Tag Archives: Prospecting

Sales and Marketing: The Marriage Whose Time Has Come

Note:  This article is a collaboration between myself and Stephanie Smith of The Grind Marketing.  I’ve asked Stephanie to collaborate with me because I want my readers to be on the cutting edge – and these days, you can’t be on the cutting edge of Sales without incorporating Marketing.  There will be more of this content to come.

For the entire time I’ve been in sales – and probably longer – there has been a disconnect between the sales team and the marketing team at many companies (including many that we have worked for and worked with). The salespeople, who interact directly with customers, often feel that the marketing materials and campaigns don’t match up with what they’re seeing and hearing from clients in the real world. Meanwhile, the marketing folks think the sales reps don’t fully appreciate the importance of presenting a cohesive brand image and messaging.

This divide causes issues. The messaging can be mismatched, lead generation suffers, and the overall experience for the customer gets jumbled up. When sales and marketing aren’t working together, it becomes really difficult to create a smooth, consistent experience for customers across all the different touchpoints they have with the company. This can damage trust and loyalty over time.  This is more pronounced now, since customers have more access to marketing messages through technology.

The key is getting sales and marketing on the same page through open communication and collaboration. They need to understand each other’s roles and perspectives.   Instead of working at odds, Sales and Marketing need to be viewed as one team with different, and complementary, roles.  Here are five good ways to get started:

1. Work-alongs:  We were tempted to call this “ride-alongs,” since the idea began with marketing people should periodically ride along with salespeople to see sales interactions in the field – but the concept works both ways.  Salespeople should be part of the creative process in Marketing.  In fact, the teams should have regular meetings to share customer insights, align their strategies, and get on the same page with positioning and messaging.  The marketers can take the customer pain points and challenges that the sales reps are hearing about and use that to shape more relevant marketing campaigns. And the sales team can apply the marketers’ skills around branding, messaging, and buyer psychology to have more impactful conversations.

2. Use Tech:  Sharing data and technology is also critical. You should be using a good CRM that both Sales and Marketing work with. When Sales and Marketing are using the same systems for tracking leads, analyzing customer behavior, and sharing data, both teams can make smarter decisions and create more seamless, personalized outreach.

3. Define Lead Scoring Together: Historically there has always been tension between Sales and Marketing when it comes to defining a “good lead.” When markets are hot and the buying power is in your favor, the definition surrounding what constitutes a qualified sales lead doesn’t matter as much, because the opportunities inbound are plentiful. However, when markets are down, the definition matters more. Without definition, Marketing will continue to contest; “what do you mean sales are down? We sent you 800 leads last month.” Determining how to score leads requires both teams to clearly understand the buyer persona and what makes the perfect prospect. Assigning real-time lead scoring based on an agreed-upon set of criteria reduces the blame game and allows both teams to focus on optimizing lead-generation tactics. This type of clarity also provides the flexibility for both teams to adjust mid-campaign. If the results aren’t where the team forecasted that they should be based on known customer behaviors and market conditions, the team can reposition messaging and establish retargeting tactics to fuel the funnel appropriately.

One note here – if the sales department doesn’t respond to leads quickly, they don’t have a leg to stand on in this conversation.  As I’ve demonstrated before in this space, leads get cold quickly.

4. Think Holistically About The Stages in Your Buyer’s Journey Map: Formally known as a Sales Funnel, this approach takes similar concepts in defining what stage a customer is within the sales cycle and understanding the amount of nurturing it will take to close the initial deal. With so many new ways a customer can enter the pipeline and equally as many new ways to nurture a customer without ever even having to meet with them face-to-face, this is where a sales and marketing collaboration can truly shine to deliver consistent messaging throughout multiple touchpoints required to prompt conversion. Through this tactical approach,  it is important for marketing teams to share real-time behavioral insights with the sales teams. Again, by leveraging a comprehensive CRM platform, this important customer data can help both teams understand exactly where a customer is at in the funnel before the initial call is ever made. Not only does this create a better customer experience, it also reduces the sales cycle and enhances the time-line to close.

5. Create a Service Level Agreement Between Departments: Okay, that sounds more formal than what it needs to be, but honestly developing a written agreement on deliverables and clearly defining expectations for both teams is one of the most effective ways to maximize productivity. This can be as simple as assigning mutually agreed upon goals that benefit both teams. For example, marketing will provide X number of qualified leads required to help support overall sales quotas and the sales team will aim to close X number of deals from lead generation tactics to meet specific revenue targets. All Leads that are not “sales-ready” (i.e. Motivated and ready to begin a Buyer’s Journey) will be marked as such by the sales team and sent to marketing to be enrolled in automated lead nurturing campaigns through the CRM.

In the B2B world especially, where you’re dealing with long sales cycles and multiple decision makers, having this united sales-marketing strategy is make-or-break. Your customers don’t want to have to choose between brand messages and figure out which one is the “right” one.  Presenting a unified front throughout the entire customer journey builds credibility and trust, ultimately leading to more sales.

The old silos have to come down. When sales and marketing get in sync through transparency, cooperation, and shared goals, the whole company can deliver a much tighter, more compelling experience that resonates with customers and drives better results.

Can Sales and Marketing work together seamlessly? Sure.  This article is an example; Troy Harrison is the Sales Navigator, and Stephanie Smith is a marketing expert, and we coauthored it.  In fact, we will be doing much more collaboration on this concept in the coming months.

About Stephanie Smith:

Passionate about transforming ideas into impactful stories, Stephanie Smith brings extensive experience in strategy development, marketing, content creation, branding, and digital tactics.

Results-driven with a history of leveraging new technologies and market trends to develop collaborative sales and marketing strategies that consistently generate new revenue growth. Her strategic insights and ability to navigate the challenges of blue-collar industries have led to her being approached by B2B family-owned businesses seeking to enhance their go-to-market strategies. Under Stephanie’s guidance, these businesses have seen significant growth, with some experiencing a 300% increase in year-over-year sales performance while earning industry recognition for their impactful campaigns.

With over 15 years of experience in the ever-evolving marketing landscape, Stephanie has led cross-functional teams to align with overall business goals. Her adaptability shines through in fast-paced environments, where she manages multiple projects seamlessly. This experience and Stephanie’s passion for supporting blue-collar workers and their businesses led her to a pivotal point in her career to launch a startup marketing community. Dedicated to delivering go-to-market strategies specifically crafted for small to mid-sized business structures in these industries this community helps companies thrive in today’s business landscapes.

As the Founder of The Grind Marketing Collective, Stephanie leads a team of talented professionals responsible for developing and executing innovative and impactful marketing campaigns that drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and revenue growth for the companies they serve. Leveraging their experience in marketing communications, social networking, and B2B marketing strategies that showcase the value and quality of their clients’ products and services.

Stephanie is always open to connecting! To contact Stephanie visit thegrindmarketingcollective.com or email her at stephanie@thegrindmarketingcollective.com 


You Can’t Fake Rapport.

