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5 Ways Sales Experts Use LinkedIn to Generate Leads

While my background is predominately marketing and PR, I have done my share of business development. I have also worked with some of the best business development professionals in the world.  While at CARIS and salesforce.com, I got to work with the best of the best.  And, the best part, I am going to share what I learned from working with the best with you.   Here are 5 ways that sales experts use LinkedIn to Generate Leads.  (Disclosure: while at CARIS, LinkedIn didn’t exist, but the sales practices did.)5 Ways Sales Experts Use LinkedIn to Generate Leads, heatherannemaclean.wordpress.com

1.  Don’t be there just for the sale

This is the first and most important action that a person must plan for.  When doing business development, regardless of what tool, forum or event you are leveraging, don’t just be there for the sale.  While the terms relationship selling or relationship management has been very overused in the last few years, this is one that you can’t mess up.

When using LinkedIn, this becomes even more important as your activity is much more visible.  For example, joining Groups is a great way to not only expand your knowledge of a topic or industry, but also to prospect.  That being said, if you join a group and your only activity is clearly to sell “something” and then you disappear until the next time you want to sell “something”, you risk being called out and damaging not only your own creditability, but that of the organization that you represent.

Key Take-Away:  LinkedIn is not a short-term “thing”. It is a structured approach to building your network and developing a give and take relationship.  Successful sales people don’t just take, they find ways to give.  They also don’t pitch before the relationship is formed.

2.  Share, Share and Share

As a follow-up to #1, building networks and connections is about giving.  Sharing is a great way to do this.

The key for LinkedIn however, is utilizing it correctly.  It is not like Twitter or your personal Facebook or Google+ page.  You should not be sharing continually.  Instead, select one or two pieces of content to share with your network.  Be sure to share no more than twice per day and some days, only once.  Any more than that, and people will turn off your notifications.  You can also target certain groups and/or people to make things even more specific.

If your organization has its own blog, it is great to share content that will be helpful to contacts.  This can be a great source.  Another great source is to share content created by your prospects.  Pick really great information to share with your network.

Key Take-Away:  Be sure to share, but maintain a proper balance. Understanding how to use LinkedIn is key to this.

3.  Leverage SMART Methods to Prospect

Specific:  Check who has viewed your profile, Group Updates, review Announcements of Companies that you are following, view Alumni Groups and conduct searches using boolean operators. An example of the latter is:  CFO or Chief Financial Officer and Life Sciences. (use title variations and industry)

Measurable:  One of the best ways to get measurable results is through introductions.  If you have a connection, that you have built a solid relationship with that is connected to the person you want to meet, ask.  Be sure to explain how you want to be introduced and why.  Remember though to keep #1 in mind.  Build the relationship first.

Achievable:  When prospecting using a tool like LinkedIn, set realistic and achievable targets. If you are using LinkedIn properly, you won’t be able to connect with dozens of people in one day.  So, it is important that you and your management team understand what is realistic and what is not.

Relevant:  When reaching out to a prospect, but sure to use relevant information.  For example, if you noticed that they have recently connected with someone else you know, or changed jobs, cross check their profiles.  For the latter, LinkedIn will sometimes send out an update saying “congratulate” so and so, but they have really been in the job for sometime.  While it might be an “in” it might also appear that you are trying to hard to find a reason to connect.

Time:  Like relevancy, timing is everything.  Commenting or sharing a post from weeks or months ago, can demonstrate that you are a little behind the times. Of course, should something have occurred to make it timely again, like an update or some other advice that you can add, that is a good thing.

Key Take-Away:  Be prepared to understand how to use LinkedIn and leverage existing contacts when possible.

4.  Leverage Other Sources

Be sure to follow relevant conversations in other channels. For example, most industries have “lists” of top performers.  By following organizations/individuals on Twitter that put out these lists, you can always leverage this information to congratulate the person.

Key Take-Away:  Don’t rely on one source and one source only.  By judiciously following key industry people and developing Twitter Lists, you can keep up-to-date without getting bogged down in hundreds, if not thousands of Tweets or conversations.  However, remember the points above, particularly the point about when to pitch.

5.  Making a Pitch Matter

Of course we all want out pitches to matter and be acted upon, but that is not always the case, as we know.  Far too many people make pitches using LinkedIn using only the generic “let’s connect” message and then once you accept, they begin to inundate you with sales pitches.  Alternatively, they send you a long message about how they will change your world, without even understanding if you need to have your world changed.

When making that first connection, always use a custom message and offer something that is of value to your prospect.  This of course suggests that you have spent the time necessary to understand who they are and what it is that they need.  For example, if you see them asking a question in a Group and you know someone that can help them with their question, offer to make the introduction.  When you send a personal note to someone that shows that you put effort into the message, it makes a difference.

