by Brittany Ferrera, Customer Success & Marketing Manager at Communications Edge Inc
Most sellers are short on time and need ways to start sales conversations with potential customers.
But avoid taking the lazy way out. Rushing in, begging prospects to have a meeting doesn't work these days. Nor does doing what everyone else is doing. It works for them, so it "must work for me," right?
What works is enabling conversations. Allowing your prospects the freedom to move around in the conversation when they want to -- without you directing them to a PDF right away or some website link that they didn't request.
Everyone is doing that, and it's just not working anymore. Prospects see right through it.
What is Conversation Enablement?
The concept of conversation enablement is simple, but has to be executed the right way. It's basically cold outreach leaving the door open for a conversation -- rather than preaching to prospects, teaching them, or begging for a meeting right out of the gate.
This concept is essentially a concept that is taught when you're learning how to have a first date. Go in, know enough about them, and learn more about them and their needs. Stop talking about yourself so much, and let them have back-and-forth conversations with you.
This is done by using principles like facilitative questions, having the right email length, and doing the right research (and knowing what parts of that research to include in the email). We teach how to start sales conversations in depth -- in the Spark Selling Academy or in private coaching sessions, but the video below will get you started on the principles that you need to move forward with provoking conversations with your cold outreach.
In this video, Josh Braun interviews our very own Jeff Molander, and they discuss how to start conversations faster and why the old methods just aren't working anymore.
Or read the transcript...
So, hey, this is Josh. Today, we've got one of my faves on the program, Jeff Molander, who I met online and through his writings. Jeff is one of the best people I know at starting sales conversations with people you don't know. Tough skill. He is selling and has been managing sales teams for 20 years. The guy's the author of Spark Selling and Off the Hook Marketing. He's also what I call the Simon Cowell of email critiques.
So, if you have cold emails that you're sending out and not getting responses, this guy in a good way can critique them up, help you get more responses. Jeff, thank you so much for being generous with your time and being on the program.
It's my pleasure, sir. I'm always glad to connect with someone like you who appreciates the whole communications technique thing with when it comes to prospecting.
Awesome. So, Jeff, let's get right into this. Let's let's start with you know, it's very difficult to get the attention of strangers, people that you don't know at all. Why is that? What's going on? Why do people struggle with that so much?
Well. Well, I guess you said Simon Cowell, right? A harsh, ugly truth of the matter is that I think that there's you know, there's let's be honest, there's low skilled salespeople and there's high skilled people. And I think the differentiator. Maybe you'll agree. Maybe you won't. I don't know. I think the differentiator is in my life experience is the way that we communicate. And I think that to a large degree, you know, that, again, that those who are the best at interrupting, you know, when it comes to prospecting, the best the people who are the best at turning that interruption into what I say is an opportunity to provoke.
And when it comes to email and digital, we really have to be provocative. Cold calls a little bit different.
But nonetheless, if you're good at interrupting in any realm, digital or on the phone, then you're gonna have success. And that is a communication technique that you can learn and repeat. It's flexible. And I think that's what separates out the people, you know. So who teaches it? Josh, you teach it. That's how we met. We just met. I came to your blog and I'm like, "Wow. Here's one of very few people who appreciates the fact that this is really all about communications technique."
And getting the conversation started, of course, is just one part of that. So, yeah, you talk about this.
You talk about poking the bear. You call it provoking. What does that look like? Like so let's say I wanted to get the attention of sales professionals or V.P. of sales that say I'm selling like a lead generation software or other types of software that helps sales teams journal smarter.
And I want to say you mentioned provoking, but a lot of times people like, well, what does that mean? What does that look like? Can you kind of give me just some sense of what that feels like?
Sure. I'm actually going to get my notes here. I've actually got some provocations right here that my team has been using. So as an example, you know, really short, really pithy. And I am calling on vice presidents of sales and those kind of folks, CEOs, CMOs.
As an example: "Hi, John. Do you have a way to decide if your sellers need help starting a new client conversations when prospecting?"
Or I've got another one here that we've been using successfully.
