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Always Be Closing: Ink the Deal and Do It Quickly

12 Mar

abc_suster_feb10.jpgJust because you’ve been in talks doesn’t mean the deal is done. Entrepreneurs need to remain diligent about timelines in order to ensure that the deals they’ve set in motion actually come to fruition. If you’re negotiating a term sheet, building a partnership or on the verge of an acquisition, get the papers signed. Legendary GRP VC investor Mark Suster has seen his fair share of successful deals, and he writes, “don’t pop the champagne until the ink is dry on the contract and the money is in the bank.”


dali_clock_feb10.jpgSuster wrote a great post on the need to close deals in a timely manner. While it’s important to negotiate well, he’s seen firsthand how deals can go up in smoke if given too much time. Suster raised a round right before a market crash and is convinced that if he’d waited even a month, his offers would have been rescinded. He explains that market crashes, deal fatigue, complacency, or losing your deal sponsor could mean the difference between a banner year and a missed opportunity. Some suggestions to expedite the deal process include:

1. Don’t Over Shop: Although a healthy interest from a number of players is important for leverage, shopping around too much has its downside. Says Suster, “There is a fatigue factor.  If deals drift, people start whisper campaigns.  It is a tight-knit industry.  Like it or not everybody knows each other. ” If you haven’t closed a deal in a timely manner others may assume something negative is holding you back.

2. Don’t Grind Every Detail: Know the important points that you want to negotiate and stick to them. He writes that you shouldn’t get caught up in inconsequential details as they’ll potentially add weeks to the legal process and you’ll risk creating ill will with your newfound partners.

3. Don’t Be Complacent: Suster suggests that you hold all those involved to their deadlines and ensure that lawyers get the documents out when promised. If someone is behind, call them and let them know you are both interested and that you’re willing to fly out and meet them or take calls in the middle of the night to acommodate them.

4. Get People In Person: Put yourself, your negotiating partner, both sides of lawyers and the other party in a room to hash out the details. Suster stresses that it’s important to create goals for what you want to accomplish and take breaks to gain consent from any higher authorities.


How to Improve Your Cold-Calling Skills

12 Mar

Let’s face it: Nobody really enjoys making cold calls. But the fact is that cold calling remains a part of life whether you are a business owner, a job seeker, or even a volunteer looking to raise money for your local non-profit group, says Eliot Burdett, co-founder of Peak Sales Recruiting in Ottawa, Canada. “Even with the rise of the Internet, which has changed the way people buy, having the ability to connect with someone cold on the phone remains a valuable skill for anyone to have,” he says.The problem, quite frankly, is that like any skill, cold calling requires practice. And even then, the numbers don’t always add up, says Joanne Black, founder of NoMoreColdCalling in Greenbrae, California, and author of a book by the same name. “People who cold call will make between 100 and 150 dials, talk to between 18 and 20 people, and schedule six to eight appointments,” she says. “And if they’re lucky, close one deal.”We’ve compiled some expert tips below to help you improve your odds of closing more deals with fewer dials.Dig Deeper: Improving Your Cold-Calling TechniqueImproving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Set a Calling ScheduleSet a target number of calls per week and schedule time every day to make a portion of these calls, Burdett advises. “This kind of discipline will create rhythm and the calling habit, don’t procrastinate, just do it,” he says. “The more calls you make the easier it gets.”

The best times to call are early or late in the day when potential customers are less busy and more likely to answer their own phones. You may also prefer to use a hands-free device or headset that allows you to stand up and walk around when you’re talking to sound more energized.

One of the first questions to ask  might be, “Is this a good time to talk?” If it isn’t, ask the person when a better time might be. Then, get them to schedule it on their calendar. Then, when you call back, they’ll be expecting you. Pick a quick and clever way to break the ice – perhaps with a short dose of humor.

Dig Deeper: Advice on How to Practice Your Sales Pitch

Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Communicate Value

Start your call by promising brevity and keep your promise, says Stephanie Hackney of Branding Masters in Austin, Texas. “Before you lift the receiver, you need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what you provide has value to the people you’ll be calling on,” she says. “Once you know that, and you can show why your potential customers care, create simple wording that briefly communicates that value and answers the customer’s primary question: What’s in it for me? As a customer, I don’t care what you have or what your product does, I want to know how it benefits me. How does it make my life better, easier?”

One key is to communicate the benefits of what you’re calling about, not just its features. Remember also to focus on what your customer needs, not on what you have.

Questions you should be keeping in mind, Hackney says, are:

•    Is your product and/or service offering solving your customer’s issues, or is it simply something you want to offer?

