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Episode 155 - Progressing Leads Through Your Consulting Sales Funnel—with Catherine Brown

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So on this podcast, we're going to talk specifically about how to get leads, prospects, understanding the difference and understanding the path that you take them through until you convert a portion of them into being clients. And I brought on sales expert and author, Catherine Brown. This is the second of a two-part episode, and she's going to go down and dirty into exactly how to do this and how to understand and use these concepts to get more business. Let's get started.

Hi, I want to welcome my guest today, Catherine Brown. Catherine, welcome back to the show.

Catherine Brown: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me again.

Deb Zahn: So just in case the poor listener has not listened to your last fabulous podcast you put out, tell my listeners what you do.

Catherine Brown: Thank you. I'm a sales trainer, I'm an author, I'm a sales speaker and I'm a sales lover.

Deb Zahn: I love it. That's wonderful. And author is important because I know we're going to talk about this later, but your book is fantastic. So give a little shout out to the book that you did.

Catherine Brown: Thank you so much. Well, this was my first book. It's called How Good Humans Sell. It's on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. It is an introduction, eight chapters. It's not long. You look at it and you think, how did that take two years to write it? It did.

That is just like I know we're going to talk about marketing and generating leads and other things today, but the book is a perfect example just like everything else in our sales and marketing writing, where it is so much more work to make things clear and simple than it is to be confusing. And so the book, it talks about beliefs about sales in the first half and having purpose for selling and how to think about it as a framework and rethink and reframe selling. And the second half is tools that I use, like how I get meetings set and how to write a clear value proposition and how to qualify when you're on a sales call.

So it's beliefs and practices, and it's really a summary of all the longer courses I do all distilled down into this little package of goodness.

Deb Zahn: And it was great. And I love that it was divided in the, how do I feel good about rock and roll, and then how do I rock and roll? Yeah, that's how I thought about it.

Catherine Brown: Because you know, Deb, a real common issue. This is really an issue in my profession as a professional trainer is that most sales training is focused on those tactics. And my experience running different kinds of sales consulting firms, I've been a recruiter or seller my whole career, and it's not knowledge that is what people tend to be short of. There are all kinds of great things.

Even now there's sales trainers on TikTok, right? There are just wonderful places you can learn tactics. The problem, and the reason I started with the belief side is because people won't do it. They won't do it because they think, just by definition, that sales is pushy and intrusive and troubling people and selfish. And because they have so much dissonance in their brain because they're like, "I need sales. What I offer is meaningful to the world." And then the other side, they're thinking, "I'm going to be bothering people. They're going to hate me," because they feel both ways at the same time and they have that cognitive dissonance, they just get paralyzed. They won't use the tools.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And you can hand them more tools and it's not going to matter because they're not going to use them. Yeah, I loved it for that. So I do encourage folks to go out and grab it and read it and start to use it. And we're going to give a little bit of a teaser about some of the things that you talk about in the book today. And this is about getting leads, like actually getting leads of folks who, the hope is more than hope because we never rely just on hope, will become ultimately clients. And there are folks out there who are new to consulting who hear the word lead and they have no idea what we're talking about.

So how do you define that?

Catherine Brown: Great question. So I want to differentiate one thing and then answer the lead question, if that's OK because we talked about in the other podcast, but if someone's dropping in, they might not know. I feel it is 100% valid for consultants to spend their initiating time, which we call a revenue generating activity, where they are setting up sales appointments with people.

You can spend a very significant percent of that time focused on people who can send you referrals. They can be complementary partners, other kinds of consultants. So for example, I look to network with other conference speakers because I want them to recommend me for conference speaking. I look to network with sales consultants because I don't actually go into a company and spend six months riding the ship. That's not the kind of work I do. I want them to recommend my course or use me for their conference.

So even people who might look on a Venn diagram, like we overlap just a little bit. I have tons of friendly competitors because we send each other business because we don't do exactly the same thing. But to the outside world, they don't know that they find that confusing. So I cultivate a lot of those relationships. That is a legitimate way to spend because they can send you leads.

You can also pursue the companies that you want to talk to. And those are leads. But let me define what I mean by lead. Lead is the least qualified word in my vernacular. I do not have to be right about this. There are other people who feel very strongly differently, but for the purpose of this conversation, when I'm saying lead, I mean the name of the company or the person that you think you want to talk to but about whom you know very little.

