By Mo Bunnell
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 11, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
If you’re good at doing something, and you need to connect with paying clients in order to keep doing it, this book is for you. There are more of us out there than you might think — from professionals like lawyers and consultants to big company account managers and freelancers of all stripes. And this book will teach you how to sell yourself without selling your soul.
In The Snowball System, Mo Bunnell offers powerful and proven tools for business development. Whether you are gregarious or introverted, whether you are a part of a small startup or a massive multinational, Bunnell’s science-based system is effective and efficient, and easily adapted into your day-to-day work. With The Snowball System, you will not only succeed at growing your business, you’ll learn to enjoy doing the activities that drive that growth. You’ll be happier, and so will your clients.
More Business, Less Busy-ness
BELIEVE IT OR not, you are a salesperson. Don’t think so? Nowadays there are more of us than you might think, though we go by different names—lawyers, consultants, marketers, and accountants as well as wedding photographers, Brazilian jiujitsu instructors, graphic designers, and chiropractors. Even account managers that manage big, ongoing relationships are in sales, managing existing work and on the hook for expanding it. If you’re good at doing something and need paying clients to do it for, call it sales, call it business development—whatever you like—welcome to the club. This book is for you. Every day I teach people like you how to sell their services—without selling their souls.
You’re reading this book because you want your business to grow. You want to win more clients and do more business with the clients you already have. You want more of the right work for the right money with the right clients. I’m going to show you a proven system for making all this happen and then making it a habit for life.
Picture twelve senior partners at a prestigious professional services firm sitting around a round table. Like you, they’re just getting started learning this really awesome system. One of my company’s facilitators asks the first question:
“How many hours have you spent building your expertise?”
After a short pause one of the partners raises his hand.
“Fifty thousand.” Our facilitator raises an eyebrow. The man squints a little doing the math in his head: “I work three thousand hours a year, and I’ve been doing this fifteen years. Throw in my degrees, and you’re easily at fifty K.”
“Great,” the facilitator replies. “Now, how many hours have you invested in learning business development? You know—generating leads, turning prospects into clients, developing strong client relationships that lead to more and more work.”
No pause at all this time: “Seven. Including the five so far today.”
Everyone at the table laughs uncomfortably. The truth hurts.
That said, maybe you’re not starting from scratch. Maybe you’ve read some books and established effective business development techniques that have helped you get where you are today. That’s great. But however much you already understand about the principles of effective business development, the only gap that truly matters is the one between knowledge and action. Be honest: In a typical workday how many hours do you actually spend growing your business?
Add it up. I’ll wait.
If you’re anything like the thousands of skilled client-facing professionals I’ve trained over the last decade, the answer is: less than an hour.
It’s okay. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a universal problem. We are not very good at balancing the time we spend doing the work against the time we spend drumming up more.
In an earlier era a lackadaisical approach to growing your business worked fine. If you did good work, the phone would ring. There were fewer local experts in most fields, and clients were loyal. You’d take a few people to lunch each week, send out those holiday cards every year, and, boom, a steady roster of happy clients would be yours to serve.
Today, clients are savvier. They put more work out to bid or do in-depth comparative research online. The marketplace is flooded with expertise.
The result? Your hard-won knowledge is only table stakes. Today, we are “seller-expert” hybrids responsible for (1) meeting the needs of current clients, (2) developing those relationships to deliver more work, and (3) attracting and retaining new clients. Organizations expect their experts to fill their own pipelines with a steady flow of new work. Client relationship skills matter more than ever.
We need to manage doing the work while also convincing people to let us do the work for them. That doesn’t even include the time it takes to reply to hundreds of emails a day, attend interminable meetings, and file detailed expense reports. If you’re anything like most of the people I train, right now you’re probably thinking, I didn’t become a _______ to sell myself! True. But like it or not, once your expertise and professionalism elevate you to a certain level, your ability to grow client relationships largely determines your success. Your capacity for business development will only increase in importance as your career progresses. To rise, experts need to sell.
From the other side, professional salespeople are finding it more and more necessary to develop a foundation of strategic thinking and insights around the products and services they sell. Gone are the days when you could smile-and-dial in the morning and golf in the afternoon.
Experts need to understand how to sell their own services, and salespeople need to understand the services they’re trying to sell. Ultimately, service and selling are becoming one craft, one universal set of skills and practices around finding people who need your help and then helping them as effectively as possible. The question is: Are you going to grow your business at the same high level of skill and professionalism you display in your own area of expertise?
