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Sales Prospecting: How Many Times Is Too Many?

Posted on: June 18th, 2015 by Monika 1 Comment

Very often I get the question from clients and sales people as to how many times one should reach out to a prospect before being viewed as a nuisance. The answer often surprises them.

Until They Respond!

 In a consultative sales environment, a prospect is a prospect as long as they don’t tell you to never contact them again, which rarely happens when you adhere to certain rules.

I still do high level prospecting for a select group of clients and have been very successful engaging C-Level and mid management decision makers in meaningful conversations.

Add Value

The key to successful prospecting is to add value and not to sell. Nobody wants to be sold to and once people think that the purpose of an outreach is to get them to buy something, the conversation is already off to a bad start.

Prospects don’t get upset when you target them frequently. They get upset when you are irrelevant, when you don’t know their business and when you pitch them.

Research

Being a business owner I get sales calls all the time and 9 out of 10 are not up to snuff. You can tell when someone is dialing for dollars: e.g. the sales person didn’t look up my company, doesn’t know what I do, and then pitches a service that is not a good fit for my business. And in addition, sometimes they are rude or inconsiderate.

But once in a blue moon there is this sales person who actually took the time to identify what my needs might be. That in combination with courtesy leads to a good first conversation and even if I am not in a position to buy immediately, I don’t mind them staying in touch with me as long as they add value.

Be Relevant & Timely

Every sensible business person knows that they will be called on by other companies that provide services. Nobody in business will hold that against you. What they will hold against you is offering a service that doesn’t meet their needs and then trying to push a sale where there is no fit.

You’re busy, I’m busy – so, keep in mind that people are busy. Just because they don’t respond right away doesn’t mean that they are not interested. They might be traveling, they might have pressing issues to deal with that are more important than responding to your outreach.

My Motto: Don’t give up, be relevant and stay on message.

Persistence Pays Off

Many, many times I have gotten replies from prospects acknowledging and thanking me for my persistence. People generally appreciate a professional outreach and sales people who are determined. It is expected that a good sales person will stay on course and try to engage. What is NOT expected and dreaded are messages that are about your product or service, rather than the value it could bring to their business.

For example, if somebody calls me telling me that they can provide leads for my business (which happens almost on a daily basis) I will probably not respond because the message seems very broad. If they however look at my client list and tell me that they are experts in the logistics or technology field (an industry that I target), they might get my attention.

Let Your Prospects Opt Out

Include an “opt out” message in your voice or email. Tell your prospect that you understand if they don’t have time, or of there is no interest and that they should call you back if that’s the case. This way you give them a graceful way out and very often (you will be surprised), the prospect will get back to you, one way or another. Many times I get a response from a prospect, almost apologizing for the lack of response.

In closing, if you are professional and you do your research, your response rate will increase. As long as you stay on message and you are courteous, your outreach will be appreciated. I share this with you based on years of experience. In my world, the average sales cycle is at least 6 months up to a couple of years. If I were to give up easily, my business wouldn’t survive.

How effective are voice mails?

Posted on: August 19th, 2013 by Monika No Comments

Many sales people struggle with the decision as to whether they should leave a voice mail message or not. In a consultative sales environment, once you have identified your ideal client profile and you have developed the most effective messaging the question is not whether you should leave a voice mail or not. The challenge is to craft a message that is concise, short and relevant while still personal.

The main objective is to be heard. Whether somebody picks up the phone or your phone attempt goes into voice mail, there is only a couple of seconds you have to get your prospect’s attention. Your message should always be tailored to meet their needs, it is not an opportunity to pitch your service or product. Every phone interaction is an interruption of their day. Unless you have something to offer that will make their life easier, they will not pay attention. Remember, nobody wants to be sold to, so the more you talk about the challenges that your audiences might face, the higher the likelihood that they will listen.

Be courteous and respectful

Courtesy and professionalism go a long way. When leaving a voice mail message, try to focus on something that will set you apart from the crowd. Make mention of something that will help your prospect put your message into context. We all get inundated with e-mails, phone calls and voice mails so the more precise and personal you can be, the better the outcome.

Be relevant

Here is an example of a voice mail that will most likely not get any attention or be deleted:

Hi, I am calling you from XYZ company to see if you want to talk to us about our superior accounting system. Our clients love our solution and we pride ourselves in having the best customer service in the industry. Maybe we can set-up a time to talk so I can tell you more about our system. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

There is nothing unique or engaging about this message and it’s full references about the offering and nothing about the prospect’s needs.

Below is a message that is more personal and benefit driven.

Hi, my name is xxxx xxxx and I am calling from XYZ company. We work with companies in your industry to help them streamline their financial transactions to optimize resources and monitor cash flow. I also sent you an email, but will follow up with another message to determine if you are interested in a conversation. I will call you again If I don’t hear back before end of week.

This message includes a value proposition and a call to action. The prospect should know that you will call again which gives them the opportunity to say “no thanks” if there is no interest or to respond in a positive way. 

Be personal

If you have more information on that prospect you can also work it into the messaging, so it is more personal. For example, if you got an Out of Office reply to your e-mail the previous week you could make mention of it. “I saw that you were out of the office last week, so you probably didn’t have the time to review my e-mail”.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

The important thing to remember is that a voice mail message should sound personal and not scripted. While using a script can help, it needs to include language that you will be comfortable using, just like sitting next to that person. Should you flounder or stumble, no worries. Just make a joke about it. My favorite line is “Obviously I have not had enough coffee today” or “Wow, it’s obviously getting too late for me to sound eloquent“……. This is actually an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, to sound human and not salesy.

Practice

If you are not sure how your voice mail will sound , leave one for yourself or a friend and listen to it or have them critique it. It’s a powerful exercise. And remember, never say anything that you don’t mean or you are not comfortable with, it comes through in your voice. Authenticity goes a long way, especially in sales.

