More Sales Channels Means More $ales

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The number one job of a business owner is to sell the company’s products and services (at a profit).  To achieve this goal, numerous activities are undertaken to promote, support and sustain the sales process and its co-dependent twin, the buying process.  The push-me, pull-you of businesses selling and customers buying rests on a vital and complex foundation.

The business model, i.e., the rationale for how a business will generate sales and make a profit, is the starting point.  In the business model, the products and services that will be sold and the target market(s) are identified.  The method(s) and location(s) by which customers will obtain the products and/or services and the payment protocols are also detailed (E.g., do customers pay in full in advance, or do they pay a deposit and then the balance when the product or service is delivered? Is this a bricks & mortar or e-commerce operation?).

The value proposition, perhaps the most important component of the business model, will describe why prospective customers are expected to value and purchase the products and/or services that the company plans to sell.  Estimating business start-up costs and preparing a credible Break-Even Analysis to provide a time line that predicts the expected pace of sales revenue growth that products/ services are expected to achieve, will determine when profits can be expected to accrue and is yet another purpose of the business model.

Business strategy rests on the business model and marketing strategies, campaigns and tactics lend still more support to driving the selling – buying process.  Yet after all is said and done, it’s imperative to get the products in front of potential buyers.

Savvy business owners know that those with motive and money to buy what your company sells need a little help.  Offer your products and services (where applicable) through different sales channels and make your products/ services easy for customers to buy.  Map the selling – buying process at your organization, talk to and survey your customers and then consider which sales channels, direct, indirect and hybrid, will make it more convenient for customers to do business with you.

Direct Channels: The selling – buying is done through channels, or might we say venues, that you control.  Customers may visit your office or store, or they may buy online through your website.  You might also offer certain of your products and services on your Facebook page.

According to 2018 research conducted by Hootsuite, there are 2.32 billion Facebook users globally, 1.1 billion speak English and about 10% live in the U.S., 232 million. 78% of American users have discovered retail products to buy on Facebook.  Customers will click your Facebook Store tab once you build it out and take it live. Payment processing and customer transaction history are handled by Shopify and Facebook does not take a commission on your sale.

Indirect Channels:  Have you ever booked a plane ride or hotel through Expedia,, Orbitz, or Travelocity? If so, you are comfortable buying through an Indirect Sales Channel and you could be ready to sell selected products and services through this method.  I’ve promoted and sold my P.R. and writing services on Upwork and LinkedIn ProFinder.  Self-published authors who produce books through Create Space have Amazon for an Indirect Sales Channel.

Tangible products have a much longer history with Indirect Sales Channels.  A company can investigate the possibility of selling products to a wholesale distributor, who in turn sells to retailers.  Freelance artisans often place their hand-crafted items into (typically locally owned) stores on consignment.  In both scenarios, products gain access to a significantly larger pool of target market customers than would be possible if the business only used Direct Sales Channels.

Hybrid Channels: Describes two or more sales channels utilized to provide a multi-channel product promotion and distribution system that will maximize product sales. Starbucks offers an easily visible example of Hybrid Sales Channel product distribution.

The primary sales channels are the free-standing Starbucks restaurants that are sprinkled throughout commercial and residential neighborhoods in countless cities and towns across the country.  Secondary Starbucks sales channels are found in many Barnes & Noble bookstores, chain grocery stores, hotel and hospital lobbies and airports.  By way of Hybrid Sales Channels, Starbucks successfully carpet bombs key shopping districts coast to coast.

Small and medium business owners cannot compete in this manner, but it may be possible to offer products and services through two or more sales channels to broaden product exposure and drive sales.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Leslie Jones (1886 – 1967) Pushcarts on Blackstone Street, circa 1940   Haymarket in Boston, MA. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,



Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Marketing Meets Sales: Selling to Inbound Marketing Callers

Inbound Marketing matters, to your top line revenue and your client list.  Other than “selling” Girl Scout cookies to Mommy and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, there’s no better sales opportunity than a prospect who dials your number and asks about what you sell.  Do not even think about flubbing this.  But without simple yet skillfully designed response guidelines, you are in danger of dropping the ball.

