November 2

Joe Cerra on Lead Generation


Joe Cerra is the founder of Evergreen Ventures Corporation www.salesassociate.com. After serving in the US Navy, he received an M.B.A. in Operations Management and was hired as a sales trainee by IBM. He has been in sales and sales management in the computer software and hardware industry ever since.

 In 1987 he published The Sales Associate, a book about how to use a personal computer in sales, one of the first books ever published about computerized contact management and sales automation. In 2012 he released a second book called Make More Sales And Make More Money a kindle book available from Amazon. You can order the book here:


He is currently the National Sales Manager at STI Computer Services, Inc., a medical software development and Revenue Cycle Management company in Eagleville, PA. He has over 30 years of sales experience in data processing sales and has worked for both large and small sales organizations in the computer industry. Joe can be contacted by email at evcorp@salesassoc.com.

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:01
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone! My name is Umar Hameed, I'm your host on the No Limits Selling Podcast where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how you can become better, stronger, faster. Just before we get started, I've got a question for you, do you have a negative voice inside your head? We all do, right? I'm gonna help you remove that voice and under 30 days guaranteed, not only remove it, but transform it. So instead of the voice that sabotages you, there's one that propels you to much higher levels of performance and success. There's a link in the show notes, click on it to find out more. All right! Let's get started.

Umar Hameed 0:41
Today, I have the privilege to have Joe Cerra here, he is the National Sales Manager for STI Computer Services, Inc. And he's written this amazing book that I want to talk about, Make More Sales, Make More Money, because one of the limiting factors of sales people getting great results is not having enough qualified leads in the pipeline. If you don't know, if you don't have that you got nothing baby. Joe, welcome to the show.

Joe Cerra 1:04
Thank you.

Umar Hameed 1:05
So Joe, you've been selling since 1976, what's changed from you know, the early days to like 2018, like this seems to be a massive shift. What's similar and what's what's different?

Joe Cerra 1:16
Well, sales is exactly the same. It's still one on one person to person, and it's really a personal business. But what's changed more than anything else has been the way we generate leads. In the old days, we used to do a lot of direct mail to try to generate interest in a product. Now we're doing everything on the computer with the internet. So that's probably the biggest change is technology.

Umar Hameed 1:45
Brilliant. So in just give us a sense of who you are. In 90 seconds, tell us who you are and what you do.

Joe Cerra 1:51
Oh sure. I gave you the short version of a long story. But after going to graduate school, I was picked up by IBM as a salesperson to sell, at that time, what they called mini computers to physician groups. And back...

Umar Hameed 2:09
Nice. I remember.

Joe Cerra 2:11
I'm sorry?

Umar Hameed 2:12
I remember mini computers,

Joe Cerra 2:15
The deck and the data general all of those Wang. Well back then, do you remember a mini computer was about $40-$50,000 to start. And I think house cost about $36,000 so they weren't that many and very few people had access to them. But when IBM brought out the PC back in, I think was it 1980-81,82, they gave that capability to people to now have a personal computer to do what at one time won't be the big companies could do. So I got involved early in generating what I called a sales organization product on a PC, which really was nothing more at that time than a mailing list, and a very simple contact management software.

Umar Hameed 3:07
So one of the limiting factors now is getting enough appointments. So tell me about your book, how to use technology to get more quality appointments so you can have more conversations and sell more products and services.

Joe Cerra 3:23
Oh sure. I never like cold calling, and I don't think many sales people do,

Umar Hameed 3:29
Makes them cry.

Joe Cerra 3:29
I realized. So when I worked for IBM, they basically handed you a telephone book and said start dialing for dollars, and I didn't like that. So I realized quickly that it made more sense if a prospect asked for information than if you offered it because it basically told you there was an interest with the prospect. So what I did was I got a little help with a systems engineer at IBM, we put together a mailing list, I got the phonebook, type all the medical practices into the phonebook and send out a direct mail piece, inviting them to doctors to a seminar at IBM's office,

Umar Hameed 4:10

Joe Cerra 4:11
and behold, two or three doctors showed up. So that was the beginning of the process to realize that the hard part in selling is generating leads, not selling those leads. So without a good pipeline of leads coming in, you won't be very successful as a salesperson.

Umar Hameed 4:33
That makes perfect sense. So right now you're managing a sales team, how many people in the sales team?

Joe Cerra 4:38

Umar Hameed 4:40
So how do you help them in like 2018 generate those leads? So take me from like, step one, two, they have a conversation with a real life person that's interested.

