3d leadership business dynamic conceptThe quality bar has been raised so high by the original programming coming out of HBO, Netflix, FX and other content providers that network TV simply has not been able to keep up.

Sure, there are lots of factors in this viewing and nominating formula.  We have radically changed how we consume content.  From binge watching via streaming services to mobile technologies, but at the end of the day it’s really not about delivery strategies, it’s about the quality of the crafting and delivery of story.  It’s always about STORY.

The writing and idea development for TV is raising the entertainment and educational bar (think Cosmos) to new and challenging heights.  Couple that story crafting with high dollar production, effects, acting and direction and you will see the true POWER that exists in the two core aspects of story –  CRAFTING and TELLING.

 

Once_Upon_A_Time_Project_Logo

 

In our THE ONCE UPON A TIME PROJECT we bring these very aspects to every part of an organization and its individuals power to leverage story as a core business development strategy.

The future holds nothing but challenges for the television entertainment industry with barriers being pushed and new ideas  creating new levels of risk.  Staying put is the same as staying behind.  It’s simple, craft and tell a better story and watch the business flock your way.

“Be prepared to fail when aiming higher than when playing it safe.”  Kevin Spacey