The “Doctor Who” Effect

As a sales consultant, I always think it’s great when something I was told during my training process comes up in a real world selling experience. I often only feel as if I’ve truly absorbed the conceptual ideas behind selling when I experience them in a hands-on way. I was recently reminded, during a successful sales call, about the importance of the chemistry between client and prospective vendor and it hammered home the idea that “You’re selling yourself just as much as you’re selling the service you offer.”

Most successful businesses spend a huge amount of time and resources on perfecting things like sales pitches, marketing materials, and product or service offerings. And we expect companies to do this because we all understand that the whole point of any sales and marketing effort is to generate as many leads as possible in order to create as many opportunities as possible to earn business. And in the face of a global marketplace, where there are countless options of web or software development, the sales and marketing team at Algonquin has to work hard to differentiate company and our services from the competition. Finding prospects who are ready and willing to talk to us about our solutions is only the first step. Discovering that we’re a good match process and budget-wise gets us “almost there,” but what does the final “yes” or “no” decision often come down to? Sometimes is simply an intangible quality I’m going to start calling “The Doctor Who Effect.”

Toward the end of the successful sales call mentioned earlier, my co-worker threw out a Doctor Who reference for dramatic effect. And, wouldn’t you know it? We were sitting in a room of Doctor Who aficionados! Now, to be honest, things were going very well prior to the Doctor name drop. We had a good vibe going – some humor, some well-natured sarcasm, and a lot of head nodding. But I truly believe the Doctor Who reference sealed the deal because it helped the prospective client realized that, as people, we’re geared the same way they are. The following week, we returned to give a demo and we discovered they’d already signed our contract, before even seeing the presentation!

Like most sales people, I’ve walked out of a handful of sales calls that were so awkward and uncomfortable, I was sure I was never going to hear from the client again. And I never did. Regardless of our expertise or product offerings, if I don’t “click” with a client, I’m probably not going to get the sale. And, of course, I’ve walked out of sales calls feeling like the prospect and I were long-lost best friends, only to have them go in another direction and, in those cases, I can only assume that while “The Doctor Who Effect” may have been in effect, our solution or price point simply weren’t the right fit for the company.

The “sweet spot” is when you’ve got both the best solution AND the best chemistry going for you. I’ve seen the powerful combination in effect more than once now and I’m convinced it’s key to the majority of successful sales. Now I just have to work on finding more prospects who watch Doctor Who!

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A Salute to Persistence

Persistent: tenaciously or obstinately continuing despite problems or difficulties (Encarta Dictionary).

I think persistence could be the single most underrated attribute. Persistence can often make up for deficiencies we have in our characters or skill sets. It’s one of those little things that can go unnoticed, but I bet if you were to analyze most successes under a microscope, you’d probably see persistence in abundance. And I think this would be true of people born with all kinds of natural talent and ability as well as those who have little but manage to “win” nonetheless.

Pick a hat; any hat. Pick an industry; any industry. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a successful teacher, banker, salesman, coach, parent, or spouse – you have to be persistent. If you want well-behaved kids, you can’t enforce the rules just once. You need to persistently uphold the rules and create consequences for when they aren’t obeyed. If you want a healthy marriage that stands the test of time, you and your spouse had better be prepared to work at it – persistently. What if you want to change the culture at your workplace or make some headway for the children participating in your inner-city youth soccer program? You’ve got it… you have to be persistent. Heck, remember the old standby question from high school or college “How’d he get her to go out with him?” More often than not, persistence is probably a factor in the answer.

So, let’s apply my thought process to the sales arena. Obviously, persistence is an important part of making a sale but somewhere along the line, I think persistent sales people have gotten a bad rap. Of course, if you’re persistent in an effort to sell ice to Eskimos, people will probably develop some strong, and not-so-nice, ideas about you as a sales person. But in my mind, that’s less a problem of persistence and more a lack of respect. Most of us don’t feel good about a sale that doesn’t benefit the client just as much as the vendor and, in the case of the pushy sales guy who can’t respect the fact that his prospect doesn’t need his product or service (or has simply said “no” to his sales pitch), I think persistence might be getting thrown under the bus.

