Tag Archives: sales tactics

The Power of Unsolicited Pitch Letters

bigstockphoto_youth_pitcher_and_baseball_1941527-s600x600Over the past 20 years, most of my firm’s new business has been generated by unsolicited pitch letters sent to targeted prospects. These brief, tailored messages – sent either by email or snail mail – have not only enabled us to maintain a consistent pipeline of clients; but more importantly, we’ve built a practice consisting of high-value companies and people that we wanted to work for. And we’ve never resorted to advertising, sponsorships or other expensive, low-yielding tactics to promote our brand or services.

The simple truth is that properly researched, well-crafted pitch letters are probably the most effective way for any type of professional services firm to build its client base and grow revenue. Unsolicited pitch letters, when they succeed, can also be an extremely effective way for your firm to avoid the RFP process…by anticipating their needs, you enable the targeted company to skip the beauty contest altogether.

Here are 5 of the many lessons that we’ve learned about how to use this powerful marketing tactic properly:

The Secret Sauce is NOT the Pitch Letter. For every pitch letter we send out, my firm invests at least an hour or two researching the target company. We review all of the target’ s public facing information to understand its value proposition, competitive landscape, leadership, reputation, marketing & sales sophistication and apparent resources. Our research goal is to identify either a specific problem or an opportunity where think we can add value. Lacking this insight, you have no tangible basis for an effective pitch letter.

Your Pitch Letter Must be About Them, Not You. Your targeted decision-makers receive scores of pitch letters and phone solicitations from your competitors. Nearly all of those firms will mistakenly talk about themselves, and what they’ve done for their clients. But the only thing that’s of interest to prospects is what you can do for them. So you need to first let prospects know that you understand their problem / opportunity (because you’ve done proper research), and then offer to share your ideas on that topic. (Yes…you’ll need to have some ideas to offer.)

Grabbing Their Attention is Goal #1. Using email, your pitch letter will not be read unless you incent the target to open it. This is no easy task, given the volume of email most decision-makers receive every day. Your subject line should be serious, rather than cute or clever, and should generate some curiosity. Also try to mention the name of the target company in your subject line, so that it’s not discounted as a canned letter or mass mailing. You should also consider mailing a hard copy pitch letter, in addition to, or in lieu of an email pitch. These days, a hard copy letter is more likely to be noticed than an email.

Stop Selling and Start Listening. The only goal of your pitch letter is to start a conversation, ideally face-to-face. This is your opportunity to discuss the target’s issues and your ideas. Sometimes you’ll miss the mark, sometimes you will nail it, and sometimes they’ll have a need or problem that’s unrelated to the one you’ve identified. If you ask smart questions, take notes, and focus on understanding their business and personal circumstances (instead of seeking to walk out with a signed contract), you’ll establish the foundation for a relationship that might lead to revenue at some point.

View Selling as a Numbers Game. Timing is every in life, including business development. You can research a great target, identify their problem or opportunity, and be in a position to add value, but for 100 different reasons (unrelated to you or your pitch), the prospect is not willing, able or ready to engage you. So the only way you can address the random nature of sales is to increase the number of doors that you knock on. If you’re serious about leveraging the power of pitch letters, you’ll need to send them out on a consistent, disciplined basis. Think of your program simply as a long-term seed-sewing process, and shoot to send out 3-5 pitch letters every week. Over time, you’ll see tangible results.

There are many more tactical aspects involved in the art of pitch letters – what content to include and avoid, which individual to solicit, what attachments to include, how to monitor and follow-up, etc. – to cover in a single blog post. But simply getting started, and establishing a pitch letter routine are the two most critical steps.

What’s presented here, combined with overcoming a fear of failure, is all you’ll need to get started on the path to building your business through pitch letters. Happy hunting.

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What the US Marines Can Teach Your B2B Firm about Marketing and Sales

Every Marine a Rifleman

Every Marine a Rifleman

“Every Marine a Rifleman” is a basic tenet of the US Marine Corps.  At boot camp, every marine receives training in marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat and teamwork. Regardless of how (s)he ends up serving in the Corps – as a mechanic, lawyer, clerk, pilot, dentist or pastry chef – every marine is prepared and expected to apply their combat training whenever it’s required. That rifleman commitment serves as a tactical cornerstone of the Marine Corps’ Semper Fi (“Always Loyal”) motto.

B2B companies – professional service firms in particular – can benefit by creating a culture similar to the Marine Corps; training all employees with basic marketing & sales skills that can help the firm to grow and succeed. “Every Employee a Sales Rep” should be fully ingrained across a company’s work force, from the front desk to the corner office.

Many B2B firms – in legal, accounting, financial services and consulting disciplines – employ at least one rainmaker, typically a founding member, who brings in the lion’s share of new business. But that “outside / inside guy” dynamic puts a company at risk, because rainmakers can depart unexpectedly (by choice or by ambulance), and the firm’s growth rate is always limited by their energy, motivation and availability.  More importantly, this business model fails to leverage a firm’s “inside guys,” whose individual and collective business relationships, skills, experience and credibility should be harnessed to drive consistent revenue growth and to scale the operation.