I would contrast that with the prospect. To me, a prospect is I've got more confidence they're actually the buyer. And I might know some significant things I need to know, to know that I probably can really help you. So it might be something's happened in their company life. Maybe they've gone through an acquisition or perhaps they're about to make a big investment or they've raised funds, or you've talked to them and you know that start to have some idea of the challenges they're having, but you don't have a complete picture. That's a prospect.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love it. And it's a degree of warmth, if you think about it.

Catherine Brown: Exactly. So some people will call a leader prospect, and the reason I think it's worth parsing out here is because it's confusing because if you think all leads are the same, what will happen is you'll use the wrong amount of time on things. And you want to be suspicious even with a referral. You want to say, "Thank you so much for that referral. That's so great."

And you're still thinking, "I got to make sure this is the buyer. I got to understand what else they've tried. If they're talking to anybody else, what their issues are." You have to qualify them pretty much just like you do everyone else until you get to such a close relationship with those referral partners that they actually do a little selling for you.

And that does happen where they will tee you up and say, "Hey, I already talked to them about this, this and this." And you have a partial picture. Even by the time you do your first call. But depending on how long you've been at it, it takes a while to develop those kinds of relationships.

Deb Zahn: So I think I want to bold and highlight the distinction you just made because for exactly the reason you said. So I have seen people, they don't have a CRM yet. So they pull out an Excel spreadsheet, and they write down everybody they know or companies they want to work with or whatever it is they do. And they get 20, 30, 100 things on the list.

And then they just start going down the list one by one as if everyone is the same. And you'll just end up with more no's because you haven't thought through it in a clear enough way to essentially do your first segmentation of who's a lead and who's a prospect.

Catherine Brown: Yes. And everything we can do, the reason I also like the differentiation about lead and prospect is because you can have a colder lead and you can have a warmer lead. So, remember a lead is still someone I haven't talked to most likely about whom I know very little. But if I see they're connected to 15 people I know, and I can get someone to make an intro for me, they're still a lead because we've never talked and I haven't validated any of my guesses.

But that's better than knowing a bit more and having a warmer intro. And I would call that maybe a warm lead or for sure in the marketing, like if we want to use the word funnel. If you have a paper on your website that someone downloads in exchange for their email address or they join your email marketing or they are a frequent contributor and liker on your social media, then when they're ready to talk, they're probably ... That's a very warm lead.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Catherine Brown: They might even be a past customer in which case I'd probably still call that person a prospect because they still have to re-qualify the past customer who bought for me in another company about their current situation. And I have to know if I am the right person at this moment to help them in what they're looking to do, or if I'm going to refer it out to someone else because maybe someone else is a better fit.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And I love that you're saying all this because it's more than a semantic conversation. It helps you make decisions about the actions that you're going to take, which is why this is so profound. And so I want to keep bolding and highlighting this as much as possible.

So let's start with the bad stuff and then we're going to get to the good stuff. So the bad stuff is one, now that folks have an understanding of what a lead is and they understand that you have to take them through some type of prospect or process in hopes that they actually become a client, what are the common mistakes that you see people make that will not yield fruit?

Catherine Brown: So let's say that you have these all gunning to go, and you are going to do some email blast. So making it all be about you and your story is gross. It's gross. Don't do that. And people do it because they're nervous. They don't know better. We have lots of bad models out there, and I'm using hyperbolic language. But the reason that what we want to do instead is I talk about this principle of “them before me.”

I would invite anyone on the podcast, just go connect with me on LinkedIn, watch my posts and hold me to it. Every single post I ever do, the first sentence is some kind of an opener or hook or a stated problem that I am writing about, even in my social media post, that is about a problem I'm solving. And I'm not saying I'm having a class on such and such a date. That's a very rare thing for me to do. I will occasionally, but I'm trying, most of the time I'm wanting to ... I've trained myself to remember that what you're doing is we're calling it opening a story loop where you're saying, why would this matter? Because the prospect is reading and saying, is this me?

Deb Zahn: Yes.

Catherine Brown: So it can be that you start out by saying something like many X use the title of the person. No? Fine when they get to a company this size that they have the following challenge, bullet, bullet, bullet. My firm does this X, Y, Z. Would this be interesting to talk about? How about a 15-minute call? I'll call you next Friday if we don't connect sooner.

But the first part needs to be about the identity they're moving toward with a guess about their goals, or it needs to name such a common problem that you suspect they have. Now, Deb, some people are listening and they're saying, "I don't want to guess because I solve several problems and I might guess wrong." And the thing is, you might. You might guess wrong.

