SalesCast #1: Startup Selling with Conference Escorts (sales podcast)

In this SalesCast, Robert and I talk about “conference escorts.”

WingmanWe discuss how to set meetings at a conference, executing on those meetings, and following afterwards. Throughout the conversation, we talk about lots and lots of practical strategies – everything from using “InMails” on LinkedIn to sending meeting confirmations via text to roles (or “casting”) in a meeting to using questions to land more meetings.

Detailed Show Notes:

Intro: This SalesCast is brought to you by, well, SalesQualia. Improve Sales Performance with:

  1. Self-learning resources, including books on Amazon.com and self-paced online courses.
  2. Workshops & Training, hosted at venues across Silicon Valley and the US.
  3. 1:1 Coaching & Consulting for company founders and sales professionals that want a personalized plan.

2:30 – Introducing “conference escorts” and what this person does for startup founders & entrepreneurs at conferences and live events.

5:32 – Using multiple people in a meeting to facilitate conversation at a conference meet-and-greet conversation.

7:08 – Roles & casting for meetings. How to position each person on your side in a meeting based on person you’re meeting.

9:00 – Using ambiguity to your advantage. Having the second person on your side as a “wild card” in a meeting to allow for flexibility in the casting for a meeting.

11:18 – Positioning yourself as a business conference escort and setting up meetings for startups.

12:20 – Using “customer development” to your advantage to landing meetings with executives

13:30 – LinkedIn & InMails to set conference appointments

16:00 – Results using LinkedIn & InMails to get 25-40% response rates for conference meeting requests instead of emails.

18:30 – Why using conference escorts might be a good idea for a startup founder/entrepreneur

20:20 – How much time should you plan to spend setting up appointments prior to a conference?

21:30 – Approaches and research for sending effective InMails and appointment requests

24:00 – Helping an outside sales consultant to get up to speed with your product and value proposition

25:30 – Managing responses to meeting requests for conference meetings

26:00 – General time and budget allocation pre and post-conference. Pricing out a conference project with a sales consultant. Setting up incentives and setting baseline expectations.

30:30 – Building a conference escort team. Who do you hire? How do you build a team? What to do if the startup wants to hire a conference escort on a full-time basis?

33:30 – Finding talent to help with customer development at conferences including part-timers and established business veterans.

36:15 – Breaking down the stages of conference meeting development – pre-conference, at the conference, and after the conference.

38:20 – Tips for sending meeting invites for conference meetings. Confirming appointments.

39:30 – Ideas for finding conference [business] escorts

42:00 – Using people only for the conference itself, not pre- and post-conference follow ups.

44:18 – Post-conference follow ups. What to do after the meeting? How to pull these meetings through to be real sales leads? Avoiding the dead space after conferences.

47:30 – What to do if you met with someone that isn’t a decision-maker?

50:00 – Revisiting success metrics for conference meetings. Defining a quality meeting with four (4) success metrics.

54:00 – Identifying gatekeepers & heros vs a true partner at your prospect

56:00 – Wrap up and summary

Here’s a link to the podcast one more time…

Your customers are lazy cows & it’s not their fault

cow

Cows don’t know any better. They wake up, they eat grass, they walk along windy, crooked paths simply because some cow before them walked that long, windy, crooked path.

In a company or organization, this is called “path dependency.” Microeconomic research also shows that humans are generally risk averse. People have an aversion to taking risk and maintain a “status quo bias” – they desire for the current status even when a proposed change will improve their situation in the long run. Anyone that’s worked for a big company (or even a small one) has heard – “I don’t know. That’s just the way it’s done around here…”

As an entrepreneur or salesperson with a new product – one that will absolutely improve the situation of your prospective customers – how do you deal with this reality?

As the keynote speaker at last night’s Sacramento Startup Expo, I suggested to the audience that they focus on two things:2015-04-06 19.56.05

1. Give your customers a specific reason to make a change. It has to be more than just the standard – “Our product will decrease your costs by 35% over 12 months…” or “Our customers have experienced a 55% increase in efficiency after implementing our solution…”

Find a way to connect with person and team making the purchasing decision. What is their personal motivation? How are their personal goals and incentives aligned with your product?

As an example, imagine your buyer is a newly appointed division head While she’s probably looking for ways to increase output and run the business more efficiently, her personal motivation might be to find ways to score quick wins in the first 90 days to prove to her managers that they made the right decision in hiring her for the job.

  • Could you align your solution with her short term needs to find quick wins, instead of selling a long term solution that might take months to implement,
  • Are there high value problems in the business unit that your product addresses immediately?
  • Could run a pilot program at a low economic cost to her so the decision stays local, and if successful, she can then show her managers who she is immediately impacting the business?

By keeping the implementation small, she wins if the pilot is successful because she looks like a hero. And if the pilot fails, she need not worry about losing face with her superiors early in her tenure.

2. Motivate your customers to take action by demonstrating a clear implementation plan. Show your buyers how purchasing and implementation process works when they buy from you.

For example, build a “7 x 1” framework, thinking in terms of “first” time period intervals to show your customers specifically what happens when they purchase from you. These intervals are:

The first minute…
The first hour…
The first day…
The first week…
The first month…
The first quarter…
The first year…

What would happen the very first minute that your customer gives you the green light? Would you inform your engineering team to begin implementing immediately? Would you set up a conference call with the customer’s chief risk officer to discuss the implementation plan? Would you set up logins for all of the users covered by the license? It’s different for every product and every customer, so think about what should happen this very first minute for each customer.