Inbound Marketing begins when a prospective customer who either met you somewhere or was referred to you by someone finds the motivation to contact you and ask if you might answer a couple of questions about your products or services.  Consider that outreach to be your Hollywood screen test and close-up.  If you want to call yourself a business person, then you will learn to confidently and competently handle Inbound Marketing calls (or emails) and emerge with an appointment to meet the caller in person to discuss specifics.

Let’s start with some basic observations about your marketing plan, the carefully choreographed activities that you implement to inform potential customers about your products and services.   Marketing can be divided into two types:

  1. Outbound Marketing, which encompasses traditional, time-tested marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising, networking, speaking engagements, teaching, writing a book, sponsoring a community or business event, nonprofit board service and other activities that broadcast your business brand and marketing message “outward” to the public.
  2. Inbound Marketing, which consists of activities designed to encourage potential customers to develop a level of interest and interaction with your company that “pulls,” i.e., persuades, them to do business with your company as a result of the trust and confidence developed through the ongoing engagement.  Online activities play a dominant role in Inbound Marketing, including social media, newsletters and blogs.  The Inbound Marketing audience is self-selected, as there is always the ability to opt-out of the communication and theoretically this cohort is more likely to do business.

The purpose of creating and executing an Outbound Marketing strategy is to generate Inbound Marketing inquiries by potential customers.  If your business fails to encourage Inbound Marketing,  your venture most likely will not achieve the financial success that you would like.  Inbound Marketing is where the money is made.

An Inbound Marketing call can lead to billable hours or a sale that makes your month, or leave you kicking yourself because you mishandled an objection or forgot to ask an important question.  Let’s see how you can design successful response guidelines.  Grant Cardone, selling skills guru and author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market (2010), breaks down his very useful Inbound Marketing call technique:


How you welcome the prospect who has chosen to reach out to you, rather than your competitor, is all-important.  Ace the first impression by answering the telephone politely at all times, no matter how annoyed you are by other matters.  When you realize that you’ve been gifted with a prospective customer’s call, i.e., an Inbound Marketing call, slide into character by smiling as you speak and adding a (realistic) dose of enthusiasm to your voice.  Smiling as you talk and imagining that the prospect is in the room with you has been demonstrated to make selling over the phone more successful. Give your name, title and a cheerful, helpful attitude to your caller.


“Who am I speaking with, please?” Obtaining the name of the caller is an easy Step One of the trust-building that is the foundation of every sale.  Grant Cardone recommends that you resist the temptation to ask for more information because if the caller is really interested, s/he will happily volunteer that information to enable the sale. What you DO want to learn early on is what prompted the call:

  • What the caller would like to know about what you sell and how that information  relates to what s/he would like to achieve or resolve?
  • Which, if any, product or service has been used regarding the issue before and what was the outcome?  Why does the caller want to investigate something else?
  •  Determine the timeline and any deadline “Do you need to make a decision today, or this week?”


As you discuss the features and benefits of the product or service that may provide the solution that your caller needs an objection may abruptly spring up and make your caller suddenly lose confidence.  Objections can be skillfully handled through a method I learned many years ago, called “Feel, Felt, Found:”

“I understand why you might feel this issue (or perceived shortcoming) might prevent you from achieving results.  There have been a few others who at first felt this situation could possibly become a problem.  Over the years, my staff and I have found that when you (make this adjustment, or whatever), it’s possible to bring about the results that you want.  Does that sound reasonable to you?”

To help you organize your thoughts during any part of your unexpected Inbound Marketing call, Grant Cardone suggests that you press the hold button to give yourself 30 seconds or so to plan a response.  Making certain that you are able to successfully handle an objection seems to me like the right time to hit the hold button!


While you might get lucky and sell your Inbound Marketing caller on the first contact, chances are your prospect will require more information to develop adequate trust in you and your company and make him/her feel confident enough to close the deal.  Suggest to your prospect that you would be happy to come to his/her office to discuss how your customized product or service solutions can benefit his/her organization and its business goals (alternatively, the caller can come to your office).

“Since you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it would seem to make sense for us to sit down together for an hour and discuss what you need, your short and long-term goals and how I can customize a solution for you that respects your budget and time line.  What does your schedule look like? What is your company name and address and what is your call back number and email?”

