During a sales training workshop I conducted for a client last week the biggest challenge that the group of sales reps faced was the ability to connect with people in order to schedule an appointment.
We brainstormed ideas to connect with people including; the importance of leaving high-value voice mail messages, using multiple mediums (telephone, email, direct mail, etc.), enlisting the support of an internal champion, and calling at off times (early in the morning and late in the day).
Ultimately, at the end of the day we agreed that there is only one strategy that will enable you to connect with key decision makers, prospects and contacts.
Your prospects are dashing from meeting to meeting or dealing with an ongoing slew of problems which means they are away from their desk for a good chunk of the day.
When you’re fortunate enough to catch them at their desk, there’s a good chance they will glance at their caller ID display to see who is calling. Unless it’s a return call about an important issue they’re dealing with or an internal person (boss or direct report), it’s highly likely they will ignore the call.
A friend of mine is a middle manager in a relatively large company, and on average, he receives upwards of 150 email messages every single day plus dozens of phone calls. He confided that he seldom returns a call from a sales person unless that person has a unique product or service or he/she is exceptionally persistent.
Lots of people say you need to work smarter. Unfortunately, when it comes to connecting with busy customers you also need to work harder and longer.
Could your team benefit from a sales training program? Give me a call and we can discuss the best approach. 905-633-7750 Kelley@Fearless-Selling.ca
A recent issue ofCanadian Business magazine featured an article on the changing face of sales. The article stated that sales people are finding it more and more difficult to connect with busy decision makers and that these individual’s no longer tolerate the standard sales tactics that were once effective.
The article went on to say that sales people need to develop a higher level of business acumen if they want to succeed.
It’s no longer enough to be an expert in your products or solutions.
Now, sales people must have a better grasp of key business issues affecting a company. Plus, they also need to be able to offer insights and ideas on how to solve or manage those issues.
In my own conversations with corporate executives I have found that they are hungry for insights that might help them gain a stronger foothold in the marketplace.
Decision makers expect you to have solutions that they haven’t considered. They want new ideas that will help them maintain or improve their competitive advantage.
Decision makers do more due diligence and research than they used to. This means you need to do your own homework and be prepared to discuss business.
What does that mean?
It means showing up at a prospect’s office and spewing out every feature of your latest product or pitch a solution that you think might help them is no longer effective because from their perspective many products or solutions look the same.
It means you need to know how current market trends may be affecting your prospect.
It means you need to know what is going on in your industry.
You need to be well versed in local, national and world events because all of these affect your prospect’s business decisions.
Business has become more complicated which means selling is also more challenging and complicated.
So, what do you need to do? Here are four quick suggestions:
1. Read more business and industry magazines. Look for new trends and changes that may affect your industry, prospects and customers.
2. Ask prospects more questions about their individual and corporate challenges.
3. Use social media to learn what top players in your industry are saying and predicting.
4. Attend conferences to gain key insights from key business leaders.
Savvy sales people know the importance of looking at business from a macro view. They are becoming stronger business people so they can have an intelligent conversation with their customers and prospects.
The business world has changed and if you want to succeed you also need to change.
Free samples of product can be a great way to get people to try a new product and become regular customers.
However, how you execute can make a difference.
During a recent visit to a local Starbucks, an employee approached my table with a tray of little cups. Without making eye contact and in a monotone voice, he mumbled, “Would you like to try a gfbmlgfkbopkkop?”
His lackluster approach and inaudible question certainly did not give me a compelling reason to try whatever it was he was test-tasting.
Later that afternoon, I was getting a few groceries and walked past a person manning a table with freshly made, miniature donuts. He looked at me, smiled broadly and said, “Try a donut!”
I put up my hand and said, “I don’t really need one, thanks” to which he replied, “That’s the great thing about donuts…you never really need them but they always taste great!”
We both laughed and I took one of the samples he offered. As I walked away, he said, “I’m here all week when you change your mind.”
I couldn’t help but smile at his approach. Although he wasn’t successful in getting me to buy his donuts, he was definitely engaging and I’m confident he got many more people to try his free sample than the barista at Starbucks. And I’m sure his sales reflected that, too.
Your approach AND attitude makes a significant difference in how people respond to your offer.
