Ep024: Do you need more leads, or better selling skills?

If you’re falling short of your revenue goals, you need to make a change. Do you need more leads, or better selling skills? In this episode I’ll give you some ideas for how to pinpoint the issue(s) – and there are probably more than one.

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Full Episode Transcription:

Hello and welcome to the Liston.io Show. I of course am Liston with Witherill. Legal name is not Liston.io, but I am here to help you build a better consulting business. I want to help you grow your business. I want to help you do it effectively, and I want to help you help more clients out there while building the thriving business, and the thriving life that you want.

In today’s episode, I’m going to be talking to you about a question that I keep getting over and over and over again, actually it’s not quite a question, it’s a statement, and it’s this: when people reach out to me, often for my help they say to me, “I don’t have a sales problem. I have a lead problem. Can you help me with that?” Now I’m going to foreshadow a little bit here. You may have both, but what I’m going to do is give you a rubric to determine, do you have a lead problem or do you have a sales problem, and how do you address those and figure that out and get to the bottom of it.

Related to that. Before I get into the content of today’s episode, I would love it if you know someone who would benefit from hearing this episode, tell them, share it with them, go into the APP that you’re using to listen to this podcast, there’s a share button in there, and you can send it to anybody who you think would benefit from hearing this. If you don’t know anybody, no worries, but if you do know someone, please do pass along the word that the Liston.io Show may be helpful to them.

If you right now, maybe during the episode, maybe after the episode are wondering if you have a lead problem, if you have a sales problem, if you just want to get some clarity on your solo consulting business, your professional service practice, and you think I might be able to help you. I would love to talk to you. All you have to do is go to liston.io/strategy, fill out a quick application. I have allocated some time on my calendar to talk to folks. Again, whether it’s, you’re wondering if you have a lead or a sales problem or you just want to get some clarity on your business, I’d be happy to chat with you. Now let’s get into it.

I keep hearing this and this is a nearly verbatim quote, and it’s not from one person, it’s an amalgamation of different people saying similar things, and they’re saying, the reason they’re not hitting their revenue goals is because they don’t have enough leads. They say that when they talk to people who are referred to them, they close a hundred percent of those conversations and therefore ergo, they don’t have a leads problem, they have a sales problem.

And so the question is, is that right? And the answer as all advice in business is: well maybe, I don’t know, it depends on you, it depends on the situation. I want to break these things apart and first tackle lead problem. I want to get into some symptoms of what it might look like to have a lead problem. Now, part of any business is just some simple math. You have a certain number of leads coming into your business, a certain number of those turn into sales opportunities and you close a percentage of the sales opportunities, multiply that by your average customer or client lifetime value and what you have is your revenue for the year. Pretty simple equation. If you’re not getting enough sales conversations, what a lot of people think is they don’t have enough leads and that may be true and that may not.

Question number one, are you having enough conversations? Plain and simple. If the answer is no, then you may have a lead problem, but I would ask you, what are you doing to convert the leads that you do have or the awareness and the attention that you do have into sales opportunities? Yes, you actually need to be proactive about that. In other words, if you have a thousand people visiting your website, seeing you on Linkedin, seeing you on Facebook, and you’re not getting a single conversation on a monthly basis, you have a problem converting that attention into sales opportunities. Clearly there’s an issue there. You may say that’s a lead problem, I would say it’s kind of related to both sales and marketing, but the key thing I want you to take away is that you need to have a plan at every step in your funnel.

Which leads me to the next question related to this, we’re still in the umbrella of the lead problem. Do you have a way to nurture leads manually or automated? What I mean by that is, by definition, anybody who comes to you, anybody who’s interested in working with you or your services or the problems that you can solve or maybe the novel or unique way you do what it is that you do, when they come to you, chances are they’re not going to be ready to buy. Now I’ve dug through lots and lots of statistics and I cannot for the life of me figure out where this one metric comes from that people seem to really, in a cavalier way, throw around, which is, a lot of people say only three percent of your market is buying at any given time, whereas in an active buying cycle. I looked to figure out what the figure actually is. I think there’s lots of problems with determining what that figure could be at any given time. What I can tell you, is I cannot find out where that metric came from.

I do, however, think that it’s a decent barometer. It’s a decent way to think about the slim chances of any individual actively being in a buying cycle at any given point in time. So what this necessitates then, is having a way to nurture leads manually or in an automated way so that when they are ready to buy, you’re the one who they go talk to. If you’re not doing any nurturing whatsoever, what does nurturing look like? You may be wondering, that could be emails, that could be social media marketing. That could be different types of content, that could just be plain old emails or a giant spreadsheet that you keep, and you just figure out who you haven’t contacted in the last 30, 60, or 90 days and you contact them for whatever reason, right? In a sort of non-annoying way where you’re not just like, “Are you ready to buy?” But you’re giving them something, or you’re having a valuable interaction that shows that you’ve been paying attention. Do you have a way to nurture those leads? If not, you may have a marketing problem. Scratch that for sure, you do have a marketing problem if you’re doing nothing to nurture your leads.