Here’s the good news: I can show you how. I’ve been a highly successful seller-expert myself and have since taught thousands of other professionals how to achieve growth with world-class proficiency. That’s because I’ve been right where you are.
This may be hard to believe right now, but when I transitioned from expert to seller-expert, I found that I came to love growing my business. This surprised me. Sure, business development was overwhelming at first because I didn’t know where to begin—after all, this book didn’t exist yet. What changed everything for me was discovering that real, sustainable business development isn’t about selling as it’s traditionally understood at all. It’s about being strategically helpful.
As experts, we like helping people. Selling—being helpful—should be second nature. So why do we find it so difficult to sell ourselves? Showing someone what we can do for them doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Yet you can’t be blamed for feeling otherwise, especially if you’ve ever read a typical book or attended a seminar on sales. Traditional sales training has always been about “closing the deal,” as though anything that happens afterward is beside the point. Use these techniques in this order, you’re told, and the rube will sign on the dotted line. Once the sale is made, mark it up on the board and get that set of steak knives.
This attitude has its roots in a different era, when salespeople faced intense pressure to meet monthly quotas no matter how they did it and reaped lavish rewards for doing so. It placed short-term performance ahead of long-term relationships.
Today, the quotas and bonuses are still around, but this attitude has become antiquated. Consumer protections have increased, and review sites and social media mean that our relationships with all our clients, past and present, are never really over, even if we’ve completed the work and parted ways. Clients are free to share about their experience working with us the next day, week, month, or year. If a former client comes to regret their decision to buy long after that high-pressure sales lunch, it takes only a few minutes to inform any prospective client curious enough to Google your company. Today, news travels fast, and bad news travels even faster.
This shift goes both ways, thankfully. Where old-school selling is eternally vulnerable to online retaliation, being strategically helpful by using the Snowball System will reap benefits long after the work is over. The approach you will learn in this book is broad, generous, efficient, and long lasting. It’s about building a relationship based on trust and mutual reciprocity that will last for years. People love doing business with someone who really understands them and helps them solve their problems—including the ones they didn’t even know they had. And they will tell the world.
Clearly, no one can afford to let business development activities slide. Yet, because we cringe at the idea of selling, we let our day-to-day work get in the way. When we’re really buried, the very idea of more—more clients, more work, more emails—can trigger migraines. Why pour gasoline on a fire? Instead, we put our heads down and focus on what’s in front of us. Let tomorrow worry about tomorrow.
Sooner or later, of course, we clear our plates. In the meantime the new-business flywheel has run down. We realize it’s been weeks or longer since our last new lead. Our inbox is empty—of promising client opportunities, anyway. We panic. Suddenly, and with no particular plan, we start making calls and setting up lunches at a breakneck pace until the flywheel spins up again.
Problem solved, right? Except it hasn’t been. We’ve just kicked the can down the road. We’ll end up back in the same position in a few weeks or months. Meanwhile our output looks unreliable and inconsistent no matter how productive we are at points. The only steady metric is our anxiety level.
As we’ve seen, the capacity to attract and retain clients, win their trust and appreciation, and keep their business determines the arc of a career. Yet we spend almost no time learning how to do it—at least relative to how important it is. I call this the business development paradox.
On the bright side, the paradox promises rapid gains for students of the Snowball System. When you’re just starting out, investing even a modest amount of time and energy promises a substantial return. Because every chapter of this book walks you through implementing a set of key tools, you will start to see results long before you reach the final page.
At this point you might be thinking: Not me, pal. I picked this book up out of desperation, but the one thing you’re not going to do is teach me how to “like” selling, let alone see growing my business as some kind of fun game. Some people are natural salespeople, and others aren’t.
Sure, some people have stronger innate selling skills than others. But show me any rainmaker, and I guarantee you’ll find that they worked very hard to get that way. Rainmakers approach selling as a craft, mastering it as methodically as they did their core expertise. No matter the starting point, it’s always possible to improve.
Anders Ericsson at Florida State University is a world-famous researcher who studies expertise. He’s the expert on how people become experts. Ericsson’s research shows that people develop expertise through what he calls “deliberate practice.” Put simply, they break down the individual aspects of their craft so they can improve each area and then put it all back together. It isn’t enough to just perform a task over and over again; you need to deliberately attack the difficult components one by one and improve them. Doing so drives progress. It develops expertise. The only difference between you and the “born” rainmaker is that one of you used deliberate practice to get better at selling.
