A CEO is concerned that her company does not have enough new prospects or
business on the horizon. New business opportunities appear sporadically but not
predictably. She asks how others schedule their time and effort to bring in new
clients. How do you maintain a robust pipeline?
from the CEOs:
Devote a regular amount of time to business and relationship development. Even when business is busy it is important to have the discipline to devote 4 to 6 hours per week to new business development. Schedule this time and fill it with activity. Occasional networking doesn’t work.
What differentiates a company is its brand. If new business comes from referrals, turbo-charge this by becoming the information hub for the referral group. Make it easy for others to make referrals.
There is a hierarchy of things to do.
Stay on potential referrers’ radar screens – monthly or quarterly awareness marketing to referral sources.
Spread awareness of best practices in areas where the company has expertise.
Make best practices relevant with situational stories.
Think in terms of a target.
Where do most referrals come from? This is the center of the bull’s eye
2nd Ring – 2nd level of referrals
3rd Ring – 3rd level of referrals
Network more with contacts at the center of the target – they know clients in need of help.
There is a lot of information in the cloud that is relevant to the business – personnel moves, hiring, firing, etc. If you it is possible to track this, it can help.
LinkedIn can help. Look for 1st and 2nd degree links to individuals of interest. For example, you want to meet a CEO who on LinkedIn is a 2nd degree link. Request a warm introduction from a 1st degree link between you and the CEO.
Think of LinkedIn in terms of rifle shots, not a shotgun approach. This makes it both more manageable and more valuable.
Situation: A rapidly growing US software company has an office in Europe. Prospects for key positions have been flown from Europe to the US for interviews. Two or three good prospects have withdrawn their applications before the company could make an offer, citing cultural incompatibility as their reason. How do you hire foreign personnel?
Advice from the CEOs:
Cultural incompatibility can be an evasive non-response. It is important to dig deeper, perhaps with the assistance of a European-based consultant, to determine what the candidates perceived as the incompatibility. Do this with the candidates that have already rejected the company. Identifying the deeper reason will help to pre-screen future candidates before flying them to the US for interviews.
It is important to have a local leader. This appears to be the individual that the company is attempting to hire. The local leader will then do the hiring for the local office. Employees work for their managers and with their peers and will decide on whether to accept a position based on their feelings of compatibility with these individuals.
Given that the company is attempting to hire the leader of the European office, review and approval of the candidate by the CEO is important. Here are options to explore:
Spend some time studying the culture of the country in which the office is located (European countries vary according to local culture) and adapt the interview style so that it is more compatible with this culture.
Hire a European that the CEO trusts to do the recruiting, screening, interviewing and selection a final set of candidates. Ask this individual for their input on the best way of facilitating a meeting with the CEO. For example, instead of flying candidates to the US, once several candidates have been identified travel to Europe and instead of conducting formal interviews, have dinner with each of the candidates. This reduces the tension and makes the interview more congenial. Consider taking the head of HR with along and both of you having dinner with the candidates and their spouses. Again, this will reduce the tension in the meetings, and you will have two viewpoints on the candidates.
If, after trying the suggested alternatives, it continues to be difficult identifying a good European candidate, an alternative is hiring an American – someone with solid experience managing offices and operations in Europe – to oversee the European operation.
Situation: A company is having difficulty finding the right sales candidates for the opportunity that they offer. They have had good conversations with prospects, but once they present their offering the candidates reply that they’re not interested. How do they define their offer to attract good candidates? How do they adjust the conversation to produce better results? How do you define your sales offering?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is the same conversation that you have with your biggest client prospects.
Good people have options. If you have not convinced yourself that you have a great opportunity, you will never convince them that your offer is better than other options.
You are selling YOU.
Change early process.
Be sure that you are as passionate about your opportunity as you are about positioning your services with clients.
Divorce the conversation about the opportunity from the general screening interview.
Here’s the process:
Your recruiter does not sell.
Just ask the recruiter to identify potential; not to initiate the sale.
Do this sale yourself.
Aspects of the story – much of this is the same story that you present to your clients:
Your performance within your industry.
Strength of your people and brand name.
The quality of your clients.
The unique opportunity that the prospect has joining you at this stage of your business growth.
Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.
Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.
Situation: A company is actively marketing to prospective clients and also engages in networking. They want to assure that they are up to speed with current trends in marketing. What are best practices for following up on marketing or networking contacts? How do you best leverage networking?