As a sales consultant here at Algonquin Studios, I’m always going to be persistent. I’ll be persistent in my attempts to learn about your company; to learn what your pain points are and what you need from your web site or software; to learn what your ideal vendor relationship looks like; and to demonstrate the expertise we’ve developed and can implement for you.

And, I’ll always encourage my sales prospects to be persistent, too – persistent about vetting potential vendors for their experience, capabilities, and a general willingness to share the ins-and-outs of their companies. You should take the time to identify a clear scope of service for your projects and you should share that information with the vendors you’re considering. You should give those vendors time to ask questions about your project and allow their expertise to modify and further develop its final scope. And you should remember that if your persistence is met with reluctance or a lack of disclosure on a vendor’s part, you’ll want to take notice and be careful.

In the end, persistence will help both of us figure out if a relationship between Algonquin Studios and your company is going to be successful. So, I’d like to thank persistence for helping me and my clients get to a good place; the right place.

Don’t Get Obsessed with the Gizmos

As a part of my initial sale consultant training here at Algonquin Studios, one of the lessons that took the longest to sink in for me had to do with the issue of technology.

Technology, as a whole, can be very intimidating to a lot of us. We’re talking about things that not only perform tasks that seem magical, but it’s also changing faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth. You’re bound to fall behind on the “latest and greatest” advancements and catching up always seems so daunting. But, the truth that took so long for me to grasp is that to help people solve business problems technology is often the least important part of the equation.

I remember the first time I looked at the guts of a toilet. Wait… there’s a rubber ball, a few plastic things, a plug, and some water. Where’s the magic? Where are the computer chips and sensors and wires? There aren’t any and you know what? It doesn’t matter! That toilet still works great, because it does what we need it to do!

What do you need? Why do you need it? How will it help you or your company? What will life be like once the problem is solved?

It doesn’t matter if the client is a marketer, administrator, or IT guru; the questions are still the same and the answers are what’s important. It won’t really matter if the solution is a state of the art, super-duper fancy gizmo or a hamster running around in a wheel; if the solution solves the problem, fits your budget, and is reliable and sustainable then you have a winner – fancy technology or not.

We just finished bringing on a new client that had been badly burned by their previous web vendor. The old vendor was not upfront about their capabilities and offered the client all kinds of high tech “gizmos” that they promised would make their site stand out from the competition. It took a while, but our client eventually figured out that the vendor couldn’t deliver on the goods. Most of the awesome bells and whistles they were promised either didn’t work or didn’t follow best practices, usability standards, or accessibility requirements. When the client came to us, our main goal was listening, so we could really learn what the client’s vision and direction for their web site was; we explained what we would do to address each problem they’d had with their previous vendor, and then we moved forward and got to work on building their new web site. Honestly, talking about the technology we’ll use to complete the site was almost an afterthought. When we’re done, their web site will obviously be functional but, more importantly, it will meet the goals the client outlined and identified as important to them and their business. And they’ll be able to get back to running that business instead of stressing about the site. Our approach when we took the “getting to know you” meeting may not have been about showing off our state-of-the-art technology, but it was the right one.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Algonquin Studios lacks technically intelligent and savvy people, products, or solutions. On the contrary, we have incredibly smart people working here, doing some amazingly complex things. But when you sit down with us to see if we’re the right fit for your company and your problem, let’s not worry so much about the technology. When you do, you may end up asking us to build you a space shuttle when what you really need is a bike to get you to and from the corner store. Let’s focus on the problem(s) you’re looking to solve instead. Tell us about why you need what you need – we’ll apply the right technology to the problem and get you where you want to be. And I promise, just like the toilet, it’ll be magic!

Updating My Web Site? Yeah, I’ve Been Meaning To Get To That…

I’ve been wondering – how many people out there would remember to check the batteries in their smoke detectors if it weren’t for daylight savings time?

