Crossing the Social Chasm with John Cecala

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by jjrusch

John Cecala with Eddie Merlot's Executive Corporate Chef, Tony Dee

John Cecala with Eddie Merlot’s Executive Corporate Chef, Tony Dee

We often cross the social chasm when we work with clients. There’s not much else we can actually teach them – they know their business best – except when it comes to “all this social stuff”. Sales teams often kick and scream all the way, and sometimes there’s a lot of hand holding. Not so, with John Cecala, (neither, kicker nor screamer), a veteran sales executive whose crossing bears a learning look.

Turning leads into satisfied customers is second nature to John, he is the consummate sales professional with an extensive background in enterprise, mid-size and start up sales management. Currently a Principal and the EVP of Sales at Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions, a family owned Chicago business that’s been around since 1907, John agreed to review his experience with us thus far and share his sales insights.

Buedel is a B2B medium sized company on target to hit their first nine figure mark. They are a “quality meat purveyor” serving restaurants, hospitality and e-commerce. Prior to working with Multi Edge Media, Buedel’s digital presence consisted of a self-built website (see new site here ) and a few dormant LinkedIn profiles. Over the last year, we began building their digital presence using social sales and content marketing strategies with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare and WordPress.

What do you think the biggest sales and marketing challenges are for small to medium sized businesses today?

Visibility and credibility – because they’re small to medium sized. Compared to larger companies, not many people may know about them. We know how good we are, the challenge is to get others to know about us.

How do you get more people to hear about you?  You can always hire sales people to beat the street, create marketing campaigns, etc., but the biggest challenge is creating pull – getting more prospects to want to call you.

I have worked for large corporations (IBM and Accenture) and start ups. When you’re at the big company, people know who you are – the phone is ringing – you have that instant credibility when you walk in the door. When you’re at a start up or little known company, people are skeptical – about your ability, your longevity, and if you’re a risk to them. You have to overcome that and establish credibility in order to have a fighting chance.

When I worked a start up, one of the methods we used to gain notoriety was to get third parties to endorse us, or rank us, to build the credibility we needed. We’d wine and dine them – anything to get them to write about us as a worthy player. Then I could use that coverage as a credential to show to perspective customers we’re worthy.

In the software business, [at a tech start up] we set a goal to land Hewlett Packard as a major customer reference. We put in our software and trained their staff, for free, to prove our mettle. When it was completed and they were happy, we could then go the Proctor & Gambles of the world and say, ‘Hewlett Packard uses us – they’re happy, and you can talk to them’. We immediately became less of a risk as a small company because in effect, we were already vetted by HP.

MooreChasmOne of the best books I read was, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. It addresses the question: As a new or small company, how do you grow from those first small sales to the mass market on Main Street? It’s a metaphor for you being on the opposite side of the chasm where most business is done (on Main) when you’re just starting out. The people buying first are the “early adopters” that are willing to take risks on you, but it isn’t until you’re selling to the Main Street population that you start making bank.

He [Moore] also talked about the Bowling Pin Theory – you have to be focused on knocking down one pin at a time and become great at it; then start focusing on another and building your way up to throwing strikes. Ask yourself, where does your product work best? You develop the hell out of that niche and then build on that.

What changes have you seen in the sale process over the last five years?

For me, the process is the same as it’s always been – not everyone thinks that way – but it is the same process of selling: listening, understanding needs and connecting those needs to deliverable value.

It’s really the tools that have changed that help you get to prospective customers.

As a business owner, (before I met you), I used to think the only way to get visibility was to be written up in Crain’s, put billboards up, do advertising    but the engagement of the prospective customer has changed tremendously. LinkedIn and social media have made it easier than ever before. Do you know how long it would have taken me to connect to 1,000 people before these things?

We used to go to trades shows to connect, take people out, etc. We have less time for that today; people want it up front: tell me what you can do for me versus let’s go out to dinner.

We used to buy email lists – I bought a CD rom (laughing), remember those? When I first came to Buedel, I bought the, Chain Store Buyers Guide – it was a data base of contacts. We’d either mail prospective customers letters, cold call them, or if we got lucky enough to get an email address, we’d send emails.

Now I can find anyone I want to get to on LinkedIn or, I Google them….it’s amazing! That’s the biggest change – I never appreciated it, because I never knew enough about it – I didn’t know I had to.

