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Insights for Finding, Landing and Harvesting Whale-Size Accounts
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Guest Faculty Post by Eric Protzman
Athletic events are often won or lost before the teams take the field.
Major customers are often won or lost before you even talk to them.
The reason? Information. Let’s discuss knowing your customer.
In my previous article I talked about customers, dating and marriage. Transformational Accounts (TAs)(10-20 times the size of your current average customer or 5-10% of your divisional revenue) are marriages. You get to decide whom you marry, and you can know in advance the quality of the marriage. Choose wisely (and selfishly) was the message. Your choices are deeply dependent on the accuracy of your information. Your instincts are not up to the task. I promise.
So how well do you know your prospective customer?
You can promise to put more sweat into selling than your competitors, but you’ll make a lot better decisions and make a lot more profit if you out hustle your competitors on the research side. And your research guide is your PROSPECT SCREEN. Everything you consider crucial in a TA needs to be posed as a question in your PROSPECT SCREEN so you can research it.
We tend to quit researching way too easily. The good news is so, do our competitors.
Tom Searcy often said to me when we were developing my business “Do you think it or do you know it”. It toughened my resolve.
Succeeding in research starts with a belief that you CAN know it. I challenge my clients and I am often met with “I just don’t know how we’d ever find that information”.
Guest Faculty post by Eric Protzman
The Prospect Screen should be your most trusted advisor.
Think of it this way. You date and you date and you date, then you find the right person and you get married. Dating can be random, opportunistic, indulgent and impulsive, all characteristics you simply can’t afford in marriage.
In the past, what you call prospecting may well be impulsive or opportunistic dating. You may not be taking the time to investigate what is in your best interests.
What we are talking about in prospecting large accounts, transformational accounts, is not dating, it is marriage. Look at the long term implications of having the right customer, or having the wrong customer. I think you’ll get a feel for the strength of the metaphor.
I started Aim Direct Marketing in 1995. Tom Searcy was guiding my business development and very late one night after imagining this and designing that I said to Tom,“I don’t like mission statements and I think most business plans are just a list of things that don’t happen, but I do think we should talk about our core competency”. Bleary eyed and exhausted Tom tilted his head and said, “Where you are right now Eric, your core competency is anything anyone will give you a check for”.
That was just a phase. Do you recall this phase in your business too?
It is an exciting, thrilling and frightening time. But that time gives way to more stable and intentional times. As we become more sophisticated in our mission, our operations and our innovation we may not bring along the same sophistication in our sales efforts.
The reason that a customer made his or her original purchase is very different from why they continued to buy. The customer experience that you and your company provide is never fully understood until AFTER the prospect becomes a customer. When you survey customers why they buy from you, they are actually answering the question of why they stay and grow their business with you.
If you want to do a better job of reaching prospects and crafting your message to turn them into customers, ask customers different questions:
- What was the problem you were having when you decided to hire us?
- What about what we were offering moved you from “interested” to “purchasing?”
- What was your biggest concern about giving your business to us when we first got started?
- Was there anything in your past history with another company that you were watching us for when we first started?
These questions will give you a better sense of the reasons that prospects buy from you and what they are most concerned about when they make that first purchase.
The changing of the buying dynamic in large corporations has made identifying the real decision-maker hard. Sure, you ask, “Who’s the decision maker?” The problem is, the person you ask often answers, “I am!” When he or she receives your proposal, you are told, “I have to run this by somebody.” It seems everyone has to either get approval from a superior or validation from Purchasing or Procurement. This means your contact is a carrier-pigeon and your message is many steps away from the real decision-maker.
If you have questions about power, people or politics, ask process questions. Ask your contact the following:
- “What process does your company follow in making these types of decisions?”
- “The last time you brought on a new vendor/supplier/partner, were there any delays in the process? What were they?”
- “If you think we are the best alternative, are there any initiatives or other projects that might get in the way of bringing us on?”
Asking these questions gets you closer to the truth about the decision and the real decider without challenging the authority of your contact.
Is it time to go back to some broken relationships?
Lots of business relationships end. Customer-vendor, business partners, alliance and channel relationships…they often run their course and they end. Some end ugly.
Time does heal many things because the people, circumstances, challenges and experiences change. After the earth has made a couple more loops around the sun, it may be time to go back to some former customers or partners and see what has changed.
Keep in mind:
1) Personal integrity – In circumstances of gypsies, tramps and thieves it is highly unlikely that those people’s personal integrity has gotten better. I encourage you to check and see if the people have changed if your exit was based upon someone’s poor integrity. Don’t forget the mirror. Maybe someone in your organization was the villain. Are they still around?
2) Go in curious – Ask what has happened in the past months, years and so on as it regards their business. What have they learned and what has changed. Don’t ask for business until you understand if they have learned anything that will give them new perspective.
3) Go in open – Be willing to enumerate what has changed and what you have learned in the past cycles that have given you new perspective.
If you can go back to some of your old customers and partners and determine what has changed, it is possible to find new business opportunities that make sense.
INSIDER TIP OF THE WEEK
Every time I ask the question if prospecting senior decision-makers is easier or harder than it used to be, there is a split in the room of answers, almost always on the lines of age. Over 40, the answer is “harder,” under 40, the answer is “easier.” This is a generalization, but the line is driven by technology savvy. Specifically, it revolves around the use of LinkedIn.
Almost everyone who is anyone has a LinkedIn account. They publish their employment history, education, interests and affiliations. They even have an email account to contact them.
HOW TO TAKE ACTION
Simple guidelines for this popular tool:
- If you are looking at them, they will look at you before they respond. Look good. Not your picture- your bio and what it appears you might have to offer.
