All posts in Sales Process

The CEO and the Sales Call

Here's a familiar scenario that is happening more and more these days. Company CEO's are now more active than ever participants in the  company's sales process for retaining current customers and developing new business. The most common form is the "joint call" with the salesperson in the account.

Whether you are a CEO or a salesperson here is a short list of guidelines (there are more) for a joint call that includes the sales organization's CEO.

1) "Plans are worthless but planning is everything."

You may be familiar with this Dwight D. Eisenhower quote. The critical thinking and discussions that occur during a pre-call planning session prior to a sales call are more valuable than the plan that emerges. Obviously, you won't need to do this for every sales call but if you are pursuing a 'whale', exercising your planning muscles before the call is indispensable. Take the example of a PGA golf professional. What do they do during the week of a tournament? They play a practice round to find out how the course is 'playing' to determine what it will take to shoot a competitive score and win the tournament. It may rain the third day of the four day tournament and playing conditions may change completely. Because they went through the planning process (the practice round), they will more easily be able to adapt to a new approach and still be successful.

CEO Tip:  Allow your salesperson to lead the planning process. It will not only help them take ownership of the plan, but it will give you a measure of their strategic thinking capabilities as well.

2) Define what success will look like.

Too many salespeople don't have a clearly defined goal for the sales call. This is usually revealed in the pre-call planning session. If a formal planning meeting wasn't done, perhaps because of the size of the account, the lack of a specific meeting outcome will then become known during the car ride to the call when the CEO asks, "So why are we seeing this person today?" What he will hear is some vague, ambiguous response about how the salesperson thinks that it's a good idea for the customer to meet the CEO.

I may be exaggerating, but not much.

CEO Tip: As CEO, consistently ask your salesperson what the goal of the call is and don't accept anything less than a clear, concise action step to be taken by the customer.

3) "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."

Maybe Shakespeare was a sales leader at one time as well as a writer. I can't stress enough how important it is for the CEO and their salespeople to be on the same page and know what their roles are in the sales meeting. Is the CEO there as a presence for the company, to share the company story or conduct part of the call? There should be no mutual mystification here.

CEO Tip: Remember the 4 W's: Who will say What to Whom When?

4) Follow your process.

Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group reports that 91% of the companies OMG has evaluated since 1985 (covering 500,000 salespeople) do not have a formal, structured sales process. That is an amazing number. If your company currently has an effective sales process, congratulations! Make sure that you and your team stay focused in it and execute it consistently! If you don't, I'll remind you of W. Edwards Deming's thoughts on the subject: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."

CEO Tip: Because you wear seventeen hats and all before noon, it's not necessary that you have the same mastery of the company's sales process as ideally required of your salespeople. However, you should have enough knowledge of it in order to recognize that it's being implemented effectively in the field and to be able to ask great coaching questions in your sales call de-briefings with your salespeople.

5) Be prepared to be unprepared.

A sales organization can faithfully follow all of the above guidelines and somthing totally unexpected may still occur during the sales call. Anyone who has been in sales for awhile has experienced one of these moments. Embrace them! They are tests of how well you and your sales team have developed their competence in executing your sales process, it's concepts and strategies. Learn to use these episodes to learn a lesson that will enable your people to react better in the future and improve their effectiveness.

Sales organizations that follow these guidelines for CEO involvement in the sales process will see significant effectiveness in their sales results!

 

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Are You Still Winging It?

I recently came across something that totally astounded me. While doing some research, I came across a business resource website that contained information covering a wide range of topics. Under 'Sales' was a section that was devoted to 'Closing Techniques'. Out of curiosity I clicked on it and it listed sixty-eight (68) different closing techniques! You read that right! 68 closes!

Now granted, if you eliminated half of these closes because they are more appropriate for retail sales than business to business sales, that still leaves you with over thirty different closes. Even if you wanted to use them, who can remember all of them, at the right time, in the right situation? I don't think anyone is that good!

But do you have to be 'that good'? Here is my point: The necessity of using a 'close' in a sales process or relying on a 'close' to make a sale is the direct result of not having well-designed, systematic sales process to use in place of a 'close'.

What I mean by a systematic sales process is one that eliminates the need for a close. Instead, the salesperson's sales process would be designed to determine 1) whether the prospect has any compelling reasons for changing his current reality, usually to fix a problem or acquire a desired gain, 2) whether the prospect sees the seller as someone who is uniquely positioned to provide a solution and 3) whether there is any urgency for the buyer to take the first two steps now. If these three steps are executed properly, there would be no necessity for a close because the prospect would take action and close themselves in order to fix the problem or acquire the gain.

