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Insight: How not to sell

by Randall Craig on June 5, 2015

Filed in: Blog, Business Development, Communication, Insight, Make It Happen Tipsheet

Tagged as: ,

Marketing and sales are at the core of almost every organization. Whether it is writing a proposal for a prospect, encouraging a person to join your organization, or selling an internal team on a concept, the act of gaining alignment and commitment is critical. More evidence of the importance of sales can be found by looking at the sheer number of training courses, books, webinars, and websites on the topic.

Why then, do so many organizations completely miss the mark? They are often their own worst enemies, working hard to prevent a sale from actually occurring. While the story below might not be representative of every company in every industry, it identifies some foundational principles that aren’t exactly rocket science.

Sales Insight #1: It’s cheaper to keep a client than look for a new one. And it’s less hassle (and cheaper) for the client to stay.
Recently, my firm, 108 ideaspace, decided to explore increasing the internet bandwidth into the office. We had a fairly expensive service that was delivering bandwidth at only 50% of the advertised rate. Option one was to get it fixed; option two was to upgrade to the next tier of service – fiber – at quadruple the price.

Option one was going to be easier, or so I thought. To order a service call required three phone calls, three hours of nonsense “testing” over the phone, two on-site visits by a service technician of two hours each, two modem swaps… all resulting in zero change in bandwidth. Beyond the wasted time, the internet service was down for over seven hours – a killer in my business.  Time to try option two.

Sales Insight #2: Make it easy for existing clients to purchase more (and more expensive) services.
Calling the “upgrade” department meant being shuffled to seven different people; each shuffle meant being entered into a voicemail queue for 5-10 minutes. Each person asked me to authenticate myself to “bring up the account”, which seemed strange, since I just wanted to speak to a person about the details of the higher bandwidth. They seemed baffled that I didn’t have my 10 digit account number handy. Eventually, the last shuffle wasn’t into a queue, but into the official voicemail for the business services department, where I was asked to leave my name and number.

Sales Insight #3: Respond quickly, especially if someone wants to purchase your products or services.
(I am still waiting for a salesperson to call. Maybe no one is actually monitoring the voicemail?)

Sales Insight #4: Not every prospect follows the same journey to commitment.  
Some are highly educated about the product or service, and just need to speak to a person to put in an order. Of those that need to be educated, some prefer to learn via webinar, others with technical papers, others with a short descriptive article, and some over the phone.

While waiting for the salesperson from my current provider to call, I decided to investigate alternatives. While all major (and minor) competitors had websites, the sites themselves were vastly different. Typical problems:
– Plastic marketing copy that provided no real information about the products and services
– Out-of-date content, and particularly out-of-date technical information
– No easily findable phone numbers
– No “contact us” web forms
– No information about geographic service capabilities
– No pricing (and no discussion of the issues behind pricing)

I wasn’t sure what they were thinking, but clearly there was a gap. Either their web agency doesn’t understand marketing, or the marketing departments have been unknowingly hoodwinked.

Sales insight #3 (again):  Respond quickly, especially if someone wants to purchase your products or services.
Desperate to make a purchase, I left messages with eight providers, either by phone, or via their websites. After a week, only three had responded.

Sales Insight #5: Ask great questions to understand the prospect’s real needs.
Paraphrasing Tom Stoyan, Canada’s Sales Coach: “It’s not about ‘selling’ your products or services – it’s about helping a prospect through the buying process.” This means asking great questions, answering theirs, and only then being in a position to be asked to write the proposal.

Of the three companies who responded, one immediately sent out a “boilerplate” one page quote. If they had at least a short conversation with me, they would have understood our needs, and they could have quoted the correct items. Oops.

Sales Insight #6: It’s also about the relationship.
Every touchpoint (telephone, email, educational documents, formal proposals, and presentations) can strengthen a relationship, and can build trust between the two parties. Price and expertise are table stakes: trust will close the deal.

