John_HallJohn Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a Missouri-based company that helps businesses worldwide develop thought leadership. A true Jack (John!?) of all trades, John is a HubSpot partner, a columnist for Forbes and Inc., an entrepreneur, and a successful salesperson whose company has grown tremendously under his leadership. To get his perspective on what it takes to grow a small business, we sat down with him to ask five burning questions on what sales leaders can learn from his experience:

1) You're the CEO of Influence & Co., a rapidly growing company. What role does influence play in the modern buying process?

At Influence & Co., we work with our clients to develop article topics for their niche audience that might revolve around answering a question, informing them on a new trend, or offering advice on solving a problem. It’s not selling or advertising a product -- it’s giving your audience the resources they need to be equipped to make decisions, whether that be short- or long-term. We also offer methods our clients can [use to] leverage that content with the rest of their teams -- especially their sales teams.

I’ve written numerous articles on Forbes, LinkedIn, and the Influence & Co. blog on how to nurture and attract leads with quality content. I’ll give you an example. I get on phone calls every day with people who are experiencing a common barrier to starting their content efforts. While I present the value of what content can do for them over the phone, I will also send them a few blog posts that I or someone from my company has written that offer examples, links to other resources, and data on what they’re hesitating about. This enhances our credibility and helps educate them further in the process. My goal isn’t for them to say, 'Okay, fine where do I sign?' but rather for them be educated enough that they can make an informed decision on what the best fit is for them. If the answer is still no, I’ll know it was after they read helpful resources that they realized this solution did not meet their goals at this time. And although our service didn’t mean their needs, I’ve still established a relationship and they can see us as a reliable resource on content.  

2) You help companies create content for every touch point. What types of content do you think work most effectively at the bottom of the funnel?

Analyzing who that bottom of the funnel customer is the first step to this process. You must understand what someone at this stage is thinking to be able to deliver valuable content that meets their needs. This varies with every industry and even every company, but creating content on KPIs, measurable goals, lifetime value, and tying in a company’s goals as much as possible is the most effective for this stage. Case studies are also really valuable here because for a prospective client who is already informed on what you do and needs to decide whether you or a different company is the right fit, those pieces of content will help them compare what you can do for them.

3) Lots of sales experts suggest asking 'How can I help you?' to network, but you wrote a great piece suggesting that approach breeds skepticism instead of dialogue. What should executives do instead?

This is a lesson I’ve learned over the years and a really important one to note because good intentions are usually misunderstood in this case -- not always, but most of the time. If you are talking with a prospective client or customer, your goal should be to find out more about that person and their business. The more you extract about what they find valuable, where they are headed, new initiatives they’re rolling out, etc., the better you’ll be able to find out if you can help them or not. If you simply start out by asking, 'How can I help you?' before understanding who they are and what kind of needs they have, it comes off as spammy and disingenuous.

Asking them questions about their company also makes your interaction more genuine because you took time to find out about their business, rather than sell them on something that you really have no idea whether it’s a good fit or not. If you discover that their goals aren’t aligned with what your company can offer, don’t just hang up the phone -- offer an alternative or suggest a company you’ve worked with or heard about that might be a great resource. Remember: everyone you talk to has the potential to be a relationship (notice I didn’t say customer). By strengthening relationships with people who do and don’t become clients, you’re showcasing that you’re a good person with good intentions. We have a lot of referrals that come in, and the majority aren’t even from a company who’s been a client of ours, but one that’s seen who we are and what we do and trusted us enough to pass along our information to someone they knew. There is so much value to relationship building and that all starts with that initial conversation. 

4) Your team has had great success extracting value from events. What are your top tips for getting the most out of an event from a marketing and sales perspective?

I’ll split this up into two parts, because I think people make the most mistakes before and after an event.

Before your event, do research and find out more about the companies or representatives you’re hoping to talk with. Consider reaching out to them on LinkedIn, sending a tweet, or shooting an email introducing yourself so you avoid the risk of not finding them or simply just to break the ice before meeting.

Something our sales team likes to do before an event is have a meet up the night before at a local bar or restaurant and invite a handful of people to join. It gives people a non-obligatory option to get to know us and makes it casual enough that they don’t feel pressured -- plus, a free app or drink is a nice gesture. This makes trips more productive, gets us to explore whatever city we’re in a bit more, and strengthens relationships.

Now to maximizing efforts after a networking event. This is a big one that most people miss because they think collecting business cards and banking on a good conversation they had with someone will do the trick. You need to forget these two things and expect to be forgotten. Without follow-up, your chances of ever connecting with that person are significantly lower. Some tips on getting the most out of an event would be connecting with anyone you spoke to with at least two touch points. That could be in the form of social media or an email. Another bonus would be writing a blog post with key takeaways from the event and including quotes from or mentions of people you talked to. What better way to start a relationship than mentioning them in a post that an entirely new audience is reading? It makes the person or company feel special and keeps you top of mind. Just don’t write an article with the assumption that they’ll be a sale after you publish it. Remember that you’re just trying to build a foundation for a lasting relationship.

5) Finish this sentence: Most salespeople and business leaders underestimate the importance of --

Nurturing their prospective clients and customers through digital content.

Follow up: What's the most underrated social network for sales executives?

LinkedIn’s publishing platform.

Originally published Sep 2, 2014 12:00:00 PM, updated September 02 2014

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Sales Experts