Monthly Archives: February 2015

How to Excel at Sales

It’s a difficult time for the salesperson.  The last two decades have seen significant changes in the way consumers and businesses alike research and purchase products and this shift has created an environment in which only the very best sales people can flourish.  But what is it that’s changed and what are the qualities you as a salesperson should endeavour to possess or work on in order to thrive?  Or what should you be looking for during the recruitment process if you are making revisions to your sales team?

The major change in consumer purchase behaviour is a result of the amount of research that can be done via the web prior to a purchase; particularly in regard to high spend purchases.  Statistics suggest that consumers nowadays speak to a sales person when they are as much as 90% through the buying cycle. In the past the only way to gain more information about a product was by speaking to someone, which presented a greater opportunity to “sell” in the traditional sense. Now, by the time they speak to you or your sales team they will already have a substantial understanding about your offering and what it can provide them.  They are ripe to buy and what’s said or not said in that initial conversation is vital.

So what qualities make a sales person outstanding?

A Consultant

Savvy consumers can smell hard sell a mile off and will run a mile further away.  Good sales is about establishing what the consumer wants through listening to their requirements in depth and making recommendations based on their needs and expectations, not banging on for hours about something that isn’t suitable.  Consumers are time poor and woe betide you for wasting someone’s precious time – it’s hard to come back from that!  Get to the point and identify and address any concerns as quickly as possible.

An Honest Soul

Nobody likes a liar and outstanding sales people are as honest as they come.  From product recommendation to timescales, the more honest you are from the outset the greater the opportunity to build trust.  Traditional commissioned-based sales environments and product-led targets can often prove damaging, encouraging sales to be made when they’re not suitable.  This can have a massively detrimental impact on a fledgling relationship and thus the likelihood of future purchases and recommendations. A good sales person will see the bigger picture and the value of building an ongoing relationship built on trust.  It may seem absurd but it’s often better to admit that another product on the market is better suited if relevant.  Consumers appreciate honesty and it’s a great trust builder.

A Relationship Builder

Look at some of your best sales people and you will see that they are most probably hugely personable people.  Able to make you feel at ease and with a genuine interest in you.  They are great conversationalists (not talkers) and these people are excellent at building relationships.

A Believer

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before; “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will” and that saying is so true.  Self belief is hugely underrated, but having confidence in yourself, and not the cocksure self confidence that gets up peoples’ noses, can work wonders.  It’s the quietly confident nature of someone that makes you feel that everything is going to be just fine.

Equally as important is a belief in the product or service you are trying to sell.  It’s easy to spot someone who is passionate about something.  They will be hugely knowledgeable about the product in question, and no matter how the day is going their enthusiasm shines. Many moons ago, as a recent graduate I landed my first marketing role at a telecoms reseller.  I knew nothing about phones, VoIP or anything else telephony related, and had no interest in it.  I persevered for two years but never progressed within the company as I had no enthusiasm.  After moving industry I flourished as it was so much easier to market something I was passionate about.

A Well Balanced Set of Scales

Now, this last point will not go down well with some companies.  It all depends on your company culture.  But I make no apologies here.  You may have sales people who you think excel in all of the other categories above, but how long will you keep them…

With many businesses having seen a difficult few years, many sales people will have had a pretty hard time of it trying to hit some difficult targets and all too often burnout is a common result.  Resentment builds as home life is put on hold and more hours are worked and that resentment can snowball and soon whatever enthusiasm was once there has gone and you have a miserable sales team with low sales.  Exceptional sales people live their lives.  They work their hours, and they work hard.  At the end of the day they go home and do stuff; exercise, tuck their kids in, take their partner out for dinner.  They also take regular holidays (with their phones and emails switched off!). They’re not slackers and should never be treated as such; they are sensible people who know when to switch off and as a result come to work happy, refreshed and feeling supported by the people in their lives.

Planning Your First Lead Nurturing Campaign – Part 2

If you missed it you can read Part 1 here.

Segment, then segment again!

In order to deliver targeted, personalised content you need to segment your contacts database and then approach each segment differently.  The simplest way to segment is to identify which stage of the buying cycle each prospect is at.  The first segment will have an AWARENESS of their need for a product/service you can provide.  They’re not ready to purchase yet as they have only just become aware.  They haven’t even started researching their options yet or are only just commencing.

