Selling for a living is tough…
There are many highs and frequent lows. Constant pressure to reach sales targets, customer and prospects that are more demanding, and changes in the marketplace all make sales a tough career.
If you are serious about maintaining a long-term career in sales, here are 14 things you should never stop doing. If by chance, you haven’t started doing some of these, I suggest that you do start…the sooner, the better.
If you do nothing else but prospect for new business every day the chances are you will always be busy and seldom, if ever, experience peaks and valleys in your sales.
2. Improve your skill.
Professionals in many industries require regular upgrading up skills. Selling is no different. The marketplace has changed and what worked five years ago is no longer relevant. Make the time and invest in regular self-improvement programs (workshops, conferences, books, audio programs, etc).
3. Listen more than you talk.
People who listen more, learn more. The more you learn the more effectively you can position your solution or offering. Enough said.
4. Establish clear call objectives.
Whether it’s a face-to-face meeting or telephone call, you need to have a clear objective of what you want to accomplish. Closing the sale is NOT an objective.
5. Create plans (yearly, quarterly, monthly and weekly).
I know very few sales people who actually create a business plan for the entire year. What sales do you want to achieve? How will you reach those targets? What daily, weekly and monthly activities do you need to execute to achieve your goals?
6. Study your products.
How much time do you spend studying and learning your products? Do you know the key differences between similar products? Do you know how each product will actually benefit a customer?
Effective sales networking means attending the events that your key prospects attend, not the events you enjoy going to. A friend of mine deals with high-ranking executives so he attends high-profile fundraising dinners. The cost of entry can be expensive but the return can be excellent.
8. Ask awesome questions.
I’ve mentioned this…more than once! But the ability to ask great questions, tough probing questions…penetrating questions, is one of the most effective ways to increase your sales.
9. Deliver great presentations.
Don’t confuse this with the ability to stand up in front of several hundred people and deliver a keynote presentation. The key to delivering a great sales presentation is ensuring that it addresses your prospect’s key issues and that it focuses on their needs and objectives, not your agenda.
10. Adapt your approach.
Do you ever consider the personality style of the other person when planning your sales presentation? Do you know if your prospect prefers correspondence via email, texting, face-to-face or telephone? Is your prospect a 35,000 foot view person or do they like to know every detail? Adapt your approach accordingly and you will increase your sales.
11. Set high goals.
People with the highest goals tend to achieve more. Are your goals challenging and motivating? Do you even set your own goals or do you simply take what’s given to you by your boss?
12. Be persistent.
Four or five years ago it would take an average of seven calls to connect with a new prospect. Now it’s a safe bet to say that it can take as many as twelve or more, just to make that first contact. You need to be diligent and persistence.
13. Forge relationships.
Developing and maintaining great relationships with prospects, customers, friends and other people in your network is one activity that will ALWAYS pay off.
14. Show respect.
I have seen, firsthand, how poorly some sales people treat gatekeepers and receptionists and it always disappoints me because I am a firm believer in treating people with respect and dignity. Yes, that person may only be the receptionist in your eyes but they often hold the key to the Presidential Suite. Treat them accordingly.
What do you think? Are there other things that sales people need to keep doing that aren’t on this list?
Does your team need some brushing up on these activities? Maybe I can help. Contact me and we can discuss the best way to achieve this.
Several years ago Billy Bob Thornton played a high school football coach in the movie, Friday Night Lights. During the final game of the season he tells his players to be perfect. He didn’t mean that every play needed to be executed flawlessly or that mistakes were unacceptable. Instead, he expected that each player could look his teammates in the eye and be able to say that they played their best.
This concept is very relevant to selling.
If you want to achieve long term success in sales you need to give 100 percent in EVERY sales call, presentation, or meeting you have with clients and prospects. If you deliver anything less, you are not being perfect and you are missing valuable opportunities to make more sales and grow your business.
Before any sales interaction, I urge you to think of what you need to do to be perfect.
- What research should you conduct before you call that new prospect?
- Is your voice mail message or prospecting email on target and designed to capture their attention?
- What preparation do you need to do before you meet with them?
- What questions should you ask that will help you gain a better understanding of their current state of affairs?
- Do you need to practice your presentation to ensure that you can deliver it flawlessly?
- What can you do to enhance your sales presentation so that it rocks?
- What objections do you need to prepare for?
- What can you do to stand out from your competition?
It is highly unlikely that you will ever execute a perfect sales call—I don’t think there is such a thing.
However, if you strive for that perfection, you will boost your performance and improve your ability to increase your sales.
