How to build a business – Sales

August 2, 2011

Sales is not the easiest part in building a business. Initially it is not that hard. When operating small-scale, in a network, there are enough opportunities for all resources to land interesting assignments. What really happens is that individual people are contracted by people who trust them. That is not the same as a steady stream of qualified opportunities, but at the same time it is exactly the kind of interaction that is the basis of growth. In our business, you do not sell solutions. Solutions suggest productized, labeled propositions that solve a specific problem. Find the problem, sell the solution. That is how most sales people operate. Have a catalog, make a shortlist, bug and beg potential clients for orders, and move on. The focus is on the short-term, on the transaction, and social skills are more important than content or curiosity. We believe in the long-term relationships, in the content, in genuine interest in each others’ success. Our assets are a network of people, the knowledge and experience they have, and the ability to increase, share and use this knowledge. This area is what the original founders are most interested in. The keywords were Autonomy, Mastery, Contribution and Peers. We wanted to work with peers that shared interests, but are autonomous thinkers, Masters of their trade, together making a real contribution to our clients, to each other, maybe even to the world. Finding these peers, interesting them in what we are doing, sharing ideas and knowledge and developing cohesion is all good fun, but does not constitute a business.

The Asset side has to be mirrored by a Productivity side, in the same way the balance sheet is mirrored by the Profit and Loss statement.

Qhuba Areas of Responsibility

Qhuba Areas of Responsibility

The areas to address on the P&L side are assembling a Portfolio of services – or areas of expertise – Sales and Delivery. Delivery is what most people are interested in: working with clients is the ultimate goal of most professionals. Luckily the more entrepreneurial ones among is are also interested in developing a portfolio, but sales… A necessary evil. Not at all! Our sales is the result of everything we do, not the starting point. We research, we talk, we share, we discuss, we discover. And our clients do the same. In the process the opportunities arise. All we had to do is create a process and tools to store and qualify the opportunities, get the confirmation that we may do the assignments and deliver. Luckily we were able to attract commercial professionals like Mario School to do this with us.

Our views on Marketing (for whom do we want to do what) and Sales (how do we get the orders) were most influenced by Bob Bloom and by the ideas of Miller Heiman.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Bloom, authority on business growth and author of ‘The Inside Advantage‘ last year, thanks to Kees de Jong. Bloom began as an entrepreneur, and grew a local advertising agency into a successful national agency.He later became the US Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide. As the leader of a $4.6 billion global marketing services company, he worked on the strategies of some of the world’s largest companies and brands Such as BMW, L’Oreal, Nestle’, Whirlpool, and T-Mobile.

In a few hours Bob takes you through a process that will help you identify the core strengths inside your business and create a realistic, low-cost strategy that will quickly drive growth. He simplifies the growth process into four steps: “who, what, how and own it”. Although he made his money in advertising, he strongly believes that “every business must find a way to grow top line without investing in infrastructure or advertising. Just capitalize on the firm’s undiscovered or under-utilized inside advantage and use the firm’s absolutely free internal resource – imagination.” Ok, it sounds like an advertisement, but it is not. Bob must be close to seventy (and looks it, too), and does not have much to sell, except his books. He does not need to either, I assume. Anyway, a short summary, and how we have incorporated his approach:

Bob Bloom

In Bob’s world, simple is better than complex. All you have to do is discover and put to use the “uncommon advantage”.

Don’t spend too much time and energy on Brand Building and Tag lines. Customers know too much to be fooled. Instead, consistent focus on Uncommon Offering will cement what the Brand stands for. And this will only work when there is internal consensus and alignment behind uncommon strategic offering. A few nice one-liners:

Strive for customer preference, not loyalty – it does not exist anymore

Create preference by Performing and staying top-of-mind

Insufficient Prospect to Customer conversion is deadly – Get them

Churn is deadly – Retain them

Nothing is more valuable than Ambassadors – Focus on referral for Growth

The four steps:

1. Who. The Archetypal core customer most likely to buy our services in a quantity required to make a profit. We must know them individually well enough to understand his needs, concerns and desires to deliver tangible and emotional benefits. In one of his famous examples he talks about how to identify the Who for real orange juice; “Juicy Juice is Mom’s ally, giving her nutrition that kids love. It’s the very best juice for the very best kids”. Feel a bit like preying on a mothers worries and guilt.

