Back in 2009, I ran an experiment. For six months, I dedicated myself to making a number of cold calls – every single day. It was dreary, mind-numbing work. I hated every minute of it. But it worked. Out of every 100 calls I made, I managed to connect with a “live” voice around 20 times. And out of those “connects,” I managed to secure a meeting or follow-up call in around 20%. In short, I managed to get four meetings for every hundred calls I made.
Not too bad.
In 2011, when I started a new business venture, I decided to “go with what I know” and do the same thing again. But this time, results were very different. Out of every 100 calls I made, I managed to get exactly… zero appointments.
What had changed? I was still the same person, using the same approach. If anything, I’d become better with time, more experienced and more savvy. Yet, it wasn’t working. Why not?
Simple. The world had moved on.
Like John Jantsch in “How To Blog And Why Every Salesperson Should,” I too “believe that the art of selling has turned from outbound to inbound, just as surely as the art of marketing has.” And in spite of the entire debate about whether or not cold calling (still) works, my own experience firmly points to a clear, resounding “No.”
So if cold calling doesn’t work anymore, what other approaches should we, as sellers, use to get in front of prospective buyers? What if we started by taking a look at how buyers actually find potential suppliers?
Our own research at RAIN Group has clearly shown that the #1 reason why buyers buy from one firm versus another is “because the seller educated (me) with new ideas and perspectives.”
In other words, buyers are looking for experts who provide insightful, though-provoking ideas and new perspectives on common problems and challenges.
And according to the Hinge Research Institute’s recent research, the #1 way in which buyers find such experts is online.
In other words, the rise of the Internet, social media, and blogging has conspired to produce a (literal) turnaround in the buyer-seller dynamic. Buyers don’t want to be “prospected” anymore, preferring instead to go out and find experts from whom they are likely to buy later on.
And just in case you’re still not convinced that if you’re in sales, you should be blogging, consider how buyers check out potential providers. 80.8% of buyers report they will look at a firm’s website, 63.2% will research them online (“Google them”) and another 59.9% will check out their social media presence before contacting them or agreeing to meet with them.
(Collectively, these online techniques eclipse the 62.4% who will ask a friend or colleague if they’ve heard of the firm, and the 55.5% who will talk to a reference they provided. So much for the power of referrals).
In other words, the seller-buyer dynamic has moved from push to pull. In the past, sellers would reach out to buyers to “pitch” them and try and get the meeting. But in today’s world, savvy buyers become aware of a problem or challenge they are faced with, and then go online to research and “vet” potential suppliers.
Does that mean every seller should simply become a fulltime blogger? No. But, if buyers today are buying expertise, you’d better stand out as a Visible Expert in your field. Which, at a minimum, means getting the following five things right.
1. Get your (social) house in order
According to Hinge, 70% of professional services buyers use LinkedIn as their social media platform of choice to source information about potential providers. Assuming you’re already on LinkedIn (which you are, right?), you should be making sure you have a professional profile, with an attractive bio, professional headshot and at least some thought leadership prominently profiled on each section.
And yes, I highly recommend getting a Twitter, Google+ and Facebook account in your name as well. Use Twitter if you can. The other two are not nearly as important (but just get your named accounts anyway).
2. Check out (and improve) your online reputation
I’m sure you’ve Googled yourself at some point (if not, you should). But considering the importance of your online reputation, I’d highly consider using a service like Brandyourself.com to do a comprehensive, online review of what Google has to say about you. In addition to that, you’ll get valuable tips for how to improve your ranking, track your results as they improve, and see who’s been checking you out online.
3. Get a “home on the web”
First, get your name as a domain name (for example, I own www.agocluytens.com). Then, either (have someone) set up a simple WordPress blog, or get a profile on something like About.me. It looks great, is easy to set up and helps make sure that — unless you share your name with a global celebrity — you control at least the first result that appears in Google (which, as it happens, gets between 20-33% of all search traffic).
4. Publish something thought provoking
If you’ve chosen to set up your own blog, this one should be easy. But you don’t have to have a full-blown WordPress site to start publishing online. Guest posting is a great way to enhance your online reputation, increase your visibility in front of target audiences, and has the added advantage of (potentially) sending loads of traffic to you. LinkedIn has recently rolled out the option to have your own blog on the social network. A social-network-turned-writing-platform like Medium.com could be a great choice.
Or, if you feel so inclined, why not publish regular videos on YouTube? Just make sure they are a professional representation that helps your brand and doesn’t harm it.
5. Get some speaking gigs
Outside of writing your own book (which, if you have the time, is definitely a great option), nothing says you’re an expert quite as much as standing in front of an audience and delivering a great speech. Speaking engagements is one of the most effective offline marketing strategies. Industry associations, trade groups and business partners are always interested in having an outside expert speak. And if your territory is international, or you simply don’t feel all that comfortable speaking in front of a “live” audience, consider running a few webinars or Google Hangouts with select partners instead.
If two-thirds of all buyers will do an online search, check social channels, and review your website before speaking with you, not managing those assets proactively and professionally is – quite simply – professional negligence.
If you set aside as little as half a day this week to follow the five steps I outlined above, you’ll quickly start to see the results of your efforts. If you put in an additional 2-3 hours every week, within months, you’ll see your visibility accelerate — and you’ll be a little more in control of your sales results.