Breaking Through the Communication Barrier

Selling today is much more difficult than it was forty years ago, when I started as a salesman. Back then, people would actually answer their phones, and in some cases, even let you in their buildings before they booted you out.

The business culture has dramatically changed since then. Now many companies have restricted their lines of communication.  In some cases it can be nearly impossible to talk to any of the key managers. Voicemail is a major screening device. Some companies have even replaced receptionists with automated phone systems. The dilemma is that many companies will not see salespeople without an appointment. And the salesperson cannot ask for the appointment, when no one answers the phone.

What’s worse is that many buyers have little regard for the knowledge and advice that salespeople can bring to a business relationship. In fact, some studies reveal that as many as 80% of buyers in B2B sales, have already have researched products and have pretty much made up their minds, before calling a potential vendor. The reality is that buyers want to buy; they don’t want to be sold. Buyers are also have a misconception of salespeople as fast talking, high pressure flimflam artists, who really don’t much about the customer’s needs but will say anything to make a sale. It’s really not a very flattering image but it’s one that you need to change. Here’s how to go about it.

Become the Expert in your Field. 

As a salesperson, one way to break though the communication barrier is to position yourself as an industry expert.  Obviously this is much easier said than done. That’s because it takes a commitment to improve your knowledge of your industry daily.

To do this, you should get in the habit of reading industry related literature at least one hour a day.  If you make the effort to educate yourself, you will eclipse your peers in competency, not just in your company, but also in your industry.  If you put in the time, you will eventually transition from a peddler to a consultant. What’s more, if you actively promote your expertise, people will call you; you won’t need to call them.

One way to promote your expertise is to volunteer to conduct seminars at events in your target market as well as offering your services as a speaker at sign industry events. Speaking is also a great way to improve your understanding of a subject. Dr. Stephen Covey commented that if you really want to learn a subject, teach it. Having conducted seminars, including ISA, USSC and Consac, you need to really know your topic before you get in front of a crowd.

Contribute to Trade Publications.

One way to establish yourself as an industry authority is to write articles for the trade publications in the sign market and in your target markets.  As an example, a newsworthy article could be a success story about a company that implemented a new corporate identity program that helped them attract more attention to their store location resulting in an increase in store traffic and impulse buys. If you write such a story, just make sure that you get all of your facts straight or you could end up with egg on your face.

Create a Newsletter.

To promote any articles that you may write or to announce developments at your company, publish the information in a newsletter written for your audience of existing customers and prospective customers. This requires that you not only take the time to compose the newsletter but you also need to build a database. Once you do that, you can use a service, such as Constant Contact, to distribute your newsletters and email blasts.


So how do you build a database? I wish that I could tell you that there was an easy way. If you belong to any business groups, you can start there. Some of these groups will give you the names of their members just for the asking. Other leads you will have to dig for. Maybe that’s why they call it prospecting. You can find some prospects by doing an internet search. If you are targeting a particular industry, you can sometimes find the names of key contacts on Linkedin. You can also build a list by entering the names that you get through your networking efforts or from customer referrals. If you are serious about building your database, you should set a target of a certain numbers of entries per week.

The next step is to qualify your entries. That means you need to pick up the phone. Getting to the right person, who doesn’t want to be gotten to, is difficult and sometimes next to impossible. If the best that you can do is talking to the wrong person, you can still learn a lot.

Develop a Blog.

Today I generate about 30,000 page views each month at my blog ( Building an audience takes time. If you want to build traffic, you must post articles regularly, so prospects continue to visit. Once you start a blog, you also must promote it. You can do this in many different ways.  These include linking your newsletter to your blog. You can also make an agreement to link with other sites. You can provide content for other sites as a guest blogger. When you send out correspondence, include a link. I even put the site address on my business cards.


The friendships that you make in the graphics market can pay off in referrals from your contacts. When I was selling fleet graphics, I developed close relationships with the truck leasing people. I also joined a truck safety council. In the sign industry, you can volunteer for association committees.

The relationships that you form with the leasing people can be especially invaluable. These salespeople will know long before you ever will when prospects are looking to lease vehicles. If you develop a graphics package for their customer, they can roll the price of the program into the terms of the lease. This can be a true win-win. The leasing company salesperson makes more commission when they put together a bigger package. The customer wins because he can finance a major program over the terms of the lease. You win because you not only make the sale, but more importantly the leasing company pays you before he turns the equipment over to the customer.

Once you develop relationships with other salespeople you need to maintain an ongoing engagement with them on a face-to-face level. A lot can be said for the strong personal relationships that you can build in a social setting, such as on a golf course. Can you really build a rapport with someone through email, Twitter or even over the phone? Business relationships that help your sales grow are invaluable. You need to nurture as many of these relationships as possible.

The key in networking with other industry salespeople is cooperation. You cannot expect to get good leads from another person if you don’t provide him or her with something comparable. Buying a successful salesperson a dinner or a drink will only get you so far. What other salespeople want is what you want – high quality, qualified leads that they can turn into cash. So if you want a lot, you better be willing to give a lot.

Ask for Referrals.

When was the last time you ever heard of a salesman ask for a referral? It hardly ever happens. That doesn’t make any sense, because if you do it right, it can be one of the most effective ways to get your foot in the door.  In case you are new to sales, a referral is usually defined as asking an existing customer for a lead. In today’s market, that does not get you too far. To my way of thinking, instead of just asking someone who you have just sold for a lead, ask him if he or she would make the introduction.