Last week, I made a trip to work with a client in Central California, doing a Sales Audit.  It was a great trip for many reasons, but one of the greatest was this.  That area is San Francisco 49ers country.  The Niners just lost the Super Bowl to the Chiefs (wait – should I have said “The Big Game” so the NFL doesn’t sue me?). Which meant that, for the first time in quite a while, people didn’t ask me “How about those Chiefs!” when they met me and found out that I’m from Kansas City, so I didn’t have to talk football!

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t dislike the Chiefs, nor do I dislike football. I’m a good Kansas Citian, and I’m glad they won.  I just don’t eat, sleep, and breathe it, and when people attempt to build rapport with me by starting a conversation that way, they are assuming that I do.  Most likely, they don’t care much about the Chiefs either – it’s just a fake way of building rapport.  And that’s the problem; entirely too many salespeople attempt to build rapport in a way that is inauthentic and actually hurts your potential rapport with customers and prospects.  The good news is that there’s a real way of building rapport, so let’s talk about it.

I should tell you that I’ve always felt that rapport-building is the weakest part of my sales skills.  Don’t get me wrong, I like people, but I’m not one of those guys who can be someone’s friend within 30 seconds.  I knew one of those guys in the car business, and coming from him it was the most natural thing ever.  He was great.  When I try to build rapport by doing the old “spot their interests” tactic, it comes off like Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross.  It’s painful.

However, there’s one fact that works in my favor.  I’m curious by nature.  I like to ask questions.  And I know one simple element of human nature.  The thing that most people like to talk about is themselves.  When someone is trying to get me to talk about football (or Kansas City barbecue – the other topic that people always bring up when they find out where I’m from), they are making an assumption that those things are things I’m passionate about. I’m not passionate about football.  I am passionate about barbecue, but I’m convinced that the best Q in Kansas City comes from my own backyard smoker.  But in either case, people are trying to build rapport by attempting to tell me what my story is, rather than asking about my story.

And that’s the key that I discovered early in my sales career.  If I just showed some genuine curiosity about my customers and prospects and asked them about themselves – giving them an opportunity to tell me their story – and then just listened, I built rapport with them without having to flap my gums.  It works.  Note that I said “listen.”  To “listen” means to engage with their words and remember those words, not just plan your next phrase.

Today, it should be easier than ever to build real rapport with people, because they are already telling much of their story on social media.  The vast majority of your prospects are already laying out what’s important to them for public consumption.  All you have to do is check it out and note it down.

Even when salespeople try to build rapport by asking questions, many of them screw it up.  They ask the wrong questions.  They ask questions that are personal in nature (“Are your kids involved in sports?”) that cross boundaries, rather than questions that are “safe” for customers to answer.  As I’ve noted in a previous Webinar, people build relationships differently nowadays.  Relationships are built on a professional basis and then segue to personal, rather than the old method of becoming buddies and then moving that relationship to a sale.  This is more pronounced with each subsequent generation, from Gen-X through Millennials to Gen-Z.

So, what can you do to show curiosity and build rapport without crossing boundaries?  Here are a few of my favorite ways.

  1. Ask your customer to tell his/her professional story. One of my favorite opening questions is, “How did you come to be in this position?”  This creates an opportunity for your prospects to tell you all of their successes, foibles, and their journey, without crossing any boundaries.  In fact, your prospect may take you into some of those personal spaces as well – but it’s THEIR choice to do so, not you prying.
  2. Ask your customer to tell you his/her favorite thing about their job. Again – you’re opening the door for them to brag.  You’re also possibly getting a window into how to sell to them.  If you sell something that can enhance their favorite thing about their job, or create more time or money to do it, you have a pretty powerful motivator.
  3. Ask about something they recently posted on LinkedIn. Yep, I’m being specific to LinkedIn here.  That’s the “professional” social media, and as such, it’s fair game in a business world.  For instance, “I saw you just took an award trip to the Dominican Republic.  That’s pretty awesome!  What did you do to win that trip?”

Those are a few examples, but remember that the key is shutting up and listening while they talk.  Don’t interrupt their story (that shows that you really don’t care about it) and don’t immediately transition from a story point to a sales pitch (ditto).  If you do hear something that can lead you to a sale, make a note and ask about it later during your normal questioning.

Real rapport building is about showing genuine curiosity by asking, and genuine interest by listening.  The old “fish on the wall” method comes across as fake – even when it isn’t.  And fake rapport sets you back instead of moving you forward.  In other words, fake rapport isn’t rapport at all.  It gets you kicked out.

Just ask Shelly Levine (Jack Lemmon’s GGR character).

When You Join the Buyer’s Journey in the Middle

Joining the Buyer’s Journey in the middle is a unique challenge, but let’s face it – most of you are doing that on a regular basis.  When a buyer calls “just wanting a price,” they have completed a significant portion of the journey – at least in their minds.  In 2019, Forbes Magazine published an article quoting a study saying that the average B2B buyer has completed 57% of his or her Buyer’s Journey before ever contacting a sales rep.  Well – this blew up the Internet, and continues to do so.

In researching this article, I found a number of posts that argued with the 57% number.  Some say it’s much lower, and some say it’s higher.  But I never found one that could effectively argue with the concept that buyers are performing much more of their own due diligence and research before involving a salesperson.  As I’ve been saying for years, it’s a different world.  Today’s buyer is more educated and informed than buyers used to be – which creates different responsibilities and opportunities for us.  It also creates some significant challenges.  I’ll list those challenges and give some ideas on how to deal with them.

The challenges can be:

  1. Your Buyer doesn’t trust you. A 2017 HubSpot study concluded that only 3% of buyers consider salespeople to be trustworthy.  That’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it?  At least we beat out lawyers and politicians, but that’s not exactly good.  Unfortunately, the actions of too many past salespeople stick with our profession, and when a buyer calls saying that he knows what he needs and just needs a price, that is an expression that he doesn’t trust salespeople to accurately define his needs and assist in a solution.
  2. Your buyer has done a lot of research, and not all of it may be correct. Research on nearly any topic is both plentiful and readily accessible nowadays, but that’s a double edged sword.  Most articles, guidelines, whitepapers, and other forms of Internet research are nonspecific and one-size-fits-all.  In fact, so is this article.  I know that most of my readers are B2B salespeople and the managers and business owners who employ them – but that still leaves a wide field.  What the Buyer’s Journey means, specifically, may be different between industries or even companies and product lines within the same industry.  That means that your buyer can access a lot of information that might actually run counter to what he or she really needs – because it’s not specific to your buyer’s situation.
  3. Buyers don’t know what they don’t know. Even when defining their own needs, buyers might be asking the wrong questions of themselves and their counterparts and co-workers.  This is especially true when entirely new types of product or service are being considered.  We add value when we can be a part of the Investigation phase of the Buyer’s Journey – if the Buyer will allow us in.
  4. Competitors may have guided their research. We have all seen this one.  We get an RFP with specifications that are obvious attempts to limit offerings to one company’s products or services, and we know – the competitor helped set the standard.  Today, it doesn’t have to be a bid spec.  A buyer with a pre-existing relationship could have had that salesperson point them to sources of research that favor your competitor, thus setting the standard for the purchase.   The road here is uphill.

