I bet you hate salespeople.
Yeah, for the most part, me too.
Bad news: if you start consulting, you’re gonna have to sell your time. You have to figure out how to talk people into signing a contract that says, “We’re going to do ___ for you, and you’re going to pay us $___.” Both of those blanks are completely up for negotiation, and frankly, your customers are in a better negotiating position than you.
Good news: if you put some work into your company from the start, the sales process doesn’t have to suck. It can even be enjoyable – not just for the salesperson, but for both sides. (Seriously, I’m enjoying it.)
Master marketers Christian Hasker and Andy Grant taught me that specialization is everything: you want to be known for solving one very specific pain. If you do everything, you compete with everybody, and you can’t win that game. But if you build up a reputation for being the experts on relieving ___ pains, then whenever someone has that pain, they’re going to call you first. You’re in the driver’s seat.
Building up a reputation means blogging, presenting, webcasting, building newsletters, etc. This is called inbound marketing: giving away material that’s so good that people ask for it by name. Later, when they’ve got money to spend, they’ll remember how good your free stuff was, and they’ll hopefully open up their wallet to get your personal help.
How Blogging Affects the Sales Process
When customers contact us to set up a meeting, they fall into two categories:
The Lifers: the ones who have followed us for months or years. When I start to introduce Brent Ozar Unlimited on those sales calls, they start laughing and tell me to shut up. However, usually not everyone on the call knows us – I still have to win over a manager or two, but it’s easy because their staff is already relying on us.
The Rest: the ones who just found us via Google in the last few hours or days. The fact that we showed up in their sales results helps immensely with the relationship-building process. I rarely get the question of, “How do we know you can actually fix this problem,” and when I do, I can answer with a list of related blog posts and webcasts about the topic.
When you have thousands of blog posts and hundreds of videos, the sales process is friendly and easy. I don’t have to be defensive or persuasive. I just listen to what the customer’s pain points are, talk about our public expertise on that topic, and describe our product.
How Our Personalities Affect the Sales Process
When Jeremiah, Kendra, and I designed the company’s brand, we wanted it to reflect us personally. We’re goofy, friendly, and down-to-earth. Sure, we work hard and we do crazy technical stuff with databases, but first and foremost, we wanted people to understand that we were fun to work with.
We even worked with Epipheo to build a 90-second video explaining how we work:
As a result, right when people hit the very first page of BrentOzar.com, they understand that we’re different. We’re not some big GinormoCorp company where you never know which stiff, boring suit you’ll be working with. You’re hiring real people with real personalities.
How Simplified Products Make Sales Easier, Too
We sell exactly one product to new customers: SQL Critical Care®, a 4-day engagement that gets to the root cause of their SQL Server performance or availability pains. I think of it as just one box that we keep on the shelf.
Christian & Andy taught me that if you have as few products as possible, then you can make your marketing message as clear as possible. If you try to do everything, then you compete with everyone, and you don’t wanna compete with the people on Fiverr.
This makes the sales process really easy because by the time people talk to us, they already know:
- Who we are
- What we do
- That we’re not fly-by-night
I get to just be myself on the call, ask which available date works for them, and sign contracts.
So hell yeah, I like sales. It’s awesome!
But We Still Need a Salesperson.
I’ve played sales guy for nearly four years now, and while I still love it, I’m the bottleneck holding our company back from growth. Because the incoming calls just keep coming in, I don’t bother calling back our past customers to figure out what they need next. Even worse, if someone does a sales call with us and doesn’t follow up with us asking for a contract, I usually drop that ball too.
It’s not that I don’t see those sales tasks as valuable – it’s just that I’m also wearing the consultant hat, and the co-founder hat, and the work/life balance hat, and there’s only so many hours in the day. As long as our consultants stay busy, is it really a problem that I’m letting more revenue slip through the cracks when folks are booked anyway?
Yes, actually, it is, because we want to hire more consultants. We’d like to hire another consultant or two in 2015, and again in 2016, but keeping those folks busy is going to be a full time job. It’s going to take building sales processes and following them.
So we’re hiring a salesperson so I can dedicate more time to building more inbound marketing material – or as you like to call it, blogs, scripts, webcasts, and user group presentations. With inbound marketing, everybody wins, whether you’re our paid customer or not.