Here’s another question that I ask all of my clients or actually any of my prospects, if you booked a strategy call with me, I would ask you this question, “Are you taking specific actions to proactively get leads and reach more people?” Asked another way, “What are you doing right now that is likely to generate awareness that could turn into revenue?” The point being you aren’t going to get leads by accident. If you are doing absolutely nothing to generate leads right now today, and you’re sort of stuck in this never ending loop of you’re not sure what to do, and you don’t want to do the wrong thing, and you go out, and you look for 18 different things that you can do, and you’re not sure what to do, and you don’t want to do the wrong thing, and you do more research and then the loop continues over and over again. If you’re in that situation, for sure you have a marketing problem, right? Because you’re just not executing. Is my podcast perfect? No, definitely not. I promise you it’s not. However, it is something that I get out the door, I do it on a really regular basis, and it contributes to the attention that I can garner and then turn into sales leads.

Whatever it is that you want to do, the question I would have for you is, “What specific actions are you taking to reach more people and to garner leads?” If you don’t have an answer to that, then maybe you do have a marketing problem. The next question is, “Do you have a crystal clear way to connect your marketing actions into your sales process?” For a lot of coaching and consulting businesses, the mouth of the sales funnel really starts when someone fills out a form, or you have a meeting booked, right? That’s kind of like the gold standard of a great lead. It’s great if someone signs up for your email list. It’s great if someone wants a download, or a piece of content that you created, but it’s nothing compared to someone saying, “Yes, I will spend 30 minutes or 60 minutes with you on the phone,” knowing that you have something to sell them and that there may be an investment if they really want to maximize the help that you can give them. In other words, that’s implicit in someone getting on the phone with you.

The question is, “How are you connecting your marketing activities that are generating leads, that are generating attention? How are you connecting those into your sales process?” In other words, you may have plenty of leads, but because you have no concrete way of turning those leads into actual conversations, you’re wasting the marketing that you’re doing now. And in fact, you really don’t have a lead problem in that case. Your problem is you’re not making it clear enough. You’re not giving your offers to people in order to get them into your sales process.

Now the last question I have for you is around positioning, and this is the last question related to the lead problem. I think you may have a lead problem if people are coming to you and price shopping when you speak to them. If you’re not sure if that’s happening, one telltale sign is like within the first say 15 or 30 minutes of your first call with them, they ask you how much it costs. If you’re doing outbound selling, people are going to want to know about the price and how you deliver really quickly. It’s a totally different setup, and it’s a totally different type of conversation because by definition in the beginning, it’s a little more transactional, right? You reach out to them, they weren’t looking for you, but if you’re doing things that generate inbound leads to you, that convert those leads into sales conversations, but people are price shopping, they’re asking you how much you cost, they’re pushing you for an hourly rate, which you shouldn’t give them, they’re asking you if you have discounts available, those types of things. If you’re getting into those conversations, you may be targeting the wrong types of people, and you may want to consider repositioning what it is that you offer, so you can avoid those conversations entirely.

Now, I’ve said it before on this podcast, I think it’s worth saying again, until you have more leads than you need, I would recommend talking to everybody and not pre-qualifying and filtering them out. Maybe you want to get to the answer about whether or not they’re price shopping quicker in the conversation, if it’s coming up over and over again, but you’d probably still want to talk to those folks.

Now, on the other hand, if you have a lot of work already, you have a waiting list. You have lead generation that’s working for you, if you have those things, then I would really recommend doing some qualification on your forms and in your automation so that you can pre-qualify people on price so that if they’re price driven buyers, you just don’t talk to them at all. That’s my recommendation.

Just to recap questions you might ask yourself to figure out if you have a lead problem is number one, first and foremost, are you having enough conversations? Number two, do you have a way to nurture leads manually or automated? Number three, are you taking specific actions to proactively get leads and reach more people? Number four, do you have a way to connect those actions to your sales process? And number five, are your leads price shopping when you speak to them? Answer those questions. You probably already have answers for a lot of these. If you feel you have a lead problem that doesn’t preclude you from having a sales problem, but if you went through that section, and you’ve determined that you don’t have a lead problem, but you’re not hitting your revenue goals, then you definitely have a sales problem, right? Let me get into what that looks like.

