Tag Archives: selling

Are You a Hard Helper or a Hard Closer?

24 Jun

I think most of us have the same visual image of a hard closer.  A slick dresser, everything’s perfect including the shiny shoes.  They know more closing techniques than anyone else on the team.  You say your prospect has put off the decision for a week or two and they chime in “you should have used the take away close”, before you can finish your sentence.  There are some things to be admired about hard closers and they will get a few deals that only they could have gotten.  But does that mean that they are the master sales people?

Then we have the hard helper.  They understand & honor the prospect’s buying process.  They work hard to collaborate with multiple contacts within the prospect’s organization…to build consensus & identify obstacles.  They are continuously active and prospects love them!  You know who else loves them even though they will never meet them?  Shareholders!  Clients that are sold by a hard helper stay sold for a very long time.  The net present value of these clients is markedly higher than the average client.

So which one is better?  It’s an interesting question.  The top 2% of your reps are actually both hard helpers and hard closers.  But they’re a little different from the person alluding to in the first paragraph.  They close very hard but asking tough questions about the impact of doing nothing!  They keep reminding the prospect of the agreed upon needs & benefits and emit urgency on taking action!  The next 18% of your top performers are hard helpers but not hard closers.  They do an excellent closing job but may back off when they perceive the risk of a no. 

The next 30% of your reps might just be going through the motions.  They are performing tasks.  Make a call.  Make a presentation.  Generate a proposal.  Follow up on the proposal.  Ask for an order.  It’s okay I guess because they bring in enough business to warrant a congratulations.  So let’s call this group the “as expected performers.”  So the question is how do you turn as expected into above expectation.

I don’t really know the answer to that question without knowing your company & products.  But I can tell you that most often I have found the issues to be;

  1. There has never been a core theme to sales training.  You can’t expect continuous improvement in sales effectivenss if you keep hiring the trainer de jour.
  2. First level sales managers are smart, but they need help.  Give them an ounce of leadership training and watch the numbers soar.

I’d like to know your thoughts on this topic.  Please leave a comment!

“How’s It Going?”

29 Apr

Okay, so the big-big boss is in town and asks how it’s going.  I know it’s tempting to tell her how well your son is doing on the little league team…but fight off that temptation.  I’m only saying that your boss may be a nice woman, but let’s put business first and then brag about the home run later.

A good top sales boss wants to know five things;

  1. Results – past quarter, last month?
  2. Status – how do the future results look?
  3. Focus – what are you concentrating on?
  4. Needs – how can I help you succeed?
  5. Other than 1-4, how’s it going?

So when you’re asked the question, have the answer ready.  Wait a minute.  When will I be asked the question?  How will I know when to have the answer prepared?

Well, let me go through the answer to the original question then you can decide.  Is this a question I should wait for the big boss to ask, or is this a question I should ask myself everyday?

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Think of yourself as a manufacturing plant.  Raw material goes in the front door, workers convert the raw materials into components, assemble the components and poof, finished products roll out the back door.  Every plant has a general manager whose job it is to continuously make sure that raw materials arrive on time, that the plant is operating at capacity, and that the quality and quantity of the products rolling out the back door meet expectation.  In our profession the raw materials are prospects, the components are presentations & proposals, and the end products are contracts or sales.  Guess who the general manager is?

So whether you’re answering the question for yourself or the big boss doesn’t really matter, the answer should be the same.

Results – How many sales did you close last quarter?  Were they the right size?  Are you happy with those results?  Was last month better?

Status – This is really a question of sales pipeline.  Is your “real” pipeline bursting at the seams or is it chock full of “pipe dreams”?  How many prospects do you really have and where in the sales cycle do they reside?  How many are closeable in the next 30 days?  I hope your pipeline is healthy because this is going to become your commission check over the next several months.  If you have to admit to yourself that your pipeline is really shaky, then what are you going to do about it?