Not all of this news is bad, however.  What you must realize is this.  When a buyer calls asking for a price, or even a demo on a specific product, they believe that they have completed a substantial part of their own Buyer’s Journey, and they believe that they have completed it correctly.  Whatever you do from here, you absolutely must respect the work that they have done – or they will disconnect from you, and buy elsewhere.

When the buyer calls you and makes it obvious that they believe they have completed a substantial part of their Buyer’s Journey, here are some ways to position yourself as a key part of their process:

  1. Show respect. This is mandatory.  If you come off as know-it-all or condescending, your buyer will immediately assume that you are trying to get one over on them (remember that 3% number), and either disconnect or make it incredibly difficult for you to impart your knowledge and expertise.  Instead of saying, “How do you know that’s what you need?”, ask a question like, “Wow, you’ve obviously done your homework!  Knowledgeable customers make my life a lot easier.  Just out of curiosity, would you mind telling me how you researched and found our product to be the one you need?”  Hopefully, they will give you enough information to let you know exactly where in the Buyer’s Journey that you intersected with them.
  2. Have 2 or 3 great questions to ask. If your buyer believes that they already have the answers, they’re not going to give you much time for a full discovery.  At least, not at first.  What you need to do is have two or three really great, incisive questions to ask to pinpoint their needs.  Sometimes, the answers to these questions will let you know that their research is right on target – or sometimes, it’s wrong.  Depending on their demeanor, if their research is on target, you may want to move ahead with them in their journey to the Evaluation step.  If they’re wrong, a more gentle approach is needed.
  3. If there’s a pitfall, expose it, but in a different way. Sometimes there are common pitfalls with products or services that nobody talks about, and that you can’t easily find with Internet research.  These are things that your buyer must know – but remember, you have to respect their knowledge.  You can do both.  The approach here is to say, “Well, as much research as you’ve done, I’m sure you already know about X problem.  Do we need to talk about that?”  If the buyer isn’t aware, this could be a “Wait, what?” moment for them.  If it is, now you have the credibility to back them up and go back through the Investigation phase.
  4. Don’t sell them the wrong stuff. Sometimes you will go through as much due diligence and questioning as possible, and not only is your buyer determined to buy something that won’t fix their problem, they’re getting mad at you for attempting to guide them.  This situation is no fun at all.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But ultimately, it’s your credibility that’s at stake.  Sometimes you have to lose a sale now to win a relationship later.  Politely but firmly explain that, based on your experience and expertise, they will not get the result they are looking for and that you’d rather not sell them something that won’t meet their needs.  Further, you hope that you can recontact them down the road.  Keep the relationship whole; few things build trust and credibility quite like refusing to make a sale.  That’s pretty much the opposite of the behavior of those salespeople who created that 3% trust stat.

Joining the buyer’s journey in the middle is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that grows more common each day.  As I always say when people complain about the new trends in customers – get good at dealing with them, and you can separate yourself from the pack.  Is 57% the right number, in terms of how far a buyer has progressed down their road prior to talking to you?  I don’t know – but I don’t think it’s as far off as some other people do.  Within change lies opportunity.  Let’s capitalize on it.

How to Do Cold LinkedIn Outreach

Most salespeople don’t know how to do cold LinkedIn outreach.  Many salespeople try to do cold LinkedIn outreach and do it badly.  Houston, we have a problem!  Don’t we? I’m in a fairly good place to talk about this, because I do LinkedIn outreach and I teach how to do LinkedIn outreach.  However, most importantly, I’m the recipient of a lot of LinkedIn outreach – and nearly all of it is awful.

When you’re a trainer, a coach, or a speaker, you quickly learn that there is an entire industry of people just dying to separate you from your money by promising miraculous growth – if you’ll just pay them to market you or help you market yourself.  This entire industry focuses on reaching out on LinkedIn.  I get somewhere between four and six messages a day.  Most of them follow the same format.  “Hello, Troy, you should know that I’m different and here’s why…” not realizing that they sound exactly the same as everyone else.  Well, I received a message a few days ago from a guy who started that way. When I didn’t respond, he messaged again the next day.  His message was a bit longer than most.  I decided to try an experiment.  Here’s how I responded to him:

“I suppose I’d be open to a brief strategy call.  However, you should know this – you might ‘be the opposite of every LinkedIn marketing company,’ but you sound exactly like every other LinkedIn marketing company that bombs me with messages every day.  There’s no shortage of people ready to separate coaches like me from their money, with big promises and crap returns.  And of course, you’ve done the typical move of reaching out with a hard-sell message right away with no attempt at getting to know me or building a relationship that would give you credibility with me. So – with all that said, if you’d like to schedule a short call, I’m open to it, and I’m always open to learning ways to build my business.  That said, I don’t apologize for being direct and protective of my time.  But here’s my expectation for that call:

  1. You will have at least viewed my website to get an understanding of what I do.
  2. No small talk or cheap rapport building.  I don’t schedule these calls to talk football.
  3. Your questions should be to gain understanding, not lead me.
  4. You be ready to tell me, in simple and straightforward terms, how you can help based on what you have learned about my business.

The ball is in your court.”

He has read that message, but I haven’t heard back from him.  I doubt that I will.  He’s sending out hundreds of these per week, and probably half of those people are blocking him immediately.  But, since he’s working on the law of large numbers, I’m sure he’s getting some appointments.  And that message will put him off because he’ll figure that I’m a jerk, or too tough, and there are easier marks.

Here’s what this guy doesn’t know about me and probably won’t ever get to learn:  I’m a tough sale but once I’m sold, I’m SOLD.  I’m loyal as hell, and if someone helps me, I will evangelize for them at every opportunity.  But I’m protective of my time.  When someone wants to sell to me, I expect them to have their act together.  They should have a basic knowledge of what I do and be able to fit their services into that context.  I’m happy the Chiefs won the Super Bowl (will I get sued by the NFL for using the name, or should I have said “the Big Game?”), but it’s neither the focus of my life nor something I’m interested in talking about during a sales call.  And I expect a straightforward dialogue with no manipulative BS.