Regardless of their title, job description or capacity to work the room at a social event, every B2B executive should be given training, tools and ongoing support that empowers them to:

  • Manage Their Personal Brand – Clients hire individuals, rather than a firm, to help them. To showcase their credentials, every account practitioner should maintain a complete and up-to-date biographical profile on the company’s website and on LinkedIn. To expand their visibility, they should also participate in at least one activity unrelated to employment, whether  that’s membership in the local chapter of a professional trade association, their daughter’s soccer team, or a fly fishing club.
  • Articulate the Firm’s Value Proposition – Many employees, even at the senior level, do not have a clear understanding of what makes their firm different from the competition, and are at a loss to provide a compelling      reason why someone should engage them. Like a good marine, every employee should know their firm’s “elevator pitch,” and be prepared to recite it whenever someone asks, “So…who do you work for?”
  • Nurture Their Professional Network – Every practitioner has a network of current and former clients, associates in other disciplines, friends, relatives, neighbors and individuals they’ve met at conferences or social events.  Business contacts are often included in the firm’s CRM system, and may receive quarterly newsletters or other communications issued by the company. But account practitioners should also maintain direct and regular contact with their entire personal network in order to nurture and expand those relationships, because referrals are driven by casting a wide net.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness – The marketing challenge for most B2B firms is making the short list of candidates called in for an assignment. To increase their odds of getting that call, firms must constantly sow seeds with clients, prospects and referral sources, driving top-of-mind awareness regarding the firm’s capabilities and credentials. Every practitioner should play an active role in that process by generating relevant content – in the form of blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, industry updates, slide presentations, etc. – that can be merchandised by the firm to keep the firm in play.
  • Sell Intrinsically – Because “inside guys” embody the firm’s intellectual capital and deliver its services and solutions, they are best prepared to demonstrate to prospects and clients the firm’s capacity to add value, which is its most powerful sales tactic. Intrinsic (or “consultative”) selling is what converts prospects to clients, and not including account practitioners in the sales presentation process can handicap a firm’s growth potential.
  • Seek Cross-Selling Opportunities – The professional practitioner assigned to an account is the steward of that relationship. As a trusted advisor, the practitioner has an in-depth understanding of each client’s current needs, as well as insight into what additional services might be of value. Based on that 360° perspective, the account practitioner is in the strongest position to recommend new services or an expansion of existing work. But many practitioners fear this solicitation will compromise their professionalism, or put the client relationship at risk. Both of those obstacles to increasing account penetration can be addressed with proper tools and training.
  • Ask for Referrals – This is a tough task for most account practitioners.  However, if they’ve nurtured their network, gained confidence by learning how to cross-sell to existing clients, and have rehearsed the referral request process, then practitioners can make this a painless routine.

“Every Employee a Sales Rep” will not be achieved simply by establishing firm-wide mandates. The program must be driven by internal disciplines – consisting of written guidelines, worksheets and in-house training – that provide employees with proper guidance, support, feedback and motivation. Combined with a senior-level commitment to change the culture, and firm-wide acknowledgement that the transformation will be difficult, your B2B company can greatly enhance its sales and marketing capability. Semper Fi.

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The Power of Insulting Customers: Confessions of a Vacuum Cleaner Sales Rep

The Rolls Royce of Vacuum Cleaners

My connection with advertising legend David Ogilvy is that, early in our careers, we both sold consumer appliances door-to-door. Long before he founded Ogilvy & Mather in 1949, and following a short-lived career as a chef in Paris, David Ogilvy sold AGA cooking stoves to housewives in Scotland. Long before I founded Highlander Consulting, as a college student seeking money for gas and beer, I sold Fairfax vacuum cleaners to housewives in Connecticut.

Ogilvy claimed his door-to-door sales experience provided insights into the mind of the consumer that earned him acclaim as an advertising wizard. I credit my door-to-door experience with an appreciation for the power of insulting people as a sales tactic.

Created long before Star Wars, Fairfax vacuums looked like R2-D2, were priced at several hundred dollars and equipped with a motor so powerful it could nearly – to borrow a phrase – suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. Although my recollection of how I first became associated with the Fairfax Company remains fuzzy, I can recall every detail of my first home demonstration, given to an unsuspecting housewife by my sales trainer, a seasoned vacuum cleaner salesman straight from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Here’s a replay of our sales visit:

Sales Trainer:    Thank you, Mrs. Jones, for allowing us to demonstrate the power of the Fairfax vacuum. Before I do that, would you kindly show me the vacuum cleaner you’re currently using to clean your beautiful house?

[Mrs. Jones brings her vacuum out of the closet. The Sales Trainer plugs it in and then pulls out a glass jar full of dirt, hair, dust balls and other unpleasant items.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

Sales Trainer:      Now I don’t want you to be upset, Mrs. Jones, I assure you that no permanent damage will be done to your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I’m not sure that…

[The Sales Trainer opens the top of the glass jar, and dumps the entire mess on to a portion of the rug.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

[The Sales Trainer smiles at Mrs. Jones while he steps into the pile of dirt and grinds it into her rug with his foot.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Visibly upset.] Oh, my!!! How will I ever get that dirt out…

Sales Trainer:      Let’s see how well your vacuum cleaner handles this mess.

