5 Initiatives to Building a World Class Sales Team

hiring-handshake

I’m sitting here in the Salt Lake City airport for a layover on my way back from Toledo, OH where I just wrapped up our Smart Selling Boot Camp. In this two day course, we do a deep dive on how to build and grow world class, productive sales forces. Every time I finish teaching one of these events, I always enjoy seeing the excitement of the attendees as they go back into their office and implement what they’ve learned. So, I thought I’d do a cliff notes version of some of the highlights from our Boot Camp course.

Regardless of industry, there are only 5 areas that we have to focus on when building a world-class sales organization:

1- Finding Good People

2- Getting Them to Join Our Team

3- Getting Them Trained and Producing

4- Growing Them into Top Producers

5- Keeping Them

In this article, let’s throw the tools in the box to help us out with the first two initiatives mentioned. In doing so, we can take the necessary steps to find good people and to get them to join our teams.

1. Finding Good People

The process of recruiting good talent to your organization is not one that often times happens by chance. Many companies get aggressive about recruiting only when they need somebody to add to their team or when they need to replace somebody who has just left their team. Recruiting is a process, not an event. It must be ongoing and continuous. Can you imagine only going after a new customer when you lose an existing one?

I believe that too many companies out there today are not in a constant hunt for talent, even when they are not happy with the production of some of those currently on their team. When you are dealing with a sales team, YOU ARE NEVER FULLY STAFFED!

For many sales managers and leaders of sales organizations, the recruiting process is treated as a necessary evil and something to “get out of the way as quickly a possible.” Often this is the case because it is the goal of that individual to build sales. We believe that the sales manager’s job is not to grow sales. Rather, it is their job to grow salespeople, both in quality and quantity, on a regular basis. It takes time and effort to build a pipeline of business and it also takes time and effort to build a pipeline of top notch sales candidate prospects that you must actively be courting for your team.

In order to do this, you must first be very clear on what this person looks like. Have you put together a profile for this person? What characteristics does this person have that make them successful? What type of experience does he/she have? What soft selling skills do they possess? What specific selling skills do they have? What computer skills do they have/need? What type of communicator are they? You need to write down, in bullet point format the profile of the type of individual that you would recognize as a hitter for your team. Once that is in writing, get it in as many hands as possible. Let your entire staff know what you are looking for. Let you clients know, your vendors know, your entire network. If you are the only person in your company who knows what your idea of the ideal sales candidate looks like, you seriously limit your chances of finding them. The more that know you are looking, and what you are looking for, the better your chances.

As a salesperson, or with salespeople currently working for you, you realize that you must identify prospective client candidates and then methodically look to get them to do business with you. This is often done through a series of touches such as prospecting calls, e-mails, faxes, lunches, meetings, presentations, etc. Most salespeople continue this courting process for days, weeks, months, and sometimes-even years to get the right prospect to do business with them.

When bringing new talent to our team, we must take the same approach. Once you have identified some prospective sales animals that you would love to have on your team, regardless of where they currently work or what they currently are doing or making, you must begin the same process. Remember, the best prospective new salespeople for you are probably already working in sales, making a good living and are not necessarily looking to change careers. How will you initiate contact with these people? How will you look to set the initial meeting to introduce your company to them? What will you say? How will you overcome their objections? What questions will you ask? How will you maintain contact with them after the first meeting? This makes sense when going after one account doesn’t it? Then why don’t we prepare this way when we are going after a sales professional that could possibly secure the next 20 of those accounts for our company?

The process of continually looking for and recruiting top talent to our teams is imperative when building a world-class sales organization. In order to have the best people constantly surrounding you in your company, start looking now and do not ever stop!

2. Getting Them to Join Our Team

Now that we have spent countless hours, days, and months hunting our prey, we finally have him/her in our sights. They have agreed to sit down with us and have a formal interview. Let’s go back over to our “big-customer prospect” analogy for a moment. Once our salespeople have identified a new prospective BIG client and set an initial sales presentation meeting with them, we fully expect our salesperson to do their homework thoroughly. We want them to know as much as they possibly can about this company and this prospect before they meet with them. We expect them to be fully prepared to ask all the right questions to find out all of the prospects needs, pains, fears, and desires. We fully expect our salesperson to be armed with appropriate responses to all of the potential questions and/or objections that the prospect may have. Additionally, we will have the full expectations that our salesperson has prepared and practiced a very thorough and professional presentation of our company, it’s products/services, features, advantages, and benefits. This is only natural when we think about it in our sales process.

However, when we attract the potential big-dog sales professional to our company to come in and take a look at what we are about, we often times wing it. My mind plays back for me the hundreds of sales interviews that I have witnessed where the sales manager grabs the candidate’s resume, gives it the once over, and then proceeds to find out a little about the candidate while he prepares to vomit all of the reasons why the candidate should come to work for him.

Sitting in front of the sales manager is a person who could potentially create the next 20 big clients for the company and the sales manager decides to fly by the seat of his/her pants. Very little preparation was done prior to meeting with this candidate. Questions were not prepared to discover the true person; their needs, pains, fears, and desires in regards to a career change. Answers to potential questions/objections from the candidate were not prepared and practiced. A very thorough presentation of the features, advantages, and benefits of employment with your firm was not put together in advance and practiced for a flawless delivery. No communication was prepared to show this candidate how we are different, better, stronger, and more beneficial to work for than the candidate’s current employer.

It is our belief that the interview and hiring process is the most important SALE that you, as a company leader or sales manager can make for your company. This process must be prepared well in advance if you are to have a shot at the top talent. Even more so, this must be a system that flows throughout your entire organization. Your entire company must present an air of success and enthusiasm about the workplace-especially when you are bringing in the top candidates for the initial interview. Ask yourself these questions: “Would I be impressed with my company if I was recruited? Would I be excited to come to work here? Would I pull up stakes in my current successful career to come work here?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, ask WHY, and then work to build on that. If the answer to any of these question is NO or I’M NOT SURE, get to work.

Many sales managers think that money is the only thing that will lure a top hitter away from his/her current career. With lack of preparation, this could very well be true. If that is the case, it’s time for a DIFFERENT APPROACH!! If you take the time to thoroughly find out what a potential candidate is looking for out of his/her perfect sales opportunity and then take the time to truly find out what they are missing from their current employer or opportunity, only then can you design a proper plan for them with you. Assume nothing! You can earn the right to build their dream opportunity for them only when you shut up and LISTEN…. just like in a sale. If all parties at the table want the same thing, a deal can be made. Don’t worry about price until you have established value in a sale likewise, don’t worry about compensation until you have established value in the interview.

Finally, just one more thing to remember about the recruiting and hiring process.

Regardless of your planning and preparation, you will make a bad hire from time to time. Do not become hesitant to take action and make a decision! You do not have a crystal ball. You cannot predict the future. There is no guarantee that every choice that you make will be the right one. There is however a guarantee that if you do not do the things mentioned in the paragraphs above, you will a have much harder time getting your sales team to where you want it. Use the same planning, preparation, and tenacity to identify, hunt, and land top sales professionals for your team that you expect your people to do to identify, hunt, and land big clients. GET BUSY!

Customer Service MAGIC!!!

Customer Service

Customer Service is a dying art!  The average attendee in my seminars, when asked, states that they have had mostly average experiences of customer service in the past month compared to a few horrible experiences and just one fantastic experience.  Tony Alessandra calls these Moments of Mediocrity, Moments of Misery, and Moments of Magic.  It has been my contention that every company has the ability to stand out by focusing on simply striving for the WOW experience that Alessandra calls a Moment of Magic.

Most of us feel that the customer service departments in our companies are responsible for this experience.  While I agree that the customer service professionals on your team do absolutely drive the customer experience, I would like to challenge those of us in the sales side of the business to take a closer look at our role in this process.

Let’s see if we can break down that M.A.G.I.C. into an easy-to-digest (and apply) acronym:

Managing Expectations

The sales process really “tees up” the customer service process by setting up the customer expectations.  Let’s face it; anyone can get anyone to buy anything by telling the buyer whatever they want to hear.  In fact, it is exactly this fact that has given salespeople bad reputations for years.  The true sales professional understands that they seek a customer for life (a client relationship) out of every transaction.  Just as with any relationship, there are expectations that both will have.  It is the salesperson’s job to discover the true expectations of the customer from the onset and to temper those according to true deliverables.  In addition, the sales professional must explain in detail to the customer the role that they must play in the relationship.  With properly discovered and mutually agreed upon expectations set in advance, the customer service experience has been properly arranged in advance so that the customer “knows what they are in for.”   At that point, it is up to the entire organization (every touch point) to EXCEED those expectations!

