For the last 4 years, one of my primary goals has been building new business, be it for my employer or now for my own company, 33 Sticks. Over those 4 years one thing has become very clear, I tend to take a very non-traditional approach to building companies, managing teams, and acquiring sales.
In fact, in regard to my business style, I’ve been told the following several times over:
“I don’t understand how you run your team, it’s like some sort of strange hippie management.”
“There is no way you can run a successful business with rainbows and hackie sacks.”
“You’d make a much better farmer than a sales guy.”
It’s that last comment that I want to focus my post on.
“You’d make a much better farmer than a sales guy!”
It’s true. I’m not a traditional “sales guy,” if there is such a thing. I’m not great at cold calling. I’m not going to fly all over the world visiting prospects. I’m not going to take a lead out to a fancy dinner and BS them on ‘synergizing best of breed data platforms to increase ROI.’ However, when you become tasked with running a team or you decide to start your own business, sales becomes one of the most important things that you will do and rather than being forced into a traditional sales role, it’s better to pick a style that works for you.
For me, when it comes to sales, what works is being a farmer. So thank you, whoever told me I’d be a better farmer than a sales guy, I take it has a huge compliment. So what does it mean to sell by being a farmer? Let me explain.
When it comes to farming, and to sales, it really comes down to how well you can cultivate, plant, grow, and harvest.
Cultivation is proper preparation. What do you want to plant, grow, and harvest? Many take the approach of “I’ll plant a little of everything and see what takes off.” Is this really the best approach? From my experience, a little planning and upfront analysis of what you want to produce will go a long way in helping focus your sales efforts and increase your conversion rates. When you prepare your sales field, you make conscious decisions about where you will be investing you time. Here you are literally preparing your field to plant seeds, which with the proper attention will grow into leads.
Now that your field is properly prepared, you have a plan and now it’s time to execute. Planting is literally the act of placing seeds into the soil. Without planting a seed, a new sale will never appear.
At 33 Sticks, we are actively planting the following seeds:
- Delivery of High Value Results
- Content Generation
- Conference Attendance
- Social Media Interaction
- Creating New Partnerships
- Providing Expertise to Startups
- Being Good People
Once your seeds are planted, they will need plenty of attention. Simply throwing seeds into the ground is not going to produce the results you desire. You have to put in the hard work to water, weed, and feed your seeds. This is the hardest part of the process and takes the most dedication. Don’t make the mistake of trying to harvest your crop too soon (i.e. don’t try to close the deal on your first date). Really take the time to care for your seeds.
The biggest advice I can give here is ‘don’t be afraid to share your expertise.’ I’ve lost track of how many deals have come my way that first started with me offering some free advice, advice unattached to any specific outcome. This is an important distinction. If you are just helping because you are trying to reel in new customers, you won’t be as successful as just honestly helping out because it’s the right thing to do.
Here are a few examples that have worked for us at 33 Sticks:
- Pay attention to chatter on social networks and jump in and help out when your expertise can help solve a problem.
- Find a startup who could benefit from a little insight based on your expertise.
- Pick a few conferences a year and fully be there. Attend sessions. Seek speaking opportunities. Go to dinner with new people. This is a great opportunity to really grow your network.
- Set a content schedule and push out quality content on an ongoing basis. Not content for content sake but real content that will really help people do their job better. In my space, there are two bloggers (Adam Greco and Avinash Kaushik) that really helped me look like a star when I first was tasked with creating an analytics practice.
Once you have put in the hard work and your seeds have now grown into viable products, it’s time to harvest the fruits of your labor. Believe it or not, this stage can be very difficult for typical non-sales people. Harvesting is not a hands-off activity, you have to put yourself out there knowing there is a good chance of being rejected but the successful people will push through this because they know they have tremendous value they can offer to their clients.
At 33 Sticks, we follow a very simple process to harvest once we have determined our leads have matured:
- Proposal: This isn’t an over weight document describing how awesome your company is but a very streamed lined document that sets an overview of the project you are proposing, the objectives of the engagement, the value the client will receive, and what it will cost them to get this value.
- Presentation: Don’t just email out your proposal, you must present it to the budget holding, key stakeholders.
- Statement of Work: After getting a verbal acceptance after your presentation, follow it up quickly with a Statement of Work. This takes the specifics of your proposal and wraps it with legalese to protect both you and the client.
- Start: Propose starting the project no more than 2 weeks after the contract is signed. The sooner, the better, to maintain the positive momentum you have created.
So, while my approach might not fit the traditional sales model, it does have one very important thing in common and that is that sales all comes down to relationships. Whatever model you choose, just make sure that the foundation of the model is rooted in identifying and growing relationships. This is a trait that farmers do better that most any other people I’ve ever known. Don’t believe me? Stop in a small town cafe and sit next to an old farmer bellied up to the counter, you will quickly discover how interested they become in sharing stories and if needed, would literally give you the shirt off their back.
Thanks again for the compliment, I love being a farmer.