Number two, do you have a sales problem? Again, here’s the amalgamated verbatim if there is such a thing as amalgamated verbatim, but here’s the quote that I hear, “I don’t have a sales problem, 100 percent of the people I talked to end up doing business with me.” I hear a lot of people saying that, right? And I always have two things to say about that. Number one, probably not. When anybody tells me that they are 100 percent successful at any endeavor in their life, in any sphere of their life, I tend to think it’s bullshit. I would say if you think your operating at 100 percent, go ahead and use a CRM. Obviously you’re not using a CRM because there’s no way you’re operating at 100 percent. Use a CRM, see how accurate your estimation is, and start to calibrate how successful you actually are and calibrate your opinion to what the data bears out.

Okay, number two, and by the way that applies to you even if you’re a solo business owner because you’re going to want to pick up on these trends. The second thing that I think when I hear this, a hundred percent of people always close is, maybe it is a really high percentage, maybe it’s 60, 70, 80, even 90 percent of the deals that come in, they may actually close, but that’s because you’re working off of referrals strictly, right? What that’s telling me is you don’t have enough deals coming in. I think it’s also telling me your memory is only allowing you to remember the successful things, which is okay. It’s part of human nature, we like to think we’re good at things, right?

But the thing is even if you’re closing a really high percentage of the referrals that are coming in, you’re going to be in for a shock, if you want to generate more revenue, and you’re going to go outside of your referral network, which by definition you’re going to have to do at some point, right? The thing with referrals is when you get a referral, what’s really happening is someone else is vouching for you. They’re giving their credibility, they’re showing their trust in you to someone else who they already have trust built up with. When you go outside of referrals, you’re starting from zero. This person doesn’t trust you. This person doesn’t feel you’re credible. Now if you’re great at inbound marketing, right? You’re listening to this podcast, you probably trust me a lot more than someone who I just cold email. Obviously you must or you just don’t like me, and you never contact me anyway, maybe. But if you are, let’s say an avid listener of this podcast, just for the example here, if you listen to every episode, if and when you and I speak, you’re obviously going to have a ton of trust built up in me. You’re going to know that I’m credible. You’re going to know how I think. I’m not going to have to overcome that gap.

The issue though is if you’ve been selling strictly to referrals, you’ve had it really easy, your sales skills have not been exposed. What’s going to happen is as soon as you leave this referrals only type of business model, two things are going to happen, one is you’re going to have a need to generate more leads, which you can go do, but two, you may later also find out that you have a sales problem too, because the nature and the quality of those leads is going to be decidedly different. Here is how to anticipate that whether you’re only getting your business from referrals or you’re also actively seeking leads and you want to know, do you have a sales problem or do you just need more leads?

Here’s a couple things that I would suggest you look at. They’re not in a particular order, but they should give you a sense of whether or not you have a sales process. The number one thing I would say is if you have a sales problem. The number one thing, this one is an order, the rest won’t be, the number one thing I would say to you is if you have absolutely no sales process, you cannot articulate what needs to happen and in what order, then you almost certainly have a sales problem and the reason I’m saying that is because you’re reinventing it every time, which means there’s no way for you to document or optimize or even get better because how do you reflect on something that looks different every time?

My question to you, do you have a sales process and you may have one in your brain. You may do something that’s close to the same thing every time, but if you can’t tell me or someone else what it is, you most likely do have a sales problem because you’re not repeating the most important things that need to happen. There is a little bit of a mechanical nature to a sale and there’s also an art to a sale, right? This art and science thing. There is a science, but there’s also an art. If you can’t get the science right, you won’t know where to insert the art. Hopefully that makes sense. But that’s the number one thing I would say is if you have no process, you can’t articulate it, you almost certainly do have a sales problem and it’s something that you should address.

The second thing I would say is, are you being ghosted by people who looked like an ideal client or a great client for you and you even thought, “Wow, this is going to happen,” right? “This is going to be great.” Are you regularly being ghosted by people and you don’t know why. Now I’ve talked about being ghosted previously. This is something that comes up over and over and over again. I get this question all the time.

The main reason there’s no single cause for being ghosted, of course, by the way, ghosted just means someone disappears without telling you why. The main reason you’re being ghosted is because there was something going on for that person, something on their mind, an issue, an objection, a dilemma, a conundrum, whatever it was, there was something going on with that person that you didn’t know about. The more people you talk to, the more likely this is to happen, obviously. This is just sheer statistical inevitability that it’ll come up, but if you’re finding that you’re being ghosted quite a bit and you have no idea why, particularly those times when it’s like you’ve been hit over the head with a two by four and you just have no idea what’s going on or why this happened, the more that happens, the more I would say you have a serious sales problem because you are not uncovering early on, reasons that may drive this person to go away without talking to you about it. If there were trust built, if there were rapport between you and this person, they may feel comfortable coming to you and talking to you about what’s on their mind.

