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“Which One of Us is Elvis?”

This weekend I heard an interesting story that reminded me of a particular sales challenge that almost all salespeople encounter.

The story comes from a podcast interview with Peter Noone, lead singer of the ’60’s musical group, Herman’s Hermits (I’m dating myself with this reference). Noone had an opportunity to meet Elvis Presley, his band,  his manager Colonel Tom Parker and heard many interesting stories about the ‘King’.

Here’s the story–In the process of putting together the music for the film, “King Creole”, Presley and one of his band members got into an argument about how to play a certain song. The disagreement went back and forth for awhile and then in Noone’s telling of the story, Presley asked the band member a question–“Which one of us is Elvis?” End of argument.

With six words, Elvis established who was in control of the conversation and who had the authority over the decision on how to play the piece of music.

This anecdote got me to thinking about how salespeople react to prospects who, with a heavy hand, take control of the sales call, dictate the conversation and turn the salesperson into a facilitator instead of a consultative seller and advisor.

How many of us have been in a sales meeting with a prospect with a ‘strong’ personality who has it all worked out in their minds what it is they think they want from us and when we’ve tried to slow them down and employ a consultative approach, they proceeded to attempt to bowl us over with a “Which one of us is Elvis?” move? I would guess we’ve all been there. But the key question is which salespeople are capable of defending themselves from this type of prospect, keeping control of the sales process and still getting the outcome from the call that they want?

Looking at our data, we know that 62% of salespeople will not be able to deal effectively with this challenge and will default to the facilitator role. They aren’t able to push back and challenge these ‘driver’ personalities and regain control. Their need for approval prevents them from doing this. Need for approval is defined as the salesperson’s need to be liked, the need to fit in, the need for ‘strokes’ from people with whom they deal. It becomes a problem when a salesperson’s need for approval is stronger than their need to close the sale. They will avoid saying or doing those things which, in their mind, would change how the prospect feels about them. This includes, but is not limited to tough questions, legitimate confrontation and the potential inability to handle rejection or a ‘no’.

So if you recognize some of your salespeople as having need for approval, what should you do?

Step One – Evaluate your salespeople with a sales specific assessment that will determine who on your team has need for approval and   how severe it is.

Step Two – Use the assessment results to craft a coaching plan for your salesperson to help them fix their need for approval.

Step Three – Conduct a disciplined, consistent coaching process with your salesperson.

An important reminder–when coaching a salesperson who has a severe case of need for approval, be patient. Very patient. Need for approval is the second most powerful sales weaknesses we find in salespeople so it takes a minimum of six months to see improvement.

 

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Question, Questions…and More Questions

Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’     –Charles M. Schulz

If you’re like me, you’ve probably gotten a few chuckles over the years from the comic strip Peanuts by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. The above quote illustrates a great point about where salespeople are today when it comes to developing one of the key competencies of consultative selling–asking good, effective questions. The data I’ve seen tells the story—they’re not improving. Go here to look at it for yourself.

High-performing consultative sellers are good listeners. They’re able to ask intelligent questions that help prospect recognize their compelling reasons to buy, and in the process, differentiate themselves from the competition.

And it all starts with asking great questions.

If you’re a sales leader (or a business owner who serves as their own sales leader) and you’re in the process of developing your sales team, growing them with a desire for them to be stronger in the sales process, listen for the quality of the questions your salespeople are asking when they meet with prospects or customers.

Are their questions open-ended that move the conversation forward or lead to a ‘dead-end’?

Are their questions designed to encourage the prospect to talk or do they result in one word answers?

Are their questions delivered in a manner that’s warm, friendly, conversational or do they sound like part of an interrogation?

And hopefully, you haven’t heard these two sales ‘duds”:

“Are you happy with your current supplier?”

“What keeps you up at night?”

Wherever your team’s skill level is when it comes to asking great sales questions, don’t ignore the importance of sharpening their skills even further and taking them to the next level of proficiency. If you want to shorten your company’s sales cycle, improve the quality of your sales pipeline, lower your selling costs, this is one of the best areas  upon which to focus your attention and efforts.

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Shortening Your Sales Cycle

When I meet with company presidents, CEO’s and business owners, the most common frustrations I hear from them is “Our sales opportunities never seem to close ‘on time’ if they close at all!” or “Our sales pipeline is full but nothing seems to be closing!”