It is still better, number one, they don't read all your emails. So you're going to have a chance to try again.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Catherine Brown: And number two, it's still better. And I have had this happen where people say, "Not this, but that," right? So you're trying to reach me. This is not a challenge, but I studied your site and we are struggling with X. So they'll honor my attempts to reach them. And we can still engage in a conversation, even if my best guess isn't perfect about what they might be struggling with.

But I contrast that with nobody wants to hear about how you're the fifth generation person with your great-grandfather's business with the oil field, which is this big thing in Houston. People are so proud of their ... And the legacy of their company. And there is a place for that on your website. I'm not saying it's never a place, but it's not what we lead with because we are trying to capture their attention. And these are very busy people.

And so we always talk about them before we talk about ourselves in social, voicemail, email, everything, everything.

Deb Zahn: And I espouse that principle quite a bit. I've seen resumes where if you printed the email out, it would be three, four pages of single space because they're telling me everything that they've ever done. They're not talking about me. I don't understand how this relates to me. And by the way, I'm not reading because this email now scares me because it's too much of an investment.

Catherine Brown: And you know, Deb, a great place to practice this, if people feel like they're first getting started in sales and they feel like the stakes feel high about sending emails that they may not be sending right, a great place to practice this is actually the About section on your LinkedIn. Because think about in old newspaper terms, we call it above the fold and below the fold, and now on devices, laptops and the way the resolution comes up, that's the laptop or phone, LinkedIn shows up such that you only see the banner, the headline in about half of an About section.

And that's on purpose. It's on purpose to entice you to keep reading. So what I would say is I would say writing with that, them before me in mind, we're talking about how do I help? Where the first sentence literally doesn't start with I, X. It's got to, I blah, blah, blah, blah. It's got to start with something about your prospect.

Practice that, stick it out there and see what happens because basically your LinkedIn is, the About section is like the headline of your website. And it's a little mini advertising for what you do that invites people to read further below. But that's a great place because it's so easy to tweak your LinkedIn. I'm constantly messing around with mine and adding things and changing based on feedback from people. And it's a great place to practice how you lead with how you help.

Deb Zahn: Got you. So the first and big no-no is it ain't about you.

Catherine Brown: Let's not talk about yourself in the first sentence.

Deb Zahn: It's about them. So I love that. And because you've hinted at, there is this thing called a funnel or thing called a process path that you take someone through from lead to end, what does that look like for the folks who have no idea what we're talking about?

Catherine Brown: Great. So two things, one is that you need a tool for your funnel and I ... Well, we need a couple tools for our funnel. At the very basic minimum what I would recommend for a business owner who's getting started with their consulting practice is you need one piece of collateral where you give away something that you know that is easy for you and hard for others. And I loved, Deb, this. We could have a whole podcast about this. I love this part of the ideation of helping consultants because people become so good at one thing or several things that they have lost perspective on how that checklist of 10 steps to avoid is so obvious to them is not obvious to other people.

And so I think dreaming up this kind of marketing is really fun. And it's not my main business, but I end up helping friends with it all the time because it's so fun to answer the question, what's easy for you that's hard for others?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Catherine Brown: For example, I can name off 20 things to never say in sales that are literally coming out of my brain from years of practice and it would sound like rocket science to someone who is inexperienced. They would say, "I say that all the time," because it's my thing. I've become good at it. And so everyone's got things. You need something that is a do this, don't do this, common tips, new thoughts about a challenge in your industry, series of blogs that you put together in a three-series package. Something that you give that builds trust.

Deb Zahn: Yep. Love it.

Catherine Brown: Seriously, you just have to have one thing to start with. You will eventually build more. I downloaded a woman, I'll give you a great example. There's a woman, who's a consultant. She's a public speaking consultant who I've gotten to know. I think she's wonderful. I noticed that she posted on social media recently that you could download this recording where you walk yourself through how to become less nervous before you go on stage.

Deb Zahn: Very nice.

Catherine Brown: An audio file. I was like, "This is genius." I downloaded it and shared it with my network. I was like, this is so smart. So this was an audio file. That wasn't even a PDF. I thought that was really interesting. So it can look like lots of things. We've got to have something that builds trust. One thing to start with, so a do this, don't do this, best practices, common mistakes, little known facts, opinion piece on something happening in industry, something.

I call that a lead generator. The lead generator sits on your site. It can sit as an attachment inside your social media profiles where it can be grabbed also. And you are going to share it freely in your sales outreach. It doesn't matter that it sits in all those places. Use it again, again, again, again because you want people to read it. So you start that series of inviting people to have a sales conversation with you. And we talked, people will want more detail to go back to the other podcast, to listen to our conversation about revenue generating activities.

