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What Your Customers Really Want!

During the sales cycle, it is the goal (the desired outcome) of the sales professional and the company for which he/she works to close the sale and complete the transaction.  When this occurs, there is typically a transfer of funds that occurs which generates revenue resulting, hopefully, in a profit for the company.

Here is the interesting (painful) part:  The customer is not focused on nor do they care about this transaction.  They do not want the SALE!  They do not care about your profits!  What the customer wants are the things that occur for them based upon what the product or service does!  They want the benefits of ownership—not the ownership!

Here are 5 easy steps to discover what the customer wants:

1-Do your homework (pre-call planning)

2-Ask the right questions (relevance is key)

3-LISTEN with the intent to understand and add value

4-Restate what you heard to gain clarity and agreement

5-Provide a solution and speak to ONLY the solution

 

Let’s look at each step a little closer:

1-Do your homework

Invest your valuable time into the appropriate pre-call strategizing.  Do your best to not only research the company and the person on whom you will be calling, but to also “get in the prospect’s head.”  Ask yourself the following 3 questions:

A-What do we know? (about the person, the company, the decision-making process, etc.)

B-What do we need to know? (to move the sale forward)

C-What do we want to “get out on the table?” (what motivations will drive the sale?)

2-Ask the right questions

If you have done the right things in your pre-call preparation, you will have a clear purpose to your call as well as some relevant questions prepared.  Thinking through all of this in advance will help you ask (with confidence) the right questions which will make the prospect think in a different way about their situation. These questions will also position you as more of an expert and thus, will get better information from the customer.

3-LISTEN with the intent to understand and add value

The answers that come from your customer to the questions that you ask are the keys to your successful sale.  You see, as I said before, the customer does not want to own your product or service!  They don’t even want what it does!  They simply want the benefit of what it does for them.  If you are listening for what it is that they want, the secret to making the sale will come out.  Understand your customer’s motivations and you will understand their motives to take action.  Only then, can you add value and thus, make the sale!

4-Restate what you heard to gain clarity and agreement

The fact that you listened and thought that you understood the customer and their needs is not as important as the fact that the customers knew you were listening and understand them and their needs.  In order to make sure that they understand you were listening, use “re-cap sentence starters” as you feed back what you heard them say before you begin to offer a solution.  Example:  “OK Ms. Customer, let me make sure I understand your main areas of concern.  You…….  or  “OK Paul, let me make sure I’ve got this straight.  You…..  or  “Mary, let me make sure I heard you correctly. You…..”

Prove that you listened—show that you care!  Clarity creates consensus.  Consensus creates trust!

5-Provide a solution and speak only to the solution!

Many times, I see salespeople go through the discovery process (asking questions and listening) where the highest value needs (HVNs) of the customer become evident.  Rather than speak only to those needs, the salesperson breaks into the “presentation” part of the sales call and proceeds to puke all of the FAB (Feature, Advantage, Benefit) points about his product or service.  The Smart Selling suggestions above are designed to discover what your offer should be and what it should NOT be.  In other words, if you do a good job on the 4 points listed above, the customer will tell you which benefit to discuss.  Do that—nothing more!! Leave the other FABs out for now.

The Secret of Smart Selling

“If I put in front of the customer what they want more than anything else, they will, in turn, move heaven and Earth to get it AND pay a premium.”

Stop selling WHAT you want to sell, HOW you want to sell it, WHEN you want to sell it, and WHY you want to sell it!  They are most likely not the reasons your customers want to buy.  After all, aren’t they the boss?

Earn a Higher Price!

Image result for dollar sign picture

What is it that you bring to the table that your competition cannot or will not?  What is it that you offer that your prospects, customers, and clients would be willing to stand in line and/or pay a premium to have?  What value do you bring to the equation that creates a greater perception of value for your product or service and thus commands a higher price?

Would you buy from you at premium prices?  If the answer is yes….and I hope to high heavens that it is….Why?

We are selling in a marketplace today that demands more from sales professionals.  Communication tools such as cell phones, email, and I/M are creating a level of expectation from our customers that is getting harder and harder to meet.  The internet is leveling the playing field as far as access to information.  (Everyone can Google you and your competition before you walk in the door.)  The result?  Buyers that have a higher degree of sophistication (or at least a higher level of belief of their sophistication) than ever before.  Where there is mystery there is margin and the internet has removed much of the mystery about you, your company, your products & services, and your pricing.

If we keep selling into the marketplace the same way that we have in the past, we will get passed up by SMART competitors and passed over by SMART customers.

What can we do to keep up?  What can we do to get ahead?  What can we do to earn the top margins in our ever changing and competitive marketplace?