That’s a very good point – there are still lots of sales and management teams who are social hold outs. What advice do you offer to get through that wall?

Lead by example. If I speak the assets of it but don’t employ them myself, then they won’t either. I drink the Kool Aid and walk the walk.  When they see it in practice working, they become believers.

However, not everyone on your sales team will be able to do it. In some industries, it’s harder to get everyone to adopt these practices because of their inexperience with, or inability to use technology.

At our company, the reps who use it as part of their daily routine are the ones that are opening the most new accounts for the company – LinkedIn specifically. They post our blogs, find out who’s who, make connections, get introduced to someone…the friendly introduction is just HUGE!

Do you feel you’re always “doing business” on LinkedIn now?


Lets say I want to connect with “Restaurant X”. In the old world, [circa 2003 and decades before] the rep would try to call them, send a brochure or literally go and knock on the back door by the kitchen. No one wants to take a call today either – nobody! Now, I send an invite to connect, or get an introduction from a mutual colleague. If they accept my invitation, then I email the person and offer something of potential value to them. It may be something like: I’ll be coming in for dinner with one of my suppliers who’s going to be in town next week and I thought you’d … (fill in the blank). It has to be earnest and sincere – always.

What kind of response do you usually get from that?

They almost always say, “What day?” LinkedIn has expedited the process of getting to the decision maker…BUT you have to present something of value to them – I want to give them a reason to connect with me for mutual value.

The groups [on LinkedIn] are also fantastic. Once you get into a group, you’re in the group, giving value to each other. When I get on LinkedIn now, I feel compelled to answer people there, just as if you were in the same room at an event networking. I don’t know what it is about the site, but I just feel very respectful of that. My only fear is that if it gets too mucked up with spam emails and/or ads, it will lose its value. As long as everyone behaves professionally it will hold its value.


Cecala interviewing Chef Michael Garbin in his kitchen office at the Union League Club

Cecala interviewing Chef Michael Garbin in his kitchen office at the Union League Club

I was on it for a long time but never learned how to use it, nor did I know that I needed to learn how to.You taught me that! Before it was like just another email box to check.

Thanks for the recognition, which brings us to the really big question: What has and hasn’t worked for you since we started this journey?

Writing the blogs and posting them in my groups and on social media has been the best thing, because I’ve gotten more visibility for me and the company.

The goal was to become a thought leader by publishing quality content that people will respect. Since we started this program last year we’ve gained 400 something Twitter followers, and then Facebook fans.  Not huge (yet) but there are certainly hundreds more people that know about our company than last year. Can I measure the ROI on that? Probably not; do I care? Not much, because I have people who read my blogs that contact our company and say, “I read your article, and I want you to come and talk to me.”

You get out of it, what you put into it. I try to put out value – I see a lot of other people posting crap out there. The time it takes to put out something of value is the hardest part. Do I enjoy spending Saturday mornings writing stuff?  Not particularly, but I committed to it and it pays dividends down the road.We use our blogs all the time because they have value. When prospects ask me questions, I am able to say, “Let me send you a link to the article we did on that…”. I do that often.

The social [accounts] help build my credibility, but social alone is not enough – it’s the publishing that establishes credibility. Some competitors and contemporaries post humorous pictures of cows over and over again. At first it’s funny or clever, but then it’s just noise, where’s the value?

How do you feel working the B2B2C marketing concept has worked for you on social media?

Our company is in the business of helping our customers delight their customers. We want to help them promote their business using their success with our products.

When our customers retweet something we post, can I measure the return on that specifically? No, but when we compliment our customers, they appreciate that support and that matters. When we compliment our customers about how they treat their customers – they like that too – it helps us build goodwill and grow our relationships. When they retweet our appreciation for them, and that reaches all their followers it’s a wonderful thing.

What’s the fastest way to achieve these kinds of results on a limited budget?

Just do it. These tools are free, so a limited budget isn’t a barrier.

If you had tons of funding like the big guys, you could just throw money at it by hiring a staff to work it  full time, but most of us can’t. For small to medium companies, you have to leverage the tools with some smarts.Don’t just be 100% buzz word compliant – be a student to it – be committed to it for the long term and earn the results.

I recently made note of this quote at a presentation: There is no elevator to success – it’s a staircase. You have to walk up the stairs, take one step at a time, but eventually you get to the top. It’s a building process.

Photos by Jorge Took Your Picture

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