But we call RGAs the time you set aside, the actions you do to set up the actual sales call. So the funnel, to me, looks like I either get referrals or inbound leads or I initiate with people and those are leads.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And so this is how you have some type of initiated first contact. And that said, and for the folks who can't see how we're holding our hands and talking I actually just had explained to folks in my membership that the reason for the metaphor, like you don't have to worry about all the details, is you got to get people into your process and you won't have everybody that gets into your process ultimately become a client, and you have to know that. And that's why it's a funnel and that's-

Catherine Brown: ...And people fall out as it goes down the bottom.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Catherine Brown: Think about something you cope with, right? Yeah, exactly, or pour oil in a car, that's the cylindrical thing. So, yes. So those are the least qualified. Even if you give me a referral, I still have some work to do to figure out, is this a person who influences the buying decision? Are they really the buyer? Or there's some things I need to know that I'll find out in a conversation. So those are the lowest level of leads.

What's funny, Deb, is in a funnel is the top part because it's the biggest.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Catherine Brown: I have the most up here, but I know the least about them. Then we have a discovery call. And what I'm trying to do is move someone from lead to prospect. And to me a prospect means I'm starting... We've talked and I'm starting to find out what I talk about in the book as the five magic topics.

I need conversation, this is not going to feel like an inquisition. This is going to be very conversational. I'm going to ask how and what questions. So open-ended, get them talking sort of questions. But I need to ask a question where I find out if there are multiple people involved in deciding to buy from me, how does the company decide? The bigger the company, the more complicated it often is, not always, but sometimes you will actually have to have a purchase order. Sometimes you will actually have to have a more formal process. Sometimes it's no big deal. So you have to find that out.

I have to find out if there is some way they are solving this problem today even if it's bad. And the most common mistake in this magic topic of conversation, the most common mistake people make is they think they've started a consulting firm that something like no one else has ever done, and so they don't have any competition. But that's not true because for most of us in professional services, our greatest competition is that people do nothing.

Deb Zahn: That's right. They live with it. They suck it up. They ignore it. They work around it, but they don't hire anybody to solve it.

Catherine Brown: Exactly. So I have these categories, I call them the magic topics because I'm saying they are a conversation topic, which you need. Don't think of a flow chart of a script like in a call center. Think of like these floating circles and one says money and one says competition and one says timing, and you've got these categories and sometime on this call and possibly the next one and maybe through a series of emails, it just depends on what makes sense with the sales cycle, you need to know the answer to all those questions.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Catherine Brown: If you don't have confidence about how they will decide to buy from you, do not send a proposal. If you are not certain, this is a super common no-no list type of thing. When we are not confident in how to direct a sales conversation, the buyer will take charge and they'll say, "Well, we are thinking about this. Would you go ahead and send me a proposal?" And that excited person is like, "OK," because they don't know that.

And they spent all this time and energy, especially when you're first starting putting together this proposal, and the proposal, there's different schools of thought on this. But I feel pretty strongly that it's not fair to expect the proposal to sell for you. And I don't care what kind of proposal software you've invested in. I think it's rude on both sides to ask people to invest the time until it's right because they're really serious.

And in services, depending on the size of the firm you're selling into, Deb, and I'll be interested in what you think about this, but in services, I find a lot of times I don't even have to do a proposal if I've done a great job with these conversations because we can go straight to draft contract.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Catherine Brown: And so I don't want my proposal if I don't have to because it just creates more work for me in my small firm. And so I do most of this over voice and email and then I can avoid some of those steps, which can be extremely time-consuming. What do you see?

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, and every time you add a step, you add friction and you have lots to follow up where some people are just going to drop away. So my proposals are contracts, and I do that very deliberately because if I've done my job in the discovery process and I've answered the questions that you talk about, and I have a really good understanding of what outcomes they want, what their key parameters are, what my options for helping them get those up, if I've done my job and I'm clear, then in almost every case they're ready to sign the contract once they see the proposal.

Now, I do know that particularly if there are multiple deciders involved, I treat my proposal as if I am still selling. But if I'm still selling and I get a yes, I want that yes to be immediately followed by an electronic signature.

Catherine Brown: Yes. And the thing is that sellers are so nervous to ask. It's OK to ask. If they ask for a proposal, number one, it's OK to say, "I'm happy to, but I'm not ready to. I have some things I still need to know, so I will do a good job for you." That's fine. And then also to say, "Yes, can we talk about what end would that be?" Because they might need to shop it around inside. They might need something to share and present.