[The Sales Trainer vigorously vacuums the rug for several minutes with Mrs. Jones’ vacuum until no dirt is visible and the rug’s original appearance is restored. Mrs. Jones now appears more relaxed.]

Sales Trainer:      Would you say that this area of your rug is clean now, Mrs. Jones? Why don’t you get down and take a closer look, to check for any dirt?

[Mrs. Jones reluctantly agrees, bends over to take a closer look and runs her hand over the carpet.]

Mrs. Jones:         You seem to have gotten all of the dirt out. You really scared me for a moment.

Sales Trainer:      Well, let me give it a couple more passes with your vacuum, just to be sure it’s clean.

[The Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the area again. Mrs. Jones looks at me.  I look down at the floor until he stops the vacuum…The Sales Trainer sits down and directs Mrs. Jones’ attention to his new Fairfax vacuum which features a clear plastic fitting in the middle of the hose (for demo purposes only) containing a white, porous paper filter designed to collect any dirt before it enters the vacuum canister.]

Sales Trainer:      As you can see Mrs. Jones, my Fairfax vacuum is equipped with a special paper filter that will show us how much dirt is being collected. So let’s go back over that spot we just cleaned with your vacuum.

[With great fanfare, the Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the rug. As he does, he points to the white filter in the hose, which immediately begins to collect debris and turn black in color. Mrs. Jones stares at the filter. She looks quickly at the Sales Trainer, then at me, and begins to mutter something to herself as the Sales Trainer shuts down the Fairfax.]

Mrs. Jones:         That’s amazing…I never…

Sales Trainer:      As you can see, Mrs. Jones, your vacuum appears to have missed quite a bit of dirt and debris that was in your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         It certainly did.

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…may I ask you a personal question?

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I guess so…

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…Do you care about the health and safety of your family?

Mrs. Jones:         Why, of course I…

Sales Trainer:      Mr. Jones…Is this really the way you want your family to live…[long pause as he points to the black filter on the hose]…in a dirty, germ-filled house?

[Having just suggested that Mrs. Jones is an unfit housekeeper, she is clearly shaken and unable to respond. She looks at the Sales Trainer, and then at me. Expecting the worst, I shuffle my feet, planning a rapid retreat from the house. The Sales Trainer remains frozen in position, during a very long silence, staring at Mrs. Jones, waiting for her to answer his question.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Clearing her throat.] How much will your Fairfax vacuum cleaner cost me?

[The tension in the room evaporates. The Sales Trainer sits down, pulls out a contract from his valise, and proceeds to sell Mrs. Jones a new Fairfax vacuum.]

My tenure as a Fairfax vacuum sales rep was short-lived and highly unsuccessful, never having found the courage to ask Connecticut housewives the insulting question that would initiate a sale. However, to this day I continue to apply the important lessons in sales craftsmanship taught to me by my Fairfax vacuum sales trainer:

  • Know what’s important to your customer.
  • Be straightforward in pointing out a problem (or opportunity.)
  • Demonstrate a viable solution.

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Sales Tips from PR Legend Lee Levitt

Lee Levitt, sans fedora and shoulder bag

Lee Levitt, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 80, continues to be remembered as a PR practitioner who gave much to the profession; as someone who lived up to his characterization as an industry visionary.

Paging through Lee’s “Manual of PR Sales Strategy & Tactics,” the insights he  offers are as relevant today as when he wrote them in 1992, and apply across all professional service disciplines, not just PR. Here are a few Levitt gems:

  • “What most managements want to buy today is the accomplishment of specific substantive corporate / institutional goals… So that is what you must sell. You cannot simply come in and enumerate the skills you have, the technical things you can do. You must explain how applying them will solve some substantive problem or take advantage of some substantive opportunity.”
  • “Telling people that you are going to counsel them can make you seem presumptuous and arrogant. No matter how diplomatically you put it, you seem to be saying that management is dumb and benighted, while you are smart and enlightened.”
  • “What prospects really want to hear about is themselves. They want you to tell them about themselves in exactly the same words they use… And they want you to want their business and be enthusiastic about it.”
  • “Never criticize what the prospect has done in the past. Let the prospect tell you what went wrong and whose fault it was… If asked if you could have done better, say you hope so.”
  • “Most salespeople believe it is their job to talk, and up to a certain point that is true. But once the prospect is primed to talk, it is your job to shut up and listen. Some salespeople never learn this.”

If you can find a copy of Lee’s book, buy it and read it. If you have a copy on your bookshelf, pull it out and re-read it. But don’t ask to borrow my copy, because it’s not going anywhere.

Lee Levitt embodied craftsmanship in public relations, and left a lifetime of wisdom for those who follow in his footsteps.

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