All posts in Sales Process

Practice, Practice, Practice!

If you are a Company President, CEO or Business Owner, looking for a quantum improvement in your sales team’s performance, here are two questions that may be of interest.

Question 1:  What is the best tool for a sales coach to use to quickly raise their sales team’s performance?

Question 2:  What is the most neglected tool available to a sales coach when coaching their sales team?

Would you be surprised to learn that the answer to both of these questions is the same?

The answer is role-playing.

A great mentor of mine once told me, “Everyone wants to play in the big game but nobody wants to practice!” 

Too many salespeople don’t want to practice for the big game. In sales, practicing means role-playing various sales situations salespeople have encountered or will likely encounter. Situations where they may need to employ a specific sales strategy, achieve a defined milestone in the sales process, dealing with difficult personalities or lower the prospect’s resistance to name a few examples. All of these situations require a salesperson who is prepared for them. A salesperson who ‘wings it’ in these types of sales calls, thinking they will be able to come up with the right response on the spot is a salesperson who is bound to fail more times than they win. 

Unfortunately, sales managers are contributing to this problem of lack of practicing by not making role-playing a regular part of their sales meetings and neglecting to give their salespeople the tools they need to be successful.

Role-playing done right gives a sales manager an opportunity to learn about their team:

  • How do the salespeople sound in a sales call?
  • Are they asking enough questions?
  • Are they asking the right questions?
  • Are they using active listening to sell consultatively?
  • Is the salesperson capable of lowering resistance by the prospect?

In order for role-playing practice to provide value for participants and increase their learning, sales managers should follow these guidelines and communicate the following to their team:

  1. The role-playing session is an opportunity to get better at what they do.
  2. The session is low risk–they can’t lose a sale in a practice situation.
  3. That initially, they will feel uncomfortable and the more they practice the more comfortable they’ll feel.
  4. They will be more prepared to deal with anything that happens in a sales call.

An additional benefit of using role-playing is that sales manager can then begin to accumulate the sales strategies and tactics used in the sessions and put together a ‘best practices’ toolkit that the team can then put to use in the future with the message:  “Here are the thought processes, sales strategies and tactics we want the team to use because we know they work!” 

Once you have these guidelines in place, it’s practice, practice practice!

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Recommended Reading for Sales and Selling Organizations

Here’s a short list of books on sales and business that I recommend to clients who want to reach the level of sales they desire and deserve. These are tools that every high-performing salesperson should have in their sales toolkit.

 

Baseline Selling by Dave Kurlan – Systematic approach to selling  that gives salespeople more results and control over the sales process.

Hope is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale by Rick Page – Use the strategies to navigate the complex sale and land your next whale account.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz – Learn how to use the psychology behind negotiation and the correct use of ‘no’.

The Platinum Rule for Sales Mastery: How to Adapt Your Selling Style to Match Every Prospect’s Buying Style by Tony Alessandro, Scott Zimmerman – Achieve quicker bonding and rapport with others and improve communication in any and all other situations.

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide for Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith – A collection of short, practical strategies with insights on how markets work and prospects think.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – Still the foundational book for understanding the principles of persuasion and the psychology behind why people say “yes”.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – Filled with practical wisdom for people who are looking to take control of their lives and careers.

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Five ‘Do’s’ For Effective Sales Coaching

Recent data shows that salespeople aren’t receiving nearly enough coaching from their managers and too often the coaching they are getting isn’t resulting in closing more business. Here’s a list of five ‘Do’s’ for sales leaders and managers who want to create a productive sales coaching environment.

1. DO be consistent in scheduling all one-on-one coaching sessions with salespeople. Being consistent sends the message to salespeople that these sessions are important and intended for their development and improvement. Establishing a rhythm and consistency of coaching is key to communicating that message.

2. DO have an agenda for every coaching session. Using a structured agenda helps salespeople feel more comfortable and less threatened when they know what to expect in a coaching sit down. This leads to more open and straightforward conversations regarding their sales opportunities.

3. DO make sure the salesperson comes away from every coaching session with a lesson learned from the sales calls that are discussed. Lessons reinforce positive sales behaviors and prevent a future repeat of negative, ineffective behaviors.

4. DO make sure, as the salesperson’s coach, to role-play the ‘salesperson’s’ part of the sales call. By doing this, the coach is modeling the expected sales strategies and tactics. (“This is how I want you to do this.”) When this is done, a standard is established,expectations of the salesperson can be set and they can be measured and held accountable for meeting that standard in their sales calls.

5. DO listen for the salesperson’s beliefs that may sabotage their sales calls and prevent them from achieving their desired outcomes (e.g. fear of asking detailed questions about budgets, reluctance to ask about the prospect’s decision-making process) Bring these self-limiting beliefs to the salesperson’s attention and help them discover how they are being held back, not by uncooperative or hostile prospects, but by their own thinking.

These are just a few elements of effective sales coaching. I will be posting a list of ‘Don’ts’ in the near future.

