All posts by Jim Nelson

“How Can You Resist?”

Here is the call control tip of the month:

Salespeople encounter 'resistance' everyday. Resistance from prospects, current customers, internal customers. It usually comes in the form of a stall or objection – "I'm happy with our current provider." or "That pricing seems on the high side."

Amateur salespeople react to resistance by going into "sell" mode to overcome it  by supplying reasons why the prospect is wrong or should be thinking differently. This only results in the resistance growing stronger.

Professional salespeople take a different approach. They realize that any resistance from a prospect must first be lowered before attempting to clarify the reasons for it and resolving them. The most effective way to accomplish this is by making statements with which the prospect can agree. Once the resistance is lowered, it's easier to then drill down on the stall or objection and get to the real issue.

Example:

Prospect: "We're happy with our current provider."

Salesperson: "I appreciate you sharing that with me. It sounds like they are doing a perfect job for you and there is no reason for you to look at anyone else right now."

For the prospect who is expecting the salesperson to start 'selling' why his product or service is better, the above response is unexpected. When you say what your prospect isn't expecting, it results in the lowering of their resistance, the changing of their position and the opening of their mind. And you maintain control of the call.

Try it. It works. 

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“I Need Your Approval…No, I Really Do!”

As a leader of a sales organization, has one of your salespeople ever found themselves in one of these sales situations?

-The prospect requests more time to think before making a decision.

-The prospect has been leading the salesperson on.

-The prospect talks out of both sides of their mouth ("I'm happy but we do have some problems with our current supplier.")

I'm sure you can think of more challenges. Each of these situations can be deadly for a salesperson who has a strong need for approval which is primarily a need to be liked by their prospects. Now it's okay to like people. However, some salespeople can like people a little too much and work for their approval rather than to move the sales process forward and close the sale. Need for approval can be even more debilitating in a tough sales environment such as we currently experiencing.

Need for approval prevents a salesperson from closing a prospect who wants more time to think it over, from confronting (professionally) a prospect who is leading them on and from dealing with a prospect who doesn't sound like they are being truthful.

This need for approval is based in the salesperson's belief system. They feel they need the prospect's approval to feel like they are doing a good job. Anything other than the prospect's approval leads them to feel like they have failed and even feel rejected.

For those that have it, need for approval is a major weakness that must be overcome for a salesperson to be effective in the sales process. The bad news–it takes a long time to accomplish this, especially if the need is strong. The good news–it can be fixed, with hard work, discipline and coaching.

The first step is for the salesperson to change their belief system from a belief of "I need prospects to like me" to a more supportive belief of "My prospects must respect me in order to be my customer". This new belief, if consistently followed and combined with the supportive sales behavior, will dramatically improve a case of need for approval.

As a reminder for leaders of sales organizations (and for any individual salespeople who may be reading this post) the old thinking is "I need prospects to like me, then love me, then they will buy from me and respect me". The new thinking should be "My prospects respect me, they can like me when they decide to do business with me and then when they experience the value of my product or service, they can love me".

Remember, first 'respect, then 'like', then 'love'.

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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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Time for a Check Up

"Plans get you into things but you've got to work your way out." – Will Rogers

Here are a few simple instructions for a quick exercise all professional salespeople should do at the end of the first quarter of their sales year:

 -Turn slowly toward your bookshelf in your work area.

 -Look for the binder labeled "2009 Sales Plan" (you remember, it's the one you put there last   December)

 -Grab the binder, put it on your desk and review it.

Now ask yourself this question: "Am I doing what I said I would do in this sales plan?"

There are three answers to this question:  "Yes, No and Kind of"

If you answered "Yes", good for you. Your follow up question then is, "Are my business development efforts getting me closer to my goals?" to make sure you are getting the results you want.

If you answered "No", your follow up question is: "Assuming my goals are still the ones I want and my action steps are still effective means to reaching those goals, what's holding me back?" Then comes the really hard question: "Are these valid reasons or am I making excuses for not doing the behavior?"

If you answered "Kind of", your follow up question is: "Am I giving the right amount of effort or do I have to press the 'gas pedal' harder?"

