Tag Archives: sales


Working in marketing for a startup in the early days, I was always challenged with building awareness. There were mainly two ways to do that:

1) spend money on awareness advertising initiatives

2) create an environment for awareness

For the former, we identified a few affordable ways build awareness and spent money cost-effectively. For the latter, it was all about being out and about. Going to events, posting comments on blogs – anything that you get your name and your brand noticed, hopefully with a bit of a story behind it. A big thing is getting the rest of your employees to do the same.

Once you start to spend money on awareness advertising initiatives, it doesn’t matter how effective that initiative is; it will build awareness for one group guaranteed: salespeople. Particularly salespeople for other advertising companies. Most marketers probably consider this annoying because they are now inundated with cold calls and emails about a ton of marketing initiatives on which they don’t have money to spend. But this phenomenon presents a huge opportunity for the startup marketer. That opportunity is counterselling. It functions primarily the same way you would want to convert your target market: awareness leads to consideration which leads to trial.

So now you have a targeted group of potential customers emailing and calling you to find out more about your business. Who cares if they ulterior motives for that behavior? They’re still potential customers. So what I did is I responded to them. I thanked them for their emails. I set up phone calls. What did I do on those phone calls? First, I pretended I had money. Second, I told them the truth in that I had very little time. Lastly, and most importantly, I countersold.

Now, I want preface this by saying I am not a natural salesman and that I’m not saying all startup marketers need to become salespeople. The beauty of this group of potential customers is that their job is to listen to potential clients. And once you are on the phone with them, you are a potential client.

So what is counterselling and how does it work? Well, if a salesman is any good at their job, on that phone call their main job is to ask a lot of qualifying questions to make sure you can be a successful client for their company. These will vary by company, but mainly their intention is to make sure they aren’t selling forks to an ice cream shop kind of stuff. What these questions do though is give you a chance to tell the story of your company: how it was founded, the value proposition, a funny anecdote about how some people are using the service, and ideally, something that makes the company look bigger than it is.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Sounds a lot like one-to-one marketing. I need a million users not to get fired. I don’t have time for this. Well, firstly, one customer is better than zero customers, and two, it’s isn’t one-to-one, and I’ll tell you why. The goal of your answers to their qualifying questions should be two-fold. First, you want to get the salesperson excited about trying your product him or herself. This is much easier to do than for normal users as it helps them qualify your product as a good potential sale or not, and they think it will impress you that they’ve used the product, making it more likely they can close.

Second, you want to sell the salesperson on the fact that you’re a serious potential deal. This is not hard as salespeople are notoriously optimistic, and because you pretended you have money, their biggest obstacle. What this second objective accomplishes makes sure of is that this salesperson at least tells one other person at their company about you i.e. their boss, and more likely, their entire sales team. The reason for the latter is because he wants to protect himself from one of his team members also calling on you and stealing his sale. So what you have after one call is basically a brand evangelist at that company.

Now, I don’t want to create the illusion that this always works, but it’s been pretty effective for me at enticing trial of the service. And if your product is good, trial can very easily lead to a repeat customer or a few repeat customers at that company. Also, I want to make sure you know that this is a good thing for the salesperson. They get to tell their story more often as well, and have a shot at convincing you they normally wouldn’t have gotten.

I also want to mention that the sales process does not stop there for this company. They are going to come back with two things (lots of dualities in this post I’m noticing):

1) a more serious meeting/proposal

2) some feedback on using your product.

It’s important to take both very seriously. If you dismiss the first, you will not have a repeat customer out of spite. If you dismiss the second, you’re just a bad marketer. I’ll assume you’re taking care of the latter, so let’s discuss the meeting/proposal in more detail below.

When a salesperson asks for a meeting or sends a proposal, it’s important to respond with something. First off, taking a meeting is not a bad idea if it’s genuinely a solution you may consider. You can learn about costs and implementation and add it to your marketing plan once you are ready for it and/or have the funds. But you may decide there is no value for you to taking the meeting. In this case, you have to handle things gracefully to keep them on your side. I generally like to blame things on the boss, saying that we re-prioritized some things and won’t be able to consider this for another six months. Something like that. Always thank them for their time and give compliments about their service.

All a salesperson wants is a fair shot at your business. So make sure they know they got one, and you can use counterselling to effectively build awareness, consideration, and trial within other companies.

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.