Is there money hiding in your data?

Data. It’s everywhere, but how much of it is useful or relevant? How do you sort through the bits to get to the byte?

Is your data up-to-date? Have you identified patterns that could lead to more predictive outcomes for your sales or marketing process?

Nonprofits face a unique challenge in working with their data. Typically, they have a lot of it but putting it to work can be a challenge for a number of reasons (difficult to manage databases, underresourced staff, etc.).

GivingData Insight & Analytics, an operating brand of Capacity Flux focused on the nonprofit sector, recently published a white paper looking at five key areas of data mining that can drive more revenue for nonprofit charities.

Read the white paper here: https://thegivingdata.com/white-paper-is-there-money-hiding-in-your-data/

5 Tips to Avoid the Summer Sales Slowdown

Now that the good weather is in full bloom a lot of organizations experience a summer sales slowdown in their pipeline development. When the good weather is here it can sometimes be harder to get ahold of the people you need to reach because they’re not picking up their phones, checking their email or looking at your LinkedIn connect request.

Thanks for your email but I am currently out-of-office and won’t be checking email for the next 10 days…

Does this kind of email response look familiar? If so you are likely experiencing the autoresponder blues?

First off, don’t panic. Sales is cyclical and if things are slowing down for you in summer then it’s likely a normal part of the sales cadence for your industry. Here are five tips to give you a framework for dealing with the summer sales slow down.

1 – Revisit your goals
Sales Managers need to rally the troops when things slow down to keep the positive vibe flowing through the sales team. Take the time to find innovative ways to motivate your team. Maybe you could have the sales management team serve an early morning breakfast for the sales team to show the love. Or maybe it’s a trip to the ballpark to see an afternoon game. Let your team know you appreciate everything they are doing to keep momentum going in the slow summer months.

For sales reps look for inspiration and motivation by focusing on activity goals that you can actually achieve. Maybe it means doing those tasks you have been putting off for months. Take the time to speak with your team to find out if there’s anything you can do for your customers that isn’t directly sales related. Find a way to show your customers love by sending them updates on your company/product/etc. Or, send out marketing collateral that your customers will find relevant and interesting. Make yourself invaluable by being the resource that doesn’t quit.

2 – Determine if your contact is on vacation or simply ignoring you
If your customers aren’t getting back to you it could mean they’re not in the office, that they’re not focused on making a decision right now, or that they simply don’t have the time to get back to you. It’s important to not assume that they’re on vacation. Just because business is slow for you right now doesn’t mean it is for your customers. Take the time to find out and adjust your strategy and messaging accordingly. Keep track of that in your CRM because the intel you uncover is priceless. Inject some personality into your messaging to build a connection with your customers.

3 – Prospect
Just because you’re not closing deals in summer doesn’t mean you can’t find new opportunities to fill the pipeline. The key to predictable revenue is consistency, so be consistent. Find new customers by using the slowdown in activity to take the time to research prospects and develop a plan for outreach that adds good opportunities to the top of your funnel. Maybe it’s time to revisit that lapsed customer list, or that “not right now” list you have been meaning to get back to. There could be gold hiding out right in front of you. Go get it!

4 – Find other ways to drive revenue
If your customers aren’t buying but you can still connect with them why not ask them for a referral? Chances are they know someone that could your product or service and there’s no better time to ask for a referral then now. Another strategy worth pursuing is cross-selling or upselling. Go deep into the account to find opportunities within your customer’s organization. Other departments might have different requirements or timetables so don’t be shy about asking for your contact for an internal referral.

5 – Be resourceful
It’s better to be helpful than a pest, so if your customer is on vacation why not reach out to others in the company to add value to your current relationship. Send a webinar invite to your customer’s marketing team might that they might find interesting. Share industry research that’s relevant and timely, or invite people to an event your company is hosting. Remember that ball game your sales manager is taking you to? Why not bring along a customer or prospect and take the time to build a relationship? After all, isn’t that why we’re in sales?

Don’t let the summer slowdown bring you down. Find ways to stay focused, be positive and add value to your customer relationships. Now go and enjoy the sun!

Discovering Buyer Personas with AI

AI is a very trendy buzzword in the tech space right now. Advancements in artificial intelligence, or what I prefer to call assisted intelligence, are happening at an exponential rate, and as with any new technology there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what AI means, and more importantly how you can actually use it to improve your business.