Below, please find a list of 15 things that you can start to do today to stand out from the crowd, differentiate yourself (and thus your product/service), and command the respect and attention of prospects, customers, and clients:

1. Start a strict regimen of pre-call preparation.

Do your homework before making that call on any executive or decision maker.  Google them, research their industry, read their industry magazines, learn about them and their company. The things that you learn will help you build a platform from which relevant questions and conversation can begin.  In order to have something relevant to offer, have something relevant to ask and something relevant to say!

2. Decision maker or decision influencer?

Clarity on who it is that you are dealing with will help you build the appropriate value proposition.  If you are developing a “champion” or a “flag-bearer” in an account, make sure that the value of your offer speaks to their needs.  Typically, the decision maker is motivated by, and thus will act upon a much different set of criteria than those you met on the way in—sell accordingly.  Never assume what their motivation is.  Always dig, probe, & listen before you diagnose.

3. Make a few phone calls in advance.

I suggest calling anyone who may know anything about an account before actually attending a meeting to get a flavor for what you are about to face.  Knowledge is power—power can be leverage.  In addition, if there are to be several people in the session, I suggest calling as many of them as possible in advance to discover or uncover any issues or expectations.

4. Speak the customer’s language.

We tend to present our value propositions in a language that is filled with our industry words.  The problem?  The customer doesn’t know your industry like you do so a “disconnect” or confusion can occur.  I suggest that you record your value propositions, presentations, conversations, and questions as often as possible.  Get these recordings in the hands of non-industry people and get their opinion.  You might be surprised that the reason you are not closing enough sales is that the door to understanding has never been opened due to a language barrier.

5. Read, learn, grow!

Commit to reading a book every month on how to be a better sales professional.  You will be amazed at the new moves that you will adopt for your sales success.  In addition, read at least 2-3 business or industry magazines every month.  You will learn things that you did not know.  This can add to your confidence and, if you figure out ways to use this knowledge to differentiate you from the crowd (adding value to your customers) it will add to your commission check!

6. Be the quarterback of your sales efforts.

Someone must call the plays.  Make sure that on every interaction with prospects, customers, and clients you clearly define the purpose of the call and stick to it.  When the call purpose is met, clearly identify next steps as well as who is responsible for what.  You guide the timelines, you run the plays, and you call the shots.  The result will be getting to yes faster. (as well as getting to NO faster…see next item.)

7. Ask for the yes once you’ve earned it-but don’t be afraid of the no.

Get out on occasion to drive your pipeline business further along towards a yes knowing that the result will most likely be a few fresh no’s.  Is this a bad thing?  Absolutely not! Stop wasting time on those who can not or will not buy from you.  A full pipeline of no’s is worse than no pipeline at all.  The time you invest on qualifying OUT the non-buyers will be well spent once it’s re-invested in prospecting for those who can and will say YES!

8. Get a coach or a mentor.

This sales game can be tough.  Having someone to bounce ideas off and to strategize with will give you a leg up on the competition.  Think your good enough to fly solo.  Think again!  Even Steph Curry has a coach or two on his team.

9. Make the CLOSE a natural conclusion to your professional sales process.

Don’t let the “closing” part of your sales cycle be a surprise to your customer.  Don’t shy away from it either.  Your customer should know that you are there to do business.  In order to earn their business, you will have to learn to ask in such a way that it is less painful for both you and the customer.  Right now, sit down and write 5 closing questions that transition you from the presentation and negotiation to the action phase of the sales cycle.  When you have them written, ask them each aloud 100 times until they become less mysterious and thus, natural.

10. Talk Benefits rather than Features.

The customer does not buy quality, service, reliability, innovation, integration, knowledge, experience, teamwork, or the other features that you are tossing out there in an attempt to differentiate your company.  They only buy what those things can do for them and  what it is they want to accomplish.  The sooner you start talking about what they GET rather than what it does, the sooner you begin to earn a greater margin.

11. Ask them what will happen if they don’t…..?

Attempt to attach a cost or a price to in-action.  When you prospect and customers say they are “staying the course with the way they currently do things” you need to help them understand that continuing to do what they are currently doing will only get them more of what they are currently getting.  If (and this is a big if) you have attached a PAIN to their current situation (from their point of view), then you can attach a FEAR of the future.  Your product or service at that point becomes the cure to the PAIN and thus, a peace of mind to the FEAR.  This is called a solution, and it is worth more than what your competitor is selling.

12. Don’t lie—PERIOD!

The word character is not used enough in professional sales.  It needs to be.  This world of Google has opened all of our kimonos so there are very few secrets anymore.  Often your customer will ask a question that they know the answer to just to qualify your character.  You must pass the 1st time because you won’t get a second shot.  (Remember, they are more aware of their options today) Customers pay more for character and trust—count on it!

