I often talk about how you wear multiple hats when starting a company. Well, today I wanted to talk about a hat I have been wearing a lot lately, and this is my Sales Hat.
Have you ever thought you knew a decent amount about a topic only to have an eye opening experience which completely blows your mind? I kind of had this happen to me recently when it came to sales. I have always thought I was pretty good with sales, and had a good understanding of it. Even when I worked at Apple selling computers I was always one of the top in sales at the store. It was often me and Max who would always be competing for the #1 sales person spot.
When I started my own company I saw sales as the task I did when someone called me about a project. I relied very heavily on my marketing to bring those potential clients to me. Unfortunately my marketing only consisted of my website, so I did not receive many calls. Thinking about it I’m actually surprised I got as many calls as I did. Many of them were people who wanted a 30 minute Pixar quality animated video, and their budget was $1,000. While I got to meet and talk to a lot of really interesting people it was from a business point of view, a waste of time.
I kept focusing on my marketing thinking the sales part was not the problem. The truth was both were not working as well as they could have been, but it took me awhile to figure this out(I’m still figuring it out). I also had potential clients interested in my animation services emailing me, but after I responded I would forget about them until they emailed me back. This worked fine as long as they responded, but when they did not I lost track of them.
By now any experienced sales person reading this could see many things wrong with my sales process. I also realize there was something not working right, and I set out to find a better way. I started searching for a way to keep track of these potential clients, and actually had a hard time finding anything. I obviously had been searching with the wrong keywords, since I was not finding anything. One day I stumbled across three letters which lead to my mind blowing experience, CRM.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, and is a term which refers to practices, strategies, and technologies companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data. This is what I was looking for, and it turns out I was not the first person to think of it. Actually as it appeared I might have been the very last person to think about it. CRM is nothing unique, and has been around for a while. I felt a little silly because I have not heard of it earlier. There are also many online software tools to help companies with their CRM.
I started playing around with 2 of them to see how they might be able to help me. The ones I have been looking at are Salesforce and Zoho, and this is where the lights really turned on for me. They setup the whole sales process as a pipeline with different steps along the way. This pipeline concept is something I’m very familiar with, because 3D animation is all about the pipeline. You have different tasks which need to be done, and having a pipeline helps you keep it organized and flowing in the right direction. I never thought to look at sales in this way, and I’m surprised it did not occur to me earlier. I’m still learning about sales strategy, but let me share with you what I have learned so far.
What is a lead? I normally called a lead a potential clients which is about as far as I went with any type of structure. In a CRM they look at Leads as the first step in the pipeline. Leads can be people who contact you directly through your website, referred to you, brought in by marketing, or were on a client list you purchased. There is a whole process which you take the leads through which includes stages like discovery, nurturing, and converting. You start off by trying to find out as much as you can about the lead and qualifying if they are a good lead or not. Then you make first contact to find out about what their needs are, and how your services can help them.
Once you know what they are looking for you start to build a relationship with them. I read a study which says on average it takes 7 times of reaching out to a client before making a deal. Most people reach out to a potential customer 2-3 times before giving up. My thought is 7 times would be annoying, but I heard this multiple times. So when I hear it a 7th time I guess I will have to believe it. The idea is people are more likely to do business with someone they are familiar with. You want to build trust with your clients, so they are willing to take a chance with you.
After nurturing the relationship you continually move closer to close the deal, and turning this lead into a client. In these programs they have leads, clients, accounts, competitors, and a much more organized way of looking at your client data. I found this all to be extremely interesting. While I don’t plan to turn my company into a sales powerhouse, since I feel the whole process could easily start to feel robotic. There is still a lot which I can take away from this. I think a sign of a good sales person is someone who has a good structure, strategy, and process, but at the same time can be very personable and natural. I would not want my clients to feel like they are just another number in the pipe.
Learning about this pointed out I not only need a better system closing deals with potential clients, but also I could do a better job at generating leads. I can take a more proactive approach then sitting back waiting for people to visit my website and call me. I have looked into brining on sales reps, but I have heard from other animation studios who have had mixed experiences. It seems like the general consensus is doing it yourself is always best, but if you have to bring someone in then commission-only is the way to go. Otherwise you risk spending money with little or no results, and the sales reps are more motivated when they only earning money if they are making sales.
I realize I still have a lot to learn about sales, but the more I wear this hat the better it fits. I would love to hear from all of you about your sales secrets, and let me know if you have anything to add to what I mentioned.
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