Up Until Today I Was a Nomad Working In a Bubble

It is so educational, uplifting and invigorating to interact with a group of people that do exactly what I do. For the past two years I feel like I've been working in a bubble. Working as an OSC for a new home builder is very nomadic. Even though nomad was my middle name as I traveled alone around the world for many years, at least I was surrounded by like-minded souls who I could interact with and share the experience. But for over 2 years I have been the only one in my company in my position, and probably one of the only people who can fully understand what it is I do.

Today, thanks to the virtual world of webinars, I attended my first class at OSC University with Mike Lyon @mikelyon http://www.doyouconvert.com/blog/ who wrote the book on OSC for New Homes and conversions. No I'm serious, he literally wrote the book, "Browsers to Buyers" http://www.doyouconvert.com/blog/browsers-to-buyers-proven-strategies-for-selling-new-homes-online/ and up until now it was the only information I ever had to structure my job. So forgive me if I plug his new class for OSC training for a moment http://www.doyouconvert.com/blog/training/osc-university/ but I think it's invaluable if you work as an Online Sales Consultant, and even if your job is not as specific as a New Homes Sales Consultant it is still very useful whether you are a real estate agent trying to figure out how to do a better job of managing your leads, or really anyone dealing with internet leads for their business.

Up until today I've never been in a room with even one other OSC, let alone 38 who were in attendance from all around the country in our virtual classroom. It's not like we have bars where all the OSC's hang out for happy hour. It's nothing like traveling as a nomad. While traveling, even though I was alone, as soon as I checked into a backpacker or youth hostel, started walking on a trek, or lifted a beer in a bar, some traveler or another started talking and all of a sudden I wasn't alone anymore. I was always surrounded by like-minded adventurers exploring the world. In fact, I'd find that many travelers had been to some of the same places I had, and others were making great suggestions based on my interests for future adventures. In many ways I felt that same kind of energy today.

While traveling around the world, I engaged in interesting debates and learned a lot along the way. Each world view added to the diversity of the conversation and was shaped by someone else's experiences verses my own. Listening to some of what the OSCs had to say today, even in this first of 9 sessions, gave me so much food for thought. I know that, given the chance, I'll be getting into some of the same kinds of debates as I did on the travel road. I look forward to learning from their experiences, and hopefully adding my knowledge to the pot.

I've already started making my "Change Wish List" for my job. Actually it's just pulling out an old copy of my "CWL" and saying, "Yep, it's still on there two years later." Some of the changes I can affect, and some of the changes will have to come from my builder. The first two items on my "CWL" are to get rid of the forced web registration on my website, and to get a CRM. I'm ready to stop chewing gum (if you read my last blog you'll know what I'm talking about)

While I don't think I'll be able to change things over night, I hope that the information and tools I will gain from OSC University will help give me the ammunition to create change.

Today I've moved outside of my bubble, now I need to get my builder to do the same!

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My CRM Is Jury Rigged With Chewing Gum and Elbow Grease

Managing my leads has become a lot like packing a backpack during my travels. Once I had a system down, everything went into its specific logical place in the pack. Because of my detailed system of packing I never left anything behind at a hostel, and always knew where everything was at all times. But there was no way anyone else would find anything in my backpack without pulling everything out of the top. My makeshift, jury rigged, lead management system is exactly the same way.

When I started as an online sales consultant 2 years ago for a large local builder I didn’t (and still don’t) have any formalized CRM program in place. Since the builder didn't want to spring for one of those big fancy CRMs with templates and form emails, reminders and buttons, I had to devise one myself. I figured I would jury rig a CRM temporarily - just as you do when something breaks at sea and it has to be fixed through any means - until I could convince the builder to get a real CRM system.

My System is a crazy version of a working CRM within the confines of my outlook inbox and a little help from Xobni http://www.xobni.com/ because I was "Drowning in Email!" It is all put together with bubble gum, spit and elbow grease with the hopes that someday my company will spring for a real CRM package.

For all you CRM experts out there, your eyes would cross and you’d probably run screaming from my mind-blowing outlook inbox contact management system. I like to call it kaos for short. I know you'd run, due to my experience consulting with Salesforce at one time in the hopes that my boss would go for a professional system. When the account executive from Salesforce was trying to understand what it was that I did with my leads and how I wanted to structure them, he took a look at my inbox and said, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before." And I know he didn't mean that in a good way.