•    Have you adequately researched the market to determine there is a real need for what you have to offer? If not, then go back to the drawing board until you are able to answer “yes” to that question.

Dig Deeper: A Sales Force Built on Cold-Calling Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: How to Head-Off ObjectionsYou should know every reason your potential customers might have for not wanting to give you the time of day, Hackney says. One way to prepare for this is to script answers to every objection you can think of, and then think of and answer more. Identify a list of several meaningful and probing questions that will stimulate a conversation and allow you to develop a relationship. Role-playing is perhaps the best way to develop the list of objections, says Hackney, especially if you can convince an uninterested (and therefore more objective) person to play the role of the customer.

If you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t make up an answer just to fill the silence. “Offer to research the question and to get back to the customer,” Hackney says. “You will be seen as honest, professional and interested in your customer’s success.”

Dig Deeper: How to Respond to an Objection over Price

Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Think Research

If all you’re only goal in making cold calls is to close deals, it’s easy to get frustrated when someone hangs up on you. That’s why you should change your focus and think of the calls as research time, Burdett says. “Don’t just call and hard pitch, because everyone hates to have their day interrupted by a sales call,” he says. “Instead try think beforehand what challenges the prospect is dealing with and then use the call to collect insight, validate your assumptions, share insight about what solutions exist and what might work for them.”

Then, you make your calls, use what you have learned about your customer’s needs and leverage it, says Hackney. “Once you know, to the core of your being, that your offering can solve someone else’s pain,” Hackney says. “It will be much easier to communicate it to the customer.”Dig Deeper: How to Leverage Sales ResearchImproving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Know Your CompetitionBefore making calls, it is critical to know who your competition is. Know what they offer, along with their strengths and weaknesses, and make that part of your script. “But never, and I do mean never, belittle your competition,” Hackney says. “Every company has its strengths and weaknesses. You have yours as well.”

The key, she says, is to succinctly communicate the differences between yours and your competition’s offerings without resorting to bashing which will help you look more professional, and most importantly, will make the customer feel that you have their best interest at heart.

If the customer can’t see any difference between what you’re selling and what the competition is offering, you have not done a good job of communicating what makes you unique and the best solution, Hackney says. Or, your offering might not be the best fit, in which case you could choose to recommend a competing product or service that’s a better fit to your customer’s individual needs. The point is to try and address these kinds of questions and distinctions before you place the call.Dig Deeper: Tools on Researching the CompetitionImproving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Follow Through

One of the most important lessons in business is to follow through on commitments, Hackney says. “Be true to your word and deliver what you promise,” she says. “Just knowing that you will do so makes it easy to communicate a caring attitude and professionalism to customers. After all, that’s all most customers want: someone to make their life easier.”

It also makes sense to employ a sales tracking system such as as a way to stay on top of your discussions, emails and campaigns. Dig Deeper: Mastering the Follow-ThroughImproving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Warm Up Those CallsOf course, there are many ways to set up your calls so that if they’re not hot leads, they’re at least warm. To get there, one tip is to get referrals.”The only way for business owners to get hot leads, close more than 50 percent of their prospects, reduce their sales time, ace out the competition, and incur no hard costs, is to receive a referral introduction to their ideal client,” Black says. Referrals work as an instant connection and address the two biggest issues that all salespeople face:1. Getting the meeting at the level that counts.2. Converting prospects to prime customers.So how do you go about getting referrals? Black says there are two key ways. First, ask your current clients to introduce you to people they know. Second, create referral metrics for your company. That can include: How many people you ask each week, the number of referrals you receive, the number of referral meetings you conduct. Also measure the increase in revenue and profits and the reduction in your cost of sales.

It could also be wise to invest in lead-generation programs so that some of the outbound calls are more warm than cold, Burdett says. There are also countless online social media tools available to help warm up your calls and generate leads. You and your colleagues should see social networking as an opportunity to meet clients and open up entire social pockets of exposure. Check out:

•   Jigsaw •   LinkedIn•   Google Profiles•   Facebook•   Twitter•   InsideView•   ZoomInfo•   ConnectAndSellDig Deeper: Using Social Networking Sites to Drive BusinessImproving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Additional Resources  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cold Calling, by Keith Rosen. Alpha, 2004.Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling, by Sam Richter. Beaver’s Bond Press, 2009.Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work, by Stephan Schiffman. Adams Media, 2007.Lessons from 100,000 Cold Calls, by Stewart L. Rogers. Sourcebooks, 2008.

More Quick Tips on Cold Calling from

6 Powerful Social Media Persuasion Techniques

12 Mar

Let’s be honest, you don’t just want your voice to be added to the conversation; you want your voice to be heard, repeated, and valued—and your message to be influential.  Ultimately, you’re after influence.