Focus – This is the “what are you going to do about it”.  You are the general manager of your sales territory.  If there’s a pending problem then your job it to fix it before it gets worse.  If your pipeline of prospects looks good on paper but you know that most of those prospects are on life support then it’s up to you to flush out the real prospects, and put the others on hold.  If your real pipeline is anemic you’re going to have to rightsize your hot prospect list and develop an action plan to bring it back into a healthy state.  If you’re not sure what that action plan should be then you’ll have to muster up the courage to ask for help. 

Needs – Okay your results have been acceptable but not to your expectation, you’ve gone through your pipeline and admitted that of those 50 prospects only 15 are healthy.  You’ve decided that you’re going to commit yourself to adding another 10prospects this month, while moving the 15 forward at least one step in the sales cycle.  Fantastic!  But now is not the time to be a hero.  Ask for help.  What is the one tool that would help ensure the success of your action plan?  Is it an improved presentation?  Is it better sales collatera material?  Lead generation?  The bigger question is, when I ask for help will I be considered a complainer?  I will tell you in no uncertain terms (as an experienced big-big), that if you have given me short concise answers to results, status and focus…I’m am going to listen very closely to what you need.  And when I get back to my office I’m going to make sure you get it.

So as a former big-big here is what I always was hoping for.  I arrive in town, sit down with the regional sales director, go over results.  Tonight we’re having a team dinner.  Since I haven’t met you before I sit down next to you at the table.  After letting everyone settle in the RSD gives me the big intro, then I give everyone my business overview and reaffirm the top 3 iniatives.  I answer a few questions then it’s time to place our orders.  While we’re waiting for our salads I introduce myself to you and ask how’s it going?  What are you going to say?  Here’s the worlds most perfect answer (please edit according to your territory).

“Thanks for asking Greg.  Last quarter was okay, last month was even better (you may want to add in a FEW numbers).  But I scrubbed my pipeline and I need to add no less than 10 more good prospects if I’m going to reach my goals…I’m willing to do all the hard work to get these prospects into my pipeline but I need a little help from you…”  WOW!  Someone this organized and such a good manager of their territory is going to remain on my radar screen for a long time.  And if someone like this tells me our lead generation program isn’t working, I’m going back to HQ and make sure it get’s fixed.

Now that we know each other…tell me about your family.

The Best Cold Call Script…Honest!

25 Apr

Before writing this script to suit your business please consider this;

 

No one likes making cold telephone calls (or in person) because a similar number of us don’t like receiving them either.  Why?  Because there are several perceived risks;

 

  1. You are going to waste my time.
  2. If I agree to see you, you’re going to leave a great big feature dump on my shiny desk.
  3. You are going to ask for information that you haven’t earned the right to know.

 

So, what are the objectives of the cold call?

 

  1. Minimize the risk in speaking with you (that’s why you only ask for 2 minutes)
  2. Minimize the risk in setting up an appointment (only speak about benefits, never features, advantages or any other indication of a pitch)
  3. Don’t ask questions.  If they agree to the appointment you may be able to get away with one or two questions but use care!  You just distinguished yourself from everyone else who will call.  Why take a chance on ruining that first impression.
  4. The ONLY other objective of the cold call is to set an appointment.

 

Telephone Script – I would recommend not tampering with everything in bold type.

 

Hello Mr. Smith, this is Greg Deming with Sales Performance Advisors.  I’d like to take two minutes to tell you why I called then you can decide if we should talk more…are you okay with that?

 

Most of the sales leaders I speak with today tell me they are concerned with the same issues that I faced when I ran large national sales organizations:

 

  1. They know that individual sales effectiveness varies dramatically, with only 59% of reps meeting or exceeding expectations.
  2. Almost 40% of top sales officers say that coaching in the field needs improvement in terms of frequency and quality.
  3. Finally, less than 50% of sales management executives felt their organization was able to consistently hire reps who were capable of succeeding.

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

Companies that I have worked with tell me they are confident that struggling contributors are easily identified and that field managers understand how to develop people to the next level of productivity.  Field managers tell me they are better equipped to hire the right people to begin with, and also better able to help people succeed.  They feel they are a part of a high performance organization.  Most importantly an effective solution turns field managers into leaders & world class trainers.