"Are you open to exposing your team to conversation-starting provocations that start client conversations?" And you know, that kind of a provocation where we might also pair that with, "I'm not sure if this is a fit for your company, but I have an idea that where other businesses like yours are using this technique that we teach. Do you have a way to decide if investing in improving and strengthening the way that they communicate is...
Do you have a way to make that decision when it the right time to actually help your team with that?"
And what we're doing here is trying to provoke but also provoke in a way that is not a yes or no. That lead yet where the client reads it and goes, "Oh, thanks very much, Josh.
I know why you're asking that question, because you want me to just walk right into this whole thing where you sell me something."
Right? So, what we're trying to do here is like, "Do you have a way to decide if sellers need help or what is that way that you decide that sellers need help starting new sales conversations when prospecting?" Or, "How do you decide when your LinkedIn Navigator investment isn't working for you? How do you make that decision?" So, if we provoke in a way that isn't so obvious that we want to sell you something and actually just start a conversation.
That's what I mean by provoking, but provoking in a way that isn't going to insult their intelligence.
And look just like everybody else.
"Jeff, time for a meeting. Because I want to sell you something." I think that's why, to go back to your prior question, I think that's why people have such a hard time, is they're rushing the meeting. They don't know what to say, and they know their boss is like, "Well, you need to have X amount of meetings and send out X amount of e-mails."
So provoking statements. If people want to start with those, it sounds like it's like it's a sentence.
That is based on how you're going to help potentially then do something better. How do people get get those sentences for their business? Are there certain tips and techniques you can recommend them? Because most of the cold emails I get, they go on for a while and I don't quite exactly know what they're doing. But so far, I think you're recommending starting with a provocative sentence that's based on how you might be able to help someone do something better.
What's an exercise or some techniques people can kind of go through on their side to get what that nugget might be for them that might resonate the best?
Yeah, well, I guess two things. Well, I guess to be honest with you, the person who taught me the value of asking a...What she calls a facilitative question.
So, in other words, a question that is not biased to the response that you're looking to get. Because when you ask somebody a question and it's biased by the response, they're like, "I know why you're asking the question. Thanks very much." Delete key.
So, Sharon Drew Morgen is... I don't know if you know her actually or if you've ever read her blog. She's a genius. And she's the one who originally caught my attention with what she calls facilitative questioning. So, these are the questions, I guess, the way to arrive at what some of these provocations might be. They're not always in the form of a question, by the way, because starting your email off with the question can be actually quite dangerous because so many people do it, and they're biased questions.
But what Sharon teaches you to do is essentially, Josh, I think she says there's 14 steps. So, Google her. Sharon Drew Morgen... Read up on her. You can see what the 14 steps are that any client goes through to make the decision, the ultimate decision. They start deciding way before they actually realize that they need a solution to the problem. And all that kind of stuff, which she teaches is to look at those different stages and look at the questions that naturally the client will ask themselves before they can move to the next stage.
So what she says is our job as sellers is to obviously as prospectors go out and identify what stage that they're in by trying to start a sales conversation. And what I teach is using email and using online and digital. How can you quickly either make that assessment or assume that that's a pain or that that's a troubling concern? And so then if you know what the pain is, and everybody's like, "Oh, press on pains in your emails or talk about problem solving." Well, a lot of that, again, is a dead giveaway.
But what we're finding is the more that I apply and my clients apply assurance technique of asking really freakin smart questions about their decisions. So get them focused on their decision-making process. So ask them a question. Well, how would you know when it's right to begin the evaluation process to make this decision?
So it's almost like they're going through these stages of things happening in their business before they get to a tipping point where what they're doing is not working. And you're trying to ask a question that moves them a little bit forward in terms of, hey, I haven't considered it in that way before.
Yes. And I think that I'm gonna say as much as 70 percent of the success of this technique is how short the email is.
The other 30-40 percent is the fact that it's so different.
Maybe that's essentially the same thing. But I mean what's normally arriving in the inbox of your buyer is usually very long, very self-centered, and it has a question in it. When can you meet with me or are you in the market? But this is what Sharon teaches is don't do any of that. Just focus on if you're gonna ask them a question, ask them a question that matters to them and not you.