While we muster the effort to push ourselves now and then, without steady reinforcement, these heroic efforts dwindle until the next motivational speech—or the next scary gap between paid work. To thrive, you need to build the capacity to sell consistently and in all weathers. To sell consistently we need that change of perspective I mentioned: we need to understand selling as one of the most valuable and generous things you can do with your time.
Some potential clients know they need someone with your expertise but don’t know exactly how you can address their specific situation. Others may not even realize what they need yet or how much better things could be with your help. Then there are your current clients, anchored on the services you’ve performed in the past and not even thinking about what you could do for them next. The point is, people don’t know what they don’t know. Bringing your services to the appropriate person’s attention and helping them figure out how to get the most value out of it is at the heart of business development.
True rainmakers always have the client’s best interests in mind. I believe that. It’s what I practice and what I teach.
Before we dive into the specifics of the Snowball System, let’s start with the simple idea that ties it together: the buyer should feel like it’s their birthday.
I don’t know about you, but I love my birthday. It’s the one day of the year that’s all about me. Weeks before, my wife and daughters ask me how I’d like to spend my special day. That morning they give me handwritten cards telling me how awesome I am. During the day I get thoughtful gifts, cards, and Facebook messages from friends and family around the world. When I return home from some self-indulgent adventure or another, my daughters look me in the eye and ask me how it went.
Did I mention they look me in the eye? That means they actually put down their phones for a minute.
I’d tell you to put yourself in a client’s or prospect’s shoes, but you already know what it’s like. Like you, they’re getting beat up all day—meetings, emails, performance reviews. The pressure never stops. If they’re at a big organization, there’s a re-org every few months. These are the people you’re selling to, people just like you, people who work very hard for very long hours, constantly worrying about meeting expectations and hitting numbers.
Buying is the one time at work when you’re put on a pedestal. Someone else is finally paying attention to what you want, asking questions about your opinion—even taking notes! It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’ve ever been in a position to buy and haven’t been treated this way, you know how disappointing it can feel.
This is the essence of the Snowball System: making the client feel special. How? By listening to what they want and then giving it to them. What could be better than that?
Once you learn how to make people feel important, the rest of the selling process will become so much easier that you’ll wonder why you ever dreaded doing it in the first place.
At this point you might be wondering how I learned to be effective at business development in the face of all these obstacles. The time has come for an admission.
My name is Mo Bunnell, and I used to be a practicing actuary.
As professions go, well, actuaries make accountants look like rock stars, and for good reason. Becoming an actuary requires learning and retaining vast amounts of information. I even had to miss our family Halloween parties because of the tests that always happened the following week. (I still hear stories about those parties. Apparently they were great. Probably because there weren’t any actuaries around to spoil the fun.)
If the idea of memorizing inch-thick tomes on calculating disability reserves, analyzing risk-adjusted decrements, and using the Poisson Distribution for queue analysis doesn’t thrill you, be glad you’re not an actuary. Personally, I can’t get enough of scientific research and Moneyball-like analyses. That’s my happy place. (We’ll talk more about the different thinking preferences and how they affect business development in another chapter. It’s a game changer.)
I entered my profession only to slam headfirst into the business development paradox. When I finished my exams, I moved into the broader role of managing consultant. Promoted from a deeply technical role to one where I had to interface with C-suite HR professionals at Fortune 500 companies, I learned immediately that I was out of my depth. My firm suddenly expected me to develop and manage big client relationships instead of, you know, doing actuarial stuff all day. Huh? Suddenly I went from expert to seller-expert and was on the hook for a whole new set of outcomes.
Talk about intimidating. Before the promotion I only had to know about the offerings of my own department. After, I had to know about hundreds of offerings across dozens of departments. I’d typically worked with a client’s head of benefits, but now I’d be connecting directly with a C-suite executive, usually someone with at least two decades’ experience over me. Overnight I went from working on employee benefits to handling all of a client’s top talent initiatives.
When I moved to my new role, I naively assumed that someone would just hand me a manual. Here’s how you do business development, they’d say. Just memorize this. After all, I’d just spent nearly a decade learning my primary craft by stuffing massive amounts of information into my brain. Why should this be any different?