Assessing Needs

The first and most vital conversations that are held with a customer are done so with the sales professional.  It is during these conversations that we are to gather information in addition to giving it.  We have defined the shortest course on selling for years as “Asking Questions and Listening.”  This process is not important only for the discovery of a potential customer’s hot buttons and motivators which will guide them towards a purchase from us, it also helps us assess their HVNs (Highest Value Needs) so that we may communicate them to our internal customer service teams.

Here is an idea:  Create a form that will allow your salespeople to capture some of the basic HVNs of your new customers.  On the form, simply list categories that are important for the smooth transition from the sales process to the service process.  In addition, capture the communication style of the customer and any pertinent information that will create a strong communication foundation for the service team.  What has been promised?  What does the customer expect?  Where are the potential “landmines that we need to avoid?”  How can we WOW them early in the relationship?  What do we need to know about them personally as well as professionally to best serve them?

Growth vs. Maintenance

There are two ways to look at every interaction that we have with prospects, customers, and clients.  We can simply strive to MAINTAIN our current status, relationship, or loyalty with these folks or we can strive to create GROWTH in these areas with every interaction.  From a sales perspective, it is my belief that there should never be such a thing as a MAINTENANCE call!  The purpose of front line sales reps is to GROW the customer relationship, GROW the trust that a customer has in you, GROW the value that the customers perceives in you, and to GROW their account within the organization, thus GROWING your company.  When your goal is simply to MAINTAIN, there is very little preparation necessary.  There is very little need for pre-call planning, practice, or customer focused thought.  Here’s a good drill: Write down the two words above (Growth and Maintenance).  Under each word, write down 10 things that you need to DO to either Maintain or Grow an account.  I bet the list is longer and requires more action under GROWTH!

Interest – Show one-before, during, and after the sale

As a sales professional, if you were to be judged and compensated on the overall length and value of your relationships with your customers and clients, I would bet that your actions would be more focused.  We are all guilty of “moving on” from a relationship in the mind of the customer.  The courting stage is full of surprise, passion, excitement, and over-the-top communication when we have the prospective customer in the pipeline.  Early into the customer phase, we will stay in touch, make the occasional call to see how everything is going with our product or service, and do some of the things necessary to grow the customer (one-time, price focused buyer) into a client (lifetime, value focused buyer).  However, it has been said that familiarity breeds contempt.  Too often, salespeople tend to lose interest in an account after a while and in doing so create the perception that they are taking the relationship for granted.  Although you may think this way, it is really not important what you think—the customer/client is the king.  Good drill here:  Identify your top 10 accounts right now.  Next, schedule a face to face meeting with each one of them within the next 60 days.  The purpose of that meeting is to reconnect; “to renew your vows,” and to get into their hearts by attempting to re-visit their business needs (they most likely have changed since you were dating.)

Communication

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why customers get fed up and leave is a lack of true communication on the part of the company with whom they are doing business.  Of course, people don’t do business with companies—they do business with people.  Think about the world that we live in today.  Phones are answered by machines that guide us through a seemingly unending series of “press this” or “enter that” before we can get a chance to communicate.  Our email boxes are so loaded with spam that we have a tendency to DELETE courteous correspondence before it is read.  We are forcing our customers to websites to interact with us.  We are using “self-checkout” lines at grocery stores.  What in the world happened to good old-fashioned one-to-one communication?  When we survey customers as to what it is that they are looking for in the “service experience,” the answers rarely, if ever, mention cost effectiveness, efficiency, and electronically based communication.  Instead, they say they are looking for knowledgeable help, follow-through, basic courtesies, dedicated attention, feedback, empathy, and respect.  This begins with the sales professional.

As a salesperson, how can you create all of this and still be focused on getting new “fish in the boat?”  It’s not easy—especially on your own.  Don’t fall into the trap of keeping others in the company away from your accounts.  Furthermore, don’t micro-manage every detail of the customer’s interaction with your company.  Instead, create a team to deliver consistent Moments of Magic.

Using the acronym above, turn “inward” toward your support staff, your delivery staff, your installers, your customer service team, your help desk staff, and the accounts receivable staff for assistance.  First of all, set and manage their expectations of you and what it is that you can and will do with the customer on the front end and throughout the relationship.  Next, assess their needs.  What is it that they need from you in order to best deliver on your promises?  Next, look for ways to grow their knowledge of the customer, the sales process, and the service expectations of the customer.  In addition, try growing your knowledge of their position and what it is that they go through every day to meet your customers ever changing needs.  Next, show an interest in them.  As a salesperson, you try to spend time with top accounts in the interest of building a relationship.  Why?  So they continue to buy from you and never leave.  Create a plan to do the same with your inside team.  Spend time with them.  Show an interest in who they are and where it is that they come from.  Meet their families.  “DO” for them and they will line up to “DO” for you and your customers.  Finally, learn how to best communicate with them on a regular basis.  If you communicate with them via email only, you will eventually create a disconnection.  Try to develop the habit of the regular “team huddle.” Regular, value-add communication on the inside breaks down the walls and allows for creative juices to come up with the best ways to take care of your customers!

The profession of sales is for sales professionals but you need to know that, as a sales professional, the customer experience is something that demands your attention and commands your focus!  Sell Smart all the way through and you will find yourself with a never-ending stream of referrals and leads generated by over-the-top loyal fans on the outside (customers) as well as the inside of your business!

The Top 10 Things That Top Sales People Do

Shot of two businessmen shaking hands

Top Sales Pros are a special breed of cat.  They engage in decidedly different activities on a regular basis.  Although they walk and talk the same at first glance, they do very unique things every day that, in and of themselves are not overly special but, when combined, these things create a vortex of success that attracts the best customers, the most referrals, the strongest relationships and the highest commissions!

I have been fortunate to be a sales professional for many years that others have placed in the “Top Sales Pro” category.  In addition, I have the pleasure of working with many top sales pros (and many more on the other end of the spectrum) every year in my business as a speaker and sales coach.  In doing so, I have witnessed some of the best practices that are consistent among only the best.  The 10 things that I have compiled below are not the only things that these Heavy Hitters do, but they are, in my opinion, the most important:

1. They Take Full Responsibility

The Best of the Best never place blame on others for their failure or misfires.  They realize that the only one responsible for their success or failure is the person that they stare at in the mirror every morning.  By accepting responsibility for everything, they NEVER become the victim of competition, market circumstances, pricing, or any other issues that are attacking their competition that whine, complain, and sit around waiting for the next big bad wolf.

2. They Guard Their Attitudes with Their Lives

The Top Producers understand that their Attitude is their most important asset to their success and they do everything they can to make sure they bolster it and protect it.  They never hang around with those who choose to place blame, point fingers, complain, and bellyache.  They go out of their way to associate with winners and successful people.  Although they may get invitations to the pity parties, they never choose to attend. In addition, these cats NEVER feel that they know it all.  In fact, they always seek other’s opinions, knowledge, and experience.  They believe anything is possible and you know what…most of the time, they are right!

3. They Feed Their Brains-Every Day

The Best of the Best did not just wake up one day on the top of the heap.  They actually worked hard to feed their brains the things that it needs to grow.  They realize that the marketplace never stands still.  They realize that customers needs will always change and they choose to stay ahead of the curve.  Consequently, they read books, articles, and reports in the areas that demand their attention.  They constantly “sharpen their axes” in the areas of salesmanship, customer service, empathy, and differentiation. They seek to become an expert in their field by increasing their knowledge every day on purpose.

4. Plan-Prepare-Practice

The Top Producers always seem to have a plan.  It all starts with major clarity on their goals.  They are very clear on the WHY so the WHAT and the HOW become their focus.  The Heavy Hitters go into every call with a purpose and a higher level of preparation.  They have run through all the “what-if” scenarios.  They have thought through, written down, and practiced the questions that they will ask.  They have mentally run through everything from the customer’s prospective.  They are prepared to “open” the customer more effectively and practiced at transitioning to the “close” of the sale.  They know the solid IMPACT statements and questions at the right time because they plan them, prepare them, and practice them ALL the time.

5. They Brand Themselves in Their Marketplace 

The Cream of the Selling Crop make sure that they are “known-for” something in the marketplace.  They create a buzz about who they are and what they know or do by becoming visible to those who may use their product or service.  They realize that being a vendor is a tough gig because vendors are a dime a dozen, unless the customer only wants to pay a nickel.  The Best of the Best want to be known as the EXPERT. They do the things necessary to position themselves in the marketplace as THE CHOICE rather than A CHOICE.  They take the time to write articles and have them published in magazines and newsletters that their customers read.  They get out of their comfort zones and look to speak at industry events that their customers attend.  They constantly and consistently “touch” their prospects, customers, and clients in a variety of creative and value-add ways to ensure top of consciousness in the minds of the buyers.  Top Pros always seek to create “Only Me” value to the sale.

