Paid Media Consultant for Growth-Focused Business

Tag: sales

Why Sales Reps Should Deliver Bad News to Clients

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? 

When asked this question, most people choose the bad news first, so they can get it out of the way and end on a good note. However, most people with the good and bad news to deliver prefer to offer the good news first, so they can soften the blow of the bad news by easing into it with something positive. (Ref: “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink)

Sales reps love delivering good news. They are eager to share, and for good reason. Good news makes clients happy. The good news is seldom shared without being followed by written or verbal exclamation points.

“Your campaign over-delivered by 78%!”

“We were able to include 14 bonus ads for you at no charge!”

“I was able to get a discount for you approved by management!”

As in all client-oriented businesses, there inevitably comes a time when something goes wrong. An instruction falls through the cracks. Start dates are delayed. A click-thru URL was entered incorrectly. Between technical quirks and human error, it’s a miracle anything does run the way it’s supposed to. And when this bad news arises, sales reps fear it. Frantic thoughts enter the rep’s mind. Maybe the client won’t notice? If I can sandwich this bad news within a pile of good news, maybe it won’t seem so bad? If we get it fixed now, maybe we can just pretend like it never happened?

It’s easy to see the potential pitfalls of brushing some bad news under the rug. Not to mention the wear and tear on one’s integrity and conscience. 

If you want to move beyond “vendor” status with your client to get into the coveted “partnership” relationship zone, one of the best ways to become a trusted partner is to give your clients bad news, head on. 

Think about one of your closest friends. Now say you are planning a birthday party for yourself (because you’re an adult and that’s what adults do). Unbeknownst to you, this close friend of yours cannot make it. They have a conflict. They haven’t told you about this conflict. As the day draws nearer, you are getting all excited as the plans are coming together for your epic birthday bash.

In this instance, what would you rather your friend do? Would you rather they tell you they can’t make it as soon as possible, or would you prefer they hold off until the day before to break the bad news? Or perhaps you’d prefer they no-show and later offer an alibi or excuse?

Most people would rather be hit with the bad news head on, as early as possible. 

Business works the same way. If you have clients, and you’ve discovered some bad news about their account… just tell them. 

Why? For two main reasons. 1) The client will trust you more because you had the integrity to give it to them straight. Any newbie off the street can deliver good news, but only a trusted partner acts as if client and vendor are on the same team, taking the good with the bad. 2) Giving the bad news right away gives the most amount of time for problem-solving. Waiting to give the bad news at a later date only means that’s more time the problem hasn’t gotten better. 

I recently had an experience with my largest advertising client (responsible for about 20% of my annual income) where a problem was discovered with their ad campaign. The ads had all been running as intended, but our reporting technology had a breakdown. We place tracking pixels on client sites to link their ad campaigns to website visits from people who’ve seen the ads. The problem? Over two months ago, the tracking pixel had “fallen off” their website. (That was how my IT team put it. Did the pixel walk off a cliff? How does a piece of software code fall, exactly?) This meant that for two months of their annual campaign, we would not be able to deliver the reporting metrics the client had grown accustomed to. 

Upon hearing this news from my team, I was left at a crossroads. I knew I had to tell the client, because eventually they would find out anyway when it came time to review their April report and nothing was there. But how to explain? Over the phone? In an email? And when? Right away? Wait until we have a few other topics to discuss and then drop this reporting blunder bomb into the mix? 

I was dreading delivering this bad news because they are my biggest client, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to question their investment with my company.

In the end, I decided to call her up the day I found out the news and give it to her straight. Here’s how the conversation went. 

Me: “Hi client, how’s your day going? Oh I’m so glad to hear that. Say, you know how in all great partnerships, there’s a lot of good news, but every once in a while, there’s some not-so-great news? Well, I’ve got some not-so-great news for you, and I don’t want to beat around the bush, so here it is. Your tracking pixel stopped working on April 2. This means your April and May reports will not be available. The reason we didn’t find this out until now is because, while the pixel had fallen off most of your website, the pixel was still active on one page, so our system was not alerted. I have confirmed with my team that we now have new safeguards in place so that we’ll get an alert earlier next time. What we need to do now is get it reinstalled on your site, and I’ve just emailed you the pixel and installation instructions.” 