To my surprise, I discovered that there was no manual. Just a desk with a computer and a phone. Now I was really scared. My entire future suddenly depended on my ability to sell, and I had no idea how to go about learning to do it. Thank goodness I had some great mentors to help me through the transition, but I wanted even more. I wanted a process, and I wanted it based on science.
I’m a systems guy, so I decided to begin by drafting a simple selling process document, something to make business development a little more automatic. I knew that, without putting my business development efforts “on rails,” I’d never be able to maintain momentum in the face of my day-to-day demands.
Sure, I wanted to succeed. But I was even more motivated to not fail. So I did what any good actuary would do: I studied like crazy. Passing the actuarial exams when I took them required me to memorize as many as twelve hundred pages of technical information every six months and then take exams that had a pass rate of about 35 percent. To make it, I needed to learn how to learn quickly and effectively. So I learned.
I began with psychology: motivation. Why people buy. Why “seller-experts” procrastinate and give up too early. More than anything else, I wanted to solve the business development paradox for myself. So I threw myself into the books and then into the peer-reviewed research papers cited by those books. I did everything I could to break the relationship-building process down into small steps that I could perform over and over. I hadn’t discovered Ericsson’s deliberate practice research yet, but I was instinctively following his advice. Turns out, fear is a powerful motivator.
Early on in creating my business development process, I faced one particularly important meeting. I was at Hewitt Associates (now part of Aon) and had recently been promoted to my first broader client management role. Because my annual revenue goals were so aggressive, only one client I managed had the room for growth needed to allow me to reach my goals. The good news was that we did little for this Fortune 500 client, so I had the upside I needed. Unfortunately, that was the bad news too. The work we did have was buried down in the organization, and the people we knew couldn’t buy enough for me to significantly grow the relationship. Through some hard work and a stroke of luck, I landed a meeting with their chief human resource officer, who only one person in our organization knew. I had to connect with her. I had one shot, one meeting. If it didn’t work, no annual bonus. Pressure!
Desperate for an edge, I interviewed successful peers. What helped win the day for an important initial meeting you had? I went to lunch with a great mentor. What do you see people do in their first meetings they shouldn’t? I even asked my other clients for their advice. How could I have improved on the experience you had with me in our first meeting? I distilled everything I learned into a set of concrete steps, and then I methodically followed those steps one by one, like a pilot preparing for takeoff.
On the day of the meeting I arrived even earlier than I would normally. When her assistant called me into the office, I walked on air, full of optimism, entering the hallowed ground of the executive suite on the 52nd floor, so special that it had its own guard station. I even had an upbeat theme song playing in my mind, knowing I had prepared for this meeting more than any other in my life. I sat down with my well-prepared list, written a second time so it looked neater, and opened my new, supple, leather portfolio, looking up to say my well-rehearsed opening to the meeting. That’s when my mind’s theme song screeched to a halt, with the imaginary needle ripping across the entire record.
My prospective client looked me sternly in the eye, announcing that she had all the resources she needed in the HR space and that she didn’t need to know me.
She told me that she had an executive compensation consultant, a healthcare advisor, a retirement plan actuary, and that they weren’t planning on moving any of their benefits administration work anytime soon. She went on about the various talent experts she loved at other firms, which she listed in detail to make the point. The first ten minutes of our meeting were spent with her telling me she didn’t need this meeting or my services. Beneath her words I could tell she was clearly wondering how I had gotten this meeting, and she would make sure this kind of time waster wouldn’t happen in the future.
Though my heart was racing, I didn’t let it shake me. I couldn’t. The stakes were too high. I stuck to my process faithfully and tried to reframe the meeting. I told her I wasn’t there to sell anything but instead that our team had already put together some ideas about what could be done to improve her business and that hearing them would only take a few minutes of her time. I assured her again: every idea would be on our dime. She relaxed a little, and as I began filling her in, I could tell she was curious. She liked my first idea, and my second. I kept going. In the end I left with a dozen action items to follow up on.
I still remember the ride back to the office. I euphorically sang “Shake Your Rump” by the Beastie Boys (more volume makes a good song great). My system had worked, and it had worked despite some serious opposition—which was good, because I wasn’t going to make it as a rapper.
I’d hit upon the answer to my problems—a repeatable selling process that I could practice and hone. After all, I didn’t want to make a sale, no matter how important; I wanted to change my entire approach to selling. I wanted to crush my numbers. I wanted to enjoy my new job. I wanted my clients to tell their friends and colleagues about how much they enjoyed working with me.