In general, this should be simple: your Who is probably very much like our most valuable customer. If we have to give a definition, it would look something like this: Self-aware capable executives of growing companies, who want access to trusted people, solutions and opportunities to execute their strategies.

2. What: The offering that we can own. This offering should be understood in terms of real benefits as well as emotional ones (addressing wants, needs, aspirations, concerns, apprehensions and fears) not only in terms of the transaction. During the growth cycle the offering will have to be enhanced continuously, both to construct an expensive barrier for the competition, and to sustain ownership of our offering. In our situation: An intimate network of capable people who support in strategy execution, and enabling access to insights and opportunities.

3. How: What persuasive strategy will you develop, or what do you have to do that will convince the core customer to buy our uncommon offering? Again keep it simple: action oriented: What will the What do: honestly and achievable. What we strive for: Get our customers connected and make them successful inside and outside their current companies.

4. Own it and execute it: through consistent engagement, build an enduring relationship, develop an external communication strategy, that will you’re your business well-known for your offering (in our case: based on content), but only to the people critical to growth. We have chosen to spend our time and money where our passion lies: one on one with interesting people, focused on subjects that really interest us, such as food (WhatsQooking events), business development, portfolio- and programme management. We organize intimate events, invite speakers, provide training, coaching for our own people. Clients can participate free of charge.

Like I said, Bob likes it simple. Four steps to create a marketing strategy, four chances to create customer preference – or to generate revenue. In the end it all boils down to likeability, trust, performance and reciprocity. In all cases, preference is based on: how good we are at meeting the wants, needs, and aspirations and at reducing the apprehensions, concerns and fears of our clients.

This requires not only a sound strategy, combined with the right structure – with incentives for all who work with us to participate – and imagination.

1. Engage: Now or Never Moment. Based on research, we talk to people all day every day, we listen, we ask what is on their professional and personal agenda, and we learn about wants, needs, aspirations. If anything, we discuss how we look at value creation, at benefits. We discover where we can be of use, where we can help. We interact.

2. get: Make or Break Moment: This is the good old sales effort, where interaction can lead to transaction, and where we need to demonstrate continuous engagement, also if a transaction is not in the cards.

To channel our efforts, we have chosen Miller Heiman processes to bring some logic and consistency into everything that must be done before face-to-face contact with our clients. That ensures that the small amount of time with the customer is used to best effect. If anything it provides a common language that helps communication, but also it helps us understand how buying decision will be made, qualifies the opportunity, uncovers our strengths and added value, and provides a prioritized action plan for the most promising opportunities. Our network, leads and opportunities are documented in (and in an add-on called Jobscience for candidates), and we will are now also using the Miller Heiman add-on, so we have Goldsheets in the same place as the rest of the relevant information.

3. Keep: Keep or Lose Moment: This can only be the most critical part of our business. We have to ensure performance and customer benefits. We try to make them measurable and report on them, and we have to deal with complaints. That is not easy for a startup business, but luckily we have people who understand the importance. This month Peter Rappange has started to help one of our customers with a project free of charge after one of our associates did a less than perfect job for this client. If he has to be there for two months, than that is what he will do.

4. Grow: Multiplier Moment

Happy successful clients, dying to be our ambassadors, referring all their peers and colleagues to us. It sounds so easy, and it can be. My experience is that people will gladly be an ambassador – if you ask for help.

If it was all this simple, we would not have grown 100% each year, but 500%. Sales is not easy. People who used to be in charge of something, and sometimes of something big, find it difficult to approach people in their network “with the intent to sell”. It almost sounds like a crime. At least it is not considered very chique, especially not if you were the one people approached in the past to sell something to. That probably is the whole point. So many salesmen and –women still use the bug and beg approach, trying to convince potential customers that they have a problem that can and should be solved by one of the tricks of the salesman’s company. Ours will have to be selling professionals not professional salesmen.

Still, sales is fun.