There are many reasons as to why sales organizations are experiencing these problems and among the biggest is that often they’re not using a defined, optimized sales process. Would you be surprised to learn that 91% of all companies don’t use a common sales process?

There’s more bad news–if you’re looking to shorten your team’s sales cycle, it’s not enough to have a defined sales process . You also need to have salespeople with the correct blend of skills and sales DNA to execute your sales process effectively.

Now for some good news–there is a method to determine whether your team has what it takes to bring sales through the door in a timely, cost-effective manner and it doesn’t involve guess work or using a crystal ball. By using the science behind the 26 questions we can answer for clients, it’s now possible know the strengths and weaknesses of any sales organization and whether they’re capable of shortening their sales cycle.

For a look at the ‘science’ and some great examples of why sales cycles are so long, go here and read the article by Dave Kurlan, CEO of Objective Management Group, at his award winning blog.

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Hello World!

After a little time off, my blog is back–it’s now part of Exsell Inc.’s newly redesigned website.

We’re proud of the new site and the updated ‘look’ and hope you like it as well! Check out the Free Resources page and take advantage of the offers you’ll find there.

Be sure to come back often to this blog to read my timely, insightful posts on best practices regarding sales process, sales management, sales hiring and sales coaching.

And if you would be so kind, please like us on Facebook! (I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used those words in a blog post–you can teach an older sales dog new tricks I guess!)

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Back to School!

Well, it's that time of year–yep, it's back to school for the kids. Summer is over and now it's back to the books and lessons.

I'll bet you've never thought about how salespeople have to study their 'lessons' as well–but they do.

In fact, every sales call a salesperson makes will result in one of four outcomes:

          1)  a yes
          2)  a no
          3)  a time-based future event
          4)  a lesson

Focusing on #4, a guiding principle for salespeople is this:  They will make more sales (and more money) from a sale they didn't get …and know why, than from a sale they did get…and don't know why. So they should celebrate the lost sales because those are the ones that will help them be more successful in the future.

Why? Because if a salesperson learns what not to do in the sales process–they didn't ask enough questions,didn't ask the right questions, didn't listen effectively, failed to push back at the right time, chose not to challenge what the prospect told them in an appropriate manner, etc.–the next time they find themselves in a similiar situation, they'll perform more effectively because they've learned what doesn't work.

There is a second, and maybe even more important reason to take a lesson from a lost sale. One of the biggest challenges for salespeople is dealing with rejection.

They encounter it every day. Rejection looks like:

          -Prospects who don't want to take their call
          -Prospects who don't want to meet with them
          -Prospects who don't call them call them back 
          -Prospects who tell them 'no'

And the key point is not if salespeople will run into rejection but when…and how  they will react. Will they recover and how quickly can they do that? Taking a positive (a lesson) from a negative event will help a salesperson recover better and faster from being rejected.

Here's the takeaway for sales leaders and salespeople. At the end of a sales process, the question for sales leaders and salespeople to ask themselves is this:  "What's the biggest lesson you (or I) learned from this sale?" I use the word 'biggest' because there will probably be multiple lessons to be learned. Start with the lesson that's most impactful and work your way down the list. How can those lessons be applied for upcoming sales meetings? And don't forget to stroke (verbally) your salesperson for the good things they did. This will reinforce those behaviors and ensure they're repeated in the future.

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Do Your Salespeople Know the Score?

Sales Manager: “Is the ABC Company deal ready to close?”

Salesperson: “I think they really like what we showed them in our proposal.
We should hear back from them soon!”

Do conversations like this really take place? Maybe I’m exaggerating but I’m also sure they happen very close to the above dialogue in many companies on a daily basis.

When a salesperson responds with ambiguous, vague language or with a personal opinion (really, a guess) about the status of a sale, it’s a sure sign they’re not using a systemmatic approach to the sales process that’s designed to achieve consistent, predictable results along the way while also providing feedback relative to where they are in the process and what they must do to get a successful outcome.

In other words, they don’t know the score of the ‘game’. They’ve lost their situational awareness and worse, they’ve lost control of the sale to the prospect.

