We can probably all agree that networking is a critical part of conducting business, especially as a salesperson. One of the biggest challenges that I’ve noticed facing salespeople today is their approach to networking. A common misstep that I observe often is that salespeople primarily network when they need something, as opposed to doing so when they don’t have a current need.
Personally, I tend to focus on quality over quantity. My approach involves a list of ten people that I make sure to touch base with monthly. I even go out of my way to put reminders on my calendar to make sure I grab a lunch with them at least once a quarter.
These ten individuals are the people that I am always looking out for whenever I speak to a prospect or customer. I’m constantly trying to find a way to help them and it’s a very reciprocal relationship because they’re looking out for me too. In addition, if they want an introduction, they’re not shy about asking me and if I need one, I have no problems asking them.
They also are people that I completely trust, not only as a human being but also as a business person. I need to know that when I refer them to somebody, it’s going to make me look good because they did such exceptional work.
At least once a month I receive an email from someone that I don’t know well asking me to connect them to somebody in my network. If I can help them with their request, I absolutely will. However, it’s challenging for me to stick my neck out and vouch for somebody that I don’t know very well.
If these individuals took the time to network when they weren’t in need, they would probably have an easier time making connections. Additionally, people like myself would feel much more comfortable vouching for them as we’d have a better grasp of who they are and what they do.
Another common trend that I notice among salespeople is how many mention how they’re a good networker due to their regular presence at a variety of networking events. At these events they shake hands and hand out their business cards. However, you’ll be able to get much more out of getting to know ten people really well, as opposed to talking to 1,000 people for five minutes each.
People really value depth and common understanding when it comes to business relationships. When one’s reputation is on the line, very few people want to take a risk on someone they met for a moment at an event whom they barely know.
The most important takeaway here is to really evaluate how you approach networking. Explore the method that I utilize, in which you find ten people that you believe are important to network with and really apply your focus there. Go out of your way to help them, and schedule times to meet with them to deepen your relationship. I can almost guarantee that quality over quantity will get you much further when it comes to networking.
Is an unemployed salesperson “bad”? Throughout the years I’ve dealt with hundreds of sales leaders. What continues to amaze me is how many of these individuals say, “A good salesperson should never be unemployed”. I have even done business with companies that refuse to hire unemployed salespeople.
My answer to this interesting question is actually the same as if you were to ask me, “Are employed salespeople bad?” The truth is that there are some that are good, and some that are bad. Neither group could be ultimately classified as one or the other.
Ask Before You Judge
It is so important to ask questions and investigate a situation before judgements are made. There are many instances I’ve witnessed where a person lost their job due to something that was outside of their control. Maybe a company is being sold, a great salesperson has a tyrant boss who they just can’t get along with, a company is shutting down, or a company is relocating. I could go on and on, as these occurrences are quite common.
My Personal Experience As a Salesperson
Years ago, I proudly held the title of top selling sales representative at my company. Between my first and fourth year on the job, I tripled my income. I loved the job and my boss. Life was good.
Seemingly out of the blue, the company cut the highest earners, which included my boss, who was there for over 25 years and me. We were told that the layoff was due to financial reasons, and shortly thereafter the company sold. I assumed that by taking some of the top earners off of the books, they were able to make the company look more profitable.
After this occurred, I had an extremely difficult time getting other companies to believe my “story.” During the interview process I would get asked, “Can I call your company to confirm these details? It doesn’t seem to make sense why they would let go on a top performing salesperson.” My response was always, “Absolutely. Here’s my boss’s number. Feel free to call him right now or anybody you want at the company.”
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there are some bad salespeople that get let go because of poor performance. However, not all salespeople that get let go are bad at their job. Rather than immediately jumping to conclusions, and making judgements, ask questions and listen. If you’re still skeptical, ask to speak to their former boss or bosses and try to validify a candidate’s claims.
Something that I would strongly advise in this situation is to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine that today, your boss came in and let you go, despite the fact that you’re a stellar employee. The reason is irrelevant, but maybe it’s because the company is going to be sold, is in financial trouble, or they’re relocating their office to another city and you’re not able to relocate. Whatever the reason might be, it has nothing to do with you and your performance.
Ask yourself, how would you feel if somebody questioned your ability all because you lost your job due to something that was completely outside of your control?
The bottom line is that if you want to be cautious of somebody who’s unemployed, that’s your prerogative but give them a chance to explain yourself. Otherwise, you may be missing out on a potentially great hire.