13. Quid-Pro-Quo

This Latin term that means “something for something” or “this for that” should be paid close attention to in your dealing with customers.  It works both ways.  If you are looking for forward movement in the sales cycle or an introduction to others to help you get it, practice quid pro quo from your end first.  Give to get.  Give a referral, get movement.  Give an introduction to a lead; get an introduction further into the customer’s circle of influence.  Add value first; get things you value in return.  On the flip side we need to understand that when a customer asks us to jump through hoops for them (put together a demo, draw me up an analysis of the benefits, etc.) it is only fair that we now can ask for something in return from them.  Example:  “We will put together a demonstration of the software, customized to your needs as you requested.  If the software performs and meets all of the specifications that we discussed, will you be prepared give us a commitment to move ahead with the purchase that day?”

14. Never make a call without a purpose.

In order to be the most productive with your time and the time of your prospects, customers and clients, have a clear purpose for each of your calls.  Don’t visit the customer without the express purpose of bringing something of value to the table or moving the sales cycle forward.  Don’t make a call to “just check in” some other nonsense.  If you don’t take your call seriously, why should they?  By being able to clearly state the purpose of your call and sticking to it, you will become a professional worthy of investing time and money with.

15. Look sharp!

If your product or service is pretty similar to that of your competitions, the little things will often be the deciding factors when deciding who to go with and how much to pay. Don’t underestimate the fact that people initially form a perception about you and your professionalism based upon appearance before you ever get a chance to open your mouth.  You want a higher price?  Look the part!  (Use an iron…it’s becoming a lost art!)

These 15 points are a good start to get you heading towards higher margins and thus, better commissions.  You can see that there are no tricks and no shortcuts.  Simply applying more in the areas of focus, self discipline, commitment, and a customer focused approach will change the customer’s perception of value regarding you and thus, your company, product or service.

Make an IMPACT!

fine image of classic 3d newton cradle background

One of the main areas that I have found myself coaching salespeople the past few months is IMPACT.  I contend that, although it is important to be the best that you absolutely can be in every interaction with a prospect, customer, or client, you do not have to be the best that they have ever seen.  You don’t have to be the smoothest talker.  You don’t have to be the silver-tongued devil that has an answer for every question. You do, however, need to make an IMPACT!  What does that mean?  What questions might you ask yourself before the sales call to ensure that an IMPACT can be made? After some thought, I have chosen to define IMPACT as a combination of the following areas:

I-IMPRESSION  “What impression do I want them to have of me?”  There are a variety of impressions that prospects, customers, and clients can have of us based upon any interaction.  Unfortunately, not all of them are positive!  But, with proper preparation, we can focus on doing the things necessary to “stack the deck” in our favor.  The best sales professionals today are very cognizant of the customer perspective and thus, very aware of every move they make, how they look, how they prepare, and how they show.  Here are a few examples (both positive and negative) of impressions that we can leave:

  • Professional UN-Professional
  • Respectful DIS-Respectful
  • Interested Deal Focused
  • Resource Salesperson
  • Solution Problem
  • Investment Cost

M-MEMORABLE “What do I want them to remember when I’m gone?” One of the keys to making an IMPACT is being memorable in the minds of your prospect, customer, or client. This often comes from making strong statement utilizing your best “power phrases.” Every solid sales professional has their “go-to” phrases or “word-tracks” that truly drive home the desired point. It is often this phrase that makes an IMPACT. Here is an example of one of my favorites I’ve used for years when faced with a customer with price concerns:

  • “I understand that you can get a similar product/service from one of my competitors at a lower initial price. In fact, if what you pay is your main deciding factor, you most likely will not do business with me. However, if your concern is more about what you get for what you pay, then you will do business with nobody but me!”

P-P.P.O.D.  “What Positive Perception Of Difference will I make such that they will go out of their way and/or pay a premium to do business with me?”  The best salespeople are always attempting to create differentiation in the marketplace between themselves and the competition.  They furthermore realize that differentiation comes from their actions as well as their words.  They create a positive perception of difference through the way they dress, the way they ask questions, the way they “brand” themselves before, during, and after the sale, the way they present their opportunity, or the way they ask for the business.  The best realize that typically it is the companies that “stand out” that have the highest return of customers and thus they look to “stand out” as well.

A-ASK QUESTIONS AND LISTEN  “What do I need to know in order to increase my chances of winning the sale?”  The best sales professionals realize that the strongest sentence that they can put “out there” to a prospect, customer, or client ends in a question mark!  While their competitors are out there showing up and throwing up on sales calls, they are probing, digging, inquiring, going deeper, diagnosing, and finding out their customers highest value needs and motivators so that they can provide the best solution.  Defined as “The Shortest Course on Selling,” the art of asking questions and listening does more to make an IMPACT than anything else you could ever hope to do!