I know there are no simplistic answers. However you answered the first question, the point is to take the time to sit down and review how you are doing in comparison to what you planned to do in your sales plan. You may need to fine tune it a bit because of changes in market conditions, your customer accounts or in your own business .

Once you complete this review (and changes if needed), you can be confident that your business development efforts are in complete 'sync' with current business conditions and more importantly, that you are showing high integrity to yourself and to your sales plan by 'doing what you say you will do'.

 

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Marketing in a Down Economy

I recently sat down with Mike Van de Kamp of Van de Kamp Consulting LLC  (LinkedIn profile)to ask him about his thoughts regarding what companies and organizations should be doing when it comes to marketing themselves in the current economy.

Jim: Hi Mike. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your insights.

Mike: Hi Jim, good to be with you today.

Jim: We've both been around awhile and this is not our first rodeo, so to speak, when it comes to experiencing a poor economy. Is there any common theme relating to how companies approach their marketing efforts when business conditions deteriorate and sales begin to slow or take a serious hit?

Mike: There is. And it's interesting that whether it's a mild recession like in the early 90's, a more severe downturn of eight years ago and even what we are seeing with today's economy, companies always seem to react the same. To illustrate how they react and what their mindset is when it comes to their marketing efforts, let me share with you a story I remember hearing in a marketing class at the University of Wisconsin sometime on the north side of the last century. Luigi, whose son was away attending college, ran a small but ridiculously successful hot dog stand that had grown its reputation on pricey Vienna Beef/Chicago style hot dogs.

Jim: I think I've been at this establishment.

Mike: No doubt, I think we all know of a place like this. Over the past years, many people had been laid off of work in the small community, many businesses had closed their doors permanently, and most other restaurants were singing the blues. Then Luigi's son returned home for the holidays after completing this advanced economics class during the first semester. His friend drove him through town to drop him off at the hot dog stand around closing time so he could go home with his dad. Going through the center of town he saw the pricey billboard his dad had used for years to call out his "Dog Delights".He made a mental note. Riding home with his dad after a very busy day at the Hotdog Boutique, he told him about his economics class, the terrible economy and the need to reduce all avoidable expenses. After much debate, Luigi (sixth grade education) bowed to the wisdom of his college educated son. After his son returned to school he cancelled the billboard and set about drastically cutting costs.

Jim: What happened at that point?

Mike: Well, his son returned home for spring break just 45 days later and met his dad at the hot dog stand during the lunch hour. As he walked in, there was but a handful of the customers who normally frequented the place. His dad walked out of the kitchen and embraced his son. "My son, thank goodness I listened to you. I laid off the waitresses and went self-service, I discontinued the pricey Vienna Beef hot dogs, I switched to paper napkins, eliminated table cloths and cut my costs further by eliminating the billboard. I did it just in time before my business crashed like the others. I'm lucky it didn't catch up with me a year earlier like everyone else."

Jim: So what lesson should a president, CEO or business owner take away from the story?

Mike: The first lesson is to be able to answer a simple question? How do you market in a down economy? Very, very, very carefully.

Jim: You said that's the first lesson. I'm hearing that there are others, is that right?

Mike: That's right. The hot dog stand is a simple little story. However, it's full of lessons that apply to most businesses in time of recession.

Jim: Can you share a few of them?

Mike: Sure. First, if you have been successful in business to date, if the underlying values of the owners (if closely held) and (or, if widely held) the leadership group of an organization compose the seamless fabric of the organization's products and services delivering what the customer truly needs, be careful about changing anything. At the very least, seek input directly from your customers and base any change upon their candid opinions. Do not take the word of any intermediary, speak with them directly.

Jim: So if a business owner or president is going to listen to anyone about making changes, that first "voice" should be the customer's.

Mike: Exactly. And what I just described is the best case scenario. If the deep seated pains of your customers and the financial budgets available to overcome those pains do not line up perfectly with the products or services you offer, analysis and change are critical. Work from the customer in and values out to make sure everything you do is something they are willing to pay for. How do you do this? Again, like I mentioned earlier very, very carefully and very, very quickly.