This may sound like a fundamental concept. However, many sales people lose the passion and excitement for their products once they have been selling them for an extended period of time.
When I worked in consumer electronics I often noticed that veteran sales people lacked energy and enthusiasm when selling “old” technology or products that no longer intrigued them. However, their sales presentations improved dramatically when they were discussing new, exciting products.
Needless to say, their sales also reflected the change in their approach.
What about you?
Is your approach engaging, interesting, and compelling? Or, do you simply go through the motions?
Anyone who has worked a trade show knows they can be a grind.
Pre-show set-up, manning the booth, and post-show tear-down is just the start.
Then, during the show you talk to dozens of people (prospects and customers alike) and collect even more business cards.
Finally, you’re expected to follow-up with everyone afterwards.
I have attended trade shows and been genuinely interested in a particular product but never heard from the sales person afterwards.
Conversely, I have received calls from people who simply collected cards via the “Win a Prize” fishbowl and then called every person to see if they were interested in receiving information about the company.
Here are a few tips and strategies to get the best results from your efforts and follow-up effectively after trade shows.
First, forget about collecting as many business cards as you can.
Trying to connect with everyone after the show is a complete waste of time and a fast way to get demotivated. It is much more effective to leave the show with contact details from a dozen people who are seriously interested in your product, service or solution, than to collect 157 business cards.
You have a limited number of hours in a given day and you need to make the most of your time. Calling everyTom, Dick and Harry is not effective.
That means you need a system to determine who to call.
Therefore, you need to categorize people.
Categorize each person as an A (high-value), B (mid-value) or C (low-value) contact after the conversation (while the conversation is still fresh).
Make brief notes of the conversation, level of interest and next steps. These notes and comments help you determine who to call first after the trade show.
However, I strongly suggest that you determine and agree on next steps when you have a high-value prospect in front of you.
Don’t leave it open!
Try to secure a specific day and time to contact that person afterwards. Most executives and business people carry a smartphone so they have their calendar available which means you can schedule a follow-up call or meeting on the spot.
Then when you make the follow-up call, you can open with, “Mrs. Jones, Bob Martin from Big Corporation calling as promised…”
Make the follow-up a priority.
When you return to work after the trade show, it is essential to contact people as fast as humanly possible. The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood of losing that sales opportunity.
Contact your “A” prospects first, preferably within 24 hours of the show. If the trade show is a multi-day event, schedule time at the end of each day to reach out to the people you met that day unless you have already agreed on a follow-up day and time.
The worst way to open the follow-up call is to say something lame like, “Hi Mr. Smith. It’s Art Roberts calling from Big Dumb Company. You stopped by our booth today and I wanted to see if you were interested in any of our products.”
Instead, reference your conversation (you did have a conversation, didn’t you? Not just a sales pitch?) and give the other person a reason to return your call.
“Ms. James, Kim Holland calling from Smart Telephone Systems. During our conversation this afternoon, you mentioned that your call centre was experiencing an increase in abandoned calls. I have a few ideas that may help reduce that figure without increasing your head count. My number is 555-555-1212.”
Then make a note of the next time you will contact that person.
Focus your attention on the big fish first.
The most important prospects, customers and leads. The people who are seriously interested in your offering.
Devote time immediately after the trade show to make contact with these people, make your contact valuable and you will generate much better results and close more post-trade show sales.
During an interview early this week Herman Cain showed complete ignorance to a sensitive political issue about President Obama’s handling of Libya.
Rather than admit he didn’t know anything about the issue he made a few feeble attempts to answer the questions but it was apparent that he didn’t have a clue about the issue. Here’s the interview in case you didn’t see it.
Sales people often make a similar mistake.
A prospect asks a question that the sales person can’t answer but instead of saying, “I don’t know, let me find out” they struggle to find an appropriate response. They use the “baffle them with BS” approach and end up giving a response that doesn’t actually address the key issue.
In most cases, the prospect sees through their approach, and as a result, loses respect for the sales person and/or their company.
Sales people can learn from Cain’s blunder by being well-prepared before sales calls, meeting and appointments.
They need to anticipate potential objections, hidden issues and other concerns that could prevent their prospect from buying their product or service (aka “voting their way”).
