How best to deal with the needs of leads

So you got a lead. Good for you! Warming that lead up is crucial. Fudging the numbers, or scaring them with big ideas can just leave them feeling cold. So what do you do? Scale those big ideas into bite-sized chunks and think long-term.

I’ve been thinking about project management a lot recently (and doing a lot of project management, also), which you’ll probably have detected as you’ve skimmed through the headlines to my earlier articles. In some ways, this article is a continuation of the last, which you may want to read, to give you some background.

Be the voice of trust

As with almost every facet of business, trust is a mandatory quality and not some interchangeable attribute you can substitute, by being cheap or quick. So when someone comes to you for your services, it’s as much about people management as planning and pricing — people won’t buy from you until they’ve bought into you.

Being eager is great, but there’s always the danger you’re coming across too strong and a little too eager, bordering on insincere. After all, we’ve all witnessed the say-yes-to-anything sales man and woman at work, and clearly the experienced amongst us have these encounters drifting forward from the back of our minds.

And here’s where I go slightly off at a tangent, but it’ll all make sense, trust me. And I begin with a confession — I don’t pitch for work.

Octane doesn’t do the pitch thing!

The problem with pitching for work is that you’re sort of relying on one thing while skipping several others. In the first instance, you’re assuming the brief you’ve been giving is worth the pixels or paper it’s written on. And then latterly, you’re skipping the all-important initial meeting where you initiate a Q&A, to disentangle need from want.

So when that brief arrives, I’m usually to be found shaking my head, wondering just what the hell I’m supposed to make of the whole thing. Worst thing is, the emphasis is nearly always on cost, in that they equate cheap to be synonymous with being good. Well, we all know where that road leads to.

I’m guessing that, by now, you see where I’m going with this, right? Ask the right questions, and keep asking the right questions. If required, and as I’ve said before, don’t be afraid to ask the obvious questions.

What I’m really getting at is, I either do things right and in their correct order, or I just don’t want to do them at all. And since I’m eleven years into the big game, I have the option of indulging in that particular luxury of choice.

Project priorities

Certainly from my point of view, the various requests and briefs I receive are either a cursory examination of needs, or technically incomplete, which is to be expected as their authors are unlikely to as technically competent and literate as I am. Either way, none of this is a problem for me. But, it’s at this stage that the problems can surface.

Curb your enthusiasm

“Yeah, I can do that.” being the reaction of many, upon reading through a brief. “This is easy.” they add, enthusiastically, quickly diving into a lengthy and detailed document of how they’re going to transform the humble and basic needs of the prospective client into some all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of features and bells and whistles.

Overload. That is the word most appropriate and often to be found on the lips and in the minds of the recipients this tome of a document sent back in reply to the author of the brief. Overwhelming. That’s another word, very similar to the first.

Needed now, Next time, Nice to have

Being objective is something that cannot be emphasized enough. What the prospective client may think is vitally important may well be of secondary or tertiary importance. So prioritizing those requirements is essential a function as just about anything else. In fact, getting things in the wrong order could be a project-ending event.

What I do is take those needs, break them down into what I see as their right order and then sort them again, this time by, well time. You see, any good project has a deadline. And since time is the final arbiter of all things, good or bad, by shuffling those needs around, based on which are Needed now, we can then sort the rest into those that are required Next time around, with the remainder being the ones that would be Nice to have at some later date.

Once you start thinking and then acting this way, everything then sort of looks better. Modular. Now there’s a good word, and appropriate, too.

Cooking up a feast of features

You’ve taken the needs of the prospective client and chopped, hacked, sliced and diced them into bite-sized chunks that are much more digestible by all, delivered to them in an appetizing assortment of textual delights!

OK, enough with the food theme, you get the idea. The point is, you’ve given dates their requirements by which you’ll deliver demonstrable evidence of your good work, packaging your ideas with their own, adding a quality of depth to a project, that allows them to structure their time and budgets accordingly. Keep in mind, the author of the brief might not be decision maker, so your reply may well be a sales letter to their immediate superior.

Packaging your project estimates

We’ve covered a lot of ground, here. So I think this calls for a break-down.

  1. Think strategically, and long term.
  2. Keep the technical talk to a minimum, or at least keep it simple.
  3. Since this is a lead, you’re still very much selling your self and your services, so write accordingly.
  4. Break everything down by their respective priorities, and sort those requirements into Needed now, Next time, Nice to have.
  5. And finally, since there’s no small measure of consultancy being thrown into this, fold those activities into your estimates.