So what better way to understand social media than by looking at the fundamental principles of influence as taught by Dr. Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University? In his seminal book, Influence, Cialdini covers six “weapons of influence”  that are hardwired into our social and cognitive minds.  In other words, we can’t help but behave in accordance with these laws of social interaction.

Does this sound like something useful to keep in mind during your social media engagements?  Well, let’s take a look six powerful persuasion techniques:

1. Reciprocation


In Cialdini’s words, the rule for reciprocation “says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return; if a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own; if a couple invites us to a party, we should be sure to invite them to one of ours.”

And so it is in social media: we’re more likely to retweet someone who has already retweeted us.  We link to people who have linked to us.  And we tend to give a business far more trust after it has provided us with a lot of free value.

Used manipulatively, this turns into autofollow bots that help you amass thousands of followers in a breathtakingly short time—none of whom may actually care what you have to say.  Doh!

Used more positively and constructively, if you focus on initiating reciprocity by providing no-strings-attached value to those in your network, you’ll ultimately wield far more influence.  Not because the gift economy is a new fad in marketing, but because following the law of reciprocity is how we’re wired as humans.

2. Commitment and Consistency

“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.  Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision,” said Cialdini.

Chances are, you follow too many people on Twitter.  And you’re signed up for more RSS feeds and newsletters than you can really read.  Objectively, purging your list of followers and unsubscribing would eliminate distractions and increase your social media signal-to-noise ratio.

But most people never make that purge and hardly ever unsubscribe.  Part of it goes back to reciprocation, but a larger part stems from consistency: you’re loath to admit that following and subscribing to those people and newsletters was a mistake.

On the positive side, how much more likely are you to comment on a blog that you’ve already commented on before?  Especially if you’re now “signed in” to comment on the blog during future visits—and if your Gravatar or Disqus headshot shows up next to the comments?

According to the principle of consistency, you’ll want to remind people of their previous positive commitments through perks, public displays, an elimination of friction for increasing their commitment, etc.  It works for Amazon prime, Amazon’s 1-click ordering, and Amazon’s reviewer system, and it will work for fostering blog comments and a blog community, too.

3. Social Proof

One method we use to determine correct behavior is to find out what other people think is correct. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

Just watch this video to see this in action!

Whether we admit it or not, most of us are impressed when someone has a ton of blog subscribers, Twitter followers, YouTube views, multiple blog reviews for their upcoming book, and so on.

Yes, people can game the system (autofollows and such), which can jade our intellectual response, but our core and initial emotional reactions stay the same.

On the positive side, creating a lot of value for others can help companies and individuals gain social proof via reciprocation: writing engaging content for guest posts, offering to interview authors and subject matter experts, and so forth.  Not only do these activities provide social proof in themselves, but they can help you gain a support network capable of “salting” your blog comments, your retweets, etc.

And when it comes to social proof, tribes matter.  It’s not just about what the mass of people are doing on social media that constitutes proof, it’s what other like-minded people and peers are doing.  So according to the principle of “social proof,” you should concentrate your social media efforts on finding and building social proof within your tribe.

4. Liking

“We most prefer to say yes to people we know and like,” says Cialdini. Extensions of this principle are:

  1. Physical attractiveness creates a halo effect and typically invokes the principle of liking;
  2. We like people who are similar to us;
  3. We like people who compliment us;
  4. We like things that are familiar to us;
  5. Cooperation toward joint efforts inspires increased liking;
  6. An innocent association with either bad or good things will influence how people feel about us.

How does this work for social media?  Well, to start with the virtual equivalent of physical attractiveness, we give extra credence to attractively designed blogs, messages contained in videos with higher production quality, and corporations’ landing pages displaying a better sense of social media savvy in their overall design and layout.

Similarly, individuals involved in coordinating joint ventures for the common good are associated with—and therefore “haloed” by—those efforts, while at the same time invoking cooperation toward a joint effort, which further increases “liking.”  Think of Seth Godin’s efforts at compiling free and thoughtful ebooks and then using the compilation to raise funds for a non-profit.  Bryan Eisenberg’s Trick or Tweet efforts from a year ago also come to mind.

As for complimenting others, what else is a retweet, a trackback, or a positive blog comment than a social compliment?  And yes, those are all activities you should participate in authentically, sincerely, and liberally if you wish to leverage the principle of liking to your advantage.

5. Authority

Cialdini talks about “The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of authority…”  In his book, he examines how authority can be conferred by (and also manufactured by) titles, clothes, and trappings.

