Lessons from Sociology: 5 Factors to Help You Sell More

I’ve read dozens of books on sales and marketing over the years, and while I learned a lot, some of the best, simplest advice I ever got came not from one of them, but from a sociology textbook. While you may never have heard of Diffusion of Innovations, it’s the foundational work on which more familiar titles like Crossing the Chasm and The Tipping Point are based.

The book is primarily focused on how innovations are spread within social groups. In that context, the author defines five characteristics of an innovation that influence the decision to adopt or reject it. If we think broadly about the term “innovation” as not just a new invention, but simply an idea that’s new to the individual, then it becomes clear that this is the same decision process someone goes through when evaluating buying your product or service. While every buyer has their own unique set of circumstances and decision criteria, these five characteristics offer an excellent checklist for both your overall marketing strategy and the individual sale:

Relative Advantage is the relative benefit of your offering compared to all other alternatives, including the status quo, i.e., doing nothing. Most marketers focus their efforts here – feature-benefits lists, ROI analysis, and competitive comparisons. Pricing also falls under this category. We’d like to think that if we’re the logical best choice, we’ll make the sale, but unfortunately, that’s all too often not the case. That’s because there are many other factors in the decision process that have nothing to do with pure logic.

Compatibility is a measure of how well the new idea fits into a person’s life. It may be a matter of logistics, e.g., actually having room for a large item, personal preferences such as color or finish, religious factors or cultural factors, or even more complex psychological factors, such as whether your product fits the customer’s self-image. Clearly defining your ideal customer will help you address this. Consider psychographic characteristics as well as demographics. What’s important to them? How do they see themselves?

Simplicity is, simply, how easy the product is to use and understand. Too many choices causes anxiety, and a confused mind says “no”. More complex products will have longer sales cycles and required the more skilled salespeople.

Trialability is a measure of the ability of the prospective customer to try out your product or service before purchasing it, i.e., test drives, free or super-cheap samples or trials, free initial consultations. Money-back guarantees are a slight variation on this. How can you apply this to your business?

Observability is the degree to which the benefits can be observed during the trial period or initial use. For example, it’s relatively easy to observe the benefits of taking aspirin to relieve a headache, but impossible to directly observe the results of taking aspirin to reduce the risk of heart disease.

You can apply this five-point checklist at every stage of your marketing and sales process: product strategy, sales process, campaign, and individual sale. You don’t have to be strong in all five areas, but if you have a gap, you need to be aware of it so you can either address their concerns or make a point of being sufficiently stronger in the other factors.

Want to know more? Read the full article at OPEN Forum.


Using LinkedIn to Reach the Right People at the Right Time – Free Webinar 11/30

3229285946_e2e1391972 Wouldn’t it be great if you could connect with your ideal clients before they needed your product or service?  And wouldn’t it be even more amazing if you knew immediately when something occurred that triggered their need for your service?  Imagine running an appliance repair service and receiving an email any time someone in your service area has a broken appliance – before they start the process of finding someone to fix it. Or running a Chinese restaurant and knowing any time one of your regular customers gets a craving for Chinese food.

Science fiction?  Well, yes.  But the reality of what’s currently possible may be closer to that than you think.

Most marketing is focused on creating a message that matches the prospect’s need and attracts them…after they’ve started the buying decision process.  But there’s a window of opportunity before that, between the time that something occurs that causes the need – the "trigger event" – and the time they start the buying process.  If you can connect with people during that window, you can establish yourself as a trusted advisor and perhaps even block out the competition entirely.

image This is known as "trigger-event selling", and Craig Elias, coauthor of SHiFT!  – Harness the Trigger Events That Turn Prospects into Customers, is the world’s leading expert on the topic. He’s also, like me, a very early adopter of LinkedIn and uses it as one of his core business tools.  With in-depth profiles of more than 80 million professionals, LinkedIn is one of the best tools for directly identifying and connecting with people who match your ideal client profile.  It’s also a great place for identifying trigger events – new hires, promotions, new projects, and other company news that may not make it to the usual public channels.