Joe Cerra 4:53
Sure. The process used to be sending out direct mail pieces and at one time we sent out 30-40,000 direct mail pieces a month trying to generate leads. On a sales on marketing piece would be a response card that came back and we followed up. That became very expensive with the raising rates of postage and everything else. So now we're doing a two prong approach for generating leads, the first approach is an email blast. Over the past 10-20 years we've generated broadly large prospect list with email addresses. And what we're doing and sending out about, we want to make people crazy, but every month or two send out information about our products to that, that list and of course, you know, you know what, well as I do in sales, timing is the most important thing. So you, you've got to be able to be available to the prospect when they want to talk to you. So what that is doing is keeping warm prospects informed about us, and then whenever they're ready, they can contact us. So that's probably our primary generation of lead program at the company, we also started doing is Google Adwords. And we're putting out Google Adwords, about our products. We're currently running a program on billing software, and what's called Revenue Cycle Management for Physicians, so if they Google a term like that, they'll will pop up onto Google Adwords and once again, pull that into our, our database at our website, then what happens once we get those ads, we have reps spread out through mainly the Mid-Atlantic territory, and we provide that lead to the salesperson in the territory to follow up with the prospect and talk about our products. We also have a telemarketing operation, where we maintain a pretty large list of physician practices. This is based on my first product that I sold back in 1987, the sales associate, which really was a precursor to contact, contact management software. And we're using that to maintain two lists and follow up. So we really have three prongs, we have an ability for the prospect to come to us when they're interested by keeping ourselves in front of them. We generate new leads...

Umar Hameed 7:39

Joe Cerra 7:40
...through a Google Adwords, and we do a lot of follow up with our telemarketing.

Umar Hameed 7:46
Brilliant. So how do you make sure your sales people individually across the country are being effective?

Joe Cerra 7:54
Well, that's, that's the interesting part. It's sort of like a baseball team where you have different people with different batting averages. So you're watching basically, how their sales are coming in, what I tend to like to watch is the number of leads that they get generated. If you know that, one, salesperson can close one and five, and somebody else can close one and four, all you really have to do is maintain a steady source of leads, which by the way, is the hard part to that salesperson and you know, they're going to probably close one four, one and five, whatever their batting averages. So the key is, in my mind, the key is not how many sales they make, it's how many leads they get.

Umar Hameed 8:45
Interesting. Oh, that makes sense. That's the measure that you guys using. So how do you ensure that's happening in the way that you want?

Joe Cerra 8:51
Well, I'd say not well, that's the hardest part. Because you can never guarantee that you're going to get as many interested people at any one time for a particular sales territory. So what you're doing is you're having these ups and downs, based upon generation of leads. If I could figure that out, I'd be probably rich.

Umar Hameed 9:13
So is that happening more of with the marketing department to generate the leads, and once it becomes qualified, it zings over to the sales side? Is that how you guys do it or differently?

Joe Cerra 9:21
Well, we're a relatively small company, so we are the marketing department. So the sales department is the marketing department. So what we try to do, like, talk about this quite a bit in the book is do a marketing campaign. So usually every three to six months we're, we're putting together a program, a promotion, if you will, for the physicians in the area, to offer them something, either a new product a twist on a new product, a discount on a product to have something fresh to offer to the prospective customers. So that's done through what I call a marketing campaign.

Umar Hameed 10:09

Joe Cerra 10:09
So what you've what you find, we're actually transitioning right now from one marketing campaign to another, where I find that the old campaigns getting stale, the lead generation begins to drop, you want to bring in a new campaign, we spoke about this before about using independent sales reps to bring in leads for the sales force. That's what we're looking at right now.

Umar Hameed 10:37
So let's talk about that. Because that's actually one of the things I wanted to bring up was that brilliant strategy of using manufacturers reps that already have relationships. So why don't you define going to who your reps are right now and what they're currently doing with your target base, and then how you onboard them to be part of your team?

Umar Hameed 10:55
Sure. That's, that's, it's kind of unique in the medical industry, this really, if you're a company looking for the use of independent sales reps, you really have to look at your industry and how that is set up. At one time, when I work for control data, I was actually running an independent sales organization so I became familiar with the concept. In the medical community, there are a lot of different industries that are selling to that community, give you one example is there's the pharmaceutical companies have direct sales reps are going into visiting doctors to talk about, for instance, their particular medication, so you have have a rep going and talking to a doctor about a medicine. So that most a lot of these companies use independent sales reps as well. So what's nice about an independent sales rep is they're allowed to sell more than one product. If you as you know, if you work for a company, you're really obligated to work only for that company. But if you're an independent, yeah, right, you're an independent sales rep, you have the ability to carry more than one product in your bag. So we're reaching out to those independent sales reps who are in front doctors, and typically lot more than we are to find out if they're in fact looking for a new electronic medical record, looking for a new software for their billing or looking for a billing service. And then we offer them a commission if they provide us with that information.

Umar Hameed 12:30
Brilliant. I used them in the past in the consumer electronics space. And the companies I represented were smaller companies with innovative products. And we got some of the largest manufacturers reps in the country that we're handling the Sharp account or some of the other super large accounts. And the reason they bothered with us because it wasn't a lot of revenue coming from our companies to them is that with a Sharp line, they could see that buyer once a quarter only, but because they carried our lines as well, and others, they had an excuse to visit those offices on a weekly basis with something legitimate. And that kept their finger on the pulse so they never lost their big account for not having enough data. So we were pocket changed for them in terms of income, but incredibly valuable because it kept them in front of their buyers to solve problems that came up.

