Episode 179: Liston Witherill is a sales coach to consultants
June 2, 2019
Our guest today is Liston Witherill, a sales coach and trainer who helps non-sales people sell more client services by staying curious and providing more help to their clients.
Liston has a set of great resources available to download on his website, just go to liston.io and click on the Resources tab, where you’ll find sales email templates, a CRM spreadsheet, a sales call checklist, a list of 32 ideas for lead generation, and more.
Will: Hello, Liston. Welcome to the show.
Liston: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.
Will: Listen. Let’s just start with sort of the money question here. What are some ways that independent professionals can generate more leads for live, legitimate project opportunities?
Liston: Well, how much time do you have? Probably more than we can possibly cover-
Will: We should, I mean-
Liston: … in this podcast episode.
Will: Yeah, four or five minutes should be able to satisfy that question’s kind of narrow-
Liston: We should totally … Go ahead.
Will: Yeah. Narrow, limited question, right, so just keep it focused.
Liston: Right, exactly. We can give you an exhaustive overview in the next four minutes.
Will: Okay, great.
Liston: First thing I’ll say is, you can go to my website. I have a list of 32 lead generation channels if you just go to the Resources section, because I certainly can’t cover them all now. I think that-
Will: Oh, and let’s-
Liston: … if you-
Will: What is your website? We always mention that somewhere in the show. Let’s get it right up front.
Liston: Okay. Sure. It’s my name, Liston, L-I-S-T-O-N, dot io. Liston.io. Your question was, “What are some lead gen channels?” It’s really dependent on your business and also how much authority, and esteem, and exposure you have to your market. That’ll kind of change your options, but for me, I can just go over some of the channels that I use and that I recommend my clients use as well. One of my primary sources of leads, obviously, is network and sort of channel partners. Right? I’m always wondering, who are people out there who already are working with my clients and are in a position to refer me that business, and what can I do for them? That may look like because I work with small consulting firms, that may look like marketing shops that work with those firms, and then I can work with their clients on sales and business development issues. Right? That can be one source of leads is kind of the what I would call partnership marketing.
Another source that I think is amazing and I’m really bullish on is podcasting. I’m not trying to make you a client, Will, I promise, but what podcasting does, either as a guest or in particular as a host, it gives you a reason to start a conversation with anybody. Generally, they’re going to say, “Yes.” After that conversation, you’ve spent an hour with someone on the phone interviewing them, getting to know them, you’re now a human being. You’re not some person bothering them in their inbox, and they’re going to reply to future messages that you send them or request to talk to them or run an idea by them. I think that that’s an amazing, amazing source of leads, also. I’m not big on in-person networking, but I know a lot of people who get a lot of work from that channel. I personally don’t have the stomach for it, because I think it’s very untargeted generally.
Then the last thing I want to say is speaking, either speaking or writing in authoritative publications is another fantastic way to generate leads. One thing that we’re all hired for as consultants is not exactly the things we think. I’ve heard a lot of people say consultants get hired for what they think. I don’t think that’s quite the case. I think we get hired for how we can apply what we think to our clients, but if we can demonstrate our thinking and our, especially what I would call our unique worldview, like how do we see the world, and how do we approach problems, and then illustrate it through application to particular sets of problems our clients might have, that starts to paint a picture for them of relatively how qualified you are.
The other, of course, enormous benefit is, you get to pick up steam in word of mouth whenever you’re publishing. There’s an opportunity for someone to share that with someone else, which is enormous. I think that’s huge, and then … I lied a little bit. I think the last thing I want to mention here is LinkedIn. Depending on your market, not all markets are heavily on LinkedIn, so if you sell to a lot of technical people, they’re going to be a lot less active there. If a lot of people in your market have less than 500 connections, which you can see on LinkedIn, it probably indicates that your market isn’t very active there, but LinkedIn is the single best source of prospecting information for most businesses, and so you can find your ideal clients or what I would call your perfect clients right there on LinkedIn. Whether or not it’s time for them to buy is another issue, which hopefully your marketing can start to solve, but that is a great place to start prospecting and start striking up conversations with people.