Craig and I will be conducting a free webinar next Tuesday, November 30, at 2pm EST on using LinkedIn to connect with your ideal clients, monitor for trigger events and establish yourself as a trusted advisor to them before they even start the buying process. This webinar will be jam-packed with practical how-to information that you can put into action immediately. Register now to reserve your spot.

P.S. – This is seriously advanced stuff.  I’ve used it with a handful of my high-end clients, but this is the first time I’ve taught it to a group. If you’re serious about using LinkedIn to improve your sales process, you don’t want to miss this.

Top image: Anders Ljungberg

Social Networking for the Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry

Pool Equipment

I just learned that the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation has finished their study on “Social Networking for the Equipment Finance Industry 2010“.  The executive summary is available at http://www.leasefoundation.org/IndRsrcs/MO/SocMed10/ ; the full study is $300.  The author is Suzanne E. Henry.

The study shows that B2B social media marketing in the equipment finance industry is still in the nascent stage, with participants waiting for clearer directions and guidance for return on investment and development strategies.  For context, in its report, "B2B Goes Social," marketing agency White Horse reveals that 86 percent of B2B firms are using social media, compared to 82 percent of business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations. However, B2B firms aren’t as active in their social media activity with only 32 percent engaging on a daily basis compared with 52 percent of B2C firms.

The study is a good overview of social media for a B2B executive with little background. The best part of the study are the case studies of:

GE Capital, undoubtedly the largest equipment leasing and finance industry player, which has been exploring and using social media for more than a year. The organization encompasses corporate lending, vendor/dealer financing, core equipment financing, and specialty finance, including GE Commercial Distribution Finance Corporation, which offers inventory financing;

Duncan Aviation, the largest family-owned aircraft support facility in North America, which offers comprehensive service for nearly every make and model of business jets and turbo-props; and

American Express OPEN Forum. American Express OPEN is the leading payment card issuer for small businesses in the United States

For more on the use of social media in the investing industry (at no cost!), see our research.

(Image by billjacobus1 via Flickr)

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Final draft available: private equity and venture capital funds' best practices in originating new investments

Lincoln on U.S. one cent


We’re in the last lap of editing our research study on best practices of private equity and venture capital investors in originating new investments, which has a particular focus on use of social media.  We plan to publish this in a major private equity journal.


If you would like to review a copy of the 12,000-word report, please contact us.  We would greatly value your feedback.


(Image via Wikipedia)

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Sharpenz: Better Sales Meetings = More Sales

sharpenz_logo I’ve been working for the past few weeks with sales trainers Alice Kemper and Nancy Bleeke on the launch of their new product, Sharpenz, which launched today. (Congrats, ladies!!!)

As disclosure: yes, they’re clients; no, this post isn’t part of my consulting engagement with them – I just think they have a really cool product some of you might be interested in, plus it’s plain good business to promote your clients, even when they’re not paying you to do so, right? 🙂

As a student of entrepreneurship, I’m always fascinated when someone comes up with a truly innovative product in what you might otherwise think is an already saturated market segment. You’d think, for example, that sales training would be a pretty mature field. Sure, there are always new perspectives and techniques being developed, because the nature of buying and selling is constantly changing. But what about the delivery mechanism? What’s left to innovate there?

And then I saw Sharpenz.

The concept is simple enough, but I’ve still never seen anything quite like it.

I’ll explain the basics, but if you’ve got a couple of minutes, you really should check out the videos from Nancy and Alice and hear it in their own words. Those links open in a new window so you can watch & listen as you continue reading, if you like.

[Read more…]

Nonprofit Fundraising in a Bad Economy


I had lunch yesterday with the founder and CEO of a successful, technology-savvy nonprofit.  Unsurprisingly, he was very concerned about reaching his fundraising goals for 2009 (and thereafter).  We brainstormed about ways that some of the concepts in The Virtual Handshake could be used to help in his situation.

One of his challenges is that donors need a trigger event to give money.  Historically, a trigger event might be an entrepreneur who sold his company and received a large payout, or a Wall Street executive who received a large annual bonus.  However, in this economic environment, what are trigger events?