Would you like to know more about your own customer data? How many companies have been hearing the hype around ‘big data’ for years, but still have yet to figure out how to discover insight into their own data?

Data on its own isn’t much–it’s just 1s and 0s. Things start to get interesting when you enrich that data with other data points that add context to the sea of unorganized information. If you want to know more about your customers, start by asking how they align with the buyer personas your marketing team uses to attract them in the first place.

AI can help you to better understand your customers, and what motivates them to take action as they move along the Buyer’s Journey.

If you are interested in learning more about AI, and how it can benefit your business register for our upcoming webinar delivered with our partners at Hydra.ai that will explore Discovering Buyers Personas with AI.

It’s happening on Friday May 25 at 10am PT, and it’s free!

 

Sales Software 2.0 – Conversational Sales and Intelligent Bots

Stop reading email, and start having conversations with your customers

Sales 2.0; Inbound Marketing/Inbound Sales; Sales Enablement; Cold Calling is Dead. Long live Cold Calling 2.0—you’ve heard the hype. Some of it’s true. Sales has indeed changed a great deal in a short amount of time. What’s also interesting about all the fuss around the ‘new sales model’ is that, well, there’s a lot of noise, and cutting through the clatter to get to the heart of the message can be a challenge.

Take sales software for instance. What new tools do sales reps actually use to get their job done more effectively. Salesforce would love you to say Salesforce, but the reality is reps like to spend as little time in, on or around Salesforce (sorry Marc it’s true). I could posit many reasons why that is, but the reality is that sales reps want to spend their time engaging and interacting with customers. Updating Salesforce with the bare minimum of information to keep their bosses happy is what most reps do, but the cloud based CRM is not a primary tool that most reps use to get their jobs done.

How to be successful in sales

Ask a successful sales rep what makes them effective in their job, and odds are they’re going to mention that being a good listener counts; or understanding the customer’s requirements is critical; and, of course being a trusted advisor to their customers is key. It’s a relationship based interaction. Ironically, the ‘R’ in CRM is often the one component that gets forgotten as companies scale.

LinkedIn, Twitter, email, phone calls—these are the tools that enable reps to build relationships with customers IRL. I’d add one more tool the list—AI-powered live chat because as most reps will acknowledge timing is also part of being successful.

Website chat has rapidly evolved, from a somewhat awkward integration that felt like more an intrusion on the customer’s journey, to something much more useful. The integration of artificial or assisted intelligence is something that makes chat really, ah, come to life.

As companies allocate more resources towards inbound marketing (thanks Hubspot), it only makes sense to engage the customer as quickly as possible once they’ve visited your website, and what could be more helpful than a friendly chat bot on your company site? Let me qualify that, a friendly and intelligent chat bot on your website.

As radical as this sounds, don’t make your customers fill out forms on your website. It may seem like a good idea because that’s how inbound works, but we’ve been asking customers to do that for 20 years, and arguably it’s a tired way of capturing customer intent. If I’m on your website now and I’m interested in getting some info about a product or service, don’t make me fill out a form, and wait for a response.

Enable your customers to engage with you in real-time. Stop reading email, and start having conversations with your customers. I know it sounds a little ‘out there’, but it wasn’t that long ago when inbound marketing made a lot of marketers uncomfortable.

If you’d like to learn how your business can take advantage of this technology use chat us up (see the bottom right of this screen).

Sales Enablement Best Practices

Top 5 Sales Enablement Best Practices for SME Business

If you are in a sales leadership role you are most definitely a busy person these days. You’ve likely spent the past few months reviewing your department’s annual performance with an eye to next year as you develop corporate strategy and revenue projections. Of course, there’s also the matter of year-end, something that demands exponentially more attention as we approach the 31st of December, which happens to be a Sunday this year, but of course, you already knew that.

As you diligently Cratchit-away the remaining days in the quarter and year, you can be forgiven for not giving your 2018 plans your full and undivided attention. But, come January, when thoughts of sugar plum fairies have already faded, you will be fully engaged in the next fiscal, and the challenge of how to increase your team’s performance and efficiency will be unavoidable. If you are thinking about the content, tools and training your team will require to be more effective then you’re thinking about sales enablement.

If the phrase ‘sales enablement’ is a little unfamiliar then don’t worry because it hasn’t hit peak-hype yet, which means that if you’re reading this article you should give yourself a pat on the back because your business acumen and good instincts are second to none.

