Lots of people to talk to, fires to put out, problems to solve.
But if you are involved in sales of any kind (sales, fundraising, business development, you name it), then your must live by this rule:
I respond quickly and thoughtfully when I hear from a sales prospect.
Quickly = within 24 hours.
Thoughtfully = thoughtfully.
It doesn’t matter what else you do, who else you manage, what else is on your plate.
Sales requires attention, prioritization, and responsiveness, always.
So, when that email comes in from a prospect, replying to it is now at the top of your list.
(And a reply could be, “Thanks so much. This is really helpful. We’re on it. We will need two days to answer all these questions. I’ll send you another note then.” That counts as a quick, thoughtful response, as long as the two days really is two days, 100% of the time).
Absent this mindset, and the supporting systems to enable it, you’ll lose out on too many opportunities to be successful.
And remember it’s both mindset AND systems—not one or the other—to deliver on this consistently.
For years I carried around a nice, small Moleskin notebook to every meeting. I had various systems, each typically lasting about a year, to distinguish between note-taking content and next steps.
My notebook was a sacred object which, if lost, set my productivity back by weeks or more. That said, the constant iterating on how to manage the space and my to do list, the inability to search for anything, and my crummy handwriting combined for a system that I knew needed improvement.
This last year, when Zoom meetings started, I stopped using my notebook almost immediately.
This wasn’t a conscious choice: it had more to do with the physical setup of my desk and where I was sitting around my house. For a while I wasn’t taking notes, and I used other systems to track to do’s. It felt like things were working well enough, though I was nervous about what was falling through the cracks.
Then, in March when I really ramped up my external sales and fundraising, I started taking notes in Notion.
Notion is a very powerful tool, and I use about 1% of its functionality (probably less). For me, it’s just Google Docs on steroids, but it’s so fabulous at what I’m using it for that I would miss it terribly if I couldn’t use it.
I like it much much more than Google Docs because:
The interface is slicker, particularly the keystrokes (e.g. I type ‘/to do’ and a to do list appears; I type a dash and hit ‘tab’ and I’m making a bulleted list).
I find file storage in Google Docs disorienting: it always feels like a jumble of searchable docs, instead of “here’s everything all in one place.” With Notion, I click on one URL and all my meeting notes are there, easily organized, and well-structured.
Google tracking all my keystrokes and suggesting what I type next wigs me out.
I create one Notion page per meeting, with clear follow-ups, organized in a super-simple week-to-week structure. It looks like this.
This has transformed my work in two ways.
The more obvious point is that it’s so clean and organized. Everything is in one place, I know exactly where to find it, and the to-do’s are so black and white (and so fun to check off) that it makes staying on top of everything a breeze. Plus, because of the simple interface, I find myself using it consistently. At the end of a day with 8+ external meetings, I cannot remember what I promised anyone in the first half of the day…thankfully it’s all there in Notion.
The more subtle point is that taking notes during a meeting keeps me more focused. I listen harder and stay fully dialed in, something that can be difficult with hours of external calls every day.
I like this approach so much that I wonder what I’m going to do when in-person meetings come back, since I don’t think banging away on my keyboard with someone right in front of me is going to work.
Until then, I’m totally devoted to Notion, and I think you might like it too.
Velocity and momentum are both essential in sales.
When you are selling anything, you, by definition, have a greater sense of urgency than the person on the other end of the line: you are there to solve their problem today, while they are often willing to wait until tomorrow (because doing something now means paying a known financial or emotional cost today for an uncertain benefit.)
For this reason, if you are the person selling, velocity is your friend. In a fight for someone’s fleeting attention, being exceptionally quick, responsive, generous and available is how you capitalize on any positive movement in your direction. Being quick is a free opportunity to give your prospect a glimpse of what it will be like to work with you: “She’s so on top of things, she’s attentive, knows her stuff and moves quickly” is a desired reaction no matter what your product or industry.
While velocity is your ally at all stages of the sales cycle, momentum is particularly important when you’ve gotten your first verbal “yes.”
Imagine you’ve just had a great sales call: you’ve accompanied your prospect through their doubts and helped them push through their natural inertia to get to a “yes.”
At this moment, it’s essential to keep momentum by getting them everything they need to cement that yes—the proverbial dotted line to sign on. Move too slowly, and time’s passage is your enemy, pulling them back from their out-on-a-limb ‘yes’ to the much more comfortable ‘maybe.’
We often think that selling is about convincing people that what we have on offer is worth buying.
That’s just the starting point.
What selling is really about is turning a positive inclination to positive action.
For that, close to the finish line is not good enough.
It’s your job to take all the necessary steps to get your prospect across that line.
Each business has a value wheel – the collection of things you do that create value for your customers.
In each situation, and for each customer, you present these in a different way. One customer cares more about the speed of delivery, another about how flexible you are, a third loves that you have an office in Cairo right next to where their main supplier is.
While your value wheel has a few core elements—the handful of things (values, behaviors, promises you keep) that make you you—each customer’s next-level reasons for hiring you will differ.
Your job, when selling your wares, is to know which of these value wheel elements to present when and to whom, and to be facile enough in representing and rejiggering them to communicate just the right offering to each different (potential) customer.
If this all wasn’t easy to see a month ago, it certainly is now. A month ago, a big chunk of how we used to create value was taken off the table. Our new task is to see if the pieces we are left holding are enough that we can continue to do (a new version of) what we do, even in today’s new, unprecedented context.
For many industries and business models, the short-term answer is a simple ‘no’:
Airlines can’t be airlines if people don’t want to travel.
