Five Great Places to Meet People

March 29th, 2010

Five Great Places to Meet People for SalesNo, this isn’t an advice column for singles. (Although I am single and could probably write a really good advice column at this point.)

Instead, the goal of this article is to help you find some good places for networking. While social media is a powerful networking and sales tool, there’s also a tremendous amount of value in meeting people face-to-face. And the best way to meet lots of people in person is by getting involved with groups.

While there are all kinds of business and non-business organizations that you can join, they can be broken down into five basic categories:

1. Trade Associations
No matter what you do, there’s an organization of people who do it. Whether you’re a salesperson, sales manager, small business owner or CEO, there are organizations of people with your job function or who are in the same industry you are.

Professional or trade associations give you an opportunity to network with your peers. While they won’t become customers, there are still several advantages to knowing them better.

You can discuss industry challenges and learn from their experiences. You can refer or contract out business when you are overwhelmed, or when your customers want something you can’t provide. (The competitors you refer will likely return the favor.) You might even go further and develop strategic partnerships to increase your capabilities or to handle work that no single company could manage on its own.

A completely different strategy is to join the trade associations of your target markets. Most organizations allow “associate” or “vendor” members. By joining, you get an excellent opportunity to network with your best prospects. The relationships you build will be stronger than any marketing piece your competition can create.

2. General Interest Business Groups
These organizations are open to virtually anyone, so you may find competitors as well as prospects within them. The best-known and most common are Chambers of Commerce, which exist at the local, state and national levels. Some Chambers are geared towards women, while others may have a racial or ethnic focus. For example, there are Black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and many other Chambers.

Other general interest business organizations include the National Federation of Independent Businesses, American Business Women’s Association, International Franchise Association and National Association of Women Business Owners. These organizations host all kinds of networking activities, as well as seminars, trade shows and other events.

3. Lead-Sharing Groups
These groups, which go by various names (referral groups, tip clubs, resource groups), exist for the sole purpose of networking for sales purposes. Members are expected to generate leads for other members on a regular basis. For that reason, membership is limited to one company per industry, i.e. one lawyer, one printer, one florist, one insurance agent, etc.
Meetings are typically weekly or bi-weekly over breakfast. Be aware, these groups are serious and require a real commitment on your part. Members can be expelled for missing too many meetings or not providing enough referrals.

4. Service Clubs
The purpose of organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Optimists, Jaycees and Knights of Columbus is to provide some type of volunteer service to local communities. But great networking is a happy by-product of organized service. If your focus is in the right place—that is, the goals of the group—then people will naturally want to do business with you.

Like lead-sharing groups, service clubs usually meet weekly or biweekly, although it may be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Also like lead-sharing groups, they often enforce attendance requirements, so understand the commitment involved.

5. Special Interest Groups
Finally, there are a host of other organizations whose purpose is not business-oriented, yet provide excellent networking opportunities. They include Toastmasters International, alumni associations, your child’s PTA, and your local homeowners association. As with service clubs, focus on the business of the group, rather than your business.

With any and all of these groups, several rules apply: Check them out before you join to make sure the group is a good fit for you. After you have written your membership check, attend meetings and events regularly. And to get the biggest return on your investment, raise your profile and credibility by volunteering for projects and committees.

Above all, remember that networking is not the same as selling. While it is part of the sales process, networking is simply meeting people and building relationships with them. It’s getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Basically, it’s about making friends. And you can do that anywhere.

Seven Sales Presentation Tips from Infomercials

March 23rd, 2010

Sales Presentations from InfomercialsIf you want to deliver more powerful, more persuasive sales presentations, one of the best things you can do is watch television. Specifically, infomercials.

You can stop laughing now.

Think about it. An infomercial is basically a thirty-minute sales presentation. And because infomercials typically cost between 100,000 and half-a-million dollars to produce (and that’s before buying air time), they need to be really good presentations. Which means we, as salespeople, can learn a lot from them.

