Taking Sales Lessons from Email Marketing

As a media buyer at one of the few companies in this economy increasing its media budget, I am constantly bombarded by sales inquiries. This has taught me a great deal about effective selling, just seeing all of things salespeople do wrong when they try to contact me. Then it occurred to me that many of these salespeople could become more effective salesmen by applying marketing techniques.

The most appropriate comparison between sales and marketing techniques is through the email channel. With email marketing, you have to acquire a contact (in this case, me). Then you have to figure out what that contact is interested in, how they like to receive that information, and how often they want to receive it in order for them to use your service. In sales, it should be the same way.

Typically, a salesperson is selling an entire suite of services. Their first objective should be to identify which part(s) of that suite their sales target is interested in. I can’t tell you how many salespeople have tried to sell me what they’re interested in selling in their product suite instead of what I inquired about. This will usually end up in them selling nothing to me. Good salespeople identify what their potential client’s needs are and tailor all future communications towards those needs. Now, this may be hard to know beforehand, but twenty minutes of research on a potential client will probably rule out half of a product suite. An initial conversation should be able to trim the potential sale down to one or two products. The rest of the information a salesperson shares with the target should only be about those products. They don’t care that the company had a big release of some other product they aren’t interested in. Think about it, Amazon is not going to email someone who just bought a book about a deal on kitchen appliances.

Once a salesperson has a contact, s/he need to learn what the best way to reach them is. This is pretty impossible to know beforehand as well, so like in email marketing, administering some tests and monitoring the results can answer this question. Send an email. Did s/he respond to that? Make a call. Did s/he respond to that? Leave a voice mail. Did s/he call me back from that? Like in email marketing, tailoring the communication to the contact’s preference (not the salesperson’s) achieves better results and saves effort. A salesman shouldn’t only be comfortable communicating in one way anyway. I’d recommend creating primary, secondary, and tertiary contact preferences for every potential and current client. By following those preferences instead of a gut reaction of how the salesperson likes to communicate will save lots of time.

My personal preference is to be contacted by email. I can review what salespeople are pitching on my own time, objectively, and be able to ask the appropriate questions in response after reviewing all of the information. This information about my preference should pretty easy to acquire for someone who administers the above test because customer service will not forward sales calls to me and will always recommend an email, even giving out my email address. Also, if someone calls my cell phone and I don’t recognize the number (or, many times, even if I do), I won’t answer. I typically don’t respond to voice mail either unless it’s urgent. Many times, if I do, I email back the voice mailer. If someone emails me though, they typically get a response quickly. Now, I should point out that a target communicating a preference is not an answer. Many targets will say “oh yeah, email me” so they can blow salespeople off. That’s why it’s important to try various contact methods and measure results, not just abide by what targets say they want.

I’ve had just about every salesperson I’ve worked with administer this test on me unknowingly, and it’s amazing how few of them actually monitor the results. I have one salesperson who will always call me, leave a voicemail, then send an email later. I have never answered this person’s call or called him back based on a voicemail, but I have always replied to his emails promptly. How much time would he save if he just emailed me first every time?

The third thing to do is understand the target’s timeline and when they want to be contacted. If they are interested in getting something done this month, then every day communication is probably acceptable and could even be expected. But many sales processes are much longer, in which case, a salesperson needs to develop a regular communication schedule based on their target’s preference. Trying to reach out to a person multiple times a week is likely overkill in this case. In email marketing, this is easy. Test sending emails at different times and different frequencies and measure responses. A salesperson can do this as well. Target not looking at your weekly emails. Scale it back to a month and see what happens. Now, this is probably more do to what a salesperson is selling than each individual target, so this is something a salesperson can test when they’re starting out and probably just apply to future targets.

Putting it all together after taking the time to learn from the potential client is not as hard as you would think. I had one salesperson who knew that the service his company provided was on our future radar but not in the current year’s plans. Instead of forgetting us until we indicated we were ready or until next year, this person would email me (my preferred communication channel) once every quarter (a good regularity for such a long sales cycle) with blog posts from his company’s corporate blog all related to needs I raised in our initial meeting (my preferred topics of interest). That’s smart selling that makes a potential client want to buy from you, because it shows that you listen to and understand them and their needs. With tools like Salesforce.com, this process can be practically automated, through email marketing even if that’s the contact’s preferred channel.

So, salesmen, take it from someone you’re trying to sell to, test various methods of communication and target your messaging toward each potential client and watch that closing rate skyrocket.