Will: Great. In terms of number five, a lot of people will do some writing. They’ll write a couple whitepapers. They’ll write a blog post, and some people lose steam a little bit, or they keep at it for a while, but they maybe don’t see the results they’re hoping for. What sort of things have you seen that’s worked for consultants who are your clients in terms of what types of articles, what types of publications are they putting them in? I’d love to hear about that, and then maybe we can also talk about speaking engagements second, but first, just get into the writing. What have you actually seen work for your clients?
Liston: Here’s the problem with the way most people approach publishing or content marketing, as now it’s commonly referred to. They will go out, and they’ll write a blog post about their own process, right, or about what they do professionally. By way of example, if you’re a management consultant focused on IT issues, you’re going out and writing a blog post on the nitty-gritty details of how to do a technical implementation, and weave in your strategy to do that, but that may not be the question that the client has. Right? The client is probably looking at something at 300,000 feet. They don’t want to be lost in the weeds. They just want to know that you can handle their problem, so what’s much more effective is to write about the particular problems that your clients bring to you and maybe what that problem indicates, like what are some of the upstream causes of the problem that may actually just be a symptom? Right? It’s not actually the problem that they have. There’s something else going on. That, providing an insight like that is what works and gets people to start to interact with you on a regular basis.
Those are the kinds of articles, so you could write kind of a how-to article. You can write kind of a strategy article. You can write something that takes a position, so you’re tackling some sort of trend or maybe industry norm or common wisdom and taking a different opinion on that. I think that’s something that can drive business your way, also. Then you had a second question. What was it?
Will: Speaking engagements, but before we get to that, in terms of what sort of publications have you seen your clients publishing in that actually led to leads? Some people I’ve heard said, “Hey, you can publish in some widely read newspaper, but that’s not necessarily going to drive business. Maybe you can go for more niche publications and trade journal, a blog for the trade association or something,” so what sorts of things have you seen that are maybe a little counterintuitive that actually led to inquiries?
Liston: Well, so the first thing that’s counterintuitive that you touched on is, going to the largest publications typically won’t drive much business for you. Like I have a friend who writes a weekly article on Inc., and she’s told me that she has gotten exactly zero leads from it, and she’s been doing it for like a year or two years.
Will: That’s a bummer.
Liston: I think that’s counterintuitive for a lot of people. They think, “Well, I’m going to go to where the exposure is,” and one of the problems with a lot of the larger publications is, they may not give you a byline, and they almost certainly will not link back to your website, so it’s a lot of work for people to find out more about you even if they’re extremely interested in what you had to say. That’s one big problem with a lot of big publications is, they have all the leverage, or at least they think they do, and they kind of treat you like a second-class citizen, so if you’re going to go to the trouble of posting on someone else’s site, you want to make sure that you’re getting both the credit and exposure that you need in order to make it worth your time.
The key, the real answer to your question is, whatever your clients read, that’s where you should be publishing. Right? If it’s Harvard Business Review, publish on Harvard Business Review. If it’s some niche trade publication that only 200 people read and your market is really tiny, right, your market is, say, just say a couple hundred people, then it’s totally fine to go publish there if that’s where people are going to be exposed to your work.
I think the biggest misconception about content marketing is, people think, “Well, it’s all about numbers.” That’s really not the case that more is always better. Right? All we care about is, are the right targeted people going to read this? Even if it’s, even if I had a newsletter that only had 20 people, if they’re all, if that’s my entire market, the perfect 20 clients, then who cares if I ever get a 21st reader, let alone a 20,000th reader?
Will: Yeah. You’ve done some work recently, you’ve done some writing recently about how to develop authority in your field and raise your visibility. Could you talk about that a bit?
Liston: Yeah, absolutely. We won’t cover why authority is so important, but to me, there’s a really focused process that you need to have if you want to build your authority, and I think there are just four steps. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but the four steps are determining who your market is and what you can do for them, so really getting specific on who is that person I’m trying to cater my message for. Then secondly, defining what I would call your worldview. How do you see the world differently from other consultants in your space, from maybe the prevailing wisdom in your market? Third is a big one, distribution. How do you get your worldview and your message out to the market?