So there you go, a neat list of suggestions, to keep you on your toes and help warm up that lead. Of course, these things are dynamic, but I’m sure you’ll not go too far wrong if you keep these suggestions in mind or at least at hand.


Twitter to show a measure of trust in businesses?

Twitter may soon be wearing a business hat. Some will argue it has been for a while, but I’m talking about an official doffing of the cap towards businesses, with services specific to their needs. And critically, arguably the most important thing to emerge might be an indicator of Twitter’s trust in you and your business.
Twitter, the global social network

Putting the social into social media marketing

So there I was last night, working my way through the Answers forum on LinkedIn and up came the question: How are you generating leads using social media? To which I replied:

“Essentially, it’s all about what the offer is and how it fits your target audience. So many people get sucked into the Facebook-Twitter thing, thinking they just need to get a ton of friends / followers and then post links to their stuff. Wrong.

The same rules apply to social media as in real life — you build relationships around common interests, and this takes time and a degree of sincerity.

I recently published an ebook about WordPress for businesses. That being my proposition, my network of friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter did the rest. But that would not have happened had I not assisted in helping them promote their own content.”

So the leads come as a result a number of factors:

  1. the trust in you by those in your network
  2. the quality of your network (those with the same approach as you)
  3. the value of your offer to those in your network

And at its core, that’s life, and social media is not so special that anyone could make a case for its sudden departure from those simple rules. Yes, there’s more to this than a simple 1-2-3 guide to life, social media and everything in between, but that’s as good a place to start as any.

Twitter’s take on trust

This morning, my curated news source that is Twitter unearthed an interesting headline that caught my eye. By the looks of things, Twitter are readying new business features:

“After close to five months of beta testing, Twitter is preparing to launch a suite of business features tied to a central Twitter Business Center.”

So, it looks like Twitter are finally getting their act together and offering some of the features we’ve grown accustom to with CoTweet and HootSuite. But in amongst the brief overview of this proposed new direction by Twitter was mention of something that’s almost throw-away, but could have far reaching and profound consequences for businesses on Twitter:

“Other new capabilities include customization of business profile pages, verified account badges for corporations and organizations (not just people)…”

A verified account on Twitter is a much sought after prize. Why? Because it’s an indicator of trust in you as an individual and a brand by Twitter. That might not be the reason for a verified account (it’s typically used by famous people to show it’s them and not someone masquerading as them), but the value is there for all to see.

Reputation, recognition and Ra Ra skirts

For businesses, the criteria would need to be different. Yes, there’s still going to be people trying to pass themselves off as the Sony’s and the PayPal’s of this world, but for the legitimate businesses like Octane, this really is all about trust and the enormous value that brings along. However, it does all depend on what criteria they choose to use. As I pointed out in a LinkedIn Answers topic last night:

“Getting a profile verified is like knitting fog — almost impossible. Sorry, that’s not entirely correct. If you’re an almost unknown yet gorgeous US female presenter on some bizarre cable channel aimed at guys, then yes, you’re guaranteed.”

A brand new social media metric

Done right and Twitter could have a brand new metric on their hands — up there with Google’s PageRank, the much maligned but still much used Alexa rank and the very real possibility of a PeopleRank, should Facebook get their way — one used by others as an indictor of trust and to help determine the value of a business.

Recommended and related reading


ASA investigate Chris Cardell newspaper cutting “scam”

Due to the heavy-handed actions of Cardell Media Limited and their factually erroneous cease and desist order, I am withholding the contents of this article from the public until I’m satisfied that my claims and the claims of those who have kindly commented on this article are within their rights.

If I am to determine that we’re within our rights, this article and its associated comments will once more go live and people will once again be able to read my misgivings concerning the sale letter sent by Cardell Media Limited.

In the meantime, please read the subsequent adjudication by the Advertising Standards Authority against Cardell Media Limited regarding the sales letter I and thousands more received back in April this year.


Earning trust in business

There are no short cuts to making people trust you for your words or your deeds, and even less so in the business world. And on the web, trust is a hard-earned currency.

I single out the web because unless you’ve got a video connection, no one can see your expressions, hear the tone of your voice, see your gestures or the movement of your eyes — all of which are strong indicators of sincerity. Without those face-to-face guides, trust takes that much longer to earn.

In a recent article exploring a Google Labs experiment, I had this to say about the value of trust on the web:

“It is inevitable that trust will be the number one currency on the web. Trust is more easily given than it is bought. The more people who trust something or someone, the more value is given, which will therefore (most likely) attract more trust and amass more value.”

And trust as a currency — while being free from exchange rates — is often difficult to sell but earns some excellent interest.

