Yesterday I received an interesting email.
I say “interesting” because it resulted in my writing this post… and maybe some more will come of it.
It was from a guy who was let go from him job late last year, and who is now “actively pursuing” self-employment. To that end, he wants to pick my brain.
Image: Yorick_R via Flickr, CC 2.0
I get quite a few emails like this, and I suspect that if you are perceived as a successful independent PR consultant, you do too. However, there were a couple of things about this particular email that stood out:
- This person put “PR opportunity” in the subject line of the email, and began it by asking if I would be interested in talking with one of his current clients to see if some of their needs – I assume requiring a different skill-set from his – and my services would be a match;
- He directed me to a few different web properties of his, so that I could learn more about him; and
- The “picking brain” part of his email said this:
“Having freelanced in the past, I understand many of the hurdles and recognize that I am not much [of] a sales person (re: closer) when it comes to attracting new business.
“I partnered with someone who had this ability, however he has since accepted a lucrative, permanent position. That being said, I am currently working to apply my skills to my own endeavors (re: web site, blog, Twitter, etc…) and wanted to get insight into how you gained your first few clients and maintain your success.”
For now, I’m not going to focus on the first two points above, or how I gained my first few clients (maybe that should be another blog post? would that be helpful?).
I’m going to focus on this bit: “… recognize that I am not much of a sales person (re: closer) when it comes to attracting new business.”
Because it had my head spinning sooo much!
Is there a difference between attracting new business and closing new business?
If you’re going into business for yourself, should you be particularly good at one, or the other, or both?
If you’re going into business for yourself, does it matter if you’re “not much of a sales person”?
Is a “good” sales person one who attracts new business, or one who closes new business?
I’m going to try to talk this through with you, and then I’d love it if you’d tell me what you think, and what your experience has been.
In my opinion, there is a huge difference here. Attracting new business isn’t all that tough, particularly if you’re the kind of person who networks with a twist.
The more you put yourself out there, the more people will learn about you, and the inquiries will inevitably start coming in.
Image: Piano Piano! via Flickr, CC 2.0
The question is: how do you put yourself out there in order to attract the kind of business you want?
I believe this has a lot to do with how you position yourself and your business. If you position yourself as “cheap,” you’ll get inquiries from potential clients with small budgets.
If you position yourself as a freelancer, you’ll probably get more inquiries for short-term, and smaller, projects. I’m not saying there aren’t people who’ve been successfully freelancing for years, but I personally don’t want potential clients to think I might be here one day, gone the next… and I do think there’s that connotation with the word “freelance.”
If you position yourself as a publicist, you’ll get a lot of media relations inquiries.
Closing, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game.
To close business, you have to show the potential client that there’s substance beneath what attracted them to you in the first place, that you understand what they’re trying to achieve, and how you can help them achieve it.
And I think chemistry plays a big part as well. I know I’ve said this before, but at the end of the day, people do business with people.
If a potential client is not comfortable with who you are as a person, there’s really no reason for them to do business with you. Why should they, when they could do business with almost anyone else?
Now, I know many agencies have people dedicated to sales, or business development. Even if you’re a solo pro who’s going to partner with someone, then you can split up the business’ tasks based on whose skill-set is better at certain things.
Truthfully, I used to be petrified of the term “business development.”
But I don’t have that luxury any more … because when I’m in business for myself, by myself, I have to be that business development person, particularly when I’m running a small shop.
And I get a huge adrenalin rush – huge! – when I’m able to successfully sign off on a new deal or client.
So I try to attract the kind of business I’d like to work on, through the various groups I’m involved with, through my interactions on social platforms, through what I say, speak on, write about.
And I do my damnedest to close those clients through putting in the best proposal I possibly can, and following up (without being a pest).
Do I close all the inquiries that come to me?
No. Because I don’t want to work on them all.
But those I go for? Eight times out of 10, I close ’em. Hopefully, I’ll continue to do so.
And then I have to do a good job, so that the client stays with me (if there’s an option to renew), has good things to say about me even if it doesn’t, and thinks of me when another opportunity arises, or passes my name onto someone else.
In other words, I try to get my work, network and reputation to do the “selling.”
But then I have to close.
I just don’t see how you can go into business for yourself, particularly in a relationship-based business like ours, and not be a good closer in order to continue running a viable business.
I’m still thinking about this, but this is as far as I could get today. What do you think?