And I have a recent example of that, Deb. I had to do an RFP, which I haven't had to do for a while, but your listeners may not know what that is, but some companies will require a formal request for proposal. And it really has to have these certain categories and be formatted a certain way. And I try to avoid those.

Deb Zahn: I do too.

Catherine Brown: But I got a lead, and it was to work with the trade association. And the trade association chose to do an RFP because they had had someone they'd worked with in the past. They were very disappointed about what they got. And this was a quality control issue for them that they wanted to do, use a request for proposal process to vet more carefully than they had the prior time.

So I understood their motivation, and I understood that the person I was sending it to was not the only person who was going to see it. So I really did have to decide to go to a lot of trouble to explain things which I actually already covered on the call, but they weren't all there. But one of my requests was I said, I need a chance to present this and answer questions.

So just remember that every step is a conversation and a negotiation of sorts because if something isn't sitting right with you, I think you really need to follow that gut and recognize. If you send that over and you lob it over the wall and you don't have the next step outlined, I guess that would be maybe my third no-no, that I would add in would be to say everything has to always have the next step outlined.

And we talked in chapter eight of the book about being a guide, and being a guide is staying a few steps ahead. And so if a proposal or even the draft contract is going to be circulated internally and it's going to be required as a part of that process, then you want to say, "That's great. I'm happy to do that. I know that you are going to have a few questions. I'll do my best for there not to be many questions, but I doubt there'll be a few especially for people who haven't been a part of these conversations. When should we set up a discussion about that?"

Do not agree. Do not agree to send it if you can't get that call because what's going to happen is you create all that space for all those made up stories and all the reluctance about sales and fear when you can't reach them after you've gone through all the trouble with the proposal. And so I'll have clients who like tools like Proposify, and all these different tools that are out there now where you can see what they opened and read.

But I kind of feel like that, like I do about the emails we were talking about earlier in the other podcasts. I was saying, "I don't even care to know which parts they read or don't read because it's my job to set the action that we can talk about questions they have." So I can say, "Is there any reason, do you have any other questions? Are you ready to move forward?" And so I want to have that next step outlined at every point along the way.

Deb Zahn: I love it. And that I hope that some next step occurs you've actually thought about. I want to, again, underscore what you're saying because if you don't pause and have that clarifying conversation where you're able to answer questions, then a number of things could happen. So you could either not get the contract because you haven't been able to verbally articulate what it is you're trying to do and the value of it. And everybody might be reading it based on their stories in their head.

But you also, it could be ... And this is actually a worse scenario. They could sign it and say, "Great, let's do this." And then their expectations are completely out of whack with what it is that you were actually proposing. And now you enter into this new relationship and the first set of conversations you're going to have are essentially going to be conflict because you now have to sort out, which is not a great way to start a relationship because you have to start sorting out what's reality versus expectation. And you might lose the gig, you might keep it, you might lose money, all of those things.

Catherine Brown: So my fourth no-no...

Deb Zahn: We've done all the no-nos on this podcast, I love it.

Catherine Brown: My fourth no-no is that when we're first starting out building our firms, we are so anxious to use whatever sounds like the most cutting edge terms in our industry and a lot of jargon and things. It's just so risky to use any word you're using in your proposal or as a deliverable. I'll give you a great example. I mean like the word sales enablement is this just crazy, popular word. I don't know what it means. I don't know what it means.

I know what some people say it means. I know what others say it means. They're just these words. So if I say I'm a sales enablement consultant, everyone's going to nod. I'm not by the way, but if I said that, people would nod and nobody's going to say, what's that? And nobody knows what it is. And so every industry has this. HR has this finances, etc.

So that's where those conversations of saying maybe it's over an email, so let's go back to the funnel. I'm going to make sure I do a good job on that. So we have things people don't know anything about, and then I invite them to a conversation. And we decide in that conversation if the timing is such that we're going to keep talking if I'm going to refer them somewhere else, or they're basically a marketing lead because I'm going to stay in touch with them but not now.

So some fall out of the funnel at that stage, right? Then we keep talking. I keep working on some who are going to continue to be further qualified. It might be that they need to bring someone else to the call. It might be that we just need more time asking questions and digging in and understanding the challenges they're having. So there's some additional steps that could be one more call and an email. It could be several emails. It could take six months. It just depends on the situation. We're sitting in this qualifying stage here.

And I don't want to... By the way, I float price really early in that, like I will-

Deb Zahn: I read that in your book.