It doesn't matter to you what their answer is, but it does matter because now you're in the conversation, right? If you want a conversation, ask for a conversation. Don't ask for a meeting. And the best way to ask for a conversation is to ask about their situation. But don't ask in a way that's going to serve you. Ask in a way that serves them.
That's that's a great transition. You know, some of the stuff that I read about you, Jeff, and I really like this. And I think most of the cold e-mails that I get, and probably you as well, the call to action is primarily, "Can you carve out 60 minutes or 30 minutes or 45 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday?
So, it's always asking for my time.
And you're saying that that's a big mistake.
Well, how could you... So again, coming back to Sharon... How could you ask for a meeting when it's completely unqualified?
Well, I guess the answer is my boss requires me to have a lot of meetings.
Well, I have to set meetings as an SDR or an inside sales team. So in terms of calls to action, you've got some very creative things that you're doing. If I'm not asking for a meeting, what what am I... I have to write some type of call to action, I would think.
Well, people when they see what I teach, they go, "Where's your call to action?" And I'm like, it's implied, and they're like, "Oh," because why?
Well, I like to say, Josh, the only way I can explain it really is that we have, as sellers, unfortunately, it's my belief that social selling has put forth marketing. Push, not pull. What I teach is pull. A lot of what you teach is pull.
Ask a smart question that pulls them closer, that makes them want to ask you for the PDF that you want to push at them. Get them to ask you first. So I think a lot of this is... I'm sorry, I totally lost track of your question.
No. In terms of like a call to action, not asking for 30-minute meetings, you have a great line that you wrote, Jeff, and I am going to just say, because this is one of your blog posts. It's like, hey, instead of asking for time, you say, "Hey, are you open to an email exchange to see if a larger conversation makes sense?" Talk a little bit about that strategically, psychologically. What's going on there?
Psychologically? Well, it's like this...
Or if you're on a mobile device, you're deleting this way. Everybody is doing this. We're deleting. We're deleting. And you have a couple of seconds to not be deleted. So, if you're short enough, and you can get all the way to the bottom where, ultimately... I guess what I'm trying to say, Josh, is email is a decision. So, we tend to see a lot of sellers using it as a conversation tool.
John Barrows is another guy who's like, "It's not for conversations. It's you know, it's short form." Right. So, it's why I'm using the word transactional or transacting or deleting or forwarding. We're replying very infrequently. So, if you don't close with, hey, man, this is a transaction up or down. And this is a transaction that is not asking for like this overwhelmingly ridiculous ask: A meeting.
So smart sellers don't want a meeting just to have a meeting. Smart sellers want to have a meeting with a qualified candidate. Otherwise, you're on the phone, you're on the Web X, whatever, and you're you're wasting time because you're qualifying them when in fact, you could have qualified them using email a lot faster by not asking for this huge ask too early. And Sharon Drew Morgen will tell you, she estimates 90-97% percent of the time.
When you start the process with, "Hey, will you have a meeting with me?" In B2B, 90-97% of the time, people don't know that they need the meeting...yet.
They haven't realized that there's a problem yet. And so what you should be asking for is a conversation that identifies that there's a problem or helps them identify that there's a problem, then you can have it.
So, it's almost like you're on the first date, and you're saying you've got to come home and meet my parents. It's a little premature.
Exactly. And I hope I don't sound like I'm coming off like I call people stupid or this is a stupid thing.
I just think more people need to read your blog. More people need to meet Sharon Drew Morgen. Her stuff is a little bit more outside of the realm of just getting a conversation started. But more people need to understand it's about hard work. It's about knowing your market, doing the research on your target that you're calling, building, and we haven't talked about that at all...
But building the fact that you've done your research on the client into your first cold email touch is... Nothing will move. You know more than that. So talk a bit more about that. Like in your business, if we can kind of pull the curtain back. You mentioned doing the research...
What kind of steps do you take to get the voice of the customers' issues and events and circumstances sort of in your emails?
Sure. I mean, you've got to do the research, and you've got to read the annual report.
