I was going on my first sales call as Regional Director with one of my sales reps, Karen. We were meeting with Warren, at a division of one of the worlds largest healthcare companies. According to Karen who had met with him several time, Warren was not a nice person. A real mean S.O.B. From what I was told, we were two diametrically opposed forces in suits; Good and Evil (Karen and I were the good ones of course).
I had just gotten back from a week’s meditation retreat and was in a very mellow and peaceful space. You can call it relaxed, I would call it calm, present and happy, very content with myself and being where ever I was. I was not worried and afraid about not being successful (which is why I went away on the retreat). I was very aware that I was a Regional Manager who was responsible to help my people sell, but not feeling as pressured by it or more importantly, as defined by it. Nor was I as fearful of Warren. I felt confident in this space.
What happened at our meeting was quite remarkable. Karen and I sat in front of Warren’s big macho desk. Karen introduced me and I just began to talk to Warren about him, his position, what was important to him, what he wanted to have happen, what he wanted to avoid, etc. Then suddenly, Warren let down his guard and his defenses and was the nicest, most open person. It was as if his desk disappeared. He actually came out from behind his desk to sit with Karen and me. Why? Because he was responding to my manner, how I was feeling vs. the words and he felt safe. It was an incredible meeting and we got the deal 30 days later.
So what is the moral of the story? People can feel where you are coming from. It you are coming from a place of safety, generosity, wholeness, curiosity and kindness, people will feel that. If you are not, people will feel that as well.
Who would you rather buy from?
Many salespeople prospect to one person and one person only. They keep knocking on the same door and it isn’t opening. This is frustrating and non-productive.
Identifying the best positions/titles/functions to contact is critical for your prospecting success. In general, in a B2B environment, there are usually four to five departments or functions in an organization that can probably benefit from your offer, including:
- Functional (HR, sales, manufacturing, etc.)
Of course, different industries have different functions that may limit you. For example, when selling to the government, healthcare and education verticals in particular, there are often more centralized or regulated models for an organization to buy things. Federal government sales need to abide by Government Securities Act (GSA) rules or an existing contract that has been awarded to a specific company or companies. If your company doesn’t fit into either of these, it makes it much more difficult to sell to the government. Large companies may force you into selling only to the procurement department, limiting your ability to penetrate an account.
If this is the case, you can play by their rules and see where it gets you. If you don’t succeed, then you might consider talking to other people in the company to influence the main buyer, or someone else who might be able to act on his or her own, if necessary, and if your offer is really compelling. It is very doubtful that if the general counsel or CFO said he or she wanted something, procurement would say, “No, you can’t have it.”
Using the database of your choice, search for the titles and names you want to sell to. For example, if you sell a product for a sales organization, you might search for several titles, including VP of Sales, VP of Channels, VP of Customer Service, VP of HR or Training, and CFO, because they can all benefit from your services. Who else can benefit from what you are selling?
You should also use your own connections and contacts to see if you or an acquaintance knows any of the people, specifically, or in the companies you want to sell to. Social media such as LinkedIn or Facebook, Pinterest, and even MySpace (if you are in the music or entertainment industry) are good for this. Of course, if you are using a database you pay for such as Hoover’s, The List, OneSource, or others, you need to refer to these as well.
The Ubiquity of Technology and Data is a Double-Edged Sword.
On one hand, the sheer volume of information can make selling more difficult. It can become unwieldy, confusing, and overwhelming to you and your prospects, thus hurting your sales efforts. However, if you know how to control and use it, know which bits of information are important and which are a distraction, you are in an enviable position to sell more. How you best engage with technology and information and use it to your advantage to get the optimal return is paramount. Salespeople need to become master craftsmen, able to do things with the tools they have better than their competitors. This has always been true but more so now because of the impact technology is having.
As a salesperson, the best and easiest way to do this is to know who you want to sell to (title of person and/or industry) and use that as your filter for information. This could be in addition to the personas are developing for you in their own marketing efforts.
Used properly, technology allows us to expand our skills and markets, get greater exposure, and allow more people to find us so we have more sales opportunities. It allows us to differentiate ourselves which is becoming harder and more important.
Let’s look at one of the issues arising in today’s sales world from this onslaught of technology.
Technology and the Web Can Commoditize All Offerings
From the buyer’s side, the abundance of products and services to choose from is much greater than ever before. For example, if you enter the words “managed hosting” into a Google search box you will get more than 9 million results. The dilemma of deciphering the differences can be so overwhelming that buyers will often simplify their decisions by making price the deciding factor and lumping all the other variables into a “they’re all pretty much the same” category. This makes it easier for them to decide. They might not give you as much time, either, because of the time pressures they are under or the medium you are using. (In general, people give you less time virtually than they do in person.)
Vendors contribute to customers’ penchant to commoditize an offer in large part by using the same terms or labels as each other. For example, many vendors in the managed hosting business (companies that host websites for businesses) use the same terms, such as “24/7 support,” to compete and differentiate themselves. What this term doesn’t tell a buyer is how many people are available at any one time during their 24/7 support, or how well trained or qualified they are. Salespeople therefore need to make sure that their offer is presented in a way that is differentiated from others.