  • “If you ask the right questions and truly listen to your customer’s answers, they will explain your business to you!”
  • “Nobody ever LISTENED themselves out of a sale!” 

C-CHARACTER (Have one-Don’t BE one!) “How will I increase the perceived value of my product/service through my rock-solid character?”  It has been said that a well-rounded character is square in all his/her dealings. Selling is defined as a transfer of trust. Sales pros need to make sure that transfer is made early and often throughout the sales process.  That doesn’t happen by speaking negatively about the competition, a prospect’s prior decision, your internal sales support, or anyone else.  It also does not come from speaking about your customer’s competitor that you sell to.  What it does come from is sincere professionalism in every aspect of your interaction with prospects, customers, and clients (even behind the scenes.)

  • “Character is what happens when nobody is looking!”

T-TOUCH ‘EM  “How will I make sure that they know me beforehand, hear me during, and don’t forget me afterwards?”  It has often been said, “In business, it is not what you know but who you know.”  The best sales professionals believe, “It is not who I know but who knows me that counts in business!”  Companies spend millions of marketing dollars to “brand” themselves and create a “top of consciousness” in the minds of their customers through a variety of ways that they touch them.  Today’s top producers realize that the best way that can assure that their prospects, customers, and clients think of them when a need to buy comes about is through frequent, repetitious contact before, during, and after the initial sale.  These touches come in many forms and include a combination of personal contact, letters, e-mails, faxes, mailed articles, postcards, value-add newsletters, suggestions, referrals, reference requests, thank you cards, holiday/anniversary cards, and many, many more.  A word of caution, however, is to make sure that you don’t do what everyone else is doing. (See PPOD above!)

By making an IMPACT On your prospects, customers, and clients in all you do, you stand a better chance as a sales professional to earn their business now and forever.  Contrary to popular current books in the marketplace, the little things do matter so sweat them all!  Remember, there is a big burden on you to have to be the best and only one can achieve that.  But every sales professional has the ability (and duty) to make an IMPACT!  Happy hunting!

10 Ways Salespeople BLOW Sales

Happy smiling business man standing out of the crowd with other people hiding their face behind a question mark sign.

Most salespeople are NOT tough acts to follow!  Most salespeople are simply moving through the profession of sales rather than working hard at it to earn their fortune.  In fact, in my opinion, 80% of salespeople UNDER PERFORM!  Here’s TEN reasons why:

1.  They’re focused on SELLING rather than HELPING THE CUSTOMER BUY.

The typical salesperson comes into almost every sales interaction with the same intent: To tell the prospect as much as they can about the product or service that they offer and then get them to buy it.  It’s no wonder that customers hide behind voicemail and screen us out!  Who wants to go through that?

2.  They have very little, if any, pre-call planning.

We wouldn’t expect our attorneys to go into court on trial day winging it, would we?  We don’t expect our doctors to go into the operating room without a plan.  We assume that the sports teams that we watch have a game plan that they execute for every opponent, don’t we?  If we wouldn’t expect any of these professionals to “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes time to earn their pay, why in the world do we allow our salespeople to do it?

3.  They act and sound just like everyone else.

Most salespeople are NOT tough acts to follow.  And yet, most salespeople go through the same routine.  Most salespeople come in and try to “make a sale” (see #1 above) and hope that a customer appears.  SMART sellers come in and first “create a buyer” (ask questions and listen) and thus, the sale becomes the result.  Make it (your sales call) about them (the buyer) and you will stand out!

4.  They do not LISTEN to the customer.

The customer has all of the answers as to why they want to buy.  Sometimes they are aware of these answers and sometimes they are not.  If you ask enough of the right questions and ARE WILLING to truly listen to the customer’s answers, they will often times explain your business to YOU!  By the way, “Listening is different than waiting to talk!”

5.  They try to sell to someone who cannot buy!

Qualification of the prospect is one of the top priorities of sales professionals.  Often it is those that are hardest to get a meeting with that are the true decision makers.  And yet, salespeople meet with and try to sell to those who cannot write the check!  All of their correspondence, all of their time, all of their efforts, and their proposal has been geared toward the wrong people. Find out who can say yes and spend your time courting them.

6.  They bring NOTHING of value to the table.

Salespeople today need to understand that simply being there to take the order is no longer enough.  Anybody can do that!  A true sales professional in today’s marketplace needs to become a valuable asset to the customer by adding value at every opportunity. Giving information is no longer the main job of the salesperson.  Nowadays, if you don’t bring something to the table that will help the customer see that you are a vital component to their success, you can and will be replaced often.