 

Are you interested in meeting?  It won’t cost you anything to discuss this further, and who knows?  It may be costing you not to.

 

The key for you to follow is keep it short, honor the prospects concerns, summarize the needs you are best able to address and also summarize the benefits that your customers (clients) enjoy.

Hiring The Right Sales Manager

3 Apr

The core theme of a sales manager’s role is to drive the team to sell.  Though they may be the best sales person on the team, if they spend 100% of their time helping close business then sales results will plateau when their selling capacity is reached, and you will find that other team members have not developed.  This “halter” is a problem that many companies face as they try to migrate to the next level of growth.  As usual the best approach to solving a problem is to anticipate it, and solve it before it emerges.  So this article will focus on finding a sales manager who can grow beyond your needs today.

Driving the team to sell is a three legged stool.  Being effective at all three is important and requires a different set of competencies.  You may not get all the competencies you’re hoping for, but you must have confidence that given support, the candidate you select has the will to learn the skills.  The components are :

1.  Selling to large Accounts – When larger prospects are identified it is crucial that the sales manager become actively involved in selling process.  Whether or not they take the lead role depends upon the skill and will of the sales representative.  Regardless, the sales manager must feel accountable for ensuring that this enterprise opportunity succesfully navigates through their buying process.  The manager must, at all costs, ensure that there is a complete understanding and consideration of customer requirements before making decisions and taking action.

  • Identifying the Needs of Prospects – The sales representative must gather timely, direct information about customer requirements.  If the sales person identifies the opportunity early enough in their buying process they can influence and shape those requirements.  If they enter the sales cycle later in the prospect’s buying process they will be forced to conform to whatever requirements are already defined.
  • Entrepreneurial Drive – Tenacity is the most important ingredient in any complex sale.  If the sales rep’s will begins to fade over time, the manager must insert themselves into the process.  To be of high value to the sales representatives your manger should demonstrate that they compete against a self defined standard of excellence.  They tirelessly purse a goal until it is successfully attained.
  • Meeting & Exceeding Customer Expectations – Retaining clients is equally important as acquiring clients.  The first step in client retention is to make realistic short & long term commitments, maintain contact and then to exceed expectations by ensuring delivery of promised service.  Your sales manager must understand that brand equity is built one transaction at a time.

2.  Managing the Team – No matter the tenure of your sales representatives, their skill and will to do sales tasks will change over time.  Your manager must create an atmosphere in which sales people are completely comfortable asking for help.  At the same time they must be able to rapidly determine developmental gaps that are becoming unrecognized sales obstacles.

  • Coaching & Developing Others – It is unfortunately true that 45% of managers hire sales reps that are not likely to succeed.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that 56% of managers do not conduct routine win/loss reviews and 36% of managers do not effectively identify which sales reps need coaching.*  If you are not equipped to help the manager succeed then get them the help they need.
  • Creating & Maintaining Effective Work Teams – The manager must create an atmoshphere where individuals can work together as a team in pursuit of a common mission.  The behaviors you’re looking for are; encouraging multiple points of views, harnessing the necessary resources to help team members succeed, establishing a positive climate (see article on “Why Leaders Get Followers”) and nuturing a commitment to the mission.
  • Directing the Team – Your manager must ensure that the team completes tasks and delivers targets.  There are times when coaching & good relationships are not enough.  The manager must be more direct and take action if necessary, without inflicting damage to the team environment.  Behaviors to look for are; aligning people behind a strategy even when decisions are unpopular, using authority productively to achieve results and setting expectations clearly while communicating the boundaries that exist.  In short, the manager must be adept at managing performance.

3.  Managing the Territory – whether the assigned territory is national or market specific, you will depend upon the sales manager to optimize results.  In order to effectively manage the situation the manager must be motivated to reduce uncertainty and stay focused on those intiatives that will yield the greatest return.

