At least once a week I have a conversation with a sales leader or seller who complains about how much time and money they're wasting on efforts to keep in touch with their prospects and clients since prospects and clients "never seem to read the damn stuff anyway." If it weren't for the need to keep their name in front of their prospects and clients, there's no way they'd waste the kind of money they're throwing away.
I can sympathize-I've done the same. In fact, I suspect a great many of us in sales-whether entrepreneurs, service professionals, or sales reps-who must construct our own communication program without the benefit of a marketing department struggle with the same issue (by the way, the marketing department struggles with it also).
Why do we spend so much time, money and effort in communicating with our prospects and clients and walk away with the feeling-the knowledge-that they haven't read a word of what we wrote or heard a word we said?
The answer is quite simple-but one we really don't want to hear-we haven't delivered anything of value to them.
We've committed the most common and most grievous sin in sales-we've focused on our needs and what the client or prospect can do for us, not on their needs and how we can be of service to them. We've fallen into the easiest trap in the world to fall into-making the communication about us, not about the prospect or client.
Think about some of the most common communications we have with our prospects and clients:
- "just checking to see if you need anything"
- "wanted to make sure you got the flier about the special we're having"
- "look at the award we won"
- "get a 15% discount on your next order when you refer someone"
- "just reminding you it's time to reorder"
- "wanted to follow-up and see if you needed anything else or had any questions about our proposal"
- "here's a commercial, canned newsletter that has my name printed on it, maybe there's something in here worth reading-and I hope you don't get the same newsletter from one of my competitors because, boy, that'd be embarrassing"
Notice anything about these communications? These and most of the other follow-up communications we have with our prospects and clients are about us, not them. Whether we're calling them, emailing them, sending a newsletter, a postcard, or snail mail letter, most of our communications are designed to benefit us more than our prospect or client.
The problem with the above communications is that for the most part, our prospects and clients don't care about this information. They aren't communications that interest and help them. In fact, most of the time, these communications do nothing but waste their time, and if we waste their time often enough, they'll simply ignore our efforts to communicate with them.
Am I saying then that you can't inform your prospects and clients about specials, remind them it is time to reorder, or ask if there is additional information they need in regards to your proposal? Of course not (I am saying, however, that you can never, ever, ever make the "just checking to see if you need anything" phone call). But in order to have earned the right to make these "me" communications, you have to demonstrate that your focus isn't you, but them.
You want to keep your name in front of your prospects and clients and you want to be able to communicate with them about things that are important to you, but to do that, ironically, you can't focus on yourself. How do you do that?
The easiest and most disciplined way to maintain contact, keep your name in front of your prospects and clients, earn the right to communicate about things that are important to you, and to teach your prospects and clients to pay attention to you is by creating a formal "touch" program, a campaign where you "touch" each of your prospects and clients on a regular basis with information that benefits them far more than it may immediately and obviously benefit you.
Your touch campaign should focus not on who you are or what you do, it shouldn't be focused on selling or overtly marketing your products or services, but rather it should focus on delivering information that your prospects and clients will find beneficial or useful.
What will your clients and prospects find to be useful? That, of course, depends on who your prospects and clients are. Sending recipes to business executives probably isn't going to earn you a great deal of attention, just as sending an article on six sigma management theory isn't going to do a lot for you if your prospects and clients are interested in discovering and cooking exotic dishes.
The first step in knowing what is of interest to your prospects and clients is to know your prospects and clients. Sounds silly, but a great many sellers know little to nothing about the makeup of the group or groups they sell to.
Identifying and developing content that will capture the attention of and benefit business prospects and clients is often easier than identifying content for consumers because of the obvious commonality of interests.
