A while ago, my friend Malcolm Myers started a little coffee group called "The Business of LabVIEW." It kind of grew out of our Virtual Coffee, which is a general LabVIEW-based discussion group. There was a small group of us who were interested in talking about running a LabVIEW-based business. Instead of boring everyone in the Virtual Coffee with our business discussions, Malcolm decided to start a separate group. As part of this group, he recommended a book called Go For No. I was reluctant to read another sales book at first. Steve Watts is generally pretty critical, so when Steve said it was good, I thought I'd check it out.
Sales and Marketing
The number one challenge faced by most LabVIEW Developers turned consultants is sales and marketing. As engineers, we admire good work and being a craftsperson. We tend to think that is all it takes to be successful. We expect people to notice our excellent work and hire us just based on that alone. We discount sales and marketing. I think part of that is that engineers tend to be detail-oriented and marketers tend to paint big sweeping rosy pictures and tend to gloss over the details. We tend to view marketing with skepticism. Be as skeptical as you want, but in order to succeed in business, you need to do sales and marketing. Since we all seem to have problems in this area, this tends to be a common topic of our "Business of LabVIEW Group".
Go For No
Go for no assumes you already have a good message. It's not about creating a good message, it's about putting yourself out there. It's about making sales calls and actually asking for the sale. There is nothing I dread more than making sales calls. I generally hate phone calls with strangers. Trying to get them to buy something from me adds to the stress. I employ various tactics to get around my reluctance to make sales calls. I've tried to engineer a process where people come to me instead of me cold calling them. Even when that works, I still have to hop on "sales" calls with potential clients. I try to change the way I view calls. I think of it as a compatibility call. I try to look at it as my trying to figure out how best I can help them. All those things help, and at the end of the day I still have to ask people for the sale. I still have to put myself out there and be vulnerable.
Two Main pitfalls
After reading this book and looking at my own experience and what others have shared in our "Business of LabVIEW" group, I've noticed two main things that stop people. The book addresses both of these.
Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection is probably the number one reason people flounder on sales calls. Let's face it, no one really likes getting rejected. Fear of rejection causes us to beat around the bush and never actually ask the question. If you don't actually ask it outright, you can't get rejected. It's high school logic. "Would you kinda maybe like to go to the movies with me on Friday? I mean not together or anything - definitely not a date, but like I would go to the movies and maybe you might show up and we might sit near each other. Maybe we could even talk to each other. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?" While it's hard to get rejected if you don't ask the question, it's also very hard for the client to say yes, which is the ultimate goal.
In a perverse way the book encourages you to learn to like rejection and even enjoy it. The advice is that instead of shying away from it, embrace it. It's going to happen anyway, so might as well learn to enjoy it. It's certainly difficult to do. The one trick the book suggests that I've heard several other places is to view each no as one step closer to a yes. Maybe that works for people. Personally I just look at it as every rejection is a client saying "We're not a good fit" or maybe "The timing is just not right", which puts me one step closer to finding a client who is a good fit and is ready. I'd much rather work with people who are a good fit and ready to go, so that seems to work for me.
Letting your Foot on the Gas
The second big issue I've seen, and I've definitely done this myself, is letting your foot off the gas. In the book the character is 3 for 3 on his first 23 sales calls that week, but his goal is 5. He thinks, "Well I am on a roll" so he starts slacking off and ends up missing his quota.
Consultants do this all the time. They get one big client, who takes up all their time. They've got plenty of money coming in, so they aren't worride about sales and marketing. Then one day the project ends. Whether it's finished or gets cancelled doesn't matter. The consultant is suddenly left with no work and nothing in the sales pipeline. The book's solution to this is to chase nos instead of yeses. Know your numbers. Know how many nos it takes to get a yes and focus on getting that many nos that week, regardless of how many yeses you get.
My personal solution to this is that I hired a marketing team and they work for me each week regardless of how much work I have at the moment. From that I try to get a certain number of sales calls each week. I make sure I set time aside for that. In order to do that I never promise any clients 100% of my time. I always at least 1 day a week for prospecting and calls. I don't really count the nos or yeses, I just know if I do x number of calls per week or month, I'll land something. It seems to work for me.