Relationship Signals are the bread & butter of Professional Services

Relationship Signals are the bread & butter of Professional Services

I’ve owned multiple professional services companies, so speaking from the heart – it’s all about people and relationships. I joke with my business partner that we have some customers that are the “5 timers” (a reference to SNL’s most utilized guest hosts like Steve Martin and Justin Timberlake who have been there +5 times).  As a professional services firm, you want to find your “5 timers” – but tracking this at scale is far too difficult/time-consuming. This is where we step in.  

Here is what we’ll cover this week:

  1. Relationship Signals are the bread & butter of Professional Services.
  2. How your University Alumni is an untapped “Relationship Signal”.
  3. “Just check in to update my CRM” – cut from your seller’s vocabulary TODAY.
  4. How I jumped from Customer 1 to winning Oracle in < 18 months.

Relationship Signals are the bread & butter of Professional Services.

bread & butter of Professional Services

When I pioneered Social Selling with my company Sales for Life, I assumed professional services firms would flock to embrace digital/modern selling rooted in relationship building. They didn’t. or not at the pace that technology companies did.

When I launched a “do it for your business” with Pipeline Signals, I knew we would hit a home run for professional services:
  • Relationships are the essence of a firm’s success
  • Producers in a firm are too busy delivering to focus on ‘Customers on the Move’
  • Thus, we would become their “eyes and ears”

Since launching Pipeline Signals, we are watching HUB International (insurance), Celestica (industrial automation), Lionbridge (language translation), BrandMuscle (marketing), SBI (sales consulting), and many more really lean into their customer base + relationships moving.

I can’t stress enough how valuable focusing on PEOPLE becomes to a professional services firm. People make decisions, not companies. Follow the people, and the projects will come.

How your University Alumni is an untapped “Relationship Signal”.

Relationship Signal

You have an untapped Relationship Signal – the people that walked the same campus as you. They know that town, and the hilarious rituals/cultures at your school, and they will forever be connected to “their kind of people”. People buy from people they like, and people like themselves!  Focus on people that have walked a mile in your shoes.

Step 1 – Using free LinkedIn, search for Schools.

LinkedIn, search for Schools.

Step 2 – Click on Alumni of your school.

Alumni of your School

Step 3 – Reverse-engineer your Ideal Customer Profile.

*** Note you can search for Job Title, Job Function, Company, City, etc.  

Reverse-engineer your Ideal Customer Profile

You now have a group of ICPs that lived in the same location as you, experiencing the same experiences you did.  

Best practices – engage with a personal touch.


“John – when was the last time you were back in Ottawa?  I miss the beer and chicken wings at Fathers & Sons and skating on the Rideau Canal. My company Pipeline Signals helps sales teams create sales opportunities by tracking your ‘Customers on the Move’ at scale, then enabling your team on prospecting best practices.  Looking forward to talking about pipeline creation.  Jamie Shanks”.

Tap into your University Alumni as it could be a gold mine for you!

“Just check in to update my CRM” – cut from your seller’s vocabulary TODAY.

Update my CRM

I got yet another one of these emails this week.  

“Jamie – I’m updating my CRM and would like to know where we stand”. WTF!?!

Apparently, I work for the vendor.

I hate this type of message. Valueless. Unfortunately, it’s all too common as sellers rely on sales engagement platforms like Salesloft, Outreach, and Groove, and clearly have run out of road. What I’m seeing most often is that sellers are NOT STORYBOARDING their sales plays in advance of designing their sales engagement sequences. The seller may have taken the time to craft a strong message #1 or #2 but then ran out of “Time-for-Knowledge Exchange” (valuable insights that are so valuable that I want to learn more). So they revert back to primary levels of selling.

Don’t allow your sellers to become Drinking Birds, hitting the send, send, send button in your sales engagement platform.

Work with your sales team to design at least 5 storyboarded sales plays in advance. This will help the sellers create depth in their messaging cadence that stretches into many days/weeks into the future.

Kill the break-up emails. They’re useless.

How I jumped from Customer 1 to winning Oracle in < 18 months.