One trigger event: the donor’s public image needs upgrading.  I encouraged him to solicit executives of AIG and other companies that have severely damaged public images.  I also encouraged him to reach out to public relations executives, who can give him ideas on which wealthy individuals are seeking to improve their public image.

I also encouraged him to work outwards from his past donors, by analyzing their public networks.  It’s very powerful to contact a wealthy individual and tell him: your friend _______________ had a building named after him last year; would you like to get involved also in our charity?  Better yet, ask your past donor to make the introduction to the targeted individual.

There are a range of free and low-cost tools that enable this public social network analysis.  For many people, LinkedIn, Xing, Spoke, and Facebook will give you partial visibility into their networks.  For senior corporate executives, useful tools include: Boardex, Capital IQ’s social network analysis, LinkSV (for the Silicon Valley ecosystem), and Westlaw Peoplemap.  Lastly, you can get public organization charts from TheOfficialBoard, Forbes Org Chart, and CogMap.

Now is a great time to add staff for low or no cost.  College interns are readily available at no cost.  Career re-entry programs for people (mostly women) re-entering the workforce can provide experienced consultants at a below-market price; a full list is at IRelaunch.com.  Lastly, the Levin Institute just received a grant from New York City for JumpStart NYC, a program to help transition financial services employees to jobs in other fields.  At no cost, both for-profits and nonprofits can apply on the Levin Institute website to employ a mid-level financial services employee as an unpaid consultant for 3 months, in New York City only. 

I also encouraged him to increase his public profile in front of potential donors.  This is easier to do, because the amount of noise has decreased, and the media is desperate for some good news/positive stories.  From my own experience getting into the speaking business, I recommended he read in depth the material at Speakernetnews.com, the single best resource site I’ve found for public speakers.  There are a striking number of consultants out there who claim to teach you how to increase your public speaking skills.  Some of the better resource websites: Speeking.com, Sullivanspeaker.com, and summitconsulting.com . 

Lastly, I also suggested he increase his media profile.  Useful tools: helpareporter.com (free) and PRNewsWire Profnet (not free).

What else do you think nonprofits should be doing to help their fundraising in this climate?


Notes on Liminal Group’s 2009 Sales & Marketing Symposium

Following are my notes on Liminal Group‘s 2009 Sales & Marketing Symposium, which took place Wednesday.


First speaker: Paul Greenberg,

author, CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, President, The 56 Group, LLC; founding partner of CRM training company, BPT Partners, LLC. At the end of 2007, he was the #1 non-vendor influencer ranked by InsideCRM in their annual “25 Most Influential CRM People” announcement. He was also named one of the most influential CRM leaders in 2008 by CRM Magazine.

Gen Y are first generation to spend more time on Net than watching TV

31% of people age 20s-early 40s are elite tech users (source: Pew)

The number of people who say “people like me” is their most trusted source of information has grown dramatically in the last 5 years, and is now rated the most trusted source of information. (Source: Edelman)

Member communities reach more internet users (66.8%) than email (65.1%) (source: Nielsen Online research: “Global faces on networked places”. )

You have to accommodate even ‘low value’ customers because of what they can do to you. And no customer thinks he’s ‘low value’.

A few years ago Disney Destinations changed the CRM acronym to CMR (Customer Managed Relationships). This meant customers could plan/adjust their own vacations.

This means they didn’t need as many live agents. And many customers prefer this.

I have a CRM podcast, CRMPlayaz, and all we do is rip on things

Old research said Advocates will speak to 5-9 people about what they love; detractors will speak to 9-16 people. But new research: detractors can now reach millions. Now just the threat of public detraction is sufficient.

Recommends looking at Doubleclick Simultaneous Media Usage Study.

The New Marketing Model

The reputation of the company, not the message, becomes the brand

Example: Sanvick, a mining company in Sweden, is rated most trusted company in Europe. Has a fair play code that governs everything they do. One of their core values is transparency. In their annual report, they release information about criteria for executive’s bonuses; whether they got bonus or not.

