Well Meaning Terrible Advice

green and white cactus table decor on gray steel file cabinet
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I can see why people often want someone to simply listen rather than give their opinion. The person with the problem knows more than you do about their situation. When you don’t have skin in the game or know the nuances of a predicament, your advice can come off as arrogant and insensitive.

It’s a brutal and hard world, and often we simply need to process or share what’s happening with those we trust to get clear on our convictions.

If we are a friend or trusted advisor, the temptation is to come with answers quickly. Sometimes, it’s well meaning. We want to help.

Other times, it’s irritating. There are often underlying reasons why a decision was made or sins overlooked. And the problem can get enshrouded in friendships, power dynamics, family alliances, owed favors, and many other relational factors hidden to what seems apparent to solving a problem.

It’s hard to unpack those spiderwebs and you can get terrible advice in the process if you share incompletely. “Yes, don’t you think I know that? But how do I keep the relationship?”

These days, I try to practice the following:

  1. If I have problems to share, measure the person. If they can’t help, don’t share. Better to go for a run instead and sort it out emotionally and strategically.
  2. If someone is sharing their problems, listen with care as much as possible. Try to understand what they are not saying.

It saves resentment on both sides when I can stick to these practices. What I find is that most people know how to solve their problems. It may be a hard call they don’t want to make. It may be a relationship they don’t want to compromise. It may be they don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Or, some people even love their problems. It makes them feel important.

I think it’s magical when you can walk with another person, make a difference and really care. But, it takes sensitivity, acumen and love to make good advice work well.

One thing for sure, you can’t go wrong with humility in any situation.

Asymmetry Can Bite You

Scales

Have you ever assumed something about someone and been surprised? Assumptions can bite you in the butt pretty fast if you are not careful.

I like to be surprised all the time. And I don’t like to make assumptions.

One thing I do assume is that any person or opportunity I engage has asymmetry. There is information I do not have. Everyone can teach me something. Furthermore, I have a deficit coming into any new relationship or deal. It’s unknown territory. So, it’s best to remain open and relaxed.

When I have asymmetry working on my side, for example, in advising clients, I’m fully aware of the imbalance in knowledge or insight. And based on the deal we are in, I make it a goal to close the gap, so we can have a dialogue based on trust. Often, this means taking time, listening, and sharing information in a way that is easy to digest, and focusing on education.

I do this so I can build long-standing trust with people who are worthy or who have retained me.

I have seen players in the marketplace that try to maintain an advantage in asymmetry in information or power, and I don’t see that strategy working very well these days. When we have an immense sea of options that are readily available, you can build mistrust quickly by trying to maintain a power imbalance in your favor.

I don’t think there’s a cut and dry policy. You have to read the people and situations. Sometimes you have information thieves that devalue you quickly by insisting on free knowledge from you. I don’t think you have to necessarily relent and give away your value. You won’t feel great about such misplaced generosity. You’ll feel used.

But in the case where good deals have been made with people that you like, building trust becomes gold. Much of that comes from how you handle asymmetry and distribute your knowledge accordingly.

You know things others don’t. They know things you don’t. It happens in car buying, dating, entrepreneurship and all your dealings. It’s a great opportunity to lead and focus on how you build trust.

 

What I Like to Say Yes To

While I shared my thoughts about most things being a No in our working reality, there are plenty of people and opportunities to say Yes to. The key is to eliminate the noise and keep a self-discipline in allowing people into your life and business that drain you emotionally, financially and physically.

The cost is enormous to spend time on projects or attention-sucking efforts that keep you from moving towards your goals and getting results. Of course this means you are clear about your goals and what results you are seeking. So, that should be a first priority.

I spend a lot of time sharing ideas and seeking to help people. But if someone is not responsive or is drowning in chaos, it’s not worth trying to push or convince such people of the merits of taking action. Better to move on and find opportunities and people to work with that are easy and action-oriented.

