We all have to sell…What works for you?

March 28, 2011

In-depth, Public relations

Selling is the hardest part of being a communications consultant, isn't it? What works best for you?











This is the first part of an in-depth series on selling in the communications consulting world.

Some people won’t like this post. They’ll say it’s not something to talk about with potential “competitors.” Or that they don’t want to give away their “secret sauce.” But I don’t play that. It’s just not how I see it. I think we can all learn something from each other when it comes to tough topics — and selling is a tough topic.

When you say sales or selling, I cringe. I immediately think of some dude I’ve never seen before knocking at my door and rattling off the company line trying to tell me why I’ve gotta have the latest gizmo or gadget he’s pushing. Only thing I gotta do in that case is shut the front door.

But that’s not selling in the communications consulting world, is it? At least it shouldn’t be. Look, we all run or work for a business. We’ve got to make money to keep coming to work every day and to get to do what we love. We’ve got to sell. The conversation I keep having with myself and my colleagues almost daily is how to sell the right way. What does that look like? What’s the best strategy? What’s too pushy and what’s not pushy enough?

That said, here are a few approaches I’ve tried. They haven’t always worked by any means. But they’ve been honed a bit based on experience. Then I’m going to share some selling questions I have and I’d love to hear your feedback on what’s worked for you, what doesn’t work and new methods you’re thinking about trying. Ok, so here goes…

Selling approaches I’ve taken

  • Networking. This is my favorite approach. I don’t have a ton to say about it except that I think building relationships and meeting new people online and offline always leads to learning and opportunities. I practice this one daily and can’t advocate for it enough. Although, I would be interested in perspective on how to turn the networking into actual leads and especially how to handle follow up with people who are becoming your friends or professional connections.
  • Brainpicking with a  follow up. This is the philosophy that an initial meeting and sharing of ideas can lead to an opportunity to work together on a more long-term basis. I know some people don’t like this one because they think the people doing the picking tend to take advantage. Sarah Evans had a great Facebook status stream going about this topic last week. For me, I’ve always seen this as a chance to prove what I know and that I’m interested in learning about the person’s business. But it can definitely be hard to keep it to one brainpicking session.
  • Face-to-face follow up ask. I usually take this approach after meeting people at a conference or professional development event. When we meet, I listen for hints about questions they might have or projects they’re working on. Then when I send a follow up e-mail or LinkedIn request, I bring up our agency’s experience in those areas they mentioned and ask if they’d like to discuss further. I always try to send some research with these follow-ups that is applicable to the person’s job and that he/she could share with his/her boss to look smart. After all, isn’t that one of our main goals — make our clients look smart? I’ve had some success with this, but need to be better about following up, finding the balance between pushy and persistent.
  • Cold outreach. I am not a fan of this approach, but I have tried it a few times. The number one thing I always try to do is create context. What I mean by that is do the research to find a common ground with the person I’m contacting; usually someone we both know. I think just picking up the phone or sending an e-mail without any connection is really hard. And with the prevalence of the Internet and social media, I think it almost makes it look like you’re lazy and didn’t do any research if you can’t find that common ground. That said, I have a colleague who rocks at this and will find a company she likes, pick up the phone and just lay it all out there — I find your business intriguing, I work for a PR agency, this is what we do, would love the opportunity to share more and learn more about your business. I have a hard time finding a comfort zone with cold calling, but maybe I should try it more often. Still debating this one.

What’s worked for you?

  • Where do you draw the line between pushy and persistent? This is the biggest question I have and one I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this post. Not sure there is a universal answer, but interested in your two cents.
  • How do you prefer to follow up with prospects? Over the phone? Via e-mail? Via social media? Does it depend on the prospect? How do you decide? That enough questions? :)
  • Are you direct when you sell? Or do you work to build a relationship longer in hopes it will lead to an opportunity to work with the person once they know you better?
  • What tips and tricks do you use to show your experience and knowledge? For instance, I always try and share applicable research when following up. What’s your go-to practice?

Selling is hard. It’s the hardest part of our business. At least I think it is. But we don’t talk about it that much. It’s almost like it’s taboo because we’re all selling under different brand names. And I get that. But here’s to hoping we might learn something from the discussion that will benefit all of us. Or maybe I’m just an idealist. What do you think?


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