“Sales enablement is the technology, processes, and content that empower sales teams to sell efficiently at a higher velocity.”

Hubspot’s definition of sales enablement captures the essence of the activity in its simplest form: “Sales enablement is the technology, processes, and content that empower sales teams to sell efficiently at a higher velocity.”

Start thinking of sales enablement as an overall strategy rather than a quick fix, one-size-fits-all training session. It’s a process that you should engage in continuously because it is something that is never done.

CapacityFlux has put together this list of the top five sales enablement best practices to help you prepare for the New Year. The intent is to get you off and running with an effective sales enablement strategy and practice for 2018.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #1 – Make the buyer’s experience central to your sales enablement strategy

The most effective thing you can do as a manager is to consider how your sales and marketing activities map to the buyer’s journey. Sales enablement is all about addressing the customer or buyer’s requirements.

It’s no secret that the internet has changed how customers purchase today. Once a customer has identified an issue they turn to the internet and begin researching that problem, inevitably stumbling upon content that validates their issue and provides potential solutions. This is the premise of inbound marketing, and again, you shouldn’t be surprised that sales enablement and inbound marketing are closely linked.

Providing your sales team with access to relevant resources that buyers are looking for is critical. If you know who your customer is, and where they are on the buyer’s journey then you will also have a good idea of when the customer will want access to information that is relevant to their progressive journey through your sales funnel.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #2 – Understand and Map Your Customer Touchpoints

Think of every opportunity a customer has to interact with your business—there are probably quite a few. Think about how they might discover your brand. Did they look you up because they just suddenly knew who you were? Nope. They did some googling and discovered your company for a reason, probably because your content marketing is working. Now think about all the other ways a customer could discover your business: social media, phone calls, trade shows, email correspondence, newsletters, conferences, webinars, white papers, case studies—you get the idea. Those touchpoints represent all your customer touchpoints. Now map that out.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #3 – Connect Customer Touchpoints to Content Throughout the Buyer’s Journey

Does marketing or sales own the customer touchpoint for a case study? The answer may depend on which stage the customer is at in the buyer’s journey. A white paper discussing the relevant challenges of an industry use-case, distributed across social media channels might attract a customer during the awareness phase, but a more specific customer case study supplied in an email interaction with a helpful sales rep might be what’s required during the consideration phase of the buyer’s journey.

Or, if the customer’s problem is complex, and they spend a lot of time in the consideration or evaluation stage you may find reasons for providing more educational content that helps them decide if your product or service is the right fit.

Knowing how and when customers interact with your content will greatly improve its effectiveness. This, in turn, will also help you stand out from the sea of vendors that are literally throwing content at their customers in the hope that some of it will stick. Remember, hope is not a strategy.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #4 – Ruthlessly Qualify Your Leads

If you haven’t read my post on lead qualification I recommend you do. Better lead qualification can significantly improve your sales team’s performance and efficiency. Understand your ideal customer, realized in your buyer personas, and start categorizing and qualifying leads against those personas. Do not invest time in selling to prospects that are not ready to buy, or that do not fit your ideal customer profile. If you aggressively qualify leads it will save your company time and money, because you won’t waste resources chasing down customers that are a bad fit.

Sales Enablement Best Practice #5 – Get Technology Out of the Way

Don’t let technology roadblock your success. It’s tempting to look at the ‘shiny new thing’ and hope it’s going to help you hit your number, but before investing time and effort on a new system consider providing training on the tools and process you already have in place. Effective sales enablement seeks to remove roadblocks and improve efficiencies.

Technology is a double-edged sword. It enables us to do so much more, whether it’s being more efficient or increasing the impact of our efforts, but it can also become a barrier to success if the product or platform itself becomes the raison-d’être rather than the solution to a problem it is ultimately intended to deliver.

A familiar example of a massive potential tech roadblock is your CRM. Customer Relationship Management technology manages your company’s customer relationships and interactions, and it’s a critical requirement for any business today. Tools such as Salesforce, Hubspot or Pipedrive all include a CRM as a component of their platforms.

However, as you will quickly discover, the CRM is just one small part of a much more complex set of tools. The why’s of low consumption/adoption rates is a topic for another post, but the root of frustration for so many sales reps is often the convoluted and onerous process that builds up around the function of using and maintaining a CRM.