[…] it can be tough to regulate your income stream the way you’d like. You also have to be good not just at attracting but at closing business, so you have to be a really good sales […]
@3HatsComm Or… if you weren’t out here so much, maybe you’d be finding the right pavements and virtual waters? :P But I so enjoy having you out here!@mdbarber @Jillfoster @Marcus_Sheridan
@Shonali @mdbarber @Jillfoster @Marcus_Sheridan I need to do more pavement pounding, but just as with this online pavement and virtual waters.. it’s finding which ones, which roads go where, which roadmap outlines those best fishing spots. And if I knew that.. I probably wouldn’t be out here so much. ;-)
@Shonali @JGoldsborough @Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich @johnfalchetto Maybe we should separate Personal Brands who show people how to get noticed, talk about technologies out there etc to use as examples for creating content people want to see and Business Strategists who teach businesses valuable ways to grow their business using these technologies and successful case studies from work they actually have done.
I think it is easy to bash a Guru selling lots of books and making a lot of money thinking because they really aren’t helping a business in the ways we help a business they have less value. Maybe from our view and what we think businesses need. But really they are just successful authors like Kitty Kelly and Stephen King who just happen to be located in the Business Books section. And if a business reader gets anything from one good tip to even just pure enjoyment there is nothing wrong with that. As long as the advice given doesn’t mislead or over promise I don’t think any of us have any issues with a successful personal brand.
@JGoldsborough That’s a really good point. Many gurus regurgitate the obvious because that’s what their audience needs. They (the audience) is not plugged into SM morning noon and night like we are, and they’re usually far behind where we are on the adoption curve. You could, in fact, argue that they are doing much better than us because, let’s face it, often times we get as wrapped up in our blog bubbles as the oft-decried “SM echo chamber” – so we end up writing for each other. That’s not a bad thing at all, and I love how we are all trying to build up our communities from within the industry. On the other hand, when it comes to generating business from that content, I think we all (myself included) need to take a long, hard look at whether our content is doing that, especially if that’s a goal (if the goal is to build community from within, we’re doing great). @HowieSPM @Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich @johnfalchetto
@Jillfoster How was the ice cream? Are you done eating it yet? :p @mdbarber
@JGoldsborough What a TERRIFIC comment!
“One of the interesting catch-22’s I’ve noticed is that we all know networking the right way means developing relationships and often times, becoming friends, with the people who work for the businesses we are trying to attract.” Yes, it is indeed a catch-22. Here are my thoughts: I don’t try to become friends with people only because of the businesses they own/work for or, to carry that thought further, because of their status as A-list “influencers,” bloggers, etc. If I did that, I’d feel absolutely repugnant to myself.
That’s why there are a ton of people I have a passing acquaintanceship with, but it hasn’t gone further than that. I know for myself, when I get a note/call/tweet/whatever completely out of the blue, I can’t help but look for the hidden meaning… does this person really want to catch up with me, or is it just that they’re suddenly out of a job/looking for a new job/whatever, and they think I can help? Usually it’s the latter. I’d much rather get to know people with no ulterior motive whatsoever, because it’s usually pretty obvious when there is one.
I don’t know if it’s harder to sell to people with whom you’re friendly, though I can certainly see why it might be. I think maybe it’s making the decision of *what* one is going to try to sell them on, and if ever I am in a position where I need to do that, I’d probably come right out and say it, rather than beat around the bush.
Justin, you’re a terrific sales person. Really. Because you do it the *right* way, IMHO at least. You’re not just out to see what’s in it for you; you try to see and show what’s in it for them.
Been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Attracting vs closing business are definitely distinct and I think closing is much harder. One of the interesting catch-22’s I’ve noticed is that we all know networking the right way means developing relationships and often times, becoming friends, with the people who work for the businesses we are trying to attract. People not only work with other people. But they work with people they know and trust. And you have to be somewhat friendly with people to know and trust them.
That said, I think it can often be harder to sell to people with whom you are friendly. Because you know that being sold to can be an awkward situation and one you may not like yourself. And now you are putting a friend in that situation. Yes, it helps if you believe what you’re selling will help the person/company. But it still isn’t without awkwardness. Because friendships and trust are not inherently built on sales and selling.
Part of this comment comes from me trying to become more comfortable selling. And you can probably tell that. But I do think it’s funny how sometimes selling to someone you don’t know can feel much easier because you don’t know enough about that person to feel awkward if it doesn’t work out. But the fact that you don’t know that much about them could keep the sale from being effective or your pitch from even being heard. Ok, done rambling. Probably going to blog on this topic soon. Thoughts?