The second segment are actively CONSIDERING the most suitable options for their needs, for example researching the most appropriate solutions on the market and making direct comparisons between providers.  Again, these prospects are still not ready to purchase as they are still weighing up the alternatives.

The people in the final segment have made their decision to PURCHASE.  They know what they want, they know what they want it to deliver.  By making this differentiation you can clearly see how different the mindsets of each segment are.

Don’t stop there though.  Clever marketers will see the value in segmenting even further, and research by Aberdeen Group found click-through rates are improved by 14% when they correspondence is personalised.  And we’re not just talking about knowing their name and using it, although that is a great start.  It’s things like knowing their industry, knowing the size of their organisation, knowing their job function.  Gaining insight at this level will give you an amazing opportunity to produce a highly relevant lead nurturing campaign that delivers truly relevant information.


Generating Content

I’ve already outlined the need to steer clear of sales content in your lead nurturing campaign.  We’re nurturing, not selling.  So what other content can you use?  The list is endless and you can be as creative as you like; blog articles, case studies – use different case studies for different segments for the best impact, webinars, podcasts, invites to live web chats, newsletters, even things you organisation is doing for charity or in the community.

You get the idea. And don’t panic, it doesn’t have to be new content.  What do you have in your archives that can be reused?  And don’t forget to include a call to action.  Yes, they’re not sales emails but you still want the people receiving the email to do something as a result.


Persistence Pays

As the content you will be delivering is very gentle and in non-sales tone you will need to touch base with your contacts at regular intervals.  The National Sales Executive Association found 80% of sales are made after the 5th-12th contact.  And that’s not to suggest that by bombarding prospects twelve times within a week will deliver success; we’re talking about a gentle drip feed approach aimed at gaining trust and building relationships. Don’t contact them for the sake of it, and always ensure content is highly relevant to each segment.  It would be prudent to think ahead and put together a structured campaign plan so that you can schedule content topics for the entire campaign.



By keeping a log of your lead nurturing campaign, the content, the dates they were sent and the segments they went to, you can start to gain a picture of the type of content that drives your prospects forward down the funnel.  Experiment by seeing how well different content works for each segment and play around until you have found a formula that works for your business and prospects.  Likewise you can experiment with how your database responds to the timing of emails. AB testing will help you establish optimum timing for each segment.

Planning Your First Lead Nurturing Campaign

I recently wrote about Lead Nurturing campaigns and how there is a tonne of statistics that all point to this style of marketing as being the way forward. Not only do the figures suggest that they deliver notably higher conversion rates but they can also drive forward those difficult to convert unqualified leads.  Sounds lovely, but how do you actually undertake a campaign of this type and reap the benefits of increased sales?

Well, let’s start off by forgetting sales for the moment.  In fact take everything you know about sales and park it in the bin, temporarily.  Yes, improving sales is the desired outcome of this activity but these leads need to be carefully handled.  Today, thanks to the web, we have almost all the information we need to make a purchase decision. Websites are full of product and company information, prices and even detailed product and company reviews.  We have distanced ourselves from the heavy sales approach that was commonplace and often balk whenever we come into contact with it.  These prospects are just the same and approached in the wrong way and/or at the wrong time, they’ll be gone.

Anyone, well almost anyone, can deliver an email campaign, but it takes a lot more consideration to nurture leads and a bit of strategic thinking needs to be applied.  It’s no coincidence the term lead ‘nurturing’ is used.  You need to care for and look after these leads until such time as they are sales ready, giving them gentle reminders about products and services that are relevant to their needs and building trust and ultimately a relationship with your brand.

As I discussed in my last article there are highly intuitive automated lead nurturing software packages on the market that can link with your CRM and other databases and once set up certainly make the process easier, however it is possible to run an effective lead nurturing campaign without one.


Where to start?

Before anything else you need to take stock and ascertain your current conversion rates and assess your funnel, if you have one.  This will provide you with an understanding of where people are currently jumping ship or where there are blocks in the funnel, and it will give a clear benchmark for your lead nurturing campaign.  If stats are anything to go by then over the course of a campaign you could expect to see 15%-20% of your ‘not ready to purchase’ leads convert into a sale (Gleanster).  Set yourself a realistic goal for your campaign based on your current conversions.