The right Yeses get you closer to your goals. Here are a few to keep your eyes and mind open towards:

  • Action people. As I mentioned, these are the people I look for. They move ideas to actions quickly rather than linger, hope or remain in a state of unclear thinking. Action people have eagerness and execution as part of their behaviors.
  • Asymmetrical Upside. Finding deals where there is low downside and massive upside is not necessarily common. However, it’s well worth saying Yes to because of the risk equation. There are many deals that can be massaged towards asymmetry with creativity. The kind of thinking that is required has to be strategic and insightful in nature. I like massaging the details to create upside and mitigate risk. We can’t control outcomes completely but we can hedge to allow entrepreneurial pursuits to be worthwhile without foolishness.
  • More Options. Saying yes to choices with the most options keeps you freer than the person painted into a corner by limitations of choice. There are no guarantees. We don’t live in a world of complete cause and effect. We do live in a world of probabilities. You can tilt fate and outcomes towards your favor by using optionality for your own benefit. It’s a wonderful strategy that helps you navigate the unknown or compete in a world of too many choices.
  • Testing. Ideas are wonderful in that they are perfect in our mind’s eye. However, our minds are limited in what they can conceive as obstacles, adversity and limitations. I say yes to ideas that can be tested and moved along a path that works out the details. In the process you get insights, understanding and even skills that make your ideas workable and more robust.
  • Adventure. I hate boring. I know how easy our psyches can get comfortable and get stuck in a rut. We are not machines. We are human beings and we can experience more and live more fully by staying open to adventure that comes along. I like to say Yes at opportunities to grow, explore and have fun. It helps my motivation and opens up creativity and depth of experience. Those are so critical in a world of abundant choice and commoditization. Adventure helps avoid commoditization thinking.

What do you like to say Yes to?

Marketing Process Not Hyped Outcomes

Hype - for a future blog post

It is all too frequent to witness companies who are caught up in the frenzy of the social bubble. Seth warns about this in his article on social media noise. It’s a good read to hopefully focus people on the substance of connecting and delivering value rather than driving metrics that have nothing to do with revenue.

We preach the gospel of marketing process and systems and our customers that understand this realize that there are not shortcuts. They often learn this after trying all kinds of marketing schemes. Likes, connects, and tweets may be high, but sales are not. It’s a typical story. The problem lies in the fact that marketers miss what buyers actually want and do. It’s about them, not about the buyer, and therein lies the blind spot.

Instead of jumping into the next social fad, consider building something that produces a predictable and repeatable result:

  • Understand your funnel. We do not like being sold. We do buy, however. And when we buy, we walk through a process. If you can understand the distinct steps of a buyer’s process, then you can identify the process of your marketing funnel.
  • Provide value at each step. As a buyer takes a step, ensure there is appropriate value. Make it about them, not you. The right value packaged at the right time enables your process to create a memorable and trust-building experience with prospects.
  • Identify conversion points. There is a right time for selling to begin. Your system should measure and deliver actions for your sales team at the right time. By doing so, a relevant conversation ensues with the buyer.
  • Continually refine. You can manage and change what you can measure. As your process works to service your leads, refine it to increase conversions and deliver increased value.

Outcome thinking is disjointed and without focus. Process thinking is about building something that is personal, relevant and timely. It is harder work, and thus, perhaps why so few pay the brain bill to make it work. If there were a shortcut, everyone would be taking it. The truth is that a good sound process will always deliver above the latest marketing hype.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.

Validation In The Buying Process

validatedThe internet changes the game between the buyer and the seller. Second opinions are easy to access for a buyer. Assuming your lead generation systems and marketing automation are set up well, a new lead will be nurtured, scored and engaged when they are ready. There are analytics and systems which work effectively. However, trust is not built solely on marketing automation.

When a buyer is wanting something, they search and look specifically for their desired product or service. The choices may be numerous. Your competitors are just a click away. If they click off of your website, then you can easily be forgotten in their continual navigation.