This week’s action item: What is the one thing that you can do to make it easy for others to buy your products or services? If you’re not sure – or you think you’re doing such a great job – reach back out to those who decided not to commit with you. They decided against you for a reason.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


Have you ever put in a proposal, or answered an enquiry about your products or services, and then waited patiently for their answer about the next step? While images of pulling petals off a daisy might come to mind (“He loves me, he loves me not”) the words that ultimate come back are either yes we want you, or no we don’t. But are these words really what is being transmitted to you? If they found you via referral, or through your content, then they likely value your expertise, but perhaps the timing may not be right: when they say no, they may really mean not yet.

They may answer in the negative because they are at the early stages of their expert search. Or because they need to align internal decision-makers. Or because they need to put a budget together for the next fiscal year. Or because they are thinking about their vacation and are not ready to make a decision. Or for hundreds of other reasons. Here is the key: when they ultimately are ready to move forward – whether in 3 months, 12 months, or many years later – they will reach out to whoever last made an impression on them. And you want this to be you. The question is how to do this.

In the olden days, this was accomplished with newsletters and the telephone. We would add them to the newsletter subscriber list, and then “eblast” them each month. The only problem with this is the bulk, unpersonalized nature of the communication didn’t take into account the nature of your relationship. And it was impersonal.

Following up by telephone every two weeks was another strategy. Unfortunately, this can be perceived as a hard sell; it can turn the prospect off. Another problem: as the number of prospects increases, the strategy doesn’t scale.

Today, however, there are two new ingredients: content, and marketing automation. Consider marketing automation, or nurture-marketing. This is a souped-up sequence of touchpoints, each reaching out with high-value content – maybe every 2-3-4 months – to people who have said not yet. The touchpoints can be via email, traditional mail, or telephone.

While this can be done manually, it is impossible to scale a nurture-marketing system beyond 10-15 not-yets; Marketing Automation Software is designed to help, but it is only half of the solution. The heavy lifting is in the development of high-value content – not the mechanics of the tool.

Here is how to start the development of a nurture-marketing process:

1) Define the audience, and the “journey” that they are on. For example, the audience might be prospects interested in XYZ; the journey starts after the initial meeting. It would be designed to educate the prospect about XYZ, credential you as an authority in the area, and when they are ready, result in them calling you to put in a proposal.

2) Develop content that adds value to this audience: whitepapers, videos, assessments, blog posts, etc.

3) Outline a series of touchpoints that will occur (say) every 60 days. For example:

  • +60 days: Send a link to a blog post about content
  • +120 days: Send a viral marketing white paper
  • +180 days: Phone to learn about any changes, and if they want to connect in person again.
  • +240 days: Send a link to a relevant video.
  • +300 days: … and so on

4) Write each touchpoint: either email, or speaking notes; each email must be written in an approachable, “non-bulk” way, but be applicable to any particular reader who is attached to the nurture-marketing sequence. An example “+60” email:


Hope all is well. Several clients recently asked me about content marketing, and in light of our conversation a few months ago, I thought of you. I had compiled a list of some of my favorite articles on the topic, and thought you might also be interested in seeing it. Here’s the link:

Top 10 Content Marketing Posts

Let me know what you think,



5) Encode the links within each of the touchpoint sequence emails, so that the recipient’s interest in the topic is tracked.

This week’s action plan: Does your marketing take into account not yet, or does it stop when it hears no. This week, identify the process with the most to gain from “not yet”. What journeys in your organization can benefit from this concept? Here are a few ideas: prospecting meetings, event follow-ups, contact forms on your website, welcome processes, task completion processes.

Marketing Insight: With an investment in marketing consuming a large portion of many budgets, too often the focus is on increasing conversion rates from (say) 5% to 6%. This represents a 20% increase, a huge increase. Unfortunately, this convention wisdom thinking does not take into account what I call “the other 95%”). If we incorporate concepts like not yet (and nurture-marketing) into our strategy, the ROI for any existing marketing investment will skyrocket.

More on the concept, including an example:

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


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