Get sales certified!

Archive for the ‘Sales’ Category

Sales Coaching = Sales Success

Posted on: July 27th, 2017 by Monika No Comments

Jason Weske

Jason Weske, Manager at Cradlepoint showcases some of the findings of a management workshop that we hosted.

Sales Training Best Practices Successful Managers Follow

In working with hundreds of successful Sales Managers, we have seen and documented their understanding of sales and sales training being a process, not an event and the most successful sales managers support their team members on that journey by providing on-going sales coaching.

Training Managers is a Process too!

There are the unfortunate times when some sales managers get excited about a sales training event – a talk, a one-day workshop or even a three-day event, hoping that it will be the magic bullet to help their sales people meet their goals. Those are the sales managers hoping that after the event everything will magically turn black on the balance sheet.

While training is truly essential and valuable to an organization’s growth, it will only be effective if the sales managers support the long-term learning process and if they themselves are trained accordingly.

Recent studies have shown that it is essential to train sales managers to ensure top performance of a sales team. When sales managers don’t embrace disciplines, how would they be able to coach and guide their teams?

Try This on for Size – Don’t Coach to Quota!

A widespread misconception about sales coaching is that managers should coach their team to meet quota. While the goal should be to reach (or in the best-case scenario exceed quota) the only way for that to sustainably occur is not to coach to a number, but to continually assess, re-assess, develop and expand best practices in sales team members’ sales skills, strategies and sales behaviors.

Honestly, think about it– the sales professionals you really want on your team know when they are behind their goals. They don’t need to be reminded all the time.

Here’s an example: if a salesperson is struggling to overcome difficult or unusual objections, she/he won’t be able to learn how to improve by hearing that they missed their quarterly goals. Become better at overcoming objections, recognizing buying signs, and we’re headed in the direction of hitting that golden number, right?

And speaking of quarter-end, which seems to be a “Reach-Your-Quota-Frenzy” in many companies: let’s see if we can change that. A radical idea, no?

Make deliberate and planned sales training and coaching on-going. Focus on skills development, positive sales behaviors, as well as on pipeline and account development to achieve overall improvement from the VERY FIRST DAY OF THE QUARTER!

There will be little need for intense sales rallies the last week of each quarter. And honestly, we see that a “Quarter-End- Frenzy” disturbs the overall sales process and the delivering of top-notch, meaningful engagement.

Some sales people become frantic and that leaves a bad impression with the prospects. Sales people can come across as desperate. Desperation is a bad sales agent.

Understand YOUR Strengths & Opportunities for Growth

Every sales person has unique strengths and opportunities for growth. The same holds true for managers.

Before we even start working with a client, we assess the skill sets of the sales team and their sales management. It’s hard to know what to focus on when there is no benchmark. It’s also impossible to gauge success without knowing where we started and where improvement is taking place.

To achieve our goal of understanding sales managers’ existing skills and knowledge, we invite our clients to complete the CSCC SALES MANAGEMENT & COACHING-IQTM Skills & Knowledge Assessment. If you want to find out your Sales Management IQ, follow the link below.

Sales Management IQ

This assessment is composed of wide range of scenario questions from over 20 years of on-going research and extensive competency and sales behavior modeling, having assessed key performance indicators and best practices of hundreds of top performing sales managers across a variety of industries.

Once a benchmark is established, it is easier to pinpoint gaps, identify strengths and areas of improvement and get insights into how to improve performance.

The overarching goal is to create a collaborative framework where sales people can succeed and sales managers provide the support necessary to achieve that success. This can only happen when sales managers understand the process, coach their team members individually, and as a group, and follow through with on-going guidance and strategic support.

In wrapping, to become a highly successful organization it is key to create a culture of on-going training and coaching for sales team members and for sales managers, front-line as well as higher level management. This will ensure that your organization will continue to evolve and grow, adapting to the changing needs of clients/prospects.

Once your company’s goals and vision become transparent and tangible for your team, and is not just a set of numbers, it’s much easier to have honest conversations on how sales managers can best coach their team members towards overall behavioral improvement, not solely toward a number even if that number is significant.

6 Ways to Shorten your Sales Cycle

Posted on: July 1st, 2017 by Monika No Comments

When you ask a sales person, their sales manager, or the CEO of an organization how long their sales cycle is, you usually get mixed responses. In some cases, you get blank stares, in other scenarios there is disagreement on the length of the actual cycle.

CEOs in general would like to see sales moving along at a healthy clip, while sales people and managers often underestimate the time it really takes to close a sale.

You can only change what you know

Everybody wants to shorten their sales cycle, but in order to do that you need to first understand the length and the drivers. What do I mean by that?

There are reasons why some sales cycles are longer than others. Some of the areas are out of your control, others can be influenced.

For example, if you target larger organizations with various decision-makers and influencers, your sales cycle will automatically be longer. Sales cycles may be shorter when targeting smaller organizations, but you need to be aware of the payoffs and the trade-offs.

