Category Archives: selling skills

It’s Not About Us & No One Really Needs a Shovel!

Too many selling presentations focus on “what we do or what we offer.”

In other words, if we’re not careful, our presentations are all about us. If we’re not careful, when presenting we focus on  the features of our products or the details of our services, as in:

“We offer the largest, most-advanced…”

“Our support services are the most comprehensive…”

“Our team has an average of over 5 years experience…”

“Our widget comes in six different styles and colors…”

“We provide the fastest turn-around in the industry…”

“Our software solution has the best interface…”

Consider how much more effective it could be if, instead, we make our customers or clients the stars of each presentation!

“Our clients enjoy an immediate surge in productivity, and at least a 5:1 R.O.I. in the first year alone…”

“Our customers increase up-time by 50% on average…”

“The average user of our services experiences a 20-30% boost in sales revenue…”

“On average, organizations using our approach have reduced workforce turnover by half, and have improved the customer experience as well…”

This perspective isn’t new, but it’s often forgotten.

Possibly this is because as our organizations introduce new products and services, or when they make improvements to what we sell, we find ourselves intrigued with the updated versions or the latest developments and, therefore, we are compelled to talk about these things.

But these new features, bells and whistles more often fail to WOW buyers, because buyers are most persuaded by what’s in it for them (W.I.I.F.T.)!

So, instead of telling others about what we do or what we’re offering, it is better to tell them about what they will get!

Tell them how they will benefit and they will become engaged!

Even better, they will want to know more! They will most likely place greater value on our solutions as well, which can help us build stronger value propositions, increase margins, reduce competition, and shorten selling cycles all at the same time!

Of course as simple as this may sound, we realize it’s not easy. The first step will involve a conscious effort to distinguish between features and benefits, and then to modify not only the way we think (i.e., think in terms of the customer and WIIFT) but also how we communicate.

A simple and easy way to get started might be to adopt the following phraseology:

“Because of [FEATURE], you get [ADVANTAGE], which means [BENEFIT]”

By applying this thought process before interacting with customers or prospects we can shift our thinking and, hopefully, our communication style, away from features/price and instead focus on benefits/value by stressing the “which means…” part of the equation.

As the saying goes, “No one ever really needs a shovel…”

(They just need a hole.)

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.

What’s Next in Communication?

Most people agree, communication is among the most frequently-used tools in today’s business world; and it is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

One Simple Little Habit…
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 in a BIG way!

It 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.

The act of setting a date and time for the next step is simple, but not necessarily easy. But once you make it a habit, you’ll be able to enhance your productivity as well as the productivity of others… you’ll save countless hours of trying to connect with others to finalize plans for next steps after sales calls, meetings, or conversations, because you will have already done it!

One Hurdle to Jump…
There is one obstacle of which to beware. This hurdle is often referenced as being the “thief of time,” and it can make it difficult to accomplish this habit and many others. We refer, of course, to the bad habit of procrastination.

If this seems too simplistic, please read on…

Try, Try Again

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Like most of us, you’re probably familiar with this phrase… but if you’re wondering about the validity of the statement, or about the value of persistence, then read on.

Babe Ruth was the home run king with 714 home runs to his credit. What few people know is that during that same time period he also held the record for striking out at bat more than anyone else with 1,330 failures.

R.H. Macy failed seven times, before his store in New York caught on.

Author J.K. Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected time after time. Today, after successful books, movies, toys, clothing, etc., she is one of the world’s richest authors with a net worth of $1.0 billion dollars and 400 millions books published.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. His coach justified the cut by pointing out that Michael had little or no potential.

Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

The Take-away?
So, what’s the point of these lesser-known examples of perseverence? I suppose it is to realize the absolute importance of persistence… the value of staying the course; of not giving up too soon.

In our previous newsletter we referenced data indicating that, on average, it takes five-to-twelve contacts to make a sale; yet 80% of sales people make three-or-fewer attempts and then give up. Thus, the vast majority of opportunities are siezed by just 20% of the sellers.

The persistent ones.

Evolution?
Let’s also think about the buyers and how they may have evolved. Based on the statistics above, most sellers make one or two attempts to reach a potential buyer, and then they move on (give up!).

So, has the potential buyer “evolved” to somehow realize that by simply ignoring the first couple of queries from a seller, there is an eighty-percent chance that seller will simply go away?

Hmmm… food for thought?