Fourth is time. It’s going to take some time. There’s a duration required to systematically distribute your views to your market. Of course, time can be influenced by the quality and breadth of your distribution as well, but the number one question I got when I wrote this article and shared it with my newsletter list was, “Thank you so much. This is amazing. How do I develop my worldview?” That is a very hard question, and actually, Will, I’m going to stop talking for a second and just maybe turn that to you. What are some ideas you would give to people to develop their worldview?
Will: Well, interesting question. How do I come up with ideas? Well, let’s see. I suppose the first answer to that question is just to really read a lot and come up with a lot of bad ideas. Right? That’s kind of the-
Liston: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Will: … common, sort of the Seth Godin, if you want to have some good ideas, come up with a lot of bad ideas, so that’s maybe an answer to a slightly different question of, “How do I get some good ideas?” Well, come up with a lot of bad ideas and then sort through them. I mean, how do you come up with a worldview or a strong point of view? I suppose it’s important to kind of be in the flow of the discussion, right, so to be aware of what other worldviews exist is probably important. Read a lot and try not to waste time reading just sort of mass publication news, but read in your field. Talk to people in your field and sort of get, so you’re understanding like what points of view are out there. It’s probably not that critical, necessarily, I’d say, to have a unique point of view. I don’t think that’s necessary to be completely differentiated, but to have a piece of ground that you’ve staked out.
Liston: Well, I do think that I … Well, so I agree with you in the sense that it’s probably not the case that any individual is so unique that there’s no one else like them in the world. Right? I don’t really buy that argument, and that’s kind of the number one piece of advice most people give when they’re giving marketing advice is like, “Be in a market of one.” Well, you can argue that even if you did that, other people would see it, and they’d sort of copy it, right, and you’re no longer a market of one. You’re just the sort of first mover in what’s now a crowded market.
I agree with you paying attention, and thanks for playing along nicely as I’ve totally put you on the spot and didn’t prepare you for that. I came up with a couple other ideas that I think are really critical in terms of exploring how to develop your worldview, which I do think is extremely critical to developing your authority. One is personal experimentation, so either taking on some sort of personal challenge or trying out some of your methods on yourself or having a small group who you can put through an experiment and see what are the results and share those results with the market. I think that can be an important thing to do. One is collecting data, so is there data that can be collected that maybe answers a burning question that you have, and if the results are counterintuitive or at least maybe somewhat surprising, then maybe that would affect your worldview and the way you see things and the way you spread your message to the market.
There’s a few other ways that I’ve come up with as well, but it’s not an easy question, and I think this is sort of the underpinning of a lot of authority, like you can go out and take classes to be a great speaker. You can take, if you write a lot, your writing’s going to get a lot better, but the core ideas and the underpinning of all of it is, where is this coming from and sort of what is the opinion, ultimate opinion, of this person? That’s why I think the worldview is so critical. I think that that’s the underpinning of authority, and truthfully, good ideas spread faster than mediocre ideas, and unfortunately, bad ideas spread faster than mediocre ideas, too. That’s just human nature. Not that I’m advocating to go spread bad ideas. We have plenty of those already, but that’s something to keep in mind is that you’re going to have to be a lot more forceful in your marketing if you don’t see a response from the market.
Will: Yeah, and I suppose to build on that a little bit, perhaps it’s not essential to kind of sui generis just come up with a worldview born like Athena out of your forehead of Zeus just like totally-
Will: … but it’s more about going around and collecting Lego pieces from different, other thinkers or your own experience and kind of assembling that into your own little structure, so, oh, take a little piece from this thinker, from that thinker, from your own experience, from some books that you’ve read, and it’s kind of having some sort of habit of always also putting yourself in the way of serendipity to get exposed to different ideas, so … I mean, one thing that I do, for example, is intentionally read some of the journalism maybe from political points of view that I don’t agree with to help understand other perspectives. Taking some steps like that to just expose yourself and then collecting those little Lego pieces.
Liston: Totally agree.
Will: Okay, so worldview, so just kind of building up your point of view, and then distribution. Let’s talk about that. That’s a challenge, right? If you don’t have a massive following, or if you’re starting maybe you have a few connections on LinkedIn, how do you talk to your clients about building up a following over time, and what do you see as some of the best channels to do that? Most of our listeners are independent management consultants from top-tier consulting firms typically serving could be corporate clients, could be private equity portfolio owned, could be even independent owner businesses mostly serving businesses or senior nonprofit leaders. How do you build up a following over time, and what channels do you like, like LinkedIn, your own blog, an email list, Instagram? What are things that you recommend?