In other words, I’m like most of your prospects, and that’s where this worm is going to turn.  You see, the guy who messaged me works nationwide to a big industry.  There are some 4 million people in the USA alone who are engaged in some form of speaking or coaching – so if he burns some potential leads, who cares?  He has a monstrous base of prospects.  Most of you are measuring your prospect list in the thousands, hundreds, or even tens.  You can’t afford to burn too many of them.  So, if you want to avoid failing in your cold LinkedIn outreach, here’s how to do cold LinkedIn outreach right:

  1. No immediate hard sell. I’ll be honest; I cringe when I accept connection requests from people in certain lines of business.  That’s because I know that, within minutes, I’m going to get a hard-sell message for how they can revolutionize my business.  This hard-sell message is going to be incredibly generic and not speak to me as an individual at all, and there will be no attempt at relationship building.  Try this:  When your request is accepted, just send a soft message thanking them for accepting and telling them that you’re looking forward to networking with them here.  And leave it at that.  Believe it or not, you will stand out and be memorable by NOT telling them how awesome you are and how you can solve all their problems!
  2. Engage. Now that you’re connected, engage with them and their posts. Why do people post on social media?  They want ATTENTION.  Give it to them.  Like their posts.  Comment on them when it’s appropriate – and the comment shouldn’t be, “You know, if you buy from me, you can do that even better!”  We get just a little dopamine hit when we see that someone has liked or commented on our posts, and very few people actually do that.  When you do, your name appears and they remember it.  Don’t be a stalker, of course – but give them a little attention.  You might find that they give it back.
  3. Post meaningful content. Post about more than your current product line.  Post interesting articles that you’ve read (this one, maybe?), post tips on how to do business better, even a personal post every now and then is good.  But be active.  I’m not talking about posting all the time.  One post every day or two keeps you alive on LinkedIn.  Between #2 above and this tip, you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in 30 minutes a day.
  4. Cold LinkedIn Outreach should be appropriate and individualized. When you do reach out directly (no less than 3 weeks from initial connection), it should be individual, specific, and appropriate.  It should display some knowledge of who they are and what they do, and speak directly to how you can help them.  For instance, “Hey, Stan, I saw you’re opening a new branch in Peoria.  You might not know this, but we have a great service center in Peoria that can help you with the startup and maintenance of that building.”  No generic hard-sell crap.
  5. No fake rapport. Two things I’m sick of when someone tries to sell to me.  “How about those Chiefs?” and “Kansas City?  Great barbecue there.”  I’m sick of it for two reasons.  First, it’s an assumption – if you’re from Kansas City, you must be a dyed in the wool Chiefs fan, right?  Er, not so much.  Like I said, I’m a good Kansas Citian, I’m glad (and surprised) that they won, and I attended my friends’ watch parties.  But football does not absorb my life.  And if you’re from Kansas City, you’re big into barbecue, right?  Well….yeah, I am.  I have my own smoker and I’m convinced that the best ribs in Kansas City come from it.  But that doesn’t mean that I want to spend time that I’ve allocated for a business conversation on a topic that the salesperson probably doesn’t have any real interest in.  It’s fake and inauthentic, and it works against building rapport.  Want to really build rapport?  Ask a couple of good questions about your prospect that both demonstrate that you’ve done a bit of homework and that you want to dive deeper.  Then LISTEN to the answer.

Unlike the people who approach me, I’m guessing that you can’t really use the “law of large numbers” to generate a prospect flow, and that you can’t afford to have half of those you approach block you.  So, understand that prospecting and outreach are a slow play now. Instead of doing outreach for next week’s appointments, you’re going to do cold LinkedIn outreach for next month’s appointments – or next quarter’s.  That’s okay.  Those appointments will likely be better and more productive.

Motivation: The Foundation of the Buyer’s Journey

Last week, I did a one-on-one Zoom call with a guy who was trying to sell me a marketing system.  He opened by saying that he had sold life insurance for over 40 years and, “As we both know, all sales are 90% emotional.”  I stopped him right there.  I told him that I’d been in sales for 34 years, and that the emotion-to-intellect ratio in the sales had shifted significantly over my career.  In fact, I said, it had never been “90% emotion” in my career, and that salespeople who understood how their customers think have the edge over those who attempt to manipulate how they feel.  His response was, “You’re wrong.”  The call ended there.

I tell you that to tell you this:  Today, we’re going to talk about an element of sales that melds thought and emotion, and it’s the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey.  Your job is to help navigate the customer through the Buyer’s Journey.  Think of it like building a house.  A good house needs a foundation, it needs walls and a roof, it needs mechanical systems like plumbing and heating, and it needs furnishing.  But without a foundation, that house can’t be built.  Motivation is the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey – without it, you don’t have a sale, and yes, there is a combination of emotion and intellect that drives Motivation.  So let’s dive into what Motivation really is, shall we?

I define Motivation this way:  Motivation is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the Current Situation, and a desire for a better Future Situation.  In other words – “I feel like something’s wrong now, and I want something better.”  This feeling can be emotionally driven, it can be logically driven, or it can be a combination.

One thing I want to make clear:  Motivation is different than Prospecting.  Motivation is buyer-driven; i.e. it is something that the Buyer thinks, feels, or thinks and feels at the same time.  Prospecting is salesperson-driven; it’s that activity where we reach out to potential Buyers that we don’t know and attempt to engage them.  Here’s where they do come together.  Good Prospecting is designed to highlight or create Motivation in order to engage the Buyer.  That’s why your prospecting message is important.

The lamest prospecting messaging begins like this:

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  I’d like to talk to you about…” Who cares?  That’s “me” driven.  Good prospecting is “them” driven.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  Can I quote on your next order of…” Yes, by all means, let’s reduce the entire sale to a price right out of the gate.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  How are you today?”  That announces you as a pesky salesperson who can’t think of anything good to say.

Back to Motivation.  As I said, Motivation can be either discovered, highlighted, or created.  Here’s how:

  • Discovering Motivation: This is an “educated guess” approach, and it’s based on the idea that your targeted prospects are very likely to have a problem that you’ve solved for others like them.  The problem is just bubbling below the surface in your prospect’s mind, and that feeling of dissatisfaction has to be highlighted in order to move them into a Buyer’s Journey.  Let’s say that you know of a common problem in a given industry that you serve, and you’ve fixed it for others.  Your messaging needs to center around acknowledgement of the common problem, painting a picture with your words of what the prospect’s day will be like when it’s solved, and then asking a question about their experiences with the problem.  For example:  “Mr. Customer, I know that independent shops like yours replace a lot of exhaust gaskets on late model GM V-8s, and when they do, they break bolts – which takes up your shop time and money.  Our induction bolt heater has solved that problem for other shops like yours.  Would you like to see a demo of how this can save you hours on every one of those jobs?” (For the record – bolt induction heaters are awesome.)  A talk track like this highlights a dissatisfaction with the Current Situation that your prospect already has, and may bring Motivation to the surface – enabling you to get an audience and start them on a Buyer’s Journey.  Your Buyer probably is aware of both the problem and a potential solution – but you are bringing it to the surface.
  • Highlighting Motivation: This is possible if, in researching your Buyer, you discover something that would be a motivating factor for purchasing your stuff.  As an example, let’s say that you notice that your Buyer is getting ready to add three new locations, and they are in an area where the incumbent vendor for your stuff doesn’t go – but you do.  Or, they’re taking on a new product line and you sell a product that perfectly complements their new line.  You get the idea.  In this case, the Motivation probably exists on some level – you just have to bring it to the fore and suggest that you are the key to relieving their dissatisfaction.  This can get you an audience, if you do it right.
  • Creating Motivation: This approach works best when you have something new that your Buyer is probably unaware of.  The Buyer might not even be dissatisfied with the Current Situation as they understand it – but the awareness of something new could change that.  For example, once upon a time, the Lockheed Constellation was considered the luxury yacht of the skies and passengers loved flying on it.  Then came the jet – and all of a sudden, the Constellation was consigned to history because it was very loud and too slow.  Creating Motivation isn’t easy, and it requires a product that is genuinely new to the market and has such a high ability to change the customer’s perception that the mere awareness of it Motivates your prospect.