Catherine Brown: Yeah. I will say things like this typically start at X and I'll just say a number because I want there to be a floor that's a base expectation. I don't feel like that obligates me to stay there. Some people are scared to say a number because they're like, "What if it's twice that?" It's like, "Well, then you need to show why it's worth twice that."

But what you don't want to do is get all the way to a proposal or draft contract and none have talked about money because people have all kinds of expectations and wild and crazy expectations. And we all value different things and guess wrong. And as a buyer, I've done that. I've been surprised and then I'll look back and say, "Well, why were you surprised at the price, Catherine? You had no data on that. I don't know, I just made it up."

So, everyone does that. And so I like to name a number pretty early and just pause and get a response. And it doesn't commit me, but I want to check the box of having had some conversation about money pretty early on. And then we do a draft contract or a proposal depending on what's required. And we have that opportunity to talk about that, answer their questions. They sign and then most of us in consulting have to have some kind of kickoff or-

Deb Zahn: Onboarding.

Catherine Brown: Onboarding with people or something. Yeah. So what we haven't talked about is what do we do with those people who are great but it's not yet?

Deb Zahn: That's right. And ignoring them is not the answer. So what do you do with them?

Catherine Brown: Yeah. What do you like? How do you keep them on the hook? I have some things I do.

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I will put folks into my CRM, my customer relationship management system because I have no short-term memory. And if I don't do that, they will disappear. And what I basically do is depending on who they are and what they do, I will estimate when I want to reach out to them. Some people, it's true, I'm going to see them at this next conference. I want to make sure when I do, that we have drinks. I reach out to them ahead of time saying, "Hey, I'm going to be at the conference. I want to grab 15 minutes of your time."

And then some people because I think I could be more helpful to them sooner, I will schedule a time that I'm going to reach out and reinitiate contact depending on how, if I already know them, how warm the lead is, things like that. I will do different things. So I don't do the exact same thing with everybody because I think very deeply about who they are relative to the types of things that I do and can help them accomplish. And then I make decisions based on that.

Catherine Brown: That's great. So it sounds like though you don't have much that is automated as you put them in a funnel to receive a monthly email or something like that?

Deb Zahn: I do that. So when I started consulting, it was before all those newfangled things existed. I will say like, I think LinkedIn existed but I'm not entirely sure.

Catherine Brown: I remember what year they started too.

Deb Zahn: Right. Email was a thing, but a lot of email marketing had naturally started. So when I started as a consultant, there just wasn't a lot of that and was largely working your network and getting to your network's network, et cetera.

Deb Zahn: For my business Craft of Consulting, absolutely. So for the folks who are on my email list, I cultivate those relationships as I would any other relationships that I care about. So I do a weekly newsletter for anybody who likes to read about things that are helpful and valuable to them and the occasional story about a timid duck.

Catherine Brown: Yeah, that's great to know.

Deb Zahn: And then I also give them things. So, some of the tools that you talked about that are actually helpful and can help people get a result, I will make those available. I will occasionally, but only about 20% of the time, make an offer. And if I'm running a campaign because I have a new offer that really is trying to get a particular business around, I will have a whole email sequence related to that.

Catherine Brown: That's exactly what I do. So I would say that I like email marketing. I'm going to make a plug for, I know people get a lot of emails and I understand that you feel overwhelmed with your email box too because I do as well. What I do is I subscribe quickly and I unsubscribe quickly. If you make the cut because there's either something that's so valuable to me that is not also on your LinkedIn because I prefer to follow you on LinkedIn. It's just my preferred channel. I spend some time here every day.

So that's my preference. But if it feels worth it to let it come to my box, then I will sometimes read it and sometimes not but I'll see your name. And I am a super big fan of collecting emails and phone numbers when it's appropriate because you can own those in your CRM. And you do not want to be one of the people who build their business on the back of Instagram and you get hacked.

Deb Zahn: You get hacked, or you get blocked. They've randomly been blocking people.

Catherine Brown: That's right. Things just happen. And even LinkedIn, I mean they could have down days, they could have a crisis. Things could happen. I would really be sad to lose my LinkedIn sales navigator list. I have really invested a lot there, but I have a thousand people on my email address list. It's taken me seven years to build it, so I'm using real numbers here. So people know this is not a 10,000 person list. But I have a very high engagement rate, a very high click-through and it's really tight and it keeps me plenty busy.

And so it took me seven years to build that. I did it by saying person at a time, "May I add you to my email marketing? If this has been helpful to you, I do periodic updates. I give away tools and resources. Would that be interesting?" "Sure." "Do you have any time?" "Sure." So I really love that still, even though people feel fatigued from lots of emails during COVID, I understand that. I still think it is better than letting another platform manage your contacts.

