Category Archives: sales process

Find Out What’s On Their Minds…

The following reprint of today’s “makingthenumbers.com” sales tip is a solid testimonial to the importance of probing, trial closing, and listening within the sales process…

In most states you can turn right on a red traffic signal, but the law requires you to come to a full stop before you do.

In sales, it is vital that you work with a specific detailed pre-call objective so you know exactly where you are going (or want to go). Before you get into gear, come to a full stop!

Not just a “How you doin’ today?” or “How are things?”

That’s not a full stop.

You have to ask specifically, “Is your quarter coming in on schedule?” “How is the new production manager working out?” “Is the new product launch of your competitor having any real effect on your key customer?”

Then let them say what they want to say. Let them tell you what is on their mind. They might tell you some things that you can play to when it’s your turn in the barrel. They may tell you they are having a “bad hair day,” and in that case you might decide to cut them some slack, cut short your call, and sell in a future appointment as a professional courtesy.

One way or the other, test the water before you take the plunge.

Not only the temperature, hot or cold, but the depth and what’s on the bottom as well. Give them a break. They will give you the business in return.

Know Your Customer?

I don’t think it was by chance that Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process begins with a reference to customers.

“Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy,” Motley said. Fifteen words that are as true today as they were back in the 1940’s when he was a nationally-acclaimed sales trainer and motivational speaker.

Certainly, knowing our customers is critical to long-term sales success; it is also a never-ending process, as customer knowledge should be accumulated during each and every sales call.

At the start, we get to know our customers by building relationships. These relationships are built with individuals and organizations, and are nurtured over time by learning their respective personalities, values, communication styles, interests, concerns, understandings, misunderstandings, evaluation protocols, policies and procedures; by learning about what’s important to them.

We get to know our customers better through comprehensive and on-going need assessment  identifying needs both recognized and unrecognized, short-term needs, emerging needs, longer-term objectives, priorities, changes, and related needs.

We get to know our customers more each time we deliver the solutions to their needs in the form of our products and services. If all goes well, this too is a never-ending process!

And we come to know our customers even more by following-up after-the-fact to ensure they are satisfied, and when we provide customer service and support.

In all of these instances the primary tools-of-the-trade are probing and listening, as we will never get to know our customers through sales presentations, advertisements, promotions or talking at them; and regardless of what type of business we’re in, knowing our customers, i.e., nurturing relationships and gauging on-going needs  requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are five proven best practices:

Proactively work on customer relationships. Start by adding a “relationship component” to all pre-call plans and meeting agendas; incorporate specific actions, behaviors, questions, and comments. It’s important to remember that the strength of customer relationships plays a major role in their decision-making.

Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. While we might have a number of long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each customer’s recognized and unrecognized needs.

An effective method for implementing this approach is to focus on what each customer is trying to accomplish rather than what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that test customer requests or that relate to each customer’s overall objectives we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a service or specialized solution about which they were unaware.

The more we learn about our customers and their needs, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances unanticipated issues with respect to company policies, affiliations, and buying practices might make a difference in how we configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for responsiveness, or the need to feel more secure about our competitive position as a supplier.

Develop and use a consistent method (in writing) for uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Not only is this a good way to ensure success, but also an effective way to help us pay closer attention to each customer rather than on whatever it might be that we intend to ask or say. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the little things that result in long-term customer loyalty.

Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence before order fulfillment can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements.

Diligent post-sale or post-delivery follow-up can help us avoid many unpleasant situations, and also helps us to send a strong implied message that says, “We care! We’re professional!”

True to his reputation for conciseness, Red Motley said quite a bit with only three words: Know your customer.

Sales Call Frequency – How Often is Too Often?

customerservice2People often ask, “How many sales calls can we make on a prospect before going over the line?”

Here are a few guidelines…

First, consider the following facts, which we shared last year in a related article – studies show that approximately 80% of those involved in business development approach prospects two or three times and then give up.

