My main secret sauce is to handle as many objections as I can before the client ever raises them — not in a defensive way, but by highlighting how my service addresses multiple problems before they ask. I believe this makes people comfortable with me because it makes them feel that I understand them without them ever having to explain.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Feyisola Ogunfemi.
Feyisola is a computer engineer and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania turned wedding and event planner. She’s the owner of Statuesque Events, and their weddings have been featured in The Knot Magazine, Munaluchi Bride Magazine, Fox 5 DC and more. She is also a speaker and has given keynote addresses at The University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, The Planner’s Suite Conference, The Association of Wedding Professionals and more.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
While in college, I was in a lot of clubs which stretched my “creative muscle” from coming up with choreography and lighting cues for my dance team, Destination Hip Hop, to designing and setting up the annual Thanksgiving gala for Dubois College House, but I never thought I could make a career of my creativity. After graduating and moving to NYC, my mom convinced me to sign up for a beauty pageant, The Miss Nigerian Independence pageant which I ended up winning. After winning, I decided to plan a scholarship ball to give back to young women in the community. The event went well, but when it ended I felt a void, and realized that it was the first time in my life that I was faced with IT alone, and no creative outlet. After some prayer and coaching from friends who are a little older, I decided to go for what I want and enrolled at NYU’s meeting and event management program, started Statuesque Events shortly after and never looked back! It’s been 9 years.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
There was a time that I had a bridesmaid try to steal another bridesmaid’s dress because it fit better. The dresses were custom made, so they didn’t have tags with “sizes.” It’s important to also note that this bridesmaid was also the bossy one of the bunch, and trying to tell us all what to do. But in the end, we were able to figure out that she took someone else’s dress, and asked her to go to the mall nearby to get her dress fitted before the ceremony. She missed the morning photos but made it to the ceremony, and the lesson here was to always have buffer time in the day, and after this, I sent all bridesmaids an email letting them know to be sure their dress fit with no complications before the wedding day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I just finished season 1 of my online series, The Modern Multicultural Wedding Show which showcases the planning and design process and the wedding day for 5 of our 2019 clients. It’s on YouTube and was a labor of love to help people see what goes into planning a luxurious multicultural wedding, and to offer some laughs too because all of our clients are funny! In addition to this, I’ve also launched my own coaching YouTube channel where I share 1–2 videos each week with marketing, systems and other business tips. I believe that this will help anyone who wants knowledge but isn’t able to pay for a business coach, because my tips are always direct and to the point.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is pretty easy. There’s no way I would be here without my parents. They have always supported everything that I wanted, from college, to my beauty pageant, to getting ALL of their friends to donate to my scholarship ball, and even supporting me in starting a wedding planning business after paying for my Engineering degree. They’ve always given me sound advice, and worked hard to provide for my brothers and I to give us way more than they had growing up. I could never claim to be self-made, because I stand on their shoulders every day.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I moved to the DC metro area for personal reasons, and soon realized that I moved to an area that was not only saturated with wedding planners, but was saturated in my particular niche [at the time] of Nigerian and West African weddings. Each time I told someone that this was what I did, they said “oh I know 4 other people who do that great!” At this point I had to teach myself sales and marketing, or decide to close up shop and focus on IT. I had to figure out how to rise above the noise to get my own client list and I was able to do that, then even become a go-to speaker to discuss West African events and trends in my area in my industry because of it. I attribute this all to sales, because if I never got the sales I’d never have the opportunity to show what I can do.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The best thing that we can do is speak to one another about specific topics, vs reiterating the negative news to one another. Instead of calling someone and asking “how are you holding up with the pandemic” asking someone how was your day? What’s something funny that happened today etc. Just allowing the person to enjoy your time over the phone or video chat vs making it about the negative news goes a long way. As someone who lives alone, I can attest to this. In addition, I would recommend setting up a few recurring meetings. For instance, I have a recurring Netflix party night on Saturdays with my girlfriends which is fun, and keeps us connected.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?