Further, after the first hour, what would have happened? Do you call the customers IT department to discuss support systems? Do you schedule travel for onsite training? Do you contact the finance department to arrange payment specifications?

By the end of the first week, should you have finished training and have your first users logging into your software? Should you be rolling out your software with the customer’s satellite office in Tacoma?

It’s up to you, your product, and the customer as to what happens. This will be different for every situation.

Following this “first” interval thinking and share your plan with your customer, gives them the confidence they deserve to know what you’re doing. This also builds trust and presents the opportunity to develop this plan with the customer. Maybe the customer says – “Hmmm….. rolling out to the Tacoma office after the first week is a little aggressive. We should do plan that for week three.” Great! Now you have buy in from your customer and they become your partner in the sales process to push through this decision.

Help your customers find new grass in the pasture by giving them a reason to take action with a clear plan.

Stop doing product demos

This week, I responded to an outbound sales email from a software company focusing on customer success. The last line of the rep’s email was:

I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you for a few minutes. When would be a good time to call?

I replied:

let’s chat. I can do Wed 2:30-4pm or Thurs b/t 3-5pm Pacific

He then replied with a one-hour meeting invite, to which I replied that I could only do 30 minutes, and when we logged into the call, he was ready with his Account Executive to plow through a 60-minute product demo in 30 minutes – they even said as much – “Yeah… Usually we like to take an hour to demo our product but we’ll do our best in 30 minutes today.”

snoopy-is-joe-cool-peanuts-254005_1024_768Dude. Chill the f&ck out. You don’t even know me, my company, my problem, or why I’m interested in talking with you. And most of all, your email to me asked for a “few minutes,” and instead you’re expecting me to take an hour to watch you impress yourself with how great you demo your product?

Sheesh…. They’re lucky I did their job for them.

I took over the call – “Here’s why I’m interested in talking with you…” then I gave them the background of where we are as a company and why I replied. Even then, he kept trying to plow through the demo, like he had some kind of checklist he was required to complete in every call. I had to stop him several times just to ask questions. It’s a good thing the product looks interesting to me or he’d be dead and never know it.

So what should you do instead?

Be cool. See how long you can take a sales call without talking about your product. Even better, see how many conversations you can have with a prospective customer without showing your product.

Why do this?

As an entrepreneur, you product is your baby. You’ve identified a gap in the market, and you’ve put in the time, sweat, and toil to craft your solution.

But here’s the thing – No one cares about your product, they care only about their problem.

Until you’ve shown that you truly comprehend the prospect’s problem, you can’t earn the trust and attention of the customer to show your product. Show your product before you’ve earned that trust, and your customer will be polite, nod her head, and wonder when you will get to “the good stuff” or the part of you product that solves their specific problem.

Every customer and every situation is different. Even if on the surface the customer’s problem appears to be the one that your product solves, there is an entire base of information around that problem – how the problem developed, the people involved, past attempts to solve the problem, how decisions are made within the company, and how the problem affects this particular customer within the organization, just to name a few.

And until you have a clear view of the problem from n angles, you can’t position your product effectively or know which parts of your product are most useful for the customer.

Your solution probably has 10, 20, 50 features and functionalities, yet the customer probably only cares about 1-2 of them – the ones that most directly address their problem.

You need to qualify your prospective customer based on several criteria, because if the prospect isn’t qualified, then there’s no point in whipping out a 60 minute demo. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.

With my work at Blend, we usually require we have at least two meetings with prospective customers before we show even a short demo.

In the first meeting, our goal is to verify a critical aspects of the situation and meeting:

1. Are we talking to the right person/people? Is this person/people the one responsible for solving a particular problem we can support? Are they decision-makers, influencers, users, or simply observers to the problem? If they aren’t decision-makers or responsible for the problem, can they get us access to the right buyers at their company?

2. Validate, for both the prospect and for us, that the problem exists – that the customer knows that the problem exists and that the customer views the problem as an explicit need. The problem must be big enough to spend time and money resources to scope out solutions, and big enough to go through the changeover pain to solve the problem.

Status quo is frequently the biggest competitor, even in cases where the need is explicit. A customer has been “living with” a problem often for years (or decades!). Their patchwork solution using general technology tools like Excel or understand or other internally developed applications might be good enough for the next quarter or through the year until the next budget cycle.

3. Require that the customer to prove interest in our solution – getting them to ask questions about our solution and how it works. Asking questions about integration and implementation with current systems. Asking questions about people and resources that would be required on their end to implement our solution. Once we see that customer are thinking past just – “show me a demo so I can get out of this meeting” – then we know we have a genuine prospect sitting in front of us.

4. Learn about the history of the problem. Is this a new problem, or one that’s been around a while? What’s been tried in the past? Have past solutions include outside partners or were they home-grown solutions? Why has this problem become more urgent recently to the point that the company is ready to take action by way of people, time, and financial resources?

Summary: Figure out your qualifying criteria for your product – a good list to start with it:

  • Identify an explicit customer need, ideally enumerating it – “this is costing us $500k per month…” or “with the right technology, we think we can increase revenue by 25% per quarter…”
  • Identify the buyer type with whom you are talking
  • Articulate how this specific buyer would benefit from your solution
  • Learn the history of the problem

If you can answer these four questions, then you’ll know whether or not to bother with showing your product.