6. They are Willing to Lose

All too often, most salespeople don’t take the risk of asking for the YES because they are afraid to hear the NO.  The Top Sales Pros understand that they are in the NO taking business.  They also understand that their success is highly dependant upon their willingness to “crash and burn” in failure.  Jeffery Gitomer once sated that “Most people won’t risk because they think they fear the unknown.  The real reason that they won’t risk is because they lack the preparation and education that breeds the self confidence (self-belief) to take a chance.”  The great Wayne Gretzky once said that “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take.”  And so it is with the best salespeople:  They get out in front and risk it all for themselves, for the customer, and for their career because they know that most of their competition will STOP when the pressure of the potential loss gets too high.

7. They Recognize Opportunity and Take ACTION Faster

Top Sales Professionals do not get more opportunities than all the rest.  It just seems that way because they are always on “high receive” looking for it.  They put themselves in situations where opportunity tends to be present.  They understand that opportunity at first can look like problems, challenges, or adversity.  They further understand that CHANGE is often at the base of opportunity.  They realize that this is true from their perspective and from the customers-and thus, their lies the opportunity. They don’t hesitate. They don’t sit around strategizing.  They take action!  When most people are wondering if it will work, the Top Sales Professionals are getting the awards for getting it done!  Events get attended with different purposes.  Articles get read with different eyes.  Conversations get heard with different ears.

8. They are a Resource

Top Producers are the go-to people for their customers.  They have the answers to their customers’ questions and the solutions to their problems.  They realize that the world is full of “Takers” that will come in and “take” the customer’s time, “take” the customer’s order, and “take” the customer’s money, but rarely, if ever, add anything of value to the relationship.  Top Producers realize that, in order to continually be valuable to the customer, they need to become more than a vendor.  They need to know the customer’s world as well or better than they know theirs. The Best of the Best always “bring something to the table” that changes the outlook of the customer and makes them think or perform in different ways.  The Top Pros are there for more than the order; they are there through thick and thin, providing the value of their expertise and knowledge to those whom he cares about the most-his/her customer.

9. They Take Time to Re-Charge

The Heavy Hitters do a lot of things that most salespeople will not do.  This takes time, energy, passion, commitment, and focus.  All of the results that they get come from hard-work and dedication to the job.  The Best of the Best not only know when to do these things, they also know when to “shut it down” and re-fuel.  Even the fastest cars (the ones that are winning) in Nascar races have to make their occasional pit-stop to re-fuel and get ready for the next leg of the race.  They cannot continue to win the race unless they do.  So it is with Top Salespeople.  In order to keep winning the race of professional sales, they need to have a quality of life outside the selling marketplace.  The Best of the Best know that the only reason to be in this game (sales) is to have a better life and more of it!  We find that these cats take longer/better vacations, schedule more time with their families, dig deeper into “outside work” passions/hobbies, and overall get more out of life than those who “work the grind.”  They realize that enjoyment and passion are synonymous with Success and if too much WORK goes into one area over another, the enjoyment and the passion start to fade.

10. They Take What They Do Very Seriously Without Taking Themselves Too Serious

The Best of the Best in sales realize that they are in a profession. Just like all professionals, there are expectations that customers hold them to.  A doctor has expectations that not only will she have a good bedside manner, but that she will know her area of expertise to such a degree that human lives may be placed in her care.  A lawyer has expectations to know not only the law (today’s law) but to also know everything else about his area of expertise such that success or failure at the hands of a jury is entrusted to him.  And so it is with sales professionals:  The Top Pros know that The Profession of Sales is for Sales Professionals.  As professionals, they know that the 9 areas that I have listed above require their constant attention.  They realize that the solutions that they can and do provide for their customers can change lives and affect so many.  And yet, with all of that in mind, they go into the battle each day with a light heart and a sound attitude knowing that they will hear no.  They realize that having FUN is a vital part of the game and that most people would rather do business with a friend than with a salesperson.  And so, they strive to be light hearted and heavily focused to gain the trust of the people with whom they choose to engage.

It has been said that Success Leaves Clues. Hopefully these success strategies of the Top Sales pros will give you some clue as to where you can get back on track to superstardom in the profession of selling.

Getting out of your Comfort Zone—SHAKE Things Up!

out of comfort zone

There comes a time in every sale professional’s life that they get into cruise control.  They simply get into a mode of operation that finds them grinding through the same activities day in and day out.  This may be something that they have gotten into consciously or on purpose but more often it is a state at which they have arrived quite by accident.

There are several reasons that one gets into this Comfort Zone.  Maybe they are happy where they are, maybe they have too much going on to even think about trying something new (or at least that’s what they think) or, maybe they are coming off a great sales month and have decided to “take a breather” to enjoy their success.  Perhaps they have fallen into a routine of “meeting management’s minimum activity requirements, (“Hey, I made my calls and filed my reports!”)  Perhaps they feel that trying something new will increase their chances of failure and will cause more work for them.  Maybe they are too busy taking care of customers or simply feel tired, lazy, or misdirected.

Whatever the reason, or excuse, the dreaded Comfort Zone is a dangerous place for a sale professional to be.  It is a place where Maintenance is the goal and Growth is the stranger.  It is the place where Goals have been forgotten and Dreams have been eroded.  This is no place for a growth oriented sales professional to be!

Is a Comfort Zone a bad thing?  I guess that depends upon who you are and what you want out of your career and your life.  Most people get into the profession of selling based upon an earning potential that is sometimes without limitations.  The top performers among all sales professionals in the marketplace today are consistently looking for ways to improve and grow their results.  And even they can sometimes find themselves in cruise control mode!  For sales professionals, this is a BAD thing!

What need to happen to SNAP out of this Comfort Zone?  You need to S.H.A.K.E. things up a bit!  What does S.H.A.K.E. mean?

S-Set or Revisit Your Goals for the Year

It is my belief that when a salesperson gets too comfortable with the status quo, the main reason is that they have lost sight of their goals.  Each and every year it is imperative that salespeople take the time to set their goals for the upcoming year.  Why?  We are in a career that demands self-discipline and committed action. Therefore, we must decide what it is that we want to accomplish each year in our business and personal lives.  Our goals must be clear and concise rather than wandering and vague.  They must be written down and have deadlines (or lifelines-if you prefer) assigned to them.

If you find yourself working within your Comfort Zone, you need to re-visit these goals.  You need to remind yourself what it is that you really want to accomplish (to GET) out of this year!  There is an ancient Eastern proverb that says something like this; “When one is aware of the why, they can deal with almost any of the how.”  So, refocus yourself on your goals on this year so that you can get back to the business of working towards those things instead of just working.

H-Have a Solid Game Plan

Before you go rushing off towards a new (or re-committed to) goal, you must first have a clear plan of what to do—as well as what NOT to do.  Think of all of the things that need to occur in order to accomplish the goal.  What needs to happen?  What needs to happen this month, next month, next quarter, etc. What needs to “go on the back-burner? Make a list. Next, organize your list into a plan by priority and sequence.  Understand that there will be obstacles.  Understand that every plan will have potential unforeseen roadblocks that will come up.  Try your best to identify as many of them as you can beforehand with a contingency plan to work your way through them or around them.  No excuses, no blame!  If there is a game plan (a track on which to run) than you have a much better shot at accomplishing what it is that you set out to do.

A-Arrive Earlier to the Game

In reading a recent article in INC. Magazine about success traits of some of the nation’s top executives, one of the common things that all of them shared was they got an early start every day.  Most of them were up well before 5:00am and “in the chair” before most of their competition.  In the game of life, you have very few opportunities to “gather an edge” over the competition.  YOUR competition is your Comfort Zone—it is the competition for your focus and your success!  So… get up 1-2 hours earlier than usual for the next 60 days.  Get your ass out of bed and get busy 120 minutes before the competition!   The things that you can accomplish and the way you prepare in those “Golden 120” minutes between 5:00am and 7:00am will snap you out of your Comfort Zone and into your Action Zone!  Think about all of the things you can accomplish:

-You can read the entire newspaper (or two) and enjoy your coffee while you do.

-You can get in 30-60 minutes of solid exercise to “get the crud out of your veins” and get your blood pumping.

-You can write an entire chapter in your upcoming book or a blog post for your new, customer-focused blog.

-You can spend 10-15 minutes in preparation (doing your homework) for each of today’s sales calls.

-You could prepare 20 questions for every face to face sales call that you are going on today. (Heck, you might even be able to practice them aloud!)

-You can read a book on sales, self motivation, time management, overcoming objections, price negotiation, etc.

Are you getting this yet?  All of the things that you say that you never have time to do CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED if you “arrive to the game earlier.”