Knowing the consumption rates of the tools in your toolbox will help you understand where your sales force spends its time. Check out the login rates on your CRM. Odds are it’s lower than you think. I know a lot of sales people that hate using their CRM and only interact with it when they have to. The likelihood of success of your sales enablement strategy will be greatly impacted if it is designed around a CRM that nobody uses.

new-years-eve-2776646_960_720These sales enablement best practices are designed to help you focus on activities that will contribute the most value to your sales activity in the coming months. You may already be following some of these best practices without knowing it, and if not there’s still time to get your team ready for the next fiscal.

Best of luck in 2018!

Singapore Roadracing to Vidyard Partnerships

Building Relationships Creatively with Radical Transparency

This is Part 2 in my interview with Marcus Jung, Partner Manager at Vidyard. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.

Partnerships is still selling, but it’s about communicating the value of winning together. Partnerships are critical for any startup.

Marcus’ role with Vidyard is a new one for him. He has always focused on building partnerships with his clients, but now it’s the focus of his job. “Partnerships is still selling, but it’s about communicating the value of winning together. Partnerships are critical for any startup. If we are going to hit our growth targets we can’t only do it as a direct sales team. It means we have to build programs that enable technology, agency, and distribution partners to be on our side when we’re speaking with customers. That’s what I manage.”

Having worked on the partner ecosystem team at Hootsuite, I’m familiar with the impact a strong and values-based partner program can have on brands and product. In today’s SaaS software world partnerships enable stand-alone products to compete with full-stack solutions, offering the customer a range of additional functionality to simplify workflows and improve efficiency.

Marcus is focused on building strong partnerships that leverage Vidyard’s brand recognition. “When we speaking with potential partners we have to come to the table with something that will help the other party,” he says. “We want to give them tools to sell more of what they do. We have to make them sticky.”

I discovered that a competitor was working the same deal, so I cold-called [them]…

If your responsible for technology, reseller or channel partnerships you should know that you can sometimes run into challenges that are somewhat unavoidable. Marcus agrees, “internal conflict is the biggest challenge we run into. There’s a natural tension and reps don’t always trust that partnerships are going to benefit them.”

He continues, “there’s an extra layer of complexity when partners are involved. You need to find a way to work together, a mutually beneficial way to work together, and sometimes it can be a major hurdle to figure out what that thing is. What’s interesting about Vidyard is that we can coexist with our competitors. Someone on the outside might see one of our partners as a direct competitor, but everyone has an edge somewhere, and we strive to find a way to work together.”

To illustrate, Marcus tells me a story of how he took a different approach when he was trying to close a deal with a customer. “I discovered that a competitor was working the same deal, so I cold-called the competitor, and said ‘hey, we’re both in this account, and here are my notes.’ I shared all the other people I had connected with in the account. Then I said, “I think we can with this together,’ and in short we became partners and we won the deal together.”

Partnering can shorten the deal cycle dramatically.

That’s a pretty confident thing to do, and I can just imagine sales manager reading this and panicking about any of their reps using this approach, but it does show the power in partnering. Marcus continues, “partnering can shorten the deal cycle dramatically. In this case, we shared budget numbers, figured out how we could both get what we wanted out of the deal and presented our solution to the customer. It worked and more importantly we shortened the deal cycle to a week.”

Sharing info is something a lot of old-school managers don’t want you doing, but in the world of SaaS, it’s almost necessary. Marcus is a big fan of his current boss. “She’s the greatest. She’s remote, and sometimes remote bosses can be challenging, but she’s fantastic. She’s a magician because she’s always there when you need her and she’s always supportive. She listens to me and really hears my ideas, and she knows how to motivate me and the rest of her team. The best thing is that she trusts you, and lets you do your thing.”

So how would she respond to Marcus’s radical transparency approach? “Sometimes you have to take the chance. It’s a high-risk game though. It can blow up on you. With partnerships, its a trust exercise. You learn quickly who can you trust. If it’s not a huge corporate risk, I think it’s a risk worth taking. I’ve had it succeed more times than its failed.”

Every vendor in our space was already wining and dining him, and there wasn’t anything we could do that was going to impress him.

Speaking of high-risk activities, we should probably get to the story of the car race challenge. Marcus had re-located to Hootsuite’s Asia HQ in Singapore, and had set himself a personal goal of owning the logos dotting Singapore’s incredible skyline.

