Blogging for Prospects – Is it working for your Business?

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June 18th, 2010

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I periodically read the blog of a local insurance agent. He is a friend of a friend, which is how I stumbled onto his website. But he regularly produces interesting blogs which keep me coming back. It appears the experts are right – content drives action.

One day he blogged about home based businesses. As I have shared previously, StartUpSelling is a completely virtual company, so everyone from the CEO down works from home offices. His post peaked my curiosity and I realized it has been some time since I reviewed my coverages. So for this gentleman the concept is working. Delivering content to his prospects via a blog yielded a lead and a quoting opportunity.

Have many of you found a blog to be a successful lead generation tool? If so, what are you writing about and how often? Are you spending much time or effort to promote the blog?

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Why the Window Salesman was Destined for Failure

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June 15th, 2010

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As promised in yesterday’s rant – I will discuss why it was not just the window salesman’s fault he failed, it was the broken sales methodology of his employer.  There were 3 major flaws in the model his company is using, and any one of them could foil their opportunity.  Unfortunately, when this salesman visited my home, all 3 problems surfaced, giving him no chance to close the business.

Confirm Telemarketing Leads – I received a call last week asking if I would like a quote for windows.  Their timing was great, as I actually have been interested for some time, but taken no action.  I said ok and told them “Saturday morning should probably work.” (Note: This call included a contest inducement – which makes people more likely to say yes without really intending to consider a purchase.)  On Friday, I missed a call confirming Saturday’s appointment and did not have time to return it.  But Saturday morning, a salesperson was on my porch.  Wow.  He drove all the way out to my home without confirming the appointment.  He acted as if I should be expecting him.  He brought up the fact I said “Saturday morning should work.”  Clear signs his company had provided him with some low-level sales training, but what his company should have provided him with was a confirmed appointment before asking him to get in the car and waste gas.

Don’t Sell a Mercedes like it’s a used Dodge Neon – This company positions their product as the highest quality window available in the standard consumer market.  Meaning it is the best you can buy without purchasing something customized.  I see them as the equivalent of a Mercedes or BMW – you can’t do much better unless you are going to visit the Ferrari factory and spend a fortune.  However, they train their salespeople to push the product like a used Chevy Malibu.  I have been to luxury car dealerships and witnessed salespeople allow the product to speak for itself, simply trying to augment the decision-making process of the buyer as opposed to directing it.  This window company trains their sales people to quickly push no-down-payment financing at the first signs of price objection, and then use the lay-down just like car dealers!  This gentleman should have qualified that I was a cash customer, and if I could only get pricing from the manager then send the manager out to the meeting!  If you have a quality product, leverage it – do not bastardize it with low-end tactics.

Maintain the Integrity of Your Pricing – I came from the insurance industry, where pricing integrity has been withered away for years.  I did my best to present my best price the first time.  My prospects did not always believe it was my best price, and a few times even asked me to go back to underwriters looking for pricing relief.  I despised this tactic.  It’s classless.  If I have a better price and I do not offer it the first time, the buyer should not trust me.  The window company apparently had 2 better prices – 20% off if I bought today, followed by 15% more from the manager.  Really?  More than 1/3 from where we started?  That is a confession you were trying to rip me off initially.  Again selling the Mercedes like a Mercury Topaz.

It was obvious to me – and probably anyone else in sales – that this window salesman had no prior sales experience.  His only source of knowledge was the training and sales model provided by his company.  If he had read this blog before coming to our meeting, he probably would have stayed home.  Be careful not to set your salespeople up for failure.  They are a valuable resource that keep your company moving, so do everything you can to support them and help them succeed.

Playoff Basketball & Webinar Metrics

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June 11th, 2010

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I am relaxing watching the NBA playoffs – and of course the exciting and competitive atmosphere eventually brings my mind back to business. All the statistics on the TV screen lead to an analysis of some webinar results and metrics. I found them to be impressive enough that I would share them.

We recently ran a web seminar for an agency client that drew an excellent response. We began the campaign by procuring 6,000 executive emails in their target market and profile. We then designed an educationally oriented and technical email subject and webinar topic that would appeal to their target, in-profile prospects. Nearly 300 people registered for the webinar, 169 attended, and 15 of those have scheduled an appointment with the agency producers within the first week. The CEO called to tell us that “their days of cold calling are over.”

Another recent webinar was designed around a highly targeted vertical. Again an educational email subject and webinar topic were designed by our team to avoid any impression that this would be a sales presentation. A small send of 300 email invitations were sent, yielding 54 webinar registrants and 29 attendees – incredibly high percentages for an eMarketing campaign.

When the right methodology is used, web seminars are a tremendous lead generation tool for the insurance industry.