  • Concern for Order – Reducing uncertainty requires an insistence on timely, accurate information.    You would see this drive expressed in such ways as; monitoring & checking information (CRM), insisting on clarity of commitments (conducting win/loss reviews), setting up and maintaining systems of information.
  • Analytical Thinking – This may be an optional skill for your consideration.  If the sales manager will be your “Top Sales Officer” (CSO) then I would strongly recommend you look for this competency.  If the sales manager will report to an RVP, who reports to your CSO then this is a nice-to-have skill.  I freely admit that it is difficult to find analytical thinking skills in a pool of sales management candidates.  You are more likely to see good lateral thinking skills.  But in this rapidly changing economy, where buyer preferences are changing at incredible velocities then this analytical thinking skill is very important!

The sales manager role requires broad and deep knowledge of selling, account relationship management and leadership.  One would expect that the candidate would have accumulated the knowledge they need for selling & account relationship management.  The company has a responsibility to provide the new manager with orientation & training around leadership.  Unfortunately most companies do not provide a shred of training on sales leadership.

 

 

* Statistics from CSO Insights “Sales Performance Optimization” 2009 Survey Results and Analytics

The One Best Sales Rep Interview Question!

22 Mar

Use the process carefully…choose you final question with care!

Interview questions fall into four categories;

  1. Functional Skills – Those “know how” skills that are necessary to perform tasks that are routine.  There are valuable questions here that can expose the candidates education, and training.  Some deeper questions can help you uncover the interviewee’s perception of their role, and understanding of sales process.  This is a particularly important field of questions for small to medium sized companies that may not offer in-house training.
  2. Product knowledge – Just how important is product knowledge?  Does a communication sales rep need to know what reports a call center system is capable of generating?  Does a cabinet sales person have to know how a compound joint is fastened?  The depth and breadth of product knowledge required is really driven by how your customers make buying decisions.
  3. Industry knowledge – Is it necessary for your sales people to understand your industry, and your customer’s industry?
  4. Leadership skills – This is the most overlooked line of interview questions, yet this competency is the primary driver of the sales person’s success.  Just because a sales rep does not have direct reports does not mean they do not need leadership skills.  Self leadership is the fuel that drives the sales person to utilize all those functional skills.  These are the “soft” skills that are more difficult to train.  Entrepreneurial drive, impact & influence, self-confidence, effective communication and identifying the needs of the prospect come to mind.

There’s no one question that can ensure you make the best hiring decision.  However, your hiring process should be organized enough so that you ensure that all four categories of interviewing focus are covered in the process.  If the last interviewer is asking the same line of questions that the first person asked are you really making the best use of the process?  Think of the interviewing process as a funnel where 100 candidates begin the process and 96 are eliminated.  So perhaps the first step is a 10 minute screening interview where the candidate’s industry knowledge is explored.  The next step may be a 30 minute interview focusing on product knowledge and some fundamental sales skills.  A traditional one hour interview is required to dive deeper into functional skills.  These interviews should always be conducted by a field sales manager.  If the field of candidates is still large I would advise that another field manager conduct a second interview drilling down further into functional skills.

So if your interviewing process is working correctly you now have reduced the number of candidates from 100 down to 4.  And now there is time to change your focus from product, industry and functional knowledge to self leadership skills.  To this point you have narrowed the field to those candidates that are capable of doing the job.  Focusing the final interview on self leadership will help you make the best selection not on capability to succeed, but on the likelihood of that success.  Which is the one candidate that is most likely to succeed and become a peak performer?

Having interviewed thousands of sales candidates, hiring hundreds and seeing those people succeed I would offer this advice.  The one leadership competency that seems to always differentiate average performers & peak performers is entrepreneurial drive.  The only way to determine if a candidate possesses this leadership competency is to ask a situational question, and to listen closely for the behaviors that exemplify this competency.

