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Setting your Benchmarks for Hiring Sales People

Posted on: September 6th, 2012 by Monika 1 Comment

Having been in the field of sales and sales training for so many years, I know the recruiting process can be complicated, lengthy and full of pitfalls. Do you go with your gut feeling? Do you trust all the references? Do you hire somebody who is charismatic, or somebody who knows the industry? What can and should you measure objectively to help ensure that you’re making the right choice?

First Impressions

Many companies feel that sales people should be aggressive and gregarious. In a consultative sales environment that can actually be an obstacle rather than an asset. Hiring a good sales person is as difficult if not harder than hiring a good account manager. The challenge is to make sure that no matter what, your sales people will conduct themselves in a professional way. After all, they are usually the first introduction to your brand or company.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered unprofessional behavior from sales people who were calling on me as a business owner. Bad first impressions can ruin your  perception of a brand and the likelihood of you choosing that brand and working with that company will be lower. It’s a fine line between persuasion and intrusion. Good sales people need to find that balance every single day, every single time they pick up the phone and every time they interact with a prospect.

Sometimes, the desire to sell is so high that courtesy goes out the window. Often, sales people want to impress with product knowledge rather than understanding the prospect’s needs. Very often this is caused by pressure to meet numbers rather than building long-term relationships

Finding a Fit

So, how do you choose a sales person who will fit in with your organization’s culture? Let’s say you think you’ve found the right candidate. You’ve interviewed that person, so have others in your organization. You’ve done reference checking, and everybody is more or less in agreement that you have a good match. Now, what can you and what should you do to objectively establish how good a fit they really are. The good news is there are a number of widely tested tools that can provide you with the kind of support you can readily use, without taking large chunks out of your day and your budget!

You can utilize tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, but also have a look into the Kolbe A Index, which you can administer to your entire team and then your candidate(s) to determine how well they fit and can work together with the other members of your team. You’ll find the results can be real eye-openers!

What Strengths Are Most Important?

Once you’ve found the right personality and work-type match, let’s make sure everyone’s working in the same direction. In our B2B environment today, standing out and becoming your clients’ provider of choice demands a comprehensive, solution-oriented or consultative sales approach, built around your own client-centric philosophy.

You’ll want to examine your own sales process. Will your sales person need to do their own prospecting? Will they have to work with other team members to push a sale through the funnel? Being a door opener and/or a team player at the same time could present a challenge. Sales people always have at least one area of weakness and depending on your organizational DNA that will determine your hiring criteria. For example, if you have an inside sales team available, you can hire outside sales people who are strong relationship builders and closers.

As far as one area of sales competency is concerned, you need to make sure that your candidate is a good listener. That is something you can easily assess during the interviewing process. Pay attention to how many questions your candidates ask vs. the candidates tooting their own horn. You should also make sure that your candidate is a good writer because written communication is key to making connections today in the evolving use of social media and email communication. Here’s another important step in the interviewing process. Before hiring sales people engage the candidates in phone conversations. In today’s B2B environment almost all prospecting is done over the phone.  Sometimes people come across strong in-person, but their phone presence is weak.

Assessing Sales Skills & Knowledge

We’re getting closer now. Your candidate has good oral and written skills, has a good phone presence. But what about all the other areas of sales skills and knowledge that are essential to being a top sales person? We have worked with our research partners for many years to establish eight areas of sales competencies that have proven to be the foundation for the success of top sales professionals in a wide range of industries. So, how do you find out if your candidate possesses these competencies, and in which areas is there a need for improvement? Within our Consultative Sales Certification Training Program we have an integral element which is our initial Sales Skills & Knowledge Assessment. We have all participants to work through this assessment before we conduct any training. This comprehensive assessment gives you a very detailed and measurable view of a sales person’s skills and knowledge in the arena of solution-oriented or consultative selling. It also helps you understand if their strengths or opportunities to grow are in prospecting, overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.

This assessment helps our clients hire the right people and after a successful completion of our sales training efforts we can test their consultative selling skills and knowledge again to gauge their improvement. We have found that even the best sales people have areas of improvement and the only way to measure is working off a set of well-established benchmarks.

Bottom line is that you can’t hire the right person if you don’t know what you are looking for and you can’t measure success if you don’t have a benchmark.

Sales & Metrics – What Are We Really Measuring?

Posted on: August 23rd, 2012 by Monika No Comments

As a consultative business development specialist my clients often ask me to provide metrics on my sales efforts. Fair enough, but what do they really mean?

In too many cases metrics are used to measure quantity of activity rather than progress.
For me it’s always important why we measure and to work toward an objective.
What’s more important for you? – Keeping nice, neat spreadsheets with lots of entries that might please the CEO or results that reflect a meaningful process and real progress toward closing sales?

Does Quantity Matter?

There is this widely-held misconception that quantity in sales is the key to success.
It’s important, but only when it is tied to a process. It’s certainly not THE key to success.
If it were, all those high volume sales callers would be way ahead of the pack.
First of all, we need to understand who our ideal prospect is, what industry they live in and why they would want to buy from us. Secondly, we need to find the decision maker/buyer within the target company and then we can start counting. It is meaningless, in my opinion, even wasteful to pick up the phone or shoot off an e-mail to just any company in your CRM without understanding who they are and why they would be a good fit. You might get lucky and make some progress, but it will take a long time to actually gain traction.

So, how many calls should I make?
Sales metrics, as my experience has shown me, should be tied to results and to results only.
It really doesn’t matter how many phone calls, e-mails or marketing touches you make.
All that matters is that every action you set will take you a step closer to closing the sale.
Activity is important but only if it’s streamlined, targeted and measured against a clear objective.
A sales person who makes 500 client touches a week and never gets to go on a qualified sales presentation or meeting will most likely never make a sale. On the other hand, sales people who work smart will research a great deal, find out about their prospects and then make fewer calls, followed by well written customized emails. And these sales people will open up doors faster.
These are sales professionals who employ consultative selling strategies.