K-Kick up Some New Activity

I am often reminded of an old commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts that highlighted the donut maker waking up every morning, day-in and day-out, with the same phrase, “Time to make the donuts…”  Every day, he went about the exact same routine of waking up at the same time and mindlessly getting to work to crank out dozens and dozens of donuts.

I see too many sales professionals falling into the same trap.  They get up each day and mindlessly go through a set of prescribed motions designed to identify, capture and engage new customers while, at the same time taking care of existing customers.  The find themselves often times in a rut. (Which has been described as a grave with the ends kicked out!)

It’s time to Kick up some new ACTIVITY.  In order to get out of the Comfort Zone rut, we need to take a long hard look (hell, make it a short glance) at the myriad of things that we do each and every day and ask ourselves if each one produces the results desired.  Next, we need to identify 5 NEW activities that we can begin right now that will re-ignite our creative flames, get us out into the limelight (in front of our customers), and shake things up! Are you starting to get the picture?  Action begets Action!  Doing the same thing every day and expecting different results is what Einstein called INSANITY!

E-Enjoy the Results of Your Work!

When all is said and done; when you have recommitted to your goals for the year, built and taken action on a solid plan to accomplish those goals, gotten into the habit of arriving earlier to the game, and kicked up some new focused activity, the results will be apparent!  It is very important to celebrate your re-birth to the land of the committed.  It is paramount to enjoy the fruits of your re-found effort.  Enjoy, this is a game.  This is a journey.  As I said however, it is you who draws the map for the journey.  If you know the destination and can lay out a route to get there, you will have a much better shot of changing course when you take the occasional exit on the Comfort Zone freeway.

The choice is and will always be yours to make.  It’s easy to coast, to cruise, and to remain where there is little risk.  It’s easy to take the path of least resistance and stay where you know what you know.  However, this path will often not get you what you really want.  It may occasionally get you close, but if you are focused on what you really want, and are willing to stay focused, you can get what you really want!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:  “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

The next time that you find yourself staying too long inside your Comfort Zone, understand that you are not working up to your potential.  Your ability to unleash your potential is determined by your willingness to S.H.A.K.E. things up!  Now go get shakin’!

Company Culture – How Do You Measure Up?

 

Multiethnic Group of People Planning Ideas

We hear it every day; “I can’t seem to keep salespeople motivated.”  “There is always some kind of problem or issue with my people.”  “They get so negative.”

One of the most overlooked areas in most companies is the environment or culture in which their sales team operates.  At Sales Coach International, we get called in to diagnose problems when a sales team is lacking in performance.  The cry goes out to” Fix Us!”  Often times, we find a stable of talented sales professionals who are starving for recognition, training, attention, coaching, guidance, and leadership.  We find people “going through the motions” at their desks.  We find people who have to come to work to earn a paycheck rather than those who get to come to work to build a career.

The environment that is present in a company is very important to all staff but even more so to a sales force. Salespeople, by the very nature of what it is that they do, are forced to go through very redundant, scripted, and sometimes very repetitive activities such as prospecting daily. After all, as one most aptly put it, “We are in the professional no-taking business.”  It is unrealistic to expect most of your salespeople to be excited to come in and “pound those phones” or cold call on a multitude of businesses every day.  Why is it then, that some companies have huge sales forces that do so with passion and fire month in and month out?  Why is it that some companies can keep salespeople for a long period of time and keep them productive as well?

We believe that the answer lies in the environment in which they work.  We believe that the culture that is created in a sales department is paramount to the success of the team and the individuals on the team.  The good news is that it does not cost a lot of money to create a solid positive, enthusiastic, competitive environment that pulls people into higher results and commands stronger work ethic, more camaraderie, more trust, and more loyalty.

Take a look at the place in which your salespeople work.  How are they physically situated?  Do the newest people on the team have access to the talent that oozes from your top producers?  Can they see them?  Can they hear them?  Often times we see sales departments that consist of many individual offices where each sales rep goes to fight the fight each and every day.  Get your people out of their “silos” and into an atmosphere of excitement!  Reserve the offices for the sales managers who may need to have one-on-one communication and coaching with those on the team. An additional benefit to this is that there tends to be a mutual accountability that grows from people having less limited access to their co-worker’s work habits.

Let the action flow!  If prospecting is something that is done on the phones on your team, make it a team event.  Schedule times where groups of your people do their prospecting at the same time.  By nature, salespeople are competitive.  Let them compete!!  Ring a bell when appointments are set!  Have a contest!  Have fun!  Take the redundancy out of the workday.  Mix it up!

What type of communication culture do you have throughout your sales team?  Do your salespeople feel that they can express their needs to their sales manager freely?  Is there an environment that encourages input from everyone or is it a “head down-nose to the grindstone” atmosphere where it’s every man for himself?  This is an area where we all need to pay close attention.  When a salesperson is new, they may not readily ask questions for fear of looking inept.  Assign a buddy, a peer that they can go to with questions, challenges, and concerns.  It is a lot easier for them to ask their peer how to operate the database for the 3rd time than it is for them to ask their manager.

What do your sales meetings sound like?  Are they run-of-the-mill excuses to get together to go over the numbers?  Do your people look forward to them?  Do you?  A sales meeting is a chance to work on the hearts, the minds, and the gut of all of your salespeople. It is an opportunity for all to communicate their triumphs, their losses, their fears, and their enthusiasm.  It is a chance for management to align the vision, track the goals, inspire, coach, train, and to LISTEN!!  Sales meetings should not be the “you-know-what-runs-down-hill” meetings to beat up an under performing sales force.  Most times, there is nobody that wants to close more business than that salesperson that you are about to burn in your sales meeting.

How many of your people would say that they are overly recognized?  Recognition is one of the most important things to a sales person.  It is almost as important as oxygen! The best part about recognition is that most times it doesn’t cost anything.  Yet, we find that salespeople rarely get the recognition that they need from the company their managers.  There are many things that can be done to recognize your people regularly.  As salespeople, we will go out of our way to make sure that our clients know we care by the way that we communicate with them and tend to their needs.  Why is it that we do not take the same approach with our people?  When was the last time that your salespeople got a handwritten note from their manager?  When was the last time that a salesperson’s opinion was asked in regard to an issue currently being handled by management?  When was the last time that you said “Thank You” to your salespeople?  Every company needs to address recognition as a vital system to be developed.  Success comes by design-not by chance.  What recognition systems can you design for your people?

Within their first 30 days, everyone wonders if they made the right decision to come to work on your team.  Make sure that you develop a “first impression” policy throughout your entire organization.  Instead of going away parties for those leaving, how about a welcome aboard party for newcomers?  Make their first day a memorable one.  Have a company shirt, hat, mug etc. on their desk for them.  Have them set up on e-mail and voice-mail.  Have their business cards printed and waiting for them on their first day.  What would WOW you?  Send a gift with a handwritten card home to their spouse welcoming them to the team as well.  Get out of the box!  Let them know that they are important to the team right out of the chute and they will dig in deeper and become more productive sooner.  Do this, and you will earn the right to expect hard work, long hours, and extra effort.

There are hundreds of other things that can and should be done to enhance the environment in your sales departments.  Challenge yourself to come up with creative new ideas to inspire your people.  Most of all, do not be afraid to have fun.  In fact, go out of your way to make sure FUN is not a four letter word.

8 Sales Dysfunctions that Cost You Dearly

8 mistakes blogAs sales professionals, we need to pay attention to all wins AND all losses. There are specific things being done by salespeople every day that create the LOSS of sales and the LOSS of customers. You need to make sure that you or your people are NOT doing these.

It’s challenging enough in the marketplace today gaining new business from existing customers and gaining the trust of new customers to take a chance with you.  On top of that, the competition is doing crazy things, dropping prices and trimming margins to all-time lows.  With all of the existing challenges that we face in the marketplace, we certainly don’t need to be adding to our woes by engaging in dysfunctional sales behavior!  Unfortunately, I am seeing too much of this today and it needs to STOP!  Pay attention to the following EIGHT areas of sales dysfunction and make sure that you are not participating in any of these:

1-Leading with your wallet

Although it seems price sensitivity is present in our customers today at much higher rate than in recent history, we cannot forget that “The price is the scorecard for how well you play the game.”  Too many times, the salesperson of today is more price sensitive than the customer.  Why?  It seems (in the mind of the salesperson) that whenever a sale is lost today, it usually comes down to price.  In fact, it seems that customers are actually getting programmed by the competition to discuss price earlier in the sales process.

Here is what happens:  Too many salespeople do not spend the appropriate amount of time building the value of their product or service offering.  Just when we need to be doing a better job of communicating and connecting value (see below), we tend to rush to the one thing that customers see as the common denominator; price!  When we “tee-up” phrases such as, “We want to make sure that we get you the best deal or the best rate” we only add to our problems.