Imagine what you do when you do start to hone in on some choices after searching. You gravitate to places of value. You are seeking validation. Here is how validation works within an inbound marketing process:

  • Content Which Educates. Sellers think about what they sell all the time. They forget that buyers think about many diverse things and have limited attention. They are new to a domain you are fluent and obsessive about. They don’t even know the right questions to ask. If you have content which educates then their searching and navigation continually draws them into your rich resources to help them understand value and orient themselves to your industry.
  • What Others Say. When the buyer decides that you are worth engaging because of what they see and feel from your inbound marketing systems, then they find validation in what others say. Testimonials, social media and other forums and sites which lend opinion about you are important. They build a picture of your credibility. It’s all out there. Be sure your goodwill and success stories are captured and searchable.
  • Congruence. We have all experienced businesses which have remarkable marketing but they disappoint when the first touch point with the customer happens. Unresponsiveness, uncaring, rudeness or complexity create incongruence with the message. Validation requires that what the buyer experiences aligns with what they expect from what they read and research.

There are anonymous visitors that are checking you out right now and trying to decide if you provide value and are a good choice. If you can think through each step of your process with these points in mind, then trust grows and you win new business. Fix the broken links and work it continually. The battle for our customers’ minds and business is relentless.

How can your own process work better?

Teaching Articles To Help Prospects Overcome Obstacles

Content marketing has a main goal of helping your prospects.  Thus, teaching articles which help your buyers to frame their problems and figure out how to overcome their issues need to be part of your engagement and approach..

When a person lands on an article or is following you via social media or RSS, they gravitate to what will improve their life and circumstance.  They have problems and they are searching and tuning in for answers.  Your content can create the value and guidance they are seeking.  Here are ways to make teaching articles effective and move your buyer to higher levels of trust:

  • Think deeply about the obstacles.  Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and empathize with their pain and obstacles.  Articulate this and help them to understand the context of their problem.  Providing context and what the obstacles are will make a connection and make your content relevant to their world.
  • Provide strategy and steps.  Walk your prospect through the steps.  Tell them how to overcome the obstacles.  Listing them out in sequence with descriptive steps helps them to take action.  A checklist also works.  If they do the steps a positive outcome of change should happen.
  • Focus on the change.  You have success stories.  Share what the picture looks like and how people who have used your process, service, product or advice benefitted.  Paint a picture so they can see themselves inside the story.  Connect the dots through teaching that each step leads to the outcome you articulate.
  • Share how you help.  There may not be a complete solution without your leadership and service.  Speak concretely about how you work and what part you play in the successful story.  Teach how your process and approach works and how you do things differently and specially.

Assume that buyers are not as educated as you are.  They are learning to ask the right questions and think about how to solve a problem that is commonplace and frequent for you.  Teaching them how to approach and contextualize their problem provides immense value to orient them to how to solve the problem.

How can you use teaching articles to help your buyers?  Feel free to comment below.

Inbound Leads Do Not Want Interruption

As a seller, it is understandable that you have such a high impulse to sell leads hard.  The problem is that buyers do not like to be sold.  When they feel sold, it creates tension and resistance, the very opposite effect you are trying to promote.

There is a new strategy that is at play and has been at play in marketing to customers.  It is much less about how great you are and more about how valuable you are.  Determining your value is in the control of the buyer.  They search out what they want and put the pieces together for solving their problem.  You likely do the very same thing when you are looking for entertainment, solutions or pain relief.  You are buying and avoiding the selling until the very end when you determine you are ready.

Getting a premature sales call while you are still shopping is invasive and annoying.  It can also reduce trust.

Your marketing systems and sales process should walk with the buyer in a way that is congruent with how they are walking their own process.  Consider integrating the following as part of your marketing strategies:

  1. Provide answers to their problems.  Think long and hard about the problems that your buyers have and why they would use what you offer to solve it.  Talk about those problems.  Actually, write about them.  Record video and audio.  Create a place on your site that allows for access to your knowledge.  Your knowledge is an asset when it is packaged and speaks to problems.
  2. Focus on building trust.  Assume everyone is busy and they do not want to be interrupted.  Be respectful.  Make your contact count.  Cold calls do not work.  Spam is highly intrusive.  Build trust over time.  Avoid the illusion that one smart email or call will close a sale.  Instead, build a system that provides relevant, timely and personal value over time.
  3. Create small steps to commitment.  If “buy now” is your strategy, then you must have high emotion and pain for it to work.  Assuming that you are not selling a heart transplant or antivenom, your buying process can be more segmented.  Offer a webinar first to educate.  Or give a free consultation.  See how small you can get without inconveniencing the buyer.  This creates a connection and value being exchanged – attention for service.  Small steps lead to bigger results later.