If you're me, like our team, we're looking at how many seats they have on LinkedIn Sales Navigator. We look at organizations who have gone through the ringer of social selling training, usually after a year of going through someone's social selling training. There's enough pain. We're finding within the organization that they're not receiving what they thought they were gonna get from this. And they're open to the idea of someone like me coming and going, "Hey, I see how much you've invested in this.
I see that you've had a formalized program that you rolled out to 200 sellers. I'm betting that this hasn't worked out for you, so I know something about you, right? I've studied something about you." And then one of these facilitative questions. What wouldn't need to happen for you to re-examine that? That kind of research?
The more that we can show and demonstrate that this is not a template, we just cut and paste, cut and paste. If you're using templates, I use templates. The best way the only way to use templates effectively is to customize them.
So, they should be used to...Here's where you insert your research. Here's where you insert the part where you say, "Well, I know this about you, and I know that about you."
So, what's really interesting about this, Jeff, is there's a framework called jobs to be done.
And what I'm hearing you're saying is you're very familiar with the customer's journey to purchase. You kind of understand the circumstances and events that eventually lead to enough dominoes tipping over for them to consider a service like yours. And you've seen the sort of movie playing over again. You mentioned the seats. They've gone through this training. These are things that are happening. And you're able to take that, and you're able to insert yourself into that conversation to get a sense of where they are in their journey.
If someone wants to do that work, would they interview customers? How would they kind of get it, those nuggets? I mean, you kind of mentioned doing research. You would have to.
I mean, it's different for different people. So, I work with some folks in financial services that subscribe to public databases. So, I work with a couple of guys who, out west, they go in, and they provide tax relief to people who are corporations or high net worth individuals who are paying too much income tax for their commercial real estate properties.
And the reason that they're paying too much income tax is they just don't know about a certain way to file their taxes, and their accountant doesn't know either. So these guys are specialists. So, what they do is they say, "Well, we know that you own this building, and you've owned this building since X date and you've paid 30 million for this building. And odds are that we could save you somewhere around 300 to 500 thousand per year on that building based on what we know about you.
So, I mean, not everybody's in that position.
But if you look at like DiscoverOrg and these databases that we can subscribe to as sellers, and we can understand what kind of technology investments our clients have, how long they've had them, approximately how much they've invested. So the more that we can do our homework, no matter what we're selling, the better we are. And then by immediately saying, "I've done my homework right there in that short email, I've done my homework on you."
You're just rising above the spam, right? Every day, they're getting these templated emails that are asking for meetings that can be written to anybody. They cut paste, cut, paste, cut, paste, and it's you know, it's not even cut paste. It's marketing, automation and sales automation.
Who's the appropriate person? Who do I need to speak to?
All that. All that stuff. That's all day long. Delete. Delete. Delete. People have been trained to delete that stuff so fast. So, you've got to rise above that. And one good way of rising above that is to prove that you've done your homework on them. Stun them. Write an email that's this long. They don't have to even scroll on their mobile device to read your entire email and become provoked by what you're saying.
Oh, my. This guy actually took 5 or 10 minutes to research me and knows something about me and is asking a really smart question. I don't think that's a great tip with regards to length. I think John Burrows talks about this as well. It's like send the e-mail to your mobile device and see how it looks.
Do you recommend sending more than one e-mail? Like, are there sort of follow ups or is it just like one and done because you've spent so much time understanding the journey and doing the research? Is it like one, or do you have the other cadence that you typically recommend? Talk a little bit about that.
Yeah. I mean, I think what I practice and what our team teaches and what most of my clients teach is just look like a human being.
When you forward the last e-mail and just say, "Hey, did you see that?"
I should say there's variations on that. But sending another email, sending a long, another...
Josh, I don't know how you feel about this, but there's so many people out there recommending "add value to every email."
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, well, what if I told you that the value that you're adding isn't valuable? Most of the time.
It's known information. And what I see going into these is information that sounds preachy. That presumes too much. That doesn't indicate that there's been any research done.
So, if you're gonna follow up, follow up in a way that indicates that you've done some research.
And I'm a human being. I'm not a machine. There's no unsubscribe link.
I mean, don't even get me started on these unsubscribe links and sales emails.