And if you hear Deb and me talk about how we both do a weekly email, you think, "My gosh, I don't even know what I would say weekly." You just start monthly.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And I will say so I can't agree with you more because if one of these other platforms changes their model because it serves their business purpose, it doesn't serve yours. Yours is tangential to theirs. And if they make a switch for them, there have been businesses that just have, it's wreaked havoc in their existence. So I am a huge fan.

And the reality is even though our inboxes are just too much these days, it's still the primary way that people are actually communicating. So it's still a thing and I love it. And I do a weekly newsletter.. In the beginning I didn't, and I have to admit I love it. I take it extremely seriously because I think about who's on my email list. I think about what might be helpful for them. I think about the value I can give them, can I give them something? Is there a story I could tell that's going to ... Well, I heard the duck one was huge, so I got so much feedback on my duck story. And I had a video and I had a before and after picture, but I take it seriously because I actually think these are real relationships and I have gotten business because of it.

Catherine Brown: Yes. And what's so cool, I'm sure this has happened to you too, but what typically happens to me is I don't always get the response from the particular offer I made. But simply because I was in their box, I'll have a reply and it'll have the subject line from Friday's email. And it'll say, "I've been meaning to tell you that we're doing a conference and we wanted to see if you would be free to speak in October."

So it's like it doesn't even matter. It's not related to the subject matter, but it was getting their attention by sitting in the box and that constant reminder, "Hey, I'm still here. I'm here to serve." And when you open, the value is going to be high. So I would encourage people to start monthly as a starting place, build that list.

The other thing is that books and podcasts are how consultants really get bigger. And so having emails is really important for a book launch. And I learned that when I launched How Good Humans Sell because you're posting it to everyone's social. I even did a LinkedIn event, but you can't control the algorithm of how that thing pops up. And I couldn't believe between my CRM and my email marketing list overlap but are not exactly the same, different subjects for different times, my phone contacts from when I was 20 years old, friends and family, and my LinkedIn.

I've had to pull all those together for my launch party. And I'll just give people real numbers because I think it's helpful. I mean, I've been a solopreneur for ... Not a solopreneur. I've been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years. So, this is my second sales related business. So I have a lot of context because I've been at this and I'm a sales professional, so I like to sell. I have a lot of context.

But between all of those, I invited about 900 people to an online event, and then talked about a funnel dip. These are 900 people who I thought would at least like to hear about it. Some of them were on my email list, some were not. Some were through LinkedIn only because they were not on my email list, which was the lesson to me. So then you have the case where some RSVP and don't show, some RSVP and show and then some buy the book.

And it went just like that sieve, just like that funnel. And I have all those contacts, which I've so diligently kept up with over the years to have 900 or so to invite because you heard me say earlier, my email marketing list is a thousand because it's grown since last summer. But it wasn't a thousand at the time, so it took all those platforms to have 900.

And I had maybe over... We did a three-hour online event where we ran through a program and had a real fun, just online party and bunch of giveaways and stuff. And I did some reading, and I did the whole thing virtual and I had about 250...

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Catherine Brown: …Who came in and out over the three hours, including my in-laws.

Deb Zahn: You know what, but you never know?

Catherine Brown: Yeah, including everyone, I mean friends and family and everybody. But that was really interesting for me to see because I feel like I work really hard to have high engagement from people and look at people who know, love, and trust you and what percent really show up for things like that because they're busy, they've got stuff going on, et cetera. So it's just such a call to me, it's like the best time to plant a tree. If you don't have a good email marketing list and you're not doing a monthly message to them to give them some valuable content, start this Friday.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, as soon as you...

Catherine Brown: Just soon as possible because you'll never be sorry. You'll always be happy. I'm thinking about my next book, and I have a better list than I did last time and I'll just keep getting better at this. And that's what we do, is we keep getting better.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And those are relationships that will bear fruit and you want to be deliberate and thoughtful about how they bear fruit. And I don't have a huge email list either, and I've sold my premium high ticket items from it. I've gotten consulting work from it even though that's not my audience because I've had some of my past clients say, "Oh, I loved that. I loved that email. I loved that newsletter you sent out in that story. And I love how you care about your clients so much," because that's how I talk about because that's how I feel.

So I love all of that. So I think between these two podcasts, people get a really good feel of all the good stuff that you know-

Catherine Brown: I think it's some practical stuff, yeah.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely. So, where can folks find you if they want to dive in more?