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What’s Holding Your Sales Team Back from Closing More Sales?

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  –Mark Twain

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from CEO’s and business owners about their sales efforts is that there are too many instances where opportunities on their sales team’s pipelines never turn into closed business on a timely basis. And too many times, it never converts at all.

Like Twain’s observation above, a small difference can make all the difference in the world. So in the world of sales, what’s the difference between a ‘qualified’ opportunity and a ‘not qualified’ opportunity? What process should a salesperson follow to determine whether a potential sale is ‘real’?

Here is where using a consultative sales approach can be invaluable.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of a salesperson having a conversation with the decision maker that was as deep and wide as possible.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of the salesperson asking many questions and employing great listening skills.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of a discussion of all the issues, opportunities, and implications facing the prospect.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing what people inside the prospect organization would be impacted and how.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing all the potential outcomes the prospect hopes to achieve.

And from the standpoint of a formalized, structured sales process, a qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing the prospect’s reasons for buying, uncovering an actual budget and learning the decision-making process.

The endpoint of this consultative conversation is a qualified prospect. Anything short of that and they’re still a suspect.

Keep in mind that when it comes to the skill set of converting predicted sales into closed deals in an appropriate time frame, a primary area to focus on is the development of your team’s qualifying skills.

High-achieving salespeople aren’t necessarily great ‘closers’ in the Glengarry Glen Ross sense of the term. Rather, high-achieving salespeople are terrific qualifiers!

 

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“When Will This Deal Close?”

All sales leaders would love to have a crystal ball that would accurately predict incoming sales revenue. Too often sales management is left wondering at month’s end where the promised sales are from the sales team that said it would come in and then failed to appear…again.

If we looked at this company’s sales pipeline, odds are this is what we would see:

a.  Not enough new opportunities

b.  Predicted closing that get delayed

c.  Not enough of the right kind of opportunities

d.  Opportunities that seem to be stuck and never move to the next stage

From working with companies over the last 20 years, I can also say with confidence what I won’t see with this company–a formal, structured, optimized sales process. Would you be surprised to learn that 91% of all companies suffer from this condition? And here’s the impact:

1.  The company loses its most powerful tool to accurately forecast sales and drive profitable revenue through its sales pipeline in a realistic time frame.

2.  Salespeople can’t effectively qualify their opportunities. They can only go with their gut or ‘quesstimate’ when  asked by management  whether their deals will close–and when they don’t close, offer up the same tired excuses.

3.  Sales management can’t effectively coach the sales team using a ‘common sales language’ and thus hold them  to a formal standard of selling strategies and behaviors which sends the underlying message to the salespeople:  “This is the way we do it at this company.”

4.  Research from the CSO Insights organization in 2012 revealed that less than 50% of forecasted deals actually were won. About 27% were lost to competition and about 26% resulted in no buying activity at all. Without a formal, structured, optimized sales process, it’s difficult for management to prioritize valuable resources to pursue deals that will actually happen and the company has a good chance to win.

A formal, structured, optimized sales process should have these two qualities:   First, it must have defined steps that are clearly performed and, when executed correctly, provide expected results and second, it must have a concrete method of measuring progress made.

A well trained and well coached sales force, following a this type of sales process will see these results:

  1. Shorter sales cycles
  2. Higher conversion rates
  3. More repeat business
  4. Higher margins
  5. More accurate forecasting

Finally, for a little bit of fun, watch this clip from “The Italian Job” and see a structured, optimized ‘process’ come to life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Underdog Selling

On October 3, 1964 a cartoon series debuted on NBC called Underdog, a show  about a humble dog, who when trouble threatened, transformed into a superhero and save the damsel in distress. The well-known character actor, Wally Cox supplied the voices for both characters.

Why am I describing a television show that ran over 40 years ago? For this reason—many companies are competing in the marketplace today and living at the “corner of ignorance and bliss”. They don’t realize that they are ‘underdogs’ in their industry and need to be selling their products or services in a totally different manner.

If only they could leap tall buildings in a single bound and save the day by defeating the ‘villain’ (the competition) and save the damsel (the sale). But they can’t.

Why not? Because they’re not following a predictable, optimized, systematic sales process when they go to market.  As a result, their sales pipelines are inaccurate, contain poorly qualified ‘hot deals’ and they’re not making their sales numbers. A well-designed sales process would take into account their underdog status and allow them to leverage it to make the sale.

How do you know if your company is the underdog?

If you are selling really expensive products or services, you might be an underdog.

If you’re not the market leader, you might be an underdog.

If you have higher priced products or services than the competition, you might be an underdog.

If you have a story to tell to the attention of your market, you might be an underdog.

If you have a new product or technology, you might be an underdog.

If you are a new company or brand, you might be an underdog.

If any of the above conditions are true for your selling organization, it’s time to put on your superhero cape and invest the time in fine tuning your team’s sales process.  Where to start? My previous posts herehere and here would be great places to begin.

Good luck!

 

 

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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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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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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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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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