If you study infomercials, you’ll notice they all use the same strategies. And you can employ these strategies just as well in your own sales presentations.

1. Open with the problem
Most infomercials open with some variation of “Are you tired of…” or “Don’t you wish you could…” The problem hooks your interest. If you answer “yes” in your head, you’ve just selected yourself as a prospect. Similarly, in your own sales presentations, open with the problems your prospect is dealing with and you’ll get their attention.

2. Bring your enthusiasm
Every infomercial host is enthusiastic. The interviewers are enthusiastic. Even the announcers are enthusiastic. They have to be. People buy when their excitement level about owning the product exceeds their reluctance to part with their money.

Infomercial producers understand and capitalize on the fact that enthusiasm is contagious. The more excited you are, the more excited your prospects become. On the flip side, if you’re not excited about your product or service, why should your prospect be?

3. Create powerful visuals
Human beings are visual creatures. We take in 80% of our information through our eyes. Infomercials take advantage of this fact by showing demos of the product in action, or before-and-after photos, or clear illustrations of how their step-by-step process works.

Notice, they don’t show paragraphs of text or a slide with twenty bullet points in tiny type! Neither should you. Instead, think about what visuals would help you make your case and reach your prospect on an emotional level.

4. Focus on results
During a typical infomercial, very little time is spent discussing the product itself. Most of the script is devoted to the results the product creates: Kitchen products focus on the healthy, delicious meals you’ll be able to make for your family; Exercise products dwell on the sexy body you’ll be proud to show off; Financial systems stress how different your life will be when you have massive amounts of money coming in.

There’s a good reason infomercials dwell almost exclusively on the results: It’s all the buyer really cares about. Keep in mind, your product or service is merely a means to an end. It’s the end your prospect is really concerned with, so focus your presentation on that.

5. Provide testimonials
People are skeptical of claims made by a seller. However, they’re much more likely to believe claims made by other customers. As a result, testimonials are powerful persuasion tools. That’s why infomercials always include plenty of them and why you should too.

6. Put the price in context
No matter what your price is, prospects always wish it was lower. One way to make a price appear lower is to compare it with a higher price. That’s the reason so many infomercials compare their product with other possible solutions to the stated problem, which invariably are much more expensive.

What can you compare your product or service to? Alternatively, what would be the cost to the prospect of doing nothing and letting the problem continue?

7. Give prospects a reason to act now
Human beings are lazy. And we hate commitment. So we’ll put off any decision we can for as long as we can. Unless we have a good reason not to.

That’s why infomercials offer an incentive for picking up the phone right away: “Call in the next twenty minutes and we’ll double your order!” “Order before the end of this program and we’ll make your first payment for you!” What kind of an incentive can you offer your prospects to act right now?

Successful infomercials can generate anywhere from 10 to 50 million dollars in sales. From people who never expressed an interest in the product in the first place! If these presentation strategies work so well for them, they’ll work for you too.

Are You Trying to Sell Too Much?

March 19th, 2010

Trying to sell too much

“If eighty percent of your sales come from twenty percent of all of your items, just carry those twenty percent.”
—Henry Kissinger

I got a flier in the mail for a local restaurant that I’m probably never going to visit. Why? Well, the flier lists their menu. Here are just a few of the categories:
• PizzaToo many items to sell
• Pasta
• Wings
• Subs
• Salads
• Burgers
• Seafood
• Mexican
• Greek
• Indian

While I like all of these foods, there’s no way one restaurant can do all of them well. Odds are, it doesn’t do any of them well. So I’m not going to risk it.

If I want pizza, I’ll go to a place that specializes in pizza. If I want Mexican food, I’ll go to a place that specializes in Mexican food. Because a place that specializes in one kind of cuisine is likely to be better at it than a place that doesn’t.