In Case You Didn’t Know…
I help sales people master sales conversations so they can win more business and increase their sales. If you’re planning a sales meeting, conference or event and need an engaging & informative speaker, call me at: 905-633-7750 or Kelley@Fearless-Selling.ca. Here’s a video clip of a live presentation: http://bit.ly/ef5P5l
A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Jim Keenan that focused on making requests. Too many sales people don’t ask for the things they need or that could help them increase their sales and grow their business.
Here are a few situations that sales (and business) people need to be prepared to ask.
1. Ask for help.
First and foremost, if you need help it is essential that you ask. Ask the top sales person in your company for ideas, advice and feedback. Ask your boss for coaching or direction. Ask people in your network for insights and suggestions to improve your results.
2. Ask for the appointment.
Too many people beat around the bush and don’t ask a new prospect for an appointment. This strategy can result in more meetings which will lead to more sales. Try asking, “Does it make sense for us to meet?”
3. Ask more high-value questions.
After 15 years of training sales people, I have found that the majority simply don’t ask enough high-value questions. High-value questions force your prospect or customer to think and will give you insight to their current situation, problems and desired outcomes. It sounds simple but more people feel uncomfortable asking these types of questions because they think they are too probing and they feel that their prospect will be offended.
4. Ask for clarification.
When someone says something that is vague or unspecific, seek clarification. Ask, “Can you elaborate on that?” or “Tell me more” or “What do you mean by that?”
5. Ask for commitment.
When a prospect or customer says, “Call me next week” pursue that statement by asking, “What day should I call?” If they say, “Anytime is fine” ask, “Does next Tuesday work?” Then ask what time is the best to connect with them. If they respond with, “Anytime is good” ask, “Is mid-morning at 10:15 a good time?”
6. Ask them to schedule the call in their calendar.
Once they agree to a specific day and time, ask them to place that call in their calendar and follow up by sending them an Outlook (or other time management system) appointment.
7. Ask for the sale.
Many deals have been lost because the sale person did not want to ask for the sale so after every sales presentation, sales call, or meeting, make sure you ask for the sale. It’s as simple as asking, “May I have your business?”
8. Ask for a referral.
Whether you get the deal or not, you should ask you contact if they would be willing to refer you to someone in their network. It helps when you can clearly describe your ideal client.
9. Ask for a testimonial.
When you have completed your work with that client, ask them for a testimonial. Video testimonials work best followed by an audio recording. At the very least, get a written endorsement of your work.
10. Ask why a prospect does not want to do business with you.
If someone does not choose you as their vendor ask, “I’m always looking to improve. May I ask what influenced your decision?”
11. Ask what concerns they have.
Most sales people I have worked with hesitate to ask this because they don’t want to know if their prospect has any concerns. However, my perspective is that you need to know this upfront so an unexpected objection doesn’t derail your efforts.
12. Ask who else may be involved in the decision.
You can easily phrase this by asking, “Who else will you need to discuss this with?” or “Who else do you consult with on decisions of this nature?” When they tell you, ask, “Can we set up a day/time to collectively talk about this?”
Summon up the courage and start asking. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
What do you think? Do you have others to add?
About Kelley Robertson
Kelley helps sales people master sales conversations so they can win more business and increase their sales. If you’re planning a sales meeting, conference or event and need an engaging & informative speaker, call him at: 905-633-7750 or Kelley@Fearless-Selling.ca. Here’s a quick video of a partial presentation: http://bit.ly/ef5P5l
If I could share just one piece of advice with sales people, it would be this. It’s a very brief clip:
If you have been in sales for any length of time you have probably read literature (books, articles or blogs) or attended some type of sales training program (face-to-face, telephone or webinar). This means you know the importance of asking questions. But, how often do your prospects or customers say, “That’s a good question?” If you seldom or never hear that phrase, you probably need to improve the quality of your questions because high value, thought-provoking questions force your prospects to think.
Picture yourself on the receiving end of a sales conversation. What question(s) would cause you to sit up and pay attention to the salesperson? What questions would actually force you to think about your response? Those are the types of questions you need to start asking.
If you’re uncertain what questions would prompt this comment, ask a few of your best customers. Tell them your objective and find out what questions they would like other sales people to ask. A key is that they need to be high-level, 30,000 foot view, strategic and tough. Senior executives love to sink their teeth into a good challenge and tough questions achieve that.
When someone says, “That’s a good question” make note of that question and use it again with other prospects.