Liston: I definitely don’t recommend Instagram, so let’s start there. I’m a little bit down on, well, actually, a lot down on social media, which is a bigger conversation for another time, but LinkedIn I think is a great place to start promoting your content. Right? If you wrote an article or just had a quick thought, LinkedIn is a place where you can distribute that with very little friction, and you can continue to grow the size of your network. Last year, I had 2,000 connections, and the beginning of this year, I’m now up to over 9,000. One of the issues with LinkedIn and all social media is, not all 9,000 people will see anything that I post.
Liston: Right? It’ll always be a subset of them for many, many different reasons, but it is still a place where I can distribute my thinking for free, which is amazing. I’m big on LinkedIn. I’m big on email, so I write daily emails that I send to my list. If you’re listening to this, you may have just had a explosion in your brain when I said, “Daily email to my list.” You don’t have to email that much, but the nice thing about the inbox, of course, is that the likelihood of someone seeing your message is really high. Right? Because average person checks their inbox 10 or more times and spends literally half of their working day in their inbox, so if you’re sending them an email, it’s a great place to distribute your content and sort of be on their radar.
Now, I had a guest on my podcast, Consulting Growth, named Mark O’Brien, and Mark works at a company called Newfangled, and one of the things he recommends to his clients who are also consulting firms is, and marketing agencies in particular, is to go out and buy a list of prospects and start emailing them in a one-to-many setting. Now, it’s not something that I recommend, but it is a fast way to go from no one listening to you to 5,000 or 10,000 people potentially hearing what you have to say. There’s a lot of care and gentle manner that needs to be applied to that so you don’t piss off a lot of people, but that’s a possibility.
The other thing that I mentioned earlier was just going, so whoever your clients are, this is the thing is, if you don’t have a specific type of client you work with, if you said, “I work with private equity owned companies,” I guess the question is, is your client the private equity firm, or is your client the portfolio company in that that’s owned by an equity firm? Because those are two very different markets, and they’re going to be consuming different types of information, and you’re going to need to reach them in separate ways. Really going back to that first question, which is, “Who’s your market? Who’s your perfect client,” I think is a critical thing that will be the determining factor in where you decide to distribute once you get down to the nitty-gritty of looking for publications or associations or ways to syndicate your message.
Will: Say a little bit more about that. Who is your perfect client? Tell us about what that phrase means.
Liston: Sure. Most people, if you ask them who their perfect client is, they say, “VPs at Fortune 500 companies.” Right? The problem with that statement is, that’s probably like hundreds of thousands or a million people or more. Right? It’s not really a market. What department are they in? Where are they located? These kinds of questions where we start to get down a little bit closer. In other words, let’s just do an exercise. If your market is so general that you can’t narrow it down … For me, I would say, who’s my ideal client? It’s independent consultants and owners of small consulting firms. That’s who I work with. Right? A lot of people will say something like, “Owners of B2B businesses,” or, yeah, “A VP at a Fortune 500 company.” The problem with that is, that group is so general and diverse that nothing that I say in my marketing will make them read what I’m saying and go, “Wow, that was, it feels like he’s talking to me.” No one’s going to say that, right, if it’s so general and watered down.
That’s a real key to doing this well, so if you don’t want to really get specific about who you’re targeting, any marketing that you’re doing that’s one to many is not going to have a ton of impact, in which case I would suggest to you, just think about doing one-to-one prospecting where you go out and you choose people that you want to work with, and you figure out how to start a conversation with them. That would be a much more effective way for you to approach the problem of getting more business than writing articles on Forbes that aren’t clearly for a particular type of person.
Will: Yeah. The one thing that you said, it’s really stuck and sticking in my mind, is the idea of buying a list of prospects. It’s almost … I mean, maybe for some businesses it would work, but for a consultant, I can’t imagine, like, what, buying a list of heads of marketing or something and just randomly emailing them?
Liston: Why not?
Will: How would that work?
Liston: What’s hard to imagine about it?