Catherine Brown: Consultants should go to my corporate training site, which my company name is ExtraBold Sales, And I have a couple buttons. Some is for bigger team training and some is for smaller team training. It literally says solopreneurs and business owners. That's a good place to start with that button and see about group coaching and different courses and stuff that I offer.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. And so we're going to turn the last question on its head because in the last email, I asked you the balance question and now I think you're going to sock it to me.

Catherine Brown: Absolutely. So I just think, Deb, after all of these years, I'm always innovating. I'm always writing new content. I'm always thinking of new things and it's just a constant challenge to have harmony in all the areas of my life. And I like the word harmony instead of balance because balance still sounds like a trade-off to me. I kind of like the idea of harmony. How do you have harmony as a multiple business owner, entrepreneur who's got more than enough to do?

Deb Zahn: So first, I embrace that the goal of it is not perfection. And so sometimes, some days are train wrecks and I appreciate that they're train wrecks and I will perhaps have a few extra carbs to manage it.

I know there are also seasons to things. So there are times because I have ridiculously large vegetable gardens. It's a mini farm if you ask my husband, that there are times when it's planting season or when I get my seedlings in that I have to make adjustments because I know when those times are, and I know when I'm going to get a little busier, so I have to make adjustments elsewhere. I know when it's kitten season because as some people know, I rescue cats and kittens. And so it always depends on how many I have at any given time and I make adjustments for it.

But I think the two things that I do is I have practiced over the years because I used to be awful at distinguishing urgent and non-urgent, and I don't think everything is urgent. I truly don't. I used to think everything was and I had to therefore respond accordingly, and I now have more of discernment related to it. And I don't always agree with the person on the other side. They might think that it's urgent, but really it's when I have a choice, I make the choice and I make that decision whether it's urgent or not and then I respond accordingly.

And then the last thing I would say, and this goes back to what you were saying about these referral partnerships is those partnerships can also blossom into other things. So I have consultants at other firms or people who do similar things like lawyers or financial people, who I partner with on projects. And I partner with them because they have expertise that I don't. We love working together because I call it getting the band back together.

But I also do it so that I have an opportunity to offload myself, and I have other people who even do complimentary things to me where I might say, "Can you run a point on this and be the project manager?" And then I'm just going to show up for this part because that's where I'm uniquely suited. So I still have the client, I still get the revenue, I still get to do good work I want to do. But I have other people doing the same thing in their life, but we just are doing it together.

Just because you're independent doesn't mean you can't do that.

Catherine Brown: I love that last point, Deb because I think that I felt apologetic until fairly recently. I would feel apologetic if I couldn't be the one to show up and teach the group training or I had a conflict or something that came up and then I would be in anguish about how to get all these people rescheduled for a class or something.

And I started to take a look at more of my resources and realize that I could periodically, in my case, invite a guest teacher. And people have loved those sessions because I'm only putting amazing people in front and I position them. I never surprise them. I say, "I'm going to be out of so-and-so's step. And this is what they're going to cover. That's why it's going to be awesome." I literally write a mini value proposition like them before me. Why is this good for you that so-and-so is coming? I write that in the Slack workplace or the email marketing or whatever their communication is.

And it's been so awesome because it's generating a business for them, which makes me stick to them, makes me a valuable resource partner. It gives me a break. You know I had an unexpected trip where I had to stay longer because I got ill overseas. And you would not believe how my community just stepped in and helped me. Some stuff I rescheduled, some stuff others covered, and some stuff I did. And I was fine. I was fine because of those resources that I could call on to step in with other services professionals.

So, I could not agree more that we feel so scared that that's going to dilute our brand and that we are going to somehow look like we're unreliable, but we don't look that way. We look like we're so awesome at picking people who help our clients that I think it makes us look good.

Deb Zahn: It makes us look so good and generous, and not just after the money. It pays off dividends in so many different ways. And it's the key to a resilient business, period.

Catherine Brown: Yeah. I love that.

Deb Zahn: Well, Catherine, I'd love talking to you. This was so much fun and I appreciate that we are able to do a couple podcasts. I suspect it won't be the last time.

Catherine Brown: I hope not because I thought of more topics when we have time.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I'm serious. We could do a whole no-no and then a yes-yes.

Catherine Brown: That would be fun.

Deb Zahn: But thank you so much. And all your information is going to be in the show notes if anybody wants to track you down and definitely, definitely, definitely go get the book.

Catherine Brown: Thank you so much. Thanks for saying that. Thanks for reading it. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for having me.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it, share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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