I recently wrote an article called, Feeble Questions Can Kill Your Business that was featured in a prominent industry-specific magazine. In the article, I stated that too many sales people get caught in the trap of asking low-quality questions instead of more powerful ones. Many people contacted me and requested more information on what constitutes a great question. This blog posting will address that issue.
First, the reason it is important to ask questions is to gain a thorough understanding of each customer’s situation including their needs, wants, desired results, decision-making process as well as potential concerns and roadblocks. Most salespeople understand this—at least at a fundamental level. In virtually every sales training workshop I conduct, participants nod when we discuss the importance of asking questions early in the sales process. However, in real life, they often skip through this stage in order to present their product, or discuss a solution. It’s only when the customer raises an objection, that many sales people backtrack and ask questions. Unfortunately, they have the process backward.
Powerful questions can help you demonstrate your expertise. Powerful questions demonstrate that you are not an average person selling a product, service or solution. And powerful questions help you determine the best way to present your solution. So what constitutes a powerful question?
Powerful questions are designed to make your customer think. The majority of salespeople I encounter are hesitant about asking deep, thought-provoking questions because they are afraid that their prospect will find them invasive. However, the higher up in an organization you sell, the more important it is to ask these types of questions simply because executives are used to asking—and answering—tough questions. In fact, if you sell to senior level executives, it is essential to ask high-level questions. Here are a few examples;
- What goals are you striving to achieve this quarter?
- How do those targets compare to last year’s results?
- What, if anything, is preventing you from achieving these goals?
However, do NOT start your conversation with questions like this because you have to earn the right to ask them, especially if you do not have an established relationship. It is much better to begin by demonstrating your expertise, industry knowledge, and understanding of your prospect’s business and/or company.
- We’ve noticed several trends occurring in the industry lately. The two that stand out the most are… How are these affecting you and your business?
- When I was doing some research, I noticed on your website that your company is… What progress are you making on that initiative?
These questions are powerful because it shows that you have done some preliminary research or homework and executives appreciate that. In fact, many of them would like their own sales team to take this approach before calling on a new prospect. Questions like this also demonstrate that you know what is happening in business as well as your customer’s industry.
It is critical to note that I am NOT suggesting that you spend fifteen minutes lecturing to your prospect trying to show them how smart you are. The goal is to be prepared and to demonstrate this preparation by asking key questions.
Assuming you have captured your prospect’s attention you can move the sales process forward by asking other powerful questions that focus on an outcome. It is critical to understand that most people, especially business people, do not make buying decisions based on your ability to spew out product specifications and information. Instead, they want to know what result they can expect. In other words, your prospect wants to know how your solution will affect their top line (sales) or bottom line (profits).
Will they make more money? Will they gain more market share? Will they increase brand recognition? Will they be able to compete more effectively? Will they save money? Improve morale? Increase productivity? Reduce costs in a specific area(s)?
That means you need to be prepared to ask questions that focus on the future. When I talk to new prospects about sales training, I usually ask what their current conversion ratio is. In other words, what percentage of sales do they close compared to the qualified leads they generate? Then I ask what ratio they would like to reach after the training. Depending on my prospect’s goals and objectives, we may also talk about the size and scope of each sale and what increase they would like to experience. This information then helps me position my solution and the positive financial impact training will have on their business. Consider these questions.
- What is the ideal outcome you would like to see or experience?
- How does this compare with your current results?
- You mentioned that you want to improve employee morale with this initiative. Can you tell me what that looks like?
- You have stated that increasing market awareness is one of your primary objectives. How will you know that you have succeeded?
Lastly, other powerful questions will help you determine the priority of this decision, how the decision will be made, and what potential roadblocks may prevent you from moving forward. Here are few examples.
- How does this project rank in priority compared to the others you are working on?
- Walk me through the process you follow when you consider decisions of this nature?
- Who else do you normally consult with on decisions like this?
- What potential roadblocks might prevent you from moving ahead with this?
- What concerns, if any, do you have about moving forward?
These may sound like difficult questions. But I have learned from experience that most people are willing to answer them if you have the courage to ask.
Here are five sure-fire ways to guarantee that you will not get the sale;
Focus on yourself. I recall meeting several salespeople from a variety of vendors regarding an initiative I was working on for a client. EVERY single person began their presentation by telling me about their company rather than learning about my needs and wants. I ended up being subjected to information that had little or no relevance to my situation, which meant that 20-30 minutes of my time was wasted in each interview. I understand the importance of providing some background information on your company at the beginning of your presentation but keep it brief. I personally don’t care how much your company is worth, how long you have been in business, or what projects you have recently completed. I want you to focus on my needs first. Demonstrate that you care about my particular situation or show that you are interested in learning more about my business needs and I will reward you with my full attention.