Extensive research from Objective Management Group shows that 91% of companies they’ve assessed have no formal, structured sales process. In fact, Dave Kurlan of OMG says an optimized sales process “is a huge difference maker, keeping salespeople focused on what must be done, when, with whom and in over what period ot time. It helps salespeople gain traction, improves conversion ratios, leads to bigger margins and increases in revenue.”

Is your company one of the 91%…or one of the 9% that have decided they need to know the score of every game they play?

For a real world example of what ‘not knowing the score’ looks like, watch this from the baseball world.

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Asking Great Sales Coaching Questions

From working with companies and sales organizations over the years, I've encountered and observed many sales managers and CEO's or Presidents who served in a sales leader role. I've learned many great things from them. However, some were not so good.

Many of them were and are strong, competent, knowledgeable business professionals. However, many were less than stellar sales coaches.

The reasons for this shortcoming were varied of course–lack of time, lack of desire, too much ego, not enough ego or simply not knowing how to go about it.

If there is one area of sales coaching that sales leaders could look to, to immediately increase their effectiveness and see a positive impact on their team's performance and results, it would be the competency of asking better questions of their people.

As an example, let's take a sales coaching conversation with a salesperson to review their sales pipeline. As a sales leader we're primarily interested in the following:

1)  The quantity of deals they have in their pipeline
2)  the quality of deals they have in their pipeline
3)  The velocity of the deals in their pipeline
4)  The forecasted revenue from closed business in the next 30-45 days
5)  The action items being worked on to move specific deals forward to either a yes or no

There are lot's of questions to be asked about items 1-4. Let's say we want to focus on #5. What's a good question with which to begin the conversation?

When it comes to sales coaching questions, remember that vague, ambiguous, wishy-washy language will result in vague, ambiguous, wishy-washy questions that will yield zero information and waste everyone's time. If you want to ask effective, impactful questions, remember the 3 C's:  Clear, Concise, Concrete.

Alright, so if we want to start the conversation re #5–what strategies, tactics is the salesperson working on to move a deal forward, what's the question? Try this–Instead of asking "What do you have going on?", ask this "Looking at your pipeline, when it comes to moving a deal forward or unsticking a deal that's been stuck, what opportunities can I help you move forward?" Much better.

Clear, concise, concrete. This question will get you to a 'data point' from which you can ask more great questions.

Actually, there are 4 C's to great coaching questions. The fourth "C" is Consistency. When you ask the same questions from meeting to meeting you are training your salesperson to be prepared to answer those questions and knowing what to expect in the session.

This was just one example of a great sales coaching question. Can you think of others?

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Good Bye 2011 – Hello 2012!

Stop_sign

Since this seems to be the time of year when many of us look back over the last year, review our successes (and our failures) and think about the coming year and what we want to do differently, I thought I would re-post this article from one year ago about stopping and starting certain sales behaviors. There is something in it for salespeople and sales leaders alike.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2012!

Start and Stop – Changing Sales Behaviors

I recently worked with a small sales team for a division of a fairly large company. The topic was prospecting and their challenges were interesting:

 -They are starting from a baseline of zero sales.
 -They are selling into a market that is not familiar with their
  company and what they do.
 -Of the group, only one person has any experience with cold-calling
  but that was in a different industry.
 
These salespeople are knowledgeable and smart about their business and they’re led by a very capable sales leader. They are all up to the task ahead of them. However, in order to be successful, they know they will have to employ a different process than they have used in the past that will require them to stop doing certain behaviors and start doing new behaviors if they hope to avoid the temptation (and high cost) of meeting with anyone who has an interest in what they sell or wants to take a look at what they offer.

Here are just of few examples of the ‘stop’ and ‘start’:

They will have to stop trying to qualify for their prospects, telling them why their product is a fit for them. Instead, they should start by asking questions to determine if the prospect qualifies for them!

They will have to stop making appointments with prospects that show interest in their product and start meeting only with those people that are experiencing problems that they want to solve.

They will have to stop hearing objections from prospects who don’t want to talk or meet with them. Instead they should hear these objections as statements.

They will have to stop trying to deal with objections—overcoming them, selling the person on why their ‘stuff’ is better and giving the prospect reasons why they should think differently. Rather, they should start hearing their prospect’s statements and then asking them why they think or feel that way so they know where the prospect is coming from.

I could go on but these are a good introduction. Any type of change in selling behaviors will necessarily require salespeople to stop taking certain actions in the sales process and start doing new behaviors.