Key Take-Away:  As human beings we naturally gravitate towards individuals who show an interest in us.  Putting some effort into a pitch can make a difference between getting a meeting and not.

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5 Content Marketing Tips for Start-ups

Entrepreneurs have a lot on their minds when doing a start-up.  Not only are they building a business, but because of being resource-challenged, they are also doing their own marketing a lot of the time.  Those who have marketing mentors will get some great advice on how to actually develop and execute marketing plans, strategies and tactics, but  for those that don’t have mentors just yet, here are 5 content marketing tips specifically for start-ups.

5 Content Marketing Tips for  Start-ups, heatherannemaclean.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of flatironcomm.com

1.  You are a Brand

If you haven’t had much of a personal brand before starting up a company, you will definitely have one now. And, depending on your business, you could be a real hot commodity for people.  This means that everything you do, there will be someone watching. With start-ups being super sexy right now, founders of start-ups are like the modern day rock stars. Everyone wants to say they knew you “when.”

This really is where the challenge/opportunity is. You can and will have influence. So, while you might not have thought about what you Tweeted, posted to Facebook, or shared in some forum previously, you now need to think about it. How does what you are doing/sharing reflect not just on your own brand, but your start-up brand? What will advisors think? What will potential investors think?

2.  Develop a Content Calendar

This is probably one of the big misses that many Content Marketers have.  Never forget to create a content calendar. Creating a calendar and mapping out what is happening will help you develop themes and key areas to focus your content marketing efforts.  Your calendar should also include what channels you will leverage, what paid media you will use and any influencers that you include.

Having a content calendar will really help you be focused and clear.

3.  Know Your Audience

If there is one constant I have for reminding people of how to do content marketing, it is to know your audience.  Exactly who are you targeting with your marketing? Where do they hang out? What language do they use? What information do “they” want. What information will help your audience? When you know this you need to tailor your language as well as where you share your content to meet audience expectations.

This also means writing for your start-up audience and not your personal audience. Going back to point #1, carefully consider what you create for blog posts for example. Remember you are not writing for your college dorm friends. You are now writing for your business audience. So, forget blogging about your past weekend adventures at the bars.

4.  Include a Call to Action

Great content is always helped with a call to action at the end of each post.  Be sure to always include one.

5.  Measure

Once you start publishing content, be sure to measure your results. What is working? What is not working?  Track your numbers and understand them. Measuring your progress will help guide you to make informed decisions about what is working well for you and your business, saving you time while also generating leads.

Want more information?  Feel free to sign up for our newsletter at TaylorMade Solutions (insert “newsletter” into inquiry box)

 

 

 

 

7 Secrets to Customer Acquisition & Ongoing Customer Satisfaction

As a VP of sales who has worked in all functional areas and trained hundreds of sales people all over North America, the question people ask me most is:  What do I need to do to be successful?  The answer is fairly straight forward, and here are 7 secrets to customer acquisition & ongoing customer satisfaction:

7 secrets to customer acquisition and sales best practices

Image courtesy of blogs.mcafee.com

 1. Have a Process

It’s amazing how many sales professionals work with clients from start to finish each day and do not have a sales process.  This goes for both individuals and organizations. 

A process drives consistency, its helps scale, it helps understand where your gaps are as an organization and helps with sales forecasting. A simple  and straight forward sales process is a great start.   It doesn’t have to be too complicated. Perhaps the most important part of your process is to understand your company messaging within your sales process.   It is also important to understand your customer buying cycles and process.  Generally customers have a buying process to understand how to get the most value out of you, so you need one as well.

2. Have a plan

Many organizations have a yearly sales planning cycle. Unfortunately, many times those plans are left at the conference room table the minute the meetings are done.  Often times it is something the boss has asked for and a check mark on the list for us as workers.   

The best sales people have plans. They don’t have to be too complicated, but do include overall goals and objectives that are broken down for the year, quarter and maybe even weekly.  Of course like any plan, you revisit it as needed and adjust to current conditions.7 Secrets to Customer Acquisition & Ongoing Customer Satisfaction  

3. ROI and Industry Insight

As a result of the downturn of the economy in 2008, it has changed the way people buy. No matter how long you have known a customer, no matter how good a friend you might be, customers need and want more. There is more scrutiny on purchases, more people involved in the process and more than ever people want to see a return.   It is essential to determine their goals, objectives, pain points and how you can solve their problems while also saving them money.  They want you to demonstrate their Return on Investment. 

Companies are also looking for Insight, not just into your products and services, but into their own industry. They are looking for people like us to give them insight or intelligence into their business and industry while also providing solutions to help drive their businesses.