Don’t listen to me. When I worked in the corporate world I gave countless salespeople information pertaining to my business requirements only to have them draft a proposal that did not take these needs into consideration. Don’t waste your prospect’s time asking questions if you are not going to listen to his responses. The best salespeople ask probing questions, take written notes, and clarify their understanding of the prospect’s needs at the conclusion of each meeting. This enables them to create a proposal that addresses the client’s specific concerns, issues and situation.
Make elaborate claims about your product/service. I once had a salesperson claim that his product was completely unique from anything on the market. When I questioned what he meant, I discovered this “unique feature” was something that several other companies offered as well. This salesperson immediately lost any credibility he may have established and failed to close the sale. Do your research and learn what your competitors offer. Know how to position yourself differently without exaggerating or overstating your product or service.
Talk too much. It continues to amaze me how many people think that telling is selling. I have interacted with thousands of salespeople during my years as a sales trainer and the top performers understand the importance of silence and have learned to become comfortable with it. Unfortunately, too many people talk far too much. I recall listening to a salesperson ramble on at great length about a product I was genuinely interested in purchasing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise to tell him I wanted to buy it. In fact, when I told I wanted it, he tried talking me out of the sale by stating, “If you want some time to think about it, there’s no rush.” While I appreciated his low-pressure approach I couldn’t help but wonder how many sales he had lost in the past.
Do not respect my time. Today’s business executives are extremely busy. In fact, I recently read that most decision-makers have just one hour of unscheduled time during a given week. When you are granted an appointment or are talking to someone over the telephone, respect their time constraints. Get to the point quickly and keep your presentation concise and brief.
You may think these are pretty basic mistakes and you may believe you don’t make them. I suggest that you think otherwise. The majority of people who sell a product or service fall prey to these mistakes on a regular basis. Here is a final example;
When I was the manager of training for a large electronics company I was contacted by many sales trainers. One in particular, spoke at great length about the features of his program and how valuable it was because participants would learn how to effectively qualify customers. He told me that this workshop would teach people how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. In turn, I would see a noticeable increase in sales. While I agreed with his concepts, I seriously doubted his ability to deliver. Why? He did not apply the concepts of his own workshop. In fact, he spent most of the allotted time talking rather than learning about my needs! If he didn’t practice what he preached, how could I be sure he would deliver?
Pay more attention to your prospect’s needs and respect their time. Avoid these common mistakes and increase your sales.
My wife operates a secret shopper program for one of our clients, and as part of the screening process, she asks applicants to complete a questionnaire before being accepted. One of the questions begins with “Describe for me your most memorable experience…” and how each applicant answers this question gives my wife insight into the person’s reporting ability.
Some applicants include a lot of information in their response which means our client will likely get a detailed report whereas some people simply write basic information. Ultimately, the people who are selected to be a secret shopper demonstrate passion and enthusiasm as well as high-quality information.
Here is what this means to you.
When you are asked what you do, do you respond with a short statement like, “I sell life insurance” or do you answer with an energetic reply such as, “I help give people comfort and peace of mind in knowing that their loved ones will be taken care of in the event of a crisis”?
You can also use my wife’s question when talking to new prospects or existing customers. For example, “Describe for me the decision-making process for purchases of this nature.” This question is a non-threatening way to encourage someone to divulge information.
Too many sales people still ask weak, feeble questions such as:”If I could show you..?”"What will it take to earn your business?”"If I gave you a good price would you place an order today?”The most effective way to move the sales process forward is to ask high-value questions. Here’s why:
- High-value questions focus on the prospect’s situation, problems, goals, objectives and outcomes.
- High-value questions make your customer/prospect think.
- High-value questions help you control the sales process.
- High-value questions uncover new/additional sales opportunities.
- High-value questions earn your prospect’s respect.
- High-value questions attract your customer’s attention.
- High-value questions help you stand out from your competition
The exact questions you ask will vary depending on the product/service you sell and your prospect’s position. However, here are a couple of examples to get you started:
- “Tell me why that is important to you.”
- “What areas of your business are being affected?”
- “What is the impact of that in terms of dollars, market share, customer loyalty, employee turnover, etc.?”
- “What would it mean to your business if that issue was resolved?” “To you personally?”
It sounds deceptively but experience has taught me that the vast majority of sales professional miss the mark here. Differentiate yourself from your competition by asking high-value questions.