Something I’ll never forget is my very first sales encounter with the ever dreaded “e” word; ego. I was speaking with a candidate on the phone, and he just wouldn’t stop telling me how great he was. I later flew to seem him, and his ego continued to overtake the experience. He continued on about himself saying, “You will never find anybody as humble as me. I am the most humble person out there.” I remember thinking, “This guy is even arrogant about being humble”.
Since that experience I have dealt with a multitude of egos. Each one is slightly different, but generally speaking, it’s arguably the most detrimental characteristic of a salesperson. Ultimately, it holds them back from being truly great at their job. Personally, most of them don’t offend me and are overall, good people.
However, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately, as it is a regular part of my professional life. I recently had two different encounters through networking that were rather interesting.
Encounters with Ego
The first recent encounter was with a great guy that I had met through networking. We became quick friends, as we seemed to have a natural rapport. About once every quarter he drives downtown to meet me for lunch, and I occasionally receive an email from him thanking me for my friendship. He is humble, kind and appreciative, which makes me want to go out of my way for him.
The second encounter that comes to mind was with a prospect that was introduced to me through a mutual connection. Here is how our recent call went:
Gregg: Can you tell me what the base salary is for the position?
Prospect: You’re the expert. Shouldn’t you know this?
Gregg: I’m happy to give you my thoughts but I need to ask a few questions to better understand the role first. However, most of my clients have a budget for a VP of Sales. Can you tell me what your budget is?
Prospect: What do think it is?
Throughout the rest of the call, he made a fair amount of unnecessary comments that were overflowing with an unproductive amount of ego. The call finally concluded with him saying, “The ball is in my court. I’ll reach out if I’m interested in working with you.” I wanted to respond with, “Actually, don’t contact me,” but instead I thanked him for his time and even followed up with a thank you email after our call. My philosophy has always that I can’t control how other people behave, only how I behave so I’m going to be nice to everybody.
As it relates to the first person I mentioned, I ended up going out of my way for him. I referred him two deals in the last 60 days worth of $500,000. He has thanked me at least five times, and even called me to ask, “Can I send you a referral check?” When I told him no, he replied, “What can I do for you?” and I responded with, “How about come downtown in the next few weeks and grab lunch with me?”
As for the second guy, it’s safe to say that I didn’t send any referrals his way, and have no interest in working with him after I experienced the weight of his ego on our interaction.
The bottom line is that nobody wants to help an ego. People want to go out of their way for somebody who is humble and appreciative. These traits inspire healthy business relationships, as they build a sense of good-faith. Knowing that someone can avoid the toxicity of their overpowering ego in order to demonstrate their willingness to collaborate in a productive and uplifting manner can make a huge difference, especially in my line of work.
I get it. If you dial more, you generate more conversations, you schedule more appointments, and you close more deals. This seems like a very practical approach to cold calling, and I don’t even disagree with it. However, too many companies put the greatest emphasis on call volume, and not call quality.
A Low Quality Call
Just recently, I received a cold call from a junior salesperson who should reconsider her approach. When I picked up the phone there was a long pause followed by, “Oh… hi. I didn’t expect you to pick up. Who am I talking to?”
Clearly she had no idea of my name, my firm, how many people were working with me, and her lack of knowledge was obvious. Despite the call being more awkward than a blind date, I can tell you that based off of my 30 seconds of talking to her, this young woman had potential.
I wouldn’t be shocked if she had a manager that was standing over her making sure she made 100+ dials per day, and not overseeing quality of her calls. Additionally, if she really had an understanding of my company she’d know that we weren’t a good prospect for her business.
A Learning Experience
My first real taste of this approach to cold calling was back in my younger days, while I was in an inside sales role. In July, we had a sales contest and I won a $100 gift card, closing eight new deals. To put this in perspective, the salesperson next to me closed zero deals.
Despite this lack of deals closes, the salesperson next to me got a $2,000 bonus and I got a $0 bonus and a trip to the “Principal’s office” (aka my sarcastic way of saying the boss’s office).
While in the office my boss went through my numbers, asking why I was making 40 cold calls per day and averaging three minutes per call. The average was 50 cold calls per day with an average of one minute per call. I explained to her that I closed twice as many deals as the next best salesperson, and that my call time is longer because I was actually reaching people. I was then told, “If you reach somebody, you shouldn’t spend a lot of time with them on the phone. Set an appointment to talk with them at a later date.”