We need to leave price out of the conversation as much as we can.  You know price will be a consideration in the decision.  They know it too!  But, for most buyers, the price is what it costs to get a result.  Do yourself a favor and discuss what result the customer seeks.  Learn to deflect price (set it off to the side) initially instead of avoiding it.  Leading with price turns into competing on price which leads to margin and commission erosion for you and no perceived value to the customer as to who you are and what you do for them besides lower prices.

Most customers will grind you on price if:

A.     They know that they can and you will react by lowering it—(you don’t value your offer as much as you should) or

B.     They don’t understand the value—(you have not communicated the value in terms of what they get for making the decision to go with you and your price)

2.  You stopped communicating your value

Anyone can make a sale or create a customer the first time.  The art of a long and healthy sales career is in building a long list of loyal clientele that continues to value you and your company over all others.  Too many salespeople today think the opposite; that getting the initial sale is the hard part and once that’s done, it should be all downhill from there.  WRONG!

The customer that feels unimportant begins to reconsider your value and that of your company.  In fact, I was on stage with another speaker recently that stated, “In a tough economy, customers get promiscuous!”  Listen, when you land a new customer, you have just created a new target for the competition.  They  will now strategize not only how to land the business, they will actually strategize how to TAKE it from you.

In the world today, delivering on what you promised is no longer good enough!   You cannot leave it up to the customer to stay “in love” with you on their own.  After a while, the things that you do for the customer will tend to get taken for granted if you let them.  It reminds me of the age-old question and answer:  When is the best time to tell your spouse that you love them?….Before someone else does!

The customer that takes their business elsewhere today costs much more than the one that never buys.  Why? Because you were counting on that business!  You had it!  Shame on you for letting them fall out of love!  We can’t afford to neglect to continually communicate what we “bring to the table.”

3-“Get it CLOSED” vs. “Get it OPENED” Mentality!

(I have to be careful with this one because it may seem that I will contradict myself below when I discuss closing—or lack thereof.)

The current state of desperation that exists in many sales organizations today has many salespeople focused on tactics and TODAY instead of strategy and FOREVER!  In fact, this is true with a solid majority of salespeople regardless of the economy.  Too many are more concerned with the sale that is made today than they are with the repercussions of the “scorched earth” that they leave behind in their efforts.

Salespeople are focused (often by management) to meet deadlines, hit sales quotas, earn bonuses and win contests.  Although I understand the importance of urgency in the sales process, we cannot run roughshod over the needs and desires of the customer in the effort to meet our agendas.  While me may occasionally win a sale this way, this behavior will not tend to endear us to the customer and thus, trust is low resulting in no referrals (who want their contacts to go through that?) and no relationship going forward!

Try to consider what the “lifetime value” of a customer could be if you do everything right.  Imagine what it would be worth if you make the right moves for and with the customer initially and then continue to grow with them and for them for years to come.

There are many differences between a one-night stand and a marriage.  Do you know what they are?

4-Use of URGENCY SELLING TACTICS and Tricks

I guess there used to be a day when buyers used to be somewhat regarded as unintelligent.  If not, I cannot understand where some of the hogwash tactics used today tend to come from.  One of the big ways that salespeople seek to secure a sale is the “buy-now-or-miss-out” tactic.  This mostly leads to more “push-back” and less trust on the part of the buyer.

Eventually, price dropping is what comes next for the seller and the nasty cycle continues.  When the customer is pressured to buy before they are ready, value moves down the priority list and price takes its place on the top!  Customers understand more and more today that they can buy on their terms from somewhere and if it cannot be from you, they will either look elsewhere or demand that YOU PAY for their urgency!  Again, even if you do win the business using this tactic, there is probably little foundation for a relationship there for future business.

5-Lack of AWARENESS and EMPATHY

Today’s seller needs to be hyper sensitive to the current frame of mind of the buyer.  They need to do their best to connect to the most compelling needs that the customer may have to purchase the product or service that they are offering.  This all goes back to the shortest course on selling; Ask Questions and Listen!  On top of that, today’s economy arms sellers with unending accessibility to information to help them prepare and communicate with the customer from their point of view.

Instead of a better process however, I tend to see a continued focus on the presentations of their stuff!  The rush to roll-out the Powerpoint Presentation is the goal.   The agreement to have us write a proposal or send a bid seems to be the entire purpose that a salesperson lives for.

In the world we live in today, the connection that a salesperson makes with our prospects, customers, and clients is the primary asset that we need to covet.  If we choose to NOT be the lowest price and we choose to NOT be a “one-and-done” vendor, we need to shift our focus and that of our sellers BACK to the customer.

Instead of preparing yourself and your sellers on the “what to say” part of the selling transaction, we need to prepare and practice the questions that create the dialogue that creates the connection.  It is through that connection that we will discover and understand how to best help the customer buy today and for the long-term.  More importantly, it will help the customer discover and understand that we differ from the competition in value and that our concern for them deserves their continued trust and business.

6-Afraid to ASK for the Business

If I had 100 salespeople in a room and told them that I had one-hour to train them in one specific area of the sales process and that they could pick from a list of our 27 different training topics, I bet that over 80% of the room would ask me to cover CLOSING!  You see, many sellers believe that if they could learn the secrets of CLOSING, then the sales process would be shorter and they would have to focus less on the other stuff.

I believe that closing is the natural conclusion to the professional, customer focused sales process.  If you are with a customer discussing the potential of doing business together, it should be a foregone conclusion that, if the connection between buyer and seller is correct and that the offer meets the needs, then a sale should be the result.  Right?  However, there is some small print attached that we are all too aware of.

I often state that there are two people that should be dismissed from the profession of selling:

The first one to go must be the salesperson who rushes to the close (see above) before garnering the customer’s trust and diagnosing their specific needs.  They use tricks and tactics (see above) and make all sellers look like a bunch of self-centered, product-focused, short-sighted hacks with commission breath!  They need to GO!

The second salesperson that needs to go actually does a good job for the majority of the sales process.  They prepare well and strategize a decent approach.  They engage the customer in conversation and discover (with the customer) the motivations for buying.  They present a customized and anchored proposition of value that speaks the unique needs of the customers and they communicate the value strongly in the customer’s language.  But then……they never ask for the business!   They need to GO too!

It is not the customer’s job to buy.  It is our job to help them do so in a professional manner when we see the mutual benefit of the sale.   Anything short of that and we have not done our job.  When the economy is tight and opportunities to sell are fewer, we cannot afford to be “professional presenters” or “hesitant product-pushers.”  EARN—ASK—GET!!

7-It’s NEVER a touchdown if you drop the ball!

When you are fighting for every opportunity you can find, dropping the ball on even one item is not acceptable.  Follow-up and follow-through are two major areas of differentiation for professionals in any arena.  The sales profession requires it daily!  There is no excuse for not doing what it is that you said you were going to do!

In today’s competitive and challenging marketplace, a salesperson can actually create a considerable level of differentiation in the way that they communicate next steps and then follow through with those steps.  It’s too easy to overpromise and underperform.  It’s too easy to justify a lack of follow up by complaining that you are too busy trying to secure new sales.  (You were the same one that justified your lack of follow up 2 years ago by saying that you were too busy with existing business.)   Stop buying into your own [email protected]#$%t!

Please remember that follow-up is NOT the customer’s job!  Timeliness today has a much different definition than it did a few years ago.  Technology has “turned up the dial” on customer’s expectations.  Technology has also created many tools for you to stay on top of your commitments and to do what you said you would do!  Use what is available.  Set the alarm on your cell phone.  Set a reminder in your CRM program.  Leave yourself a voicemail or send yourself an email.

When all of the smoke clears, here is what it comes down to: Either you will be a person who honors their commitments (to themselves, their families, the colleagues, the companies, and their customers) or you will be a person who does not.  Choose!

8-Referrals are by accident ONLY

When a customer decides to do business with you and you deliver exactly what it is that you promised (or more), when you promised it, you have earned the right to ask them to do so for someone else in their network.   The most successful sales professionals in any industry acknowledge that a major part of their success is due to the consistent stream of introductions and referrals from their existing customer base.

Too many sellers today do not focus on the power of the referral.  The main reason that they do not consistently ask for and get referrals is that they do not look at it as part of the sales process.  If the subject of referrals is ever brought up, it is often done so very weakly by the seller such as, “If you ever think of anyone that might be interested in…………..blah…blah…blah.”  Just as with anything that is to be duplicated and/or systematic, there needs to be a process/a system to follow!  And it needs to be followed with conviction and commitment.

Remember, two of the biggest concerns that a prospective new customer has about doing business with you are:

1-“Will I pay too much?” and

2-“Will this product/service meet my expectations (as set by the salesperson.)?