When I stopped to take a breath, here was her reply.

Client: “Thank you for telling me. And you know what? That timeline makes perfect sense. We did a large website update right around that time, so I bet our update is what caused the pixel to stop working. I never thought to mention this website update to you. I guess this is a learning moment for us that we need to communicate better to our marketing partners when we make updates to our website.” 

Could that have gone any better? I think not. 

A sign of any strong relationship is that both parties are comfortable and trusting enough to take the bad with the good, knowing that it will make the relationship stronger on the other side. 

Getting “Radio Silence” From a Prospect? You Might Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree

“Persistence” may be the most frequently used word across all sales training videos, books, blogs, and seminars. And it’s for good reason; most B2B sales require relentless, tactful persistence in order to get on a prospect’s radar and close a deal. 

But what do you when persistence isn’t paying off? You’ve done your research, identified a high quality prospective client, found the ideal contact within the business, communicated your Valid Business Reason for reaching out, and diligently called, emailed, and messaged over social media (probably LinkedIn)… and all you’re getting is the dreaded proverbial “radio silence.” (Aside: when we will come up with a 2.0 version of this term? Does anyone even know where the phrase “radio silence” comes from anymore? Maybe we should replace “radio silence” with the “loading screen?”) So, what now? 

Do you just wait until you’ve hit that point where you’re ready to cut bait and move on to the next prospect? Or is there another way? 

It may be worth revisiting your assumptions in your initial research and prep work. You thought that person was the ideal contact because of something you read or because their job title matches that of your typical client. But you never know… if you found that person’s information on LinkedIn, maybe they are actually no longer with the company and just haven’t updated their LinkedIn profile in a while. Maybe they are out on an extended vacation or on parental leave. Maybe they’ve switched roles. You never know why someone isn’t returning your messages. Don’t assume. 

A wise sales manager once gave me this advice, and it’s a great sales strategy to live by: 

Always develop at least two relationships with any client. 

You’ll likely have a primary contact and a secondary contact, but investing time in developing a relationship with that secondary contact is crucial to long term success. Say your primary contact takes a new job. Typically you’d be starting over from square one with this client, but since you know Greg the Service Manager or Susie the Receptionist or Michael the Executive Assistant or Lisa the Coordinator… you can maintain the conversation with your client and have a smoother inroad to the new decision-maker. 

This same strategy applies while you’re prospecting, too. 

I once tried, hard, to get a meeting with a Marketing Director of a local credit union. Over the span of two months I sent her nine emails and left her eight voicemails. These were high quality, value-adding touchpoints where I showed detailed research to explain why I was calling and offered up three idea-starters to get a conversation going. Never got a single response. I was about to give up. And then I remembered…

Always develop at least two relationships with any client. 

I went back to the drawing board to search for another contact at the credit union. Maybe it wouldn’t be the ideal decision maker, but I could try to connect with someone that knows my main contact and come at it sideways. 

I sent the very first email I’d send to the primary to my new secondary contact. Forty minutes later I got a reply. Meeting set for the following day. And it turns out he was actually the “primary” contact’s boss

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in Sales. Don’t give up if one person is giving you the silent treatment. Go impress someone else at the company and success will follow. 


I’d love to know of a time where you used this out in the business world, or if you have another sales hack you use to shake things up when you’re getting radio silence. Tell me about it in the comments!

3 Selling Tips to Improve Your Cold Calling Results

Do you love making cold calls? You do? OK, well, you’re a crazy son-of-a-gun, and I want you on my team. 

For the rest of us, cold calling is the biggest necessary evil in all of Sales. If only we could spend 100% of our time delivering electrifying presentations, chumming it up on the golf course, and treating clients to overpriced sushi. 

Why is making cold calls a necessary evil? Because as a sales rep, you are responsible for creating demand. You have to get there and spark interest with a prospect, connecting your product to their problem. 