So what is my favorite all time final interview question?  “Tell me about a time when you were driven to achieve a goal, you faced substantial resistance, and had little internal support.”  This one question should take 30 to 45 minutes to discuss.  And now for the hard part.  You must listen for the candidate’s behaviors.  You must guard against directing them towards an answer, and you can only give them credit for what they did.  Too often “we” slips into the conversation.  No credit for “we” in this interview.  So what behaviors are you listening for?

  • The candidate set their own objectives (probably higher than expected), and competed against a self defined standard of excellence.
  • Tirelessly pursued attainment of that goal, perhaps for years.
  • Showed tenacity by persisting, taking numerous, sustained actions over time in the face of obstacles.
  • Identifies the resources needed to attain the goal, and then takes entrepreneurial action to obtain those resources.
  • Never gave up.

In the end you’re looking for that special person with the attitude of Gene Kranz…remember him?  Ed Harris played Gene Kranz in the movie “Apollo 13.”  Gene’s most remembered quote was “failure is not an option.”  I believe that in every great sales person there’s a common theme.

What’s That Prospect Thinking?

17 Mar

At some point in your the sales cycle your prospect has decided they have a need, hopefully because of your world class probing skills.  As you try to help them move from need, through analysis and finally decision time…just what are they thinking?

At a conscious, or subconscious level buyers are always trying to get comfortable with the balance of performance, image and price (PIP).  Think of these three drivers as concepts that are perceived differently by each of us.  Also understand that perceptions change over time.  In our current economy we must all recognize that the relationship between these three drivers will be changing dramatically.  Marketing must understand these shifts and adapt products and messages that will be appealing.  Sales will have to rework sales presentations, ask new questions and think more about the answers they are hearing.

So what are these three concepts and how should I deal with them?

  • Performance – for consumers this concept is going to change dramatically.  Think about the most expensive purchase a consumer makes…a home.  Bigger is better is a dead concept.  Consumers will not sacrafice long commutes to work in trade for a McMansion.  Certainly families form, expand and contract so actual space needs will change.  But the concept, bigger is better is gone.  For business buyers there will be a similar shift.  Product/service claims will all be tracked.  Proof will be examined.  Investments that will not deliver a return for years will not be purchased.  If you thought companies were short sighted before, you haven’t seen anything yet!
  • Image –  this concept is alive and well.  Right?  Image is alive and well but constantly changing.  For consumers the image is more about what something means to me.  For the homebuyer they may want a smaller home closer to work, but they will still want that home packed with what is important to them and their lifestyle.  Some images may become anti-conspicuous.  Is the Prius the new BMW?  If you don’t think companies will change their views on image I have one question for you.  Would you apply for a job selling corporate aircraft today?
  • Price – despite the tone of this posting I do not believe that price will come before all other drivers, but price must make sense.  Consumers may be ready and willing to buy, but are wary about their ability to buy.  Staying with the home purchase example there is pent up demand for quality newer homes, but the fear of the unknown continues to keep these buyers on the sidelines.  Hyundai has done an excellent job in addressing this fear with their recent Assurance Plus program.   For businesses there will be a categorical shift.  If your product is directly related to their product/service core offering then your value proposition will get traction.  If you cannot prove this direct correlation, price will become more important to the buyer.

So the buying process is the same, more difficult certainly.  The shift will be in the buyer’s perceptions and balancing of performance, image and price is going to change dramatically for the next several years.  Consumer preferences will shift and so will business buyer’s.  If your sales presentation was about performance & image and you dismissed pricing as an issue, you are going to have a very difficult time in the coming months. 

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”  I have always loved that quote, but for the time being the earth is shifting and so should your sales approach.

There May Be Some Unwanted Guests At Your Next Group Presentation!

4 Feb

I know that you didn’t invite them…but someone did and you better figure out their role!

Hold on, don’t throw anything at your screen, because I didn’t invite them either, but let’s sit down and figure out what roles people play.  Remember the longer your sales cycle is the more people you’re going to meet.  And the more group discussions you have, the more strangers you’ll have to deal with. 