They need to be aware of sensitive, internal issues that may derail the sale.
Today’s business world is more challenging which means sales people need to be more prepared than ever.
Herman Cain is a business person, not a politician. However, as a Presidential candidate, he needs to make sure that he is well-informed about any sensitive issue that may arise during his campaign. Sales people need to the same.
Although I have been blogging for several years now and have written posts about personal interactions with sales people, I have seldom shared many personal details.
Therefore, I thought it was time to share some a few things that you probably don’t know about me.
1. I did not graduate from high school. I finished grade twelve but didn’t pass. When I was seventeen, I didn’t see the point of math, science, and my other courses and simply bided my time until school was finished and I could work full-time.
2. I left home when I was 17. In fact, I moved out the day after high school was done.
3. My first job was a dishwasher/busboy at Mother’s Pizza (a popular Ontario pizza restaurant in the 1970s). I worked stupid hours, cleaned up puke more times than I care to remember, and played practical jokes on coworkers; especially on managers who didn’t know what they were doing. I think I had, well still have, a problem with authority!
4. I have been married for more than 32 years to my first love. We met at Mother’s Pizza and worked the same shifts for several years. We now work together and I always respect her opinions and insights.
5. My favourite alcoholic beverage is beer but I am also a red wine snob. My best friend introduced me to vintage wines more than a decade ago and since then I have built a collection of more than 300 bottles of wine, mostly red. Part of my wine cellar is pictured at the top of the post.
6. I have a heavy foot and love to drive fast. Needless to say, I have had my share of speeding tickets over the years. Fortunately, I have become more cautious and haven’t been ticketed in several years.
7. I love classic rock. Pick a rock band from the 70s and 80s and I likely have their songs on my iPod. This isn’t a surprise for those of you who follow me on Twitter because I often post the music I’m listening to when I work in my office.
8. I have enjoyed writing since I was a teenager. I still have several short stories that I wrote when I was young and have the desire to pen a novel one day.
9. Patience is not one of my strengths. Line ups and people who drive just below, or at, the speed limit drive me crazy! Even worse are the people who stand in line at Starbucks for 10 minutes and then can’t decide what they want!!!
10. I have struggled with severe depression. This has been particularly challenging to deal with considering my vocation. Fortunately, it’s not an ongoing issue but I am always watching for the signs.
11. I’m a Scorpio so I can be pretty intense at times.
12. I have always had a creative and entrepreneurial spirit which sometimes created challenges for previous bosses because I don’t like to follow the rules. I was instrumental in bringing a major brand of draft beer to Sudbury, Ontario because I thought the “gentlemen’s agreement” that only allowed a local beer (Northern Ale) to be served on tap was in place was outdated, archaic and stupid. I found a way to circumvent it and became the first restaurant in the city to serve Molson Canadian on tap. A few months later most of the restaurants and bars in the city were serving Labatt and Molson products on tap.
13. I love talking and reading business! I find it intriguing and always want to learn more about the business world. I usually turn to the business section of the newspaper first. On the other hand, politics bores me to tears.
14. I tend to hold grudges and don’t forgive easily.
15. I am not mechanically inclined or good with my hands. I believe that there are two types of people in the world…people who are really good at mechanical stuff and people who pay those individuals to get things done. I would rather pay someone to paint a room in my house than do it myself. And I would never do my own oil change!
16. I have a hair-trigger temper although I have learned to control it as I have gotten older. It’s not always easy but I work on it every day (especially when I’m standing in line behind “slow” people at Starbucks!).
17. I love reading; fiction and business books as well as business magazines. Stephen King and Lee Child are my two favourite fiction writers…I think I have read everything they have written and aspire to being able to write a tale as well as they can. I usually have one novel and at least two business books on the good at any given time.
18. I am slow to accept new technologies. It took me several years to get involved on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I bought my first smartphone in 2010 and my Kindle earlier this year.
19. Public speaking has always come naturally to me. However, I still get nervous before every presentation.
20. I love Cuban cigars (I’ve occasionally expressed this on Twitter and Facebook). My favourite cigar is a Cohiba Siglo III or IV. I most enjoy smoking a cigar with a good friend.
