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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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Curses! Foiled Again!

How many of you are familiar with "Made to Stick:  Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" (New York: Random House, 2007) written by Chip and Dan Heath? If you've read the book you may remember the concept of the 'curse of knowledge'. This concept comes from an experiment conducted by a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford. The experiment involved a "tapper" and a "listener". The tapper's role was to pick a well known song –"Happy Birthday", "Star-Spangled Banner" etc.– and tap out the rythm (on a table) to the listener. The listener's job was to listen to the rythm being tapped and guess the song.

Prior to the experiment being conducted, the tappers were asked to predict how often the listeners would correctly guess the song. Their prediction? 50%. However, listeners only guessed correctly 1 time in 40. Why? Chip and Dan Heath explain:

"It's hard to a be tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."

How does this relate to sales and salespeople?

How often do salespeople get in front of prospects and make a presentation of their company and it's products and/or services and recite their features and benefits and then afterward write in their call report what a successful meeting they had with the prospect! They talked and the prospect listened. The salesperson asked the prospect if they had any questions and the prospect said 'no'. A successful meeting right? Wrong! The curse of knowledge strikes again!

The curse of knowledge hits salespeople because they can't imagine what it's like for the prospect not to know about the salesperson's products or services. Because they don't know what the prospect's mindset is like (the prospect's world) they wind up talking only about what they do know–their own 'world', which is made up of their product or services.

And here is where the sales call runs off the tracks. The salesperson fails to get the prospect to talk…so they can listen to the answers…and ask good, tough, timely questions…to identify the problems that must be solved. This is the key to consultative selling.

The curse of knowledge will impact a salesperson at all points of the sales process but never more so than at the front end of a sales call. It's at this point that the salesperson should be positioning their company, themselves and describing the types of problems they help their customers solve. Ideally, all of this sales messaging should be designed, structured and delivered to focus on the prospect's world, their problems, their issues, their concerns to avoid the curse.

If this part of the call is done correctly, the prospect will engage, the meeting then becomes a conversation with questions being asked and answered and information being shared. Compelling reasons to buy begin to be uncovered and an agreement to move to a solid next step is agreed upon. Now what do we have? A great meeting! The curse has been undone!

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Great Sales Coaching Question!

What's the difference between these two questions?

"How did your week go?"

"How many new opportunities did you add to your sales pipeline?"

If you answered, "The number of words." you're correct. If you were being serious and answered that the second question drives to a specific piece of data, you're also correct. And more, a specific piece of data that gives more context to a salesperson's sales performance and effectiveness in a week's time than the first question.

Only 15% of sales managers spend as much as 25% of their time on coaching  and the little they do spend coaching is not very effective. These numbers only serve to emphasize how important it is that sales managers be highly competent at asking great sales coaching questions.

If you are a sales manager (or a company president or business owner who serves as their own sales manager) who is looking to improve your sales team's performance, pay more attention to the types of coaching questions you're asking of your salespeople.

When beginning a coaching conversation with your salespeople, use clear, concise and concrete questions. This is not the time for 'warm and fuzzy' questions or inquiring how your salesperson is feeling. Those can come later on in the conversation when action items  are committed to by the salesperson and you want to know their comfort level in executing the strategies so you can offer more coaching to ensure effective performance. Role-playing the sales situations or strategies with your salesperson will help here.

Want to ask great sales coaching questions?

Remember:

Clear.

Concise.

Concrete.

 

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“Play It Again, Sam!” – Top Self-Limiting Records of Salespeople

Too many salespeople in the sales profession suffer from what we call "self-limiting records". A mentor of mine, Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group explains that a self-limiting record is really a belief by a salesperson that sabotages rather than supports their efforts for a successful sales outcome. As a result, the salesperson's failure will be predestined in many selling situations.

The best way to think about self-limiting records is this:  the belief behind it is like a 'record' that begins to play in a salesperson's mind whenever they find themselves in a certain situation and the record will dictate their thinking and behavior.

Here is a short list (there are more) of some of the most common self-limiting beliefs of underachieving salespeople. See if you can relate them to the situations you or your salespeople encounter.

1)  I need my prospects to like me.

A salesperson who suffers from this belief winds up losing control of the sales process, doing a lot of free consulting or closing too few sales whenever a situation requires them to do anything, at least in their mind, that could cause the prospect to get upset with them.

2)  Prospects are honest.

Salespeople who have this self-limiting belief lack the personal selling power to deal with the 'little white lies' that prospects use to protect themselves or hide their true intentions or agenda.

3)  I must educate the prospect.

This self-limiting record is usually held by a salesperson who educates themselves before making a major purchase. They view their prospects as having the same need and wind up getting their brains picked and giving away their knowledge and expertise.

4)  It's OK if my prospect thinks it over.

Overachieving salespeople never accept a 'think it over'. They always take the 'think it over' to a 'yes' or 'no'. By doing so, they save tons of time not chasing opportunities that are never going to happen. Underachievers hang on to the 'think it over' until the last dog dies and even then won't let go. A dead giveaway of this limiting belief is a bloated sales pipeline where nothing ever seems to close.

5)  I'm uncomfortable talking with prospects about their money.

Having this belief leads to a lack of information on what the prospect is capable of and willing to invest in the salesperson's solution. The result is underquoting, overquoting, misquoting and giving quotes to prospects who may not deserve one.

The good news is that these self-limiting records can be changed by 'taping' over them with new, more supportive beliefs. Accomplishing this requires time, effort and focus. The payoff for going through the process is a better performing, more effective salesperson.

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Are You Helping Customers Feel Safe?

Do you know what makes a relationship with a potential customer work? Or not work?

Many salespeople see developing a relationship with a prospect as:

  1.  Being able to establish bonding and rapport.
  2.  The prospect shows interest in their product or service.
  3.  The prospect gives them a small piece of business initially.
  4.  The prospect is willing to meet with them or returns their calls.

These are all part of developing a relationship…but there's more, something much deeper.

At a human being to human being, one on one level, a relationship that works for both prospect and salesperson is about safety.

Both parties feel a certain amount of safety and comfort in dealing with each other. Because of that, good, substantive conversations are held. A meaningful exchange of information takes place. And by safety I don't mean that the only necessary element is trust. Safety comes from how the tension in the relationship (anxiety, fear) is managed by the two parties.

In selling, tension is always high in the beginning of the process, usually in the first face to face meeting. The prospect feels a need to protect themselves from a salesperson who they feel may take advantage of them. The salesperson feels tension from being in a situation where they may be rejected. As a result, both parties erect a  'boundary' (think of it as an invisible wall) around themselves. The 'fight or flight' instinct is at play here. The boundary serves as a mechanism to not only create safety–it also helps each person manage their own tension.

Many sales meetings begin and end without these boundaries ever coming down for either person. Neither party feels safe, meaning they never cross their own boundary much less cross the other party's boundary to have an open, straightforward conversation and make a connection with each other. Because salespeople must take responsibility for their sales outcomes, it's up to them to take the lead in making the connection first. The good news is that prospects very easily recognize which salesperson is willing to cross their boundary and help them feel safe. And with other things about the potential purchase being somewhat equal, these are the salespeople from whom they buy.

The tools at the salesperson's disposal to accomplish this level of rapport are readily available and can be developed through consistent, focused effort and discipline:

  1.  Behavior style adaptation
  2.  Matching and mirroring
  3.  Neurolinguistic programming
  4.  Language
  5.  Communication strategies

With this post I've only scratched the surface of the role that managing tension and helping customers feel safe plays in developing relationships with customers and winning more business. Look for future posts that expand on this subject!

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