So companies and salespeople need to learn to differentiate themselves, be more skilled in a way that has meaning to the prospect and helps them stand out from the competition. This not a technology issue, this is a sales/skill issue which needs to be paid attention to.
If there were a Hall of Fame for salespeople, and you closed 30% of your deals, you would be a candidate. Forty percent close rate is a sure first ballot entry and at fifty percent they would dedicate a wing to you.
MAKE Closing Easier
Some of the biggest deals I have ever closed happened when I was away on vacation. Why? Because I did all the right things during the sales cycle so the close happened very easily and naturally (perhaps I should always go on vacation when I am working a big deal!). This includes many elements, including:
- Selling into your “Sweet Spot” as much as possible
- Doing a S.PRI.N.G. Dialogue with the people involved in the decision, especially executives or people in positions of authority
- Building rapport and developing trust during the sales cycle
- Presenting your offer in a compelling way that shows your differences and the benefits of your offer
- Handling objections through out the sales cycle
- Constantly getting a firm next step that is relevant to the client and advantageous to you
- Being responsive to the prospect throughout all stages
Too many salespeople think of closing as only asking for the deal at the end, which of course is essential (or many salespeople are afraid to ask for the close). However, it is just as important for salespeople to be closing throughout the sales process; to keep a sale moving forward from one stage to another and to keep people focused on your product or service, vs. other’s. An important psychological rule of getting people to say yes when you do ask for the order is to have had the prospect take action and invest themselves as much as possible during the sales cycle. The more they are invested, the more difficult it is to back away or to say no.
So let’s define closing as the act of asking someone to do something. It could be little like respond to an e-mail or question or it could be big like visit your office, let you visit them in their home (if you are selling that type of product), meet your family members (if you are selling something that a family can use), have a meal with you or introduce you to their boss in a professional setting.. Closing is done all the time, regardless of the communications medium (in person, over the phone, e-mail, etc.).
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you keeping people focused on your offering through a series of actions and commitments called T.E.E.M. (time – energy – emotion – money)?
- Are you testing the waters/trial closing to make sure you are on track with the people you are selling?
- Can you identify buying signals, warning signals, hidden objections and what to do with them?
- Different types of closing techniques, when to use them and which techniques work best with different DiSC styles?
- Are you getting firm, decisive next steps that are relevant to the client and favor you and your company?
- Do you know what your sweetspot it and sell to it as much as possible?
When is the first time you close? At the very beginning when you ask for an appointment. And the last? When you ask for the deal or negotiate the final item! You need to have a plan to apply as many of these elements to win as much business as possible.
“Closing is not a moment in time but a continuous act throughout the sales cycle”
To a large measure, based on where you started, and how well or poorly you have qualified and worked an opportunity, people will be in one of three frames of mind when you try to overcome their objections:
1. Not Interested, No Way:
This probably means you shouldn’t have been selling to them in the first place but didn’t qualify the opportunity early enough using the S.PRI.N.G. Dialogue or any other method. Or you might be chasing business that looks big and appealing because you don’t have enough in your pipeline. Of course, people can always lie and make you believe they are interested, or might be at the moment but change their mind, but they usually know from the start. The sooner you know you are wasting your time, the better. Go elsewhere as quickly as you can.
2. I’m Open
Unless you are the only game in town, this situation occurs often. You want people to be more inclined then less to buy you or at least be open minded to the possibility of doing so. This occurs by following the steps in your sales process, qualifying the prospect re. their interest in your offer and where it stands regarding other priorities they might have. It might also be a good time to ask the prospect what could internal or external variables could prevent them from making a decision. You can also ask if their objection is with the idea of buying you vs. excluding you.
3. I Want You
You probably have done all or most of the right things for this to occur. This will happen more and more often with experience, knowledge and application of good selling skills and experience in your business. It will also happen more often if you prospect or market to your sweet spot, meeting with the right people, building rapport, asking good questions and making a persuasive presentation that is tailored vs. boilerplate.
I learned about these 3 categories in my first job selling against IBM. At the time, they had over 90% market share so there were a lot of people and companies who wouldn’t consider my offering, even if I showed them it was better and sold it to them for much less money. Two stories stand out vividly. I remember once talking to a Procurement Manager at a University who had just ordered 120 IBM’s to put into storage. I asked him why and he said because “you never know when you will be able to get them”. The second is when a secretary hugged her IBM she was so emotionally attached to it.
Fortunately, there were plenty of opportunities in “Open Minded” and “I Want You” categories. You need to weed out any and all prospects in No Way category as early as possible. They are a waste of your time and unless you have magical powers or can hypnotize people, you will never overcome their objections.
Regardless of what sales process you are using, IPG’s R.E.A.L. tm Selling or any other, it is important that your first interaction with a client impress them and influence their thinking, whether it's just agreeing to another meeting or something more.