My "CRM" system consists of folders inside of folders inside of folders, color codes on emails, flags, notes, and emails to myself about phone conversations. (If I don’t squint at it, it makes me want to throw up sometimes too) I have an even more complex system for retiring a lead. I always work them until they come to one of three fates.

I communicate with a lead until they buy one of our homes, buy somewhere else, or tell me to jump off a pier because I'm bugging the crap out of them. Once these scenarios happen, or any variation, they go in one of a number of files including multiple categories of dead files. Most people love the colorful names of some of my dead lead files. Personal file favorites include Snow Ball’s Chance in Hell of Qualifying, Unrealistic Expectations, Dumb Ass, and Dropped Off The Face Of The Planet.

I am a pack rat when it comes to leads. I keep all the dead leads in files in my archives because they are like zombies, they do come back from the dead from time to time, and some actually even purchase. Since I've been using my system for over two years now, though clunky, it is familiar, and as long as I stick to my process I can manage the over 400 live leads and countless dead lead files somewhat effortlessly. But if anyone else were to come in behind me it would be like unpacking my backpack. They'd pull it all out and say, "what is all this tattered crap?" They'd never see the value in my stuff and why it has to be in the pack, any more than they'd understand my system.

At the same time, because I don't have the bells and whistles, the templates and regular mailings that are canned in a CRM, I think people pay more attention to my emails. I know that in shopping the competition I've seen some pretty colorful graphic templates full of auto-filled emails and some of them are great, detailed and helpful. But as soon as I open an email that is obviously a form letter, and not tailored to my exact needs, I know that this is an auto response and the person sending it isn't really considering any conversation we've had in the past.

Since I painstakingly look at every past email to get a picture of the person I'm recontacting, I can always add in personal details to get their attention so that they know that I do care about what they are looking for, and not just wasting their time making them read some generic letter that I have generated from my system.

Just like my backpack was set up especially for my travel needs, so too is my poor pathetic jury rigged CRM system. As much as I say I'd like to trade it in for a big fancy system, I don't know if I could handle that now.

I'll just chew more gum.

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I'd Rather Be Sailing, I Mean Selling!

If I had started this blog about 9 years earlier it probably would have been titled "Wanderings of a Wayward Gypsy Sailor," instead of Online Sales Consultant. (and if I had started it about 6 years before that...did they have Internet back then??? It would have been called simply Gypsy Wanderings.)

I have to admit that when I was first backpacking around the world, and then sailing around the Caribbean, I never envisioned myself sitting at a desk enthralled by the act of selling. In fact, I remember joking about working in cubicles on a roof top in Kathmandu with other travelers, as we sipped Darjeeling tea overlooking Thamel bathed in the late afternoon sun. We said, "ah I wish I was working in a cubicle, but someone has to live this life." Be careful what you wish for... now I'm many roof tops away from areas like Thamel, cities like Kathmandu, and places where it's normal to be bartering for bananas. It was on such roof tops that dreams of sailing around the world were born. Though the dream is not dead, it's on the back burner while I embark on a completely different adventure. Instead of living the sailing life I'm living the selling life.

Believe it or not selling has, for me, some of the same exhilaration as traveling and sailing. As I traveled around the world there was a "breaking in" period for each new location. Getting to know the area, meeting people, going from tourist, to traveler, and in some locations, going from traveler to resident for a time, was all a process. I had to be genuinely interested in a place to settle down for a month or six months and really unpack the backpack and make myself at home. Once I got to know it, and I got to know the people I'd get comfortable, and after comfortable I got restless and was ready to move on to the next place and go through the whole process of rediscovery again.

Selling has a similar twist. There's that period of getting to know the product. In my case working for a new home builder, that consists of knowing over 80 models in 14 different communities. I also had to build in a series of systems to track my progress, just another aspect of the breaking in period. I like to see quantifiable results right out of the chute so I had to take time to build the structure around my job. Then there's the process of getting to know the people. I think it might be the social aspect of selling that has kept me captivated over the past 3 years.