Both of these questions are answered in advance if you have been referred by someone that they trust.

Take a good hard look at these EIGHT customer, sales, and/or margin killers above and keep a good eye on the sales process in which you engage daily.  Are any of these things killing your sales?  Are any of these dysfunctions creating an “anti-sales” culture?  It’s time to streamline your efforts and “sweat the small stuff.” 8 mistakes blog

The Little Things Really DO Matter!

The Little Things Blog

There is a popular series of books that have been out a couple of years called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.  When it comes to sales, I do not believe the teachings apply as well.  In fact, it is the small stuff the separates the winners from the average players.

So much is taught in sales about the “big parts of the game” such as the cold call, the pitch or presentation, the sales cycle, working a pipeline, overcoming objections, and closing.  And yet, with all of this knowledge and training, the majority of salespeople still have difficulty managing the entire process through to the finish line.

At the same time, you will find there is a small group of salespeople that focus on, what most would consider to be the small stuff.  What types of things are these?  Here are a list of a few of the little things that matter in the profession of sales:

1-They schedule prospecting time every day!  They realize that, no matter how hot and heavy everything happens to be in their pipeline today, it is the plowing (prospecting) at the top of the pipeline that opens it up for continued results.

2-They build and consistently use a referral generation process.  They know that the best source of new business comes from existing clients and that by leveraging their existing relationships, they actually create a small sales force of their own that “keeps the leads flowing in.”  They also realize that they need to 1) Ask for the referrals, 2) Earn the right to ask, 3) Make it easy to refer, 4)and say Thank You.

3-They use target and personal marketing campaigns.  They realize that, in business, it is not who you know, but rather who knows you that counts.  They create a systemized “touch campaign” that not only reaches out to identified key prospects before they call upon them, but also continues to “whisper in their customer’s ears” regularly.  The true pro realizes that value-add relationships develop loyalty from their customer base so they make sure that all of their touches are unique and value-add.

4-They Say Thank You—A Lot!  Top producers sometimes go back and revisit the tactics used years ago and “dust them off” for use today.  One such tactic is the use of Thank You Notes in the sales process. Too many salespeople rely on brief email notes and voice mail messages to express their gratitude for a sales appointment, a referral, a sale, or anything else.  Although Thank You Notes were very common years ago, they are only in the arsenals of those who wish to stand out today!  By the way, can you say Thank You too much to your customers?

5-They do what they say they are going to do.  Although this seems like a very logical, natural thing for all to follow, the sad truth is that we live in a world where the broken promise is the norm and the “under-whelmed” customer is most common.  True sales pros focus on “managing the expectations” of their customers and adding value in the customer’s eyes by OVER PERFORMING on expectations.

In the marketplace, I suggest that, as sales professionals, we need to make sure that we are focused on ALL of the things that are necessary for our success.  The little things are what separates us from the crowd.  The good news is that, with a little work, you will build the confidence in your “scoring zone” to consistently achieve greater sales results.  So…Sweat the Small Stuff!

 

Assume Nothing!

The Top Ten Assumptions That Can (And Do!) Kill Sales Careers

assumptions blog photo

In today’s marketplace where there is more access to information, more knowledge about pricing and competition, and quite frankly, more choices for your prospects, customers, and clients, salespeople need to make all the right moves…ALL THE TIME!  Here at Sales Coach International, we are carrying around the banner that says “Assume Nothing.”  In order to illustrate the importance of this, here are the top ten assumptions that salespeople can make that can kill their career:

  1. Features Sell–  Salespeople of today go out into the marketplace and spew the many features of the products and services that they offer.  We call this “Showing up and Throwing Up!”  The people that buy your products/svcs. do not do so because of the features that your product/svc offers but rather the benefits that those features can bring to them.  Here is a solid drill for you.  Write this down:

“NOBODY WANTS TO BUY WHAT I’M SELLING!!”

Now that we have established that the customer doesn’t want to buy the bells and whistles that your product/svc offers, stop assuming that they will draw the line between what your product/svc offers and what it is that they need.  So how do we do this?  It’s easy:  At the end of every feature statement you need to bridge to the next statement with

“….so what that means to you is this!”

What comes out of your mouth next is the benefit statement that truly is the motivation for your customer or prospect to buy!  Don’t assume that your prospects, customers, or clients will know how to tie the two together without your help!

  1. Everyone Loves Small Talk– There have been many books written on the value of building rapport with a prospect, customer, or clients in order to gain their trust. While I agree with this, I find that too many salespeople feel that every sales interaction needs to start with the obligatory round of small talk about the weather, sports, recent news, or some other plastic nonsense.  Why is this?  It is my belief that salespeople do this for their own comfort only.

There is undoubtedly a need for some training in this area.  Small talk is just that:  Small Talk!  This type of banter is typically teed up so that the salesperson can gain some insight as to the mood, needs, style, and interests of the prospect, customer, or client.  However, it has its place.  Realize when getting down to business is necessary.  Realize when the person on the other end is faking it along with you and have the presence of mind to move on to the business at hand.

Once you have established some sort of relationship with a prospect, customer, or client (whether that is after a few minutes or a few months) the conversations should revolve around the things that they want to address, not the other way around!  Remember, the best way to get them to trust you is to get them talking about themselves, their issues, their challenges, their stuff!  If you still feel the need to have some initial banter before getting down to business, make sure it is about something that is important to them.

Don’t know what that is?  Here’s a suggestion:  Go out right now and buy “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” by Harvey Mackay.  In this book you will find The Mackay 66.  These are 66 individual points that sales reps of  Mackay Envelope were to find out about their prospects, customers, and/or clients.  With even 50% of this information, you could not help but have A) a strong relationship with this person and B) many topics with which to focus your attention and conversation during the sales process.

Most importantly, do not assume that you need to “tenderize the meat before you throw it into the skillet!”  Salespeople work very hard to get the attention of their prospects, customers, and clients regularly.  Once you have earned it, don’t spend too much of your time (and theirs) on non-relevant issues.

  1. Your Time Frame is the Same as Your Customer’s- I have seen countless salespeople spend many hours doing all of the things necessary to get a meeting with a prospect or customer. Once the meeting is set, they prepare a great value proposition and present their case very well.  In the best of these circumstances, they indeed find a prospect or customer interested in potentially pursuing some future possibility of doing business with them. (How was that for a bland, non-committal statement)  The meeting ends with everyone somewhat enthusiastic about the potential of doing something together.  Now…fast-forward a couple of weeks.  Your calls are not being returned!  Your e-mails aren’t either.  You are ready to move forward but the prospect has dropped off the face of the earth.  You have already counted this one as a top-level opportunity and told everyone it was in the bag.  What the heck happened?

One of the biggest assumptions that I see salespeople making in the field today is that the customer has the same interest in buying from you that you have in selling to him/her.  It needs to be understood that a customer does things for their reasons, not yours!  However, if those reasons (their motivators) are not discussed during the initial meeting, the salesperson has little to re-address the customer with when reviving interest later in the sales cycle.  In other words, we cannot assume that the customer will make all the right moves to buy from us at the speed and rate, which we choose.  Therefore, we need to ask appropriate questions to gauge and perhaps even set the customer’s urgency.

  1. All of Your Accounts Love You!-This is one of the most dangerous assumptions that can be made in today’s marketplace.  Yet there are salespeople out there that are taking their customer’s loyalty for granted even as you read this!  Think about what it is that you do for a living.  As a sales professional, part of your business life is dedicated to continually calling on and trying to capture part of the marketshare of your competitors.  You are continually introducing yourself and your company to the customers that are currently doing business with your competitors.  As a result, you are looking for a few of them to turn a cheating eye toward you and your company to “give you a shot” at earning their business.

Here is a news flash for you: 

Your competition is doing the same thing with your customers as you read this….and they just might be better at it than you!!

Therefore, we, as salespeople can never take our customer’s business for granted.  We need to be continually looking for ways to add value, over-deliver, and strengthen our relationships.  Here is a great drill:  Imagine that this scenario will follow every interaction that you have with your existing customers or clients:  One hour after you leave their office, they will be in a room with 100 of your top prospects.  What do you want them to be saying!!

  1. Your Customer Will Refer You To Others– Referrals to new prospective business from happy customers are one of the hallmarks of sales success that we all strive for as sale professionals. However, too many salespeople assume that their customers will automatically think of them, and then subsequently refer them when the opportunity presents itself.  WRONG!!  How many times have we wished for more referrals from our customers?  How many times have we hoped that the customer will think of us when they are networking with their colleagues?  Below, please find my Big 5 Rules for getting constant streams of referrals:
  • You must ASK for them—A lot!!
  • You must EARN the right to ask for them by over-delivering!
  • You must make it easy to refer!
  • You must professionally follow up on every referral!
  • Say Thank You!! (In different ways each time!)