I must say that this is one thing that I didn’t learn much at all from my certification. I learned what to do once I land the sale. I believe this is the case for a couple of reasons. In many traditional bachelors and masters programs, those teaching are not practitioners, so they are only teaching theory, which doesn’t help when it comes to sales. In my case, my certification course was taught by adjunct professors who are practitioners, but they were big names in the event industry with recurring clients and lots of referrals. I question if they even remembered the initial marketing tactics that they used starting out, or if many of them would still be relevant now, so I can see why it was easy to leave that part out. Finally, schools in general teach us to be employees, not employers, so most schools may not value including this in their programs.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
I would say no, it’s not something to be avoided, but you have to be “salesy” in a smart way. For example, posting pretty photos of products but not making it clear what people should do next to buy the product may lead to lots of views, but will frustrate those who actually want to pay for your product or service. You actually do a service to those who want to buy by making the sales process easy vs just sharing pretty and inspiring content. That said there is a right and wrong way to do it.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
I would say that I’m best at handling objections. My main secret sauce is to handle as many objections as I can before the client ever raises them — not in a defensive way, but by highlighting how my service addresses multiple problems before they ask. I believe this makes people comfortable with me because it makes them feel that I understand them without them ever having to explain. And I do this largely by adding answers to common objections into my marketing copy and also addressing them early on during client consultations before the client asks the question. This puts them at ease and makes them more willing to spend more to have my team vs less to have someone else.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
About ⅓ of our leads each come from search engine searches, Instagram or referrals. I would say our highest quality leads are those that come from venue, vendor and past client referrals since those vendors have put in a good word, but I also have less control over these leads (besides of course continuing to do a good job). I would say that search engine leads are the second best leads because those are leads who are looking for a planner, and are usually looking to make a decision soon and have read our website to understand our offerings and pricing more before reaching out. Instagram sends us a lot of leads, but many of the leads do not have the budget to pay for our services. Many times they saw a pretty photo online and decided to reach out just to see what happens without having any other context. We do book some clients from Instagram each year, but we book the lowest percentage of these leads when compared to referrals and search engine leads.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
I think it’s hard because people take it personally and feel that questions undervalue what they do. It’s really important to understand that many clients truly just don’t understand and need clarification. It’s also frustrating to feel that you’re repeating yourself over and over again which can make many business owners shut down. I have a follow up email series that answers most common questions and objections to most clients who reach out, so that most of them have that info before we have our wedding planning consultation. Automating emails, and also adding this information to your website can reduce the daunting task of answering the same questions over and over in meetings.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
- Ask the client upfront for a timeframe on when they are looking to make a decision, so that your follow up calls and emails can align with that. For example, I once had a client tell me that she couldn’t hire anyone until after her family meeting, which was a month away, took place. This helped me to not tell her that she had to book in one month, but instead to give her 6 weeks to decide. I also penned the date of the meeting and called her on the day after to remind her that I remembered and asked how the meeting went and how she felt. This gave me the info I needed without me being pushy and screaming “pay now!”
- Set a booking deadline for each project. For example, when sending a proposal, let the client know that it will expire in 4 weeks, 8 weeks etc and you’ll follow up with questions before the deadline
- Tell the client a short story about a similar project that you did for someone else and remind them that you’d love to help them as well. For example, I once sent a reminder to my pending Ethiopian leads the week after planning an Ethiopian wedding (and posting photos and videos to Instagram) letting them know that I loved the food and that we had a blended Ethiopian/American buffet and I’d love to discuss blended food options with her as well since I know that’s something that she cares about too.
- Ask the client if they still need a [insert your profession here] — ideally asking the question in the email subject line. I find that this is helpful because in this day and age many people don’t know how to just say I’m no longer interested and instead will ghost unless you ask this direct question. This gives the client a chance to say that they aren’t interested either for budget reasons or going with a competitor so you can stop following up. Or this gives a client who’s silently interested a chance to say sorry I didn’t reply then explain that they are still interested and in most cases, they will also explain why they’ve been silent. Silent clients tend to reply to emails with this subject line pretty quickly which lets me know who to keep following up with and allows me to gently wish the best to those who are not moving forward with me and remove them from my pipeline.
- Remind the client about your typical turnaround time or project length. This is a subtle way of reminding them to make a decision soon, so that they can also get the result they are seeking soon. We generally plan weddings in 8–12 months so we remind clients who are worried about “having enough time to plan” about this as we start to approach this timeframe. We also tell them that we’ve rushed weddings in as short as 2 months before, but this requires a lot of decisiveness and having all of the wedding savings on hand to spend in a shorter period. This helps because a lot of people procrastinate if they don’t have a deadline, so giving this soft deadline pushes leads to make a decision.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
I think that following up once a week, or once every two weeks is a good cadence vs reaching out every day. This alone makes you seem less pushy. It’s also important to say more than “just following up” as that’s annoying, pushy and really doesn’t give the client much of a reason to answer. I think that being clear about deadlines (ie if your proposal expires, if a special deal expires, if another client is looking at that date etc) that’s a good starting point, and also reminding the client that you’d like to get started as early as possible. I also recommend speaking to specific pain points that the client raised in your consultation or contact form and letting them know that you already have ideas on how to address it and would love to get started helps them to feel special and to know that you’re passionate about helping as well. Personalization is key!
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
This is a tough one because we all prefer different methods of follow up, but I would say the text should definitely be avoided to close, because it’s not linked to your proposal or product, and can come of pretty annoying. Phone calls should also be avoided if you’ve called once or twice with no answer because people can start to list your phone number as a scam (even though it isn’t). I think a general rule of thumb is to reply to leads in the same way that they reached out to you. I usually use email, and leave a link where the client can schedule a video call to answer any final questions which works best for me, because that’s a time that the client selected so I know they are available and I’m not intruding. The email also leaves a papertrail of everything discussed.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I get really happy when I see small businesses succeed and also sad when they fail, or when I see money going down the drain. If I could start a movement, it’d be about making smart, profitable business moves at all stages — including those with side hustles to those with full time businesses. The goal would be to help people grow and flourish without the pressure of enormous loans, reverse mortgages and other decisions which turn entrepreneurs into slaves of their businesses, but instead helping people to make their business work for them.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram @feyisola (instagram.com/feyisola) and you can also find me at feyisola.com
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!