He explains, “I was trying to find my way into one of the largest bank accounts in Asia, who’s HQ is in Singapore. I was very persistent, and one day I did manage to connect with the right VP at the bank. He was really transparent with me, saying that every vendor in our space was already wining and dining him, and there wasn’t anything we could do that was going to impress him.”

He continues, “so I thought about this for a moment, and then I went to work. I did some research on the prospect. I discovered that he is a big car junkie. He loves cars, he collects them. He races them. He writes about them on blogs and social media. So I got back in touch and said, ‘I bet you’ve never been challenged to a race before.’ He responded immediately, saying ‘when and where?’

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my sales career is to find a way to immediately differentiate yourself. Be different, but in a smart way.

This story is awesome in so many ways, and it demonstrates the power of making yourself relevant and unforgettable. Marcus explains that he was “looking for something to humanize me with the prospect. I had to find something that he is passionate about, and find a way to connect. People remember how you make them feel. In the case of the bank, my customer had never been challenged to a race—and race we did. Of course he destroyed me, but more importantly, I broke through. I built a human relationship, and he is still someone I speak with to this day.”

From affiliate marketing to social media to personalized video communications, Marcus Jung is someone you can always count on for a great story, and a killer close rate. I’ll leave the final word to Marcus: “the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my sales career is to find a way to immediately differentiate yourself. Be different, but in a smart way.”

The Challenger Sales Model With a Twist

Connecting, Human-to-Human in Customer Interactions

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve done to get a customer to notice you?

Have you ever challenged someone to a car race? This week I sit down with Marcus Jung, Vidyard’s Partner Manager. I’m pleased to share some of his great stories, ones that will provide you with insight into his talent for finding unique ways to stand out in his customer’s mind.

 

Marcus Jung, Vidyard Partner Manager
Marcus Jung, Vidyard Partner Manager

 

My original career path was going to take me into Hotel and Hospitality Management.

When you meet Marcus, whether that’s in person or on the phone, one thing becomes immediately clear—he’s a naturally gifted storyteller. He also loves board games. Actually, games of any kind. And, he loves to share. He’s going to cozy up to you as you get to know each other.

His manner, while direct, doesn’t manage to offend, because somehow he puts you at ease while getting up-close-and-personal, metaphorically speaking of course. Marcus has worked in the tech sector, and primarily at startups for the past eight years. When I asked him how he got into sales he naturally has an interesting story to share about co-op interview day.

“My original career path was going to take me into Hotel and Hospitality Management,” he explains. “My school program included a co-op placement, and because I was late handing in an assignment I missed the opportunity to study the placement opportunities. When I showed up at school on co-op interview day I had to scramble to find an available spot. I kind of crowd-sourced my choice by reviewing which companies were generating the most interest with the student body.”

I won janken and got the last co-op interview spot… that interview completely changed my career path.

He continues, “I went to put my name down under the company that seemed to be generating a lot of interest, and as I did that I literally crossed pens with another guy vying for the last interview spot. We both wanted it, so it was only fair that we janken for it.”

rock-paper-scissors-156171_960_720If you’re not familiar with Janken it is Japanese for Rock Paper Scissors. Saisho wa guu—janken pon! While kids play Rock Paper Scissors, Janken is a serious conflict resolution tool widely used in Japan to settle disputes, or to make decisions.

“I won janken and got the last co-op interview spot, and that interview completely changed my career path. The job placement was with an affiliate marketing network for dating sites. The company had one rule—no porn in the referrals. Since I was the intern, it was my job to search for porn in any of the search results for advertisers. My job forced me to watch porn.”

 

I had all this porn open on my computer, and all the pop-ups started coming up and going crazy, and I panicked!

 

“My first week on the job I was walking down the hallway at work and the CEO of the company was walking the other way towards me. Because of my job, I had all this porn open on my computer, and all the pop-ups started coming up and going crazy, and I panicked! It just didn’t feel right. It definitely felt like it was a hazing process. Thankfully it wasn’t long until I moved from compliance to data tracking, which is where we tracked which ads worked best. I worked there for a year.”

Working on the data tracking team provided Marcus with on-the-job training in the power of data, and it ultimately set him up for future success in his sales career. “I was 25 when I started working in enterprise sales,” says Marcus. “I was talking with big companies, Fortune 500 companies, and I was speaking with very smart people. I looked around at the other reps, and I knew that I didn’t have the sales experience of more seasoned salespeople. But I knew I could be different.”

