Twitter for Boomers

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Consider this an “intervention” or, at the very least, a public service announcement. This post is for the Baby Boomers who struggle with understanding why anyone would want to subject themselves to public scrutiny via social media. Now, full disclosure here, I am a Boomer myself. Born in 1960 and raised in the pre personal computer age. I didn’t even get my hands on my own computer until I was 33 years old and had already been in the business world for more than a decade.

Although I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, I was an “early adopter” of technology. I threw myself into training classes on Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. I also learned to use some of the early contact management software tools like ACT and Time & Chaos. For the last two decades, I’ve continually worked hard at keeping up with the times – technologically speaking. I taught myself to write databases with Access and I’ve become quite adept at CRM using Salesforce.com. Of course, my current repertoire also includes the major social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram. As proof of my affinity for technology, I rarely meet another mid 50’s person who has as many Twitter and Instagram followers as I do.

So, I feel very qualified to be the one to throw a lifeline to my fellow Boomers who, by all estimation, could really use the help. News flash, Boomers: technology in not just for young people! If you think Facebook is a frivolous waste of time and that Twitter is nothing but the narcissistic muse of pre-teens with selfie sticks, you are only partly right. Don’t throw the cyber baby out with the bathwater. FB and Twitter are also powerful business tools, which, in competent hands, are capable of providing significant strategic advantages in the marketplace. For every here’s-what-I-had-for-breakfast Tweet, there are a hundred, legitimate, high-quality posts and links. You’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long and I’m here to help you get into the game.

As a proponent of the Jeffersonian saying that “It is better that something be well started than quickly finished,” I’d like to suggest Boomers begin their social media quest by becoming proficient in the use of Twitter. Because of its ease of use, small number of moving parts, and low maintenance, it’s the perfect place for a stuck-in-the-80’s Boomer to start. To help start you on your path, I’ve compiled a list of Ten Easy Steps to becoming proficient in the use of Twitter.

1. Open a Twitter Account

If you’re not sure how to do this, just Google “how to open a Twitter account.” There are also many brief, instructional YouTube videos. No need to go out and buy the book Twitter for Dummies. Remember, we are starting small, here. Twitter can be complex but it doesn’t have to be. And, if you are one of those Boomers who still don’t trust putting your info out on the Internet please consider if the Pope and the President of the United States aren’t worried about it, neither should you be.

2. Choose your Twitter handle

For the novice, a “handle” is the name by which you will appear on the Twitter feed. Since you’ve waited this long to get onto Twitter, you should know all the good names are already taken – including your own name. However, the kind folks at Twitter will recommend a handle to you that is not already taken. Unless you have a clever idea of your own (and an extra 25 minutes to see if each of your ideas are already taken), I recommend you choose one of the suggestions Twitter provides for you. The good news is no matter what handle you choose, you still have a chance to list your full name in your bio.

3. Fill out a short bio

Boomers are particularly prone to skip this step because here’s where it starts to look narcissistic. Get over it, please. Social media is, theoretically, about trading information and content not glorifying yourself. Let people know who you are, where you work and what your current role is. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to list your current role. This will come in handy later as you begin to connect with your peers, customers and – yes- even your competitors. Best practice here: study how other people are doing it before you write you bio. You can change it any time you like.

4. Upload a photo of yourself

Once again, many Boomers are hung up on this idea that there’s something sinful about promoting yourself. Again, please get over it. The purpose of this photo is so we can all make sure, when we search for and “follow” you (see below), we’ve indeed found the right person. There are most likely a dozen or more people who share your first and last name. Your photo is for OUR benefit- not yours. And for heavens sake don’t over think the photo. No need to wait until you’ve had a professional headshot done. Any old snapshot will do. If you can’t bring yourself to take a selfie with your smart phone, have your spouse take it for you. If you want to add a little cool factor, put a black and white filter on it before you upload it. If you don’t want to stare into the camera like the proverbial headlamp-lit deer, have your spouse snap your mug at a 45-degree angle that shows you staring off into the distance doing your best to affect an air of indifference and detachment. But, by far, the best option is to put a big smile on your face and look straight into the camera so we can all see what a nice person you are. No matter which style you choose, DO NOT leave this blank. In fact, if you can’t bring yourself to post a pic of yourself you are probably not ready for social media. Sorry to be so harsh but its for your own good.