People are asking how we are able to reach Prospects who will meet with us via the Web 100% of the time and still Close Business – Here is How

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June 9th, 2010

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Many people have contacted asking about my recent post regarding web based meetings. The question: How are you able to find quality prospects who are consistently willing to meet via the web? This has often been followed up with: Are you still able to close business? Here is the formula we use…

We initially engage with our prospects through integrated eMarketing and Web Seminar campaigns. We deliver an educationally oriented message to target prospects, including an invitation to a web seminar that will help them build their business. I make follow up calls to all those who are interested, and schedule web meetings with those who would like to speak directly.

In my experience, the most critical contact is made when you can make your prospects phone ring while they are reading your email message. Today’s technology can provide you with this info very affordably, so if you are looking, all you have to do is dial the phone. This is where I often find prospects who are ready to buy, and these are the types of prospects we strive to deliver to our clients.

Long answer, but that is the methodology I use to put myself in a position to ask for a web meeting. Over time we have also found that our prospect contacts (typically CEO’s or VP’s) prefer a brief web meeting over the time commitment of an on-site visit. We can spend 15 minutes at our own desks determining if there is a fit, and move on quickly.
The second question is very simple to answer – Yes we still close business without meeting our prospects in person. For seven years our company has operated as a completely virtual organization, conducting less than a handful of on-site meetings. In 2010, we have grown significantly (despite the economy) without leaving our virtual offices.
In conclusion – it is our opinion that you can be dramatically more effective using a virtual, web based sales methodology, and challenge each of you to leverage the available tools to grow you business by working less.

What Percentage of your Prospect Meetings are Web Based?

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June 7th, 2010

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Over the past year, I have transitioned from 100% on site appointments to 100% web based meetings. Believe it or not, my closing ratios have actually improved over this time.

As a salesperson working in a traditional business model, I was spending most of my life on the road. Driving 35,000-40,000 miles per year and quickly becoming Jos A. Bank’s best customer as I wore out my suits, shirts and shoes. Although I was successful in generating business, there was a constant battle to improve my time management so I could focus my time on closing more business.

Now I work for a completely virtual business and all my appointments are conducted through GoToMeeting, WebEx and other cloud tools. On the road a cancelled appointment could cost me 2 hours, now a missed meeting costs me no more than 5 minutes. A poorly qualified prospect used to cost me a half day or more, now a 15 minute discussion completes the qualifying process.

The ability to instantly meet with anyone, anywhere has improved my business development efficacy tremendously. My closing ratios have improved, and I sell more business in a 40 hour virtual week than I did in a 60 hour traditional week.
Making this transition was a paradigm shift for me – and also makes me wonder who else has made or begun to make this change? If so, what percentage of your appointments have become web based?

Looking forward to your responses.

If you are interested in discussing virtual business tools and how they can improve your profitability, responsiveness and ability to attract talent please join the Virtual Business group: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2948539&trk=hb_side_g

My Top 5 Recently Read Business Books

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June 4th, 2010

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A wise man once told me that book reviews made good blog entries.  I also read somewhere that lists were an effective way to post a blog that invoked commentary.  So we will try both here, by unveiling my Top 5 Recently Read Business Books!

  1. The Knack by Bo Burlingham & Norm Brodsky – A must read for small business people.  No nonsense advice and actionable ideas to help entrepreneurs avoid fatal mistakes and make sound decisions.  If you have a small business, or even just an idea, The Knack will provide you with an interesting perspective.
  2. Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath – Who knew brothers could collaborate to produce a high quality book?  Spinning off Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of “stickiness,” they break down what makes our ideas and communications more effective and meaningful.  Teachers, salespeople, marketing folks all should read this book.
  3. An Empire of Wealth by John Steele Gordon – Yes I know its not exactly a business book.  But Gordon provides a detailed history of the economic progress of America – from colonization to Microsoft.  He disects each and every significant economic development in the history of our great nation, delivering an important business education.
  4. Small Giants by Bo Burlingham – As you can see, both Burlingham and I have a passion for small business.  He explores successful businesses who chose to be great rather than big.  Each of the highly successful businesses profiled reached a critical point where they elected to focus on exceptional service, a premier product, happy employees, or community involvement instead of trying to become the next Wal-Mart.  I want my business to be great much more than I want it to be huge, and this book illustrates why.
  5. The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott – This book did not blow me away like each of those above, but I found the content interesting and very useful.  The New Rules provides a clear and implementable plan for sales and marketing people to adapt to new web tools.  If you are looking to expand your understanding of social media as a marketing tool, this book is for you.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions regarding these books.  I am also always open to recommendations to add to my read list.

Have a great weekend!

You have a great website. You’ve started blogging. So where is your video?