Capturing Data

Data can be captured from a variety of sources for all the different stages of the buying cycle, even before they’ve visited your site.  The very best place to start is with the data you already have.  Any information you have sourced from your own website, CRM system or any lists that you have purchased in the past.  Once segmented (see part 2), these are great prospects for emailing as you have their information and can speak directly to them.  These are prospects that can be considered to be in the ‘considering’ stage of the buying cycle as they have actively been looking for suitable products.

In order to capture those in the ‘awareness’ stage and also the early stages of ‘considering’ you should consider a targeted PPC campaign that drives traffic through to dedicated, content specific landing pages on your website.  Generating new pages may seem like excessive work, but it’s the best way to retain as many visitors as possible as it is giving them the information they have been searching for on a plate.  Take them to your home page and you run the risk of them getting lost.

Next week I’ll cover segmentation, generating content, testing and why persistence pays!

Update: Part 2 is now live here.

How to Handle Negative Reviews

Customer reviews can provide a unique insight into your company and how it is being perceived by consumers. This can include opinions on products, services, branding or just the business itself. Although the majority of feedback that companies will receive is positive, the process does open you up for negative responses. Receiving a negative review is never pleasant and many business owners may face feelings of anger or defensiveness but the way in which you deal with these types of reviews can be incredibly important.

Constructive or Personal?

The first thing to do when you or your company receives a negative review is to ascertain what the feedback is actually saying. If the reviewer is outright lying and you know that their views are completely baseless then that is the time to contact the host website in order to discuss having the review removed. Alternatively, if the customer is complaining about something with any basis in truth then your approach should be very different. Take the complaint on board and see if you can use the situation as an opportunity for growth.

Remain Calm

However inflammatory a review may be it is imperative that you remain calm. Reacting to reviewers with negativity or anger will only make the situation worse and could actually validate what they are saying as well making you look unprofessional. Try to communicate in neutral terms and make it clear to the customer that you appreciate their feedback. Replying in a level and diplomatic way will ensure that the situation doesn’t escalate and reflect badly on you. Customers respond to businesses who interact with them on a personal and human level and these types of situations are ideal for illustrating this.

Positivity is Key

It can be easy to focus on the negative within these situations but remaining positive is incredibly important. Acknowledge the customer and their grievances within your reply but use this as an opportunity to showcase your dedication to progress. If you have failed in some way own up to that failure but then move on to how you will rectify the situation, don’t dwell on the negativity. This will not only help to change the reviewer’s opinion but will also act as a good advertisement for any potential customers who may have viewed the interaction


It’s important to take notice of all of the reviews you are receiving and provide feedback if it’s due. Responding to negative reviews within a reasonable amount of time will satisfy the customer and will convey that you are a company that cares. This will also help in attracting new customers who will view you as a company they can trust and feel comfortable doing business with.

Recognise Disingenuous Reviewers

Complaining is usually the last resort for many customers and it tends to yield results. Although the majority of customers will only complain when there’s a reason to, unfortunately some people will use the system in order to try and get a freebie. This behaviour can be extremely difficult to spot and even harder to police but it should be kept in mind when responding to reviews. Try not to respond to threats unless the complainer is within their rights to demand compensation.

If all else fails…Delegate

Business owners may never feel comfortable receiving negative feedback and this is completely understandable. Running a company is incredibly difficult and often requires a huge amount of self-sacrifice and perseverance. This is why it can be uncomfortable for some people to take criticism and if this is the case it may be better to entrust this role with another member of staff. This means that reviews, both positive and negative can be received and dealt with by somebody who may be more impartial and better suited to the position.

Continuous and transparent customer feedback is becoming a permanent fixture of the business landscape. This may be alarming to some but it can be an incredibly useful tool for growth and promotion. Every business will receive negative reviews at some point but that’s not really the issue. It’s not the negative feedback which is important but how the company deals with that feedback. As long as you respond in a calm and collected manner and try to focus on the positive, you can’t fail.