Now, not in all cases, right? Because this is also partially a personality driven thing. Some people just don’t like confrontation and that’s out of your hands. That’s not something that you can fix for them, but what you can do is try to create an environment that is filled with trust and filled with openness where if something comes up or this person is having a hard time or they need to tell you something, that they feel like they can do that. So that’s the second thing I would say is you’re being ghosted and you don’t know why.

Number three, if you talk more than you listen, you probably have a sales problem. In consulting, it’s a highly relational business. For someone to hire you, they need to trust you. They need to believe that you can help them solve their problems. There’s a lot at stake in that. They’re investing their time, they’re investing their money, they’re investing their emotional energy in you. That’s starting to look a lot like an important relationship in this person’s life, right? Because it is. It’s not just transactional. Transactional would be, my wife just bought a new Google Pixel 3, that’s transactional. She sees the phone, she wants a new phone, she goes to the website, she pays for it, and she gets it.

Obviously that’s not consulting and so in order to develop that relationship, what you really have to do is understand this person and in order to understand, in order to seek, to understand, you have to ask questions and you have to listen. There’s a time where you should be talking and helping the person understand what you can do for them and how you would fix their problems and sort of what are the risks and probabilities? All of that stuff is important and you can’t avoid that. However, if you’re regularly talking more than you listen, you’re not learning as much as you could. In fact, there are statistics from a company called Gong.io, which I’ve quoted on the podcast before, that show that top performing salespeople actually do listen more than they talk. There is some empirical evidence of this and that’s across different businesses, not just consulting, but in high ticket sales and I think most of their customers are probably in the technology sector, pretty expensive high risk projects. The salespeople are spending a lot of time listening. That’s something you should ask yourself, are you listening enough?

And number four, I could probably write 40 of these for is it a sales problem? But number four is if you don’t have clear goals for every sales interaction, then you probably have a sales problem. Top performers have a purpose in the things that they do and they can tell you what the purpose is. Whenever you have a meeting, whenever you have an initial sales call, whenever you present a proposal, you should be able to have a clear goal and articulate what that clear goal is for that particular sales interaction.

This of course goes back to the first thing I said, which is if you have no process, you have a sales problem and I would also say if you have no process, it’s impossible for you to have clear goals for every sales interaction because you don’t even have a sequence of sales interactions, let alone a clear goal for each, but let’s just say you do have a process. What should be happening is that you can articulate what your goal is for every interaction, for instance, I have strategy calls, right? My goal for a strategy call is to learn as much as I can about the person, understand what their problems are, what their goals are, what they want tomorrow to be like, if they could solve these problems and how it would be different and then understand is there anything that I can do to help this person and if so I will tell them and I will ask them, do you want to work with me? Are you ready to take action to move to these goals that you have?

That’s my process and that’s my goal for that first sales interaction. If I were selling something that were much more expensive or takes a lot longer or is higher risk, for instance, when I was selling digital marketing services that would occur over say three to six months, a good goal for the first call would be to discover as much as possible and then set up a second call, right? That’s my goal. A good goal for that second call would be to dive deeper on their goals and the metrics that they’ll use to measure success, and if I can figure those out, setup another meeting. Those are the kinds of things that I would have in mind. Your goals may be smaller if you have larger deals or more complicated deals, usually both and your goals may be bigger and much more concrete if you have a shorter sales cycle, but that’s what I would say.

To review, if you’re wondering, do you have a sales problem? Here’s the questions that you should answer. Number one, do you have a sales process to begin with? Number two, are you being ghosted and you don’t know why? Number three, do you talk more than you listen? And number four, do you have clear goals for every sales interaction? If you said no to those questions, then you probably do have a sales problem. What I would challenge you to think about now, is do you have a leads problem or do you have a sales problem? If you have both, and I would guess you probably do, I think everybody has, they’re somewhere on the spectrum of both simply because we can all improve at any given point, right? We’re not the best at anything and even if we are, our abilities and our edge are decaying constantly. That’s just how life works. I would ask you where do you sit on that spectrum and then given the balance of the two, where do you want to focus your time?

Now, as I said in the beginning, if you’re wondering where you are, if you want someone to talk to, to get some clarity on this, you can book a strategy call with me. It’s liston.io/strategy. On that page I’ll ask you to fill out a quick application. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to everybody. I really wish I could but I can’t, but I do have some time allocated for the people that I can most likely help. Go there, liston.io/strategy if you want to talk, and of course if you got something out of this podcast, I’d love it if you told someone. I’d love it if you shared it on social media, if you put it on your Facebook or your Linkedin or your Instagram. I would just be really grateful that you took the time to do that. Not only that, you would be helping someone, please do share this podcast if you’re getting something out of it, and I thank you for listening and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.