Jim: Are companies capable of doing the analysis and change piece themselves? Or are they too close to the issues to effectively go through the process to see what changes need to take place?

Mike: It varies of course. However, as a business owner if you are unsure of how to do the evaluation and re-alignment, seek help from outside experts who do that type of work every single day. Don't cut out the very reasons the customer came to the hot dog stand in the first place. Find out what they really think and why. Then muster the troops, deliver it and prosper.

Jim: Mike, great insights. Thanks again for your time.

Mike: My pleasure, Jim. Good to be with you.

 

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Leadership or Communication Challenges?

Utech Consulting's "Leadership Boot Camp" and "Effective Communication Seminars" can help.

I have personally attended these programs and I think you will receive a message of value as well as learn a methodology and strategies for growing your business or organization and improving communication with customers and business associates.

I have done several joint consulting projects with the Utech team and I continue to be impressed with 1) their understanding of how organizations and people work…or not work and 2) their practical solutions to everyday business challenges.

Check out Utech's "Leadership Boot Camp" and "Effective Communication Seminars" at this link.

 

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Is Your Sales Team Receiving Effective Coaching?

From working with many company presidents and business owners over the last seventeen years, I've learned many valuable things. Chief among these is this obvious one: Company presidents and owners are very busy and wear many 'hats' in leading their businesses.

One of these hats is that of being a coach to their sales team. Depending on the size of their sales organization, the amount of coaching a president does can vary widely. With a larger team and a VP of Sales in place, they may only be involved in strategy sessions dealing with larger customer accounts. When the sales team is smaller, a president may be serving as their own sales manager and interacting regularly with their salespeople.

No matter what your level of involvement may be with your sales team, current economic conditions require that you adapt the coaching of your salespeople even more now than when the economy and sales were humming along.

Here are some questions that will help fine tune your coaching sessions:

  1. Has this salesperson experienced these kinds of business conditions before?

  2. How did this salesperson react to those conditions then?

  3. How do they view your industry's selling environment today?

  4. If they haven't experienced this type of business environment in the past, what is their mindset today?

  5. How is their current mindset affecting what you need them to do to find and close business?

  6. What are their sales skills, competencies and selling style? Are they able to execute effectively in this type of selling environment?

  7. Have you (or your VP of Sales) evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team and examined how those findings relate to previous items 1 – 6

Knowing the answers to these questions is important for several reasons. First, the answers will assist you in adapting the coaching your salespeople receive to help achieve their sales goals in a challenging economy. Second, by effectively customizing your sales coaching now, when business conditions begin to improve, your sales organization will be that much better positioned to close more and better sales.

 

 

 

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Lost and Found

"You've never been lost until you've been lost at Mach 3."   Paul F. Crickmore (Test pilot)

I don't know about you but I have never had the experience of being 'lost' at Mach 3. I'm sure it's something you don't forget. 

Sometimes in a sales career we can get a feeling of being 'lost'. This can result from a sales slump, a poor economy or personal issues. We have all been there. Let's talk about some of the things we can do to go from lost to…..found.

Here are a few suggestions that can help you get back on track and in focus:

1)  Re-connect with your written personal and business goals.

 What do you want for yourself and/or your family? What rewards will give yourself in exchange for all the hard work you will put in? If you have written goals, are they still important? Do they need to be fine-tuned?

2)  Re-connect with your values.

What drives you? What motivates you? What gives you energy and passion? Do your values help you live consistently and help you perform well in your personal and business life?

3)  Re-connect with your vision.

What is it you are moving toward? What is it that you (or your organization, sales team, company) want to become? What does it look like? Can you describe it specifically? Vividly? Make it look and sound real?

Here is the interesting part.

There is a very good possibility that our goals, values and vision haven't changed very much from one year ago to the present day. What has changed is our focus on them and our awareness of using them in our everyday lives. It's not unusual to lose that focus and awareness, however, given all the things that come at us daily that steal our attention. It's easy to lose sight of these important 'guideposts'.

Here is a suggestion: If you are part of the sales function of your company, set a time once a quarter, to take some quiet time and sit down to review your goals, values and vision. Use this opportunity to get back in focus and re-energize yourself! 

 

 

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