I’ve recently completed my tenure as Vice-President of Marketing for Farley’s & Sathers, the 4th-largest confectioner in the US. Like most executives, I fielded a huge number of sales contacts, most of them cold. And if my experience was representative, then the modern sales industry is marked by disturbingly low levels of forethought, professionalism and effectiveness.
If you’re a sales professional trying to reach the CMO – or any other executive – here are the things that are working against you:
There are too many of you. One month, out of frustration and morbid curiosity, I tracked the number of unsolicited sales contacts I received. The average was 25 per week. That’s one about every 90 minutes, or over a thousand per year. I’ve heard similar numbers from other executives. Responding to every such contact would make us enormously ineffective at our jobs. So our default response is none at all.
Your pitch does not differentiate or motivate. Most openers sounded nearly identical: “I’m Joe Dokes with ABC Digital Media… we specialize in (insert three buzzwords)… we really think our approach is different, though I’m struggling to articulate that in this voicemail…” Would you return that message?
“Can I just get 30 minutes of your time?” No, I’m already working 12-hour days; I don’t have half-hours to toss around like throw pillows.
“Can you put me in touch with the person responsible for these decisions?” Not unless you’ve given me a very good reason to do so; I have to protect my staff’s time too.
Your attention to detail sucks. Lose the grammatical errors. Spell the name of my company correctly. Don’t identify my competitor’s brands as mine. These are mistakes I saw daily. If this is your attention to detail in your opener, what am I to expect if we work together?
You’re unprofessional. After I ignored one guy’s first two requests for the contact info of my brand managers, he sent a third email comprised entirely of the following: “Any insight on this????” (The fourth question mark was a classy touch.) He wasn’t the only stranger to take a tone with me, but doing that simply guarantees that I’ll never reply. And don’t presume to call me “Matt”; nobody does that except Mom and Dad.
I don’t know you, or know of you. If I haven’t successfully worked with you in the past, and I don’t know anyone who will vouch for you, your chances of getting on my schedule are near zero. And please recognize the difference between a trusted reference and a random shared connection on LinkedIn.
You haven’t done your homework. Mass-mailings smell like it. If you can’t demonstrate that you know something meaningful about the challenges I’m facing, don’t even bother making contact.
Your title is wrong. Sorry, but it’s true. I’m much more likely to take a call from a partner or president than from an account exec, simply because they’re much more likely to understand how I spend my day.
Bottom line: The number of sales folk with a differentiated, compelling approach – in other words, those that were actually able to get through to me, even to have a phone call – was somewhere south of 5%. Your job as a salesperson is to be in that elite group.
In a follow-up post, I’ll discuss what the good ones did. Until then, whether you’re a salesperson or the decision-maker, what are the successful approaches you’ve seen or used?
About Matthew Fenton: Matthew founded Three Deuce Branding in 1997 with a simple mission: “To help good people build great brands.” He’s a former CMO who repeatedly led underdog brands to dramatically outpace the market, and now he does the same for the clients he serves. Businesses with revenues of seven to ten figures trust Matthew to help them achieve “brand clarity” through core brand strategy and positioning. Matthew is also a highly-rated speaker. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.
Copyright 2012 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.