Will: I guess it’d be hard for imagine the recipient saying like, “Where in the world did you get my email? You just, like who in the world are you?” Right? Just-
Will: … going right to spam.
Liston: Well, so if they replied and said any of those things, I’d be very happy to answer those questions, right, because the goal of email marketing is to get a response, typically. It’s not to transact. Right? If someone says, “Who the hell are you,” or, “How did you get my email,” I’d say, “I’m glad you asked.” Right? I’d answer those questions. “Here’s why you ended up in this email. Here’s the reason I’m reaching out to you. You can tell me if I’m wrong about that.” Now, the way that it would work, so there’s two ways to do it. One is to do kind of one to one, where you’re not blasting out …
First of all, you should never get 5,000 emails and then send the same email to everybody. That’s a really bad idea, and it won’t work, but maybe you have five or ten segments within that list based on their location or the maturity of the company or whatever other factors you look at in terms of qualifying your clients. For the people listening to this, because you, dear listener, are an independent consultant, don’t think about 5,000. Think about a list of 50, right, or even 20 people that you can reach out to cold.
The way I would approach that is to reach out to them, tell them who you are and why you’re reaching out and what business problems you typically solve, and that they’re kind of like some of the clients that you’ve worked with, and you thought there might be a fit for you guys to do something together at some point, and if they’re open to it, you’d love to have a conversation. That’s it. Right? That works. There’s a great book, Will, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, called How to Get a Meeting with Anyone by Stu Heinecke. Have you heard of this one?
Will: I have not, but I love book recommendations, so How to Get a Meeting with Anyone.
Liston: Yeah. Maybe I’m skipping ahead in the program here, but it’s a fantastic book, and he talks about a lot of gimmicky things in the book, so he’s, a little bit of background on him. He’s a cartoon hall of fame inductee, which who even knew there was such a thing, but he draws political and business cartoons for The Wall Street Journal is his background. One of the ways he would get private clients is by sending them a huge cartoon, like a three-foot by two-foot poster board cartoon, that he drew, and then he would just caption it for the prospect. He’d have it delivered on a poster board to the client’s office, and it would come with a note like, “Hey, my name’s Stu Heinecke. Here’s my credibility. I have an interesting idea to solve your targeted problem X.” Right? If there’s something-
Liston: … you can observe about the company externally and you think that they’re having a particular problem right now, that’s a great trigger to reach out. He landed some of his biggest clients by doing that. Now, I’m not, of course the message here isn’t, “Go do something gimmicky or send something huge in the mail just to stand out.” That’s not the message. The message is, it was extremely targeted, and she had some inkling of what might be going on with that client right now.
Will: I believe on your website have some sample outbound sales scripts that you suggest.
Liston: I do. I can summarize my suggestion right here, though. The main thing you need to do is make it relevant to the individual receiving it and be very short and to the point. The biggest mistake a lot of people make is, they just blast everybody with the same email, which, for some reason, we all know that this wasn’t written for me when we get an email that was sent to a lot of people, so that’s strike one. Strike two is, if the cognitive load and investment is really high, it’s long, and I have to do some homework to figure out what you’re trying to tell me, message is lost. Right? We want to keep it really targeted and focused on essentially getting a response.
Will: Quantify “short” for us, like how many words would be too long?
Liston: I’d say like four to six sentences should be able to cover the big idea to get their interest piqued and for them to make a decision if they want to reply or not.
Will: Too long, it’s just like, “Oh, my gosh. I can’t read all this. I’m just going to go to the next thing. Just forget about it.”
Liston: Pretty much. I mean, keep in mind, you pointed this out, when your name shows up in someone’s inbox and they have no idea who you are, that’s the first thing they’re going to think is, “Who is this?” Then when they open it, if you’re asking for some huge investment which is like, let’s say, 300-plus words, most people are going to look at that and go, “No thanks. Delete.” Right? Now, here’s the thing. There’s no hard and fast rule. Right? For anything I could tell you on this podcast, someone’s made the opposite thing work. What I find generally, though, is keeping it short and asking for a low investment with a high-impact payoff, that’s going to be your best path.
Will: Like what’s a low-investment ask?