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,


Photograph: Doris Day (left) and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)                          Directed by Michael Gordon for Universal Pictures




Write an Effective Business Letter

All writing is about the intended reader (that is, the audience).  Whether it’s a book, song, movie, opera, website, marketing brochure, grant proposal, or fundraising letter, the one priority for the writer to keep in mind is that the intended recipient matters most.  Writing is a basic means of communication and we have many reasons to choose to express our thoughts or requests in writing, rather than verbally.  Usually, we write to make our thoughts official, to communicate with someone whom we do not know, or to communicate with a large number of people.

We write to express our point of view or to make a request.  We may write to persuade the reader to take a particular action based on information that is presented or to consider a new perspective and modify his/her opinion.  In other words, writing is selling. Writers will benefit from the following guidelines:

  1. Purpose: Why are you writing?
  2. Audience: Who is the reader (audience)?
  3. Outcomes: How can you persuade the reader to care about your subject or request?

The first question is actually about you, the writer.  What motivates you to write? Are you in search of funding for a project that you would like to advance and so you must write a business or grant proposal? Might your objective be to write a sales or marketing letter that will be sent to those who you feel are potential customers for your product or service? Are you producing content for a website or other promotional material that will communicate your expertise to potential customers and give them the confidence to contact you? You will be an effective writer only when you develop the self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge what you would like your written material to achieve, so that you will choose vocabulary that reflects your intent.

The second question ensures that you tailor your message and vocabulary to resonate with your intended reader or audience.  The successful writer will consider the point of view of the reader and craft a message that is likely be understood and accepted by that reader.  If it is a proposal that you will write, then you must address the interests of several stakeholders who will be able to speak favorably or unfavorably of your request.  Grant applications and business proposals always include financial information as well as operations and marketing information, for example, to satisfy those three important decision-making constituencies.

The final question addresses the perceived benefits that the reader or audience can expect to derive from what you have written.  Here, the writer must tightly focus on the readers’ priorities and preferences and consider the outcomes attached to the expression of the thoughts or creative expression, or the relative value of your request.  What will be in it for the reader if s/he buys your book, devotes time and money to attend a performance of your music, or approves your grant or proposal?

The writer is advised to utilize a communication style and vocabulary that are familiar and reassuring to the reader or audience,  as a way to build confidence, encourage acceptance and approval and result in mutual success.

Thanks for reading,



Trends That Will Drive B2B Going Forward in 2015

July 1 carried us into the last half of the year and we are advised to take a few moments to think about what our June 30 financial statements indicated. Are you pleased with your company’s first half performance? Is your enterprise positioned to have a profitable second half? Forbes Magazine business experts predict that as we enter the last two quarters of 2015, the following strategies will drive business.

Make selling about education

High-pressure or slippery sales techniques are out of vogue and destined to fail. Solution selling is the smart choice and consultative sales skills must be honed. Successful sales pitches are those that are delivered as a discussion of how your services or products will solve or avoid a problem for the customer. Customers will value your grasp of their situation and your expertise in describing the best solution. It’s salesperson as physician, as you diagnose and prescribe the treatment. Articulate the outcomes very well.

Marketing & sales hand in glove

Recent research done by Google showed that the average customer is more than half way through the buying decision process before seeking out a vendor. In other words, customers window shop. They spend time considering possible solutions first and then think about where those solutions can be obtained.

Micro-targeted marketing strategies are recommended to not only attract your ideal client groups, but also to weed out those who are unlikely to buy. As always, one must know the customer to understand why that individual has become a customer and know how to encourage repeat business going forward. Design marketing campaigns that define, speak to and pull in excellent prospects and avoid broad-brush marketing strategies that only entangle you into engaging with those who will waste your precious time.

Appropriately written and distributed content marketing along with traditional marketing techniques are how you persuade prospective customers to picture your products and services as credible solution possibilities. Consultative selling approaches that educate the customer as you tactfully assume the role of expert and confirm or refine the initial diagnosis of the problem, that is the client’s need. Obtain client agreement on the extent of the need and then recommend treatment options, that is the solutions, that your product or services will provide. Do that well and you will generate revenue.

