John Greathouse writes in this Forbes.com post, Epic Fail: Worst Call With A Consultant –Ever, how an ill-informed and prepared consultant seeking his business completely blew the call. The horrors of a misguided (and misplaced) “referral”, lack of research/preparation, and any sincere understanding of the relationship-building potential in that first call made me cringe, a bit. The consultant, it seems, was following the best practices in introducing and building business, but rather poorly.
Here is an example. (You should read the entire story for his eye-opening perspective on bad consulting sales practices.)
Research? – I do not expect everyone I speak with to be a fan of my humble blog. Thus, not knowing my position regarding startup consultants is understandable. However, I do expect someone looking for a favor to spend a few minutes exploring my background.
Despite the ease with which anyone can determine my investments and past operating roles, the caller asked me if I knew the CEO of RightScale. “Yes”, I replied, “I was a seed investor and an advisor to the company.” I should have completed the sentence with, “as is clearly noted on LinkedIn.” He then asked me if I knew the co-founder of Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix). “Yes”, I replied, “we worked together for five years.” Again, this would have been clear to him if he has spent 30-seconds reviewing my bio.
The caller had apparently met both gentlemen recently, but had not connected the dots between them and me. An important aspect of effective networking is to understand how the person you are speaking with relates to other members of your network. Significant affinity can be created by drawing lines between yourself and friends of the person with whom you are networking. However, in order to draw such lines, you must first do a bit of homework.
Yet, in reading this story, I thought about my encounters with people trying to sell me stuff in the past year, and virtually all were, well, worse than this guy. Cold callers reading from scripts. Canvassers knocking at my door (unwelcome and uninvited, for sure), reading from scripts. Crappy pitches for investment planning and driveway sealing, yuk. (We probably could use some work on our driveway, but even though I am an affluent entrepreneur, our family investments are well-managed by my wife, who is not interested in carpet cleaning.)
Then where are the good sales efforts, and the effective marketing initiatives? These are moments that make me smile, somewhat more. Conversations at the recent Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) national convention may lead to business opportunities in the future, but I’m not worried about immediate pay-back (however, I will help make a connection between two individuals with an interest in Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). A previous client (who has done much business with our company) announced a press tour of his new office headquarters. I suggested a full-blown feature profile, and he, instantly, said “yes”. It seems almost effortless and natural to get it right.
Yet too many people in this industry — and in the wider business community — certainly don’t “get it” — even if they read the business management and sales books, and they try to act like they know what they are doing.
They have ineffective websites and promote themselves with clichés like “we have great customer service” without encouraging their clients to say (in video testimonials, best) how great the customer service really is. They teach their sales reps to follow canned scripts, or they follow the text-book, without understanding the nuances of individual creativity and thoughtfulness.
There is a better way. It may seem like, I, too, am talking in clichés now, but the foundation of great marketing and sales, in my opinion, is to express naturally your value to clients, and understand your values, and then live by them with appropriate empathy, understanding, respect, and communication.
So, initially, throw the textbook out and do the right thing — and then remember the textbook, the basics, the rules, and apply them with thoughtfulness and empathy. You don’t need to spend a fortune on ineffective approaches to achieve the results you really are seeking.