Market Tight? Don’t Find New Clients, Make Them.
“We made 100 cold calls this week, had twelve really good face-to-face appointments, and still we closed no new business. What are we doing wrong?”
Sound familiar? I was given the opportunity to participate in a fascinating event. Scott Wintrip, founder of StaffingU allowed me to listen in on one of his sales training classes. Scott’s advice was terrific. But what I found most interesting were the frustrations, and the perceptions, of the sales professionals involved.
Listening to these people was kind of like watching someone run up the down escalator. You know they may get were they’re going, but what a waste of energy! For example, consider how these people are being told to deal with the current economy:
- Since business is slow, these reps are under intense pressure to compensate for declining sales by making more cold calls.
- HR managers, who are sick of the near constant onslaught of staffing sales reps, are becoming increasingly resistant to traditional sales tactics.
- High volume accounts are using just a fraction of the services they did two years ago, yet many of these reps are focusing on selling to the major accounts.
Pretty easy to see why sales people feel frustrated. They’re using transactional selling techniques (cold calling and order taking) in a market that isn’t buying. And rather than changing their techniques to deal with market conditions, they’re being told to simply do more. These poor people are fighting an uphill battle and relying on outdated tools.
Making New Clients
If you were in the staffing industry 25 years ago, you probably didn’t do a lot of transactional selling. When you called on a new account, you couldn’t ask them about their staffing needs; they didn’t have any (or at least, they didn’t know they had any). To close sales, you frequently had to teach people what a “temp” was and how to use one. Essentially, you made new clients through a process of education.
Today, many companies have become sophisticated users of staffing services, particularly those with large HR departments. You’re not going to teach them about using temporaries. However, many other companies, particularly smaller ones, still don’t really understand the value of staffing. Let me share a story I think you’ll find interesting:
Several years ago, I participated in a program at the University of Buffalo’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. My class consisted of 22 business owners, and as part of the program, each owner gave a presentation on his or her company. One gentleman in my class ran a highly successful distribution firm. In his warehouse, they outsourced 100% of their labor to a staffing firm. Now here comes the surprise….
During the Q&A period, 20 of 22 other owners berated this owner for his use of “temps.” They threw out all the typical stereotypes: “they’re not reliable,” “quality will suffer,” “they’re expensive,” etc. To my shock, these 20 business owners unanimously viewed temporary staffing as a bad thing…and certainly not as a means to running a more profitable business.
In today’s market, educational selling can play a big role in growing sales. With small companies, you can use education as a means to sell value. In your sales process, show people how you can help them to control costs, improve productivity, manage risk, and get more work done.
With larger companies, educational selling may be a bit more challenging. First, you have to find out what kinds of people-related challenges the business is having. Next, you have to determine if (and how) you could solve these challenges. And finally, you have to convince a fairly savvy consumer that you can really solve the problem…and that the solution justifies the price. While it may not be an easy sale, educational selling may be the only way to get beyond the pricing game with larger accounts.
Educational Selling “How To”
Step 1: Define the kinds of problems you can solve.
Step 2: Identify businesses likely to be having those kinds of problems right now.
Hint: If you can, skip the big companies with sophisticated HR departments.
Step 3: Create an educational curriculum.
- Break your educational message into a series of small pieces.
- Be sure to repeat key learning points often.
Step 4: Deliver your curriculum.
- Get your message to your prospects (and even your clients) through the most cost-effective methods. Consider using a series of direct mail, e-mail, drop-offs, seminars, or a mix of all these techniques.
Step 5: Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.
- Integrate your education with your sales efforts.
- Don’t just sell, focus on helping clients and prospects to understand how your services can help their business to be more profitable.
Making It Work
Unfortunately, many sales reps do not fully understand how staffing can be used to solve problems. Some don’t know how to sit down with higher level decision makers to determine the real problems a company has. Before sending your educational curriculum to the outside world, share the information inside your company. Teach reps about the value of staffing. Provide them with a list of the kinds of questions they can ask to uncover problems and offer formal training on selling to executives.
To maximize the effectiveness of your sales and service staff, hold regular coaching sessions to review specific client challenges and brainstorm staffing solutions. Through this process, everyone will come to better understand the value your services can offer and how to sell that value to their clients.
Effective training is not a one-time event. Make training a process you regularly repeat.
Purchase your content curriculum
Educational content sounds like a great idea, but it’s hard to create. Most people don’t have the time to develop this kind of curriculum in-house. Find an outside vendor who knows your industry and can help you create the right content to sell the value of your services.
Find ways to reach the most people with the greatest impact for the lowest cost. Often, a mix of media is most effective (e.g., direct mail, e-mail, in person).
Educational selling is not a quick fix. It takes time to get people to recognize and admit to their problems, understand the value you can deliver, and develop enough trust in you to test out the solutions you recommend. Stick to the process, and over time, people will come to see you as an expert, a problem solver, and someone to whom they want to give their business.