​Cold-calling sucks for everyone involved, but I’ll do it because it can work.

Marcus believes that email is still the best channel for communication with a prospect. “I still cold-call but I prefer email. Cold-calling sucks for everyone involved, but I’ll do it because it can work.” He explains his approach to email, “I strive to be more personal in my outreach. I try to be human. I try to inject humanism into my email and messages, but I also take a heavy data approach to targeting my leads. I learned that from affiliate marketing days. When you combine those two things, statistics and personality, it’s being different but it’s also being smart.”

Being personal with your customer only really works well when you’re authentically interested in building a relationship. Marcus agrees, “customers are fiercely educated and knowledgeable today—they know what they’re getting into. They know the competition. It’s really hard to bullshit. They will call you out on it immediately. It’s a good thing.”

People are always looking for a new and innovative ways to communicate with people.

Working for Vidyard, Marcus has first-hand experience with the impact new communications tools can bring to customer engagements. “People are always looking for new and innovative ways to communicate with people,” he says. “Things are cyclical. Cold-calling is dying, or nearly dead. Highly personalized email was a new thing until it wasn’t. Social selling became a thing. Then it was abused. Buyers are savvy. Sellers abuse the channels more than they should until the next thing comes along.”

When I ask Marcus which tools he absolutely needs to do his job he responds without hesitation, “email. It can be either Outlook or Gmail. A phone. That’s all I need. I could live without a CRM. I like using SalesLoft for cadence. It organizes your templates and tells you when to follow-up with a prospect, which is helpful when you’re working a lot of deals. One of the big challenges in sales, because it’s still a largely a numbers game, is remembering what happened on your 3rd or 4th follow-up. SalesLoft helps you position where you are in the cycle with a particular customer.” And finally, his secret weapon: “a cup of coffee. Meeting in-person is still great.”

“The cool thing about video though,” he continues, “and in particular about Vidyard, is that it’s a really great way to cut through the noise. It’s something that stands out and enables you to connect. Video is here to stay.”

Next week we get the full story of how the car race challenge went down. Here’s a sneak peak: ‘I bet you’ve never been challenged to a race before.’ He responded immediately, saying ‘when and where?’

Read Part 2 in this interview with Marcus Jung here.

STIR Demo Day in Vancouver

British Columbia Startup-in-Residence Program

I had the opportunity to attend Demo Day for the inaugural cohort of BC STIR companies in Vancouver. If you’re not familiar with STIR it stands for Startup in Residence program originally conceived in San Francisco as a means of transforming government through entrepreneurship. STIR is a 16-week residency program designed to create effective and impactful public-private partnerships.

Resident companies work closely with their government sponsor departments to co-develop a solution that addresses the specific requirements of each department and its mission. The goal is to develop customized tools that fit their unique problems, along with an opportunity for startups to learn how to provide products that can be easily adapted and scaled in a cost-effective and resource-efficient way.

Five BC tech companies formed the first BC STIR cohort: Arkit, Big Bang Analytics, Design + Environment / App-Scoop, Latero Labs, and Purpose Five. Each startup was paired with a government department and was tasked with co-developing a technological solution to a real-world problem encountered by each department.

The demos showed creative solutions that addressed challenges such as finding placement locations for children under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Latero Labs solution turned a process, that usually takes hours or even days to complete, into a 10 to 15-minute digital process.

Another innovative solution was delivered to the Ministry of Education by Big Bang Analytics, which developed a tool enabling school district staff across the province to have easy and flexible access to a comprehensive aggregate dataset of student educational performance. District administrators can compare their district’s educational performance to the provincial baseline, and identify at-risk students. A range of filters provide the ability to drill down on data points and ultimately result in the development of personalized student programs to ensure each at-risk student has access to programs and information that could enhance their chance of success in the education system.

I was impressed with the immediate real-world benefit of this residency program, and it was encouraging to hear both the public and private partners in the project rave about the opportunity to collaborate. STIR demonstrates that government can act quickly to solve issues when its staff members are empowered to work with innovative and nimble startup companies in the private sector. I look forward to future iterations of this program and the impact it will have on our community.

The Province of British Columbia is the first Canadian government sector organization to utilize the STIR methodology, and I look forward to the day when other regions adopt the principles of this program to solve their real-world challenges with innovative public-private partnerships. Government could use the injection of Startup Thinking, and the startups could use the experience and credibility a government partnership brings.