Getting referrals from an existing customer can get you in the door in an otherwise inaccessible place. The referral also puts the prospect as ease and helps build confidence, because it is a recommendation from a trusted member in his industry.

In sales courses they will generally teach you to ask for referrals right after closing a deal. A better time to ask is after the graphics program has been implemented and your customer is completely satisfied with your work.

Most sales people feel uncomfortable in asking for a referral. These are usually the same people who find it painful to ask for the order. There are a number of suggestions to make the practice easier.

When the customer asks you for a reasonable concession or a favor, ask him for a referral in return. It might go something like this: “I think we can do that. In return I am hoping that you might help me out. I am having such a hard time getting an appointment with SO-AND-SO. Since you are friends with him, could you give him a call for me? Maybe the three of us can meet for lunch.”

Giving a prospect a sales lead also affords you with an opportunity to ask for a referral. Ask immediately after giving the prospect something of valve, because he will feel obligated to give something back in return.

Whether you follow up the referral with a phone call, letter or e-mail, use your customer’s name immediately in the conversation or correspondence. “Joe Jones told me that I should give you a call. We just installed a new graphics on the inside of their stores. He thought that you might be interested in hearing about our range of services.”

If any of these techniques sound like something that you would be comfortable with, my suggestion is to put it in your own words and practice, practice, practice until the lines are second nature. Does that sound too canned for you? Remember that selling is like being an actor. If you want your performance to shine, you have to own the role.

Considering how valuable referrals can be in growing your business, you should make asking for referrals a routine in your sales calls. While ‘ask and you shall receive’ may not produce business all of the time, not asking is guaranteed not to produce results.   As a final note, when you get a referral, don’t forget to say thank you.

How to Handle Voicemail.

Today most people, myself included, do not answer their phones. They screen their calls and only return calls if there is a benefit to them.  When your phone call to a prospect goes into voicemail be prepared. My suggestion is to write a 30 second message that you can leave when the phone system starts to record. If you want your message to sound natural, even if you read it, you had better practice your delivery until you are confident that you can perform in a composed, professional tone.  Make sure that your message gives the prospect a reason to return your call.  It should be a teaser, designed to elicit a response.

Using Direct Mail.

Prospects have been bombarded with so many e-mails in their inbox that most messages are never opened. That’s one big reason that direct mail is making a comeback. Success in direct mail marketing depends on several factors. First and foremost is the mail list.  In my opinion, considering how expensive direct mail can be, your money is best spent only mailing to a list which you have compiled and qualified yourself by doing phone prospecting.

By using a qualified list versus a rented list, you at least know that you are mailing to the right person. The other advantage is that you own the list. If your list is in some type of database, you can and should continually update the list and tie it in with your other marketing efforts, such as telemarketing and email marketing.

Having a good list is only part of the success equation. The next part is the envelope. It needs to attract attention and stimulate interest. One way to do that is the size of the envelope. A large tan envelope certainly stands out. It also looks official. If the envelope is imprinted with a bold red stamp reading “Corporate identification materials enclosed”, it might be interesting enough to open. Another approach is to use a window envelope with a window big enough to show the prospect an eye-catching enclosure.

So which envelope will pull the results: the big tan envelope or the window envelope? There’s only one way to know: Test, Don’t Guess. Testing a sampling of each envelope is will tell you what works for the group that you are pursuing. Ideally, mailing 500 of each direct mail package should provide you with enough responses to gauge what works best. If that’s not practical, all you can do is to roll the dice.

The content of the package is also very important. It should include a direct mail letter, a brochure and a response mechanism, such as a reply card or 800-number. The letter is very important because it tells your story. Make sure that the headline of the letter contains a legitimate benefit statement. The rest of your letter should support your claims in the headline and the initial paragraph. The letter should include with a call to action.

If mass direct mail is not in your budget, the next best thing to write a personalized letter to the prospect. One successful fleet graphics salesman would take a picture of the prospect’s vehicle with a simple message stating that he had some ideas that he would like to discuss with him. If the salesman took a picture of a prospect’s failing graphics, he would send a note reading that he had inspected the graphics and had some ideas on how to correct the problems.

What I like about direct mail is that you can measure your results and determine if you are getting a return on your investment.

Building Credibility with YouTube.

YouTube can help you break down barriers that prevent you from reaching your prospects. What’s important is that you use it to deliver useful information and not to do a chest-pounding hard sell. Your objective should be to build your credibility as an authority in your field by delivering sound advice or reporting pertinent and newsworthy industry stories in an entertaining yet professional manner.

An effective tactic is to provide links from your website, blog or email to short educational video clips that provides answers to the types of questions that your prospects most frequently ask. As these questions arise, add them to your list of topics to cover. If a question is about manufacturing or installing of graphics, the video can give you an opportunity to show you or your people in action or to showcase your shop.

A short video can also present a case study about a customer’s successfully implemented graphics program. Using a problem-solution format you can tell a story about an account that had a challenge or business objective and worked with your company to develop a program that satisfied their needs.

With a cell phone or video camera and the assistance of a friend, you can produce these videos for very little time and expense. Once you produce the videos then it is time to promote them in any way that you can. This includes posting your videos on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. You could also embed your videos in your blog. And you could announce new videos in a newsletter as well as providing links to videos on your website.


The recommendations that I have made have worked for me. There’s only one way to know if they will work for you. Give them a try. If you have been banging your head against your prospects’ walls trying to get in with no success, to paraphrase President Trump: what do you have to lose?