Making Connections

In sales, it’s all about the connections you make, the relationships you build and the value that you add. Quite often, the tag that people put on that is, “Networking“. But, why do so many people make the connections and then neglect to build the relationship or add the value?

Just because you’ve met someone, that does not equate to them reaching out to do business with you. You’ve got to put the work in and that can take many forms. Have you bothered to find out what your new connection does for a living? Can you refer him/her to someone? Do you share common interests and can you recommend a club, restaurant, retail store that caters to that interest? In other words, are you building and bringing value to the relationship? If not, then don’t expect to benefit from a simple introduction.

I believe that your marketing efforts should follow the same format. Just because you’re touching a prospect through an eblast, newsletter, phone call or direct mailing does not mean they will repay you with their business. What value are you adding and how are you building the business relationship?

Have you taken the time to understand the business of your prospect? Do you know the issues their industry is facing? Have you discovered their unique position in their market? Have you purchased their product or referred it to someone else? If you  haven’t put in the time to research and understand them, then how could you possibly help them?

Relationships are everything. What are you doing to build them? Are you clipping articles of interest and forwarding them on with a personal note? Are you figuring out how your product or service could eliminate a roadblock for them or reduce their costs? Have you attended their trade shows or conferences to get a better feel for their competition?

Just as your personal activities should focus on adding value and building the relationship, your orgaization’s marketing activities should be focusing on the same thing. Your website should offer access to resources that provide tools, tips and links that your prospects and clients will find interesting and helpful? Consider conducting webinars or in-person seminars to educate clients and prospects on trends that could affect them. Insure that your direct mail pieces aren’t just fodder for the recycling bin, by adding information and valuable content. Your enewsletters and emails should not be all about you, or about your products, services, technologies or equipment. Share data, statistics and technology tips that your clients could use.

No organization is perfect and we’re all tempted to fall into the trap of talking TO clients and prospects because we want them to know what we do, how we do it, how long we’ve been dong it for and how great we are at it. All of that is important information, but only after the relationship is moving forward. What our initial focus needs to be on is talking WITH them, asking questions, listening, adding value and offering solutions. Those are the activities that will build a relationship. What a win-win for everyone and a great example of effective networking!

More On Cats and Dogs

Earlier this month, I posted a blog on how important it is for a company to hire the right people. I shared that if you don’t hire correctly, you’re always struggling with trying to turn “cats into dogs”. Some will make the switch – but, for those cats who refuse to make a change, it makes sense to let them go and replace them with dogs. Once you have the dogs in place, then communicating the goals, their role in the company and their progress, or lack of progress, becomes very important.

Last Friday I had the opportunity of attending the American Marketing Association‘s luncheon featuring Anthony Cole. His topic was on “Aligning Sales and Marketing”. Since sales and marketing is my primary function here at my company, the topic was of utmost interest to me.

Right from the start, Mr. Cole stated, “If your reps aren’t performing, you’re either hiring wrong or training wrong”. So, he quickly confirmed my philosophy that it’s important to hire the right dogs to do the job. There are many tools available to help you gauge whether you have the right people who just need training and coaching, or, if you need to hire new personnel. Don’t depend solely on interviews. If you’re like me, you tend to believe most of what people tell you and that isn’t good when you’re hiring.

He also spoke about communication between sales and marketing and I found his comments right on target. Marketing spends a lot of time defining the target market(s), crafting the value proposition, purchasing the collateral needed and then they just “drop” it on the sales team with the statement of “Now, go sell it!”. We forget that the team, which has been heading in one direction with one message, must now add a new product or service, or change direction and incorporate  entirely new messaging into their presentations.

The communication between sales and marketing needs to include valuable tools, such as sample letters, elevator speech, voice mail, email and phone scripts. Your sales team may be very receptive about selling an additional product or service, but may have no idea of how to incorporate it into their current sales presentations. In addition, you need to explain the new services and/or direction, the value it will bring the company, how their compensation will be affected and then allow them to practice the new material on you through role playing.