Liston: Well, a low-investment ask could just be like to see if you’re talking to the right person. Right? That’s a common strategy people would use. A low-investment ask could be, “Hey, I’m looking for the person who’s in charge of making learning and development decisions within the HR department. Can you point me in the right direction?” All they would be doing is giving you a name. Right? Maybe they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that’s me.” Then now you would go to whatever your ask is. Right? “Oh, cool. I do training on this topic, and I was looking to connect with the right person. Sounds like that’s you. Here’s what I’m thinking. Would you like to talk at some point?” That can be a two-step process.
Another kind of low commitment is just to ask them at the end, “Here’s what I can do for you guys. Are you interested in learning more about that?” Now we have what’s called a microconversion, right, in sort of marketing speak, which means they’ve said, “Yes,” to a really small thing, which makes them more likely to say, “Yes,” to our next request.
Will: Say more about this. I think this is fascinating, this kind of structure and advice. What are some other tips around this email back-and-forth kind of cultivating someone that you don’t know, but seems like they’re the right person. What are some other advice you have around that?
Liston: The next thing that I think we have to say is, you have to follow up a lot. I’ll give you an example. I reached out to you cold to be on this podcast, and did you respond to my first email? I don’t remember.
Will: We’d have to check. I’m not sure.
Liston: I think you did. No, I’m pretty sure you did, but had you not, I would have followed up with you for two months.
Will: You’re relentless. Man.
Liston: Oh, boy. No, relentless is much more aggressive than two months.
Liston: No, so it would have just been like four or five emails that you would have gotten, and I’ve been a guest on podcasts where they didn’t reply until the fourth or fifth email. One problem that a lot of people have when it comes to this outreach, and you alluded to this earlier about people feeling like, “Oh, I’m producing this content,” or, “I’m reaching out to these people,” and it’s just crickets. I don’t know if it’s working. Well, it’s a process, and it takes time, and the truth is, someone may have read all of your previous emails and just never had the right moment to reply to you. Right? Maybe they intended to, but they cut out of the office early, and then it got buried in their inbox.
There’s lots of reasons why people wouldn’t respond to you, and so because you’ll be reaching out to people cold, one, they’re not going to have any trust built, or very little trust built in you, so that’s an issue. There’s also a credibility gap related to the trust, and so you’re going to have to overcome that. Then the last point to make is, they may or may not have the need right now. They may just be interested or in a very early exploratory phase or they may be not totally happy with their current provider of whatever you offer, and so they’re interested in finding great vendors and great consultants to bring on, but maybe the timing’s not perfect.
For all of these reasons, the likelihood that someone’s going to respond to any of your individual emails is lower than if you had a referral to someone who specifically asked, “Hey, do you know someone who does this type of consulting?” They have the need right now, and you come with the social capital of the referral.
Will: All right.
Liston: Having a system to follow up on a regular basis is really a critical point, and of course there’s plenty of tools out there that I could recommend or you can go find on your own that just surfaces whether or not someone’s replied to an email or even automatically sends these emails on your behalf.
Will: Yeah. Let’s talk about that a little bit. If I hadn’t responded, would you, what’s the system that you would have, that you have in place to send me those additional four or five emails or using like a HubSpot or just Excel sheet, or how are you kind of doing that? What are the tools out there?
Liston: I’m really lazy, so if I had to rely on a spreadsheet, there’s no way you would have gotten the other emails, because I just know that would be, I’m the human failure point. Right? The tools that I recommend, the one that I’m using now is called Polymail, which is in basically a email system, and it detects whether or not people are opening your emails, and it also detects whether or not they’ve replied. I also highly recommend Mixmax if you’re on G Suite. There’s a variety of other tools. I can list some more-
Will: Yeah. List-
Liston: … but-
Will: … some more.
Liston: Okay, so the one that’s agnostic I think will work with any IMAP account, so whether you’re on Google, or Microsoft 365, or you have some private provider of email, I do believe Woodpecker will work with any one you use for your email host. Essentially, the way it works is, you just go in and you queue up emails that are personalized. Right? The email that you received, Will, I went in, I researched your podcast, I researched you, and I wrote a custom introduction, I think a sentence or two, pitching myself as a guest, but also to show you I know who you are, and I spent some time on this. Like you’re not getting the same email that everyone else got.