But even if your market is made up of groups of men and women with multiple, diverse interests, you can customize content with relatively little trouble by dividing your prospect and client list into two, three, four or more interest groups. Using an email contact product such as Aweber or Constant Contact can make communicating with multiple lists manageable
Since our prospects and clients are not automatons but are flesh and blood humans, we have to recognize that they not only respond to different content, they respond to different ways of being touched. Consequently, we have to employ a variety of ways of reaching out to them. For most of us that means some combination of:
- Phone calls
- Personal and/or general emails
- Monthly or quarterly newsletter
- Thank You cards
- Birthday/holiday greeting cards
- Snail mail letters
Although we may not employ every format from the list above, our communication program needs to employ a combination of the personal (phone call, birthday card) with the general (newsletter, postcard).
How often should you connect with your list? Studies indicate that an effective communication campaign will touch each prospect and client 12 to 18 times a year-basically, once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Obviously, if you have more than just a very few prospects and clients on your list you can't make a personal phone call or send a personal letter or email every 3 to 4 weeks, so you will have to include some forms of mass communication in your program mix.
That takes us back to what to communicate?
If you're selling to businesses some things you might communicate are:
- Industry studies or forecasts
- General economic studies or forecasts
- Information about a specific competitor, new industry trend, new or proposed local, state, or federal government rules, regulations, or laws
- Articles or news that might reveal new opportunities
- A particularly interesting sales, management, hr, or marketing article that could apply to the industry
- Success stories or unique and creative ways the industry's products or services have been employed
- Stories or articles about a particular company or individual
Virtually any of the above could be used in a personal phone call, email or letter to a prospect or client on your list, and most could be used in a general communication. For a mass communication the more general the piece (general economic forecast from the Wall Street Journal as opposed to an industry forecast from an industry journal) the better as most of your readers will probably be familiar with material that comes from their industry publications. The same holds true for a highly specialized publication-an article from a very specialized and limited circulation industry newsletter makes for a much better communication than an article from a general industry publication since it is far less likely your readers will have seen the piece from the specialized publication prior to your communication.
If your list is made up of consumers with a common interest-skiing-your content can be pretty easy to acquire since things such as product reviews, skiing venue reviews, and other skiing content is readily available and there are so many publications that it wouldn't be difficult to find content that would be new to most readers.
But what if your list is more general? Look for some content that will appeal to the vast majority such as general financial news, financial guidance, consumer reports, consumer trends, general interest news, or find ways to divide your list into more specialized lists where you can focus in on specialized topics.
For both business and consumer content, the key is knowing your prospects and clients. The better you know your list, the more you can focus your content to their needs and interests.
What about all of those great offers and discounts and new products you want to tell your prospects and clients about? Are they off the table? No, not at all. You can weave those into your campaign; they just can't be the focus, the center of attention. You can even include those offers in every letter, email or newsletter your send-if they are only a secondary part of the content. Once they become the main focus, you will once again be teaching your list that you're concerned about you, not them, and that they no longer need to pay attention to you.
Why go to this much trouble? Why not just buy a boilerplate newsletter and be done with it? Why not just do what you've always done and not worry about all this non-sense about teaching prospects and clients to pay attention since they're not going to read the stuff anyway?
Well, frankly, that's what most of your competitors will do. They'll go along as they've always done, sending self-serving drivel, teaching their prospects and clients that they have nothing of interest to offer them. They'll choose to continue focusing on their needs instead of their prospects and client's because it is easier.
You too can take the easy route, the route everyone else takes and end up with the same results as everyone else-finding it difficult to get your calls taken or returned, not having your emails, letters, and newsletter read, wondering why you're wasting your time and money sending stuff to your list. Or you can choose to invest the time and effort to create a communication campaign that really impacts your prospects and clients and that teaches them to pay attention to you because you really have something to offer them. It's your choice. Easy it isn't-but then doing the hard work is what sets the successful sales professional apart from the also ran. Which are you?
NOTE: On Tuesday, March 23 you can attend a free webinar where we'll be discussing how to create a powerful touch campaign for your prospects and clients that will teach them to pay attention to you. You can find more information about the webinar and register for it HERE
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