4. Ongoing Development

Many people come into the sales profession without planning it and because of the fast-paced nature of the work, they lose sight of the need for continual professional development.  To stay ahead of the curve,  highly successful professionals always have to work to get better, learn new skills and break bad habits. It can be as simple as reading a good sales book. For example, I would recommend The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.  Other options include subscribing to sales blogs, taking a course, etc.  Regardless of what method or methods you choose, never stop pushing yourself to develop your skills.

 5.Hard  Work

Nothing beats hard work.  Through experience I have encountered many reps who tell me they like to take a “strategic approach” or they have their own “system”.  When I hear these words I think: “lazy.” Having a plan, being strategic, having a system, as well as having a high aptitude for sales are part of the foundation, but you still need to work hard. I think it was our good ole Wayne Gretzky that said: “nothing beats skill like hardworking skill.”  When your competitors are  working “strategically” you need to be doing the same, but working harder and in doing so closing more deals.

6.  Perception Is Reality

Very important: Do your customers consider you their equal? Are you perceived as a Vendor? A Business Partner? Or, a Strategic Resource? 

Ideally you are a strategic resource – one that provides value without selling anything.  If a customer will call and ask for your advice on an issue unrelated to your solution, this demonstrates just how highly that customer thinks of your opinion.  But how do you get to be that trusted resource?  Be a professional, provide value before asking for anything, provide insight, and articulate ROI. 

7. Use your Tools

There are many great tools available to us today from a sales enablement perspective. Because we have so many options, choosing the right tools becomes critical.  To make the right chose, determine your needs first.  Ask questions to determine where you need to be, or would like to be in order to be more efficient and then scope out possible solutions. The more you understand your needs the better the results will be to narrow the field and make the right selection.  

To put things in perspective, you can be making decisions around any number of these tools:  social media, CRM, list acquisition, contact acquisition, marketing automation, lead and demand generation and resources, auto call/email/voicemail…. You get the picture.  You need to understand your needs and where you want to be.

Want to learn even more?  Sign up for our newsletter at TaylorMade Solutions (insert “newsletter” into inquiry box)

About Chris Cummins

Chris is the VP of Sales with Skillsoft.  With more than 20 years experience in nearly every function of sales, he is a professional sales person and has made a career in an environment that he immensely enjoys and thrives in.  He has interviewed, hired, trained, coached and managed literally hundreds of sales people all over North America.  

7 Ways to Creep Out Your Customers with Direct Marketing Campaigns

As a professional marketer, I thought that I had seen it all when it comes to the good, the bad and the ugly of direct mail campaigns.  I was wrong.  Last week my husband received a letter from a vendor, who shall remain nameless, that left both of us scratching our heads.  We thought it was a hoax to make this vendor look bad.  However, after speaking with a representative on the phone, sadly, we learned that it was a real marketing campaign.  In my opinion, it was an epic failure.  It was such a bad piece of marketing I just had to write this blog post outlining the 7 ways they failed using this Direct Mail Campaign.

Now, before I get to my list I want to qualify why I am writing this post.  This letter was so out of character.  It just does not meet the established brand that this company has built.  In trying to figure out what was going on, we thought for certain that it was someone who was trying to embarrass the company.  The other thought we had – honestly – was that someone had too much to drink, had what he or she thought was a brilliant idea, then wrote a letter to execute on said brilliant idea.  I don’t want to embarrass this company.  I believe that they are a good company.  I believe that they just don’t understand marketing and what works and what freaks people out.  We are a customer and aside from this bizarre twist, have been very impressed with them.  That being said, if this was an authentic campaign, there are a few lessons learned.  So, let’s get to the list:

1.  Always Use Letterhead 

When sending out a promotion to your customers, always use company stationary.  Using your name and your spouse’s name for the return address versus the company information is not a best practice and, it is confusing.

The same goes for the actual letter.  To help people understand where in fact the letter has originated, using letterhead makes it clear from the get-go.  I shouldn’t have to read a three-page letter to get to the end to figure out who sent it to me.

2.  Properly Address Letters

Since I am a customer having my name, or in this case my husband’s full name on the letter is a good idea.  The same goes for having our full civic address.  Addressing a letter with only a person’s first name and a number missing off of the civic address is kinda weird if done intentionally.  The Post Office put a question mark on the letter.  Even they were confused and took a guess.

As customers, don’t you know our name and address?  After all, it was on the bills that you sent us and the service technicians made it to our house o.k.

3.  State the offer up front and be clear about what you are offering 

This isn’t a nice to have in business communications. It is a must.  Both my husband and I read the letter numerous times and we still didn’t know what was what.  The tone and language was so odd that it sounded like the sender of the letter didn’t realize that we were already customers.  Instead, it sounded like if became a customer now, we would get a envelope of cash!  Seriously…the letter said this.