Ways to earn trust in business

As a business owner, certain things have become clearer to me over the years. One of them is that people buy into people long before they buy into your products or services.

That’s why I enjoy meeting people face-to-face. This is my chance to make the most of my personal brand, that ‘brand’ being me!

I use my enthusiasm as a conduit for my business knowledge to show people that I care about what they do and how I might be able to make things better for them and their business.

For the impartial yet interested visitor coming to your website or ‘blog, they want to feel that you’re a person they can trust. They want to be able to use you and your services, while at the same time be confident that you’ll still be around the day after they’ve paid you.

They don’t want hidden costs, dodgy business practices or shoddy workmanship. They want demonstrable evidence of you being good enough for them to spend good money with, and that you’ll be around to support their present and future needs.

In short, they want to feel that they can trust you. But how do you convey all of your worthy and commendable values via the web, or from within a social network?

Testimonials

There’s just no substitute for a good referral, so word-of-mouth recommendations are still the top means of getting yourself known.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are by far the most cost-effective means of marketing, and only works because you were good enough to be recommended in the first place. And if you’re within a close-knit social network, there’s every chance this vocal referral will have an echo effect — being heard by many more businesses along the way.

If you have very satisfied customers and you’re sure they would have no problem singing your praises, then ask them for a testimonial. Ideally, this testimonial would come on company letterhead, written in hand, and signed personally — but that’s just an ideal!

Extending this ideal scenario further, maybe adding in a photograph of the aforementioned very satisfied customer along with their testimonial on your website will add that essential sense of trust. Additionally, getting your client to link to your website or ‘blog is even better.

Placement is also key. Some people might want to place all of their testimonials on one page, but I try to encourage my clients to place their testimonials within the web pages of a product or service that the testimonial relates to, assuming that’s the case.

Case Studies

So your customer is happy with their little lot. You’ve got paid, so you’re happy with your little lot, too. You look back on the job and realize that as well as learning some new things, you also managed to improve on many fronts — you hit the budget, breezed the deadline and managed to give your customer that little bit more than they’d asked for. I’d say that’s got the makings of a Case Study!

Put simply, a Case Study is a working, living documentary, evidencing your good work and the satisfaction of your customer. Ideally, a Case Study should be no more than a thousand words and should consist of four parts:

  1. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points. They should match the prior objectives of the company, and be implied in numerical form (ex. increased 20%)
  2. A description of the project, the aims, the stakeholders and the particulars of the project.
  3. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points.
  4. A conclusion, with supplementary links to the customers website and other related resources.

Why not add in a testimonial, right in the conclusion? Also, add in some photography, or maybe a picture of the client logo, their premises — something that’s going to add some visual interest. Also, if appropriate, link to the page on your website that relates to the products or services you supplied to the client.

Case Studies can be quite authoritative content for your website. So by adding in some strong words and phrases that relate very specifically to you, your customer and both your businesses, the search engines will make the most of that authority.

Standards, professional memberships and associations

Next time you’re given a business card from someone, look at the end of their name. Chances are, you’ll spot a bunch of letters.

If I wanted to, I could write my name as: Wayne Smallman ND, HND, Ba(hons). But for the most part, Wayne Smallman gets me by just fine!

When you see stuff like this, you’re given some vital information — that this individual had a formal education that resulted in a recognized qualification. So that’s years of studious education put to good use. If they providing a service to you, you’re probably going to benefit from their knowledge in some way.

If your business is ISO rated for example, or if you’re a British-based business and you’re an Investor in People, then your business has a valued, recognized accreditation that will open doors. In the case of the ISO 9001 rating, this means you have formal procedures in place that govern certain aspects of your business practices.

As for Investors in People: “Developed in 1990 by a partnership of leading businesses and national organisations, the Standard helps organisations to improve performance and realise objectives through the management and development of their people.”

In both instances, you have a wealth of trust that ought to be made a key feature of the benefits of using your business. Be sure to get the proper permission to make these associations and memberships known. Get the proper logos and add them into the relevant web pages and printed stationary.

It is easy to forget or underestimate the value of your “organic knowledge”, and your qualifications and accreditations are an integral part of that invaluable, ever-growing resource.

Trust as a value-added part of your business

By making the most of your qualifications, your accreditations, your more-than-happy client base, your professional associations, memberships and your processes & procedures, you have all of the ingredients to build a formidable series of Unique Selling Propositions, all of which will mature into a valuable and transferable store of trust.

So make the most of the respect your clients give to you every time they come back for more. Trust me — you’ll do just fine.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Earning trust in business