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!

Pro-Choice! 3 Steps to A Better Sales Process!

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 by Monika No Comments

In politics a very hot topic, but here it’s about giving your prospects a choice! A choice to say “Yes” or “No” quickly and safely.

Sales is a process, especially in a consultative sales environment and it starts with choosing the right prospect.

1) First, we need to research and target a prospective client company (Is it a good fit? Is it a good use of our time?)

2) Then we need to find the decision maker within that organization. Once we have that information, we can safely assume (looking from the outside in) that the person we are targeting could be a good prospect for our service offering.

3) The next step is to craft a message that will resonate. It should be succinct, to the point and relevant to our audience.

Recently, I was planning a trip to a southwest state capital. We are implementing a sales training program for a client in that area. My thinking was, why not tag on a number of sales meetings? This way I can make more use of my plane ticket and the 5-hour travel time.

While I was crafting my e-mail copy I remembered a best practice that I used a couple of years ago, but had forgotten since then. In one of my mastermind mentor groups we had recently discussed the importance of this practice for both the prospect as well as the service provider.

It is the art of having a prospect choose you based on selected criteria that you apply. It’s an easy way to get to a quick “no” if they don’t fit the criteria, but also a sure way for prospects who are a good fit for your service offering to select you.

Here is how it works.

In my email I pointed out that I would be traveling to the area where they are located at the end of the month. (First criteria: they need to be located in the area and available at that time)

Then I continued to describe what my clients generally have in common. Here’s a partial list:

1) Their revenue is at least $10Mio.

2) They are sales oriented and have at least one (ideally more) sales locations.

3) They embrace or would like to embrace a consultative sales approach.

May I share with you what happened?

I reached out to 50 companies. I had two responses and they both resulted in meetings. Qualified, good meetings.

One of the prospects immediately e-mailed me back saying,

“I got your e-mail, I visited your website and it looks like there could be a fit. Let’s meet”.

The reason why many of my existing clients are reluctant to do the “self-select” messaging, I believe, is a very simple and human one.

They are afraid to miss out.

And now that I think about it, that was probably the reason why I had “forgotten” my own best practice.

Deep down we all feel that quantity is one of the keys to success. The more, the better.

It’s what we have been taught. It’s all around us in the media, advertising, marketing.

Almost brainwashed! But not completely!

And it really couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to utilizing a consultative sales model.

The more targeted your approach, the better. The more you invite rejection or silence (no responses), the higher the likelihood that the meetings you book will be of high quality.

Why? Because your prospects will be very clear of who you are looking for in a future client.

I would gladly add another day or two to meet with prospects on my training trip to the southwest.

It means potential new business!

If the meetings are not qualified however, it could end up being a waste of my precious, already strained time.  But most importantly, it could be a waste of my prospect’s time and leave a bad impression.

We’re here to serve – not to force ourselves on others. If we decide to be selective and targeted, our prospects will appreciate it and we will end up with better meetings.

BUT, there will be a lot of silence and the response rate will be a lot lower. On the other hand, you will be running a lot fewer empty miles.

For some sales people it’s hard to live in silence. Can you handle it?

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.

Why is your website so important as a prospecting tool?

Posted on: April 2nd, 2012 by Monika No Comments

When you are selling a service, such as technology, advertising, PR or anything that is invisible and you require a consultative sales approach, your website is not necessarily a sales tool. It’s a vibrant, ever-present branding piece. Prospects will not buy your service because your site looks phenomenal, but it is the first impression of your organization, and first impressions count.

For prospecting and lead generation though, your website is essential. More often than not, your prospects will look at your site once they consider talking to you in more detail.

Reflecting Your Unique Positioning

Your marketing materials and your website need to reflect your unique positioning and the story you want to tell.  If you have a website (which is really your storefront these days) and your prospects see or read something that doesn’t reflect your core values or your unique positioning, it can certainly become an issue you won’t want to have to deal with.

Telling the Same Story

The challenge is that many websites were developed a while back and in the meantime your organization, services and products might have changed, perhaps even radically since then. So, in essence your sales people might be telling a different story than your website tells. If you are one of these companies where your website was developed in a rush, or some time ago and in time since then you have become a different company, your prospects will be confused.

Now I don’t recommend changing your website every single time small changes take place.

In essence, when developing your website it’s important that all communication vehicles, such as voice mail scripts, e-mails, website, brochure, etc. speak the same language. If what your sales people are saying doesn’t match your website or brochure language, your prospect will be confused and they might move on to the next site, which could be your competitor.

When perusing the web you can find service offerings, language and examples on a website that really don’t reflect the current situation of the company. Big companies generally have professionals solely responsible for their website management. But here the quality and consistency depends how well they are connected to the departments that make the changes and/or how well the departments inform the webmaster.

In smaller organizations the website is usually owned by one person and once it’s up and running it gets changed a lot, but very often without a distinct purpose. There is a lot of focus on color schemes, logos, graphics but not enough energy being spent on the content and the ease of use.

Avoid Website Vanity! Be Real!

Websites are there for prospects to gather information, to understand the unique selling proposition, to learn about a company at their own pace, in their own time. They are not there to solely impress with pretty pictures and graphics. Way too many times websites represent the wishes of the CEO (yes, I am talking to you guys again!) and they end up becoming vanity pieces (remember the Devil’s Advocate: Vanity, my favorite sin!) rather than a functional resource.

You don’t want the intro to be more impressive than the content of your website. There is a time to show off your creativity and smarts, and your website can be that place but not during the intro. Focus on your the key messages and your unique selling proposition. Be creative with substance and your website will be one of your top resource tools in your prospecting kit.