That goes for all businesses. If your offerings are too broad, you’ll have a hard time developing a reputation and people will be suspicious of the quality of those offerings. By contrast, the more you specialize, the easier it is to become known for your specialty and the more easily prospects will trust you. (And the more you can charge, by the way.)

more items, fewer salesIt’s one of the mistakes I made early on in my speaking business. When I first became a professional speaker, I spoke on lots of subjects, figuring the more topics I had available, the more likely someone would hire me.

Didn’t work so well.

Over time, I got clearer and clearer in my focus, to the point where now everything I do—seminars, workshops, training, coaching, keynote speeches—is on a single topic: sales. There are sub-topics I speak about—networking, negotiating, customer service—but they’re all related to, and under the umbrella of, sales. I don’t speak about leadership, change, team building, creativity, life balance, diversity, time management, or any other topic not directly related to sales.

Could I conceivably deliver a speech or a seminar on one of those topics if I absolutely had to? Sure. I know something about each of those subjects and occasionally I’ll even build some of them into one of my sales programs. But I wouldn’t consider myself an “expert” in those subjectsfood for a professional speaker

More importantly, I can’t convince the marketplace I’m an expert in all those subjects. No one would believe it. And if they don’t believe, they won’t buy.

That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years: Whatever the product or service, people prefer to buy from an expert.

Perceived expertise increases buyer confidence and comfort. While specialization may shrink your potential market, it boosts your perceived expertise among your remaining market segment. That boosts the likelihood they’ll choose you over your competitors.

Which brings me back to my original question: Are you trying to sell too much?

Seven Reasons NOT to Blog

March 16th, 2010

Reasons Not to Blog for Your SalesIn my last post, I shared Ten Reasons Blogging is Good for Your Sales. But that doesn’t mean blogging is for everybody. (Nothing is for everybody.) However valuable blogging can be for your business, there are some perfectly good reasons not to do it. Such as…

1. You have no strategy
Any sales or marketing effort you engage in should be strategic. It should have a specific goal and a specific plan for reaching that goal. It should also be part of a larger overall strategy. If you’re not clear on your strategy, your sales and marketing activities will be largely ineffective.

2. You have no time
There’s no way around it, blogging takes time. If you simply can’t add one more thing to your schedule, a blog is not for you.

3. You can’t do it consistently
To gain a loyal following, a blog needs to be updated regularly. Which means you need to devote time to it on a consistent basis. It can be daily, weekly or even monthly, but it needs to be consistent. If you can’t commit to a regular writing schedule, there’s no point in doing it at all.

writing and sales4. You can’t write
There’s no shame in not being a good writer. Writing well is a skill not many people possess. But people will judge you and your business by the quality of your writing. So if your wordsmithing isn’t up to snuff, blogging can do you more harm than good. (Although you could still do an audio or video blog.)

5. You’re looking for instant results
Like most sales and marketing tactics, blogging takes time to produce measurable results. It’s an investment for the long haul, not a quick fix. If you’re focused exclusively on boosting sales right this minute, blogging won’t help you.

6. You’re all about self-promotion
A successful blog is about your readers, not your company. While it’s fine to occasionally slip in a post about your new showroom, your latest product, or your upcoming sale, if you’re going to attract regular readers, your blog needs to provide information that can enhance people’s lives. If your blog is nothing but self-promotion, nobody will read it.nothing to say about sales

7. You have nothing to say
For your blog to be effective, you need to be able to come up with interesting, useful and/or humorous things to say on a regular basis. And that might not be one of your strengths. Everyone’s creative, but in different ways, and if your creativity isn’t suited to blogging, that’s okay. Figure out where your creativity is best applied and do that instead.

Blogging is a great sales and marketing tool, but it isn’t ideal for every business. If it’s not for you, don’t feel pressured by people who say you should do it because everyone else is. There are plenty of other sales and marketing tools at your disposal that also work well. The key is finding—and using—the ones that work best for your business.