Every six months, I spend a minute or two on a Saturday night trying to remember if I gain  or lose an hour that weekend. Shortly after figuring out if I’m jumping ahead or falling back this time around, I inevitably hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head saying, “Every time you change the clocks, make sure you also remember to change your smoke detector batteries.”  Day-to-day family life is pretty crazy for me these days, so I’m not 100% certain I would remember to change those batteries if my dad hadn’t hammered it into my head for years. And I’m glad I remember, because my family and my house are pretty important to me!

While I’m willing to bet most people would agree with the idea that if you run a business of any kind these days, you need a web site. But the time frame for how often you need to update (or outright change) your web site is probably far less agreed upon than say, how often you need to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Most people might argue you should mix things up every two to three years, but I’ll bet there are some who would say you can go longer.

At the risk of sounding like my mother, technology is hard to keep up with. What’s new and fresh today will be old news in a short period of time. The truth is, if your web site is more than two years old and you are not planning to update it, or the technology it rests on, you’re probably behind the times (and your competition). For example, if your site doesn’t automatically adjust when it’s viewed on a cell phone or tablet, what are you waiting for? Your site won’t develop a mobile-friendly version of itself. How about an even more basic question – are you still sending content changes and updates to your web vendor or “tech guy” instead of using a quality CMS in-house? Well, guess what? You’re essentially hoping the smell of smoke will get you out of bed late at night, because you’ve neglected your smoke detector maintenance.

Regardless of how long you think you can go without paying it some attention, the sales call to see if you are ready to update your web site should be viewed like daylight savings.  It’s a subtle reminder, me calling to say “Hey, Busy Person! Don’t forget about this important part of your business.” When you get the call, even if you aren’t ready to deal with it then and there, ask me to call you back on a specific date in the future (sooner, rather than later) and put that call on your schedule now. It will help you make sure that your site update doesn’t get put off longer than it should.

Hmm. Maybe I should change my phone sales pitch. “Hi, this is Tom from Algonquin Studios. Have you changed the batteries in your smoke alarms and when would you like to begin updating your company’s web site?”

Directly Engage Your Tech Partner To Avoid “Used Car Sales” Experience

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on January 29, 2012, on his blog.

The Internet has brought the worlds of marketing and technology together and customers expect their advertising agencies to be able to provide full service solutions on the web and social media. These solutions often include integration with internal systems and data that fall outside the core competences of the agency, who aren’t able to support the technology staff to provide these services on-demand and seek external partners to provide software solutions. Unfortunately, many companies feel that having an outside vendor provide technology solutions puts them at a disadvantage in the eyes of clients (and prospects) and try to funnel all communication through the agency and prevent the technology partner from directly interacting with the client.

I have written previously about the fundamental differences between solving technical and creative problems and this kind of collaborative solution demands both. Advertising and marketing firms are oriented to solve creative problems, but account executives often lack the training to perform the critical analysis necessary to define the requirements necessary for software development. When the agency buffers the tech provider from the end client, AEs aren’t able to provide feedback on how (and if) an objective can be accomplished or give “ballpark” pricing on items that come up during brainstorming. This means that every discussion requires the agency to go back to the software provider. I liken this to the “I have to ask my manager…” experience of buying a car. Is there any sales experience more frustrating as a consumer? This breeds distrust between the client and the AE – exactly the experience the agency was trying to avoid by keeping the solution provider away from the client. We have a saying at Algonquin Studios: “You will do what you fear most” and this is a perfect example. The things you fear drive your actions and inevitably it back fires. Like getting caught in a lie, the best way to avoid it is to tell the truth from the start. Face your fears honestly… problems delayed are problems expanded.

Advertising and marketing agencies need to educate their clients that technology providers are like the other traditional vendors (printers and media companies) they outsource to because they offer specialized services better suited to an organization designed around those competencies. Similarly, software vendors need to educate their agency customers about the added value they can bring when they are at the table with the customer.

Finally, if you are an agency that is afraid you will be cut out of business by your technology partner, get a new partner.