Customer 1 to winning Oracle in 18 month

I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the idea; as with most sales methodologies, I drew on a sprinkling of ideas mashed together from various experiences. My main memory is of drawing out my plan on a sheet of paper as if I was Dr. Brown from the movie Back to the Future, and I’d just developed The Flux Capacitor. See example:

I started by drawing the Vision Critical logo onto the center of a sheet of paper; I then circled it and drew spokes radiating from that circle. I then would look at my drawing and ask myself “Who actually cares about my Vision Critical success story?” I would just sit and think about it, and the more I really thought about my story, the more I found my thoughts drifting into the mindset of a customer. It was then that I realized that I was making the same grave mistake many sales professionals do – telling stories to customers that just don’t care about that particular story. 

They don’t care because THAT story isn’t relatable to THAT particular PERSON. Eureka! People buy from people, and people like people just like themselves. And people listen to stories that they can actually envision themselves being part of. It was through this customer-centric mindset that I began to draw my first “Sphere of Influence” around a particular customer. I started by drawing a list of people and companies that I felt would be most interested to hear about Vision Critical and/or hear about Mark Bergen’s success.

September 2012 was when my fortunes changed.  At last, I had a sales process that was becoming clearer to me. I could see which people and companies I should logically approach because of my Sphere of Influence drawing. My theory was sound, but my methodology had not yet been tested. Time for an attack plan! On September 11, 2012, I wrote a blog on our Sales for Life website about the Vision Critical success story. That gave me a visual reference that I could guide future buyers too and some real-life results that made my story more credible. 

Next, I crafted two email messages – one that focused on both Vision Critici’s 31 sales-qualified leads in 60 days, and one on Mark Bergen’s success as a sales leader creating 31 sales-qualified leads in 60 days.  Finally, I used LinkedIn to map the accounts that had the highest social proximity to Vision Critical and Mark Bergen.  I then began engaging the VP of Sales and Marketing on LinkedIn, using InMail and free group messaging.  

Here’s what happened next:

Vision Critical had a competitor in Los Angeles called Us AMP.  I met their VP of Sales, Kevin Gaither, at the April 2012 AA-ISP Leadership Summit in Dallas, TX.  I emailed him the blog story on September 12, 2012, and won their business on February 27, 2013.

Mark Bergen was connected to a sales leader at Paragon Relocation, in the corporate relocation industry.  I met their team on a conference call on October 18, 2012, and won the business on November 19, 2012.  The success of their project created a tangent Sphere of Influence success story in the corporate relocation industry, which attracted MSI Mobility on March 4, 2013, and won that business on March 26, 2013.

Having read my Vision Critical blog, on December 21, 2012, Ronan Keane, a marketing leader at XO Communications, emailed me to discuss the successes of Vision Critical. On January 25, 2013, XO Communications became a customer. Within weeks of that project, their competitor Tata Communications heard about the Social Selling Mastery® training. On March 13, 2013, Tata Communications became a customer.  

Relationship Signals

The success of helping two telecommunications leaders allowed me to create a Sphere of Influence that connected me to MTS Allstream in Canada on May 15, 2013, and won their business on July 18, 2013.  This telecommunications Sphere of Influence would go on to pay long-term dividends, as we’ve worked with dozens of telecommunications companies since.

The success of working with Kevin Gaither, a prominent figure at AA-ISP events, afforded me an invitation by Bob Perkins (the AA-ISP CEO) to speak at their upcoming event in Arizona in the spring of 2013. This was my first speaking opportunity ever, and it turned out I was good at public speaking. My appearance on stage enhanced my profile and, combined with my Sphere of Influence story with Kevin Gaither, I was introduced to Jill Rowley who was recently leading the global Social Selling program at Oracle.  On June 10, 2013, Oracle became a customer.

Let’s put this one-year chain of events together. My simple motion of selecting accounts based on high social proximity leapfrogged my business from a $2,500 engagement with Vision Critical to the largest Social Selling training deployment in the world, with 23,000 Oracle sales professionals by the fall of 2013.  The Oracle account paved our path for global training engagements on a scale that I hadn’t imagined possible in 2012.

Account-based selling was a process long before digital sales and will continue to exist long after digital becomes standard operating procedure in sales organizations. Digital is only an accelerant to an effective process, and it’s the simplicity of the process that we at Sales for Life have designed that makes this so special. Account-based selling is not about tricks or tools, but about aiming and deploying the right stories to the right people. I hope the principles in this book change the course of your sales pipeline, sales team, business unit, or company, as they did for me.

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