In social media, authority is less about titles and clothes than about virtual trappings.  In his (fantastic) report, “Authority Rules,” Brian Clark talks about how perceived expertise can frequently differ from real expertise.  Meaning that the guy known for blogging about and offering intelligent commentary on a subject will likely have far more perceived expertise (and therefore influence as an authority) than a genuine but unknown non-blogging expert.

But perhaps the most direct measure of authority is the number of people who will buy or download a recommended resource based on little more than an authority’s endorsement.  How many people would buy a copywriting book simply because Brian Clark said it’s a must-read?  How many people will download a free PDF on nothing more than Seth Godin’s evaluation that it contains important insights?

But one thing social media has seemed to spark is a dawning understanding thatauthority is (or should be, at least) limited to a legitimate field of knowledge.  So when a relatively famous figure like Robert Scoble states on his website Scobleizer that search engine optimization isn’t important for small businesses, he’s “taken to task” on it rather severely.

6. Scarcity

Apart from reciprocity, this is perhaps the most used tool in social media.  When bloggers open up a class or inner circle membership or subscription service, it is never for an unlimited number of customers or for an always open/unlimited time.  Smart bloggers either create or fully leverage already existing scarcity by limiting seats available, length of time to buy, etc.

Laura Roeder has rather famously made scarcity a centerpiece of a signature technique,  wherein bloggers hold competitions with free services as a prize.  When contestants don’t win, they then value the prize more highly precisely because of the newly perceived scarcity.  This makes them more likely to accept a consolation prize of getting the services at a slight discount.

Parting Recommendations

While the six principles of persuasion started out as “weapons of influence” that were used against us by “compliance professionals,” I—along with Cialdini—would encourage you to practice the positive side of wielding influence. To sum up many of the recommendations from the post, here are some very positive ways to leverage the principles of influence to increase your social media success:

  • Focus on creating value and initiating the reciprocity principle by gifting your social media contacts with high-value content, insights, reports, etc.
  • Sincerely flatter your subscribers, friends, and commenters by responding to them and nurturing your growing community.  Actively reach out to people you admire using social media and pay them the compliment of commenting on their blogs, following their tweets, linking to their content, etc.
  • Commit to consistent engagement on the social media platforms you chose to use, to the point of staying away from new social media platforms that you don’t have the resources to actively participate in.
  • Use social proof as credibility cues where appropriate.  Show off your number of subscribers next to the Subscribe button.  Possibly use colleagues to “salt” your comments on important posts, build up your network by guest posting, commenting, and retweeting.
  • Coordinate within your community on larger efforts for the greater good.  You’ll probably be psyched at what you create or accomplish, you’ll do good and feel good about it, and you’ll likely become associated with the effort.
  • Put the extra effort in on achieving professional and inspiring design.  Dress for success on your blog, website, and social media landing pages.
  • When creating a contest or trying to spark immediate action, use the scarcity principle to positive effect.  But be honest about it—no changing “last day for” dates, no miraculously replenishing supplies, etc

But, hey, I’d be THRILLED to add to the list if you recognize any of your tried-and-true techniques as falling within—or totally falling outside of—these weapons of influence.

6 Great Approaches to Public Speaking

12 Mar

If you want to be a great public speaker, your preparation has to be more than just blasting gangsta rap and shadow boxing in front of the mirror. Whether you have to videotape yourself speaking, join a presentation club, or rewrite your PowerPoint deck 40 times, it’s important to be able to tell your own story. Few of us are born with the gift of public speaking but with a little preparation we can learn to persuade, sell and inspire.


1. How Not to Suck at a Group Presentation: LA-based investor Mark Suster teaches startup companies how to present on stage with some great suggestions. In addition to excellent points on structure and the importance of practice, he suggests entrepreneurs join Toastmasters or take an acting class to become more comfortable in front of an audience.

2. 10/20/30: Guy Kawasaki wrote the 10/20/30 rule where presenters create a PowerPoint of no more than ten slides, in a 20 minute time frame, with a minimum font size of 30. While Kawasaki’s rules are meant for VC presentations, the fact that each slide has a purpose and covers only key points can carry over to larger presentations.

3. How to Present While People are Twittering: Presentation trainer Olivia Mitchell has a great guest post on Laura Fitton’s Pistachio blog where she teaches presenters to incorporate Twitter and feedback loops into their presentations. Although this adds a layer of complication to the presentation experience, it does have the advantage of offering cues to the speaker in addition to creating a long tail of social media pointing back to your words. You can download Mitchell’s book entitled, “How to present with Twitter (and other backchannels)” here.

