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Dear Salesperson: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Sami Halabi
July 23, 2018

5 minute read

Dear Salesperson,

It’s not me, it’s you.

I’m sitting here reading your 25th email and I have to say – I have just as little inclination to respond as with your first outreach.

You, on the other hand, are probably thinking something along the lines of the following:

“Why can’t he just answer me?”

“He can at least tell me that he’s not interested, rather than ignoring me.”

“Maybe if I keep reaching out he’ll respond eventually…”

You might also think I’m the Grinch. That I’m sitting at my desk eagerly awaiting your next email so I can ignore that one, too.

This is far from the truth.

I get 5,000 cold emails and 6,000 cold calls a year. And the truth is, your emails and voicemails sound just like the rest. I have actually received the same email/voicemail from 4 different companies within the past 2 weeks. These scripts do get around, you know. Kind of like this one:

“Hey [insert customer name here], I work for ___ on the ___ team supporting your organization. I would love to connect on a 15-minute call to learn more about your role and your initiatives in the coming fiscal year. When works for you this week or next?”

Believe it or not, I didn’t even look at the cloned messages in my inbox to write this – it’s branded in my memory from repetition.

I find it interesting that you “support my organization,” yet reach out with a template devoid of context. It may help to back the claim with some level of insight into my organization, like how we have worked with you in the past; why we may want to work with you in the future, given our industry alignment and market positioning; how I fit into the picture, given my role. Just a few options of many, to get the salesperson’s brain juices flowing.

Sales prospecting tips

I’m also glad to hear that you would LOVE to learn more about me and my company. Beyond me questioning the genuineness of this claim (I mean, let’s be real – you don’t know me yet, so you surely are not ecstatic to talk to me), have you considered my level of interest in conversing with you? Even if you truly are ecstatic to connect with me – a stranger – I implore you to put yourself in my shoes.

This is a no-brainer, really. Everyone’s interest can be piqued. But it’s your job to figure out how, to try and understand my world before reaching out to me, rather than expecting me to furnish the details. You are in business development, after all, no? Before you develop business, you have to develop relationships. And which do you think is a more effective first step in relationship development: asking for value or leading with value?

If you lead with value and show a keen interest in developing a relationship with me, I promise you, I will respond. If you ask for value without giving me a proper context or compelling reason to connect, I promise you, I will not respond.

Out of the 11,000 outreaches I get per year, I’ll respond to maybe 100 of them and meet with about 10. What sets the 100 apart from the rest? They lead with value. And what differentiates the 10 from the other 90 in the group? Timing. They simply reached out amidst an active project at my organization.

So bear this in mind. No matter how effective your outreach is, it’s futile for us to meet without a present evaluation. While you will surely get my response for your efforts, a meeting is not guaranteed.

Right approach + right timing = conversation

Right approach + wrong timing = response

Wrong approach + right timing = ignore

Wrong approach + wrong timing = ignore

And another word of advice.

If I’m an active user of your product, please know that before reaching out. I mean, I get it – people make mistakes. But imagine you were a furniture store owner and one of your customers receives a call from your store clerk, 1 week after their $25,000 furniture purchase, saying: “Hey Ben, we’re the new furniture store in town and we have some seasonal selections we think you would enjoy. Would you like to come check us out soon?” Furniture and software customers alike, this is a sure-fire way to cool down a hot customer of yours. Whether or not you were the individual who sold me my product is beside the point. You are an independent ambassador of your company’s brand. Honor it, protect it, and make me believe in it.

A few final notes on your outreach:

● The quicker you catch my attention, the fewer attempts you have to make. Does this mean leave me a voicemail and send me an email daily for 4 weeks on end? Not quite.

● Think about an average day at work. What percentage of the day are you away from your desk? Perhaps a healthy 25%, between lunch, meetings, and breaks. Now triple that and you are one step closer to understanding the life of a vice president. Away from my desk 75-80% of the time, between lunch, meetings, breaks, and travel, I am not checking my desk phone and email frequently.

● Next, consider the times you’re reaching out. Early in the morning, before the workday starts, and later in the afternoon, after the workday ends, may be a good starting point. Catching me midday, amidst a packed agenda, is somewhat of a miracle.

● Finally, a good email subject line goes a long way. To say I’m unaffected by a clever or compelling opener is to say I’m not human. In a world oversaturated with information, our eyes are primed to catch the break in patterns. My personal favorite subject lines are:

[My Name] X [Their Name]

[My Name] – [Month] meeting

[Topic of Interest to me] conversation

My point in mentioning all this is: yes, your tasteful follow-up is appreciated, but your excessive outreach is not. Rather than bombarding me with duplicate voicemails, emails, and messages every day, politely remind me with a distinct message every 2-3 days. Curious to compare duplicate and distinct? Here is an example:

Duplicate: [Subject Line: Following up] “Following-up to see if you’ve gotten my note below. Can you connect on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon? Best,”

Distinct: [Subject Line: appropriate person?] “I’m writing to follow-up on my email. I didn’t hear back from anyone on the team. If it makes sense to talk, let me know how your calendar looks. If not, who is the appropriate person for me to talk to? Thanks for your help,”

Distinct (option 2): [Subject Line: 4 ways we can help] “Haven’t heard back from your team yet, so I thought to follow up and share 4 ways we help finance executives, like yourself, in the tech space: improve your ability to measure supplier performance, establish processes to comply with changing regulations, streamline time-consuming reports or weak reporting capabilities, reduce inefficient use of human capital and time wasted on processes that could be automated. Considering these are top of mind for you, what is your next availability to connect this week? Looking forward to helping,”

I truly hope you receive this note as I intend it. This is not a rant to uproot your motivations and crush your confidence, but a simple plea to conduct business with intention. Don’t view my non-response as a fault on my part. View it as an opportunity to refine your approach, to imbue it with further context, relevance, and meaning. The moment you realize that it’s not about me and that it’s all about you, is the moment the floodgates of self-improvement open up.

In the words of Estee Lauder, “If you don’t sell, it’s not the product that’s wrong. It’s you.”

Here’s to continuous improvement and intentional execution.

With the utmost sincerity,

Your (potential) customer

Sami Halabi
Sami Halabi
Sami Halabi is a die-hard fanatic of four things: selling, marketing, learning/teaching languages, and singing. Following 3.5 years in door-to-door and international internship sales, he joined Oracle's software sales department to help transform human capital management at large enterprise companies. Transitioning into marketing operations 1 year ago, he now focuses on maximizing the pipeline generated through marketing-qualified leads.
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