Price and value

According to Forbes, there are two competing forces at play in the 2015 marketplace. The first is increased downward pricing pressure on any product or service that is perceived to be a commodity. Those products and services are price dependent and will be acquired as cheaply as possible. The only ways to succeed when selling a commodity are to sell at the lowest price or deliver very efficiently to customers, that is make it convenient to buy.

Do whatever is possible to package and present your products and services in away that conveys their value to prospective customers. Additionally, Freelance purveyors of B2B services must demonstrate their expertise in a variety of ways: content marketing, case studies, webinars that feature you, teaching assignments, appearances on panels as speaker or moderator, or publishing a book. Demonstration of expertise is the number one marketing strategy in that it creates trust, enhances your perceived value and allows you to price accordingly.

An equally effective way to demonstrate your value is through customer testimonials and referrals. When those who have used your services or products recommend you to others, it is the highest compliment. Other than a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl, nothing is as effective as a personal recommendation or testimonial.

When customers consider you to be effective, knowledgeable, dependable and trustworthy, you can then command a premium (but not over-inflated) price for your products and services. Prospective customers must be assured that you will deliver the results, in full and on schedule. They must know that when they hire you, they’ll look smart to their boss and colleagues, because you are the very best.

Thanks for reading,


I, Consultant: Value-Added

Solopreneur consultants and other business owners are always selling,  sometimes overtly and other times discreetly.  To sell effectively,  we must understand and articulate the reasons that clients hire us.  We need selling points at our fingertips and as as always,  it is necessary to adopt the prospective client’s point-of-view.  Why would an organization leader hire me?  What is my value-added?

1. You provide expertise.

Convince prospective clients that you possess the know-how that organization staff members lack.  Let them know that you have the answers  (without revealing specific solutions before you sign a contract).  A high-ranking job title acquired in previous employment confers to you significant credibility.  Well-known clients confer significant credibility.  Speaking engagements at prestige venues,  especially if you met the prospective client there,  inspire confidence.  Blogs,  newsletters and social media serve to support one of the above,  but neither alone nor in aggregate will they convince an important client to hire you (unless you get enormously lucky).

2. You identify problems or gaps.

The ability to quickly and accurately grasp the big picture is essential.  Nevertheless,  be advised that the client may not appreciate hearing the truth.  Be diplomatic in how you bring problems to the client’s attention.

3. You supplement the company’s permanent staff’.

Downsized workforces became a fact of life in the early 1990s and nearly every for-profit and not-for-profit organization is under-staffed.  Big companies can often afford to hire and would be wise to hire,  but company leaders would rather keep payrolls light.  The loss of productivity that under-staffing causes does not show up in an income statement,  at least if acceptable top-line growth occurs.  All organizations have been hit hard by health insurance and other operating costs.  Consultants are hired to fill in the labor gaps because we do not receive benefits of any kind and when the project has been completed,  we leave.

4. You introduce change.

For political reasons,  it may be easier to call in a consultant to implement changes that management would like to make.  The consultant is better equipped to defuse or prevent any push-back or sabotage,  because he/she is a neutral party.

5. You provide training for staff.

Maybe you once ran a sales department and you will provide sales training,  or you ran the human resources department and you’re hired to conduct team-building or diversity workshops.

6. You assist with a turn-around.

This assignment could start with a request to facilitate a strategy planning session.  Vision-Mission-Values,  or Goals-Objectives-Strategies-Action Plans will drive the turn-around.  You ensure that there is follow-through,  enthusiasm and support for the plan and that achievement of milestones and other successes are communicated throughout the organization and celebrated.

7. You assist with a new product (or service) launch.

You may do market research and confirm the prospects for the product or service and discover or confirm key target markets and their expected dollar potential.  You may take an active role in the launch,  joining with the marketing team to define the primary marketing message,  timing of the product roll-out,  formulate the advertising strategy and approve the PR strategy.

Finally,  independent consultants must pay particular attention to how we will obtain clients.  That process forms the heart of our business model.  Speak with friends and colleagues who are highly placed within industries where you expect to work and figure out if projects can at least occasionally be awarded to you.  Further,  if you work with your employer’s clients,  inform your very best friends of your plan and discreetly recruit at least one or two to follow you.

