Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

Is It Ethical to Sell in These Times?

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At the end of a crazy week, David C. Baker and I each grabbed a drink, hopped on Zoom and posted the link on Twitter inviting creative & marketing professionals to join us for a distributed cocktail party. Over the next hour, dozens of people from 8 different countries gathered online, beverages in hand, and shared their wins for a week that will otherwise be known for bad news. 

I was amazed at the new business wins that I heard. It was reassuring to know that business was still happening and clients were still in need of creative, marketing and digital services, even if some parts of the economy had ground to a halt. 

So, commerce is still getting done, clients are still hiring agencies and it is still ethical to sell, provided you have an ethical idea of what it means to sell.

Selling: Are You Convincing or Helping?

In the fourth proclamation of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto (We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell) I tell a tale of two salespeople. The first tries to convince us to buy something, and the second patiently, discerningly explores whether or not they might help us. We have all been on the buying side of both scenarios and the motivation and integrity of the salesperson always comes shining through, making us feel uncomfortable or at ease. 

We in the creative professions often recoil from the function of selling because we are scarred by the bad buying experiences involving the first salesperson who, for reasons of ideology, training or incentives, saw selling as the requirement to convince. 

Selling is not convincing. It is not your job to talk people into things. It is your job to look for people that you might help and then map out how you might help. These may be desperate times but you cannot feel desperate when selling. That desperation will shine through and you will instead feel like the pariah that you revile. 

A pattern I have observed in the very best salespeople is the ability to proceed calmly and not force an issue, even when under significant stress. In a conversation facilitated by a good salesperson, it does not show that the future of this person’s job or the firm is on the line. It does not show she does not know how she will make payroll if she does not close this deal. The best salespeople do the right thing, apply the frameworks and proceed, regardless of the external conditions. And the buyer senses no desperation. The buyer feels safely guided by a discerning professional. 

In my post Three Steps for Surviving and Thriving in a Crisis (Part 1) I began by talking about you and how you will lead your team through this crisis. I said you weren’t going to be okay, you were going to be spectacular—a spectacular leader, entrepreneur and human being. Focus on that, I said, and let the chips fall where they may. 

Now I want you to bring that leadership to how you sell. Do the difficult tasks and be a spectacular leader and human being as you do. Try on the worst-case scenario. Once you are comfortable with that, you will be able to proceed calmly and navigate the sale with integrity. If you lead others in this moment the way that you yourself would want to be led then the worst that can happen is your business fails. 

Your business fails, but you don’t. And because you don’t fail, because your personal balance sheet remains strong, you can rebuild the business. Others will save their business but at the cost of their reputation. 

Okay, selling—leading—with integrity, let’s go in search of those you can help. 

Begin With Tier II Leads

In Win Without Pitching, Tier II Leads are those individuals who are interacting with your content but not reaching out to you. (Tier I Leads are inbound inquiries and Tier III Leads are names on a list. If you want to get better at all three levels of lead generation, have a look at our Lead Generation Bootcamp that we’ve opened up beyond the initial closed group.)

While you’ve never had an interaction beyond a web conversion or social follow, these Tier II Leads already know who you are. Say hi now and ask if you can help. Someone who is on your site today, reading that post of yours on channel marketing (or whatever) is there for a reason. Ask if you can help. 

Email is fine for outreach but the telephone (as an actual phone) is having its renaissance moment right now as people are physically separated from each other. I suggest you avoid cold messaging on LinkedIn. That tactic has never felt right to me and it feels even more unseemly now. You may disagree.

Mine Your Network

Your network of clients, past clients, friends and family can help. Don’t be shy about asking for referrals. 

“Hey, Charlene. I want to share a quick update with you and ask a favor, if you don’t mind. The update is that while many of our clients have stopped spending and are in crisis mode, we are doing as much as we can to help. A lot of that is for free right now but these are valued clients and we’re trying to do the right thing for them. Together we will all get through these trying times. 

The request is that more paying clients right now would be helpful to us (duh). You know what we’re capable of, and we’re seeing lots of opportunities for clients in the X, Y & Z spaces. If you know people in those spaces (or others) that want to capitalize on the uncertainty and have budgets to spend, I would truly appreciate the introduction. 

Thank you in advance, and please let me know if I can do anything for you.”

Get Targeted with Tier III Leads

Cold outreach (Tier III leads) are going to be more difficult than reaching out to people who know you, but they’re not off limits if you reach out respectfully. 

“I’m sure you’ve got a relationship with a firm that can help you with your [area of need] in these times, but in the event you do not, my team and I have some experience in [discipline or problem domain] that you might find relevant.”

I’m not a big fan of presupposing someone’s situation and reaching out with ready-formed conclusions or services, but now might be a good time to consider it if you’re seeing some patterns in the crisis. For example, if you’ve helped a restaurant successfully transition from dining to takeout and learned something valuable, reach out to more restaurants. 

“Forgive the outreach at this time but I want to let you know that your current challenge (converting to delivery) is something that we’re helping others in your space do effectively right now. We’ve learned a few things about what works and what does not. If we can be of assistance, let me know. Either way, best of luck to you in these trying times.”

Two Quick Points on Pricing

First, when putting forward options in your proposals (You do that, right? Its Rule #2 of Pricing Creativity) consider how payment terms might change in each option. As an example, the cheapest option might require a client to pay up front, with the more expensive options including more favorable terms. 

Second, I want you to think about something that I’ll come back to when this crisis is over: Anyone who is truly value pricing right now is at a significant advantage when selling in this crisis. Why? Because the poorly understood power of value-based pricing is it requires you to start with uncovering what the client wants and values first, and only then you are free to think about costs and solutions. It flips the seller’s focus 180 degrees from the normal approach, which is: here’s what we usually do, here’s how we always do it and here’s what we need to charge for it. Most people do not understand this fundamental change in mindset that separates those who price on value from those that price and sell inputs or outputs. 

Continue to Market, But Review Your Current Automations

Many companies are dumping advertising inventory right now and Facebook is offering a $100m in cash grants and ad credits to small businesses. In addition to leveraging these opportunities for your clients, consider them for your firm as well. Do you have some timely content on helping clients in a particular niche navigate these troubling times? Drive traffic to that content and generate some Tier II leads to reach out to. 

I’ll finish by suggesting you check your current marketing automations. I follow a few people on Twitter who have clearly preloaded scheduled tweets and forgotten about their accounts. Some tweets that I would have considered wise gems in normal times seem dissonant to our current reality. They’re not offensive, they just give the impression that these people lack a little self-awareness. Just double-check that any scheduled communications, whether they are automated email sequences or scheduled social posts, are still appropriate for the times. 

Coming Up

In the next couple of weeks I’ll start to post on step two from my original post: adjusting to the new midterm reality, beginning with a series of constraint-driven exercises you can use to spot opportunities to do things differently in the coming weeks and months. 

We’ll also be rolling out some other free and paid resources so stay subscribed, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to 2Bobs, the podcast I do with David C. Baker. 

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.

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