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June 3rd, 2010

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First, you had to have a website.  How else would prospects know you really exist?  Then you had to create a social media presence: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Next your executives and salespeople had to start blogging, showing the world you are a thought leader in your industry.  So what is the next marketing requirement?  Video.

The incredibly steep curve of technological advancement and the presence of YouTube have made video an inexpensive and powerful marketing tool.  What better way to address your prospects than to personally deliver your value proposition?

Any agency or B2B organization can create a professional and effective marketing video to integrate with their website, blogs and social media channel.  For a relatively nominal fee, you can put a personal and genuine face on all of these cold impersonal web outlets.

I have included a link to exemplify what I am talking about.  The CEO of StartUpSelling, Alan Blume, recently published a book about virtual business.  Who is he?  What is it about?  Will it be a valuable read?  If you have 2 minutes, he can tell you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPbQrPHo4JY

Increase Blog Traffic Ten-Fold by Talking About Your Dog

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June 2nd, 2010

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Before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I posted a blog entry about my dog. By 11am I had eclisped my average daily views. Within 24 hours, my blog traffic had increased by a factor of 10.

What can we learn from this? I am interested providing discussion topics and ideas relating to the sales and marketing field – not becoming the next dog whisperer.

The key to making this communication sticky was the simple and concrete subject matter. We can all clearly relate to dog ownership and the characteristics of man’s best friend. The premise of the blog was to connect these familiar concepts with the fundamental ideas of sales and service.

Simple, concrete subject matter – and maybe a picture of your dog – will make your ideas stickier.

Where do you find your best prospects? Mine come from Email Opens.

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June 1st, 2010

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When I was in the insurance business – this answer was simple: referrals and cross-selling. This isn’t news and won’t surprise anyone. It has always been easier to sell insurance to your existing clients or to their friends. Using each client as a center of influence to build a referral network is an excellent way to lay the groundwork of a book of business.

But where do you go next? How do you effectively supplement this tool to expand your base and diversify your book? For me, this was again no surprise: cold calling. Phone calls, physical visits, letters, you name it. Luckily I’m not shy and I could handle rejection. In retrospect, this was a very inefficient way to build my business.

Now that I have transitioned to a virtual organization and shifted my marketing strategy to an integrated approach – my best prospects and most closed sales come from an entirely different place: email opens. That’s not a misprint. If that phraseology is not something you’re familiar with (it is still relatively new to me), we define an ‘email open’ as a prospect that opens our eMarketing campaign messages multiple times. This typically indicates they have a level of interest, and I like to call these prospects immediately – a very warm call.

Referrals and cross-selling are great. They will always be useful tools in the sales and marketing world – especially in a challenging industry like insurance. Cold calling also works and is something every sales executive should experience. But I have found that the most effective and profitable solution is an integrated marketing strategy – delivered with maximum efficacy from my virtual office.

Cold Calling & Telemarketing: What works and what doesn’t

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May 21st, 2010

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Cold calling and telemarketing have gone hand in hand with the insurance agency market for many years. Successful agents have built their books with cold calls and successful agencies have employed telemarketers to take their organization to the next level. When I was an insurance agent, cold calling was like a rite of passage – something that had to be done before you could advance and excel.

Since we are all busy with the day job of servicing clients, presenting quotes, and closing business – telemarketing services have been employed to supplement our personal cold calling efforts. Whether these services are performed by an in-house employee or an outsourced solution, here are a few points we have found to be critical for a successful telemarketing campaign.

• Avoid Callers in a Bullpen – Many telemarketing services throw callers in a bullpen and say go. We all know what these calls sound like because we hear them coming from other vendors – a delay after you answer as their computer system connects the call, then lots of background noise. Hire a caller who will be alone in a quiet office using a traditional phone. The improved quality will pay for the additional overhead many times over.

• Use a Simple Pitch – Your callers will have little time to deliver your pitch and value proposition, and likely no time to explain the details. Avoid nebulous tag lines like “Total Cost of Risk” or “Benefits 24/7.” Direct, unambiguous pitches are far more effective. An example could be as basic as “I am calling for John Scranton. He insures many contractors like you in this area, and would like an opportunity to review your insurance and determine if there are ways to improve coverage or cut costs – are you available next week?” Honest, straightforward, easy to deliver.

• Use Female Callers – This comment may run the risk of an EPLI claim, but we have studied cold calling results and metrics for literally millions of dials, and over the long term our conclusions indicate female callers consistently produce better results than their male counterparts.

These are just a few simple suggestions to help you and your insurance agency or B2B organization procure better results from telemarketers. They should be effective for both in-house callers and outsourced services. I have more basic, actionable suggestions and will continue to post them over the next few days. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Happy selling!