Most restaurants can’t be restaurants without seated customers
But there is also potential, even with a lot of change:
Schools, it turns out, could probably teach kids effectively without kids coming together (though most are failing to do this well).
Most services businesses, whose lifeblood used to involve face time (not FaceTime) with clients and going to giant conferences, are discovering that a lot of that was expected behavior that was mostly unnecessary.
For those of us lucky enough to still be holding enough pieces to stay afloat, the questions to ask are:
How do we clearly see the collection of pieces we’re left holding?
Might there be a way that THIS collection of pieces is, in fact, enough to do meaningful work?
If we imagined that this new normal were here to stay, what would we do differently? What bigger bets would we make?
What new things have we learned about ourselves, our capabilities and our customers that we want to preserve, even when things get back to “normal?”
To help take this forward, here’s a downloadable value wheel that you can print out and fill out with your team (virtually, of course).
I’m in an airport terminal for an early morning flight and I spot an Au Bon Pain.
Instantly I flash to the first Au Bon Pain store in Cambridge, MA where, nearly 30 years ago, I had my first ABP raspberry croissant.
It was still warm, crispy on the outside, and the cream cheese filling was just tangy enough to balance the sweetness of the raspberry. It was heavenly.
That memory is enough to get me to walk into this small, shabby Au Bon Pain outpost in LaGuardia airport. Their raspberry croissant is good, though it is but a shadow of the original. Even so, it’s created just enough of a positive flashback that I keep on coming back.
Whether we’re selling a product or a service, whether we’re a marketer or a salesperson or a philanthropic fundraiser, we are in the business of creating feelings, emotions and memories for our customers.
The strongest, deepest memories can create customers for a lifetime.
When your clients think about you, what do they remember?
Hello blog readers, I’d like to ask for your help.
I’m looking to hire someone to work directly with me to lead up U.S. sales for 60 Decibels.
As a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that 60 Decibels is the company Tom Adams and I co-founded last year to make social impact measurement fast, nimble and useful to the people working to create social change. Our goal is to put the voice of the customer back where it belongs: at the heart of social impact measurement.
We’ve had a great first year. We are working with some of the most dynamic, forward-thinking investors, companies and nonprofits around the world. In 2019 we spoke to more than 50,000 customers in more than 30 countries, delivering more than 200 Lean Data projects. We have a 30+ person team based in four countries. We work hard and we believe in what we’re doing.
The real secret to our success is a handful of loyal customers who show up as true partners. They push us to do our best work. They have high standards and ask us to keep raising the bar. And, quietly but consistently, they support our success by spreading the word to others about the good work that we do.
The salesperson I’d like to work with understands that this is the only approach to build something that lasts: client by client, day by day, doing work worth talking about.
The person we’re looking for has personal experience with social impact measurement. She might have gained this experience working as an impact investor, a philanthropic funder, or a social entrepreneur; or maybe she’s worked to provide impact measurement solutions to those sorts of organizations. Regardless of her specific path, she has significant first-hand experience with the problem we’re trying to solve. She’ll also understand that great selling starts with passionately believing in an idea. She’ll be an effective storyteller, always be looking to learn, and demonstrates all the hustle, resilience, and sense of humor that are the hallmarks of any great professional.
As a regular reader of this blog, I’m guessing you have a sense of the kind of person I’m looking for. Above all, I hope it’s clear how personally I take my work, the values I try to bring to it every day (reflected in our 60 Decibels values), and my willingness to share when I’ve gotten things right and when I’ve fallen short.
I believe that this sort of grounded authenticity is what ultimately empowers us to enlist others in our shared mission of making the world a better place.
Not long ago, Bruce, the shark from the movie Jaws, was fully rebuilt: new jaw, new teeth, new paint, the works. He had lived at the Universal Studios lot from 1975 to 1990, and then ended up at a junkyard, where he survived for nearly 30 years, propped up on two big poles. Now, thanks to the work of Greg Nicotero from “The Walking Dead,’ Bruce is back to his former glory.
After all this refurbishment, we could ask whether Bruce is really Bruce anymore. Most of the original Bruce is gone, replaced by new wood, new plaster and new paint.
But of course, he is Bruce. What makes him Bruce is that we see him and think “that’s the shark from Jaws!” The thread over the last 50 years is the idea of Bruce, and not a physical collection of wood and paint.
When we create new things, especially new products, we can lose sight of this essential fact. It’s easy to wait for some threshold of “realness” before we allow an idea to cross the threshold from concept to product.
For example, years ago, I was working with a team that needed to come up with a better fundraising pitch than, “we do great work, please support our organization.” We wanted to offer a product: a specific initiative, backed by a defined amount of capital, that would make a specific set of things happen. It would have a closed group of funders who would be an integral part of what we were trying to do.
I remember how I felt after we’d written all these ideas down and I went to a first meeting with a potential funder: like a total fraud.
This thing, I felt, wasn’t real yet. It was nothing more than a bunch of ideas on a piece of paper. Until it wasn’t.
In that meeting, it came to life: through the shared agreement, between two people, that we were going to do this thing, and the commitment that implied on both sides.
That coming together transformed a collection of pieces—for us, not wood and paint in the shape of a shark, but a set of ideas on paper in the shape of an initiative—into something real. Through the act of developing and sharing this idea, we created what became a very true story and a very real, very successful, multi-million-dollar initiative.
This is the truth that any impresario knows: that her job is to create the central story that others can be part of; and then to take the steps that make this story true through enrollment of the right people.
The story isn’t the afterthought. Just like it’s the idea of Bruce that makes Bruce real, your new idea, product, promise, it’s also real. It doesn’t need any sort of blessing or formal baptism: take it into the world, and decide, together with others, to make it happen.