If you’d like a few more surprising examples of the importance of persistence, consult this list of 50 well known successful people who didn’t start off quite so well.

Call a Lot of People?

Arthur “Red” Motley was known for his conciseness and, true to form, each section of his famous definition of the sales process says a great deal in only a few words:

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

In a recent post we shared some thoughts on the first three words of his definition, and today’s focus is on the third component of the quote, “call a lot of people,” which refers to the total number of sales contacts – i.e., telephone calls, personal visits or appointments, and emails – that we make each day; and which brings-about an important question: when involved in professional selling, does call volume matter?

We believe the answer is a most definite, “Yes!”

Making a sufficient number of sales calls is important because without an adequate call volume we are likely to miss opportunities and leave ourselves vulnerable to the competition, which might well be making a stronger impact on our marketplace.

But “call a lot of people” does not mean we should call, email or visit lots of people on a haphazard basis, and it doesn’t mean we should contact a lot of different people once or twice.

In fact, too much focus on top-of-the-funnel call volume can be costly, and it’s important to recognize that “call a lot of people” encompasses “all” sales and follow-up calls – those made to unknown prospects, known prospects, and customers!

To optimize results there are four additional factors to consider.

The first of these factors is targeting, as we must contact those who are likely users of our products and services, and who are in a position to evaluate and buy them.

Then, as the data in the text box shows, in addition to call volume we must also pay close attention to call frequency.

If we make only one or two attempts to reach unknown prospects and then move on, we will be missing-out on most (80%) of the opportunities! Further, if the average frequency needed to make a sale ranges between 5 and 12 contacts, then we must contact “known prospects” multiple times after they are entered into the top of our sales funnel in order to advance these opportunities through our sales process.

But calling the same people over-and-over-again or with too much frequency is not effective either, as we can quickly alienate these prospects or customers.

Thus we must also make every call value-added. Simply making calls or just “showing-up” is never enough; the quality of our sales calls is critically-important, and we must have a value-added message and a value-added agenda for each contact.

This will require a degree of pre-call planning.

Finally, we must keep score! As sales professionals we should establish a goal for exactly how many sales contacts we would like to make, on average, each day – and we should maintain an awareness of where we stand with respect to this goal throughout each business day. In addition, it is wise to maintain data on the various types of calls we’re making, such as prospecting calls, assessment calls, presentations or demos, etc. These metrics are the true measures of our productivity.

Yet surprisingly, a multi-year survey indicates that a high percentage of sales people cannot definitively answer the simple question, “On average, how many sales calls do you make in a day?”

In some cases this lack of awareness is due to over-reliance on CRM systems, which are very effective at managing call frequency, but do little to keep a sales person aware of the actual number of calls they are making as each day unfolds. Similarly, in many inside-sales environments the telephone system keeps track of inbound and outbound calls, but this data tends to be shared with the sales people after-the-fact, thus resulting in the same lack of real-time awareness.

In other cases, an absence of proactive front-line sales management is the problem.

Regardless, the best course of action a sales professional can take is to set a personal standard for call or contact volume, and to also maintain personal accountability for maintaining that “successful” average as well as a successful standard of quality and frequency.

As author and founder of makingthenumbers.com Jack Falvey often says, “This is how the best get better at sales!”

60-Second Success Tip for Better Outbound Sales Calls

If making outbound sales or prospecting calls is part of your job, then you know it is important to continually improve your approach so that you will:

  • Stand out from others in a positive way
  • Increase conversion rates

You might find this short video a good place to start:

We might also suggest that you measure the “4 C’s” during implementation:

  1. Call volume
  2. Connects
  3. Conversations
  4. Conversions (i.e., # of conversations that convert into next steps)

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.

Remind Me?

How often should / must we remind our customers of the value we bring to the table?

Is a once-per-year reminder sufficient? How about twice per year? Three times?

Most people agree that, ideally, they’d like to “remind” their customers many more times each year; in fact, they say they’d like to keep a reminder of some sort in front of their customers as frequently as possible.

This leads us to a couple of critical questions:

  1. How often should we remind our customers of the value we provide?
  2. How should we do it?

Questions about the ideal contact frequency are among the most frequently-asked (see our previous post for some added perspective…) Generally speaking, sales calls and marketing messages become “over-done” when they fail to provide value to the customer or prospect.