7.   They are unaware of who (or what) they are up against.

The competition for a prospect or customer’s time, attention, and money is greater now than it ever has been.  We not only are up against competing companies and vendors in the marketplace, we are also up against things like internal competition, the current vendor, internal pressure to fund something else (another project), and indifference (no action).  When we are up against others, we need to be aware of who they are, how they sell, what they say, what they offer, and what it costs.  Getting blindsided by any competition is a direct result of lack of preparation (you need to know what your going to run into) and a failure to listen to the things both said and un-said by our prospects and customers.

8.  They steer the conversation to price and then complain about price sensitivity.

This is a big one.  Price seems to be come up more often and sooner in every sales conversation today.  Look at the buying environment today with customers having immediate access to information about product and price on the web and you can understand why price is (and always has been) an issue.  But YOU don’t have to be the one that brings it up!  Be prepared for price concerns, but don’t lead with your wallet!  The less you focus on the cost or the price, the less they will.  The more you focus on the benefits of ownership, the more they will.  And the more they focus on that, the more they will be willing to pay.

9.  They don’t have enough opportunity in the pipeline.

It has been said that the best sales strategy is a full pipeline of business.  What does this mean?  When salespeople have a lot of prospects that are in their pipeline of business, they make moves that position themselves and their companies in more of a positive, confident light.  When every meal depends upon every deal, the customer is fully in control—and you are NOT!

10.  They’re in the wrong job!

The profession of selling is for sales professionals.  Sales pros have certain characteristics and traits that are necessary for sustained sales success.  Too often we have people in the position of salesperson by default!   The position of sales professional for any company must be one that is filled with great attention to detail.  It used to be said that “any idiot can be a salesman!”  That cannot be further from the truth today.  We are in a world of hyper-competitiveness.  Only the best will make the cut!  Others need to move on and fill other roles—or go play the role of salesperson on the competition’s team.

Add up your scorecard.  How many of these areas are YOU (or your people) guilty?

There is a rule to winning:  Don’t SUCK!  If you are guilty of three or more of the areas above, get your act back together, pay attention, and make the changes necessary.  Sharpen up your skills, take control of your actions, and start to fight a better fight.

Huddle Up for Greater Sales and Customer Service

Businesspeople in huddle

Communication is the main element in combining knowledge and experience on a sales and/or customer service team.  As organizations get bigger, walls tend to come up between departments and the “solo” mentality can be the result.  The true victim in all of this is the customer.

Although I highly suggest that your local or regional sales team meets on a regular (at least bi-weekly) basis for a solid sales meeting to enhance skills and permeate the right attitude, I have another suggestion for your daily interaction with your internal teams.  We have seen great results with many companies due to “The Daily Huddle.”  The Daily Huddle is a quick 5-minute meeting that goes over the results from the previous day as well as the game plan for the current day.

The Daily Huddle is an opportunity for everyone to “check-in” with their plan for the day.  It is an opportunity to point your team in the right direction and get a flavor for the day ahead.  It is a chance to see who is prepared and who is not.  (Incidentally, by having a Daily Huddle-every day-you will get higher levels of accountability and preparation from your people–nobody wants to be caught unprepared on a team!)

 

Here are a few rules for the Daily Huddle:

-No longer than 5 minutes.

-No chairs—huddles are done standing up

-Be on high receive—Listening is imperative!

-Engage—Be prepared to report what happened yesterday and what will happen today

-Be prepared to offer assistance or answers to others

-No interruptions (cell phones, emails, calls, etc.) allowed

-All positives-no negativity in the Huddle!

 

What can be covered in the Daily Huddle:

-Yesterday’s appointment results

-What’s new in the pipeline or in the SOLD column?

-Any client issues that need addressing with customer service?

-A Success Story from sales

-A Success Story from customer service

-What sales calls are scheduled for today?

-What assistance/knowledge is needed to ensure sales call success today?

-Who is going with whom?

-Recognition

-Tip of the Day

 

The Daily Huddle (on the phone or in person) can be a vital part of a healthy sales and service organization.  The Daily Huddle, done correctly, runs strong defense against small problems getting blown out of proportion.  The Daily Huddle lets the entire team “in” on what is going on with the company’s success.  The Daily Huddle puts the manager front and center with his/her people to remove all obstacles to their success and to set the pace for the successful attitude necessary for the day!

Identify the team that gets results for your customers and see about getting a Daily Huddle with them.  In today’s busy work environment, the major thing that is getting lost is our communication internally with our teams that translates into poor communication externally with our customers!  Stop the insanity and huddle up for success!

LISTEN UP!!

Girl listening with her hand on an ear

I have written many articles on the importance of preparation, planning, presentation, attitude, prospecting, objection avoidance, leadership, and more in this newsletter.  But there is one thing that runs as a common denominator for all of these topics.  There is one area I need to cover that actually fuels the success of all of the above initiatives.  This is an area that we all take for granted and yet, most of us literally STINK at it.  As salespeople, there is perhaps no more impactful of a skill to have than the skill of effective listening.

