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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 4, 2015
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Fixing and maintaining power plants can be multimillion-dollar projects, so Michael Lake often has to persuade more than one person that his company is the right one for the job.

Lake, the director of sales for Turbine Generator Maintenance in Cape Coral, has the added challenge in the fact that none of his customers is nearby. These range from pulp mills to mining operations and independent power producers, often in hard-to-reach locations.

So Lake devised a recipe for success he calls the 10-3-1 program. He says the company has the best chance of landing a client when account managers complete 10 phone conversations with at least three different people within the prospect's organization and conduct one site visit.

One of the trickiest parts of the job is finding the right people to pitch his company's services. For that, Lake turns to LinkedIn, the popular social media tool that connects professionals.

Lake says you can't call a company cold and ask the receptionist for the person responsible for power-plant maintenance. For one thing, some of these companies are sprawling conglomerates with thousands of employees. LinkedIn helps Lake narrow down the search for the right person by title and industry. “We use it as a search tool to find the right person,” he says.

Once Lake identifies people he wants to speak with at a prospective company, he doesn't connect with them on LinkedIn right away. Instead, he picks up the phone and tries to start a conversation. Often, he leaves a brief message introducing himself. If that doesn't work, he connects with them on LinkedIn and sends them a message. “People communicate in different ways,” he says.

Generally, it takes 10 attempts to get a contact on the phone, and any conversation lasting more than five minutes indicates a serious interest. “I never expect a call back,” Lake says. “You're creating brand awareness.”

The key is starting conversations with at least three people within a prospective organization, not just the principal decision maker. “It's a group-buying decision,” Lake says. “If you make three or more contacts, that greatly increases your winning percentage.”

Then, a face-to-face meeting is often the clincher. “One thing that made a difference was completing a personal visit,” says Lake, who makes 15 to 20 trips a year.

To encourage repeat business, Lake says it's important to reward sales for repeat clients the same way as new business. “I've seen companies that take away bonuses for repeat business,” Lake shakes his head. “You have to think past the first sale.”

Sales tips
USE LINKEDIN. The social media site is like a modern-day Rolodex and makes it useful to find the right contact so you can get past the gatekeeper.

WORK THE PHONE. The account managers at Turbine Generator Maintenance aim for one hour of phone conversation with customers each day. Including preparation and leaving messages, that effort can take three to four hours each day.

BE BRIEF. Don't leave long-winded voice mails. “It's a touch point,” says Michael Lake, director of sales for Turbine Generator Maintenance.

TRACK EVERY CONVERSATION. Each account manager types up notes of a conversation with a customer for future reference by anyone at the company.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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