So, what are you doing?

As a salesperson or a sales leader, are you just winging it when you engage with a prospect or are you implementing your systematic sales process that will efficiently help you close the sale and get the business? 

To read more about the objectives and characteristics of a systematic sales process, you can go here and here.  

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An Inverse Rule of Communication

Does this situation sound familiar?

A salesperson is in a meeting with a customer, or potential customer, and they cannot stop talking. They talk about their product or service, their features and benefits, customers who are in love with their product or service, features, benefits…Well, you get the picture. And then they wonder why so many of their meetings never lead to the next step–"The prospect just didn't seem receptive to our stuff and I couldn't get them to open up and talk about what they're using or looking for!"

It's another illustration of an inverse rule of communication–if you want the customer to listen, stop talking!The ability to use 'silence' effectively in a sales meeting is one of the most under utilized skills in the sales world. The process of 'selling' is having the prospect believe what the professional salesperson believes–that the salesperson's solution is the optimal solution to solve the prospect's problem. Oftentimes, the prospect cannot form the new mental construct (or belief system) of beginning a new business relationship when they are listening to the salesperson present their product or service or features or benefits. They can only do it when there is silence. And that silence is staged and managed by the salesperson.

The ability to use 'silence' is an absolute must for success in sales. Warning! As you or your salespeople work on developing on this skill, it will be horribly uncomfortable. Too often we think we add the most value to the customer when we are talking. So we think we are not serving the customer when we aren't talking. Actually, it's just the opposite. The greatest value we provide is 'not talking'.

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“The Mission is Ordnance on Target”

The focus of this post is "focus".

The focus of the Navy Frigate Captain's observation (above) is simple, clear, concise and easy to understand. No mystification. The ship is designed and equipped for one purpose. The crew is trained to accomplish one purpose. the captain's decisions and commands are performed for one purpose–ordnance on target.

Now let's compare the Navy's approach to its mission to how salespeople deal with the sales process–

Do salespeople approach their sales calls with a 'mission'?

Is that mission as tightly defined as 'ordnance on target'?

Are their strategies designed to accomplish the mission?

Are they trained to execute those strategies effectively?

Do they perform the strategies with one purpose–to achieve the mission?

Or–

Do most salespeople wing it?

Do they not do any pre-call planning to determine what outcome they want to get?

Do they not do 'what if…?' scenario planning to take into account any anticipated eventualities in their sales meetings so they don't get caught by surprise and thrown off track?

Do they not receive any sales training to improve their selling skills?

Is their decision making performed to achieve a tactical outcome rather than a strategic one?

One group of salespeople is high performing.

One group of salespeople is underachieving.

Do you recognize focus, ordnance on target, when you see it?

 

 

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Top Ten Ways to Be an Advisor in the Sales Process

Too many salespeople these days are just that–salespeople. In the way they look, act and behave, they don't stand out from their peers. And they definitely don't stand out in the minds of their prospects and customers. Result? They get commoditized, shopped, talked down to and ignored. Here's a list of necessary attributes to move from 'salesperson' to 'advisor'.

1. Advisors don't fear a 'No' – They know when sales opportunities are a good fit or not. They prefer to lose early, save selling costs and go and engage with prospects with whom they have a higher percentage of getting the business.

2. Advisors know how to push back – If all salespeople do is show up and accept at face value everything prospects tell them about what they want or how they view the world, they are a facilitator in their prospect's eyes. Advisors know how to effectively challenge what they hear and see and in the process, build respect and value in the minds of their customers.

3. Advisors use 'business language' rather than 'sales language' – They discuss market share, ROI, share of wallet, cost reduction, etc. with their customers. Prospects want to buy from business people, not salespeople.

4. Advisors see themselves as change agents – They are experts in quickly determining if the customer's current reality calls for change and whether the customer can effectively and efficiently execute that change.

5. Advisors recover quickly from rejection – All people involved in the sales process get rejected. For some, it's a day killer, maybe a week killer. For a very few, it's a month killer. High achievers take a lesson from a lost sale and promptly move on to the next opportunity in their pipeline.

6. Advisors control the sales process – They use a formal, structured sales process designed to achieve consistent, predictable results while providing them with feedback relative to where they are in the process and what they must do to succeed.

7. Advisors have clear and specific personal goals…in writing – They know where they are going, what they must do to get there and how they will measure progress. Period.