The SMART Funnel

There is a reason why we compare the sales process to a funnel. So, in a cutting-edge version of the funnel, we start with a large (or wide) number of potential prospects, and then we tighten the funnel with research. Every interaction with the targeted prospects will lead to tightening the funnel more. And if planned and executed well, will take us a step closer to a sale. Yes, quantity is important when keeping your sales funnel full, but all the activity in the world will not help you close if you don’t work toward and measure actual results.

Reports or Real Results?
Whenever my clients ask me to provide results reports, I always ask them what they plan to do with them. I ask questions like: Do you hold your sales people accountable for setting up a follow-up meeting after the first meeting? What is planned to happen after the first meeting? Are there next steps arranged? Do we know more about the prospect than we did prior to the meeting? Do we know the decision-making and purchasing process? What is the budget cycle? Who is the decision maker? Who do they currently work with? And so on.
These are questions that not only help qualify a prospect further, but are also essential to compiling data for future prospecting. Don’t ask your sales people to just put numbers on a spreadsheet.
Make sure the numbers show progress in developing business, deepening business relationships. The numbers should show a path to increased revenue and not just increased activity.

Liposuction or Weight Watchers/Effective sales training or Quick Fix?

Posted on: August 9th, 2012 by Monika No Comments

Sales is a process, so is losing weight

Effective sales training is like joining Weight Watchers. You change your approach to eating and exercising and the effects are long lasting. Ineffective sales training can be compared to crash diets or getting a liposuction where the weight will come back quicker but if you don’t change your habits it will come back. People who want to lose weight need to think about changing their eating habits and their lifestyle. Sales people who want to be more successful should encourage their leaders to provide sales training that is effective and shows results. Sitting in a class room for a couple of days might not be the answer.

Consultative Selling is a lifestyle as much as healthy living

Unless you are lucky and born with an overactive metabolism you will have to watch what you are eating and do some exercise. And, unless you are born with the unique gift to sell (which not everybody is), you will benefit from good and effective sales training. Companies that require a consultative sales approach should arm their business development and client facing employees with the tools to be more effective. There is no quick fixes, not in healthy living or successful selling.

A mindset shift needs to happen

When participants enroll in our consultative sales program we make them aware that sales is a process and so is shifting your mindset. Ideally, we see a shift in perception and application over the first month, but it might take a bit longer for learners to digest the information and for them to apply newly developed techniques in a way where they don’t have to think about it any more.

It doesn’t happen overnight

The day when you choose a banana over a muffin without thinking can be compared to the day when a sales person asks more questions without having to remind themselves that they should be listening more than talking. That’s when behavioral change actually takes place.

This is what one of our graduates said. That is when change actually happens.

“I used to think that the word “sales” was a dirty word. I am a VP in a transportation company – it’s about moving freight and finding loads.  Now I think differently about what sales means. I have seen what consultative business development does to relationships and both my business & my clients’ business!”– S. M., V.P., TRANSPORT NATIONAL

And this is what happened as a result:

“… after having been in operations for over 15 years and I am learning so many new things…everything I am learning is on my mind before I ask or answer a question. I have been able to close two accounts and getting close to two others, and working to close an account that will be over a million dollars a year.” – Y. C., Regional Sales Manager

Increased Revenue is the goal

The goal of effective sales training is to shift the way we feel about the process and by doing so we will uncover opportunities and add value to our prospects and clients, which will result in additional revenue.

This is however something that cannot happen in a day or two. The reason why we work with companies who understand that sales is process and change happens over time is the same reason why Weight Watchers doesn’t promise that one will lose 10 pounds in a week.

Kudos to all the business leaders who provide an environment where their sales people are allowed to learn more, even when they are already successful.

There is nothing wrong with being more successful, slimmer and healthier!

5 tips on how to overcome the fear of cold calling

Posted on: May 15th, 2012 by Monika 1 Comment

It’s real. Cold Calling is scary to most sales people. In a consultative sales environment phone conversations are still a very effective way to develop new business. But, it’s like the fear of flying. While we consciously know that flying is still the safest way to travel, we always remember those planes that crash.

The fear of cold calling, or the reluctance to do it stems from the same fear. We are afraid of rejection, that somebody could hang up on us, or be nasty. It really doesn’t happen very often, but the fear is there.

So what is a sales person to do?

1)Research, research, research
The better you are prepared before picking up the phone, the higher your chances that your prospect will listen. As long as you are targeted in your approach and you know who your ideal prospects are there is really nothing to fear than fear itself.

2) Be personal and professional
There is this common expectation that sales people should be aggressive. In my experience, the more gentle, consultative and professional you are, the higher your success rate will be. Never treat anybody in any way other than the way you would like to be treated.

3) Listen, listen, listen
Don’t rattle off a pitch, but start with a casual introduction and then slowly shift into asking questions. The more information you can extract from your prospects (personal or professional), the better equipped you will be to follow up and build a relationship.

4) Be relevant and honest
It doesn’t make sense to talk prospects into a need. Your product or solution has to be a fit, otherwise you will waste your and your prospect’s time. If you find out that there is no current need, leave a good impression, try to be helpful if possible (by maybe providing an alternative solution) and get permission to stay in touch.

5) Pick up the phone!
Yes you heard me, just do it. There is just no way around it. Well scripted and written e-mails go a long way, but if you are selling in a consultative sales environment you won’t get around a phone call. Trust me, it will pay off!

And finally, get help! There is many coaches out there who are able to help. My company, the Consultative Sales Academy provides a Consultative Sales Certification.

Check it out at www.getsalescertified.com.