Counterexample of what not to do: Walmart’s ‘flog’: fake blog with some actors pretending to be Walmart customers

Authenticity and trust is what matters, more than consistency of the message

From “How consumer conversation will transform business”-PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2007. Free report.

We need to ‘hear whispers’. Measure:

– Volume: amount mentioned vs. Historic pattern

– Tone

– Coverage: # sources generating conversation

– Authoritativeness/Reputation

New business model

Lines between producer and consumer are blurred. They are co-creators of value.

Open lines of communication.

Producer is an aggregator for the user’s creative activity

User is an advocate of the experience and the company

When you listen to the customer, you often learn that what you thought about the customer is completely wrong.

BMW now has identified and developed with customers 15 telematics features.

Samsung overtook Sony as leading consumer electronics company, because they worked with customers to identify 25 customer touchpoints.

When Skype was first launched, there was a Skype user group called “public mind” which was particularly active . Skype mined that user group for ideas to prioritize.

Skype was acquired for $1.6b . At the time had 54m customers, $11m revenue.

KarmaLoop sells Gen Y clothing. Sells traditional brands, plus independent brands. They now have 100,000+members in their community.

Have junglelife social network, by invitation only to trend-setters.

Also have Street Team. They are 1% of KarmaLoop community. Their job is to sell KarmaLoop products. You sign up and get a unijque code. Get friends to buy on the site using your code. They get discounts plus points. Additional points for uploading content of their street activities.

Another similar company: Threadless. $26m revenue.

BY 2010, 60% of Fortune 1000 will have some sort of community (Gartner Social CRM 2009 Forecast) but 50% will fail to be managed properly. They won’t participate enough; they won’t keep content fresh.

KLM Club China: looks like traditional online community. What’s unusual: it includes an ‘experiences’ section, where members can upload their experiences doing business in China. Not just travel. Also includes suggestions on doing business in China.

Contrast this with United Red Carpet Club, which is missing all this functionality.

V. Kumar came up with 3 lifetime metrics: Customer Lifetime Value, Customer Referral Value, Customer Brand Value.

Tools of CRM 2.0

The Social Stack

Identify and Object interface in these domains: Reputation, relationships, conversation, groups, sharing, collaborative, actions, presence.

Only 30% of companies have holy grail of one person, one record.

The new holy grail: "a company like me", who is trusted in the same way that a "person like me" is trusted.


The next speaker was Penelope Trunk, author, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success .  She’s a very entertaining and personable speaker.  I generally agreed with her points, with two major exceptions.  

1) Her speech sounded as if it could have been delivered a year ago, and hasn’t been adjusted for US debt bomb exploding.  I don’t believe her claim that Generation Yers don’t care about money and can go move in with their parents when Gen Y’s father just lost his job, and Gen Y’s mom just had her house foreclosed upon. 

2)   I thought that some of her comments about "managing Generation Y" were really comments about "manag
ing Generation Y children of upper-middle-class parents"


Gen Y doesn’t believe money = happiness. They’ve all taken classes in positive psychology, which have taught them that. Janitors are usually happier than lawyer. Lawyers are the most suicidal of all professions.

You need to make $150K more to offset cost of moving away from family/loved ones.

65% of Gen Y lived with parents, BEFORE recession

Gallup: If you have 2 friends at work, it’s virtually impossible to have a bad time.

If one person quits a restaurant, the others will likely quit also.

They think that experience of work should be like experience of doing stuff in teams. They did prom in teams, they did sports like soccer which is very team oriented. They love their parents.

I’ve had dinner with the parents of everyone who works for me.

Gen Y doesn’t like to pay their dues.

They don’t believe in the ladder you climb, so therefore why do the grunt work at the bottom?

So every day is a trade: they’ll do your Xerox, but they want you to do something for them in exchange.

They really value learning

They’re not argumentative, not protesting in streets.

Mentoring is the new currency.

They’re used to their parents being very invested in their success.

They expect authenticity.

A good blog post/tweet should make you nervous, that you’re providing too much information.

