Selling in the 21st Century

If it’s been more than five, no say 10 years since you’ve had to sell or pitch a product or service, forget everything you previously learned. The birth of the internet and dawn of the Information Age has forever changed how we sell in the 21st century.

My husband is a supervisor for a big manufacturing company and he shares some of the head-shaking-in-dismay tales of life in a manufacturing plant.  You might not think so, but it’s great pillow talk for a small business owner such as myself. I get to listen and learn from his daily adventures.

He tells me about Joe and Bob (not their real names); they are salesmen of a current vendor who brought a new and improved widget for my husband to review.

You have to understand that once my husband enters the plant, it’s nonstop until he leaves the parking lot and goes home for the day. I’m real lucky if I call him at work and he answers my call. He’s that busy.

You would think Joe and Bob know this since this fast-paced work environment is not uncommon to most manufacturing plants.

My husband tells me they failed to read his body language. He leaned way back in his chair. He fiddled with stuff on his desk.

You see Joe and Bob had a sales script and they weren’t going to deviate from that script…regardless of my husband’s blatant disinterest.

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“Bob, isn’t this the finest widget ever made?”

[Laughter] “You bet it is Joe! There’s not another widget out there that has this great shiny new feature!” [More laughter between the two.]

I took some creative license with that exchange but according to my husband not by much. It was that corny, that self-serving and my husband was losing his patience.

Being a small business owner trying to crack her first corporate account, my first question was how in the world did they get in to see you in the first place?

Since Joe and Bob were representatives of a current vendor, they had direct access to my husband. He was using their widget, so when he got the email about a new model, he agreed to the sales meeting.

This proved Jill Konrath’s point in her book Selling to Big Companies. Once you’re “in”, it’s easy to navigate to other departments and business divisions within the corporation.

Were Joe and Bob good salesman? Did they earn my husband’s respect? Will they get another meeting? No. Just because they had access, didn’t mean they would keep getting my husband’s business.

You can’t ignore the needs of your customer.

According to Konrath, “Successful selling starts from a solid, in-depth understanding of your customers. You have to think, feel, sense and evaluate their perspective in order to develop and implement an effective account entry strategy.”

What else doesn’t work

I asked my husband if he got a lot of sales calls and emails. Calls, not a whole lot. Emails, yes. He routes the emails to a “special” Outlook folder and sales calls go straight to voicemail. He told me about one sales person who had him on a calendar. He would get a call from this person every three weeks. The calls came like clockwork and every three weeks those calls went straight to voicemail. Then the day came when my husband actually needed what Mr. Every Three Weeks was selling. Did my husband pick up the phone and call and place an order? No. He said he didn’t want to reward that behavior!

Sales scripts, self-serving sales pitches and scheduled calls aren’t working in Corporate America.

So what’s a small business owner to do?

Know Who You’re Talking To

First, have your target audience defined! It will be a complete waste of time and resources to pitch outside of your target audience. It’s hard enough with strict gatekeepers and the barrage of messages we’re all getting to pitch to the wrong people. Go through your CRM or sales database and start looking for patterns and similarities and begin to build your audience profile. If you’re just starting out, look at your competitors. Social media makes it pretty easy to see who is at least interested in similar products or services. Creating the new sales pitch will take a lot of time and effort so you want to get this right.  Make sure you’re talking to the right people.

Homework Required

Second, you’ll have to do some research. Today’s sales approach has more to do with the customer and solving their problem than your widget. If your sales pitch sounds the slightest bit self-serving, you may never get another opportunity to get in front of that client again so don’t blow it by touting your latest product offering or feature.

Has your potential client been featured in the news lately or have they made some big announcement? Does your product or service somehow fit into this new occurrence? What about changes to the industry that impact your potential client? Can you help them get ready for that change? Your sales pitch must address their issue and your solution to their issue.

Now do you see why it’s so important to make sure you’re talking to the right people? Who wants to do all this work for the wrong audience?

Use the Gift of Social Media

Third, you’ll have to make contact and that’s no easy feat and honestly I don’t see it getting any easier. The paid version of LinkedIn pays off handsomely in this case. You can search by title, company size, geographic location and depending on which level of service you get, send LinkedIn inmail to the right contact person.

Now, here’s where your homework and research come into play. You’ll have to craft a short and to the point message to your contact. And you’ll have to craft several of these messages because you may not get a response right away. Understand you’re not the only person to employ this method. Give lots of care and thought to your subject line; it can mean the difference between your mail being opened or sent to that “special” Outlook folder.

Definitely join the right groups on LinkedIn. If your contacts are in a certain group, join. Without having their email address or previously worked together, you can request a connection based on group membership.

Please remember, no one likes being sold to. No one.  So unless you have done the research and have a strategy and message in place for that potential client, let your first correspondence be very casual (hey thanks for accepting my request) and avoid being shunned in the future because of a “buy my product now!” first email.

If your contact person is a Twitter user, that’s reason to rejoice and break out into all manner of merriment.

Twitter is absolutely wonderful for bypassing gatekeepers and getting direct access to your contact person. The same rules apply here too. No self-serving pitches. Nothing that remotely smells of sales or you will be ignored or even worse..blocked!

Traditional Marketing…Yes It Still Works

I still believe in the power of direct mail marketing. The right message, submitted in an unconventional way is very powerful and effective and helps you stand out for all the right reasons.

Selling in the 21st century looks a lot different from selling just 10 years ago. The game has changed and small business owners, especially those wanting corporate accounts are going to have rethink their strategy. We all are. It’s a customer-centric world now. WIIFM: “What’s in it for me?” is governing how we conduct business and demands we alter our approach when pitching new clients and how we keep the ones we have. Those working in Corporate America are only going to get busier, have greater demands placed on them and how we approach them and engage them will also continue to evolve.

So here’s to keeping up with it all and landing the corporate client of your dreams.

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