Question—if you are a professional salesperson, what will you stop doing and start doing during the coming year? And if you are a sales leader, do you know how your sales team would answer that question?

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Want To Sell More? Rela-a-a-a-x!

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. 

                                                                                          –Chinese Proverb

Think about this question for a moment. When you (or your salespeople) are engaged in the sales process, are you relaxed, at ease, calm on the inside? Or are you tense, uptight, anxious, nervous?

Most people will want to know what's happening at any particular point in a sales call before they answer the question. Encountering resistance from a prospect? Receiving a stall or objection to product or service offering? Or are they having a great meeting where quality information is exchanged and a next step is clearly defined and understood by both parties? Most salespeople will react differently to the first set of circumstances than to the second set.

Of course, for sales mastery, the objective is to be relaxed at all times, no matter what's occurring in the sales process. Only when we are relaxed can we perform in a manner that allows us to use our knowledge, skills and abilities effectively.

It's when we "tense up" that we get in trouble. Some salespeople are still stuck in the old "selling" mindset of "I have to go in and sell/show/convince them why they should buy from us.". These salespeople think they should be 'salespeople' and 'sell' their prospects. What happens as a result? They look, act and sound like salespeople which is the opposite of what prospects prefer. They want to work with problem solvers who will fix their problems, issues or concerns and add or create value as part of the sales interaction.

When a sales professional moves from the old "selling" mindset to the new "problem solving" mindset, all of their tension melts away and disappears.

Why? Armed with a way of thinking and belief system that says that prospects must sell the salesperson that they have a problem worth fixing and they want the salesperson to help them with the solution, the 'relaxed' sales professional feels more confident and in control when executing their sales process! They don't sell the prospect. The sales professional creates the environment where they don't have to close. Instead the prospect buys!

Which method do you want to use? Which method do you want your sales team to use?

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Knowing vs. Doing

How is your sales team doing with the 'knowing vs. doing' challenge? You know what I'm talking about.

The 'knowing' part of professional sales is a salesperson's knowledge of selling as a process. The elements of this process are qualifying for problems, money and decision process, positioning value, etc.

Along with these process steps salespeople will also need to know the selling skills necessary for executing the process. These are the communication skills–asking questions, active listening, getting commitments, building relationships and dealing with resistance.

As a sales leader you should be working on developing your team's selling skills based on evaluating your team and what you are observing on joint sales calls in the field. This can also be accomplished by consistently conducting role-playing in your sales meetings. You should monitor this role playing and listen/look for gaps in your salepeople's skills. Based on your evaluations and observations you can then provide the 'knowledge' to fill in the gaps. This is the knowing part of the equation.

However, as noted sales guru Dave Kurlan is fond of saying, a salesperson's "knowledge of selling as a process is not enough to help them execute effectively on a daily basis."

Execution is the 'doing' part of selling. Rationally, we all know what we should be doing in the sales process. But taking what you know and turning it into what you do is one of life's biggest challenges. Those of us that have ever taken a golf lesson know what I'm talking about.

Again, as sales leaders, you should be evaluating your team for certain sales weaknesses that prevent them from executing what they know how to do in the many different sales situations in which they find themselves. In other words, they know what to do…but they don't do it.

These sales weaknesses can be one of a number of things–need for approval, non-supportive buy cycle, self-limiting beliefs, a tendency to get emotionally involved (internally), discomfort in talking about money or difficulty in recovering from rejection.

Addressing these weaknesses requires a more concerted effort by sales leaders than when working with salespeople to improve their selling skills. While the fix for each weakness is different and unique, the common denominator is addressing the individual's beliefs about selling that serve as an obstacle and predetermine their effectiveness and outcomes.

As an example, if a salesperson is uncomfortable having an in-depth financial discussion with a prospect about budget, pricing or terms, it's usually because of a limiting belief about money that was passed along to them by a parent or authority figure when they were younger:  "It's not polite to talk about money, son."

Note:  Working on these weaknesses with salespeople should always be done in a one on one coaching setting. Salespeople will be more open to your coaching and you'll get the best results in this type of setting.

Last thought on this subject–when coaching your people to overcome these weaknesses, remember to be patient. It takes time to fix them. At the same time, be firm, hold your people accountable and accept no excuse-making for not making progress!

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