This leads nicely to our second question how will we accomplish this value-added approach? Here are three simple and proven best-practices that can help:

Master the practice of pre-call planning. The most successful sales people plan their calls very carefully, based on research and record-keeping (i.e., effective use of a C.R.M. system), thus their calls tend to be more value-added. These sales people are able to accomplish more during each call and have a stronger impact on each customer or prospect. Even better, they use the written pre-call plan as a post-call review tool.

Questions are the answer. If we do plan our sales calls or presentations, many of us tend to focus on our “speaking points.” In other words, the things we plan to say.

When planning and executing sales contacts, it’s better to put an equal amount of focus and thought into the things we will ask.Asking the right questions is how we learn about our customers’ needs, interests, priorities and challenges; it is how we determine what to do and say next; it is how we solidify true selling relationships. As a rule-of-thumb, try to craft questions that focus on what people are trying to accomplish rather than on what they “think they need.”

In addition, a frequent by-product of asking good questions is enhanced listening. It’s much easier to listen if we stop talking! Good listening also sends a strong implied message to our customers: we care!

Develop a proactive style. This simply means that we end each interaction with a specifically-defined consequential next step a call to action in which we take the proactive position. This helps in several ways.

  • It sets the stage for a higher contact frequency
  • It shows the customer or prospect that we care and that we value their business
  • It often makes things easier for our customer, by helping them to get things done in a timely fashion
  • It shortens the selling cycle
  • It confirms our professionalism

 

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.

Business Development: A 5-Step Plan

businessdevelopment300Do you have an annualized business development plan?

If not, please read on… because having such a plan can make the difference between success and failure, or possibly between a good year and a great one!

First let’s define the terms. An annualized plan is simply a schedule of which activities will be done and at what time. Plotting this information by month allows you to take advantage of any seasonal opportunities, and also to determine overall time and cost commitments. Business development is a multi-faceted practice that keeps your business moving ahead. It consists of various components, including:

  • Promoting your organization to develop a presence in your marketplace
  • Identifying new business opportunities with known and unknown prospects
  • Generating new business from referral sources and prospects
  • Generating new or incremental business from clients
  • Business retention

A close review of this list reveals three very important facts.

First is the fact that our customers and clients are also prospects for new or incremental business.

Second, there is a big difference between “identifying” business opportunities and “generating” them. While the former might, at times, be easier to accomplish, both activities are essential. Successful business development, therefore, requires a combination of marketing and selling skills. Other requirements include time management, organizational skills and a positive attitude.

The third key fact, simply stated, is “one easy way to get business is to not lose business!” Customer retention is an important element of every business development plan, because any lost business must be made-up if we are to achieve our overall goal.

Simple 5-Step Approach
Here’s a simple and proven approach that might help you to make the most of your business development effort this year:

  1. Identify an annual total revenue goal that encompasses desired growth. Your business development effort is the means by which this growth will be achieved – it’s best to break it down into dollars as well as the approximate number of new customers required.
  2. Identify an annual budget – note that you don’t have to spend a lot. You can plan to make the biggest impact via word-of-mouth, much of which comes from networking, selling and asking for referrals.
  3. Identify the components of your plan based on the budget and goals – these might consist of:
    • Advertising or sponsorship
    • Networking
    • Social Media
    • E-marketing (e-mail campaigns, web-site optimization, etc)
    • Telemarketing (not cold-calls, but strategic follow-up to networking encounters, mail, email, etc.)
    • Entertaining (lunch meetings, client events, etc.)
    • Business development meetings/selling appointments
    • Business retention
  4. Create a annualized plan [get sample template: free download]
  5. Work the plan; measure progress and achievement for ongoing improvement

Planning and persistence are the critical elements of success
The plan must be well-organized, and your approach to implementing the plan equally well-organized and persistent. The plan won’t work if you quit or if you only execute a portion of it. As John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is a waste. The problem is I don’t know which half!”

It is also true that developing new business requires the development of new business relationships. This is a process rather than a one-time-event, and it takes time – some experts have even identified the “rule of seven,” which states you will, on average, need to interact with a prospect seven times before getting serious consideration; others say it happens between the fifth and twelfth contact. Whatever the actual number might be, only those who persistently maintain their effort will achieve optimum success.

The final consideration involves the regular measurement of achievement and ongoing improvement. Each “contact” must be planned and, based on your success or failure, these plans must be evaluated and continually enhanced. Each contact must be value-added and fresh – so there’s plenty of work ahead. But it will be worth it when you tally the numbers at the end of the year!