For more information on the BC STIR cohort visit BC Gov.

Can We Talk About Meetings?

Tips on getting a meeting with a propsect, but first can we talk about meetings

I vividly recall the day when Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes sent a company-wide memo letting his employees know that it was okay to leave any meeting that was no longer providing value, and this rule even applied to meetings with him. It was an interesting day.

This kind of policy change, while potentially challenging to old-school managers in love with ‘all hands on deck’ style of meeting, is likely music to the ears of most of us that have several daily or weekly meetings that, while informative, are not critical to their day-to-day job requirements.

Without a top-down mandate from your company CEO, missing a meeting, even if it is for good reason, can send a signal to your teammates that your time is more valuable than theirs. In egalitarian, flat organizations like startups this can definitely send the wrong message.

But, sometimes your time is more valuable, or precious than your workmates. Obviously, you can’t only prioritize your time above all others, otherwise, you will quickly find yourself isolated. However, if you’re working to deadline on a project, then an inconveniently timed inter-departmental meeting can play havoc with your ability to focus and deliver on objectives.

Meetings are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce.

Meetings are the bane of most employees, but the impact goes beyond simple disruption. They are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce. Meetings are sometimes necessary, but they are often a default response to dealing with a situation. With email and productivity tools like Slack, company intranets, Workplace by Facebook, and other communication channels, do you really need another meeting to deal with that small issue that has cropped up?

Think of that weekly hour-long departmental meeting we have all suffered through. The one where you feel your will to live slip away second-by-second. The one where the team gathers around a conference room table, some members joining remotely by teleconference, all suffering through a pointless meandering waste of time.

Meetings like this are a safety blanket for some managers (the team met to discuss blah blah blah, Check.), but they are a waste of everyone’s time. If you are tasked with running a meeting (because sometimes they are a necessary evil), set the bar by including an agenda with your meeting invite. It gives your team the opportunity to show up prepared and ready to contribute. If there’s no agenda, no structure, or no point, and you are simply meeting because you always meet every Tuesday—then you don’t need to meet!

If you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation.

bored faceThe corollary to my advice against the creation of unnecessary meetings is that if you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation. Is there anything more annoying than a colleague that shows up to a meeting, and doesn’t say a word, only to start complaining about everything discussed in the meeting the moment the meeting is over? It’s the equivalent of complaining about politics but then not exercising your franchise to vote. You don’t get a say if you don’t participate in the process.

Being accountable to your colleagues is critical in a startup. In fact, so much of the agile development model depends on simple stand-up meetings where each member reports on their progress and what they plan on completing each day.

 

Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges.

Developers and engineers that follow Scrum are familiar with the daily standup meeting. Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges. They encourage accountability, because a team member has only three things to report on:
1) What they did yesterday;
2) What they will do today;
3) Detail any roadblocks preventing code delivery.

When an engineer says “I will do this today,” they are making a commitment to the rest of the team that unless there’s an unexpected roadblock, the task they are working on will be delivered by the following day. That commitment and accountability is key. It’s the glue that keeps the team focused and delivering.

A related management methodology is the 1:1 meeting format. I’m a big fan of 1:1 meetings. If you’ve been involved with a startup, then odds are you’ll be familiar with this style of meeting. If not, it’s a simple meeting structure with a regular cadence that provides an opportunity for you to have a direct conversation with your direct reports on the tasks they are working on, the challenges or roadblocks they are encountering, or the goals they wish to work towards. For a good summary of the benefits of 1:1s check out Michael Wolfe’s post on Medium.

Good managers know how to stay out of the way of their high-functioning team members and instead focus their time on working with underperforming staff. For both contexts, weekly 1:1s are a great tool to check-in, while also providing opportunities for coaching. 1:1s also surface information quickly. You access information quickly and have a framework to act on something you’ve learned in a 1:1 with the rest of the team.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch. You can imagine how your request triggers a stress-induced facial tick that results in a firm ‘no.’ Plan your prospect meetings carefully.

In my experience, reaching out to a prospective customer to schedule time for that critical first meeting is a delicate request that requires finesse. Typically, I’ll deliver this request via email—we’re all overworked so don’t try to surprise a prospect with a call out of the blue to corner them into taking a meeting. My email will outline the nature of the request, the time commitment required and the intended outcome. I always give the prospect an out, but the ‘out’ is more of a delay than a firm no.