Let’s start out with, what I don’t mean by buyer roles.  First I don’t mean personality types…even though I love the names I’ve heard.  There was Seymour D’Tails, the analytical type that could never get enough details.  There was Penelope Pincher, the CFO that only cared about purchase price.  So even though it is helpful to understand social styles sales strategies (an old Xerox training program) I am really only writing about the role that people play in the buying process.

Let’s list the roles then talk about what you can expect from them, and how you should interact with them.  Okay, get your pens ready.  There are contacts, coaches, evaluators, key influencers, decision makers and…gatekeepers. 

Contacts – They can be almost anybody in the prospect company.  You will meet many of them over time, and sooner or later their role may change.   So what do all contacts have in common?

  • They are to some degree knowledgeable about their company.
  • They probably have credibility in some parts of the organization.
  • They are able to provide some information.
  • They are willing to meet with you.

Coaches – From all the contacts you meet you’re going to have to find a coach.  So what should you look for in addition to those listed under a contact?

  • You know this person is credible within her/his own department and probably beyond.
  • This person will share information freely with you.
  • Additionally like all good coaches they will give you direction.
  • Your coach will double check your strategy if you share it.
  • They win if you win, therefore they want you to win, and they will proactively position your case when you’re not there.  Why?  Because they see your product/service as the best business fit (and they might gain a little power)

Evaluators – These folks are tricky.  First we know they have some credibility and they have some organizational tie to the use of your products/services.  Why are they “tricky’?  Because they generally focus only on the present and get very concerned about the details & specifications of your product/service (and sales people like to focus on the future and benefits, not features).  When you’re dealing with evaluators you better be a product expert or bring one with you.  They are also tricky because an evaluator that has enough credibility with the decision maker can easily become a key influencer.  “Oh no…what’s that?”

 Key Influencer– These folks are a special breed, and they are the most difficult to recognize.  Key Influencers are the mac daddy of evaluators because of the credibility they have with the decision maker.  Key Influencers can be delegated the authority to make decisions.  So they are very difficult to spot because if that delegation of authority did not take place, these folks will still look like a duck, walk like a duck, quack like a duck but they’re not a duck.

Decision Makers – Sorry Anthony Parinello…I loved your book “Selling to VITO (Very Important Top Officer)” but decision makers are not always CXO’s.  They can be, but they don’t have to be.  Look, if each of the Fortune 1000 has 6 top officers then there’s only 6,000 decison makers for over 5,000,000 sales people to sell.  So how do we recognize a decision maker?

  • They focus on the future (just like us!)
  • They focus on the health of their company
  • They ask why a lot more often than they ask what
  • They can say no, even when everybody else says yes (just like a key influencer)
  • And…they can say yes when everyone else says no (AHHH a key influencer cannot do this!)  This is all you really need to know.

So who’s left?  Oh yes…the famous gatekeeper.  Well there’s two kinds of gatekeepers.  First there’s the administrative type that’s the air traffic controller between you and the person you’re trying to call.  Let’s not talk about them because they’re just doing their job, and if you can’t find a way through or around them you should transfer out of sales.

Gatekeepers – Gatekeepers are usually graduates from the user role or the evaluator role.  Don’t think of them as the enemy…but think of them as the anti-coach.  Remember, a coach wins when you win?  Guess what?  A gatekeeper sees themselves as losing if you win.  Don’t let your fragile ego worry about why…just accept the fact.  So also accept the fact that while a coach will proactively support you when you’re not there…a gatekeeper will gladly point out your weak spots in your absence.  And it gets worse.  ALMOST EVERY GATEKEEPER IS A COMPETITOR’S COACH!  But that’s okay, if you chose your coach wisely they will have more credibility and will gladly slay the dragon.  Oh…and one more thing before you leave…sometimes gatekeepers smile at you during your meeting.

Well I’m almost to my self imposed 900 word limit so I think I’ve overdone this topic.  If you have an opposing point of view feel free to register that by clicking on the title of this article, and a comment box should appear.  In fact, leave a comment anyway it’s lonely here.