It’s personalizing the start of the first email plus your name, plus the company, and maybe a couple other pieces of data, and then you get that first email. If you don’t respond, a week later you get an email that’s a reply to that first email, so it sort of jogs your memory. “Oh, yeah, I got this a week ago. I didn’t take any action on it.” Then if you don’t respond to that one, same thing. Another, I think it’s another week or two later, you would get another email, and so over two months, you can get five emails sent every two weeks, and they’re always a reply to that original email which had the personalization, the more in-depth personalization.
Will: These additional emails are just like, “Hey, just following up. Do you have a good time this week to,” or, “Just curious if this would be interesting to you,” sort of kind of a generic thing, but it’s like a, that you’ve written, is each one of those follow-ups different?
Liston: They’re slightly different, and it depends on the situation, but we can stay on this example. First follow-up would be exactly what you said. It would just be kind of like, “Hey, just wanted to bump this to the top of your inbox. If you’re still interested, let me know. If not, I’ll leave you alone forever.” Right? Then I usually use some humor, because most people don’t do that in their email, and so one of the follow-ups is, it’s like, “Here’s a link to one of the podcasts where I was a guest, just in case you’re wondering if I’ve done this before. Let me know if you want a top-quality guest with a B-minus radio voice.” Right? Something like that.
Then you can also add some content, so I have like a page that markets myself as a podcast guest, and so I can add that to another follow-up, and I’m trying to anticipate what some of their objections might be to respond to me and try to answer those in my follow-ups in a way that’s adding value. That’s, yeah, does that clarify for you?
Will: Yeah. That’s helpful. You can kind of anytime pop a new one into that system, the Polymail or the mix match, and then it would, you’d put in the custom email, and then it sort of automatically then would start cranking out numbers two, there, four, and five with your custom preformatted follow-up things, but then if the person replies, the system detects that and stops that process so you don’t-
Liston: That’s right. Yeah-
Will: [inaudible 00:37:54].
Liston: … and now it’s on you to track it.
Will: You can also track like who has opened which email and so forth?
Liston: Yep. It’ll give you percentages. All of the tools that I suggested will show you what percentage of your contacts in a campaign have actually opened an email and what percentage have replied, so it really varies on the type of prospecting you’re doing and your market, so if you’re marketing to or selling to IT, they’re going to be much more cautious of cold outreach. IT is a very difficult market to crack in terms of these kinds of tactics, because they’re so skeptical, but yeah, it’ll tell you specifically which individuals opened emails, which may, if you were prospecting for clients, that may be an indication to you, “Wow, this person keeps opening my emails, but they haven’t replied. Maybe I’ll just give them a call, or maybe I’ll try them on LinkedIn,” or whatever, fill in the blank for a different channel or method you can try.
Will: What do you find is the best time of day or day of the week to send emails? Is there kind of a standard answer to that, or does it really depend on like the role of the person?
Liston: Yeah, it really does. There are averages that you can go look up. I think the last time I saw it, it was something like Thursday and Friday toward the end of the day when people start to check out of the week. Right? They’re like, “Oh, God, I’m so tired, and I don’t want to think about work anymore. I’ll just spend some time in my inbox and start clearing it out, because it’s a fairly brainless task.” That seems to be a little bit more effective. I don’t pay a lot of attention to that because, as you know, averages don’t apply to individuals. Some of them may fall within the average. Some may not. Mixmax, the tool that I recommended earlier, it aggregates the data for anybody who’s received emails through the Mixmax system, and it guesses what the best time of day is to send email to that person, which is kind of a nifty feature.
I don’t have a lot of trouble getting replies or getting people to open my emails, so it’s not something that I focus on too much, and also I would say that’s an optimization thing, and in the beginning, it’s just like start finding people and getting in touch with them, and if you’re not satisfied with the response, then think about optimizations, but that should come much later.
Will: What about subject lines? Any advice there on what kind of subject lines work and what don’t?
Liston: Yeah. Short and personalized, so jobs to be done. Right? The goal of a subject line is to get someone to open the email, and the goal of the email is to get someone to reply to the email and engage with you and potentially have a real-life conversation. Right? What I find works best with subject lines is something that’s a little bit different, maybe a little bit colloquial, and often if you include their first name or their company name, that performs better, because they know that it’s actually for them and that’s something you can include with personalization tags and all of the tools that I’ve suggested.
