Guest post by Ashley Preston
I know you want me to write a simple how-to manual for lead generation right now – something that helps you lay out your plan in a neat, step-by-step fashion. However, I am here to tell you that it does not exist.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to closing sales because no business offering is the same. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not showing your company’s unique value the respect it deserves.
Creating more leads and converting them into sales is both an art and a science, so we must have the mindset of a mad genius such as Salvador Dali, in addition to the painstaking laboratory rigor of Marie Curie. It takes an artist’s view of layers, tone, color, experimentation, proactive and reactive adjustments, and a little bit of bravery to find out what works for you and your business.
Think Like an Artist Instead of a CEO
As an artist, I can tell you that there are plenty of times I have started a drawing, spent hours on it, stepped back, and realized something was still not quite right. When that happens, I am left with two options.
Depending on the issue and the medium I am working in, I can sometimes correct it and keep moving forward with that piece. Other times, though, I see that I will ultimately spend less time working by abandoning that version and starting from scratch.
In sales, sometimes we spend so much time in the rapport-building process that we lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve – a sale. It may be beneficial to step back from the sales process and consider what nuance or elements have been missing. Are you lacking the warmth of trust, the heat of authority, or maybe the cool shades of thoughtfulness. Treat the relationship like a creative collaboration, adding these new tones as needed.
You may also want to look at your social media channels and the message they are sending about you and your business. What types of posts are getting the most interaction from your audience? What is getting them to comment? Are they responding more to questions or product information or funny posts? What content is getting the feedback you’d hoped for? Adjust your content strategy as needed until you’re attracting the right attention to your business.
Pay close attention to the flow of your sales conversations. You may even record them and analyze the play-by-play. Pay attention to the language your customers are using when they are interacting with you. You can mirror those word choices to better connect with them. Pay attention to their complaints if they have them; they are sharing pain points you might be able to help resolve. Conversations can reveal so much when we allow ourselves to let the moment dictate our actions.
I will sometimes start a painting with little idea of what I want to create – letting the painting naturally materialize through experimentation. This is much like analyzing client needs – taking one step (and one question) at a time until that discovery process is complete and a richly detailed image of the client's problem has taken shape.
While I have been immersed in art since I was young, there are plenty of techniques and styles I have not touched upon yet. I will often pull out my old art tutorial books or watch a YouTube video to see how other artists tackled something, but even then, it is up to me to incorporate the information in a way that works with my own style.
You may consider watching YouTube videos by thought leaders and sales experts (Jill Konrath, Gary Vee, etc.) or watching some sales role-play videos to tighten up your practice.
As an artist, you need to be willing to make mistakes and adjustments. The process of creating is just as important as the result. Allow yourself space to let the process tell you what it needs. Give yourself permission to start over when it is called for and don’t waste time on something that no longer works.
Give Yourself Space to Experiment
Bravery is not the lack of fear – it is action despite that fear. It is terrifying to take risks. Even as someone who is comfortable with some risk, I still feel afraid when I take chances, even if I believe the odds are in my favor that things will be fine.
Often, successful people are willing to deal with short-term discomfort because they know there is no perfect approach. All knowledge is useful. Learning from your sales and messaging mistakes allows you to refine the messages that best land with your ideal clients.
Sales is not a numbers game. It has always been about quality.
Make time to experiment with new ideas. Each week, or each workday, testing out new concepts and playing with sales pitches can make a difference in the results you’re getting. Think of all the things you might experiment with -- your greeting, your signature, your subject line, the first sentence, the length of your message, the tone of your message, or the font you’re using.
It takes conscious effort to allow yourself to openly create, but the rewards you reap from that kind of healthy risk are tangible.
Use Data to Refine Sales Messages and Get Results
There is not much point in doing something if we are unwilling to learn from it. The beauty of that type of experimentation is that you can collect a wide range of direct data to help you refine or recreate your message.
Pay attention to what techniques and language are connecting (or not connecting) with clients. Maybe they are smiling or leaning forward when you use a certain phrase, or you notice that you have connected with numerous potential clients through a certain social media platform. You may leave a sales meeting feeling how much they love you, but then they go radio silent and stop responding to your calls. Use that information to tweak and refine your strategy.
Keep a list of pitches that have worked well. Take note when someone responds exceptionally to something you said. Track response times to see when potential clients are generally online. Track your follow up and the time it takes to get a response during the week compared to over the weekend. Use whatever information you can pull to test your experiments, and adjust your strategy as needed.
Stop Looking for The Perfect Sales Conversion Process
Just stop. It can feel lonely and stressful when making choices that affect your business, reputation, and even income.
However, it is important to remember that you did not come this far to only come this far. You have made difficult choices before, and you will continue to make choices that you think will best benefit your business.
And that is the whole point. Whether you are the Director of Development or the CEO, you likely want to be in charge and have some say over what happens to the clients in your pipeline. You know what is best for your clients and your business, so own it.
Be Comfortable with the Unknown
It takes effort and practice to have faith in your process. We often want immediate results and concrete proof that something will work before we even attempt it, but you will get much farther by trying new ideas, using first-hand data to pivot your message and approach, taking the reins of your business and doing away with the limitations of any out-of-the-box program or process.