Everyone believes that they’re authentic, but they’re not.

Gen Y is so productive. They always have an empty inbox.

Career Goal for Gen Y is be an information synthesizer. Information is commoditized, so the real value is being on top of it.

Gen Y is genuinely nice. This is shocking because the workplace is not set up for that.

This is a generation of team players, not leaders.

They have very good social skills, are good at office politics.

We all have the same values. Gen X complains the most because no one pays attention to us.

There’s still a shortage of Gen Y jobs in this economy. When they say, ‘there are no jobs’, they mean, ‘there are no good jobs’.

Question : 50% of 2009 graduates will be unemployed. Do you think this perspective has changed?

Media is run by boomers, and they’re panicked because 50% of boomers are unemployed. (David: I doubt these statistics).

Gen Y in India and Gen Y in US have access to exact same info.

Gen Y finds entrepreneurship very easy. It’s cheap to start. Easy to market initially to their friends. Whole VC market has shifted. Job market is getting worse , so the drive is greater. They have incredible need for multiple revenue streams.

Gen Y doesn’t complain about being grouped as a generation. Only older people do.

Gen Y thinks it’s a joke if you don’t have CRM

Gen Y picks up the phone because Gen X expects them to.

Emptying your inbox is an "inbox enema."

Guy Kawasaki uses Twitter exclusively to promote himself; I use Twitter just to discuss my life.

Free Pass for 2009 Sales & Marketing Symposium: Winning Customers in the Era of Social Media

I look forward to attending Liminal Group’s 2009 Sales & Marketing Symposium, a half-day morning taking place next Wednesday, March 25, 2009 from 9am to 12pm, at Asia Society, 725 Park, NY. I have one complimentary pass provided by Liminal Group —if you’d like it, write in the comments (preferred) or mail me to indicate why you would benefit from a free pass.”

Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Time: 8:00am – 12:00pm EST
Location: Asia Society
725 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021


Penelope Trunk, author, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success .

Paul Greenberg, author, CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, President, The 56 Group, LLC; founding partner of CRM training company, BPT Partners, LLC. At the end of 2007, he was the #1 non-vendor influencer, by InsideCRM in their annual “25 Most Influential CRM People” announcement. He was also named one of the most influential CRM leaders in 2008 by CRM Magazine.

David van Toor, General Manager for Sage’s CRM group.

Outsourcing Sales & Marketing Support

Today’s economy makes it more important than ever for sales people to be productive. With fewer purchases happening, it’s simply not acceptable to waste any sales time on tasks that don’t involve interacting with businesspeople to create a new relationship, guiding a project or identifying new needs. This situation especially applies to sales people with limited corporate support, as well as services franchise owners, independent consultants, entrepreneurs and business development professionals and independent sales representatives.

Freeing up your day – from inexpensive-to-free tools and cost-effective support

I’ve been experimenting with a variety of free or inexpensive Web 2.0 tools and inexpensive, outsourced labor to eliminate as much unproductive time as possible from my work as a consultant. The goal is to achieve 90% or more of my time on direct sales and creating business offerings for my clients. The web tools will filter and deliver information to you, but it’s still a problem to screen out the irrelevant news, move that information to your personal file system, and fix administrative issues like PC problems or travel set up. With outsourced labor costs on Elance and Odesk dropping to $5/hour for simple tasks like data entry, and $15 to $50 for higher value business research, administrative assistant, and technical support, you can combine web tools with labor to complete your outsourced sales environment and achieve a compelling ROI – whether paid for personally or by your company.

Where do you lose selling and relationship management time?

Consider the following tasks. Ask yourself how much of your day they take up. Include in the estimate “disruption time” – that is, the extra time lost from getting to the heart of intense prospect/client conversations when you have to switch frequently to read emails of questionable value, enter data into systems, etc.