That’s what I recommend, so like for instance, for my outreach to be a guest on podcasts, the subject line that I find works the best is, “Got one for you,” comma, and then the person’s name. I think that’s what you saw. It said, “Got one for you, Will,” and you’re probably like, “What is this about?” Then you open it, and you understand immediately, “Oh, like, ‘I got a guest for you.’ It’s for my podcast. I understand.” You don’t want to get too, so cute with your subject lines that people don’t actually, that they can’t connect what you were saying in your subject line to the content of the email. I’m guessing if you’re listening to this, you’re probably not err on the side of being too cute, but I do …
It’s a brand consideration also, what you put in that subject line, but yeah, something that builds curiosity, I think, and shows personalization is going to be the best performing. Of course, you want it to be short, because a lot of people read email on their mobile device, and they’re not going to be able to see the whole subject line if it’s long.
Will: Okay. Cool. Listen, I suppose that some listeners may have sort of intuited it from our conversation, but in a minute or two, you already talked about who your ideal client is, independent consultants, people running small boutiques, what’s kind of the ideal situation? What’s the kind of call to action for someone who can most make use of your services in terms of so people can know, to self-identify if they wanted to reach out to you?
Liston: Yeah, absolutely, so I offer advisory and coaching services for independent consultants and owners of small consulting firms. If you’re interested in that kind of help, whether it’s to improve your sales skills or to implement some of the things that I’ve talked about here with your marketing and outreach and sort of the skills that are involved there, all you have to do is go to my website, liston.io. There’s a section that says, “Work With Me.” You can check that out. I have various ways that I work with people, and I’d also say, if you’re listening to this, you probably like podcasts, and I have a couple podcasts, if you just go to liston.io/podcasts, plural, with an S at the end, you can take your pick there and start to follow me. If I say something that’s even more brilliant and interesting than I did here, then feel free to get in touch with me whenever you want.
Will: Great. Any, you mentioned one already, any other book recommendations for people that are looking, particularly one area would be in the area of people trying to build up their sales expertise or just anything else, would love any kind of book recommendations you have.
Liston: Okay, so yeah, I’m going to give you a few, because it’s always hard for me to give just one.
Liston: The number one book that I always recommend for consultative selling, which, of course, is what we do, is called SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. The nice thing about that book is, he actually went out in the field and did some studies, and had surveys and sort of built his methodology based on what he saw were the top performers. It’s a little bit dated now. It’s about 30 years old. I think it came out in the late ’80s. I think a lot of it still applies. One thing to know is, the internet changed everything about the way people buy, so human nature, obviously, hasn’t changed since the internet came out, but it does change access to information, which is a big challenge in sales now.
The other book I would recommend is my second-favorite book is called Predictably Irrational. The thing that really motivates me is to understand why people do the things that they do, and Predictably Irrational is a book by a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely who teaches at Duke, I believe. He’s still at Duke. It’s just a wonderful way to understand cognitive bias and how we make systematic errors in the way we think and process information, so that’s a fantastic one.
On a similar note is a book called Influence, which I believe anybody in business should have read that book already if you haven’t, but it’s never too late. It’s called Influence by Robert Cialdini.
Will: Fantastic. Love all three of those books. Great to have them mentioned again on the show. Those are great. SPIN Selling, I think I have it on my shelf, and I think one of the things he walks you through in that is to basically ask, have the client sell themselves and say, “Okay, what is your need? All right, what have you done so far, and why has that not worked out the way you wanted it, and what did you think I could do to help you?” The first client just tells you, and it kind of convinces themself on the idea.
Liston: That’s exactly right, and the key idea there, obviously, is to ask great questions and shut up. Right? Your role in the sale is to let the client sort of tell you. Right? You have to gather the information, and as you said, they can sell themselves, so yeah, it’s a fantastic book. If you haven’t read it, I implore you to read it.
Will: Great. Well, hey, Liston, thank you so much for joining. Listeners who are interested to hear more, you’ve heard the website. It’s liston, L-I-S-T-O-N, dot io. Thanks so much for joining. This was a great discussion.
Liston: Excellent. Thank you for having me.