Whatever way Motivation happens, understand that you will not get a sale unless it’s present.  If your Buyer reaches out to you rather than vice versa, you need to understand what Motivated them to enter their Buyer’s Journey – and as you move through the Journey, you need to verify that it’s still present.

The bottom line is this:  When you approach a potential Buyer, you should understand that he doesn’t care, in the least, about what YOU want to talk about.  He only cares about his own dissatisfaction with his Current Situation – and the first words out of your mouth (or keyboard, as the case might be) need to speak directly to that.  If not, you probably won’t get the appointment.  Then, as you move through the Journey, you need to make sure that this dissatisfaction is still there.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs. If Motivation goes away, so does your bouncing baby sale.

Four Ways to Improve Your Sales Communications

My friend and speaking coach, Patricia Fripp, has a phrase that I love.  She likes to say, “Specificity brings memorability.”  She’s right – and she’s getting more and more right every day.  What she means is that, when you are speaking (or selling), what sets you apart are the specific details that you bring to the table.  For instance, she coaches that you should quote statistics, specific facts, and other details that are “sticky” with the audience, even if they forget most of what you said.

Today, there’s another level to that – to sell successfully in 2023 (almost 2024), not only to you have to be specific, you have to be specific to the individual customer.  Your customer doesn’t care what you’ve done for your other 99 customers, they care about what you will do for them and their individual situation.  That expectation definitely raises the bar for your messaging, but it also creates big opportunities to win business.

If you’re still using generic sales pitches (most of us have at one time or another), you’re probably finding that they just don’t cut it anymore. Your customers have come to expect personalized interactions and recommendations tailored specifically to their needs; after all, when Facebook can detect a post you made and then immediately start throwing up ads for related products, we’re in a world where people expect sales and marketing to center around THEM. To effectively sell in this environment, you must improve your sales communications by moving beyond blanket messaging to authentic, one-to-one communication that demonstrates a deep understanding of each customer.

Once upon a time, we could send out generic email messaging and boilerplate product brochures, and still get a decent response rate. Nowadays, customers see those tactics as insincere (which, let’s be honest, they are), and often it turns customers off rather than capturing their interest. What grabs your buyer’s attention? Truly customized interactions that indicate you comprehend their unique situation.

The “bad” news is that, now, you have to put in the work to research prospects and customers as individuals before reaching out. Take the time to thoroughly understand your target’s business, challenges, goals and buying criteria. The good news (no scare quotes this time) is that it’s incredibly easy to do so. LinkedIn (in particular) gives you a window into what your prospect is thinking and doing – if you are on LinkedIn and if you are using it.  Yesterday, I talked to a new client who explained to me that most of his salespeople don’t have LinkedIn profiles and aren’t using it.  In 2023, that’s unacceptable – you’re leaving a lot of your opportunity to sell on the table.

When you are armed with a solid understanding of a prospect’s or customer’s world, you can then tailor every piece of communication to resonate. Customize emails, social messages and collateral to showcase your grasp of their priorities and needs – and how you can create Advantages over their current situation.  That can launch them into their own Buyer’s Journey – one that hopefully includes you. Send relevant content that ties directly to current initiatives within their company. The more precise and one-to-one your outreach, the better it will be received.

Don’t be afraid to send non-sales content.  For instance, let’s say that you see an article that ties back to something one of your customers is experiencing, or a post that you might have seen on LinkedIn.  Shoot them a message with a link to the article, indicating why you sent it.

Nailing this level of personalization at scale takes work.  After all, most of us have more than one customer or prospect at a time! But it pays off handsomely by boosting response rates and forging stronger customer connections. Research by The Relevancy Ring found personalized emails generate six times higher transaction rates and individualized web experiences provide a 20 percent lift in sales. Customers that feel understood and valued through tailored communication build lasting loyalty with brands over those taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

While personalized messaging certainly demands more upfront effort from you, that’s precisely what sets you apart. In competitive industries, buyers have multiple options with comparable solutions. You’ve probably already figured THAT part out.  Taking time to understand your customers shows you genuinely care about their success beyond making a quick sale. Strong one-to-one connections drive more productive conversations that uncover true needs and align your solutions. When your buyers feel understood as more than transactions, you build trust that wins business.

Here are four quick steps to individualizing your communication:

  1. Research. Note that when I say “research,” I’m not suggesting that you spend all day on one customer.  You can learn more in five minutes now than you used to be able to in hours – so spend that five minutes doing quality research.  Company web pages are good.  Company social media is better (because it’s more current and more reflective of where they are at the moment).  Your contact’s professional social media is best.  Looking them up on LinkedIn?  Good professional research.  Looking them up on Facebook?  Stalkery.
  2. Find a “hinge.” A “hinge” is a point upon which to base sales communication.  For instance, if your target says that they are about to open a new location and you sell something that helps with that, that’s a hinge.  If your target expresses frustration that you can solve, that’s a hinge.  But remember – hinges are “specific.”
  3. Craft a message including the hinge. Now it’s time to reach out.  You can use email, social media messaging, or you can even craft a short voice mail (because so few people answer the phone anymore).  “Hi, John, this is Troy with ABC Company.  I see that you’re opening a new location at 46th and Main, and we already help several of your neighbors solve this problem that you’ve referenced in a LinkedIn post.  Maybe we could help you, too – could we talk?”  Remember – specificity brings memorability.  Keep it short and punchy, but include enough detail so that you’re talking to your target, not just anyone who might be in the area.
  4. Be patient. We might not love it, but the reality is that prospecting is much more of a slow play now.  The level of information and control that your buyers have means that they can enter their own Buyer’s Journey on their timetable – not yours.  Understand this, keep dripping specific messages, and you’ll get on their radar screen.

The bottom line is that generic communication doesn’t work anymore. Want to win more business today? Then you have to become a student of your prospects and clients. Put in the work to comprehend needs, goals and pain points at an individual level. Then demonstrate that understanding through authentic conversations and recommendations matching each customer’s unique priorities. This approach to selling is going to move your customers beyond the “occasional buyer” status and create the “loyal customer relationship” that we are all looking for. Set yourself apart and improve your sales communications by speaking to customers like the individuals they are.