If you make all of the right moves, a customer should turn into a raving fan for you and your company.  However, even the word should states there is an assumption.  So, leave nothing to chance and earn the right to ask, make it easy to refer, follow up on every one, and thank your customer from the bottom of your heart.  The best of the best in the field of sales realize that every great customer is worth several more great customers.  But, like everything else, it rarely happens on auto-pilot!

  1. Customers are Impressed With Your Knowledge– Zig Ziglar said it best when he said “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” One of the biggest faults of salespeople today is confusing the need to tell with the desire to sell.  Although there is a time to develop your prospect, customer, and client’s trust in you based upon your knowledge, that time is later in the process once other issues have been addressed.

As a buyer yourself, how impressed are you with all of the techno-babble that some salespeople feel they must subject you to?  Does this info draw you in or push you away?   Are you impressed with the salesperson who tells you what he/she knows or works (through questions) to find out what it is that you need?

Don’t assume that the buyer needs all the info that you possess.  Instead, find out what they need, and then meet those needs.

  1. My Product/Service Meets All of My Prospect’s Needs– We’d all love to think so, but that isn’t so!  Our product or service may not meet the needs or desires of the prospects, customers or clients that we are addressing today.  Sometimes the answer is no!  Sometimes they don’t qualify!  Sometimes, we don’t qualify!  Sometimes, there is no match!

Try this as a drill:  Start every initial meeting to introduce a new idea, product, or service with a variation of this statement:

“It is very important to us that we have a solid match with the companies or people that we do business with. Therefore, after reviewing your company’s needs, if it appears that we don’t have a fit, on your part or our’s, I will get out of your hair…time is money!  However, if, after an appropriate mutual assessment, it appears that we do have a match…AND, DUE TO INITIAL RESEARCH,  I THINK WE MIGHT, then I will show you how we can ___________________,” then I might ask you to explore with me how we may do business together today.  Is that fair?

If, after this initial discovery period, you discover that your prospects needs can not be met or are not consistent with what your company can and will provide, then your duty as a professional is to walk away.  If it appears, however, that you do have a potential fit, it is incumbent upon you as a sales professional to design a value proposition that will meet their highest value needs and lead them to the decision to do business with you. (Yes, this is the time to close!)

  1. The Customer Never Changes– In the past couple of years, many salespeople have been facing the changing of the guard inside their client companies. The person with whom they had the strong relationship suddenly has been let go, replaced, or has left the company.  In some instances, management makes the change in such positions because of the relationships that exist, thus making sure that all vendors are getting a shot.

I have seen many salespeople lose some of their bigger accounts because of these things.  What do we learn from this?  E—X—P—A—N—D your circle of influence within you accounts.  Get to know more than one contact or purchaser within the account.  Take an entire department out to lunch.  Ask to meet others within the company.  Earn your way into the doors of others.  Become a valued resource to many levels of the company.  Earn your way into the top offices and meet the decision makers.  Send thank you notes to everyone.  Make sure the buzz in that company regarding your service or product is about YOU!!  Don’t assume that your customer will never change…just be better prepared for when it happens!

  1. The Customer is Interested in My Issues– I read an interesting analogy recently in a book entitled “How to Become a Rainmaker” by Jeffery Fox.  The analogy was about a babysitter.  He stated there are two basic rules that a babysitter should follow.  The first rule states that no matter how much trouble the kids gave you while the parents were away, keep it to yourself.  When the parents come home after a much needed night away from the children and ask, “How were they?” the answer is always “Great-No problems!”  Rule number two states that the babysitter should leave the house a little cleaner than they found it.  Making sure that these two rules are followed should assure that the babysitter will have a repeat engagement with that family.  Why? Because she sells a relaxed evening and a clean house (Benefits!)

How does this relate to sales?  Once a customer hires you to do a job (create a solution), they don’t want to hear your problems about getting it done.  They don’t care!  Do a great job, do it on time, do it on budget, don’t complain, and give the customer a little extra.  This is the blueprint for customer satisfaction.

Your prospects, customers and clients don’t want to buy what you are selling! (Remember that from above?) In fact, they don’t care much about you at all.  They don’t care about your sales contests, your problems with traffic, your personal issues, or why your shipments are late.  They only care about themselves and their problems.  You are in front of them only because they believe that you might be able to help better their situation.  You are there by invitation only.  It is your duty to focus only on the customer. You must be on “high receive!”   You are there to ask questions about them, their issues, their pains, their fears, their desires, and their highest value needs.  And you are there to listen!!  Be very conscious of making sure that most of your sentences have a “you” in them rather than an “I.”  Never assume that they want to hear about you and your issues!

  1. Your Research Will Give You All The Ammo You Need­In today’s information filled world, it is much easier for the sales professional to gain access to vital data before meeting the prospect or customer. The best salespeople do a thorough amount of research to get well armed to fight the battle with the customer.  However, what you do (or don’t do) with that information is imperative to the sales call.

The fact that you have access to a lot of information does not negate your need, as a sales professional, to do a very thorough needs analysis with your prospect or customer on the sales call.  In fact, our experience has shown us that often times, the information discovered during the initial research is incorrect or outdated.  But besides that, lets remember one of the main reasons that we ask questions throughout the sales process is to show the prospect, customer, or client that we are focused on them and their needs. The questions will show them that we care.

We have all heard the old adage regarding “keeping a few cards up your sleeve.”  This is very appropriate in regards to pre-meeting info.  Knowledge truly is power if it is used appropriately.  Remember, the best source for the things that we truly need to know is the person or persons with whom you will be striking the deal.  Never assume that you don’t need to ask!

Be careful with these assumptions people.  Make sure that you go into every sales encounter prepared to make all of the right moves and do not get bogged down with assumptions such as these.  Many of us need to go back to our roots as junior salespeople and “Be just Dumb Enough (or is that Smart Enough) to assume nothing.”

 

Define Your “True Opportunity”

Finding Opportunity

Years ago, IBM introduced a qualification standard to identify if a deal was “pipeline worthy” and named it BANT.  The idea behind BANT was to make sure that an opportunity met at least 3 of the 4 letters to qualify as a true opportunity.  BANT stands for:

BUDGET—Does the customer have the budget to pay for the product, project, solution, etc.?

AUTHORITY—Are we dealing with the person that has the ability to make the buying decision?

NEED—Does the customer have a need that our product or solution may meet?

TIMELINE—Do they have a timeline in mind in which they will make the decision/purchase?

A client of ours last year reintroduced this qualification standard as part of their sales process when determining where to fit an opportunity into their pipeline.  I was intrigued to see that this was what they were teaching their reps and, although initially impressed that they had some parameters to determine an opportunity’s reality (or scope of reality) I believe that some re-defining of the terms were necessary for their organization (as they may be for yours.)

Why did I come to this conclusion?  I recently read an article/blog post discussing the need to reassess how it is that we define customer’s buying motives and decision-making criteria today versus yesterday.  That post made me think (that’s what they are supposed to do) about many of the changes in the buying environment and buying process of customers for both my organization as well as those of my client’s companies. Here are some undeniable facts:

  • Buyers today have more access to information and potential options than EVER before.
  • What is said about your company online by you pales in comparison to what others might be saying about you online.
  • Decisions are being made (or at least influenced) at different (or additional) levels of most organizations than they have been in the past.
  • There are more “pulls” for the customer’s time, attention, and budget dollars than ever in the past.
  • The speed of technology advancement has created both desire and fear of change in most organizations. (Desire to keep up and Fear of choosing wrong)
  • The need for a stronger, diagnostic, outcome focused sales approach is more important today than it has been ever in the past.
  • In the past it was said “Where there is mystery, there is margin!” Well, today, there is no longer any mystery about you and your “stuff!”  Thus, we need to focus on uncovering the mystery in the customer’s buying process.

So, let’s take a stab at re-defining the traditional BANT qualification standards…..

BUDGET—It is still important for sales reps today to understand that they are offering a solution to the customer that is within the financial parameters of what they can pay.  You still have to be “in the game” with what the customer can afford.  But it is our belief that when the customer has your solution in a HIGH PRIORITY POSITION, that it is rarely about what they pay!

So instead of sales reps today focusing on what the customer wants to spend, (really, they would rather not buy at all you know) let’s start focusing on what they are trying to accomplish as an outcome and what type of impact that will have on the business.

So, be honest with yourself; Is what you offer to your customers a nice to have, should have, need to have, must have, or cannot live without product, service or solution? Of course, that question is answered in the minds of the customer (perception of value) before can ever be assumed by you or your salespeople.  And that perception in the mind of the customer is their reality that will drive their decisiveness AND their budget.  Your product, service, or solution has to make an impact that is of high priority.  The higher the priority, the less important budget is!