Now, consider the importance of these National Sales Executive Association stats regarding the importance of following up:

  • 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the 2nd contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the 3rd contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the 4th contact
  • 80% of sales are made after the 5th contact

Next, consider the fact that sheer “frequency” does not guarantee success. Each contact must be “value-added” in order to properly impact our target prospects. This requires research, planning and good communication (probing and listening) skills. In addition, if we make better calls (i.e., better quality), then we will accomplish more during each call and won’t need to make as many calls to each prospect!

Considering this information simultaneously, the best answer to the call frequency question is that we “cross the line” when our calls have no value for the prospect or customer.

The “Hard Part” of Business Development

hardworkWe all know that growing a business or sales territory is hard work. As noted in our previous post, a good start is to create an annualized business development plan. But simply crafting the plan isn’t enough! We must commit to the plan as well as to the proactive components of the plan — or as many people call them, the “hard part” of business development.

Honest Self Assessment
It’s important to realize that business development consists of both reactive and proactive elements.

Running advertisements, updating a web site, posting blog entries, distributing newsletters or attending networking events might all be parts of the plan, but once these action steps are taken we often find ourselves in a reactive position – that is, waiting for someone to call.

These reactive action steps are the “easy” components of business development. The more difficult aspects of business development include proactively working to make things happen. These more challenging activities include sending follow-up emails or letters in which we ask for or suggest next steps, leaving proactive voice-mail messages, making follow-up calls, and scheduling meetings.

Research, pre-call planning and some imaginative thinking are also part of the mix, but the “hard” part of business development is staying the course.

Statistics indicate that most things “happen” after someone (a seller) completes five or more contacts with a prospect. But most “sellers” make fewer than three approach calls – thus the challenge most of us face when trying to make things happen.

Setting goals and monitoring results are the best methods of ensuring success.

  • The first step is to identify the number of new customers or clients you’d like to add each month or each quarter
  • Using a reverse funnel approach, the next step is to estimate the number of appointments, lunches or meetings you’ll need to conduct in order to achieve the new customer goal
  • Step three is to determine the number of prospects you’ll need to contact (and how many times) in order to schedule the desired number of meetings
  • Now the real work begins… make the calls and measure the results

If appointments or meetings seem hard to come by, then review your metrics as well as your planning and messaging.

Growing a business or sales territory is not easy work. If you are able to achieve sufficient growth in a primarily reactive way – advertising, referrals, and so on – then you’re among the fortunate. For the rest of us, committing to proactive business development is the best approach.

How to Close More Sales

salesWhile there are multiple objectives associated with the various steps of the selling process, closing the sale is the ultimate goal.

Sales people of all experience levels often talk about closing techniques. We’ve determined five key activities that enable sales professionals to close more sales and to to so with more confidence.

  1. Sell yourself first! Then sell the organization… then sell products and services. By building strong customer relationships we can conduct more comprehensive situational analyses (because customers and prospects will tell us more…), which provide us with important insights into what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish and how we might best help.
  2. Objectively qualify sales opportunities; this promotes process efficiency and can also result in greater levels of mutual respect between seller and buyer.
  3. Conduct comprehensive need analyses; the most effective sales people seek to optimize each situation in a fashion that delivers maximum benefits to their customers; this means our assessment must go beyond the business-at-hand, and must go beyond what customers “think they need.” We must understand needs as well as implications, and seek multiple opportunities to deliver value.
  4. Incorporate trial closing questions into selling conversations – frequently! As summarized in a recent article, trial closing questions seek opinions rather than decisions. They enable sales people to not confirm a mutual understanding of priorities, but also (and more importantly) to confirm buyers’ receptivity. When we receive positive responses to these questions it also builds confidence so we can more comfortably seek commitments.
  5. Focus on customer benefits. It’s not about what we do or what we offer… it’s about what they get! To maximize relationships as well as opportunities, we must understand and focus on what’s best for the customer; on the “benefits” that each customer will receive as a result of the sale. However, be warned, distinguishing between “features” and “benefits” is not as easy as one might think!

Glue X 2…?

Selling is a process, not a one-time event, and it is best to adopt the proper long-term perspective if we’d like to achieve long-term success.

