I was at a sales and marketing event. More years ago than I care to remember. Some nondescript hotel off an equally nondescript motorway junction. Entirely forgettable.
Except for one conversation which has always stayed with me.
There’d just been a presentation on ‘the sales cycle.’ As we queued for coffee and wondered how old the biscuits were I started talking to the man next to me. It turned out he was responsible for a direct sales team in the life assurance industry.
“So how’s ‘the sales cycle’ go with your guys?” I asked.
“Remarkably simple,” he said. “Virtually every one of my team has a four stage sales cycle.”
“You want to know? It goes like this. Prospect – prospect – prospect – prospect: close – close – close – close: spend it – spend it – spend it – spend it. Sod it. Prospect – prospect – prospect…”
I couldn’t help laughing – and I’ve remembered the conversation every time I’ve opened the paper and seen the financial services industry beset by another mis-selling scandal. But it isn’t just ‘commission hungry salesmen’ who get trapped in that four stage sales cycle. I’ve seen it any number of times in any number of industries. And I was thinking about it the other day as I drove home from the annual TAB conference.
I love the two days of the TAB conference: as I wrote the other week it re-energises me and re-focuses me. And it’s a great reminder of the basics – not just of my business, but of any business. I drove away this year with two clear thoughts: I was doing the right things, but maybe I needed to do more of them – and I was proud of my commitment to this blog.
I was talking to one of my newer colleagues over a drink – and no, this time it wasn’t hotel coffee and stale biscuits…
“I’m really busy, Ed,” he said. “In fact I’m so busy that I don’t really have time to do any marketing at the moment.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years – irrespective of the industry I’ve been in or the sales teams I’ve managed – it’s this: marketing cannot be turned on and off like a tap. It’s an essential part of your business: making sure your marketing is running smoothly and that you’re doing it consistently is every bit as important as an appointment with a potential client.
This blog was started on 29th June 2010 as part of my marketing. At the time TAB York had just a handful of members and – not surprisingly – the blog had very few readers. Before I started I spoke to someone who knew a lot about blogs. “You have to do one thing, Ed,” he said. “You have to publish consistently. It’s exactly like a newspaper. And it’s called the Sunday Times. Not the When-I-Can-Be-Bothered Times.”
I rapidly came to understand how difficult it is to publish every week. And with not many readers it would have been easy to give up. But I gradually realised what my expert had meant. Marketing today is more difficult than it used to be, especially if social media is an integral part of it. If you’re blogging or using Twitter it doesn’t cost you anything – except time and commitment.
But if you do put the commitment in – and you do it regularly and consistently – then you will not only generate a regular flow of potential clients, you’ll generate a flow of potential clients who already know that you’ll deliver, because they’ve seen it every week.
“You don’t know me,” a voice on the phone said, “But I’ve been reading your blog every week for a year. I think it’s time to talk.”
That conversation led to a great TAB member. At the time I had absolutely no idea he was reading the blog – and that’s increasingly true of a lot of our marketing. We cast it adrift on social media and we have no idea who might be reading it – or when we might get that phone call.
But make sure your marketing is consistent – whatever form it takes – and I guarantee that someone will read it and act on it. We live in a wholly different world to the old sales approach. Your clients expect you to deliver consistently: make sure your marketing proves that you do.