We, as salespeople need to discover (and many times help them discover) the true business outcome that they seek. Seek to understand their current situation and desired future changes to that situation.  Conversations need to be focused on them before you. Caution:  Sometimes they are aware of this and willing to admit it and sometimes they are unaware or unwilling to share these things with you, especially early in the sales cycle or if you sound like a product focused, self-centered, commission breathed vendor!

AUTHORITY-So you want to know if I can write the check eh? If I say yes, does that mean that you are talking to the right person? Yes and no? Perhaps I am a prime individual in the decision-making process in that I have the capability to say yes and sign your PO.  But am I alone?  Are their other opinions that I take into consideration? Is there a process that I must adhere to before I say yes?  Does someone else need to OK my “Yes” or co-sign that check?

While it is true that many salespeople spend far too much time trying to sell to someone that cannot make the decision, we have found that in today’s world, there tends to be a lot more involved than simply someone with the checkbook and the authority to buy! If you have a product, service or solution that creates significant benefits or enhanced outcomes for your customer, I will bet that there are several people and departments in their organization (let’s call them stakeholders) that will be affected (or potentially threatened) by you and your offer.  Many times, those people are like those in The Colosseum back in the days of the gladiators in ancient Rome, offering their thumbs up or thumbs down opinion to judge your fate!

So, instead of looking for the Authority or the Decision Maker, lets; start digging into the understanding of the Decision-Making Process. Some great questions you may ask, regardless of the title of the person you are talking to today would be:

“Can you help me understand the process that you go through when making significant investments and advancements for your company such as this?”

“Who, in addition to you and I, needs to be involved in this process of mutual discovery?”

“Is there anyone else, in addition to yourself, that we need to invite to this meeting to help us get a 360-degree view of your desired outcomes?”

I think we might all agree that we have been a position in the past where we are speaking to the person of Authority and yet, when the time came, someone else influenced the decision elsewhere. Think about links in a chain to get to the final decision maker.  How many are there?  Who do they represent and what do they represent?  How strong are those links?  How much influence do they have? What is it that they value most? Have you even attempted to understand their point of view or their desired outcomes?

Many times, it is not the executive in not, in fact, the person who will make the decision, although they must give that decision their blessing.  It is often the person or user that works within the solution every day that will truly decide what gets purchased.  Don’t be killed by the “silent assassin” in the Influence Chain simply because you didn’t plan for or acknowledge them throughout the customer buying process.

NEED—For years, salespeople have attempted to uncover customer’s needs and create a desire for their products, services or solutions to meet those needs.  Better salespeople dug in to discover customer’s motivations such as Pains, Fears, and Desires on which to tie their offer.  Although this is better than the old FAB sell (Features, Advantages and Benefits) approach, today is simply doesn’t dig in far enough for most sellers.  This is especially true if your offer is similar in look and feel to that of your competition.

If you have a product, service or solution that is, in the mind of the buyer, a nice to have, it is imperative that you dig beyond “curing the pain” and get into a probe cycle that gets in several layers deeper. You need to dollarize the PAIN, monetize the FEAR, and understand the IMPACT of their desired outcomes!  What does it cost them to NOT take some action?  What is the overall IMPACT (Financial, Operational, Profitability, Growth, or Competitive Advantage) of making the change and choosing YOU?

I have a client today that offers a fantastic solution to commercial capital equipment that extends the life of the equipment (in certain climates) by 30%, helps the equipment run much more efficiently (lowering maintenance costs), and operate at 20% greater energy efficiency, saving the customer a lot of money!  The multitude of benefits literally fall into the “too god to be true” category.  Yet, they are having a hard time getting opportunities to the finish line with any sense of urgency.  Why?  In my opinion, there are a few reasons but one of the primary reasons is that, in the mind of the customer, this process is a nice to have solution to a problem that they were not aware they had.  You may wonder why, after a solid sales call by a sales rep that they did not get excited about all of the benefits.  I know I certainly did.

After digging in deeper, we discovered that the primary benefits being discussed on most calls were of a FINANCIAL impact (ROI, energy savings, net current value of equipment, etc.) and most of those sales calls were being made at the OPERATIONAL level, where the benefits of ownership must meet different needs.  And….most importantly…it is the job of the salesperson to uncover (and get the buyer to admit) those individual and very personal needs and motivations at every level!

In order to increase the urgency of the buyer, we need to be involved (facilitating dialogue) in conversations and diagnosis that uncover and discover the IMPACT (benefit) of ownership as well as the cost of inaction (pain)!  Dig deeper…the power is in the probe!  Their need to buy has to have a stronger outcome than their comfort to wait!  Remember (with very few exceptions) “Nobody wants to buy what you sell!”  Instead, they are looking for outcomes and the IMPACT of those outcomes.

The good news is that most salespeople would rather focus on their offer rather than the outcome of the customer and the impact on the customer’s business based upon that outcome.  The “bar” isn’t that high out there!  Differentiate and move up the urgency scale by making it about what THEY get and not about what YOU have.

TIMELINE—“When do expect that you will be making this purchase Mr. Customer?”  “When can we expect that PO to be signed Mr. Customer?”  “When will you take care of me?”  Yuck!

Again, we need to focus on IMPACT and OUTCOMES when discussing the decision and buying timelines.  It all has to be about them and what they get.  This is very difficult to do if you have only “checked the boxes” of Budget (Do you have the money allocated?), Authority (Are you the decision maker?) and Need (Do you see how this can help?) instead of probing into the true issues as we covered in the paragraphs above.  If you have not uncovered (and gotten ALL of the buyers in the Influence Chain involved) HOW and WHY the entire enterprise achieves outcomes and corresponding impact on those outcomes, you will never be happy with the WHEN they make the decision to buy!

The customer’s need to buy trumps your need to sell!  It is YOUR job to affect their perception of when that need to buy is!  TIMELINES are merely suggested dates if you do not tie them to true customer outcomes!

Let’s start redefining and going deeper into the BANT terminology to truly determine what qualifies as an opportunity and turns into a revenue-producing event.

 

-Gerry Layo, CEO Sales Coach International

 

How do you prepare your team for success?

Prepare- multi 2This time of year is a sports lovers dream!  Most of the major sports are playing plus World Series is on and its a nail bitter!

I am watching the World Series and something struck me watching the pitchers.   The pitchers are ALWAYS prepared.   They are in a constant state of warm-up.  Many of them warm up but never get the opportunity to play but there body is ready just in case they get thrown in the game.

In the sales game it is often the other way around.  Managers often focus on the time in the field or time on the phones and they do not properly train their team on how to prepare for the meeting.    Most managers let their sales team struggle to get leads.  They wait until their reps get a strong lead then they micro manage them through how to land the account.

What if you spent more time preparing your team to land the big accounts on their own?   Being proactive  would free you up to spend more time “coaching” your team for success.

So how do you become better prepared? Of course we have to know exactly who our customer is. As always, this involves asking some questions:

•    Who is thecustomer’s boss?
•    Who’s going to be most affected by this purchase, and which way are they going to be affected?
•    What is their world is like, with our product and without our product?

We’ve got to know what are the biggest concerns, the biggest pains, the biggest fears that our customers may have without the use of our product. And what are some of the biggest cures that they can have by utilizing our product or our service?

So we have to be prepared with our opening statements and conversational points. It might be things going on in the marketplace, or some other things of relevance to them. Maybe we’ve read their website and there are things going on in their industry that we need to be talking about. Maybe we need to be knowledgeable about their competition and what’s going on, trends in their marketplace. Then we have to know how to transition from that opening statement to the meat of our presentation.

We’ve got to be prepared with the questions we’re going to ask, how we’re going to ask them, when we’re going to ask them, why we’re going to ask them, and what answers we seek. We’ve got to have follow up questions ready. We’ve got to have three, to four or five ways we have to ask each question, just in case we don’t get at the answer the first time, or the second time, or the third time.

We’ve got to be prepared to address their concerns, overcome their objections, so that we can differentiate ourselves every step along the way. We’ve got to be prepared to close the deal should we have to do that. We’ve got to be prepared to do the end around if somebody’s coming in, like the competition who sits invisibly at the table as we give our presentation.

We’ve got to be prepared to address any ghosts that might be in the closet of our company. Any ghosts that maybe the competition is trying to make the customer well aware of. We’ve got to be prepared with lots of stuff. We’ve got to be prepared to take the order, to wow them with their first delivery.

We’ve got to be prepared in every way.

And the bigger the customer the greater level of preparation you have.  On the flip side of that coin, the bigger the deal, the easier you can screw it up if you’re not going in well-prepared. And the more impact that is going to have on the long-term success of your organization in that piece of business, if you ever get another shot.