Now I was off to the races, taking in the latest research on the psychology of relationships, trust, and communication and using it to develop a systematic approach to every aspect of the business development process. I continued breaking things down, building methods and tools for each important rainmaking skill.
The rapid improvement I experienced led my company to select me to take charge of two of its four largest worldwide accounts. Around that same time I was asked to lead an office of seven hundred associates, including hundreds of senior seller-experts in various practices. Using this prototype system, the teams I was fortunate to lead—teams of really, really talented experts—delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of large, complex outsourcing projects and highly customized consulting. That’s when I realized I was on to something big.
I decided to take a leap. I left my career behind and started Bunnell Idea Group (BIG). I spent the next ten years building out and teaching a complete methodology that anyone could use to land new clients and grow the relationships they already had. In that time the Snowball System has proven its worth for people in nearly every profession and at every level.
It all started with a friend hiring me to teach him “how I did it.” Now I’m grateful to say that BIG has become very successful. Over the past decade we have trained over ten thousand people at over three hundred organizations. We work with many of the most prestigious professional service firms and with Fortune 500 companies around the world, entrusted with their most valuable account executives and leaders. It’s been a wild ride.
But there was one question that still nagged me. I knew that the seller-expert problem I’d solved had spread much more widely than the rarified circuit of international consultancies, high-powered law firms, and global brands we now serve at BIG. I started to wonder whether the system that worked so well for pros at the highest levels of the largest businesses would work for any client-facing professional.
What about small businesses that can’t afford to send their key employees out for corporate training? What about the growing ranks of freelancers? Could this system help anyone from a piano teacher to a hypnotherapist, from a web copywriter to a small-business marketing consultant? We’re living in the dawn of the gig economy. More than ever, people are forging out on their own and working for themselves. Could I help them too?
One of the key themes of the Snowball System is the regular pursuit of goals. I practice goal setting myself, as I practice every other tool I teach. A year ago I wrote down a new professional goal for myself: “Write a book that documents our system, bringing it to everyone who needs it.” As you read this, I can mark that goal accomplished.
Many professionals think sales skills can’t be taught. They think you’ve either “got it” or you don’t. I thrive on proving them wrong. The truth is, you can do this. All you need to do is learn and integrate a set of new behaviors. Think of selling as a craft, one that is worthy of study and deliberate practice. If you learned your core discipline, you can learn this too.
At BIG we’ve helped experts across industries master the client pipeline—from gregarious people to introverts and from small consulting practices to immensely complex offerings from multinational companies. Providing the aha moment to sales-shy professionals has become my passion. Whether you’re an account executive at a large corporation or a full-time freelancer or you’re a professional salesperson or working a side hustle with an eye toward leaving the corporate world, the skills in this book will spell the difference between scraping by and scaling up.
The approach in this book is both effective and practical, easily integrated into your day-to-day work. Once you make these tools and practices a part of your routine, they will feel like second nature.
Winner of the 2019 Axiom Business Book Award in the Networking category
- "Snowball System is relevant even if you don't work in sales or business development... This book offers a clear and compelling sales process for even the most resistant to sales."—Forbes.com
"Full of steps that you can follow to grow your business without feeling like a sleazy salesperson."
—Adam Grant, New York Times-bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals
- "If you're even a little uncomfortable selling, Mo Bunnell will ease your concerns. In this concise, practical book, he shows that the essence of effective sales isn't back-slapping or slick-talking. It's learning how to be strategically helpful to your clients and customers. This is wisdom everyone in business development could use."—Dan Pink, author of When and To Sell Is Human
"Calling on his years of experience developing this process, Mo Bunnell explains how to create a richer and more meaningful relationship between the client and seller-expert. In his light, engaging style, Mo advances one of my most deeply-held beliefs: Always be of service to others. I highly recommend this book for anyone who not only wants to be better at sales, but to have stronger relationships as well."
—Keith Ferrazzi, author of the #1 New York Times-bestseller Who's Got Your Back? and Never Eat Alone
- "I was always looking for a business development system that made sense in our high-end, expert-driven world. We found one in Mo's method. The Snowball System is accessible and easy to implement, but most importantly, it works. I cannot recommend it highly enough."—Bill Ruprecht, CEO, Sotheby's (2000-2014)
- "Businesspeople will find it highly useful in making customer growth a permanent part of their careers."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Sep 11, 2018
- Page Count
- 304 pages