How to Navigate the Non-Buyer’s Journey

I’ve been writing about how to Navigate the Buyer’s Journey for months now (and if you don’t know what the Buyer’s Journey is, read this article now before moving on, or watch my Webinar on this topic).  I truly believe that this is the foundation for sales as we move into the future – but I’ve neglected the flip side.  My work on the Buyer’s Journey is optimistic (as I am as a person).  It begins with the assumption that the Buyer enters the Buyer’s Journey with a true intent to buy from YOU, if the Buyer’s definition of Success is met.

But we all know that it isn’t always that way.  Spotting the difference between a real potential buyer and someone just kicking the tires is tricky. Genuine buyers show real interest—they ask relevant questions and want to know more about what you’re selling. The time-wasters, on the other hand, might be more interested in getting information or a better deal without any real intention to buy. So, let’s take a little dive into how to qualify buyers for seriousness – or, as I say, Navigating the Non-Buyer’s Journey.

You need to understand that qualifying the buyer is an area where your questioning skills come to the fore.  You can ask these questions in such a way as to turn a real buyer into a non-buyer if you’re careful.  Too many sales training “systems” have as their foundation a hefty skepticism – and I’ve seen those types of tactics send a genuine buyer right into the arms of a competitor.  My first sales job had a training system that said – repeatedly – “buyers are liars.”  I disagree.

It’s important to remember that when a Buyer enters into a Buyer’s Journey, they are probably going to buy SOMETHING from SOMEONE. Whether they buy your stuff from you is the open question.  Having a customer that is using you to “keep their supplier honest” is a pain in the ass and a huge time waster.  On two different occasions, I’ve had prospects say that exact phrase to me – “I want to keep my supplier honest.”  My response was, “If you’re worried about them being honest, why in the world would you keep buying from them?”  Both ended up as my customers.

Before we launch into a few guidelines for separating Buyers from Non-Buyers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Your time has value.
  2. It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to do everything the prospect asks just because they ask.  See #1 above.
  3. Any Request for Proposal has specifications in it. If you didn’t help write those specs, one of your competitors did – and they’ll probably get the business.
  4. A Buyer’s Journey is a MUTUAL journey – you should both be proceeding through at the same pace. If your Buyer stops, you stop.

With that said, here are a few questions you should ask to separate Buyers from Non-Buyers.

  • The Decision Making Process: Are you talking to the person who will make the decision?  The old method of doing this was to ask, “Are you the decision maker?”  It’s a personal and confrontational question that would almost always generate a “yes” answer – EVEN IF THE PERSON WASN’T THE DECISION MAKER.  A better way is to ask about the process, which depersonalizes the question and makes it safe to tell you that they are not the decision maker.  “Mr. Prospect, could you tell me about the process that will be used to make this buying decision?”  Remember – most of the time, a salesperson has access to the decision maker.  If it’s not you, you’re probably just doing this for practice.
  • Priorities: Your normal sales questioning should establish the need – but where that need is prioritized in terms of the overall company big picture is important, too.  Even if the need is important to your Buyer, does the Buyer have the horsepower within his/her organization to get it done?  Will, for instance, a Marketing project lose to an Engineering project?  Don’t just ask about your own sphere – ask about the overall picture.
  • Resources: For years, I’ve told salespeople not to ask “The Budget Question.”  There are many reasons for this – you’re unlikely to get an honest answer, it opens the door to price pressure, and there are issues beyond money that could prevent you from getting the business, among others.  However, I think there’s a place for a question about   Resources are more than money – it can include time, technology, personnel, etc.  “What resources to do you plan to allocate to solving this problem?”
  • Timeline: The “timeline question” is important – and it’s often done incorrectly.  Salespeople ask about the timeline for the decision – when in fact, they should be asking for the date the solution is needed.  This does two things for you.  First of all, it helps the customer envision their problem getting solved – which makes the process about them and not   When you ask about the decision, you are a supplicant – “please tell me when you are going to buy from me.”  Asking about the solution makes you a partner in the solution.  Secondly, asking about the solution timeline allows you to help set milestones for completion of the different parts of the Buyer’s Journey, as well as to guide the post-decision milestones. Ultimately, it gets you toward success for the buyer and for yourself.

The key is this:  If you aren’t getting the answers that you need, you must not be afraid to discontinue your participation in the process. Again – your time has value, and you could be prospecting to find someone who will embark on a Buyer’s Journey with you.  By paying attention, keeping communication clear, and using these questions, you can tell the difference between a promising lead and a dead end. It’s an ongoing skill that gets better with practice and helps focus efforts where they matter most.

Why Not? Four Innovative Ways to Prospect

Are you getting tired of me telling you that sales is changing?  Too bad.  I’m going to do it again.  Sales is changing.  That doesn’t mean that you have to throw out all of your old prospecting methods – but it does mean that you need to be adding new ones, and new tools to your toolbox.  That can be uncomfortable for some of us, but it’s necessary.

The reality is that we have more ways of contacting prospects than ever before. Some work – some don’t.  And there are some that you should try to see if it works for you.  What’s cool is this – there is no model of prospecting that “doesn’t work anymore.”  Teleprospecting?  Yep, still works, although the ratios are different now.  Walk in cold calls?  For many industries, they’re dead – but I have a client who lives off of them quite successfully.  And then there are new ones that you probably haven’t tried, nor have I.  Let’s talk about four innovative ways to prospect that you should probably try.