Thanks for reading,


Post From the Trenches: Cold Calling

Even experienced sales professionals wince a little at the thought of dialing up an unknown person and attempting to persuade him/her to entertain the idea of doing business.  Those who perceive themselves as busy often never answer their phone.  Those who are reached usually decline the offer.  Yet if by some stroke of luck you reach a VIP,   prepare yourself to both deliver a pitch that will keep the prospect on the phone and hit a single to keep the inning alive.

Cold calling is prospecting and it is not the time for selling,  but rather for determining whether there can be an opportunity to sell.  Hitting a home run is not on the agenda.   During the call,   confirm whether the prospect perceives a need for your product or services and ask for a meeting.  In advance,   you will have researched the company and will be able to anticipate basic information that may be requested.

But first,  one must reach the prospect.   We all know this is increasingly difficult,  but 8:00 AM and 5:30 PM are good times to call: there are usually fewer distractions at those times.   If you have the prospect’s mobile phone number,  text a concise and tantalizing sentence about how your offerings might help the decision-maker to achieve an important goal and request a time to talk,  in person or by telephone.   If you do reach a warm body,  here are some hints that will help you execute a successful cold call:

Write a script

Identify yourself and your company.  State your product or service.   Confirm that you’ve called at a convenient time.   If told that your timing is not good,  as for a better time to call.   If told that you’ll be given a minute,  thank the prospect and say that you will be brief.  State an outcome achieved  (or problem avoided)  when using your product or service that is relelvant enough to intrigue your prospect and entice him/her to keep listening and ask for a couple of details.  Concisely fill in with a couple of pieces of information.   Ask how the need in question is being fulfilled now,  so that you can position your product/service.   Ask the prospect what  specific information would be appreciated and if he/she can see how what you are selling might be useful.   Ask permission to extend the time limit on the call and also offer to schedule a time to speak in person.

Speak with the decision-maker

In general,  there is no reason to speak with a gatekeeper,  unless that individual is able to facilitate access to the decision-maker or provide accurate information about competitive products and services that the decision-maker is now using.  Ideally,  you want to speak only with the person who has the authority and budget to green-light your presence.

Pursue prospects with big-money potential

Active pursuit of small budget clients is a waste of time.   Because they have little money,  small clients agonize over budgets and will do whatever possible to limit your billable hours.  Unless your goal is to gain experience,  let the small clients come to you.

Name drop

People usually trust those with whom they share a common relationship.  In other words,  if you are trying to get in the door somewhere,   obtain permission to use the name of a person whom the prospect trusts and respects.  Also, ask the referral source to speak on your behalf should the prospect want to check you out.

Make your cold call a dialogue,  a two-way conversation.  Listen to your prospect and respond to questions and objections.  Be pleasant and professional.  Even if you don’t do any business,  that prospect might refer you to a colleague.

Thanks for reading,


Pick Up the Phone and Sell

Reaching decision-makers becomes more difficult every month.  No one answers the phone,  unless they already know me.  Once I’m on an assignment,  98%  of communication happens on email and that’s OK for all concerned.  But what if I’d like to follow-up with a prospect I’ve met somewhere and he/she suddenly gets elusive?  Or what if some influential person says,  “Call so-and-so and tell him/her that I told you to call”  and then that person never picks up?

Playing telephone tag with someone you want to connect with is a real drag and a time-waster.  If there is a way to get the Very Important Prospect to either pick up the phone or holler back,  you need to know it.  Sales guru Geoffrey James,  author of  “How to Say It: Business to Business Selling ” (2011)  says that if an assistant takes the call and offers to transfer you to the VIP’s voice mail,  ask if VIP actually listens to voice messages.   Evidently,  a significant minority of people do not listen to voice mail and consequently,  do not return calls.

As book publicist Yen Cheong observed in an April 1, 2009 New York Times article,  “Once upon a time,  voice mail was useful.”   Ms. Cheong communicates primarily by text and occasionally by email.  “If you left a message,  I have to dial in,  dial in my code.  Then once I hear the message,   I need the phone number.  I try to write it down and then I have to rewind the message to hear it again.”