Unfortunately, thanks to decades of unsolicited and unprofessional telemarketers and robocallers incessantly spamming us with phone calls pitching products we don’t need, asking us to donate to XYZ cause, and addressing us by the wrong name, people have now been trained to shun sales calls. Corporate gatekeepers stand guard as you “Press zero to speak with an Operator.” And assuming you’ve found a way to bypass the gatekeeper and catch a prospect in a moment where they’re at the desk and able to answer their phone (a Herculean feat in itself), before you even speak one word, you are already at a massive disadvantage – the prospect has been trained by years of receiving low quality sales calls to instinctively say “No.”

It doesn’t matter if you have the best product for the lowest price and perfectly suits their business; you are battling against a now-hardwired instinct.

Making a cold call to a prospect is like walking into the kitchen of a Michelin Star restaurant at 7 p.m. (peak dinnertime when the kitchen workers are buzzing a mile-a-minute), strolling right up to the Head Chef in the midst of the culinary chaos, and saying, “Hey there, I know you’re busy, but I’m with National Cable Company and we have a promotion where I can get your business twice the WiFi speed for no extra cost. Are you interested in setting up a meeting to discuss in more detail?” 

You’d be lucky to escape that kitchen without the Head Chef lopping you off at the neck with a cleaver, let alone having any realistic chance of making a sale. 

What can you do to improve your cold calling odds and make the entire process of cold calling better for everyone involved? 

THREE SELLING TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR COLD CALLING RESULTS

1. Communicate your Valid Business Reason for calling before you take your first breath. 

Ever heard the old saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” In this situation, your first impression isn’t this initial cold call; your first impression is your first sentence. From the moment you being to speak, you are being judged. Your first 1-2 sentences are the most critical piece of this entire conversation. Plan exactly what you will say before you pick up the phone. 

A good Valid Business Reason for calling will include three components: 

  1. Show that you know something about their business
  2. Give the prospect a reason to meet with you
  3. Give them a reason to meet or take action right now

There’s a great write-up on how to craft an excellent Valid Business Reasons on the Center For Sales Strategy blog.

 

2. Anticipate a minimum of three objections, and know how you will address the concerns and return to the validity and urgency of your Valid Business Reason. 

Remember, the prospect is trained to say “No” to anything you say or offer. Think through the likely objections they will toss out and prepare yourself. 

Some of the most common objections for any cold call are:

  • “Now’s just not a good time.”
  • “We don’t have the budget for that.” 
  • “That decision isn’t up to me.” 
  • “We don’t do ____.” or “We don’t use ____.”

Write down how you would respond to these in a document, and keep that document nearby when making calls. 

 

3. Before you call, define your desired outcome of the conversation.

Hint: it should be one of these three things:

  1. Further qualify the prospect beyond what you could find online
  2. Schedule a business meeting
  3. Close the sale

If you don’t know the exact purpose of your call, how is your prospect supposed to know? Before you start talking, they don’t know if you are trying to get them to buy something on the spot, take a meeting with you, or simply to have a conversation. Your prospect is trying to decide, as quickly as possible, “Is there any reason I should not hang up the phone right now?” Your well-crafted Valid Business Reason gives them a reason to speak with you for a few more minutes, but then you must progress into clearly articulating exactly what you want the prospect to do and what they should expect to get in return for doing it. 

For example, “We’ve established your website is difficult to find for homeowners in your area who are searching for a plumber. What we should do is schedule a time within the next five days for a 30-minute business meeting. In this meeting you can expect to learn the 5-step process my team will take to improve your company’s visibility online, and we’ll discuss the results my team has generated for other businesses with similar situations. At the end of the meeting you will know what we propose to do for you, how we’ll do it, what it will cost, and what your company will get in return. When can we meet?”

 

Conclusion

Taking these three steps will drastically improve your cold calling game:

  1. Communicate your Valid Business Reason before you take a breath
  2. Anticipate at least three objections and prepare your responses
  3. Clearly define your desired outcome, and don’t shy away from telling your prospect exactly what your desired outcome is

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