We ended up having this discussion a couple of times before I eventually decided that the position wasn’t the right fit for me and quit.
The bottom line here is that high call volume is important, but never at the expense of low quality calls. Even if it takes up a few extra minutes of your time, approach your cold calling with an understanding that quality can often help cement a deal rather than solely focusing on volume.
The unemployment rate has been hovering around 4%, and too many companies don’t fully understand how this translates to their business. To me it, that you need your salespeople more than they need you.
The best salespeople, or the ones that are considered “A” salespeople, are in extremely high demand. Ultimately they don’t need your job. Most of the best ones are usually happily employed, and are making 6 figures a year. With this in mind, why is it that companies aren’t doing more to try and woo “A” talent?
I commonly make the comparison between hiring and dating. It isn’t just about whether you like the person as this line of thinking is very one sided. Instead, both people need to be sold on each other. Despite this reality, companies hiring processes do not reflect this way of thinking.
Candidates are made to jump through hoops, and tasked with the responsibility of “selling” the company that might hire them. Employers enter the hiring process with the attitude of, “This candidate needs to show me why they want the job.” However, I don’t believe that this should be the approach. Companies should consider the perspective of, “I need to show them that I want them and what we have to offer.”
This shift in perspective can make the difference when trying to hire talented employees, especially in the realm of sales. With the current demand on sales talent, you’re not going to find great salespeople without considering what you have to offer them. This is a two way street, and business owners should remember that, especially right now.
One of my clients recently complimented our firm and our ability to get some amazing candidates hired. I told them that although we’re able to get them in the door, it’s up to the potential employer to decide what to do with them after that. This client of mine has an amazing ability to make every candidate feel wanted and special. Although we will take some credit for finding the right candidates, a lot of our success is based off of our client being so exceptional and getting people excited about working at their company.
The ability to make a potential employee feel welcome and valued goes a long way. Low performing salespeople might not have choices of where to work but good salespeople do. Just remember that if you want them on your team, you need to sell them even more than they’re selling you.
Today I want to focus on one sales strategy that has been very effective for me in the past. For me, the most effective way to achieve this is to simply ask the question, “Why?” This question can open the door to new lines of thought, and reevaluation.
Several months ago, I met a Vice President of Sales, who was really beating me up on price. He mentioned that one of my competitors quoted him a price that was 15% less than mine. Based off the pricing that he was provided, I immediately knew 1 of 3 things was happening;
He wasn’t telling the truth (which I didn’t think was the case).
The recruiting company was outsourcing to another country.
The recruiting services weren’t good and the only thing they knew how to compete on was price.
Our conversation was a bit intense, and he went on the offensive for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the boxing ring taking a lot of punches, and when my back was against the ropes, I remembered how to counteract his approach. All I had to do was ask “Why?”
When he brought the issue of pricing up again, I asked, “Why do you think they’re priced so much lower than me?” This question caught him off guard, as he looked surprised like a deer in the headlights. After a slight pause, he responded, “I guess I never really thought of that.”
I followed that question up with another “why,” asking “Why did you invite me to meet with you, knowing that our prices were higher?”. Again, he didn’t seem to anticipate this line of questioning and he quickly admitted that the low priced company wasn’t doing a great job. This lead to him outlining the details of his current situation, and why he wasn’t satisfied with the work of my competitor.
Realizing that things were quickly moving in the right direction, I continued with this approach saying, “I know you’re not the least expensive company in your industry. Why do you think people buy from you?” He began to elaborate on their great product, exceptional level of service, and unparalleled customer experience. I continued to agree with every point he was making, as it all resonated with my own thoughts.
Finally, I asked, “If you’re selling for a higher price because of your great product and service, which I too pride myself on too, why do you think I should sell at the lowest price?”
To make a long story short, he ended up signing the contract at the original price that I quoted him. It’s not rocket science. Asking, “Why?” four times not only got the contract signed, but it got me the price that I was hoping for. These questions successfully reframed the conversation, and allowed for a shared perspective to emerge. Once I was able to align his thought process with my own, it wasn’t long before we were on the same page and the sale was closed.
One of the most important lessons that I have learned personally, is that success is highly based on networking. If you do right by other people, they’ll do right by you. The lesson is fairly simple, yet it amazes me how many people don’t recognize the power that it holds.