  1. Video messaging: This is an offshoot of a conversation that I had with a recruiter this week while on a speaking engagement.  He’s finding good candidates on LinkedIn and, instead of sending a generic text message on LinkedIn, he is recording a highly personalized 30 second video, tailored directly to the individual, and sending that.  Yes, it takes more time to do – but he tells me that his pull-through has actually doubled.  That’s a great idea for recruiting, but it might be a great way to prospect, too.  The key to this (as will be the key to all the methods we’ll discuss) is that it must be very 1-to-1 and speak to the individual – not a mass message.  Have I done this yet?    Am I going to try?  You bet your commission check I am.  And I’ll tell you the results.  But don’t wait for me; give it a shot yourself.
  2. Rethinking the cold call: We know that the ratios of calls to contacts (someone actually answering the phone) have dropped precipitously.  Whereas we used to see someone answering on about half of the prospecting calls we made, now it’s closer to 1 to 5, or even 1 to 10.  So why not make that work for us?  Instead of hanging up or leaving a boring voice mail, think of something exciting to say – and tailored – and consider it an opportunity to get your name on their radar screen, rather than considering it a failure if you don’t get an answer.  In my training with my clients, we see that salespeople who leave voice mails get views on their LinkedIn pages from some of the people they called.  Great!  Leave a tailored voice mail asking them to call you – but also to look you up on LinkedIn or to text.  When they do look you up, send a connection request.  Then slow-play the relationship development (see my comments on LinkedIn prospecting below) so you don’t immediately get blocked.
  3. Buy the appointment: OK, this one is out there a bit, but a close friend sent it to me and it was too good not to share. One ad agency discovered that it cost them $126 to get a lead on LinkedIn, so they skipped the middleman and sent out a nice brochure with $126 in cold hard cash, asking for an appointment.  As the article shows, the sample size is small so far – but the results are good at the start.  This is admittedly one for a company with a decent sized budget, but if you can, why not?  Save it for your top prospects, of course, but if you get business, the ROI is there.
  4. LinkedIn prospecting: You’ve probably seen it.  You accept a connection request from someone you haven’t met, and immediately you get bombed with a hard-sell message.  If you’re like me, you either tell them you’re not interested, or you block them.  Don’t get caught in that trap.  You absolutely should use LinkedIn to prospect, but you should also be aware that it’s a slow play.  Once you receive the connection request, just send a simple message thanking the person for joining your network.  Then, engage with them – like their posts and comment or share where appropriate (but make sure your comments are appropriate and not stalkerish).  Then – when they post or comment something that indicates an opportunity for you – send them a SOFT message suggesting that you can help with their problem, and asking if they’d like to have a conversation.  If they say no, keep engaging.  LinkedIn is a relationship based strategy, but it can work if you do it right.
  5. Send a handwritten note: Admittedly, this is not “new” or “innovative.”  But it’s pretty damned different now.  Nobody sends handwritten notes now.  And by “handwritten,” I don’t mean a note with a printer that looks like handwriting.  I mean an actual handwritten note.  Again – as are all of these methods – it must be tailored and speak directly to your prospect on a one-to-one basis.  This is one that I can tell you works today.  In fact, on a percentage basis, it might work better today than it used to.  Want to combine old tech and new tech?  Send a handwritten note on a card that has a QR code that allows them to reach out quickly.

While you’re digesting those four innovative ways to prospect, I want to cop to a change in my own thinking.  I used to say that prospecting was a function of the law of large numbers, and I told managers to discourage their salespeople from doing extensive research on prospects – instead, make the calls and get the appointments. A good database that tells you who your target contact is and their company’s demographics and industry data was enough. For some industries and environments, that still is appropriate.

For many of us, though, it’s time for a shift.  Notice that every one of those four methods above demanded tailoring.  To succeed, you must speak directly to your prospect on a person-to-person level that demonstrates that you know a little bit about them and have a reason for reaching out.  The good news is that it’s so easy to research now that, within five minutes, you can come up with enough information to have a ‘hinge’ for your contact.

Have I personally tried and trained on all of these methods?  No.  Not YET.

Do I think some of them might fail for myself or for you?  Possibly.  Not everything is a fit for everyone.

But we are in a moment where there aren’t many rules, where these four innovative ways to prospect present a relatively blue ocean (because not many salespeople are trying them), and thus you have an opportunity to use them to succeed.  So try things.  Learn things.  Innovate.  Hell, think of ways that I didn’t think of above.  Maybe in a year, you’ll have developed four innovative ways to prospect that are all yours.

Sales is changing.  You can sit back and not change with it, and you will likely fail.  Or, you can change with it, or even be an agent of change.

Let’s move forward together.

I can help.


Why Doesn’t Cold Calling Work Anymore?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of selling.  Last week, I defined the four trends that I believe will drive sales into the rest of the 21st century, and I’m even hosting a Webinar on those trends on July 6.  One of the dangers of thinking about the future, however, is that you lose sight of what worked in the past and can still work today.  I’m not going to do that.  That’s why this week’s Navigator is going to be about why, if you think cold calling doesn’t work, maybe the problem is you and your skills.

Cold calling is probably the oldest technique for generating new prospects.  It’s taken many forms over the years, but it’s still around.  Should it be?  Spoiler alert – YES.  But you have to be good at it.  Yesterday, I had a cold call that illustrated something I’ve been saying for years:  If you think cold calling doesn’t work anymore, you’re probably lousy at it.  I’m going to tell you about the cold call I received, where he went wrong, and how you can do it right (and why you still should).

Yesterday, I was cold-called by a guy who was selling recruitment services that matched military veterans to employers (a worthwhile cause).  On the face of it, this is probably a guy who should be talked to if you are hiring.  Here’s where he went wrong.

The first time he called, his phone connection was so bad that I couldn’t understand anything he was saying.  He said, “This happened on my last call, let me switch phones and call you back.”  Wait – if it happened on his last call, why didn’t he just stay on the other phone and call me from that one?

When he called back, he introduced himself with his name and company (good so far).  Then, he went into a long spiel about what his company did, and that this was definitely a sales call, that he’d be wanting to talk about getting my hiring business, and could he have 30 seconds?  This spiel took him more than 30 seconds.  I timed it.  So at this point, I just explained that I don’t do hiring because I don’t have a staff.  That’s not 100% true, as I just hired my very own sales executive (the business is growing), but I didn’t have any MORE need for hiring.

Then he asked, “Well, could you tell me who would do all the hiring at Salesforce?  It’s a big company.”  That’s when it dawned on me.  He thought he was calling an executive at Salesforce.  For those of you who haven’t been with me for the nearly 19-year ride of my business (most of you), I’ll give you the backstory.

When I started my business on September 1, 2004, I called it “Salesforce Solutions.”  The idea was not that I worked with the Salesforce CRM, it was that I solve companies’ problems with their own sales forces.  Seemed like a great idea, but it wasn’t, due to marketplace confusion (up to and including calls like this one).  That’s why I rebranded around my own name in 2014 – ten years ago.  This guy had somehow gotten ahold of ten year old data and thought that he was calling an exec with a large company.  I explained his mistake to him, politely, and wished him well.

He is probably thinking, “I don’t know why I’m cold calling – cold calling doesn’t work!”  No.  He’s just very, very bad at it.   Before I give you the four keys to being good at cold calling, however, I want to talk about the elephant that I put in the middle of the room.

If I’m talking about the future of selling, artificial intelligence, what ChatGPT can do, etc., then why am I talking about this old sales technique?  Simple.  First of all, cold call prospecting is STILL the most controllable way that salespeople can build their businesses and attract new customers.  Other strategies, such as networking events, social media, etc., are great and can work, but they are not numerically predictable and controllable.  And we need a method that is.  Cold-call prospecting should be part of your repertoire and routine.

