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Friday, May 27, 2011

It seems to me that there's a trend in articles which start with suggesting the old order is dead.

I've seen all the "Is cold-calling dead?" and "Is direct marketing dead?" ones over the last few years as everyone promoting online and social media marketing will tell you that the old nasty world of push marketing has been replaced by a new cosy opt-in world chocked full of engaging content and social interaction.

(In fact, the "cold-calling is dead" one has been doing the rounds for as long as I can remember, the first time I saw it it was pushing face-to-face networking as the solution to all your problems.)

Anyway, let's leave that argument on one side and look at a new variation on the theme, "Salesmen are Dying and Other IT Trends".

The article is focused primarily on IT B2B buyers so it doesn't necessarily equate to all sales and, in particular, service based propositions. But the fundamentals are that Internet-enabled buyers only engage with a vendor's salespeople towards the end of the process, which means that salespeople have less time to build relationships and influence decisions.

In B2B sales, the buying/sales process is more complex that B2C transactions. B2B sales is driven by multiple stakeholders and decision makers, and carries more risk. Also, with more complex/technical solutions there's a greater reliance on vendors to help with scoping the solution.

So, are sales people dying?

Certainly, the more commoditised the product the more it will move towards online transactions.

I was chatting with a client the other day who used to work for the UK's largest distributor of safety products. 10 years ago they used to have a huge branch network and hundreds of reps on the road. Now it's nearly all telesales and online ordering.

Maybe another 5 years and the telesales will be a fraction of what it is now and most will be online.

Also, the shift towards buyers researching online means that there's a reduced need for sales to engage early in the sales cycle. When I ran a field sales team we'd get the leads from head office (usually a response card from a magazine or lead from a trade show) and the local rep would make an appointment to sit down, provide the prospect with brochures, etc and qualify the lead.

Now buyers can get the information they want before they have to engage with sales. Which means less sales people are needed.

Less head count for sales means that each sales person is focused on deals that are more advanced in the buyer/sales process. Being more efficient and effective with limited resource is the name of the game, hence the rise in sales support teams, web-demos, etc.

Where is this all going?

To me, the trend in B2B sales is that the classic "sales rep" is heading for extinction. Poorly trained road warriors will be a thing of the past as buyers today don't need to waste their time with them just to find out early stage information.

The lead qualification piece has shifted internally to telesales or inside sales support.

Beyond that, there is a need for B2B sales people who bring real value during the more advance stages of the buying/sales process.

Refining scope, assisting in vendor selection decisions, support prospects with building business cases, and, ultimately, supporting with implementation and hand-over, these are the areas where sales now have to focus.

B2B sales people aren't dying, the smart ones are already adapting.

But, I agree that the dinosaurs will become extinct.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 11:41 am |  1 comments  | Links to this post  

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Voicemail is an inevitable part of cold calling.

In the US it's got to ridiculous levels of 80% - 90% of calls ending in voicemail (after you've worked your way through the labyrinth of dial-by-name options).

Fortunately, in the UK, it's still less than 50% for most campaigns.

Of course, it's highly dependent on the level of decision maker you are calling. Generally, when you are at board level you are dealing with PA's rather than voicemail, which needs a completely different strategy.

But, at 50% of all calls ending in voicemail you'd think that telesales was pretty much impossible, right?

Well, it all depends on your outlook.

You can either take the old-school sales view which is to "never leave a message", in which case it's a waste of time.

Or, you can learn to love the voicemail and find a way of using it to your advantage.

When we run a lead generation campaign for a client we always have a strategy for dealing with voicemail. From the message that we leave through to how we integrate it with other contact channels (such as emails) our view is that each call that ends in a voicemail is an opportunity to make contact.

Now, of course, we're not talking about leaving a message and expecting them to call you back. Sure, there are some "tricks" that you can use to get people to phone you back. And depending on the campaign you might want to use these. But they all come with a health warning and potential for blowback.

For me, this approach is more likely to burn a contact.

It's better to use the voicemail as a bridge to your next contact (which could be an email) rather than to see it as a one time deal to get them to call you back.

Our approach is about leaving a brief message that positions your business and why we're calling them, tell them what we're doing next (ie: sending an email, calling back tomorrow, etc) and then follow through and do it. Sure, leave a number for them to call, but be clear about what you're doing next.

Why do we do this?

Firstly, we're using the voicemail as a "touch". Everyone in sales and marketing knows that to some degree it's a numbers game. You need so many touches before you get anywhere. So let's get one in now.

It takes us less than 30 seconds to leave a voicemail and ping a pre-prepared email.

If we make 100 calls a day and 40 are voicemail that's 40 extra touches we've had compared with someone from the "never leave a voicemail" camp. They do add up.

Also, we're looking to bridge from a completely unexpected cold call to something a little warmer. Why? Because half the battle of a cold call is to get over the knee-jerk reaction that people hate cold calls.

This second point divides a lot of sales people. Many still want to launch a surprise attack as they think the prospect will be defenceless to their superior sales skills. In my experience, hitting them completely cold guarantees that their defences will be up.

Why do so many companies send out a sales letter before a cold call? To warm them up. Well, think of voicemail as your opportunity to communicate one-to-one with the prospect before you call them.

Everyone checks their voicemails.

So, think of voicemail as an opportunity to improve strike rate and engage with your target market. Done correctly it can significantly improve the ROI of your telesales campaign.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 3:03 pm |  0 comments  | Links to this post  

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another email lands in my inbox from B2B Marketing promising to show me How to use Twitter to generate and nurture leads.

At last, I think, rubbing my hands, someone's finally cracked it and can show me how to actually generate real leads from Twitter.

Unfortunately, it's much more of a list of "best practice" which really only means "what everyone else is doing".

What really made me laugh was point 9) "Make a Sale", which says:
At this stage, hopefully your target has followed you back, accessed lots of valuable information via your Tweets, answered a few questions in return and as a result built up an ongoing relationship with your brand. They are now better informed and in regular contact with you – when you pass on their details to the sales team they should be in a great position to buy.

Call me a salty old sales cynic but as soon as I read "hopefully" I knew we were in trouble.

To me, that one word "hopefully" sums up the strategy of using twitter for lead generation.

Of course, I tweet myself occasionally, and have implemented most of the points covered in the article. And I'd agree that there's a large slice of "hopefully" in my strategy for doing so.

Does it take much of my time? No.

Could it potentially generate some leads? Hopefully, some day.

Would I forget about other tried and tested (but less sexy) lead generation tactics? No way!

Twitter is still new and, sure, people are still trying to work out what it's good for in terms of the B2B marketing mix. Unfortunately, I think that there are a lot of people who are making money out of telling people how to generate leads from Twitter when they really don't know themselves.

Earlier today I was chatting with a marketing consultant who was telling me that she tweeted on behalf of clients and helped them set up and manage their Twitter accounts. She was telling me how long it took to do it all and, sure, it sounded like a nice little earner.

But, when I asked her how much business it has generated for her clients it all went very quiet.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 1:12 pm |  1 comments  | Links to this post  

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