A Recently Burned Bridge
I recently met a gentleman who lost his job, which is an unfortunate and trying situation to find yourself in. This individual had a family and seemed like a genuinely good guy, and I felt terrible for him. I did everything that I could to help improve the situation he was in. I sent him to an interview, and he followed up with me every other day for updates. Knowing how important finding a new job was, I always responded to him immediately. Although he didn’t get the job, I spent hours communicating back and forth with him, offering advice and advising him on his resume and how to improve his odds at employment.
Eventually the work that he put in paid off, and he got a good job. At this point, I reached out to him but received no response. I made multiple attempts to get in contact, and didn’t even receive a simple courtesy reply to let me know that he was not interested. I found it intriguing that he always expected an immediate response from me when my help was needed, however when the roles were reversed he couldn’t even give me the courtesy of a one sentence email.
A Second Bridge is Burning
Another experience that I had not too long ago serves as another strong example of burning a bridge. I had a candidate that I sent to an interview, and he genuinely seemed excited about the opportunity. Everything was confirmed with him the day before, yet he never showed up to the interview the following day. I emailed him, left voicemails, and even texted him. To my surprise, I received no response from him at all.
Almost a year later, he came across my radar again asking for my help. It turns out he was in the job market, and must have assumed that I forgot about what had previously occurred. Unfortunately for him, this wasn’t the case. I could neve put my brand behind somebody who would do that.
Repairing a Burned Bridge
I am sensitive to the fact that people make mistakes in life, and sometimes things happen that are unexpected. People deserve a chance at redemption, especially when they are able to admit their mistakes and prove that they are willing to make changes.
Several years ago, I had a candidate that snapped at me because I didn’t have a job for him. He kept telling me that he was a “perfect fit” for a job, despite the fact that his qualifications weren’t close. A few months after the incident in which he lost his cool, he called me back to apologize. He explained himself and his behavior in that moment, letting me know that he was really under a lot of stress. I completely understood where he was coming from, and appreciated his willingness to call me and apologize. I gladly accepted his apology, and we are actually still in touch to this day.
The bottom line is that you need to treat everybody you encounter like they are gold, whether they can help you or not. You never know which connections will be helpful in the future, and thus should do right by people as often as you can. Instead of letting bridges burn or be forgotten, think of it as performing general bridge upkeep and fostering relationships that could help you succeed in the future.
Do you never notice how excited people become when they discover they are from the same hometown as you? Shared experiences and feelings are an incredibly effective way to establish a connection with your customers and close new business.
Recently, I was speaking with a prospect and he mentioned that he’s from Cleveland. I immediately said “Me too, “and felt more connected to this particular prospect. This lead to a conversation about high schools, colleges, mutual connections, and the pain of being a Cleveland sports fan. Without this shared experience, there is a good chance that we wouldn’t have connected beyond the typical surface level professional interaction.
I find it amazing that as soon as you find that commonality, any walls that might have previously existed start to be torn down. Within moments the tone of the conversation changes and a deeper bond begins to take root. These connections take you from being a complete stranger to being close friends.
This paradigm can be incredibly helpful to explore while selling. I would recommend that you use this approach and learn a bit about your potential customers. In our increasingly digital world we have access to a deep well of information online and should use this information to our advantage whenever possible.
Social media provides enough information for you to potentially determine some things that you and your customer have in common. Perhaps you went to the same college, spent time living in the same city, are from the same hometown, worked with the same company, or have shared connections. All of this information can be useful when looking for that shared connection. Personally, I find LinkedIn to be the most helpful but I’ve also used Facebook and other methods.
Occasionally, I’ll even prospect and find someone that went to my alma maters. As soon as I tell them where I went to college, I hear those words again “Me too!” Within moments the connection with this prospect becomes a bit more personal, allowing for a less strained conversation. This hopefully opens the door a little bit wider so that a sale can make its way through.
It’s also common that you can’t quite discover a shared connection or experience through your customer’s social media profile or website. Another great approach is to find content that your prospect has created or even shared, and that resonates with you. Try establishing a connection through that content. Perhaps your prospect has their own blog, you saw an interview about them on YouTube, they mentioned they read a new book on their social media page, etc.
I would strongly recommend that you try taking this approach on your next cold call or cold email, while looking to unlock that “me too” moment. If there is a shared experience or connection to be found, I can almost guarantee you’ll see higher response rates.