- Put your value proposition in the first line of your bio. Your picture, title, company and that line will determine if they agree to a contact, enter your network or disregard you completely.
- Brag. This is the equivalent of a job interview. You need your accomplishments to headline your biography. This is not the time for false modesty.
- Engage in industry groups. One of the keys to connecting with decision-makers is through the LinkedIn groups. Find out which groups your decision-maker is a part of and become a part of those.
Voicemail, email, administrative assistants and other gatekeepers have made connecting harder. LinkedIn makes it easier and better.
The business-to-business market is tougher than ever. Here are three different approaches to improve your sales efforts. Choose the one that works best for your business.
A big shift has happened in the way large companies make decisions. I described it in my blog on “Zombie Apocalypse“. Big companies have taken away the purchase power of middle- and higher-level executives in favor of either senior executives or purchasing/procurement buyers. In order to set your growth strategy for this reality, you need to consider the three approaches below and then choose which one to bet on most heavily. Most businesses will need to take a diversified approach in order to cover all their current customers as well as attract new ones, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put more emphasis on the approach that seems to be your best bet.
Here are your options
1. Get good at selling lots of small sales to many customers.
Companies such as Amazon and UPS have figured out the ratio between volume-and-efficiency necessary to produce customers and profits. For B2B companies, the challenge is shifting your culture to handle service and sales to an efficiency model without losing the high-touch. Some companies have changed focus from high-touch to high-visibility by using online portals for order placing, tracking, and customer-satisfaction feedback. Others have created relationships that are demand-based, so that there are fewer interactions between customers and providers. This drives down service costs and the amount of time employees spend on each order.
makes no secret of his love for hamburgers, french fries and Cherry Coke. When his doctor told him he needed to eat better or exercise more, he chose exercise: “The lesser of two evils.”
Now Buffett can have his fill of condiments for those burger plates. His Berkshire Hathaway has teamed with Jorge Lemann’s 3G Capital to buy HJ Heinz Co. for $23.3 billion, one of the richest deals ever in the food industry according to the Wall Street Journal. Sold in 200 countries, the wide array of brands include Heinz ketchup and sauces, Ore-Ida french fries, Bagel Bites mini-pizzas and even Weight Watchers SmartOnes meals.
Buffett, 82, was seeking deals after his company amassed a cash pile of $45 billion. Buffett has bet big on food before through equity investments in Coca-Cola and purchases of See’s Candies, Mars and Dairy Queen. Now he can add another Logo Deal: an iconic ketchup maker that traces its roots to the 1860s.
How to Pursue a Logo Deal Strategy
Regardless of your business, there is a Logo Deal Strategy opportunity for you somewhere. If that’s the end you’re shooting for, pick your ultimate target. Make it a company that is big in size and big in name. There is nothing wrong with making it the richest family in town or one of the top 100 companies in the world. That target is yours to envision and name.
Here is a path and a plan to get there, based on our book “How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett.”
First, think of those companies with whom you would like to do business.
“My dream buyer for the family business all along was Warren Buffett,” said Barnett Helzberg, the owner-manager of Helzberg’s Diamond shops. “I knew we could trust him to keep the headquarters in Kansas City, resist changing the company’s character, and retain the jobs of all of Helzberg’s associates. It might have been simpler to sell to the highest bidder, but that notion seemed as sensible as choosing a brain surgeon based on the lowest price rather than on talent and reputation.”
Now Buffett loves jewelry. Not to wear, but to own as a business. Without a doubt this was in the back of Helzberg’s mind when he bumped into Buffett in New York City.
“As I walked past the Plaza Hotel near 58th Street and Fifth Avenue on a glorious May morning in 1994, I heard someone call out, ‘Warren Buffett!’” recalled Helzberg, who didn’t squander the chance encounter.
As busy New Yorkers rushed past, Helzberg told the greatest dealmaker in the world why he should make a deal for his family’s 79-year-old jewelry business. “I believe that our company matches your criteria for investment,” Helzberg said.
To which Buffett replied, simply, “Send me the information. It will be confidential.” Before long the deal was done.
Triple Your Chances of Finding a Deal Champion
Helzberg was able to go straight to the top. However, in our book “How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett” we discuss that it helps to have a champion on the inside. Recruiting a champion is not difficult, although it may seem that way at times. Let us introduce a method that has been used with great success by our clients.
“I’m a very healthy, useful, energetic person thriving on very little sleep,” the 71-year-old domestic diva told the Wall Street Journal, which commented she has little interest in discussing succession plans. “I’m not dying yet.”
But where is the empire going now that “The Martha Stewart Show,” the daily TV program, is no longer on the Hallmark Channel and the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, the magazine, according to Media Industry newsletter, has almost 40 percent fewer ad pages than last year?
Stewart, who became famous writing books on entertaining, has always been a dealmaker. She bought back the rights to her magazine, show and books in 1997. In 1999 she took her company public, becoming an overnight billionaire.
However, the IPO prospectus did note that the business would suffer if Stewart’s “public image or reputation were to be tarnished.” In literature, that’s called foreshadowing. Magazine advertisers fled and her syndicated TV show was canceled when a Stewart stock sale led to an obstruction-of-justice conviction and a prison sentence.
Make Deals to Evolve the Brand
Evolving a brand is different than growing a brand. To evolve a brand you need to find new affiliations to update the brand message. Here are three ways.
1. Find New Partners. Making deals to breathe life into the brand is essential. During her fall and comeback the company’s main focus was making merchandising deals. There were Martha Stewart accessories for PetSmart, and retail partnerships that included Home Depot, Macy’s, Michaels Stores, and J.C.