When traveling there was always a story behind each person I'd meet, and when I'd take the time to get to know other travels as well as the natives to the area, it made the experience so much more rich. It's not simply checking the block on a map, been there done that, but really creating a rich and full experience.

Likewise with exploring each person who expresses interest in the homes I sell, it's not just sending out a form letter for me and tracking the number of contacts I make in a day. Instead I like to get to the story behind that person, something I don't feel can be done with a templated, canned letter. I want to know why they are looking for a new home, what is driving their desire for change, how can I make our community relevant to their search? (and if I can't I want to be honest about it because I don't want to waste their time as much as I don't want to waste mine) Since each situation is a different kind of challenge it keeps it fresh with each person with whom I communicate. In a sense it's that same freshness of moving from place to place.

I never really thought about it much, but I've always been that person that people open up to. At parties I always end up on the couch listening to people's problems, as a bartender in college and while traveling I continued that trend. I realize that this early training in listening, and being genuinely curious about other people's lives is what led me to traveling, the sailing and now selling! This social aspect of my life has interwoven itself into each type of job or adventure I take on and I think that is what is drawing me to explore social media. But the more I get to know aspects of social media, the more I realize it's not just being on facebook, streaming on twitter and blogging here, to "check the block," but finding ways to make it more personal and interactive just as other aspects of my life always have been. That is the key I'd like to uncover in my wanderings of social media. I'd like to try to go from a tourist to a traveler in this social media sphere and maybe even eventually to a resident.

I know in the future I will go back to sailing and explore more corners of the world, but for now, I'd rather be selling.

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To Be...Or Not To Be...An Expert at Social Media

As a successful online sales consultant for a new home builder I’ve been kicking around the idea of going out on my own and marketing my skills to other businesses. I know that with my attention to detail I can set up a relationship building model to help increase sales for any business whether it be new homes, dive trips, or anything in between. But as I spoke with business owners they kept telling me they needed a social media expert I realized what I was offering them didn't seem to be enough. Overcoming my previous desire to run away from all this technology I’ve decided to dive into the Social Media pool and see if I can swim.

My first step in learning more about Social Media was to start a twitter account and start following all these Social Media gurus and experts to try to understand it all. Recently while reading a blog by Peter Shankman and Sarah Evans
http://shankman.com/is-your-social-media-expert-really-an-expert/ Is Your Social Media Expert Really an Expert. I found several points quite ironic since I’ve been asking myself how to become an expert.

Shankman and Evans came up with a great list of identifying non-experts (me) so I figured, okay this might be a great learning tool.

Well number 3 certainly applied to me 3. They “discovered” social media in the last six to 16 months, and there’s nothing online from them in the social media space prior to that. (Remember – Google is your friend.) But hmmm, you have to start somewhere. Am I behind the times because I spent the last 3 years building relationships and sales in something not considered the Social Media arena? And, well, before that I was a vagabond traveling around the world with a backpack or a sea bag for 15 years not working at all in PR and marketing, or using my degree in communications from Boston University. I built lots of life experience. I certainly learned social skills as a traveler and a bartender. I learned all the basics of relationship building that I use every day to sell.

If you use social media successfully to build relationships and in turn relationships into sales, does it matter if you’ve been doing it only for 6 months or 10 years? Does only time in a field make you an expert? How about results and other life experience?

Number 15 hit close to home. 15. They don’t maintain an active blog (at least two posts every month). Well shoot! I don’t have a blog at all, where do I get one? And do I really need to have a blog just to prove I know how to connect with people, create relationships and sell something? I went to my favorite web tool, Google and punched in why should I start a blog? I thought this was pretty funny… the answer I got was “blogs are wonderful things to help bloggers establish themselves as experts in a field or topic.” I found this in a blog about blogs… 10 Reasons to start a blog on about.com

So here I am starting a blog, number 15, but again according to number 3 I should have started this long ago because it will take me many years of blogging to establish myself as an expert. Oh the novice-ness I’ve doomed myself to for at least the next 5-10 years just because I chose to live an unconventional life style for about 15 years!

Okay, I’ve decided I don’t want to be an expert! Instead I just want to be me, the creative thinker who can put two and two together and understand the connection between figuring out where an audience would be for a product and using tools that include Social Media to create relationships. But I know darn well that all of that is for nothing if you don’t have that person who can turn those relationships into sales.