It's just there's just two sales cultures out there. I don't know if you've had any guests on to talk about it, but the inside salespeople have a really tough... It's just really tough for inside sales people these days, given their marching orders to go out and get more meetings.
How do you feel about the phone?
I feel like people are afraid of the phone. I think by the time they get to me, they honestly, Josh, you know, my website attracts a certain type of person. So, this is the certain type of person that I meet and overwhelmingly, I suppose, it's low-skilled sales. We're salespeople who are looking for shortcuts.
I don't think they are relying way too much on email, on LinkedIn InMail is like some sort of weird, I don't know, where they get the idea that LinkedIn InMail... You send one or two, and then you're supposed to get a response. Not just a response, but a full-blown conversation. And people are very disappointed when they don't get it. So if you're not calling, you've blown it. I don't care what you're selling.
I got the whole inbound marketing thing. This is not inbound marketing. If you're not emailing using LinkedIn, using direct mail--many of my clients use direct mail--making outbound calls, following up calls--not 2 times, not 3 times, but 6 or 7--and in harmony with your email follow-ups.
So, in terms of your business, you're combining your email approach with the phone. And is the phone outreach similar in terms of the methodology that you talk about? You know, the provocative statements?
Well, yes. If you reach somebody, then it's a little bit different. It's an interruption. You know, do you have 30 seconds where I can explain to you why I'm calling? And then you've got the 30 seconds. If you're good, you'll get the 30 seconds. And then it's a yes or no. We'll talk right now. You can provoke them.
You might be able to provoke them or get an "I'm interested in this in a month or two months or call me tomorrow" or something like that. But yes, I mean, in terms of the provocations, we're doing some interesting work with many clients, where they're using the same provocation that they use inside their email, inside their voicemail, and their voicemail is a 15- to 20-second voicemail.
So as an example, "Hey, I've got an idea for you, Josh. I'm not sure if it's a fit, but I know this about you, and I'm interested in having a conversation about this if you are. We're working with this company over here. We did this for them. Give me a call." If this is something that's provoked you, and if you know how to make a short provocation in an e-mail, it translates very nicely into a voicemail.
You said something there, Jeff, that was very subtle. And I noticed this in a lot of your work. "I'm not sure if this is a fit for you."
Talk a little bit about the psychology there of that because it's a very important phrase that you use frequently.
Yeah, a lot of studies have been done on putting people in control, giving them words that diffuse the whole situation.
Sandler sales. This is classic technique, right? "Hey, maybe this isn't for you after all," as a way to draw you in, draw the other person in. So negative reverse selling, I think, is what Sandler called it.
So, again, we see so much push, so many people asking the big ask, a phone call or a meeting.
It's rare where someone sends you an email and says, "I have an idea for you. I'm not sure if this is a fit. It might not be." Most people are like, "Oh, they're so damn sure."
"If we can just have a meeting, I'll give you a demo and a free taste." It's like that's what the world is.
I mean, 98 percent of the time, that's what we're hearing. And people are tired of that crap. The moment that you get someone who's like, "I've got an idea for you. It might not be a fit. But I think it is because I've done this research." It's like, "Whoa!" You might get a reply to that. Someone might actually be interested because you've said,
"Hey, you know what? You're the boss on this. But I've done some research, and I think this is going to be worth your time. Let's have a short conversation, and you can decide using those words. You can decide if a larger conversation is in the mix." When's the last time you've read an e-mail like that? It's like, no, I've decided for you, or I need the meeting. That way I can decide. Even after the meeting, I'll decide for you too.
I don't know what people are thinking these days. They're not communicating as warmly as they probably want to.
That's the thing. Josh, I read your stuff and I read your "know your lines," and I've got to believe the people are furiously nodding their head up and down going, "That feels good."
And John Barrows, too, he understands. You look at him, and you listen to go, "Oh, man, I'll try that because that feels good. I'll bet you that's going to work." And it does.
And it's such a great point. Jeff, I want to get your perspective on something else. So if I have limited time from an outbound perspective, there's also a lot of people writing about inbound stuff. So, I want to be able to produce some type of a "5 things you never knew about X," and I want to post that to LinkedIn, or I want to send that. I want to get options. Then I want to call people that have opted into this communication.
