An Independent Venture: Sales?

I was at a software conference and met up with someone in marketing. I asked Marketing Friend for advice about how to negotiate sales and land clients for my business. Here is a digest of the advice she gave me.

It Turns Out There Is Something In A Name

First things first: how do people know you? Not only that, once they know you, how do they remember you? Despite what certain inventors of English literature may write, there can be quite a bit in a name.

  1. You need a name
  2. Your name should be associated with you
  3. Your name should be memorable

You might think (1) is a little silly but at this point in my business I had no name so I was confronted with an existential crisis every time someone asked where I worked.

If you have a larger company, you may not want to  associate it directly with yourself but rather with what your company identity is. I work on my own so I can make the company name more personal. If you can find a personal trait to coerce into a memorable and catchy name, you can create something that helps people remember both you and the company.

Example: If you have a common name with an alternate spelling, use the corrective phrase as a title. This is contrived but if your name is “Joan” but spelled “Jone” then you can have a company named “J number one” or “J – 1, 2, 3”. This is both personalized to you and helps your clients associate you and your company together.

Bad Example: I have a silent ‘d’ in my name, which Marketing Friend noticed right away. She said, “Call your company ‘With a “D.”‘ For what I hope are obvious reasons, I’m not going to go with that one. It would definitely be memorable though. Not safe for work reference.

Espionage

A.K.A. Gathering Competitive Information

You will win bids and you will lose bids. Every win is an opportunity to strengthen the positive aspects of your sales and every loss is a way to identify gaps and shrink them. When you lose a bid, take the loss gracefully and use this opportunity to get information about the winning bid from your formerly potential client. This will almost be the only time you’ll get this information because you’re playing on guilt in the client. Remember this needs to be done as an immediate reaction to the rejection of your bid.

Example:

Client: “Hi Alacritical, I just wanted to follow up to say we’ve decided to go with another consultant for this project.”

Me: “I understand and I’m glad you found someone you want to work with. If you don’t mind my asking, what about that team made them stand out to you?”

This can be a fishing expedition but I hope to find out about what the competitors bid is and whether they had some marketable edge over me.

Sell Like A Vampire Hunter: Straight Through The Heart

It turns out humans aren’t robots. It can be disappointing news, but there you go. We have feelings in addition to logic and often we aren’t aware of how this affects our decisions when we think we’re being logical. That’s a whole other discussion though. When you are telling a story, making a joke, or selling anything, you need to hook that emotional part of a person and show them how what you are saying relates to them. Once you’ve got that attachment, you can let that robot logic make the decisions and spit out all the data and numbers you want.

Anatomy

  • A sales pitch is a story
  • A story has a beginning, middle, and end
  • The beginning draws people in through emotion and a clearly identified challenge
  • The middle describes an action in response to that challenge
  • The end is how that action resolved the challenge and addressed the emotion at the beginning

Example

You want to pitch a service where you audit a cloud software system and identify cost savings areas. What are the different parts of this story?

  1. Emotion: You’re looking to play on the fear of losing money, the pressure of increasing profit margin without increasing resources, and the avarice of taking more money home
  2. Hook: Build your hook with a clear definition of the challenge and emotion. This means using language that evokes emotional responses. “Are you sure you could see the invisible leaks draining your infrastructure funds?” “Do you find yourself squeezing your budget for more research funds? Look no further than your own infrastructure as a bounty of potential savings.” “What would you say to boosting that profit margin with some simple streamlining techniques to your infrastructure?”
  3. Action: Describe what action you can take to solve this problem and address that emotional response you just played on. “We will use our team of skilled infrastructure engineers to dive into your infrastructure to deeply understand what your needs are. We can always find ways of lowering costs without lowering quality, engineering happiness, and ease of maintenance.” Note the continued used of evocative language. Also note use of the second person voice. You want your client to feel like this is something you’re doing just for them even if we all know that’s not true.
  4. Happily ever after: This is where you can start throwing in some data. Talk about success stories and what they got out of your services. “As a result of this work, we’ve empowered small and large businesses to re-invest almost 25% of their previously wasted infrastructure funds into innovation and growth.” Perhaps with a strong implication that we can do this for you too.

I personally don’t like the part of sales where I need to use emotionally charged words or topics to trigger attention or attachment but the good news is, this works for telling jokes and making effective presentations too. Check out TED talks and other advertisements to see if you can identify each of the components of the story they’ve created.

Client Communication Guidelines

Good news, you did the sales part and now you can just relax and treat clients like a regular person? No. It’s not going to be as much of an effort but you need to respect that they are running their own business and they are the center of their own universe. What does this mean?

  • Do not sound like you’re reciting a one-size-fits-all response. Personalize to show that you are making this proposal for them specifically. “For you, I recommend…”, “Something that will work well for your system…”
  • Do not use jargon. Use simple and direct communication. Take a look at the way they do news bulletins on television and how they can be understood by most high school students without difficulty.
  • Spend time focusing on making sure they see you understand the problem and are there to help them cope with it instead of throwing a solution at them and walking away.
  • When proposing alternatives to a solution or suggesting a solution to a separate problem you have not been asked to solve, always empower the client to make the decision. Present your suggestion in a way that highlights the differences (i.e. even if the change isn’t visual, a visual difference is easier to understand). Propose objectively and respect their choice.
  • See if you can connect with individuals closest to the problem to gain the best level of understanding. This can also smooth some turbulence caused if you indirectly create work for others before you’ve talked to them about the work.

Phrasebook

There were a few phrases that, as a “radically candid” person, seem okay but Marketing Friend told me to adjust:

  • “Renegotiate” should be “Modify” – renegotiate is scary and will lead people to close down and back away despite its accuracy.
  • “You can’t afford me” should be “This isn’t a good fit” – Being a woman in tech, I’m repeatedly told to assert my value. Just not with clients it turns out.
  • “You say you can’t afford me but I guarantee I’ll do a great job and it will be worth it” should be “I really want to work with you on this project; don’t let money stand in the way” – This communicates that you are committed to doing a good job on the project but also that you’re not just selling the service, you’re selling your emotional investment as well. Thus, selling your heart.

Notes on Being a Woman in Business

We hear a lot about how gender stereotyping harms women in business, politics, the home, and basically everywhere. However, there are some ways women can leverage this in sales.

It is more acceptable for women to show emotional and caring according to gender stereotypes. As a result, women can show much more emotional attachment to potential clients and highlight their caring and supportive strengths as an asset. If you can find someone who can do the job and actually cares about how it affect you, why wouldn’t you choose them?

This is not to say you should sell your heart to these companies. When you genuinely are interested in delivering a service and want to show you care, do so. This is about letting that extra bit come out in your sales.

Example: Say, “I love the ideas and innovation you’re bringing to this market and I want to be here to support you through building this vision” instead of “I find your ideas and innovation interesting and I’d like to contribute”

Now, this is a touchy subject. I’m not saying men can’t do this. They can. However, due to the unfortunate restrictive bias of gender stereotypes (remember, they’re not good), men may be seen as weaker for showing this kind of emotion. Weaker means less trustworthy to some people. It’s unfair. I’m sure men all over North America are just crying themselves to sleep at night with that extra $0.20 on the dollar they make over myself and other women.

Note: I did intentionally choose an article that both explained and contradicted that number for maximum fairness to everyone.

The End

Remember, these are just notes and ideas from me and my marketing friend. Everyone works differently and all I can hope is that trying this out will make a few more interesting blog posts to write.

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