I think that’s where I’m an expert! (okay so not an expert, but pretty darn good at it.)

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Jack of All Trades, Expert of None - Part 1

I’m trying to learn more about Social Media to create a plan to incorporate it into my job as an online sales consultant. Actually I want to strike out on my own and consult to businesses with my skills and experience in relationship building through internet sales. In my wanderings I’ve found that Social Media is the newest latest buzz word out there and businesses are going crazy over how to get some ROI on Social Media. In the past I’ve always been a bit slow to embrace change.

When it comes to technology I used to bury my head in the sand and say, “just give me a butter churn and an oil lamp.” and hoped maybe it would all go away. After all, I traveled around the world for 10 years first as backpacker and would-be writer and photographer, and later as a sailboat captain and dive instructor with only a Pentax K1000 (the battery only powered the light meter), slide film and a journal. I was probably one of the last people in the world to get a computer or cell phone and I did this reluctantly. I only traded my manual camera in for a digital camera this past year because developing, scanning and, God forbid, printing slide film became so prohibitively expensive.

Yes I fancied myself a traveler, a sailor, a dive instructor, a photographer and a would-be writer. I still have the first 107 pages of my travel book on my laptop and if it were a hand written chronology it would have 3 years of dust collected upon its cover. Instead it sits nicely and neatly in some file on my laptop. Technology I finally embraced. As things sometimes happen, an odd turn of events has had me in a career as an internet sales consultant for the past 2 years creating relationships, not through social media, but strictly through email relationships selling new homes for a large local builder. And I’m pretty darn good at it generating 30% of sales last year.

As of late I realize that, if I want to strike out on my own as a consultant, I better embrace technology, get my head out of the sand and understand the wave of social media and all these new and different tools or I will be left in the dust… with my oil lamp and my butter churn. (people don’t even know what those things are for any more) If I want to start my own internet sales consulting business, I might even have to be an “expert” at social media.

But how does one become an expert?

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Jack of All Trades Expert of None - Part 2

I’ve been delving into Social Media and trying to develop the best plan to increase business for my company. Since I’m an online sales consultant for a large local builder, I feel I’ve already been involved in “social media” in a sense. For the past 2 years I’ve been building Internet relationships with prospects while finding out their needs, wants, and desires in a new home through countless emails. I’ve made it my business to match the proper home and community to their parameters.

I know it sounds crazy, but I tend to care about these people even though I rarely meet them in person. With 20-40 web registrations a day, some people NEVER communicate, but others have had extensive conversations with me about their needs in a new home, and more importantly their lives. I know things like their baby’s due date or that their kids are graduated with honors. I know they are going through messy divorces, or stressed about a military move.
They’ve even sent me pictures of their dogs and cats in Halloween costumes and I’ve received a Baliwood DVD movie that one prospective customer starred in as a bit of a villain.

Some of these people buy a home, some never do, but either way all my efforts translated into 30% of overall sales and over $25.5 million in revenue for my company last year. Did I do this by using facebook, twitter, u-tube or blogging? No, just good old fashioned emailing.

As of late, I keep hearing about RSS feeds, blogging, twitter, Google Adwords, facebook, LinkedIn, U-tube, video emails, and how all of these things make up Social Media which is the hottest newest craze for businesses. I’ve wanted to step out on my own and setup an Internet sales consulting business grounded in good old-fashioned customer service and personal attention, but everyone wants a Social Media Expert.

It’s hard to explain to owners and CEOs, who are being bombarded with these terms, that there has to be an overall plan. With the rush to set up facebook pages, twitter feeds and build iphone apps, there still needs to be someone who is going to build relationships with prospects no matter what you are selling. I see the need to embrace technology and to look into how these tools can make a great online sales consultant even better, but I’m not sure I need to be an expert in Social Media to make this happen for a business owner. I think I need to be an expert in what is being sold and then figure out how to apply Social Media to that framework.

No matter how you look at it, the bottom line is still about building relationships and making relevant connections between what you sell and how it satisfies what your client, follower, or fan needs. Someone with creative thinking who knows the product can deduce where on the web they can find people interested in their product and then implement a social media plan to connect with their audience and build meaningful relationships.

No expert necessary.

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