STARTUP SALES TIP: Generic is geriatric, make it human instead

Everyday, we experience getting bombarded with “above the line” sales pitches: from TV, print and radio. This is mass market/media advertising: a singular ad which hopes to reach millions and convince thousands to buy. Large corporations spend billions on advertising to convince a small percentage of the reached audience to make a purchase.

Of course, startups typically have a limited advertising budget, so they have to be sneakier, employing “below-the-line” techniques such email, direct marketing materials, and social networks. Here, the thinking is that we can be more “targeted” with our sales correspondence, because we can go more “direct” to the consumer.

You know what, from what I’ve seen, a lot of SME’s and startups, and sadly, even larger corporations, shoot themselves in the foot doing “direct” sales correspondence – the material and strategy used is still for mass consumption.

Aren’t we all tired of all the loan offers, the generic training course emails, the same condo brochures, the same scripted credit card “you have been selected” calls – these get old quite fast, don’t they?

Again, with the amount of information we are fed, from literally everywhere we look, mass strategy/one-ring fits all material is getting less and less effective.

Generic is geriatric.  

Let’s take email blasts for example. Isn’t this just a better way to name spam?

We tell ourselves it isn’t spamming, because there’s a way to “customize” it, right? For example, you can add the person’s first name in every other paragraph (so it sounds more personal), have different templates per market segmentation, or making the first two lines “personal.” Sadly, it isn’t. Each time you send what is largely the same material to a large number of people, that is spam.

You can spam through social networks as well. For example, salespeople even go through the process of “friending” me through the social networks, and then (to my dismay), proceeding to send me a generic sales letter inviting me to a generic training course.

My least favorite spam invite is the headhunter who asks me in Linkedin if I were interested in an HR Manager job.  Uhm…so you didn’t have time to look at my profile a bit to see that “job inquiries” and “career opportunities” are not ticked, and that I haven’t handled HR for nearly 5 years?

Perhaps I’d pause in immediately deleting your email and finish reading your correspondence if you start with something like…

“Hi Peter, I found your profile through a common friend, Mark Reyes. Based on a brief look at your profile, it’s obvious that you haven’t worked in corporate HR for a few years now. So I might be reaching a bit, but would you happen to be currently thinking of a career shift, coz’ I’ve a great opportunity you might want to explore….”

Then, I’d see you invested a bit of time getting to know me a bit through my profile. This counts.

It’s amazing how so many sales processes from so many companies can be improved only if the salesperson just realized she was conversing with a fellow human being.

No one wants to be treated in generic fashion. No one wants to deal with automated responses. Take a look at your literal and email trash bin. They are littered with spam. 

In Linkedin, I reject almost all invitations to connect made by A COMPANY. I want to talk and  engage with PEOPLE, I will not be friends with a firm. I want to know who I am conversing with, at the very least.

Forget spamming.

What’s the success rate anyway? 3%? 1%?

Sure, you will reach that small amount, but: a) your time could have been used for activities with higher yields, and b) you are basically telling the 97% majority that “we treat our clients in a generic fashion.”

How can you ensure more human sales correspondences?

Here are some suggestions for startups:

1) Never “templetize” sales correspondence.

People can smell generic letters a mile a way and will delete/shred them faster than you can say “spam.” Sure it would be much slower to TRULY customize correspondence (yep, this means a whole letter created just for the person you are sending it to), but your success rate would be much higher per client mailed.

Let’s say I have a marketing mobile application I want to sell. So I found a way to get the email addresses of 1000 marketing manager here in the Philippines. There are actually some people who would do an email blast with one generic letter to be used for all 1000 people. Way to send a message of how special each client is, right? What would be the outcome? You get 50 people interested? 30? Out of this, how many would meet you? Ultimately purchase?

Anyway, more “strategic people” would probably  segment it, say, by industry. Then i’d create an industry-specific letter. I’d sent one letter to 150, a different letter to 200, and so on.

Here’s an idea. What if you study the profiles and pick out 100 managers in companies which you’d think would most likely find your product useful. Then, why don’t you CREATE ONE LETTER EACH for each of the 100 selected people. If I were writing the marketing manager of Coke, then I’d make a letter imagining she’s the only one I’m trying to land. It would be completely different from my letter to the marketing manager of Avis, and so on.

Sure, this is undoubtedly hard work, but which among these strategies do you think would produce the highest yield?

(oh, and while you’re at it, stop sending generic Christmas gifts to clients and send a thoughtful gift on their birthdays instead – if you we’re the recipient, wouldn’t you remember that better?)

2) Google people. (yep, stalk em)

It pays to know who you are talking to. (Literally pays.)  What is her background? interests? Career progression? It is here you can find things which you can use to customize your correspondence with.

This also applies when you manage to secure a sales meeting with someone you’ve never met before. Google her. Do your research.

You’d google someone if you were going on a blind date right? A sales meeting has the same basic objective: the need to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

This personal knowledge of the person will make small talk and rapport-building much easier and will make you more likeable.

What is the primary characteristic firms look for in salespeople? Likeability. All things equal, people buy from people they like. How can you be likeable? Show an interest in the person, for starters.

3) Think of and treat ALL your business correspondences as your close friends.

Meeting a client tomorrow? Imagine your client as an old friend whom you haven’t spent time with in a long while. Then greet your client (seriously, try this).

How do you talk with close friends? You are yourself, right? You are less formal, you make jokes, you ask them how their family is, you ask them how they are doing with their current project. You care.

Human beings tend to like this.

4) Get to know your clients.

There’s no other way around it. You have to invest the time and energy to get to know your clients, what makes them tick, their birthdays, what motivates them, what they like, what irks them. That is, if you want repeat business with them.

Just know that as you are doing all these that you have to absolutely…

5) Be authentic.

We just KNOW when someone’s faking it right? To be successful in sales, you have to be TRULY be interested in people. Your authentic need for a long-term partnership has to be conveyed. Talking with clients and getting to know them mustn’t feel like a chore.

If it is, or if what you’ve read so far seems really tedious and time-consuming?

Get another person to do sales.