Second – and now we can directly look the elephant in the eyes – cold calling is not (yet) something that AI can do well.  In the article I wrote a few weeks ago, I said that salespeople need to get better at those things that AI cannot do well.  Cold calling is one of those things. By using AI well in things that it’s good at, and then using the time saved to improve your skills at the things it does not do well, you can become the complete package.  With that said, here are the four keys to being good at cold call prospecting:

  1. Test your technology. This means that, if you’re using the phone, make sure that you get a good connection and that you are understandable on the other end of the line.  If you sound like you’re calling from the bottom of an oil well, find a different phone.  You MUST be understandable.  And while we’re on the topic, no damned auto-dialers!  As a call recipient, nothing kills your chances quite like the 2-3 seconds of dead phone line between the time that the call recipient answers and says, “Hello?  HELLO?” and you pick up and start talking.  Use your fingers and dial the phone.
  2. Use a good database. Even the best databases can have about a 10% obsolescence factor – but in this case, “obsolete data” means a year and a half, not ten years.  I think someone would have to be working hard to find data old enough for my past company name.  By the way, here’s a quick hack.  Most good library systems have subscriptions to free database services like ReferenceUSA, Data Axle, A to Z Databases, or the like.  These databases give all pertinent information including contact names.  You must have a NAME to ask for – not “the person who.”
  3. Be concise and powerful. From the time your prospect picks up the phone, you have 15 seconds – MAXIMUM – to give that person a reason to talk to you.  Crap like “How are you today?”, “is this a good time?”, or other babbling uses up that 15 seconds, as well as your prospect’s patience.  Introduce yourself and give ONE powerful sentence that explains how you benefit your customers, and how you could benefit them.  Yes, this requires thinking and refinement.  DO IT.  You could even try getting ChatGPT to help you write the sentence!
  4. Ask a strong question. After giving your one-sentence explanation, ask an open ended question about the prospect’s potential problems and needs to stimulate the discussion.  Then you can ask for an appointment.

If you’re thinking that cold calling doesn’t work, it’s time to get good at prospecting.  Don’t waste your prospects’ time – or yours.

9 Ways to Be More Productive

This is an answer to a question that I get asked every now and then.  “Troy, how do you get and stay productive?”  I’ve found 9 ways to be more productive.  I’ll be honest enough to say that my own productivity system has been a work in progress for most of my career, and it will continue to be so (I’m always learning).  Some of the techniques have come from reading, most from practice, and many from my passion for building race cars and hot rods.

Yes, I said race cars and hot rods.  It’s a hobby that has taught me a lot over the years about problem solving and work habits.  There’s no such book as ‘Seven Habits of Highly Productive Gearheads,’ but if there were, some of the habits below might be in it.

Game-plan every day:  This seems obvious – but many people don’t do it, and in fact, I didn’t do it for many years.  Every day has a game plan for me.  The obvious components of the plan are ‘live’ activities – appointments, speaking engagements, and the like – but I always have some phone calls to make, some tasks, and some work on at least one long-term project.  I also plan in my personal projects (I still work on cars and motorcycles) and my workout time.  Rigid?  Yes.  But planning all this is what gives me time for fun, believe it or not.

Write it down:  OK, call me a Luddite if you wish, but my game plan is always written down with a pen on real paper in a real (inexpensive) planning pad (it’s fun –and here it is).  I’ve tried using the task management components of Outlook (I use Outlook for my contacts and appointments), but I find that it’s too easy – at least for me – to simply put a new date on an old task.  Writing implies permanence and commitment (which are also reasons that handwritten thank-you notes are particularly effective, but that’s a different story).  I like CRM and use it – but there’s still a place in my world for a pen and paper.

Make appointments with yourself:  My phone calls are programmed into my day, including the time slot that I’ll be making them.  Particularly for telephone prospectors, it’s vital that you block time into your schedule – ESPECIALLY for those parts of your job that you don’t love.  If you don’t, it’s too easy to slide them off.

Checklists are great:  I like lists.  I like them a lot because they keep me focused.  Again, this is a benefit of writing things down instead of using Outlook.  For me there’s a satisfaction involved with taking a pen and checking an item off my list.

Touch big projects every day:  This is one that I learned from racing and hot rodding.  Sometimes a car build can stretch out over years, and if you lose momentum on one….well, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are full of aborted projects being sold at a heavy discount.  You lose momentum by taking one day off, then another, then another…..and soon your project is gathering dust and you can’t remember where you left off.  When I’m working on a car, I touch it every day, even if it’s just to change a light bulb or do a little sanding on a fender.  When I do this, I never lose momentum and I never lose track.  This method has segued over to business projects, as well.  To write Sell Like You Mean It!, I spent an hour every day working on the manuscript for six months.

Work ahead:  If you’re making calls today for appointments tomorrow, you’re already sunk.  Don’t be that guy or gal.  Instead, work well ahead.  This article was written two weeks before I posted it.  Why?  Because I was inspired, and my own history tells me that when I get inspired to write an article, I’d better go ahead and write it, even though I might have a couple of articles ahead of it in line.

Stop when you have to:  One of the things that I’ve learned through painful experience with my cars is that, sometimes, it’s best to stop in the middle of a task or project if you’re thrown a curveball, and reapproach it with fresh eyes later.  A couple of months ago it was late in the evening and I was installing a part on my old Mercury, and I was determined to get it done that night.  The problem was that a bolt hole wasn’t lining up and I was starting to cross-thread a bolt.  Now, intellectually, I know that this is bad and that I should stop – but I didn’t.  Instead I turned the ratchet harder (perhaps hoping that the bolt gods would smile upon me and magically make the bolt line up), and messed up the threads.  At least now I stopped.  The next day, I got a tap, recut the thread on the Mercury’s frame, and as I was doing it, an easy method for making the parts line up popped into my head.  Ten minutes later it was done.  I could have saved myself quite a bit of time if I’d stopped when things started to go bad.

Find your idea time:  We all have times during the day when our mind is unfettered and is likely to give us great (and, honestly, sometimes not so great) ideas.  For me, that’s the last hour before bed.  I need to keep my mind unoccupied with important tasks (so, no business work during that time), and I need to keep my planner handy so I can capture those ideas.  What do I do during that time?  I watch TV, I read something unrelated to business…..but I am ready to grab a good idea when it hits me.  Find yours and use it.

Keep a diary:  Okay, okay….if you prefer to call it a ‘journal,’ go right ahead. I suppose that’s more manly.  On the other hand, George Patton called his a ‘diary,’ so I think I’m OK on that count. At the end of every day, I write a little summary of the day in the same planner book that I use to plan my day.  I do this for two reasons:  First, I want to see if I accomplished my mission for the day. Second, sometimes the big success of the day wasn’t planned, and I like to keep track of positives.  I do this because it makes me my own accountability partner.  I never want to write “pretty pointless day,” so I strive to make it a day that advances me somehow.

There’s one other aspect that I didn’t mention, because it’s highly individualized.  Do what works for you.  You don’t have to use all my 9 ways to be more productive; heck, you don’t have to use any of them if you have a system that really works for you.  But you should have a system and you should faithfully execute it, day in and day out.  Until I did, I often had days where I sat in the evening wondering where the day went and why it didn’t produce a result.