Sometimes,  a land line voice message will include  a cell phone number to call.  Dial the cell phone.  If VIP answers,  thank him/her for taking the call,  cut to the chase and state your reason for calling,  referencing either the person who recommended that you make  contact or follow-up from a previous conversation.  If you were invited to call and make an appointment,  then ask if that is possible now.  VIP may be able to schedule an appointment right there on the smart phone.   If not,  you will be given a better time to call the office land line.

To set the stage for an appointment,  offer to send some relevant piece of information that keeps the ball in play and initiates an action that  is easy for your VIP to digest without feeling pressured,  making it more likely that future calls will be accepted.  Confirm the email address and  send ASAP.  Resist the temptation to launch a sales pitch,  unless VIP opens the door by asking questions.  Even then,  be very concise and respectful of time.  People on cell phones are often in transit or otherwise distracted.

The pearl of this story is text messaging,  a tactic which I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t tried when pursuing a prospect.  So why not?  According to a 2008 study for Sprint by Opinion Research Corporation,  91%  of people under age 30 respond to text messages within an hour.   Adults aged 30 and older are four times more likely to respond to text messages than voice messages.  So if the VIP’s voice message includes a cell number,  pounce!

Web developer Charlie Park says text messages are more respectful of the recipient’s time.   Text information or your intent to send same,  or ask for an appointment. Texting is an efficient tool to keep the sale moving forward and much more effective than telephone tag voice messages,  which only cause your prospect to give up on you,  because the two of you can’t connect.

The next time you call a VIP and the assistant answers,  ask if voice messages are listened to and also ask if texting is possible.  If you can’t confirm that info,  try sending a text anyway.   You might be pleasantly surprised by a prompt reply and a successful telephone sales call.

Thanks for reading,


Customize Your Selling Style

I will present my workshop  “Become Your Own Boss:Effective Business Plan Writing”  on Wednesday evenings October 10, 17 & 24  5:30 PM-7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education.  If you’ve been percolating a business idea that you’d like to launch, or would like to position for success the business you’re already operating,  please register at .

It should come as no surprise that  professional services clients approach buying,  in this case hiring a Freelance consultant, with their own agenda.  They are no different than you and me when we shop for a product or service.  Sometimes we know exactly what we want and other times we need guidance.  Some of us shop for designer labels that give us prestige when we flash the logo  (Prada, Jaguar).  Others like to get to know the owner and counter help at our favorite coffee shop and that relationship keeps us going back.

Jeff Tanner,  professor of sales and marketing at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University in Waco, TX,  recommends that you tailor your selling style to dovetail with the buying style of your prospect.  “We all  have our preferred selling style…..(but)  I don’t  always see  entrepreneurs trying to understand the need from the buyer’s perspective”.

Here are three more ways to successfully win a sale by tuning in to what motivates your prospect:

IV.   Tout your A-list clients

As William Shakespeare noted in “Othello”,  reputation matters.  Your reputation with other clients can make or break some deals.  If and when you get the chance to work with a prestige client,  be sure to get a testimonial.  That will be your springboard to the next prestige client.

Many,  if not most,  large companies will not hire a Freelancer who has only worked with small organizations.  They fear that the person does not have the capacity to adequately fulfill the job requirements.   No client wants to have egg on their face for hiring the wrong consultant.  Do what you can to leapfrog up the ladder by starting with small prestige clients and use those names as entree to the bigger fish.

V.     When service matters

For some clients,  it’s all about the quality of service.  What happens after project completion may be a concern.  Depending on your specialty,  it could be good business to devise some post-sale service packages that give clients some support as they implement or utilize what has been developed  (like a new website).

Project deadlines can also be an issue and producing a fast turn-around time may be especially important in winning an assignment.   Speedy response to post-sale questions may be at top of mind for certain clients.  To reassure those clients,  the guarantee of completing a project within a specified time frame,  or the guarantee of a response time,  may be written into the project contract or retainer agreement.

VI.    Close the deal now

Pay attention to your prospect’s body language to gauge whether he/she wants fast action.  If the prospect seems anxious to move forward,  by all means get on with it and cut to the chase.   Wrap up final details by confirming your duties,  the client’s expectations and any deadlines and get a verbal commitment to proceed that includes the project fee or hourly rate and start date.   Ask your newest client to send the contract ASAP and you may even offer to sign one immediately,  as soon as the mutually agreed-upon particulars have been added.

Thanks for reading,