You can see the old school sales people desperately trying to connect with interruption.  They still cold call you or send an unsolicited email or direct mail piece.  They set themselves up to be ignored.

You have the option today to interrupt people and do what is uninvited and ineffective.  Or you can spend your energy, focus and budgets on growing something that will work predictably over time.  It’s how buying is done.

What do you think?  How are you connecting with buyers today that does not interrupt?

Sales Process Steps For Qualified Leads

Today’s sales process is different than in times past.  Your sales prospects are better educated and in more control.  They do not feel the reliance on a salesperson to educate them.  When they engage a salesperson, they are giving attention that they are greedily protecting.

Everyone is inundated with irrelevant and intrusive marketing messages.  When we decide what we are looking for, then we search for it and when we feel ready, we engage.

Your sales process should begin with qualified leads.  Qualification can happen from self-selection and marketing automation systems that help to identify and profile your leads.  This digital information should be fully accessible to salespeople on your team to be able to orient themselves to who is ready.

Assuming your inbound marketing and marketing automation systems are set up to help your sales team, here are some process steps to consider for converting leads into buyers:

  1. Set a first stage in your CRM.  This should be a stage that sales deems as qualified.  Qualification should be concretely defined by your organization based on authority, budget, fit and timing.  Sales should engage based on qualification.  In the early stages, the feedback loop to marketing should create refinement of the qualification criteria and how this step is accomplished.
  2. Set a meeting with value.  The goal of sales should be to get a meeting.  Meetings are a first step to the relationship.  It should be valuable.  A consultative approach mapping out a process is one example.  A webinar that gives valuable ways to solve your customers’ problems is another.
  3. Offer the value proposition.  Your value proposition may be standard or custom.  If it is standard, then point to the product order page.  If it is customized, then get a proposal produced quickly.  Your meeting should have captured what was required.  If your sales process requires more than one meeting then use these to build an ongoing proposal as details are captured in your CRM fields.
  4. Continue providing value.  Selling your prospect can be repelling.  Now that you have understanding of their specific problems, go to work providing resources to help them solve the problems.  Stories of how others have solved their problem or tools which are useful are valuable.  Be the resource for providing value, not just selling something.
  5. Prepare the service order.  There is a handoff after a sale is made.  Be sure that your sales process creates a world-class experience to kick off your service or deliver your product.  Create process steps for handing off to your operations or project team.  This is about the new customer.  Poor salespeople can focus only on themselves and not create a fluid customer experience after the sale is made.

These are generalized sales process steps that serve more as a framework.  Your sales team is a vital part of your integrated marketing process.  They develop the relationship to further build trust.  Be sure that the steps are well-defined and executed to create a cohesive customer experience.

What are your thoughts?

3 Selling Proposition Strategies

Selling Proposition Strategies

When a customer finds you, it is because they were focused on your value proposition.  They searched for you via the internet or their network most likely.  If  you are set up correctly, you were found and deemed credible compared to the convenient mouse click to your competition.

After the click, your selling proposition starts.  Your opportunity to draw people in is built on how effectively you have designed your selling proposition.  While there are many facets to effectively creating a comprehensive selling proposition, here are three which are key to helping your buyer engage you further in the sales process:

1. Become A Content Hub

If your website is set up like a brochure talking about how great you are, you lose.  We don’t trust sales.  We use the internet to educate ourselves and decide who we are going to engage when we are ready.  Your site should have at least 50 articles helping your prospective clients think through the issues and angles of their problem, not yours.  Their perception of your value greatly increases based on how much valuable content you can deliver.

In your content, be sure it is educational and not a sales pitch.  At some point, your buyer is ready to buy.  This happens when they feel comfortable with the problem before approaching someone for the solution.  Empowering a buyer to feel knowledgeable about the issues helps to build the bridge for taking a step towards an initial consultation with you.