21. I am not athletically inclined. I was always one of the last kids to be picked for team sports in school. I was also the shortest kid in the class until about grade 11.
22. My mother was my grade 8 teacher. Her strength was English but I ended up failing that subject in Grade 12. Go figure! However, I did learn good grammatical skills and the importance of good spelling. Bad spelling still drives me nuts!
There you have it…a few things you probably didn’t know about me.
“The ALZ Platinum 1700 is an outstanding product. It is equipped with the Xenol Power Booster and Sky-Top Infrared scanning system. Plus, our patented XLT cooling system has also been integrated into the existing refractory circulator.”
Did you understand this?
Neither did I.
It’s not uncommon for sales people to use industry jargon or techno-babble during a sales conversation. This is akin to speaking in tongues or a foreign language because most people you deal with don’t speak this language. As a result, they won’t understand how they will benefit from the product you are recommending.
The best sales people discuss their products and services in terms that each customer will understand. Although this sounds easy, many sales people find it difficult to execute.
During a sales training workshop I conducted a participant stated that his customers NEEDED to hear the name of each features of his product. When asked why, he replied, “So they know why my products are better than my competitors.”
Reciting the names of your products or its features does not explain why they are different or better than your competitors. Explaining how they impact or affect your customer does.
Make it easy for your prospect to understand the value of your solution and avoid speaking in tongues.
In a sales conversation with a prospective client, I offered several solutions to his particular situation. I had asked him several questions, and upon determining his needs, presented a variety of different answers.
I suggested that he register for my newsletter and I asked him to complete a questionnaire that would help identify where he and his team could improve.
When I hung up the phone, it dawned on me that I may have presented too many solutions, too quickly. Sadly, I was guilty of fire-hosing my prospect.
Fire-hosing occurs when you overwhelm your customer with too much information or too many ideas in an effort to close the sale.
Here is another example:
A homeowner I know met with an interior designer for some consultation on improving the appearance of her home. During their first meeting, the designer suggested several different options and ideas and at the end of the meeting asked for a deposit so she could begin the job. Although the ideas and solutions she presented sounded good, the homeowner was hesitant to make a commitment to move forward because he needed time to digest and consider the multitude of ideas that had been presented. It was evident that the designer had fire-hosed the homeowner.
Many sales professionals, particularly SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) make the mistake of fire-hosing people.
They have the best intentions and truly want to help their clients and prospects but tend to get carried away. As a result, they offer all the solutions they can think of believing they are helping their customer. However, in reality, they actually make it more challenging for customers to make a decision.
Sales people don’t realize how often they do this.
They become so accustomed to telling people everything about their product or service they forget that too much information can actually be detrimental. They also forget that most people can only absorb a certain amount of information in a given period of time.
I remember looking for a new bed with my wife many years ago. We visited four or five stores and in each store we were told that we should look for something different in a mattress. The sales people told us all about the features of the beds they sold and by the end of the day we were completely confused and didn’t know what factors we should consider in our purchase.
Customers look to you for help.
They rely on your expertise to help them make a buying decision.
However, when you overwhelm them with information or solutions you actually make it more difficult for them to decide. You need to be careful how much information you give people, especially in preliminary conversations and particularly if your product is highly technical in nature.
Keep your answers brief and to the point. Avoid giving too much information, too many answers, or too many solutions.
Countless blog posts and articles have been written about the value of research in sales. And, many sales people spend many hours researching their prospect before they pick up the telephone.
Is research dead?
Or is it just a panacea for making sales calls?
Personally, I believe that research is a vital part of professional selling. The key is doing the right research and the appropriate amount of research.
I was recently given an introduction to a key decision maker in an organization and that introduction led to a telephone. Before making the call, I visited the company’s website and reviewed their annual report. In the 23 page report, I noticed one short paragraph that briefly discussed a topic that was related to the purpose of my call.
During my conversation with the executive I commented on that paragraph and my contact expressed his surprise by saying, “You know more about this than I do.” We continued our conversation and my prospect said that he wanted to get more information so he could give me more insight. Upon his request, we scheduled a follow-up call.
Research doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours scouring the Internet or news services trying to find every tidbit of information about the company you are contacting.