We all initially got into sales because we are good talkers, good negotiators, good persuaders, and because we are comfortable when doing all of these things with strangers.  We take courses on, attend seminars regarding, and read books about how to be better at “Getting our Point Across,” “Giving Professional Presentations,” “Overcoming Objections,” and “Power Phrases that Sell.”  We constantly work on better ways to say what we want to say.  We record ourselves on the phones talking and even video ourselves talking/pitching in role-play situations.  Although all of this is important, what I notice getting lost on most salespeople of today is the tried and true art of listening.

I have yet to ever run into a truly top shelf successful salesperson that is not a great listener.  Great salespeople realize that they MUST listen to the prospect/customer because:

  • When they are listening, they are learning about the prospect/customer
  • With more info on the prospect/customer needs, they have a better shot in recommending the proper solutions.
  • What they are listening to are typically the answers to questions that are designed to control the process and lead the prospect/customer toward the benefits or solutions that the salesperson has to offer.
  • When they are listening, they are building trust.
  • When they are listening, the customer is buying into them—They are showing that they care.
  • When they truly listen, the customer will tell them what to say (or ask) next.

I do a lot of training in the area of effective question asking to “open” a customer.  I work on the reasons why we ask the questions that we do and how to best structure and practice those questions beforehand so that they appear very “off the cuff” and centered on the prospect/customer’s specific situation.  However, I do not spend enough time discussing the art of listening to the answers and response strategies.  I can only picture a mindless set of drones out in the marketplace asking a question, checking it off the list, and moving on to the next.  Say it isn’t so!!!!

Enthusiastic Listening

Let’s take a closer look at this term, shall we?  How does one enthusiastically listen?  When you think about that term, what comes to mind for you?  I get a picture in my mind of someone leaning in (edge of their chair), eyes locked on whomever is talking, eyebrows raised, nodding in understanding, hanging on every word, and responding with requests for more.  I see in my minds eye a child listening to an exciting bedtime story for the first time and asking things like “What happened next?” “Who is that?”  “Why did she do that, Mommy?”  “What does he look like, Daddy?” and so on.

In the profession of sales, that same wide-eyed enthusiasm over the words of our prospects/customers may be quite appropriate to a certain degree.  INTERESTED is the word that we are going for here.  I feel that the best way for a prospect/customer to be INTERESTED in you is to be genuinely INTERESTED in them.  The problem is that most of us feel that we have to be INTERESTING!  We feel that we have to speak eloquently, have a solid canned “pitch” that is compelling, and through these tactics, we will win over the hearts and minds of our prospects/customers.  C’mon…. Get over yourself!!  It’s not about you!  It’s about them and their pains, their fears, their desires, and their highest value needs.

By listening enthusiastically, you will show the prospect/customer the greatest respect that you can.  You will show that you care about their needs-not yours.  You will show that you are interested in how to best create a solution for them.  You will show that you are different, that you stand out!  Below are a few tips to help you engage in the art of enthusiastic listening:

  1. Look’em in the eye!  When a prospect/customer is speaking (answering your questions), do your best to look them directly in the eye as much as you can.  It shows that you are focused on their response.  A great tip to help you stay focused intently on them is to pick just one eye and look directly into that.
  2. Use appropriate facial expressions and nods.  Use non-verbal feedback in the form of the occasional nod to show understanding and agreement, a head tilt with brow furrowing to show a lack of understanding (and thus a request for more info), a smile and nod to show clarity and agreement.  Also use winces and other similar facial expressions to show that you feel their pain.  Much can be said without saying a word.  Learn to master this art through practice in front of a mirror.
  3. Lean into the conversation.

There is nothing wrong with leaning into the conversation during particularly intense or emotional points in which pains and fears are being discovered and discussed.  Get on the edge of your chair and show them that you care.

  1. Take notes.

There is a term called “noteworthy” that seems to be appropriate for the purposes of a sales interaction.  By writing down some of the main points of the conversation, you will not only show the prospect/customer that you are listening and that you care, you will also show that what she is saying is worthy of making note of it.  Also, if you write down what they say word-for-word and how they say it (use quotes on these parts) then you will have a tool to use later in the sales process to assist in closing the sale.

  1. Ask follow-up questions with active probing verbs.

An example of some solid follow up questions might be:

  • “Why?”
  • “Can you expand on that?”
  • “Paint me a picture of that.”
  • “Can you give me an example?”
  • “How long has that been the case?”
  • “Have you always felt that way?”
  • “Why do you suppose that is?”