It’s our mission to identify development opportunities and help our clients think like artists. The best artists are willing to shape, and even scrap, their own work. Find your power, formulate your plan of attack and throw away that dusty old playbook. If you need help getting clear on your next best steps or want to schedule a conversation, send us a message.
According to Turi McKinley, Executive Director at frog design, “Design thinking is just a fancy name for the creative process.”
The ability to think like a designer, through multiple iterations, and learning from the worst failures is the most important skill a leader can have. Design thinking is rooted in empathy and the ability to put the customer or client at the center of the journey.
Design thinkers use physical and virtual space to expand and extend their intelligence and are unafraid to try new things. The best design thinkers use visual tools to explore new avenues of value for the business. The executive should be testing and building not just products, but entire worlds.
Here are the top four abilities of design thinkers. They can be used to directly address the four problems of business (listed below) and they are so simple you can start practicing them today.
1. Frame (and Re-Frame) the Problem
Take a step back, look at it from a different angle. Use multiple lenses and literacies interchangeably. What does it look like as a spreadsheet? A project plan? A to-do list? A GANTT chart? A drawing with Sharpies on butcher paper? Consider the human impact (subjective), the organizational or relational impact (intersubjective), the business or bottom line impact (objective). Ask yourself, “How else might I/we look at this?” Give yourself permission to play, be curious and creative.
2. Enable Experimentation
There is no such thing as failure. View everything as an experiment, and you will always get results. If you are always testing and learning, then you will have valuable data that can be reviewed and synthesized into your next launch. Additionally, it stands to reason that results from testing on any target group will carry over to similar users. Design thinking is less of a process and more of a sequence. Model a bias toward making in the business (always be prototyping) and schedule time for this to happen. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not real.
3. Communicate Your Ideas
As a leader, you must come back from (not overcome) the exhaustion, overwhelm, and fatigue. After regaining a sense of clarity and purpose, you must be able to open your mouth and broadcast those big, wild, visionary dreams to the team again and again -- “painting done” until it’s done. Smart leaders know they must do this visually. Think of the coach at the front of the room sketching out the play on the whiteboard. Think of the best PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever seen (OK, I lied, that one doesn’t exist). Think of the first time you were shown how to use a tool or paintbrush. Think of a political speech that moves the hearts and minds of the people. People don’t follow a business, they follow leaders. In most cases, it’s not the leader they’re drawn to, it’s the challenge that the leader is able to articulate. What challenge are you asking your team to help you overcome?
4. Direct the Team
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. Not only are they focused on a succession plan, with at least two people lined up behind them -- mentoring and teaching others what they need to know in order to succeed -- they are encouraging and facilitating collaboration among team members. The team needs to be able to turn toward each other to create tools and solutions in the leader’s absence. They should be equipped with the best resources, given permission to make decisions, given access to “lab” space where they can experiment, and given permission to fail. Demonstrate the process, model the best behavior, show them what you want done, and your team will not let you down.
Four Big Problems
And, here are the top problems that business leaders find themselves in. These challenges to growth or innovation can be remedied by directly applying a little visual aptitude (and the abilities described above).
1. Big Picture Paralysis
One of our clients told us their strategy felt like “a tumbled bail of rope.” They needed the line to be clear and hanging at the ready. Our job was to lead them through the process of liberating each of their lines of business from snags and knots. Business is complex and messy. And the overload of information can make our brains slow down, or worse, come to a halt. If you’re experiencing this, you may be hearing or saying things like, “I can’t get my priorities in line” or “I don’t even know where to start.”
Solution: Reframe the Problem
2. Reliance on Process
Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes we want to read a book or watch a video and have someone else give us the answers. Sometimes we want to take the easy way out. Unfortunately, in business, there is no proven method or set of instructions to follow. You are not recreating a recipe to prepare that perfect dish you saw on YouTube. You are not creating a piece of clothing from a pattern. Following steps 1-4 will not get you a repeatable outcome. When you are stuck in “step reliance,” you are destined for disappointment and you may be saying things like, “I wish someone would just tell me what to do.”
Solution: Enable Experimentation
There are many reasons you feel tired. It can be from informational or emotional overwhelm. It could be the strain of mode-switching from the constant pivoting and responding that’s required in your business. It could be that you aren’t managing your time or work effort wisely. Sometimes leaders simply feel oppressed by the unknown -- a sense of uncertainty that is not the invigorating or adventurous kind. For whatever reason, if you are feeling exhausted, pushing through it will never solve the problem. Stop. Walk away. Take a breath. Take a nap or a vacation. Return with clarity and strength.
Holding on too tightly to the reins of your business will limit collaboration and severely hamper the open sharing of ideas. You might be creating the illusion of collaboration by having meetings where the team brainstorms possibilities only to end up returning to your original thought or argument, saying, “well, we really have to do this” or “I’ve made an executive decision that we will go this way.” If you are focused on control, you may also be too concerned with things like loyalty or team members being “all in” instead of measuring and getting actual results.
Solution: Direct the Team
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.