8. Advisors build relationships quickly – They perceive, gather and interpret all the information that prospects give out–body language, behavioral style, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), birth order, educational background, industry expertise, organizational title–and use that knowledge to make other people feel comfortable and safe with them…in a very short period of time.

9. Advisors are great listeners – There is a Native American proverb, "Listen or your tongue will make you deaf". Enough said.

10. Advisors are life long learners – Whether its reading industry trade journals, books on selling or human psychology or listening to self-inprovement audio CD's, high achievers are constantly adding to their knowledge, looking for strategies and tools that will give them that decisive edge over the competition that gains them the sale.

 

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Your Negotiation Process

You are a leader or a member of a sales organization. Your sales team has a well defined sales process that disciplines your salespeople to the behaviors that will best identify, pursue and close good business and everyone adheres to it.

Question: Do you also have a negotiation process that meets the same description as your sales process?

When I ask this question of company presidents and owners, all too often I get a puzzled look and a response of "What do you mean?"

Too many sales organizations have neglected to include a defined, documented negotiation process in their sales function and by not doing so, have failed to help their salespeople develop and implement the necessary skills they need when they find themselves negotiating with prospects and customers. The outcome of this failure has been lower margins, unfavorable terms for conducting a business relationship and a tilted playing field with the customer holding the balance of power over a supplier, to name a few.

That's the bad news. The good news is that many of the components of an effective negotiation process are already present in a sales organization's sales process. Excellent questioning and communications skills are necessary for engaging in a negotiation just as they are in any sales process.

The emphasis of a focused, well defined negotiation process should be different than that of a sales process. Let me share with you why.

In a sales process, our goal is to determine if we can match up our capabilities to the prospect's needs (their pain) and design a solution that adds value to the customer's business. While we are working each step of that process, it's relatively easy to keep our emotions out of the interaction.

However, very often in a negotiation, we are making decisions that directly impact the outcome of the process. In this high pressure environment ("We want a 10% price reduction or we will put this out to bid!") it's much more difficult to keep our emotions out of the deal. And when we become emotionally attached to an outcome ("We will lose the account!"/"We will keep the account!") we begin to lose in any negotiation.

So the emphasis of an effective negotiation process should be on developing and implementing great decision making skills that allow us to keep our emotions in check, use the right strategies, maintain control and achieve the results we desire. Combine this kind of focused negotiation process with a defined sales process and watch your sales results take off!

 

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Process…Process…Process

The three most important words in sales process, process, process.

I know, that's a cheap rip-off of the old real estate maxim. However, that admission doesn't diminish the value of the statement.

There are many things that are important for success in sales–asking great questions, being a good listener, the ability to emotionally detach in order to enhance execution of a sales process, being gutsy and recovering from rejection quickly to name a few.

Having these competencies present in your sales team is necessary for helping them to incrementally get stronger in the sales process. Sales leaders (presidents, CEO's, V-P's of sales, sales managers) who are looking for a quantum leap forward or want to impact their sales culture, should instead put in place an effective sales process first.

What are the qualities of a sales process?

It must have two qualities:

First, it must have defined steps that are clearly performed and, when executed effectively, deliver expected results.

Second, it must have a clear, concrete method of measuring progress.

This is the 'common language' that sales organizations need for strategizing, coaching and pipeline management of their sales opportunities.

When everyone in the sales organization begins to use a dedicated sales process, certain efficiencies are immediately realized:

  • Sales opportunities are qualified quicker (and cheaper)
  • Sales opportunities are disqualified quicker (and cheaper)
  • Briefing and debriefing of sales calls take less time
  • Sales resources are focused only on opportunities that deserve them
  • Management has better visibility into its sales pipeline
  • High-performing salespeople thrive in a sales environment that stresses accountability
  • Poor performers are exposed and moved out or leave on their own

Companies who have put processes in place on their manufacturing floor or for delivering services to  customers to achieve more efficiency and productivity and now want to gain those same results in their sales department should design and implement a dedicated sales process…today. 

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Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, Get Smarter

High- performing sales professionals 'fail' almost everyday…if they are following their sales process effectively. And inside each 'failure' is a success. Here's why.

Maybe you have heard of Doug Hall, the CEO of Eureka!Ranch and author of Jump Start Your Business Brain. Eureka!Ranch  provides research and innovation tools to accelerate innovation success for companies that want to grow. A big proponent of the 'fail fast, fail cheap' concept when introducing a new product or service, Doug takes this strategy one step further–fail fast, fail cheap, get smarter. And from any failure, be sure to take a lesson and move on.

How does all this apply to high-performing salespeople?