Candidates looking for jobs in 2018 are accustomed to the company research process, which often relies heavily on looking into a business’s reputation. The standing that an organization holds both publicly and among its employees can be quite illuminating to those deciding whether or not to apply for a job with the company. Almost every candidate that I speak with tells me that they look on sites like Glassdoor, conduct research on the company, and talk to informed people for a glimpse into the potential experience. There is no doubt that this process is valuable, but I believe that individuals put too much emphasis on it.
Have you ever spoken to two different people at the same company who express completely different opinions about the experience? One says “I love it!”, and the other says, “Help! Get me out.” If you really peel back the layers, and explore why they have such contrasting experiences, it always comes down to the same thing, which is their boss.
There was a company that I previously worked at, and the experience I had was quite similar. I was employed at an organization selling packaging products in the suburbs. There was nothing super exciting about the products, and the commute was a bit taxing as it took me an hour in each direction (sometimes more with traffic). However, I truly loved every minute working there because my boss was amazing. My happiness wasn’t derived from the particular company, and I know if I had a different boss, my experience would’ve been very different. Simply put, he had my back.
When I closed a big deal, he would always tell me that he was proud of me, which always made me feel good and even more eager to work. Over the course of 4 years we got into one disagreement. The difference of opinion resulted in him saying “OK, we’ll agree to disagree. I’m starving. Can I take you to lunch?”. This proved to me that he truly cared about my thoughts, as he allowed me to express a different opinion than his and continued to support me despite our disagreement. Although it’s been close to 10 years since I reported to him, we still keep in touch on a monthly basis.
Company leadership can be both inspiring and toxic, always trickling down to all levels of an organization. Many companies are so focused on culture that they overlook the importance of good management and the hiring of great bosses. These companies prioritize things such as having a “cool” office with ping pong tables and happy hours, or premiere office locations. A lot of time and money is then invested into these things instead of focusing on the importance of hiring great bosses that are able to motivate team members and inspire better performance.
The lesson here is that ultimately you work for people, and not companies. The people are the ones that affect your day to day experience, and either inspire you to do great work or leave you feeling unmotivated and jaded. At the end of the day, I’d much rather work for a “C” company with an “A” boss than an “A” company with a “C” boss. A boss is going to provide coaching, make you better at your profession, and always support you. A company can’t do those things for you.
An ideal relationship with your vendor should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Instead of prioritizing price points, consider the value that quality and service bring to these partnerships. It should be your company’s goal to develop and sustain the work that you do with vendors that bring you the best service at the highest quality, instead of tossing them aside for businesses that work to undercut their competitors only to deliver a subpar service.
In my past I sold packaging products such as boxes, bubble wrap and packaging tapes. I definitely wasn’t the least expensive, but I knew that I delivered the best service at the highest quality. Knowing in my gut that the quality of my service was top notch brought value to my work, and allowed me to avoid concerns about the fact that I couldn’t price my service as low as some of my competitors.
During that time I had the absolute best printing plate vendor in the industry, whose name was Andy. If you aren’t familiar, think of the printing plate as a big rubber stamp that stamps boxes with a logo. He was so candid with me and treated me so well that sometimes he would knowingly even talk me out of using his services.
One day, Andy’s competitor called me and undercut him by 30%. I called up Andy to discuss, and he responded “Gregg, they’re just doing that to earn your business. I can cut my prices by 20%, but that is my entire margin and I can only do it on this one order.” I trusted Andy, and knew that what he was telling me was true because he had never lied to me about pricing in the past.
I let Andy know that I would get back to him, as I needed time to think about it overnight. After sleeping on it, I thought, “I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world NOT to go with Andy. I take immense pride in the shared values we have, and it is wrong of me to then ditch him the moment I find somebody who will quote me lower.”
After this realization I called Andy and said, “Andy, you’ve really been incredible to work with, and I can’t thank you enough for that. I would like to stick with you, and I have no intentions of switching my business anytime in the near future.”
He was really happy to hear that I felt this way, and responded, “Great, and thank you for your business! I’ll send you the quote and give you the 20% discount.” I knew that this wasn’t easy for him to do, so I replied, “No. I don’t want the discount. I pride myself on being the highest quality and having the best service, not the lowest price.” Andy was shocked to hear me say this, and thanked me five times.
It’s this experience that taught me the importance of treating vendors like partners. Once an honest and effective business relationship takes root, and when the service is great and the highest quality available, it is important to nourish those relationships and not throw them away at the first sign of a cheaper service. Almost every time, I have purchased solely based off price, it has resulted in issues, which ended up costing me a lot more because I lost an incredible amount of time fixing the issue.