Using the sample circular visual below as a guide, there are two important yet often over-looked fundamentals to consider:

  1. The selling process never ends; once we meet a prospect and go through the cycle once, our goal is to maintain an appropriate contact frequency based on a number of need-based variables, and to both retain the customer and identify a new need at some future point
  2. The ability to move at an optimal pace from one step to the next and to do so in unison with our customers is the key to success

Once we adopt the proper long-term view, the means by which we will move from step to step is follow-up. In fact, we often refer to effective follow-up as the “glue” that keeps the process together and moving forward. If we follow-up diligently, on a value-added basis and with the right frequency, we’ll be able to keep the process (and the customer) moving toward our ultimate goal.

But be advised! If we move too slowly, we run the risk of losing-out to a competitor or to shifting priorities; if we move too quickly, or skip steps, we’re likely to alienate or lose the customer.

Therefore it is imperative that we maintain a keen awareness of the process steps, establish goals for each, continually seek customer feedback, and master the art of value-added follow-up.

You can review a detailed summary of the activities and goals associated with each step on our website.

glueIn addition, and as noted in an earlier post, others have used the “GLUE” analogy with respect to managing customer relationships, and have suggested it is an acronym for Give Little Unexpected Extras!

Please note, these little “extras” need not be material in nature – the simple act of “thinking” of someone and sending or giving them information or recognition can go a long way…

What’s Next in Communication?

Effective business communication is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

While there are obviously many facets of communication, there is one simple habit that, if well developed and consistently executed, will improve your business communication and success level significantly.

When asked to identify this habit, most people think it involves the conveyance of one’s message – either a smooth or powerful delivery, or a pleasant voice tone. Others suggest that the best communicators are good listeners, and some opine that the art of asking good questions is the key.

These are all very important elements of good communication, but none of these represents the habit to which we refer. The critical skill we have in mind is the one that helps you make things happen. It is the habit that brings about action! And, as promised, it is simple…

message_in_the_sand_18916It is the practice of specifically identifying and scheduling the next steps that are consequential to your communication — consequential to your discussions, your meetings, your teleconferences, your interviews, your sales calls, and so on — and doing so while the details of those interactions are fresh-in-the-minds of all parties.

If this seems too simplistic, please think again. Consider the fact that all business communication, regardless of its form, must be purposeful. We conduct meetings to share information on which people must act. We make sales calls so that people will buy. We run training sessions to help people perform better. We go on interviews with hopes of being hired; we conduct interviews with hopes of hiring. Each form of business communication has a purpose, and that purpose involves action.

So, for example, at the end of each sales call, what can we do to make something specific happen… the next step in the process? What can we say at the end of each staff meeting to make sure everyone is on-board with the conclusions drawn and that each participant is clear on his or her role in implementing agreed-upon solutions or processes? After meeting a new prospect at a networking event, is there a way to end our conversation that will result in a meaningful future discussion about a business relationship?

The answers to all of these questions may vary in content, but in principle they’re all the same – we must identify and then arrange the next steps, and we must do so definitively.

For instance, after meeting a good prospect at a trade show, it is far better to arrange a specific follow-up plan such as, “I’ll call you Monday at 3pm,” rather than a vague plan such as, “I’ll call you next week!”

“It has been nice meeting with you today, Ms. Buyer. Based on the information you’ve shared, I’ll put together a formal proposal for outfitting your facility with widgets. Can we schedule a brief meeting to review the proposal’s details? How about next Wednesday or Thursday…?”

“OK sales team, our goals for the upcoming week are clear. Along with our regular sales calls, each of us will make twenty-five additional courtesy calls to current customers because we’ve all agreed that retention levels must be improved. These calls will be documented in the newly-created section of our CRM program, and we’ll get together on Wednesday at 4pm to discuss progress – any questions?”

 

 

Ask All to Buy!

salesOur previous post referenced a well-known quote in which Arthur “Red” Motley defined the selling process in fifteen words: “Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

That post focused on the quote’s opening three words, “know your customer.” Today’s focus is on the ending… “Ask all to buy.”