My email might go something like this:

Hi [Prospect Name],

Thank you for your interest in [whatever it is they are interested in]. Do you have 20 minutes for a quick call this week to discuss your requirements, so I can determine if our product is the right fit? If this week doesn’t work I’m available at the following times next week: [Time A], [Time B], [Time C].

Thanks for your interest in [Company Name or Product] and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

That’s it. Nine times out of ten this kind of message lands the meeting, and it’s a meeting you won’t want to miss.

Improve Sales Pipeline Performance

A Simple Strategy That Will Automatically Improve Your Close Rate

Would you sit up and pay attention if I said to you I could increase your close rate by a significant margin by focusing on doing one thing really well?

If you read that question and thought, ‘ya right, there’s never just one thing…’ you get extra points, but there is something that your sales organization can do that does contribute to better and more predictable pipeline—and it has to do with lead qualification.

HINT: It has to do with lead qualification.

Before we go too far down the road of qualification, let’s talk about the two kinds of leads you encounter in sales: MQLs and SQLs. MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) are leads that come in at the very top of the funnel, and they’re indicative of user interest in your content, but not necessarily predictive in terms of intent to buy. An MQL is created when a visitor provides their content information on a webform or indicates they want to learn more about something on your website.

The SQL (Sales Qualified Lead), or Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) is a lead that marketing has passed on to sales, and one that the sales team has vetted (vetting criteria will vary based on a company’s sales process), turning a general interest lead into a prospect lead, or simply prospect. Depending on your sales team’s level of sophistication, a business development rep or a sales associate may vet the lead.

The one thing you can do to improve your sales effectiveness is to brutally vet each and every lead that enters your pipeline.

The one thing you can do to improve your sales effectiveness is to brutally vet each and every lead that enters your pipeline. Sounds simple, right? In practice, it’s much harder to implement. Why? Because when someone shows interest in your product your sales team gets excited, and unless your team is methodically following sound qualification procedures you will find that your pipeline gets polluted with poor-quality leads.

You have a target market for a reason, so make sure your sales team is using the definition of an ideal customer—not just any customer—as the pass/fail bar in lead-vetting. Approach qualifying a customer with the same dedication that you put into qualifying a candidate employee. Better to part ways early than wait until the lead has progressed all the way down your sales pipeline, when you’ve spent countless hours working the deal, before cutting them loose.

This is probably the easiest way you can improve the effectiveness of your sales activity. When a poorly qualified lead gets turned into an opportunity, and somewhere down the line, the deal falls through—everyone involved will feel the pain of wasted time and resources. It’s frustrating, so try to minimize the number of times that happens.

Sales reps should expect that most leads will not be an ideal customer fit. They should look for reasons to disqualify them.

Finding customers that are a good fit for your product or service is critical, especially as you launch your business. Your early customers will become advocates for your brand. They are your partners. They will provide you with references and leads—so make sure you are finding the right kind of customer.

Sales reps should expect that most leads will not be an ideal customer fit. They should look for reasons to disqualify them. In my sales experience, telling a customer that I didn’t think they were ready to buy my product or suggesting that maybe they needed another solution actually helped me hit my quota. Why? Because I was able to focus my time on working qualified deals where the customer’s interest was aligned with the product I was selling.

When you’re upfront with a customer, and remove them from the funnel you are doing them a service. You are not selling them something they don’t need, and more importantly, you are removing a lead out of your pipeline that would have been 100% non-contributive.

Ultimately, lead qualification says volumes about your sales process.

What’s better, disqualifying a customer today doesn’t mean they’ll never become a customer. There’s a reason why that customer initially reached out. They may be genuinely interested in your product, but they may not be ready to buy today. It sounds counter-intuitive to turn away business, especially for a startup, but being radically transparent with a customer actually earns you their trust.

Ultimately, lead qualification comes down to your sales process. If your sales team relies on inbound leads to build pipeline, then you have to invest in a qualification process that ensures you have alignment with marketing leads, your product, and your sales process. Otherwise, you are wasting time and money.

I can’t stress the importance of lead qualification enough. If you are startup, lead qualification is table stakes. If your startup is on a growth trajectory then you need to effectively and efficiently drive revenue from every customer interaction you have. With the impact a sales team has on your company’s burn rate, you literally cannot waste time or money on bad leads—because you will go broke before earned revenue can offset the cost of your salesforce.