Creating content that gets people talking and getting those people to talk about you is important. It’s easy to “bash the social media gurus” who write books. But TBH, some of those “gurus” just really know what their target market is and write to that audience. So many people in corporate America have little to no understanding of social media or the purpose of PR and communications for that matter. The challenge is to write content that audience and the one commenting here, on Spin Sucks, etc, find interesting and valuable.
Much easier said than done and some of those “gurus” overdo it or just regurgitate the obvious. But people still read and consume their content. So what does that say except that their is an audience for it? We should strive to help organizational leadership understand PR and the value of communicators as strategic counselors the way we do. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that many of those leaders need to start withe basics, just like we did at some point.
@3HatsComm Yea, I haven’t gotten back to him yet, because I’m still trying to figure out whether he was genuinely trying to show me he was trying to help me as well, or it was just a segue unto his real ask. And I love how you called it the “Shonali Burke MBA program!”
Re what we do and sales – that’s exactly what I mean. We have to be “sold” enough on a story before we can pitch it credibly, before we can build up community credibly, etc. It’s not sales in the traditional sense of the word, but it’s a much higher form of “selling.” that’s what I meant in my note to
@mdbarber and @jillfoster. Like @Marcus_Sheridan I too think if you’re in a position to have all you’re business be inbound, that’s brilliant. I’ve been lucky in that respect so far… But it’s not all luck. Still, I have to keep my wits about me because depending on how I decide to grow my business, I may indeed have to go out and poun the pavement a lot more than I have been doing recently. It will be interesting to see!
Hmmm… this brain-picking person who wants the “Shonali Burke MBA program” and a map of the best ‘biting fish’ spots in the market, dangling potential work for you when really, it’s nothing more than a name as I doubt this person has any such influence w/ these clients.. not a fan, IMO. something hinky there. Anyway…
I know what you and @mdbarber mean about sales being what we do, but it’s different. IDK.. If I ‘know’ something cold, I can write about it or pitch it all day, but I first have to be sold on it. I’m totally with @HowieSPM and @EricaAllison on the properties of client attraction; I am stepping up networking, blogging, other things to develop my biz to attract different clients, who won’t just land on the doorstep. I know my blog isn’t enough, so much work still to be done. Which is why I think @Marcus_Sheridan has inbound business coming his way, b/c he has his own examples and success to build upon and a unique way of sharing that info, so other businesses can apply what he’s learned. I’ll be thinking about this a lot more, promise. FWIW.
@Jillfoster @Shonali I love the idea of the transference of trust and it really is what we have. My most successful programs have been with clients where we mutually trust each other. It also makes it seem less used car sales guy-ish too.
From my viewpoint, the best networking is through informal coffee sessions, professional meetings, nonprofits and even the kids’ soccer games where we casually share information. The trust is built and then individuals realize they need work and are most comfortable calling to ask. The trust is then natural too.
@Shonali @mdbarber Yes that was the phrase. This is a fantastic thread here. Thanks for recalling that conversation. Look forward to interacting here more attentively after this current and critical situation i.e. eating ice cream.
@mdbarber Sales is really quintessential to what we do!
You know, for me, I hate traditional networking – there, I said it. Shoving business cards on people… ugh, I hate it. I’d much rather spend quality time one-on-one with a few people and get to know them over time, and the same goes for how I try to build up the people I meet through social media (the friendship between you and I being a perfect example!).
I think the key is not to think of it as “sales” with the usual connotations of that word. I think it was jillfoster who helped me get this straight when she said something like “sales is a transference of trust” (Jillie, if I misquoted you, I apologize in advance). This was when a business opportunity had come my way that would require “sales,” and I was frightened I couldn’t do it.
But the fact is, that I “sell” myself every day. Whether it’s by writing here, talking to people on Twitter and yes, Facebook, posting on BNET, commenting on other blogs, hosting a Twitter chat, and so on. I’m not doing it consciously, but I *am* doing it. And everyone else is too, whether they realize it or not.