Joe Cerra 13:17
Exactly right. We talked about that you and I about electronics boutique way back when, when we were we were selling products to the buyer and electronics boutique. And what every independent sales rep wants as a reason to go back and talk to the buyer again. So a new product in your bag gives you a reason to talk to a buyer, that's exactly right.

Umar Hameed 13:40
So what do you do when you have a rep that falls into a slump, like somebody that you know has value but for whatever reason, personal problem, something about their headspace that they kind of go into a slump? How do you get them back on board and in the right mindset doing the right action?

Joe Cerra 13:57
That's a good question and that happens all the time. An independent sales rep has product in his bag or her bag, and obviously they're going to sell what, what, what sells. So it's the key that the manufacturer to get that person to bring their product out of the bag, one of the first two or three products so it's a matter of educating the sales rep, just like you would educate the customer as to what's valuable about your product. So you need an education educational program for the independent sales reps to make them understand why they want to present your product to the buyer. So it's really educational, but oh my reps.

Umar Hameed 14:43
So I get that fear but I was thinking more of your reps that work directly for you then actually having those conversations. How do you get them you know, you know, we all have, like people that play baseball, they get paid millions of dollars, they fall into slumps. So how do you help your sales reps, kind of get back in the right headspace?

Joe Cerra 15:01
What I tell them to do is give something away. When you're in a slump, the most important thing to do to get out of a slump is sell something so...

Umar Hameed 15:10

Joe Cerra 15:10
...I always tell them if you just can't seem to find your way clear of selling something, go give someone a terrific deal just break that ice and and go make a deal with someone just to get your head straight. And it seems that the best way to get someone back into selling is to sell something. It's, it sounds easy but it's sometimes you get into that place where nothing seems to work but it always seems...

Umar Hameed 15:39
Joe let me just stop you there and commend you because you know what you're talking about is sacrilege when is the VP of Sales, "I want margin I want value," and I think getting that person unstuck and not focusing on the bad focusing on the good in this way is is frickin' brilliant, so good on you mate. So tell me about the best deal you ever had.

Joe Cerra 16:01
Oh my best deal. I can tell you as a funny story. I was working for IBM in Philadelphia and there's a home builder called AP Orleans and they wanted to buy a computer for their home building business. So I sold them two IBM System 3 Model 15, to make the long story short, it was close to a quarter million dollars for the computers so the old man Mr. Orleans himself came down and handed me the check for the computer. So I took the check home...

Umar Hameed 16:40

Joe Cerra 16:40
...to my wife because I never saw a check that big and we're like laughing. Well, with the check I bought Miriam a Honda with that one commission check from that one computer sale. About well here's the here's the funny part,

Umar Hameed 16:59
Oh, brilliant.

Joe Cerra 16:59
About I guess 20 years later, I'm driving down the road near my home, I'm going by the Honda dealer and they had a sign into window buy a Honda get a free computer.

Umar Hameed 17:12
Oh hilarious. You tried to one way might as well try to the other.

Joe Cerra 17:18
Well, actually just erosion into IT world.

Umar Hameed 17:22
Oh, yeah.

Joe Cerra 17:22
About prices.

Umar Hameed 17:23
Amazing, isn't it? that power doubles and prices have on a regular basis?

Joe Cerra 17:29
Absolutely. Believe me, your your cell phone has more memory than that quarter million dollar computer I sold to Mr. Orleans had back in 1979.

Umar Hameed 17:39
So what's the deal that you saved from the jaws of death? That's something that you're going to lose, but somehow you did the Hail Mary or went above and beyond to save?

Joe Cerra 17:48
And that's a good question. If I take a little thought, Well, usually those type of deals happen when when there's a competition in a marketplace. And you have a large and we have large clients that all of a sudden get approached by competitive salespeople to try to take that sale away. So I wouldn't say there's any one deal like that, but multiple times we have to go back in and explain why you made the right decision the first time this is actually something that I think IBM was very good at is making the buyer feel that they made a good decision. And there's no saying that no one ever got fired for buying IBM which is a saying back in the 70s when there were a lot of mainframes out there and to back into a client that's ready to leave and explain to them once again why they made the original decision to use your product and that would probably be the best example I can give you one that topic.

Umar Hameed 18:59
That is brilliant Joe. Thanks so much for sitting down with me. I really learned a lot and especially that tip on you know if a salesperson stuck helped them sell something to get movement happening to get them back in the saddle and selling at the you know, high value again.

Joe Cerra 19:14
Thank you.

Umar Hameed 19:20
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of neuro-linguistic programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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