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Archive for the “Executive Sales” Category

Just a simple idle thought on sales today.

Please keep in mind the special circumstances and opportunities posed by the end of the year.  It is often a great time to initiate with new clients at corporations.  Here’s some simple counter-intuitive experience I have unearthed in 17 years of helming my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International.

Remember the end of the year is a time of accounting shenanigans.  Corporate CPAs, as often as not, may well want to have their clients lose money in December.  Thus, a different pattern of spending and ROI sensitivity may animate the last month of the year.

There is often selling opportunity in this circumstance.  Even in a scary and cautious business environment, December may give an impetus to the experimental and the new.  Almost every year one corporate client or another of mine will unexpectedly pull the string on a new project after discovering end-of-the-year revenue.

In addition to tax adjustments, individual departments within companies may have surplus funds left over from the year.  They need to use this money or lose it.  Corporate managers do not like leaving money on the table for a couple of reasons.  One, it reflects ill on their strategic fiscal plan from the beginning of the previous year.  And two, it may have budget reduction implications for their department’s strategic allocations in the next fiscal year.  So I have often found it is very worth an extra nudge to recalcitrant or timid potential corporate clients as the holiday season approaches.

A second counter-intuitive suggestion is not to view December as a selling dead zone.  While it is true that corporate decision-makers are often very busy with parties, vacations, personal travel, and family from Thanksgiving on, they also frequently find themselves with unexpected pockets  of inactivity available.  It can be a particularly propitious time for sales initiation and spec meetings.  There is always opportunity in times of disruptive corporate patterns.  So while many decision-makers may be especially hard to reach in the holiday season, those that are working may have out of the norm availability for real consideration of the new, the out-of-the-box, the uncommon, the magical—a particular opportunity for the creative entrepreneur.

So, as far as problematic holiday executive selling is concerned,  I stand with Lee Iococca, who said,  “We are continually faced by great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as problems.”

Thanks, Lee.

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MBA programs are changing. Programs are continually updating themselves and working to make themselves more viable and popular in a society tangled up in student loan debt. Accredited MBA courses have gone completely digital as distance learning becomes more of a popular option for those who decide to continue their education while still working. Corporate Social Responsibility has infiltrated an industry once driven completely by metrics and increasing profits. However, many business students, especially MBAs, lag behind in one area: writing. In many business programs, it is possible to take entire classes without submitting one piece of writing. Though the bulk of communication in business happens numerically, being able to effectively communicate in other ways is the difference between success and failure, especially for entrepreneurs. As technology progresses, investors and associates will require more frequent updates in language they can understand and without help, many will find they are not up to par.

There’s an art to business writing, an art that begins with good writing.

I was caught by an article on March 3, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Students Struggle For Words” (Diana Middleton, page B8). It documents the growing complaints by employers of the inadequate writing skills on the part of newly minted MBAs. Anecdotal evidence includes complaints about business school graduates rambling, using pretentiously technical language, or careless and overly-casual emails.

There is some hard evidence to back up these complaints. Ms. Middleton cites evidence from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admissions Test. GMAT essay scores have fallen from 4.7 out of 6 to 4.4 in the last four years. Or take Sharon Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project in Berkeley, says our high schools and undergraduate programs have de-emphasized writing and constant digital communication has eroded writing skills (LOL, WTF, OMG, BRB, etc.)

Arthur Levitt, former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg contributor, has been on a jihad to bring plain English back to business.  He says much business writing is incomprehensible. “It lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.

There is one quality I find essential in written communication with real decision makers at corporations. That quality is simplicity.

Executive face time has immense value. My firm, Corporate Rain International, only does one thing which is to create serious introductions for our clients with strategic corporate leaders. I strongly believe that, short of a personal introduction, the best way to initially reach out to corporate decision makers is a snail mail letter of utter simplicity. Ideally this letter on your best stationary should be able to be scanned in four seconds by a busy executive and be focused on ROI. Prolixity is to be avoided at all cost.

A written letter shows respect, personal seriousness, and class. While simplicity is the byword of the introductory letter, that does not mean you should limit the use of exact vocabulary. Don’t dumb it down. High level executives are usually educated, sophisticated people who respect the subtle and gradated use of language. However, the primary point of business writing is to simply get to the point with grace and exactitude. (For more on this scroll back to Dec. 7, 2010 Letters and Executive Sales.)

And perhaps most important of all is to actually have something of worth and originality to communicate in the first place. As Sholem Asch writes, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” (New York Herald Tribune, 11/6/55)

Thanks, Sholem.

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Here’s a little dinosaur wisdom: If you want to initiate new business with real corporate decision makers, write a letter. Send it snail mail, just like Grandma.

Yup. That’s my brilliant marketing suggestion for the week. Send this letter with a real stamp, ideally an attractive commemorative. Do not use labels for the address, but only direct printing on the envelope. Be sure to use expensive stationary. Spend the money. It’s a very minor expense and it makes a major statement. The very touch of your letter connotes seriousness and respect for yourself and your potential client. It creates a sensual branding statement.