Ten Reasons Blogging is Good for Your Sales

March 10th, 2010

Ten Reasons Blogging is Good for Your SalesDoes your business have a blog? Whether you’re an independent professional, a small business owner or the CEO of a larger company, a blog can be a powerful tool for increasing your sales. Here’s why:

1. You control the message
With traditional publicity and PR efforts, you have no control over what ends up in print. And advertising, by its nature, limits the size and scope of your messages. A blog, however, enables you to be as expansive as you like, while making sure what you write is what gets published.

2. It enables you to display your expertise
People prefer working with experts. We don’t want to work with just any attorney, accountant, organizer, lawn care service, personal trainer, boat dealership, cleaning service, etc. We want to work with one that’s really good. A blog gives you an outlet to demonstrate your expertise to your potential clients.

Timely Sales Blogging3. You can be timely
A blog gives you the ability to announce promotions, comment on events and even celebrate holidays of all types. (See A Great Day for Sales for more ideas.) You can also provide up-to-the-minute updates on what you or your company is doing.

4. It improves your SEO
Blogs have become a cornerstone of search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Search engines like useful content. (As opposed to pure self-promotion.) And they like content that’s updated frequently. Those two factors mean a blog can boost your search engine rankings.

5. You could go viral
If you write a piece that’s particularly helpful, interesting, funny or controversial, your readers may forward it to friends and colleagues. And thanks to social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, your post could potentially be forwarded to thousands—or even millions—of people. (See the forwarding options below.)

6. It’s free
How many sales and marketing tools are 100% free? Everything you need to set up a blog you either already have or can get at no cost. Blogging is ideal for any business on a budget.

7. You can engage customers
Unlike most promotional tactics, a blog can create a dialogue with your prospects and customers. Your blog can become a gateway for people to ask questions, share testimonials, voice requests and provide feedback.

8. It helps you build trust with prospects
The number one buying factor is confidence. By giving prospects valuable information, as well as insights into you and your company, blogging can instill that confidence, building the trust needed for them to buy from you.

9. It’s versatileVideo Blogging and Sales
A blog needn’t just be paragraph upon paragraph of words. You can incorporate photos, audio clips and video as well. Which means you could post pictures of yourself, your people or your products; audio interviews, songs or comedy bits; or video tours of your facility, how-to videos or videos of your product or service in action.

10. You’re forced to think
The simple act of thinking is one of the most valuable activities any of us can engage in. Unfortunately, the hectic pace of business can leave little time for it in our daily schedules. Blogging, however, forces you to think on a regular basis: about your business, about yourself and about your customers. Thinking leads to innovation. And innovation leads to more sales.

So if you’re not blogging yet, give it some serious consideration. It does require some thought and some consistent effort, but the rewards for your business can be enormous.

Finding Sales in Unlikely Places

March 4th, 2010

Finding Sales in Unlikely PlacesWhile speaking at a conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Dale Plass, president of Plass Appliance & Furniture in the Chicagoland area. During our conversation, he related a great story that serves as a powerful reminder that sales opportunities lurk even in the most unlikely places.

A few years ago, Dale was standing in line at O’Hare airport waiting to check in. The line was long and moving slowly. After twenty minutes of standing there hardly budging, he began thinking to himself, “How can I turn this into a positive sales experience?”

So he yelled out to the crowd, “Does anybody here need any appliances? I can offer a special deal to anyone in this line today!”

Gutsy? Yes. Potentially embarrassing? Certainly. Worth it? Absolutely.

Three people replied that they were, in fact, in the market for new appliances. Dale gave them his card, collected their contact information and followed up with them later. He ended up selling a washer/dryer combo to one person, a high-end refrigerator to another, and a complete kitchen to a couple who were remodeling their home.

That one question netted him nearly $10,000 in sales.

Are you sitting around, waiting for sales to come to you? Or are you out there actively hunting for sales wherever they may be?

Sales opportunities are like Easter eggs: some are in plain sight, others are hidden, but they’re everywhere. You just have to be willing to look for them.