5. Search for and start following all of your customers

By following your customers on Twitter and regularly monitoring their posts, you will, over time, become intimate with their marketing strategies and tactics. Monitoring the Twitter stream of your customers is like putting a wet finger in the wind of commerce to see which way the wind is blowing. It just makes good business sense.

6. Search for and start following all of your competitors

I know this sounds creepy but trust me, its very Kosher. Everyone is watching everyone so you might as well jump in with the rest of us. Why does everyone follow their competition? For the same reason your dog cleanses himself: because he can.

7. Search for and follow all the people you admire and look up to.

I think Seth Godin is a genius. So I follow him on Twitter. I’m also a big fan of Tony Robbins. Who are your heroes in business and in life? Follow them and hear what they have to say. While you’re at it, you might want to follow your favorite sports teams and the brands you love. And please, by all means, follow the Twitter feeds of the local businesses near you where you shop and dine.

8. Get ideas of whom else to follow from the people you follow

This part is both easy and fun. I like to see whom other people are following because maybe I want to follow some of them, too. All you do is click on the person’s profile, then click on their “following” list. Review the list shown and just click “follow” on the ones that look interesting. It’s a great way to expand the list of people you follow. Don’t be surprised when people start following you back!

9. “Listen” and learn

Now you are ready to start extracting value from the Twitter feed. Resolve to check your feed at least twice a day. You do this by downloading the free Twitter app to your smart phone and logging in. I suggest once right before or after lunch and again just before you quit work for the day. Give it some time. Try this for 30 days and see if you don’t come away feeling much better informed about what’s going on in the world and in your industry.

10 Contribute content

At last you are ready to start behaving like a genuine member of the 21st century, global community. There are two ways to get started contributing content in a low-risk way. The first is to “re-Tweet” a Tweet that you like that has appeared in your feed. It’s easy to do and the person for whom you are re-Tweeting will love you for it. Just make sure you use a “Quote Tweet” so the original poster of the content gets credit. The second way is, when you’ve finish reading an online article or blog post that you really like, post it to Twitter and share it with your followers. Almost everything you read on the Internet today is ready to post to Twitter. Start looking for the little blue Twitter icon at the end (or sometimes at the top) of the article. Just click that icon and it will cue up the post for your Twitter feed. NOTE: another way to do this is cut and paste the web address to your feed. Just make sure you use a URL shortening tool like Bitly because you’ll be limited to 120 characters and you don’t want to burn up those characters with a long web address.

Here are a few final tips and tricks to get the most out of your Twitter experience. First, if someone follows you, it’s generally polite to follow them back. The only exception is if the follower is just trying to sell you something or you have nothing at all in common with that follower. Check them out before you follow back. Second, keep your privacy settings very loose. Unless you are under 15 years old, there’s not much point in “protecting” your Tweets. Act like a businessperson and you’ll seldom have any trouble. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself (a very Boomer-like trait) if you neglect your Twitter account for a few weeks or even a month. Just come right back to it whenever the mood strikes. I, myself, have “seasons” when I’m very active and other periods of time when I’m not. Strive for progress, not perfection.   So that’s it. Welcome to the Twitter-sphere! Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. ben@salisburycreative.com

Selling is Dead

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Selling is Dead

Man, it feels good to say that! I have wanted to say it for a long time but, you know, when you work for a big company and your business card says, VP of Sales, you have to be careful about expressing such decrees. Someone might get offended. One of the nice things about owning your own company is you’re completely free to say what you believe. Even better when you’ve got a blog…

So, yes, what you might call “traditional selling skills,” if not dead already, will continue to die a slow death. I don’t plan to dive into all the reasons here so I will name just a few: the unlimited access to information via internet, the attitude of Millennials buyers/consumers, the power of Social Media, Big Data, etc. Techniques like overcoming objections and closing techniques will become even more obsolete than they are already.

I remember the first time I came across the following statement in the book, “1ndispensable” (not a typo) by Joe Calloway: “The old days of getting the appointment to make your presentation and then waiting to overcome objections are so yesterday’s news it hurts.” It hurts. Yes, that is totally it. When you finally mature enough in the sales profession to see how “yesterday’s news” this selling style really is, it literally hurts to watch. The sad part is it happens a million times a day right here in the year 2015. Well, I’m sorry but someone has got to say something and it might as well be me. Spoiler alert: many of you will not agree with me because you’re married to an outdated and dying paradigm.