@johnfalchetto That is a very kind comment, thank you! One of the things I’ve noticed, and not just from small business owners, and @Marcus_Sheridan , tell me if you’ve seen the same/disagree, is that they’ll often use “social” as a way to shout at people (in fact, that was the subject of the first post I wrote for BNET). If, instead, they spent some time on building up relationships and genuinely sharing expertise, they’d start building a community that would do their shouting for them.
jaxx09 wrote a great guest post earlier this week on not ignoring qualitative gains when it comes to measuring social media, and in some sense, this is very similar. IMHO many business owners think they can mail to a list, like the client you mentioned, and have no repercussions. That’s about the worst thing they can do!
I do think this is one of the negatives that direct marketing has given us. While I’m not a DM expert, I’ve dealt with quite a few and they’re well aware that junk mail is a PITA… but for the most part, through list purchases, etc., it still pays off for them. The problem is that when you try to translate that online, via email lists, for example, it feels so much more intrusive.
I can, and do, easily shred 90% of the mail that comes through my mailbox because it’s complete crap. But somehow, when that same kind of crap comes through to my email, *particularly* when I have not opted-in, it drives me nuts. And I see this very often – just yesterday I received 2 email newsletters that I had definitely not opted in for, but was somehow put on, because I know these people through my online/offline interactions. To me, that still doesn’t matter – if I have not opted in specifically to your email list, don’t friggin’ put me on it!
Sorry for the rant, LOL. You got me going.
Great post @Shonali. I think it’s hard for some of us to envision ourselves as sales people but it really is a critical part of what we need to do. Networking is such a critical part of starting the “sales” process so people naturally begin to understand your capabilities. The networking part isn’t hard for me but I’m never too sure how much to “push.” That’s where the close comes in and if we don’t ask for the order we normally just spin wheels and give away valuable time. Do we EVER get comfortable with it?
@HowieSPM @Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich @johnfalchetto I agree that a blog isn’t enough, but it can be huge, if done right. Because it’s the only web property (apart from one’s site, if one has one) that one truly owns. In terms of attraction, the body of work is important, but like they say, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it… etc. So having the ability to get people talking about you – in the right way – is really important to.
@EricaAllison I’m glad this struck a chord with you – I was wondering if it was too “far out” for WUL, but apparently it worked… phew! I’ll try to do more. :) And I want to know the story behind yours and @johnfalchetto ‘s experience!
It’s tough to say “no,” sometimes, isn’t it? But it’s so necessary to be able to say no at the right time, else we get saddled with work we don’t really like, and it doesn’t help the client either.
@HowieSPM Thank you for the great comment! Yes, you’re right in that business doesn’t just land on your doorstep… normally. For those who are in the lucky minority, I think they have mastered the combination – perhaps unknowingly – of being connectors (because people appreciate that), nurturing relationships, having a good body of work to show to prospects, and IMHO very importantly, have figured out (again, perhaps unknowingly) how to get *other* people talking about them positively.
I think your solution #1 is bang on target. If one can get to the person who’s really seeing the “bigger picture,” one’s ideas are usually met more receptively. But sometimes, to get there, one has to go through several rungs in the chain.
I also think your perspective on free consulting is really good. The catch is, how much free is too much free… right?
@Shonali @Marcus_Sheridan @ginidietrich @johnfalchetto this goes to my comment above. Until you have a body of work to use for attraction how do you do it? A blog isn’t enough. We spent a bunch of time on Spin Sucks this week bashing the Social media Gurus who write books, give speeches, have ranked blogs who have no body of work for clients. But then I don’t think they are trying to attract clients as much as book sales. But if they haven’t done the work why buy their book?
@johnfalchetto @Marcus_Sheridan I think eventually when you have built a body of work that gives confidence or word of mouth or referrals attracting is much easier. Until then it is very hard.
Great discussion @Shonali unless someone is supremely talented and known business doesn’t just land at your door step. I think over time people will migrate from Closing to Attracting. I have many years of Business Development and Sales experience yet am find it hard to do both right now. I know the reasons.
1] I am burnt on Sales (though in recovery stages now) so pursuing and closing is hard.
2] I don’t have a big enough body of work yet to Attract Business.
I have learned some things over the last 18 months that help me and might be of interest to others.
For my Collegiate Marketing Service:
First I realized I was pursuing business the hard way. Why not pitch people I have gotten to know on Twitter vs just my list of target companies and cold calling them. Second I was calling on big companies that have big departments and their Media Buyers. The person I used to call for Print/Out of Home stopped being the right person because my collegiate marketing service now includes digital/mobile. and because it still includes Print/Out of Home the Digital person doesn’t feel I should contact them. Dumb I know.