Ideally the body of the letter should absurdly, insultingly oversimplify the wonder of your company. It should be able to be scanned essentially in five seconds by a busy executive. The letter should go something like this:

  1. Request a meeting on a specific date. (The date means nothing. It’s simply a technique for focusing the reader’s mind.)
  2. Describe very briefly what you do, some authenticating clients and any salient defining information (awards, differentiators, rankings, quotes from major press, etc.).
  3. Most importantly, one short paragraph should have two case studies of one sentence each–emphasizing money, ROI, or percentages of increased sales or savings. Pure green eye shade stuff.
  4. No creativity. None of the unique qualitative reasons to use your firm. Then bold maybe four phrases in the letter.

That’s it. The letter should include no collateral and make as little time demand as possible on a busy corporate executive. The point of all this is simply to create a hint, a fragrance, a trope, a memory that he or she got something serious from you. Then you or your representative, of course, must follow up, referencing the letter. But that’s a discussion for another day.

There is one thing a corporate decision-maker is looking for. That thing is clear ROI, whether in the form of earnings, savings, or efficiency. If you can make a compelling, differentiated, classy appeal, your chances of penetration distinctly improve.

Despite all the magical new technology and social messaging, real executive rain-making must be personalized. I feel it is insulting to try to initiate with a busy corporate executive without the weighted intonation of a letter. Quite aside from issues of spamming and information overload, a personal letter is innately imbued with the assumption of a high-level courtesy and a bespoke respect between equals. The most important fact about selling to decision-making corporate executives is simply this: They like to deal with their peers. They like to be deal with people of equal gravitas and authority.

Singer/songwriter Peter Allen wrote a song many years ago called “Everything Old Is New Again.” Ironically, snail mail’s very decline in the face of the Internet’s communication maelstrom, makes it increasingly more effective and noticeable when it is used.

For, as John Donne said in his poem “To Sir Henry Wotton” (1633), “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John.

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There was a nice column on business networking in the Wall Street Journal last weekend (November 13, 2010 by Anne Kadet). Anne states, “On any given night, New Yorkers have their pick of 50-odd networking events. Last week, for instance, you could have mingled with Long Island Techies, Hispanic business owners, professional comedians or ‘Mommies with Babies and Businesses.’ But if you’re not a regular in on the networking circuit, you have to wonder:  Does anything ever come of all this sound and fury?

My own general feeling is that most networking is a distracting, energy vitiating waste of time. (Admittedly I’ve never felt very good at it, kinda like I was never very comfortable at picking up girls in bars.) There is only one form of networking that makes sense to me and that is networking with my peers; that is, networking with fellow CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs where relaxed conversations can occur allowing development of relationships in a general atmosphere of collegiality.

But, with that caveat, I wanted to recommend an article my partner David Downey, President of Corporate Rain International, sent me last week authored by an entrepreneur named Greg Peters from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Greg is the founder of The Reluctant Networker and he sets out some rules for networking in terms of law enforcement. His clever article is entitled Don’t Violate These Networking Laws and in it he lists some “misdemeanor” tickets he would give to misguided networkers.

Parking Ticket. This would be issued to anyone at a networking event who chooses to grab a seat at a table without first completing their networking goals. This is a relatively minor offense, but if you get too many of them your networking license can be revoked.

Speeding. Anyone who tried to ask for some benefit which exceeded the relationship that they had established so far would be in danger of receiving one of these bad boys.  The most egregious offenders would be the folks who ask for a high-level referral five minutes after meeting someone.

Passing in a No Passing Zone. Handing out your card when the other person didn’t specifically ask for it is another of those minor offenses that the networking police are watching for.

Not coming to a complete stop. The social butterflies (or social  climbers) who are always looking for someone better to talk to (or be seen talking to) collect the largest number of these citations. Part of the networking officers’ training is to watch for the tell-tale “looking over the other person’s shoulder” which usually indicates an infraction in progress.

Networking while trying to influence. NWI’s are the nice way of saying that instead of networking and trying to establish new long-term relationships, the perpetrator in question was trying to sell. This is definitely one of the more serious violations.

Illegal “You” turn. The networker who earns this ticket has a problem. They only want to talk about themselves. Whenever the conversation drifts to the other person, they try to turn the “you” back into “me.” Violators of this particular statute soon discover that they are alone on the road since no one can hang around for long with the conversational whiplash their networking can cause.

Thank you, Greg Peters.

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Words are wonderful.

They are much more useful in business than they get credit for–particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in current articles and discussions I see about sales. These sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication–words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern salesman. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, etc).

This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, quality business development, which is the specialty of my executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are especially well-educated, thoughtful people trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.

Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.

This does not mean to pepper your sales conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of sales conversations.

Last week one of my employees asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight.

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