4. Uncovering Steve Jobs’ Presentation Secrets: BusinessWeek columnist Carmine Gallo wrote a great article dissecting Steve Jobs’ MacBook Air presentation. What I find interesting about this advice is the fact that Gallo points out that part of the Apple narrative requires a binary opposition or an “us versus them” scenario. Gallo writes “in every classic story, the hero fights the villain.” If you as a startup founder can position yourself as fixing an industry evil or vanquishing a lackluster market leader, then you’re more likely to have a compelling story.

5. The Lessig Method: Upon first arriving in San Francisco I had the pleasure of seeing lawyer and activist Lawrence Lessig speak on copyright and remix culture. In echoing David Hornik’s post, we cannot agree more with the statement that Lessig’s presentations are a “fantastic combination of content, art and brand.” The former Stanford professor weaves a narrative of higher purpose while his staccato imagery injects a freshness into what is often considered dry subject matter. Presentation Zen offers a great breakdown of the many methods inspired by Dr. Lessig’s style.

6. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces: This may seem like an abstract resource, but reading about archetypes is a great way to learn the components of a great story. It is well-documented that George Lucas’ Star Wars was heaving influenced by Campbell’s work. Luke Skywalker went on an epic journey, was mentored by Obi Wan, overcame Darth Vader and returned with control of the force. Which of your mentors is your Obi Wan? What is your greatest obstacle? And what is the skill or lesson you’ve learned in starting this company?

3 Weapons for the True Salesperson

12 Mar

I can recognize a salesperson from a mile away. I can also identify a true SALESPERSON from the same distance.

What’s the difference between a salesperson and a true SALESPERSON (besides all caps)? The former allows prospects to make a decision as to whether to buy. The latter refuses to accept “no” for an answer.

Clearly we cannot force people to buy what we’re offering, so what do I mean by this? Simply put, the true SALESPERSON–the star, the elite–walks into every situation with a set of weapons far more powerful than an elevator speech (which is, in itself, for losers) or another tired PowerPoint presentation (a sure way to induce a coma).

True salespeople walk in with:

  1. A conviction that what they are offering will add immensely to the prospect’s personal or business life
  2. A belief that there is nothing better in the world the prospect can choose
  3. An absolute determination to communicate–through education and brute force of personality–that they are dead right on points one and two

This all relates to the fact that positivity is contagious. When salespeople attempt to sell their products or services, they may walk away empty-handed. But when a superstar SALESPERSON strides in with an overwhelming sense of his mission and a focus on making the prospect see and experience the wisdom of what he’s offering, the prospect becomes a believer as well.

Think of the conversations you’ve had with people who are passionate about an idea, a destination or a device that is unfamiliar to you. Their passion passes through almost like osmosis. Chances are high that you will become infatuated with the idea, the philosophy or the product the proselytizer is raving about. You’ll become a convert.

This is what the real art and science of true SALESMANSHIP is all about. It is not about getting “at bats” in front of customers and hoping to hit pay dirt with some. It’s about being armed to the teeth for every selling opportunity;–not hoping to make a sale, but determined to enlist a convert.

Every time I am in a selling position I think:

  • I will make the sale.
  • Saying “no” to me is not an option–not for my good, but for yours.
  • If the prospect says “no” at first, I will not pack my bags and move on. I won’t even acknowledge the word.
  • I will get to a “yes.”

I never want to be just another salesman. I am a CEO and a true SALESMAN.

Are you?

The salespeople of the world aren’t there to actually, definitely, positively make a sale. Nope, they believe that they are visiting a prospect as part of a process whereby: a) you see large numbers of people, and b) you’ll get lucky eventually, and some of them will become customers.

They think that it’s all a numbers game: Toss a hundred darts against the wall (see 100 prospects) and something will inevitably stick.

That is not true salesmanship. That is going through the motions; that is hoping that the law of averages will reward you. Instead of being thrilled that three darts stick, enter the process with the determination to land every single prospect you visit.

You may not win them all, but I know from personal experience that entering the arena with an absolute determination to prevail every time vastly increases the likelihood of your closing 50 percent, 60 percent or even 90 percent of opportunities.

You see, selling is NOT a numbers game, in spite of what the Willy Loman playbook says. Instead, it’s a human game, and it’s a hunt. The human most important in this hunt is you, the truest definition of salesperson–the one who deserves to be spelled out in all caps. I am a SALESPERSON.

Everyone else is an impostor. You are the genuine article. And if you can’t find it within yourself to become this “winner takes all” person, you should find another career.

I think the Peace Corps needs volunteers

Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a results-driven management and marketing firm, and the bestselling author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He is also a popular media commentator on a host of business matters including marketing, branding, management and sales. He is also the author of the popular marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.