Solution 1: Move up the chain to someone who has a broad view of the company’s goals (Marketing) vs a narrow view (Marketing on BillBoards)
Solution 2: Media Buyers don’t want to try something new. It does not make them more money. Ad Spend is Ad Spend (its one way how Agencies screw Brands in my opinion). So I decided why not pitch to the creative agencies and show them if they help me pitch/close an idea for their clients they get more billings. No an App has to be created or a mobile website something they didn’t have as work before.
For my consulting same thing. I started finding businesses I believe in who can use my help and have been doing free consulting here and there to show my value (like I have done for Eidia Lush or Chobani hoping this leads to work)
I like how you make a distinction in they types of clients and work you attract…position yourself as the cheapest and you’ll get it. I also agree in not wanting to work with folks that you don’t like; life is too short and there are far too many other folks out there who can do the work or that you like better! I had a similar situation that @johnfalchetto had with a client who was just going to use her sister’s email list of 400 or so people who had never offered their email address to HER. She, too, thought it was like cold calling or buying a list and was really shocked when I explained that we just couldn’t do it that way. Another story…that one.
As a small biz owner, you absolutely must be the rainmaker, the closer, and the maintainer! Closing it is a thrill, but it only gets you part of the way. Keeping the client happy, maintaining the relationship and being the first one they call when they need more of your services, that’s gold. That gives me an even bigger thrill than the CLOSE. Love this line of post, Shonali. Do more!
This is the bottom line for every business owner out there.
Attracting and closing.
@Marcus_Sheridan I will have to disagree with you bud, for most companies the attracting process is tough. First they have almost no clue how to go about it. I just spoke to a client who was about to send a mass email to a list which he picked off an association board. None of them opted in to be emailed by him. He thought it’s the same as cold calling.
This guy isn’t dumb, he runs a good business but when it comes to online he gets confused and tries to use disruption advertising methods.
But you are right, it’s all about changing the mindset and how we interact with others.
Shonali you are so right in dividing the ones who attract and the ones who close. Most can do one or the other, few can do both.
You and Marcus are great examples of how to do this right and closing 8/10 says it all.
Thanks for this post, should be required reading for new business owners.
@Marcus_Sheridan Thanks for stopping by, Marcus! I actually agree with you that the “attracting” part is tough for a lot of people… and frankly, I think that’s what the people who come to me wanting to “pick my brain” want to know – how do *I* attract business.
It is indeed a different way of doing and thinking, and I think people who get relationships do well in it… and I think you’re one of those people. That’s why I qualified that part of my post by adding “if you’re the kind of person who networks with a twist.” For those kinds of people, it’s not tough at all, because by virtue of the advice they give, expertise they share, or sometimes simply by listening and talking to people, they build their reputation and people start referring them business.
That’s the part that I think a lot of folk find tough, and why they want to know how you or I do it. Sometimes I also wonder if they are asking for the “secret ingredient” to what makes a Marcus, or a @ginidietrich … do you?
@rachaelseda I’d love to hear your boyfriend’s reaction and also what he’s learning in a sales position… will you share, or ask him to? And thanks for stopping by!
@dskaletsky That’s very true, Derek (and thank you for being the first commenter on this post!). But on the other hand, it could also pay off fairly quickly if one is focused not just on doing good work (and this is where volunteering can come in handy, I think, particularly for younger pros who may not have years and years in the biz), but on building relationships (that’s the network part of it) and sharing (IMHO that is huge for reputation). I don’t know if there is a given “this is how long it will take.” Have you any idea about that?
Great question Shonali, one that every business owner/entrepreneur/etc must confront. More than ever before, I let me content do the closing. Often times, I don’t have to ask for the business, because the business is coming to me. The is the essence of inbound marketing and for those persons willing to pay the price, it’s amazing. But, the one area I disagree with you, is the fact that the content/information/attracting stage is tough (at least I find) for most companies. It requires a different way of thinking and doing. It requires hard work and interaction and the willingness to learn more and more each day. But for those willing to committ to this, it does work.
Thanks again for the great article Shonali,
Great post that I think is valuable to many people. I’m passing it on to my boyfriend who is just getting started in a sales position now. Thanks for the great insight!
great post, shonali….but, how long does it take to develop that “work, network & reputation”? There is potentially a long, dry stretch of time before that stuff pays off in terms of closed business, no?