2. Create A Clear Call To Action

Each article must continually point to a clear call to action which is consistent, concrete and clear.  If you clutter your content and layout with multiple click points, then you will confuse your prospect.  There should be a clear and easy next step.  Something which is not a large commitment but which removes your buyer’s anonymity is ideal.  Help them reveal themselves.

Thus, your call to action has the goal of getting an email address to start a dialogue.  The value exchange should be designed around increased value in content.  Access to a special report, tip sheet, e-course, video or an array of other mediums that is well-designed and worthwhile for a buyer is critical to design and offer.

3. Measure And Iterate

When you set up your selling proposition, you will miss.  Intelligence in your marketing automation system relies on a feedback loop.  You want to know how much you missed by and what the factors are.  Thus, your analytics should be clear in showing you the process drop-offs and help you to create improvements.  The before and after effects must be measurable.

Furthermore, your call to action could be presented in a toggled A/B test to see which pathway solicits greater interest.  The key is to measure the click points and conversion points in your process.  This means limiting the pathways your buyer can take and tightening the funnel.

The work involved in attracting and capturing leads relies on your commitment to the strategies of lead conversion.  With so many options for a buyer today, your ability to build trust quickly and help the buyer take a next step with your selling strategy must be well-designed.  If your marketing automation system has been designed, analyzed and optimized, then you will find a repeatable process for generating and converting leads.  You will have a system, and it will scale to become a lead generation asset in your company.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment below.

Marketing Automation: Beyond The Boundaries

Boundaries (II)

Much of old school selling happened on a personal level. Face-to-face meetings and phone calls were common. Prospects gave us attention because we had information which would help them understand something they were unfamiliar with.

The new economy is digital. We can self-service on what we need education or orientation on using the internet. Buying is done far before the selling starts by a salesperson. However, it is part of one continuum.

Unfortunately, organizations trapped in old mindsets are limited by self-imposed boundaries. They can only measure, react and move sales forward based on a buyer’s willingness to give time and attention for a meeting.

The boundaries from an old model limit visibility, interaction and value exchange possible in a much larger paradigm. Marketing automation goes beyond traditional boundaries to augment the selling process and skills of an organization with timely value to prospects. Here are some things that your new process can now support when you go beyond the boundaries:

  • Automation is doing the prospecting. Multiple personal follow-ups may not be welcome. Once a week personal touchpoints are about the maximum a prospect can tolerate without perceiving aggressiveness. However, valuable information delivered at the right time can record digital behaviors – opens, clicks, page visits, downloads, etc. – and be recorded within your CRM customer data. Your salesperson and your marketing automation system are working in tandem with all touchpoints – personal and digital – recorded in a prospect’s record.
  • Prioritization of leads. A salesperson can have one engagement at a time. They work in serial. Marketing automation working with a sales process helps to percolate the most ready leads. Lead scoring reports help to communicate how active a buyer is with your content and their readiness to buy based on responsiveness and interaction with your content assets. This helps sales to focus their energy on a more qualified list of leads.
  • Lead conversion pipeline. If you are only working in the physical realm, then your pipeline is what you see and touch. However, a pipeline of promoted leads can automate what constitutes a working pipeline for your sales team. Lead distribution from a large set of visitors or prospects can be managed automatically with assignment rules in place. Your sales meetings can be focused on action rather than reporting, for the reporting is real-time with true sales opportunities.
  • Sales readiness. If your salesperson is having to educate in valuable meetings with the client, then it is a limited meeting compared to a buyer who is able to dialogue and collaborate. Nurturing from marketing automation can prepare the mindset, dialogue and understanding of the buyer. This helps them to feel comfortable in technical discussions and ask the right questions. Framing of the discussion creates a better buying situation where intelligent questions and dialogue can occur. It feels like selling otherwise where there is a large knowledge imbalance between the salesperson and the buyer.

Ultimately, marketing automation removes boundaries between the buyer and the information they need. Trust can be built and the ingredients for a rich sales discussion are prepared with the buyer able to consume valuable information on their timetable. It is convenient and preferable for how people like to buy in the new economy.

If your processes rely only on human touchpoints, then your boundaries can limit revenue opportunity.

What would automation look like for your business to grow sales?