  1. Identifying qualified prospects through web research and online chat boards. Then, researching their industry, company situation and key contacts, as well as social network referrals you can use for a warm lead.
  2. Prioritizing your queue of new calls and follow-ups each day, and bundling together meetings at nearby companies when you travel (not to mention printing maps and booking hotels).
  3. Entering contacts and prospect/opportunity status in your CRM system.
  4. Finding quality networking events to attend, researching the attendees and following up with those you spoke to with an email thank you. Furthermore, finding events and webinars you and your company should speak at or have a booth for.
  5. Drafting proposals, especially locating a relevant template from similar work and entering basic information like the signatory contact.
  6. Staying abreast of your clients’ industry by reading email newsletters, picking quality blogs, loading podcasts on your MP3; then actually reading these sources to find the most relevant handful of stories each day that will improve your sales outcomes. This helps you sell more intelligently and come up with reasons to get back in touch with hesitant prospects, beyond “just checking in…”
  7. Entering expenses, fixing your PC/Mac or getting VoIP and VPN to work from your remote office, re-ordering business cards and supplies, and other office administration.

I estimate that at least 1/2 of the week is consumed with these tasks by many salespeople, including productivity lost by getting back into focus after a disruption. Now, what if you had a virtual sales assistant that took care of almost all of these for you and you could just follow a queued-up daily plan for client interaction?

Let’s see how close we can get to this ideal situation. The next several blog posts will cover each of these areas and demonstrate how you can put together the tools yourself, or use a service to do it.

Finding networking and speaking opportunities

For example, I have been using the services of AtHandz, an Internet research outsourcing firm, to identify speaking event opportunities for an attorney client of mine that wants to expand her clientele. After defining the industries and event criteria for desirable speaking slots, I’ve had AtHandz find compile event calendars and association lists; find over 50 events for which my client is a relevant speaker (and there should be no cost to speak); enter those events in a spreadsheet with details on the organization, event/speaking invitation process and contact; create Outlook business cards and draft email inquiries; and update my status by reading BCC’s of email correspondence. When there’s a positive email response, I make the initial call to the organization. If and only if there’s a mutual fit, my attorney client joins a second call to create the deeper relationship. It’s even much easier for your support staff to read about and filter networking events where you want to attend, meet people and collect business cards, than it is to find speaking opportunities.

The next blog posts will look at the hardcore sales tasks of identifying and research prospects, setting up your daily call queue, as well as administrative support such as my quest for quality desktop PC support at under $25/hour.

Outsourcing for marketing and job hunters, too

The same approach to combining free or very inexpensive Web 2.0 tools with inexpensive, outsourced labor can also work for the marketing function and even for job hunting. Marketers need to engage in the conversations on the web which now involve their product, and filtering these conversations take a lot of time (even with Google Alerts). Job hunters, by definition solo workers, can have their job search time consumed by filtering through the email alerts from job boards, entering contacts into Outlook, tracking which openings to follow up with and reading news and articles with ideas for their future. In both cases, individuals need to spend just a little in order to raise their productivity and value quite a bit. Outsourcing marketing and job search support will be covered more in future posts.

New York Events: Best Practices of Venture Capitalists in Identifying Investment Opportunities

I’m starting to release the findings from the large research study I’ve been leading on “Best Practices of Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Firms in Identifying Private Company Investment Opportunities”. My colleagues from Evalueserve and I have interviewed over 100 venture capitalists and private equity investors for this study.

I have two speaking engagements coming up in New York where I’ll be discussing our findings. I hope that you can attend! Of course, I welcome feedback/discussion.

Feb. 19, 6:30pm: Israeli Business Forum
1500 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, NY

Feb. 24, 6:30pm: MIT Enterprise Forum,
100 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY

Among the issues I’ll discuss:
– How are you positioning yourself to become a company`s preferred investor?
– In the current tough climate, how can you lower your deal origination costs?
– What does research on deal-origination indicate are the primary sources of deal flow for institutional investors?
– What are you doing to identify companies that might be interested in being approached?
– What are the earmarks of a potential investment opportunity?
– How are you systematically identifying industries/situations in which you may be able to create new companies, rather than find existing companies?
– How do you increase your inflow of useful referrals?
– What is the best way to make warm cold calls?

I have attached the draft slides below: