Here I go. One more acronym to be considered adding to zillion ones existing already– thanks to my attempts to acquire as many “prospective” customers as I can for my startup.
I believe that I have been equally curious maintaining CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) using different methods and techniques based on the organizations compute it. I have never done pre-sales in my earlier career although I have interacted with customer many times with the same passion as a brand ambassador would. Hence, when I decided to start a consulting firm, I knew that I had to approach my “prospective” customers and convince them of my services. I did not have a sales plan; however, I had a tremendous confidence. I didn’t know how to even approach and call someone as a prospect. I somehow felt that I WILL get customers based on my track record. Little did I know that I had to make a list of prospects and then a plan to convince them that I could offer a significant value addition! Hey, but I learnt it and yes, am still learning it. Thought of sharing it with few folks to help them avoid making mistakes that I did.
Simply put, I define PSI as the ratio of prospects converted to customers to number of prospects explored. I have also realized that the efforts that one puts to maintain the PSI high can also help to maintain the CSI high too, unless one goofs up on the assured commitments.
I intend to explain how can we maximize the PSI – rather how do I do it.
I have had never taken additional steps to keep in touch with many of my ex-colleagues or friends with an intention that they would be helpful one day. It was mostly restricted to casual ‘Hello’s and ‘How are you?’s and natural chemistry between me and them. So, it was an eye-opener for me to realize the importance of network. I was however able to reach out to most of the folks I thought would be helpful (its another story how many of them really helped wholeheartedly :-)) – thanks to social networks like Facebook and Linked In. This taught me 2 great things about people – how to network and most importantly, evaluated result of where do you stand in the network.
I had this awkward sense that networking was done only by selfish people for selfish reasons. Although I am talkative and like talking to anybody, I used to avoid networking intentionally assuming that people may incorrectly perceive my approach as hidden motives. I realized that it is actually not true all the time. I think that mostly all would like to have more friends or a bigger network. I learnt that all it requires is to connect via social networking groups or send a friendly mail introducing yourself and your intention of introduction. I started feeling more confident when I voluntarily started extending a handshake every time I greeted a stranger or prospect. I had nothing to lose and yet had chances of converting him as my customer.
Nonetheless, I was able to evaluate how I was perceived and how many people that I knew in past were readily willing to help me. In fact, I would be honest to say that the help came mostly from the people who I had least expected. However, many of the people who I thought would jump to help me showed a slower inertia and gave a cold shoulder in responding to my mails, taking initiatives to introduce me to their colleagues or contact person in their organizations. This was little shocking to me in the beginning; however, I soon realized how not to have too many expectations from such people. It was good to learn who was a true friend and who faked relationship. Also, it reflected on my understanding of evaluating people.
I was able to read hundreds of books during my sabbatical that taught me different lessons. One such book was “Differentiate or Die” by Jack Trout with Steve Rivkin. It was interesting to know that price, quality/customer orientation, creativity and breadth of line are seldom differentiating ideas. On the other hand they have described how being first, attributing ownership, leadership, heritage, market specialty, preference, how a product is made, being the latest and hotness can be differentiating ideas. I believe that the probability of converting a prospect into customer highly depends on what different you offer from your competing bidders.
As you can see from above, differentiating is really knowing how and what to pitch to your prospects (and indeed to your customers later) about your services/products. When I decided to start consultancy, the first thought was obviously in Remedy technology as I had spent most of my career in managing and implementing projects in Remedy. I also learnt that although I headed R&D division of Remedy ITSM at BMC, Pune; it was actually applicable to BMC, India since there wasn’t any other Remedy ITSM division at India. This sort of became my first differentiation and I decided to leverage that differentiation as one of my selling points. I also realized that many small vendors used to train people and place them at customer site bloating their experience by 2-3 years. I had genuine people who I knew and that’s how I started leveraging second differentiation of “consultants as true experts/specialists” rather than “mere contractors”.
Since I was playing the role of Marketing, Sales, Recruiter, Proprietor, CFO etc, I realized that I would need to partner with people and share the profits accordingly. I then started mentioning the rewards for referring and helping. People (even who did not have too much of inclination to help me) started responding as they saw monetary benefit just by referring or helping. I started discussing the commissions upfront and letting them know that the partnership/commissions would continue as far as I continued to get benefitted by their help. I initiated discussions with international organizations and they too were quick to realize value additions by partnering with me. See? Its give and take and its not being selfish:-).
4. Persistent Follow ups
Who likes follow ups? I never liked them either; however, I realized that it becomes an integral part of the person who is usually at the receiving end. I have noticed that if a person approaches to sell his services/product more than once, he is usually considered to be in need (at least in the beginning). Also, mostly people do not have a habit of saying “No” in the first attempt. Hence, they typically ask the seller to contact in few days/weeks – and the follow ups start. What is important is to understand and let the prospect know that even though the meetings/follow ups may not end up in sales, it is important to part showcasing your abilities and skills so that you’ll be at least considered for next bidding project.
5. How much is too much?
I must admit that I have learnt few lessons hard way. It is better to understand how much the prospect is willing to spend. There is no use quoting him unrealistic figure and banging his doors consistently. However, I don’t intend to mention that the quotations should result in loss or reduce the rates that you deserve. If you are the best in that field, if you have best people/expertise, prospects WILL pay accordingly. Keeping the feet on ground and coming up with proper figure as per value addition will get in more prospects.
I would recommend “Simply Fly” by Capt. Gopinath and “Losing Virginity” by Richard Branson to refer how they differed from their competitors or what differentiating ideas did they use to build their businesses.