It’s not enough to hand them the tools and give them the information. You need to make sure it’s internalized – that they really understand the direction and see how it fits into the company as a whole. Ask them how they’re going to use this new information because if they can’t tell you, then you’ll know that either more training and coaching are needed, or you may need to replace them. It’s likely that not all sales reps will be able, or willing, to make a change.

My favorite part of Mr. Cole’s talk was when he stated that, “All solutions start with “I”. No excuses!” I believe, this holds true for all people, certainly not just sales representatives. We can go through life blaming everything and everyone, but until we look within and see our contribution to a problem, real change will not happen. It’s not the bad economy, it’s not our pricing structure, it’s not that we don’t have a certain piece of equipment or that voice mail makes it difficult to connect with prospects. It’s discovering what you do have, internally and externally, and then using it to accomplish the goals. 

I believe that life requires all of us to change constantly, or become irrelevant.

You Can’t Turn Cats Into Dogs

Five years ago, I would have introduced myself as an owner of a printing company. Today, that description no longer suffices. We have spent the last five years re-defining Multi-Craft. Today, our focus is on executing our client’s marketing strategy through the marketing channels of print (offset and digital one-to-one), ecampaigns, website development, emarketing portals, mailing, fulfillment and data analytics. We no longer limit ourselves to one channel. We are a company of change and a company of growth.

This re-defining of our company also meant that our staff also needed to be re-defined. In some cases, we had to hire experts to get the knowledge we needed to support a channel, such as mailing and emarketing portals. In other cases, education enabled current employees to grow into new areas of expertise. But, there is a third area and it is where we have taken our existing “cats” and tried to change them into “dogs”. These “cats” are those staff members who feel no need nor have a desire to grow and change. As a family-owned business we often are emotionally tied to our current staff members and the last thing we want to do is to terminate a loyal employee. Instead, we keep trying to force feed our “cats” the dog food they need to become the super-canine we need them to be. In some cases, this worked and in others it did not. While lamenting my headache to a friend, she stated that instead of trying to turn my “cats” into “dogs”, I just needed to hire some “dogs” and let the cats go. Good advice!

Then, someone gave me the book, “You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School” by Mac Anderson. The title sounded a lot like the “stop trying to turn your cats into dogs” scenario that I had been struggling with. So, I immediately began to read it. This book was not solely about the frustration of trying to convince people they needed to grow and change, but was more expansive.

The book stated that, “You can’t teach someone to smile, you can’t teach someone to want to serve, you can’t teach personality. What we can do, however, is hire people who have those qualities and we can then teach them about our products and teach them our culture”. I’d like to add that you can’t teach someone to want to learn, but instead should look to hire people who have a commitment to lifelong learning.

I continued reading this book and there were several things that stood out. Jack Welch said, “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.” Who wouldn’t agree with that? After all isn’t that what a leader is – someone who is a visionary?

But, I think it goes beyond even that. It’s not just about envisioning the future, it’s learning to communicate that future to everyone else. Communicating to potential employees the importance of your company culture, mission, values and commitment to lifelong learning. Communicating to your team so they are informed about what’s happening right now, what’s coming down the road, what their role is and how they are doing.

One of the lessons I have learned is that if we want to continuously improve our organization, we must measure everything that is important. After all, how will we know if we’ve improved if we don’t know where we started and where we are today? The same is true for those you work with. Do they know what is expected of them? Do they know if they are meeting those expectations? If not, do you help them develop a plan to improve? Do you give them opportunities to learn and take on new challenges?

It is the responsibility of a leader to hire those who have the attributes and qualities  needed for the job, define their responsibilities,  hold them accountable for the results, communicate with them and help them to be the best they can be. And, then it’s making sure that you recognize their efforts and appreciate their contributions. Michael Le Boeuf stated, “The greatest management principle in the world is ‘The things that get rewarded and appreciated get done'”. When everyone is working together to accomplish the mission, then everyone wins!

So, I’m going to be a better leader and will stop trying to turn my “cats” into “dogs”. Instead, I intend to actively look for “dogs” who want to be part of an organization dedicated to meaningful growth, lifelong learning and have the ability to embrace change and see the opportunities it can bring.