Image courtesy of waterschurch.org

Image courtesy of waterschurch.org

Even after calling and speaking to an employee, we were confused.  After telling the representative what work they executed for us, I asked point blank, “what is the offer.  I don’t understand.”  The response:  if we needed anymore work that we would get what was offered in the letter.  It made no sense.

4. Have Your Letter Proofread

We all make mistakes.  I have read textbooks, marketing materials, blogs and letters with a typo.  It happens. It’s embarrassing. We hate it when it happens,right!  However, when the letter is filled with grammatical errors and it rambles on without purpose or real coherence, it kinda leads the reader to the conclusion that someone really was drinking when they wrote the letter.  Not the right impression to be making.

5.  Use the Right Tone 

Using threatening, or what can be perceived as threatening language, when trying to sell is not exactly a Best Practice.  Saying things like “I must give you  this WARNING…” and “This Time You have NO Excuse!” would not be a recommended approach. Kinda left me feeling like I should run for the hills.

6.  Use Capital Letters Judiciously

Using capital letters according to the grammar rules is cool.  Using them repeatedly for entire sentences or words means that you are yelling at me.  Again, not exactly the experience I want from someone trying to sell me something.  I personally shy away from people yelling at me.

7.  Never, ever, ever start a letter like this: 

“It’s 1:43 am and I can’t sleep…Alright, let me give you something no one else will.”    For the love of all that is good and pure in this world, please, please don’t start any letter…ever like this.    Talk about starting out on the wrong foot.  Think about it for a second.  No letterhead, the envelope wasn’t properly addressed and the return address was from people I don’t know.  Holy $#!+.

So, now that I have gotten this off my chest and on paper I feel a little better.  I hope that others will take this advice and use it.  I hope that I never ever see another letter like this.  How about you?  Have you ever received something like this in the mail from someone trying to woo you and get your business?  Do tell!

3 Ways Color Can Influence Buying Behavior

There are many things that influence human behavior and color is definitely one of them.  The effect is often so subtle that we have no conscious realization that we are being influenced by color.

Research shows however, that color can actually influence buying behavior.  In fact, color has the power to evoke strong emotional responses and depending on your culture and your geographic location, using the wrong color could be enough to turn potential and existing customers away from your business.  As a result many marketers, like myself, have studied the meaning of color and the psychology behind color.  So let’s take a 50,000 foot view of color and give you some tips to help you influence customers the right way.

1. Geography and Culture

Sounds straight forward doesn’t it?  Not necessarily.  You don’t need to be a big company to think about the implications of working in different countries or selling to people of different cultures.  In fact, small business really needs to be on top of localization.

One of the best companies for localization is McDonald’s.  Small business can leverage the work they have done and apply it to their businesses.  For example, McDonald’s has  not only adapted the look and feel of their website to meet the local customer’s expectations, but they have changed their menu.   In terms of color, we see that Red plays prominently on their website in India.  Red is an important color and one that has positive meanings in India.

N&EIndia

McDonald’s Website for Northern & Eastern India

 In Mexico however, red is really downplayed.  The website focuses more on the colors that are seen in the Mexican flag.

McDonald's Website for Mexico

McDonald’s Website for Mexico

And in The Netherlands, green is much more prominent than red on the website.  The golden arches are encased in green, not red.  Again, understanding the implications of color is important so that you can focus the right attention in the right place.

McDonald's Website for The Netherlands

McDonald’s Website for The Netherlands

2.  Age

This little known fact is one that can significantly impact your prospect or customer base. Understanding age and how color influences decisions is important if your business focuses on a specific age group.

According to research, green is a color that is more acceptable to people up to about 50 where as orange is a color that, as a person ages, is generally not preferred.   Additionally, as people age, the darker and strong the color, the more it is not desired.  Blue is consistently acceptable and preferred across all age groups.

If you are marketing to baby boomers, be sure to know what colors to fully leverage and which to stay away from.

Baby Boomer Image courtesy of goinglikesixty.com

Baby Boomer Image courtesy of goinglikesixty.com

3.  Psychological Impact of Color

It is true, colors bring on emotion.  Different colors mean different things.  Silver for example, brings about the emotion of calmness and if more on the gray side, it can bring about an emotional response of security, modesty or even intelligence.  Red in China is a sign of happiness and vitality.  When sending flowers to a family who is grieving and close to their Asian culture, be sure to send flowers that do not contain red.

For more information on the meaning of color, what emotions they evoke and how to use color, check out Using Color to Influence Buyer Behavior.

Takeaways:  Do your homework.  Look at what other companies have done and take cues from them.  Hire professionals who know about localization and understand how color can influence prospects and existing customers.