What I offer you, instead, is a more modern way of selling (if you even still want to call it selling). It’s more like co-creating than it is selling, really. Let me explain. It takes an incredible amount of arrogance to launch into a speech about your company and your products when you have not yet taken any time at all to learn what is important to the buyer and what their needs/pain points are. This is one of the reasons I’m so thankful for CRM systems like ZoHo, Salesforce, and SUGARCRM. These tools train you to collect lots of details about the Accounts and Contacts you’ll be approaching later. Key word is “later.”  The modern sales game is more about seeing how much you can learn about someone rather than how much you can teach them about your products’ features and benefits. (BTW, I’ll have to leave this to another blog post but, companies who over-invest in product knowledge training for their salespeople are failing to see how the world really works. Nobody gives a rip how much you know about your product. Yes, it is important to know about your company’s products but that only gets you to the starting gate. Product knowledge alone won’t lead to more sales. Unless it’s coupled with modern selling philosophies, it’s potentially a waste of time and money.

I feel a rant coming on. Be careful not to confuse activity with achievement. Whatever you measure you’ll get more of. Go ahead- measure how many sales calls a week your sales team is logging. You know what you’ll get? That’s right, more sales calls. But if you want to get meaningful, sustainable results, start measuring the number of truly engaged customers each rep has. How many raving fans of your products has each sales rep cultivated? (Don’t think this is measurable? Let me guess: you’re not currently using CRM in your sales processes). Show me a salesperson who is “just-so-very-busy” and stressed out and I’ll show you someone without a disciplined system of operating. Lots of sales calls rarely equate to lots of sales. It just feels that way because you’re so darn busy and sweaty.

High quality, well-qualified, “sticky” sales are a byproduct of a much larger relationship. And relationships are formed by learning and inquiring about people. That’s right- real people. People with opinions and preferences and prejudices and experiences and influences.  You don’t learn about people by talking and presenting. Acquiring and then keeping customers is not easy and they both take time. Study your customers. Take the time to learn about them.  Don’t even think about approaching them until you’ve done your homework.

Here’s some good news: it is easier than ever to learn about your customers and what makes them tick. Between Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it’s amazing what you can learn about people if you put your mind to it. If you have a CRM system, not only can you use it to help with your research, you can record everything you’ve learned. So what kind of tidbits should you be looking for? Some of it is obvious. Things like where they went to college, how long they’ve held their current position, what they used to do and where they used to work. You can find connections and contacts they have in common with you. You can also learn about their hobbies and interests. To go much further, however, you’re going to have to start reading between the lines. What do they read? Who do they follow? Who/what are some of their key influencers (both people and ideas). And, of course, nothing is more valuable than what people say. Read through their Twitter and FB feeds. See what they are saying and doing.

Now, let’s get this out of the way. Some of you might say, “So what? Just because you have this information doesn’t mean it will help you make a sale. What’s the point? Sounds like a giant waste of time to me.” To this I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for helping me make my point that traditional selling is drawing its last breath. The fact that you don’t “get” what I’m sharing here puts you squarely in the midst of a dying breed of “salespeople.” But, it’s not too late for you! Keep reading.

Once you’ve done your homework and you’re ready to make your first sales call, be aware that it may take many “touches” with this customer before they are ready to buy anything from you. The goal of that first sales call should be to learn even more about the Account and the Contact(s) – things you were not able to find out on your own prior to the call. There will be plenty of time later to talk about your offerings and solutions. But, the first or second interaction is hardly the time or place to do it. First and second sales calls are about asking questions, listening, and taking notes. These notes, of course, will be logged into your CRM system for future use.