It's common sense to say that ideally, salespeople want to engage with prospects with whom they have the best chance of winning the sale. Each 'engagement' means that sales resources begin to be invested (time, knowledge, technical capabilities, estimating time, etc.) in the sales opportunity. These resources must be protected carefully by the sales team.

To accomplish this, a salesperson's focus at this point does not necessarily need to be on qualifying for the prospect as a possible supplier. Instead they should work to determine whether the potential customer qualifies for a fit with their product or service offering. Following this approach ensures that sales resources will be carefully and wisely spent.

Once the qualification process begins with prospects, it's vital that salespeople discipline themselves to a process whose objective is to determine if there is a potential fit or opt out of the opportunity. Here is where 'fail fast, fail cheap, get smarter' begins to apply.

The high-performing salesperson will see the value, even the necessity, when the circumstances call for it, of opting out of an opportunity to protect their resources, live to fight another day and more importantly use this 'failure' to be smarter in any future interaction with that particular prospect. (Salesperson: "When we last talked six months ago, you told me that low price was your main buying criteria and our higher priced value added offering was not a fit. Can you help me understand what's changed?")

Whether you are a CEO, business owner, sales manager or sales professional, how successful are you or your sales team at failing fast, failing cheap and getting smarter?

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Honoring Your Process

Current economic conditions can present unique challenges for your sales team and culture.
 
These challenges may include: 1) continuing efforts by large companies to aggressively manage their supply chain by putting pressure on your pricing (and margins) and by requesting ideas for cost reductions or 2) unexpected requests from companies for your organization to quote on pieces of business that you haven't been able to quote on in the past (making your team susceptible to doing free consulting) or 3) companies continuing to commoditize you by comparing your high value-added product or service offering to lesser value-added competition. Your salespeople may be encountering one or all three of these situations.  

These sales challenges require renewed attention on the importance of staying focused in using your organization's sales process to close sales with current and potential customers. 

The ideal sales process has these objectives and characteristics:  

1.  To qualify the prospect for a 'fit' for your product or service offering.  

2.  To uncover business problems you can solve with your value added offering.  

3.  To manage and protect your sales team's sales assets – time, knowledge, customer relationships, company expenses and the salesperson's self-esteem.  

4.  To accomplish 1 – 3 in a cost effective timeframe that allows your company to deliver the ultimate value required by the customer to solve their problem.  

Having this type of ideal sales process in place and operational will make it easier for your sales organization to honor that process when working with the customer challenges described earlier.  

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines honor as "to live up to or fulfill the terms of". In terms of honoring your sales process this means your salespeople will consistently and appropriately use its steps and strategies with customers. Doing this requires daily discipline by your salespeople. Any salesperson can give a minor price concession to a customer when times are good and orders are coming in from other customers. However, only a disciplined salesperson can live up to their process and respond effectively when, in a slow economy, a major customer threatens to put their book of business out to bid in response to your company requesting a needed price increase.

As the leader of your organization, your mission and purpose should be to grow and nurture your team's discipline to honor their sales process by setting the proper expectations, holding people accountable and giving positive reinforcement to salespeople who effectively execute the right behaviors.

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The Power of ‘No’

Many traditional sales approaches emphasize the importance of getting prospects and customers to say 'yes'. Here are some examples:

"A small 'yes' (a demo, accepting literature, etc.) leads to a big 'yes' ( a closed sale).

"A prospect who is saying 'yes' is still a prospect (even though the 'yes' is seemingly a willingness to take an action step, such as "I want to think this over." but is really evasive and non-committal).

A salesperson who accepts these types of affirmative responses has developed a set of "happy ears" and probably has a sales pipeline that is bulging at the seams with opportunities that look good but never seem to close in the forecasted quarter. A salesperson with happy ears has never learned to accept a 'no' from a prospect or to get the prospect to say 'no' so the sale can really begin.

High performing salespeople however, have an entirely different perspective of 'no'. They understand the power of this two letter word. Using the word 'no' (or a form of it) at the right time with the right person:

-Enables them to level the playing field with prospects who attempt to commoditize their product or service offering.

-Allows them to put the possibility of not doing business together on the table in the first sales call which is a powerful strategy in the sales process.

-Gives the prospect the right to say, "I don't think there is a fit between our two organizations"…but also gives the salesperson to say the very same thing to the prospect and qualify out of the sales opportunity.

These are just a few of the benefits of using the word 'no' when talking to potential customers.

If you are a President, CEO or business owner, ask yourself this question–"How do my salespeople view the word 'no' and how do they use it with our prospects and customers?"

 

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