How to build a company – Wasted Marketing Money

July 21, 2011

Marketing is important to a newly established company. Eager to succeed, ready to spread the gospel, we went through all the steps – of old style marketing. Although we always had a clear picture of what kind of business we wanted to be in (partly thanks to a session with Bob Bloom, former Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide, the global marketing services company), with whom we wanted to work, and how we wanted to operate and grow this business, even what our portfolio of services would look like, we had difficulty marketing it.

Once more, we went through the vision-mission-promise to clients-positioning statement-pitch exercise, and commissioned all the basis materials we thought were part of the deal: the corporate image and the logo, the flyers and the binders, the website and the pictures. It did not feel good, though. The multi-(or many-) syllable statements did not feel like our own but like gobbledygook and restraint us, the folders gathered dust in drawers, and the newsletters we postponed month after month.

At some point we noticed, much too late, but we noticed, that we did not get the response we expected: we had walked directly into the trap of marketer, web developer and hosting partner.
Our site dictated what we could communicate, about ourselves. Despite all the beautiful pitches about social media integration, web2.0 and such, we could not interact with our network. All we could do was broadcast how good we were. It felt like hullaballoo marketing. A digital flyer, trying to create attention.
Similarly we were trapped by our webhoster/developer MarsId who, despite pretending to be an open source focussed, networking company were of the old-fashioned kind: “give us specs, and we try to build it, pay us per hour and we will tell you afterwards how many hours we used”. Flexibility: impossible. Blogs? Not working, twitter integration: don’t know how. In the end, when we were looking for an alternative they came up with the good old copyright scam. Pay us more or die. We paid.

Meanwhile our marketer was writing leaflets and sending press releases, none of which ever resulted in an article about us. Why do we have to talk to the press? We have to communicate with our tribe: our partners, our associates, our staff, our friends, our customers and all the people who have the same drive and interest as we have, including our competitors.

Several things did work for us. LinkedIn was and is an important channel to connect and share. Links to articles we published on our site never failed to generate attention and reactions. WhatsQooking events were a success. Cooking with clients and partners, with a chef, with speakers on subjects that interest us, always led to interesting and fun evenings. Obviously, what worked best was our face-to-face meetings with people. We had numerous meetings, with people who did or did not share our enthusiasm, which led to more meetings which led to new partners entering our partnership, to customers hiring us to work with them, to associates joining our network, and to many new friends, sharing their ideas and, in some instances, making us equally enthusiastic about their businesses, ideas and ideals. But you can only have so many meetings each week.

Luckily we are avid readers of blogs and enthusiastic watchers of TED.

We came across a 2009 talk from Simon Sinek. His story about “Why” changed our view on Marketing drastically. Everything seemed to fall into place. We wanted to communicate about our why, our how, and then our what, we were convinced interaction was more important than transaction, and we started to think about overhauling our internet presence.
People like David Meerman Scott convinced us that we had to think like publishers, and share our content, our connections with anyone who is interested. David was a speaker at the European Growth Summit, where we were the guests of Kees de Jong.

David encourages companies to think like publishers, create news releases rather than press releases, and develop content based on your organisations’ purpose, your business goals. Of course to some extent, we had this content, but in the form of articles and white-papers, training material and tools. All the expertise anyone could need on Programme and Portfolio Management, on Benefits Management and Strategy Execution is available. That is not the kind of thought leadership we are talking about here, though. At least, it is not all of it. We became convinced that we had to share, with a level of transparency, authenticity and openness that scared us, all of what interests and moves us. All that goes well and that goes wrong. As we would with our best friends and a bottle of wine.

It is free, but scary. It is a lot of work, but fun. We will give away, and maybe scare away, but it fits us like a glove. This is how we want to work. We will try to have no secrets, write about the Why, the What, the How, sometimes the Who. We will learn from and work with those people who understand what we stand for: a network of experts who tie their success to the success of others; clients, partners, staff and candidates alike. We will provide value, knowledge and connections without sending an invoice. And we will stop buying attention by advertising, AdWords campaigns or airtime at events. Instead, we will earn it by our content, our successful projects, the success of our clients.

The “bug and beg interruption marketing” is out of the door. Permission marketing is more fun.We meet so many remarkable people, who share our worldview and who want to work with us. There are so many ideas to be shared, people to talk to, new developments and opportunities to be discovered. And besides: I always wanted to be a journalist and photographer.