Opinion: Ottawa businesses have forgotten fundamental sales skills


I hear it every day in Ottawa.

“Our sales are slowing down.”

“Google Ad Words are not bringing in new business like before.”

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

“I receive more ‘Unsubscribe’ requests than new prospects.”

The technology industry is increasingly showing symptoms of a plague that’s affected us all: Relying solely on social selling and email campaigns to generate sales.

Forgotten is the personal contact, which many have been quick to label as too slow and inefficient, and frankly, dreaded.

The results? Lost markets, declining sales and unrealized profits.

Last month I met with Invest Ottawa and learned that more than 75 per cent of the high-tech incubator companies are planning to offer products and services that already exist in the marketplace. The big question is always the same: How will they differentiate themselves from the crowd and position their products for success?

Engaging with clients

Enter i-Sight. This Ottawa company makes customized software that compiles, stores and analyzes data on all types of business misbehaviour, including violations of federal privacy laws, bullying and fraud.

The company originally offered generic case management software. It did not pay off well, in large part because the market was already too crowded.

The solution was simple at the time: Engage directly with the clients and start talking to the market.

After initiating dialogue with many clients and prospects, i-Sight identified a unique need for customized software that did not force users into rigid, pre-configured solutions.

As a result, it created a distinctive ecosystem that caters to the specific needs of a wide array of clients in the investigation markets. Since then, the company has propelled itself into a global leader providing configurable case management software for investigations.

Because the company’s market analyses – based on direct communication – brought such solid results, it was natural to introduce the same approach to business development.

I-Sight’s initial marketing focused on pay-per-click advertising, but the firm eventually realized Google would only give so much. The company subsequently increased investments in outbound sales, emphasizing live conversations with potential customers.

The sales team learned how to overcome sales objections through storytelling techniques and found new market opportunities with U.S. colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, the company’s workforce ballooned from 20 employees in 2013 to more than 100, requiring two separate expansions at its 2255 Carling Ave. office.

So, what can be learned from i-Sight’s experience?

Live conversations are a must

Live prospect engagement is hardly new. After all, for centuries direct contact was the only way of identifying a need or promoting a product. But there’s been a drastic switch in the last decade towards interaction-free, computerized marketing techniques. They’re promoted as fast, inexpensive and effective. But do they actually work?

Sure, it is easy to electronically send a message to thousands of prospects. But it’s even easier for those thousands to say “no” or, more commonly, ignore it completely.

As i-Sight shows, successful companies realize that there’s no substitute for human interaction and no marketing automation system to replace genuine, two-way conversations.

These companies are the ones that enjoy the biggest successes and sales breakthroughs. Communication, persuasion, listening, negotiation – all these skills can and must be learned, implemented and mastered in order to develop the corporate ability to stay in touch and immediately respond to clients’ changing underlying motives, desires and fears.

Advantages of outbound sales teams

The biggest advantage of the outbound sales team is its scalability. Once you establish the call ratios and metrics, you’re able to forecast the sales outcome.

Granted, live contact can be perceived as annoying, ill-timed and insistent. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to find sales teams that lack the skills to break the ice, build trust and develop a relationship.

Storytelling opens doors and influences decision-making by sharing a narrative that creates an emotion and desire for the product.

This is even more important in an era when it’s so easy to research technical information about a product that educated customers may know more about a company’s offerings than the sales team themselves.

Converting trust to cash

As a director of sales, I used to receive on average more than 30 prospecting emails or LinkedIn connect requests a month. In contrast, over the course of six months I only received two phone calls.

Yes. Two.

We ended up buying from both of these companies (one was the CRM system and another one was a dialing solution for the outbound team).

Personal contact is what leads to sales. While marketing builds brands – which, in turn, builds trust – sales are done one-on-one in the trenches.

This is where that trust is converted to cash.

Ed Bilat is the North American president of Beyond Consulting.

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