Now I know that many of you reading this post are thinking, “You don’t know my situation. I have a lot of pressure on me to make my quota. I don’t have the time to sit at my computer all day and research potential customers. While you’re sitting there Googling, I’m out on the street selling. No one ever sold anything sitting in their office.” As a former leader of scores of salespeople, I’ve heard this refrain many times. I guess the kindest most respectful way to respond to this is to simply say, “You’re quite incorrect.” Apart from the fact that you most certainly can sell things (and lots of them) from your desk, the evidence for what I’m suggesting is overwhelmingly stacked in my favor. Sales made in the traditional way (presentations to strangers focusing on your products) do produce the occasional sale. However, those sales don’t “stick”- let alone, reproduce. The proverbial carpet is always rolling up behind you! Sales made in the modern way, not only stick, but give birth to other sales. The great NBA coach Pat Riley famously said, “The will to win is important but, the will to prepare to win is vital.”

And that’s all I’m really talking about here. “Winning” customers and sales is all about winning over people. And, to do it right; to do it effectively; to do it in a way that makes your efforts compound upon themselves over and over again is to accept the idea that “traditional selling” is dead. Allow yourself to, at the very least, become willing and open to the modern ways (and tools) of professional selling. We’ll save some room for you at the top.

Too good to be true can still be good

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When I was young, I remember my Dad telling me that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Wise counsel, indeed, but it sets you up for failure in one particular way: not everything that looks too good to be true is. Its just that its “newness” spooks us because it’s so unfamiliar to our existing frame of reference. I just finished reading David McCullough’s book about the Wright Brothers. Here were two guys who everyone truly thought were bonkers – even AFTER they’d proven all skeptics wrong! There’s just something in human nature that won’t allow us to accept “new” ideas readily.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a personal business hero, Howard Schultz, the venerated Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. He advised, “Don’t just give people what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their appreciation for it, you can create a sense of discovery, excitement, and loyalty that will bond them to you forever.” Chairman Schultz was a man of great vision. He created something people didn’t even know they wanted.

All of this brings me to my point which is in order to make great leaps forward in your business, you’ll have to suspend some of your current (and often deeply held) beliefs long enough to entertain new ideas that don’t fit neatly into your up-to-this-point experience. I guess the good news here is since most people won’t do this, it makes success easier for the few of us who will. I have a vivid memory from my early days in sales, working for a wine & spirits wholesaler in Houston, when I first saw a Bell Curve being drawn on the blackboard. I loved the concept immediately- that there were basically three types of people in the world: the few people at the top, the few people at the bottom, and the vast majority of the people right smack in the middle. I have desperately tried to stay out of that middle ever since.

Another favorite quote comes from Timothy Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek: “Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” Again, super good news for those of us willing to take some risks and blaze new trails. So, if you’re one of the few at the top of the Bell Curve, please read on. Otherwise, please hit “escape” or delete and go back to your comfortable world of business-as-usual so I don’t waste any more of your time. You will certainly never be lonely there.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to ask you a few questions: How good of a job are you doing keeping your existing customers engaged with your brand (and by “customers,” I mean restaurants, fine wine shops, etc)? If one of your products gets a great score in the press or your company is launching a new brand or line extension, do you have a way to quickly and easily let ALL of your existing customers know about it? To what degree are you augmenting your existing sales efforts and investments with technologies like CRM software (Customer Relationship Management), Email Marketing and Key Account Targeting?

Among the many things I’ve learned after 30 years in sales and sales leadership, is the fact that most salespeople confuse activity with achievement. Flying and/or driving from customer to customer and conducting face-to-face meetings, albeit expensive,  will always have value. Always. But guess what?  It is not the only way to sell.  Yet, for hundreds of companies in the wine & spirits industry, it’s still the only way they do it (outside of the burgeoning DTC market). This is 2015. We live in an age of big data and instant accessibility to just about everything. There IS a way to extract serious value from the data and corresponding insights but it requires a willingness to accept new ideas.

What I suggest is keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working for you. But, consider there is something you can do in addition to what you’re currently doing that can dramatically accelerate your sales performance (and at a tiny fraction of the cost). I mean, why not leverage every available sales vehicle instead of just a few of them?

Our industry is very much behind other consumer products industries when it comes to sales automation and leveraging technology. Ironically, our industry (especially the wine business) is far more competitive than any other CPG category. So, the industry that needs it most is also the most reticent to adopt it. I guess it’s because it looks too good to be true.