Advice from the CEOs:
Timing is everything. A prospective client may or may not have an immediate need for your product or service, but may develop a need in the future. Assure that you have a program that provides ongoing follow up via:
Regular personal follow up
Initial follow up should be rapid. Ask for permission to follow-up and set the time frame when you meet a new prospective client. Ask how the prospect prefers for you to stay in touch. Do they prefer newsletters follow-up via social media, or personal follow-up?
Draft letter, email and social media communication templates ahead of time so that rapid follow-up is easy.
Use an electronic or print newsletter to stay in touch with prospects. Social media have become an increasingly important way to stay in touch with networking contacts.
Basic newsletters are usually 2-3 pages, or a one pager with links to see full articles.
Look at contact management software: for example Salesforce.com or ACT.
Basic sales and marketing subscriptions from Salesforce.com start at $25/user/mo. for up to 5 users, or $65/user/mo. for a complete customer relations management (CRM) system.
Quality of collateral is important. It is a face of your company. High quality collateral should have a consistent look and feel, and should remind the prospect why they were interested in you and your company in the first place.
Situation: A CEO wants the sales and marketing ream to generate higher quality leads. The company already uses referrals and networking. The CEO wants to know how other companies qualify leads before passing them on to sales. How do you generate high quality leads?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first step in a good lead generation campaign is to have a clear idea of who your customers and prospects are. Who are the current customers? How do you categorize them? Can you divide them into distinct groups?
Once you have divided your customers into distinct groups, develop a detailed profile for each group, concentrating on the most promising groups first. The profile will include demographics, potential purchase value, buying behavior, social media usage and preferred social media channels. Envision each group. Create a picture that represents the buyer and their personality profile. This is an important exercise because it shifts your focus from customers as lists to customers as people, and will boost the effectiveness of both your marketing and sales efforts.
After you develop customer profiles, rank them in terms of revenue potential to the company. Pre-qualify the high end buyer, not the low end. Target the decision-makers who can make a significant purchase.
Within each profile group, establish your own criteria for a good customer. Create questions which will help you to identify this customer.
Through social media and email campaigns, develop brief questionnaires and simple contests to help you to identify potential customers based on the criteria which you have developed. Develop a more detailed questionnaire turn leads into prospects.
Once a lead responds to your social media or email outreach have a sales person go through the detailed questionnaire with the lead prior to scheduling or going out on a face-to-face call.
You want to have well-qualified people making these calls.
Interview with Mari Anne Vanella, CEO, The Vanella Group
Situation: High tech companies need a more effective, higher level approach to prospect accounts. This means capturing sales intelligence more meaningfully, and aligning marketing approaches with customer needs based on prospects’ experience. Traditional transactional lead generation methods must be replaced by a deeper methodology that enables salespeople to speak to the personality of the business buyer. If all of this is true, how do you revamp your lead generation process?
Advice from Mari Anne Vanella:
Executives are so busy that their schedules are overloaded. If you want to reach them, you must engage them at a meaningful, more situationally fluent level.
Executives aren’t disinterested in new vendors and opportunities to gain efficiency or save money; they’re just hard to reach. Therefore, it is critical to develop sufficient knowledge prior to initial contact so that you can quickly engage the prospect, and equally quickly re-engage them on follow-up calls as they progress through your sales pipeline.
Companies must mature beyond volume-based marketing and sales. The traditional model calls for up to three or so telemarketing center contact attempts to a large number of leads.
Current research indicates that 80% of leads are matured into prospects after 5 or more contact attempts. More effective approaches call for 7 to 10+ contact attempts to reach busy executives and managers. This requires greater skill and persistence than the traditional approach.
Re-engineer the process through which you contact leads and follow-up on prospects. Most deals fall out of the pipeline through mismanagement.
The focus of sales and marketing transformation should be on new metrics to boost success rates, as well as communication skills and pipeline management.
It is critical to understand the individual buyer’s purchase process. Sales close at varying rates. This requires listening closely to the prospect’s timeline and the next steps in his or her consideration process. If you agree on a follow-up date, honor it. Attend to the smallest details.
A lost deal calls for a deeper de-brief than a simple note of “sale lost” or “lack of prospect interest.” Marketing needs to understand why deals don’t happen to optimize processes.
The implication of these observations is broad. Most sales and marketing teams are held strictly to results, expressed as numbers that can be taken to management and the Board. This serves a function, but if it dominates sales and marketing processes it may undermine results. Understanding the realities facing prospects calls for a more technical marketing organization and an empathetic customer approach based on an intense understanding of the prospect and their needs.