Effective research means being able to speak intelligently about the key business issues your prospect is facing.
One of my clients is embarking on an outbound calling program to reignite dormant accounts. During asales training workshop I conducted for them, we discussed the importance of doing some pre-call research. Unfortunately, one of the participants took this concept too far and ended up spending several hours researching just one company.
Too much research is detrimental.
Investing hours of time trying to locate every piece of information about the prospect and his or company takes this concept to the extreme.
However, research is valid.
It is still an effective sales strategy. However, the research you do MUST be applicable and relevant.
Effective research can include talking to people familiar with the organization. It can include making a few preliminary calls to the company and talking to lower level employees. It can mean reading their annual report, press releases, or articles they have posted on their website or Internet.
Sales are developed through the relationships you create and networking functions provide the opportunity to expand your contact list.
Every networking function has tremendous potential for new business leads; however, it is not enough to visit a networking group, talk to dozens of people, and gather as many business cards possible. Here are five strategies that will help you make networking more profitable.
Choose the right networking group or event.
The best results come from attending the appropriate networking events for your particular industry. Events should include trade shows, conferences, and associations dedicated to your type of business.
Or, join a group or association where many of the members are potential clients. For example, an associate of mine helps businesses negotiate leases with landlords. Because many franchised organizations lease their properties, he became a member of a franchise association.
Focus on quality contacts versus quantity.
Most people have experienced the person who, while talking to you, keeps his eyes roving around the room, seeking out his next victim. This individual is more interested in handing out and collecting business cards than establishing a relationship.
A more effective approach is to make between two and five new contacts at each networking meeting you attend. Focus on the quality of the connection and people will become much more trusting of you.
Make a positive first impression.
Develop a great handshake and approach people with a natural, genuine smile. To make great eye contact, notice the color of the other person’s eyes as you introduce yourself.
Listen carefully to people’s names. If you don’t hear them or understand exactly what they say, ask them to repeat it. Many people do not speak clearly or loudly enough and others are very nervous at networking events.
Make a powerful impression by asking them what they do before talking about yourself or your business. As Stephen Covey states, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Comment on their business, ask them to elaborate, or have them explain something in more detail. As they talk, make sure you listen intently to what they tell you.
Once you have demonstrated interest in people, they will—in most cases—become more interested in you. When that occurs, follow the next step.
Be able to clearly state what you do.
Develop a ten-second introduction as well as a thirty-second presentation. The introduction explains what you do and for whom. For example: “I work with boutique retailers to help them increase their sales and profits.”
This introduction should encourage other people to ask for more information. When they do, you recite your thirty second version:
“Bob Smith of High Profile Clothing wanted a program that would increase their sales without incurring additional costs. After working with them for six months we achieved a 21.5 percent increase in sales. Plus, sales of their premium line of products also doubled in the same time frame.”
As you can see, this presentation gives an example of your work and the typical results you have helped your clients achieve. Every introductions needs to be well-rehearsed so you can recite it at any time and under any circumstance. You must be genuine, authentic, and as I once heard another sales trainer say, “bone-dry honest.”
Follow up after the event.
In my experience, most people drop the ball when they leave the event. Yet the follow-up is the most important aspect of networking. There are two specific strategies to follow:
1/ First, immediately after the event—typically the next day—you should send a handwritten card to the people you met. Mention something from your conversation and express your interest to keep in contact. Always include a business card in your correspondence.
2/ Next, contact those individuals again within a few weeks and arrange to meet for coffee or lunch. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about their business, the challenges they face, and how you could potentially help them. This is not a sales call—it is a relationship-building meeting.
The more people know about you and your business, and the more they trust you, the greater the likelihood they will either decide to work with you or send you a referral.
Networking can be a very effective way to increase your sales. But you must choose networking groups carefully and use the right approach.
Determine the best events for you to attend. Set a goal of meeting two or three people and learning as much about their business as possible. Look for ways you can help them, and eventually they will help you.
This article was adapted from my second book, The Secrets of Power Selling. I recently negotiated a great price from my publisher so I am offering it for the special price of $11.97 plus S&H. I only have a few copies left at this price so don’t wait, get your copy here.