 

 

National Pricing Shell Game

Having just spent the last 21 years dealing with, among other things, the mess that is on premise national accounts pricing for the wine & spirits business, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what the problems are surrounding this seemingly unmanageable shell game. Someone needs to come right out and say it so it might as well be me: the Emperor has no clothes. There are several reasons for this knotty quandary and I have yet to see anyone wholly and completely articulate it- until now.

First, the people who are, primarily, responsible for managing the pricing for every state in the US (supplier national account managers) are not very comfortable with the task and do not receive the support they need inside their own companies. This is, virtually, a universal problem. To compound the insanity, the distributor national accounts sales people are in the exact same boat. The fact of the matter is the control and management of pricing is highly decentralized by geography – at the state level. Both for the supplier and the distributor, the pricing “belongs” to the people who run each state. A “dirty little secret” of the wine and spirits world is that most state level managers could give a rat’s behind what goes on outside their own state.

This sets up an incredibly unworkable dilemma whereby assembling accurate national accounts pricing is nearly impossible. I think it is fair to say that, in almost every (supplier) company operating in the US, the senior management of the organization lends very little support to this predicament. It is left up to the hapless national accounts salespeople to fend for themselves as best they can. So what are the chain restaurant and hotel operators to do? To whom can they turn for a lifeline? For the moment, at least, no one.

The second challenge is the false and highly misguided notion that national on premise pricing can be reduced to two deal levels: wine list pricing and by-the-glass pricing. There certainly does exist a model for this but that model is only valid in twenty four states. What, then, of the other half of the country? Any attempt to collect wine list and BTG pricing for those other states renders the collector doomed to utter failure. Game over before it has even begun. What always shocks me about this ridiculous stalemate is how few people are even aware of it! Unschooled national accounts managers, desperate to make a sale, never question the buyers when they ask for only these two price levels for all the states in which they operate.

So, is it any wonder that, armed with inaccurate pricing, chain restaurant buyers spend half their time chasing down national accounts managers (and their distributor accomplices) tying to write the wrongs that have been foisted upon them and in which, they themselves, have perpetuated?

If any of this resonates with you and you would like to get a preview of what is coming down the pike to stop this madness, please give me a call at 469-265-2210 or send me an email at ben@salisburycreative.com Whether you are a supplier, distributor, or chain operator, I would love to chat with you about a solution we all can live with.

When Sales Contests Are Bad For Your Business

I recently went to an RV superstore to pick up a few things for my camping trailer. A polite and friendly salesperson approached me and asked, “Can I help you find anything?” When I said, “Just looking, for now,” she proceeded to launch into a sales pitch to join their frequent shopper club. When, a few minutes later, a second “helpful” salesperson approached me, I knew instinctively a sales contest was underway in this store.

Why is it a sales contest brings out the worst in salespeople? Aren’t there enough bad salespeople in the world without adding desperation and greed into the mix? Could you be any more obvious that you’re running a sales contest?

While sales contests might be good (in the short term) for, um, sales, it is one of the worst ways to treat your customers if your execution is clumsy and self-serving. Sales contests, by themselves, are not inherently bad, but when the focus is on what you want versus what the customer wants, it’s a recipe for disaster. In the short term, you’ll have a few extra sales. But, in the long term, you will have fewer loyal customers. What we are talking about here is doing a bad job executing a good idea.

The only way sales contests are good for your business is if they are accompanied by a polished and professional sales approach. By “approach,” I mean how the salespeople interact with the customers. Here’s a cold, hard fact: the more you act like a salesperson, the less you will sell. That’s right, you heard me. The very best salespeople do not act like salespeople – using such obvious techniques as overcoming objections and attempting to close. You know the old lawyer joke about how you can tell if a lawyer is lying because his lips are moving? Well, guess what, sales guys and gals, we can all tell when you are selling because you are doing all the talking.

Executed properly, a sale should be a by-product of a much larger relationship – a relationship whereby the focus is on serving customers and meeting their needs. You can get anything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want. It’s just that simple. In the case of the RV Superstore, I very well might have joined their loyalty club if the salespeople on the floor hadn’t been so heavy-handed and obvious. I don’t fault the salespeople as much as I fault the management team who never bothered to train their salespeople properly. The cost? One less RV enthusiast will be shopping in their store. If you think sales training is expensive, just think how expensive NOT providing sales training is.