  1. Re-Phrase statements made by the prospect/customer.

When a customer has expressed concerns (another word for pains) regarding a specific issue, show that you truly listened by rephrasing the statement.  Example:

They say: “I am a little worried about how the fluctuating interest rates are going to affect my variable mortgage and also about buying this home in an area which has had several houses sell for under appraised value in the past.”

Salesperson says as a rephrase and a re-cap point: “I understand that your specific concerns are about interest rates and resale value, is that correct?”

**A word of caution here. Too much usage of this tool will appear to be practiced and fake.  It will have a tendency to show the customer that you are merely using a sales technique to create a bond and it will become a turn-off.  Use moderately.

So, in the future, think about that young child listening intently to his/her parent reading Peter Pan for the first time to them.  See if you can see the look in their eyes, the curiosity in their entire demeanor.  Create that same level of enthusiastic curiosity in yourself as you head into your next sales call.  Listening is a skill and one that can be learned.  Tap into as many resources as you can to sharpen this skill and tap into the world of sales success!

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.”

 

Cast Your Vote for 2013 Growth

So…Election Day has past. Did you vote? Did you cast your ballot for what it is that you believe in? Did you put in the effort to understand the issues, the politics, and the possible outcomes of your vote? Did you go out of your way and stand in line to exercise one of the biggest honors and responsibilities that you have as an American? Do you understand that we have people fighting every day in foreign lands so that you can exercise this right? And now that the votes are all in and the results are all in place, are you happy with the outcome? Will you now take a stand to facilitate change that is necessary or will you complain about circumstances that are present?
As an entrepreneur, a leader/manager, or a sales professional you get up each and every day to cast your ballot. You make a choice every day (many times a day) to ELECT to do what is necessary to get the results that you desire. There are many people that every day follow the lead of others and ELECT to be told what they are due in this world…but not you! YOU decide the vote you will cast to make those extra calls. YOU decide the ballot spot you will mark in your preparation efforts before every meeting, sales call, or decision you make. YOU decide your strategy, your approach, and your follow through. Therefore, this election season, I offer to you, regardless of your party or politician of choice, a FIVE POINT PLAN for your the growth of your company, your team, and/or your personal book of business for the future:

1-Define it-Design it!
Right now, I ELECT to decide what my 2013 will look like. I will set my company, team, and personal goals by defining my VISION for results this year. My VISION will determine my mission and thus, the changes that I must make to accomplish that VISION. No longer will I suffer the dysfunction of the masses by letting things and circumstances decide my results. I will decide

2-Preparation Before Execution

Today I begin to start down the path of strategic thought before committed action.  I will spend at least 5 minutes prior to each sales call or each meeting deciding, in advance, what I have in mind for an ideal outcome of the meeting.  I will declare (and write-down) targeted take-aways prior to the meeting, forcing me to THINK from all perspectives and take into account all those involved in the sales call or the meeting.  I will always have a plan before I get into the battle.

3-Growth
I realize I cannot accomplish more than I have without becoming more than I am.  I commit to my professional growth this year by increasing my exposure to new ideas, new strategies, and new actions.  I must learn more than I know today and I must take paths that I have previously not taken.  The marketplace demands more from every sales professional.  Every sales team can grow sales and profits on the wisdom, guidance, and coaching of their leader.  And the marketplace certainly demands more from every sales professional.  This year, I will rise to meet those demands. I will read more, write more, speak more, seek more coaching, more mentorship, and never cease.

4-Visibility

In order for my organization, my team and/or my marketplace to engage more with me and thus, do more business with and/or for me, I must become more visible.  If I am not visible to those with whom I choose to grow, I am, in fact, IN-visible.  I will learn ways to network better and more often.  I will schedule specific visibility both physically and online every week.  I will add value though all of these efforts.  I will connect, engage, and offer assistance everywhere.  I will become known for these things and create a brand of excellence that is known to the masses.  I will become more than I am currently to all of those who know me and many that do not as of yet know me.  And I will define my brand.

5-Action

The greatest secret all accomplishment is ACTION.  With the focus of the Four points above, ACTION is the secret to ignite them all.  I realize that I do not have to be great to start, but in order to be great, I must START!  Every day, I will take a bit more action.  I will make 5 more sales calls, meet with 1 more employee (and listen to them), or offer a bit more coaching to my people.  I will not only plan my work but I will put more effort into working my plan!  I will get up earlier, stay a little later and truly be present as I morph myself and my team/organization into World-Class results.

As a professional today, you need to ELECT to follow a plan for a better future, if only for the upcoming year.  Cast your vote now to unseat the complacent, comfortable incumbent that resides in your office!  GO—BE—DO!

Give Yourself a Sales Pro Tune-Up Today!

Our work habits, over time, determine our levels of success. Use the following checklist to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses as a salesperson. Be honest with yourself, and score realistically to get an accurate picture of your professional strengths.