Clearly this part of the definition is all about closing the sale; but there is more to it than just asking for the order. If we consider the various steps in today’s consultative selling models and extended business development processes, the “close” might be better described as a “call to action.”

Further, if one is to maximize effectiveness, then every prospecting call, selling appointment or business development interaction should include a call to action.

Since many of these conversations with customers and prospects are not “transactional” — i.e., they do not involve the execution of an order — the “call to action” frequently does not take the form of asking for an order but rather asking for a next step; some type of action step that keeps the overall process moving forward.

These next steps might include a follow-up meeting, an exchange of additional information, a time to present a proposal, a subsequent appointment or conference call involving higher-level managers, or a follow-up telephone call. Of course there will hopefully be instances when the next step will involve the completion of an order but, as a general rule, we typically suggest a next step based on the relative success of the interaction; in other words, we ask for whatever it is we believe we have earned the right to request during the sales call.

Fore-armed for Success!
To enhance the quality and execution of sales or business development calls, it’s best to anticipate the possible calls-to-action or next steps that we might request during upcoming calls, as pre-call planning is a best practice shared by the most successful sales professionals!

In addition, the ideal call to action will include a commitment of some kind or an agreement-to-act made by the buyer. For example, there is a big difference between ending a sales call by saying, “I will call you next Tuesday” versus “Can we schedule a follow-up cal for next Tuesday at 2 o’clock?” If the buyer agrees and schedules the follow-up call, then he or she has agreed to take action.

Read the full article… for a few guidelines you might consider when crafting your list of possible outcomes and when proposing them to your customers and prospects…

And also for a “top 10” list of the most common things a buyer is likely to think if we FAIL to ask for a next step or commitment! (HINT – none of them are good…)

How Do You Know Your Customer?

questionmarkwordsIn a previous post we referenced Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process, noting that it was probably not by chance that the quote begins with a reference to customers:

“Know your customer, know your product,
call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

In a more recent post by Jack Falvey, founder of makingthenumbers.com,  referenced some good sales advice from Rudyard Kipling, who wrote, “I had six serving men.  They taught me all I know.  Their names are Who, What, Where, Why, and How, and When.”

These words are are ageless, Falvey explains… .

“We are so busy telling people about what we sell and who we are, we lose sight of who they are…”

“Let’s find out what is going on in our customers’ world before we try to change it.  Who is doing what? Where are they doing it, and why?  How are they getting it done, by when?”

Falvey suggests writing specific informational and directional questions for each sales call.  A directional question is one you think you already know the answer to but is asked to direct the conversation along the lines you hope to take it.

For example: “When is the current contract up?”

You know the date, but want to move toward refining next year’s specs in your favor!

“Who is the most important person in the process?”

You know you are talking to them, but they would like to tell you how big they really are.

Use all six “serving men” every day on every call.

Good advice, we think!

Who’s In Charge of Our Sales Calls?

sellwithconfidenceWe all strive to take control of the sales calls we make, hoping to comfortably lead each conversation to a productive conclusion i.e., closing or advancing the sale.

But many sales people struggle to articulate exactly how they go about controlling their sales calls, often confessing that they more-or-less go with the flow.

If this sounds familiar, you might consider making a more strategic approach to taking charge during sales calls by applying two simple principles:

  1. Ask more questions. Consider that the person asking the questions tends to be the one in control of most conversations. This can be challenging for some of us because we tend to talk too much! But, truth be told, we’re better-off asking questions and listening before we speak.
  2. Commit to the practice of pre-call planning, and do so in writing! Be sure to identify multiple objectives, list benefit statements you’ll make and, to support the suggestion made in item #1, make a list of the questions you’ll ask. Make sure to include both open-ended and closed-ended options, which can be used strategically to either promote or control the flow of conversation.

Those who have been able to apply these two simple suggestions have consistently reported significant changes (for the better!) in their sales calls, indicating not only improvements in maintaining control but also in optimizing results.

But more significantly, we’re not the only ones who will notice the difference in the quality of our sales calls our customers and prospects will notice the difference too!