This is best done by having a dialogue, avoiding presenting too much and finding the right balance. It means avoiding the tendency of salespeople to go off on a subject they know they can do well, which stops the dialogue and becomes a monologue.
A great way to do this is by planting seeds during the dialogue and conversation. A seed is something you do well or differently, even uniquely. It is something that you might emphasize in your presentation or white boarding. An example of a seed would be:
- something your product does differently or better
- a story or anecdote about something you or your company has done for another company
- a personal insight about something in the application or industry you have done
- a question you ask that shows expertise or insights
- if you know your competition, a trap you can set without specifically mentioning your competition
- your financial stability or number of locations
These should be short and sweet, no longer than 30 seconds or a minute, and staying with the idea of a seed, in order to plant it the right depth, you should ask, trial close or confirm what they think about the seed you planted.
Seeds are also a way of giving something back to the person you are talking to vs. it just being an interrogation by just asking questions and then going into the big pitch.
So before you go into your next meeting, know which seeds you want to plant and when you think it best to do so. Your initial meetings will go much better and you will have more control and influence in your sales opportunities.
Asking about budget is a very sensitive issue and needs to be done delicately. Below are 16 ways or questions you can ask about a budget. These can be asked at various times in the sales process.
- Is there a budget for this project
- How much is it
- Can you give me a rough idea or estimate or range
- Who was involved in setting the budget
- What % of the overall project is the budget for what we are discussing
- What elements went into the budget
- Is the budget approved
- Is it an op ex or cap ex
- What are the different signatures required to get the budget
- Are you competing for this budget or is it a line item for you
- What can make this budget disappear
- Whose budget/money is it
- If not budgeted, how do you get money
- Is there a precedent you can use that would be successful
- Where is the most perilous path in spending the money
- What internal or external obstacles can prevent this budget being allocated
Most opportunities have a price sensitivity and also a time sensitivity. Too often the assumption is that the discount (if you are giving one) has to be offered immediately which is never good for the salesperson. It implies a willingness to do so and to do more of it.
A better way of dealing with this issue is to:
- understand when a decision is going to be made so you don't offer something too early to the prospect
- understand what the prospect is trying to achieve with your offer
- in turn, know what has more value than a discount to a prospect and offer them these things instead
- some of the categories these other items of value might be are:
- additional capabilities
- flexibility in payment terms
The other thing to remember is you don't have to give them anything or give them a discount right away. If they are truly interested, you can take your time (being conscious of their decision time frame) whether is an hour, a few hours or a few days before getting back to them.
You should also get their commitment that if you do give them what they are looking for that they will buy from you. It doesn't mean they will say yes, but you should ask anyway.
In a recent workshop we were talking about some of the differences between a small and large sale and an enterprise sale. One of the most obvious differences is the length of time it takes. This has become even more so in today’s economy.
One of the other major differences is that salespeople have to develop relations and coaches. Since much of selling is happening on the phone today, you may not have the chance to build the relations and coaches you need.
So let’s define what a coach is; he or she wants you to win the business and will tell you things or give you indications about what you have to do to win a deal. Some of the indications that a person could be a coach are:
- the person is responsive to you
- they have a behavior style who likes to be heard and talk
- they tell you things without you asking
- there is good chemistry
- don't only focus on a great technical solution
- don't only focus on a sellable price
- don't just focus on value and relations
- don't just focus on being responsive
Make sure your strategy and tactics are developing a coach so he or she can tell you what you need to know to win more deals. You can do this by:
- being responsive to them
- telling them things you don't tell others
- visiting them, especially if they are difficult to get to
- making them look good in front of others
Good luck selling and don't forget your coach!
When thinking about your lead gen strategy, here are 17 interesting questions that are relevant for a salesperson or sales organization:
- How many leads are you getting in total from both inbound and outbound activities?
- Are the ratios correct from each? Is lead gen giving you the number of quality leads you need or should you spend more money and time on outbound?
- Do the 2 feed off each other?
- What is your close ratio on each?
- Are you getting enough leads (stupid question to ask a salesperson) to meet your number or do you need more leads or a higher close ratio
- Quality of leads – which lead is better regardless of volume – your own outbound or the inbound
- For your outbound do you have named accounts that you are going after
- Are they verticalized? They should be if they aren’t
- How many accounts are on this list?
- Rotate accounts – how often do you rotate them? What is your criteria for this list? Do you have an ideal profile?
- Assign by contacts – are you taking advantage of social media and assigning accounts by who knows who?
- Do you allow people to trade accounts based upon criteria that gives them a better chance to sell them?
- If you are a manager, do you take accounts away from people since they are not active?
- If you are using a lead gen capability, how and when do accounts go back in for a “drip” campaign?
- If you are a manager, what is your lead distribution philosophy? Is it round robin, or do you have someway of distributing leads to those who are performing better and doing better with the leads?
- as a sales leader are you giving your lead gen/marketing group enough direction?
- should you be using more targeted lead gen activities if you are in a very tight