That stuff obviously is time consuming. But I want to talk a little bit about your experience going down that path. And if I have limited time, is that what you would recommend or not? Or what's been your experience there?
As a as a coach or as a small business owner?
Yeah. I guess a lot of cutting my teeth with that and a lot of pain. I think there are a couple of big..."What's the most valuable thing I could share with you?" It's got to be an offer that there is high perceived value in. So as an example, here's the example for me. Templates. You may be aware of it. I can fill up my database with people who want templates.
The problem is, and if you notice my offer is, I will offer you templates, but I quickly transition into what is an effective template? An effective template is not cut and paste, it's cut, paste and then do your research, then insert your research. And work. Let's get to work.
But most people want the templates, and here's the important take away: It's not the size of the list, it's the quality of the list. And I know that sounds very "duh."
But what we've done is... You've got to find a way to get people's actual email addresses, not the email address that you have, Josh, that you sign up for stuff that you never look at.
Yeah. But the thing is, 98 percent of the population has one of those emails. Or they're going to give you a fake email or one of these disposable emails that now exist. Specifically, for this purpose. There's hundreds of providers of disposable email addresses.
So, when you go out, and you're going to build a list, and you've got a list of people that aren't reading because they just signed up just to take your free thing.
This is a real problem because you don't have the opportunity to communicate with them. So my offer is, "I'm going to be very deliberate and say I'm going to send you seven templates, but you're gonna get them one at a time over seven days." So what I'm advising is always, if you're going to take someone's e-mail address, you need to have a reason why. And the reason why is not to get the free thing. That's not enough reason.
The reason--my reason--why is (and I'm challenging myself to do this every time I take someone's e-mail) to teach them something, but not all at once. I'm gonna give this to you every seven days. Why? Because it's going to take seven days for these ideas to come into your head. I'm gonna ask you to actually think about what I'm sending you and take action on what I'm sending you. So, it's a lesson.
I'm asking you for your e-mail so I can send you this.
Day by day by day. Does that make sense as it has totally, totally got it?
Give me your e-mail address. And we all know what's going on.
You are automatically subscribed to something that you never wanted to be subscribed to. And it's happened so many times that now we all have one of those e-mail addresses. That we just don't monitor.
I completely get it. Jeff, I knew this would be amazing, but I didn't quite know it would be so chock-full of actionable tactical stuff. I know my audience is going to love it.
Jeff, a book that you would recommend people read. I know you're an avid reader.
Is there a particular book that you would recommend to my audience that you like, that you enjoy, that you think that perhaps they would find value in business or sales?
Well, I've already plugged you a couple times.
I really like Jeb Blount. I think his stuff is super smart...the last few books. There's nothing new in the world of good prospecting. However, there is so much, frankly, crap out there, charlatans that are willing to tell you that there's been a revolution: social media, social selling, all this nonsense. I think Jeb is one of those guys who's been very in your face about calling bull on a lot of that.
And I think he's really brought it home with this is what prospecting is all about. He's waving the flag. He wants it. That's what prospecting is about: motivation. And he's very good at that. But he's very good with the tactics as well.
So, I'm not a big avid reader, as you might think I am, but I think Jeb Blount's stuff is... He's super smart. I'm a big fan of his.
Excellent. Now if people want to work with you... So, you've got this Simon Cowell-like e-mail critique service that you do. But you also do a lot of other things. How do I get involved? What do you have coming up? What are you selling? How do I get involved and work with Jeff?
Well, you can hit coldemailreview.com if you're interested in having me Simon Cowell you. And there's actually a couple options.
You can take one review, or if you're into being punished over and over and criticized endlessly for 9 times, you can you can do that as well. You can do coaching. But otherwise, you know, makesocialmediasell.com is where most of the action is. You can sign up for this 7 templates in 7 days tutorial, which is by far my most valuable free tool. jeffmolander.com/email.
And that will get you into that offer. You'll receive 7 provocative template ideas. They're more formulaic ideas than they are cut-and-paste type templates.
Jeff, thank you for being so generous with your time.
It's my pleasure, sir. All the best to you.