1. Do I take responsibility for my own success?  Do I blame someone else if things aren’t going well? If I am, I am misleading myself.  No one ever has the best price, product or service all of the time. Superstars succeed despite periodic shortcomings of the company, or swings in the economy.

2. Am I truly knowledgeable? Am I doing my homework? Do I understand today’s environment, my products and my direct competition? Prospects are more concerned with knowledge and service than they are with product and price.

3. What am I doing that my competition is not?. Am I continuing my education? Do I have a reading program? Am I continually self-renewing and sharpening my skills? A professional who ceases getting better ceases being good!

4. Am I really sensitive to the needs of those with whom I interact? Do I truly understand their social styles? Am I versatile? People do things for their reasons, not mine. My future success depends on my people skills.

5. Do I understand that I can’t just sell anything to anyone? People buy only what they want. Do I work to learn their most important needs, and how I can help meet them? Am I mastering the sales process and do I know why it works? Do I really understand that selling is the transfer of trust?

6. Am I of good cheer? Is an interaction with me a positive experience? Do I maintain a positive attitude? Do I take myself too seriously?

7. Do I create a good professional image? Do I project whatever my message does and with whomever I meet? Am I visible, available, professional in my presentation, and am I businesslike? Do I exhibit self-esteem and competence? Am I known for resolving the problem – now?

8. Am I a good manager of business relationships? In my career, have I built loyal clients or just occasional customers? Clients give me 50 percent or more of their business while customers give me business sporadically.

9. Am I living on my own fat? Do I add a trusting client at least every quarter? Do I continually prospect for new client possibilities? Have I been a career salesperson for three years, or have I had a one-year career three times? Do I do my marketplace research and pre-market myself before I approach a prospect?

10. Do I make only quality calls? Do I avoid comfort calls with those who don’t produce? Do I understand that I should never make a call without a clearly defined purpose? Do I target my prospects and develop business opportunities, or do I do business with whoever will do business with me?

11. Do I conduct meaningful customer interviews? Do I determine my prospect’s or client’s highest value needs? Do I ask meaningful questions to focus on my prospect’s or client’s urgencies? Do I really listen and elicit what he or she is communicating? When on sales calls do I listen twice as much as I talk?

12. Do I provide quality solutions? Do I remember that the client’s needs come before mine? Do I know that no worthwhile effort is ever lost? If I do what’s right for my clients, I’ll be rewarded, and soon! Do I strive for win-win outcomes?

13. Do I exceed the expectations of those with whom I work-both inside and outside the office? Do I do exactly what I say I will, when I say I will, in the way that I say I will do it? Exemplary service builds customer loyalty and rich dividends.

14. Am I really goal oriented? Are my goals and objectives in writing? Have I defined a strategy to reach each goal? Do I know how much each hour of my time is worth? What motivates me? Am I controlling my time so as to be ruthlessly effective with it?

15. Do I make non-negotiable commitments to my family, my company associates, my clients, my friends, my industry, and myself? At times each of these must come first, and deserves my undivided attention. An absolutely balanced life is probably impossible; but we must continually try for it.

16. Do I express my sincere congratulations to those who have achieved greatness? Do I sit at the feet of the masters, sublimating my ego, and model them? Do I praise good deeds in my family members and support staff every day? Do I always remember to say “Thank you”?

17. Do I understand and practice the Japanese concept of Kaizen? (Constant—if only minimal—improvement) My future will be determined by my success in getting a little bit better every day!

Go ahead, run through all of these questions and give yourself that sales pro tune-up that you know you need.  If you’re willing to be honest with yourself and make the adjustments necessary, the exercise can pay huge dividends.  Or….you can just make some more cold calls!  Your choice.

Stop ‘closing’ the sale. Start ‘opening’ the customer.

How do you transition from the value proposition, or presentation, to the close? From telling them what we’ve got to actually asking them if they want to buy it – or from the dance to the romance as we like to say.

I hate to use the word or the term “closing.” Because we’re really looking to “open” a customer. We’re opening the relationship. We’re opening the right to do business with these people on a regular basis.

So in the smart selling process, we focus on the customer. To visualize, it, we first imagine a pyramid that’s upside down. And the upside down pyramid is broken into five specific horizontal lines going across it equal in width. I’m trying to paint a picture for you here.

So you have the upside-down pyramid standing on the tip, so the base is at the top. And the first chunk of that base is made up of five equal sections, if you can picture that. They’re not really equal, but the width of them is equal. It means we’re going to spend the most time where there’s the most space in that pyramid. At the very top, where the biggest chunk is. And that’s the relationship part. So this is the first part of discovery.

We’re looking for a few things to happen here: Read more