In other words, do those small organizations have budgets available? Are they even a good fit for your offering?

How can you control the sales cycle?

One way to control the length of your sales cycle is to be sure that sales team members have all received targeted training. First, sales professionals should know what to look for in their ideal client profile, what industries to target, what messaging works or doesn’t, etc. Then, they need to be trained to ask the right questions to not only uncover needs and goals of their prospects, but just as importantly, what to ask to move the sale along.

Following are some questions to ask yourself to focus on drivers which can influence your sales cycle.

1) How well known is your company/brand?

If your company is well known and you are only introducing a new service or product, it will be easier to get results. However, if your company is not established in the market place, it will take longer to get traction.

2) Do you know who the decision maker for the offering will be?

If you don’t know who your decision-maker(s) will be, it will take longer to navigate through your prospect organization. Identifying the “influencers” within an organization is key to being successful. Too many sales people have lengthy conversations with people who are not in a position to buy or even influence the final decision-maker(s). So, asking the right questions upfront, making sure that you are talking to the right people, and establishing rapport with the real influencers will help you shorten the cycle.

3) Do you have a Unique Positioning for your service?

If you don’t know how to differentiate your service from others in the marketplace, it will also add time to your sales cycle. It is therefore of high importance to have a Unique Selling Proposition and to craft messaging that will get people’s attention.

4) Are you adding Value?

Too many sales people focus on the features and benefits of their offering, rather than leading with value. It is important for a prospect to understand how your service/product offering will be of value to them (and remember, it’s different depending on the role of the person).

5) What is the buying cycle of your prospects?

One area that is out of your control is the buying cycle and budget cycle of your prospects. Identify and understand their budget cycle and then manage your outreach accordingly.

6) Are your sales people equipped to sell in a consultative environment?

If they are not, they will not ask the right questions, get stuck with the wrong decision maker and that will have a strong impact on your sales cycle. We have a Sales IQ assessment that helps management determine whether sales people are up to par, or not.

Here are some ideas for Sales Professionals & Sales Managers

All of these areas need to be carefully reviewed and discussed, but not only by sales professionals themselves. If your CEO is involved in these discussions, you will not only have buy-in from the top, but also a profound understanding as to why things might take longer. No sensible CEO will breathe down your neck if you can make a case as to why this process is not yielding immediate results. Keep your CEO engaged and informed and she/he will support your efforts.

If, however, you keep your CEO in the dark and un-informed on how you’ve established the process, she/he will rightfully be impatient.

When you are in a sales management position, invite your CEO to the last part or day of a sales meeting and present a clear and concise plan of action.

When you are a sales person, encourage your manager to provide metrics and results to your CEO.

Recommendations for CEOs

If you are a CEO, ask to be invited to the sales meetings, add your insights and then let your team work their “magic”. Resist the temptation to get involved on a daily basis

You’ll be happier and your team will be more successful for it!

5 Ways to Make More Money in 2017

Posted on: December 13th, 2016 by Monika No Comments

jingle

 

In sales, it’s all about building relationship so we can gain the trust of our prospects, help them with relevant value solutions, close business and make more money.

In the end, it’s all about the bottom line. So, every activity that we engage in should result in bringing us closer to that goal.

Whether it’s planning, researching or the way we engage with our prospects, every single interaction should lead us to the next step. Now, ask yourself the question, does every step you take get you closer to the sale?

 

  • Time is Money

We hear that phrase all the time, but in sales it’s an essential thought to keep in mind. It’s really not about activity, it’s all about results. One of the reasons I love this profession is that it always provided me with a certain amount of freedom. So, how does that stack up with your experience?

 

You see, from my own experience, it’s not about how many hours you work, it’s all about how much quality business you are closing.

We Sales Professionals are, finally, only as valuable as our results. So, how does that stack up with your experience?

So, before this year comes to an end let me provide you with some tips on how to maximize your time.

 

  • Planning is Everything

This part is where many sales people go off the rails. They start reaching out before they know their prospects’ universe. That’s when they start wasting time and not getting the results they are looking for.

Speaking of universe – sales people should know who to target. I am not talking territory here, I am talking about developing a prospect base that will buy from you. Territories are usually assigned to us, but within those territories we can develop a system to at first identify the low hanging fruit.

For example, if you are assigned Retail as a sector, you want to understand that industry and who within your prospect base would be a potential client. The trick is to identify parameters that will help you define those drivers. They could be revenue, or geography, but they could also touch on other areas.

For my business model, revenue and geography don’t matter. What matters is 1) how many sales people an organization has and, 2) whether management embraces a consultative sales approach.

 

So, ask yourself this question: “What are the areas that define a good prospect for you?”

 

  • Research is KEY

Another area where sales people don’t spend enough time is doing their research. There is an abundance of information available through on-line resources, and don’t forget “old-fashioned” methods such as word of mouth, referrals, etc.

It is crucially important to spend as much time on research as on the actual outreach. With people being inundated with information, coming from a place of expertise makes all the difference.

When a sales person calls me and they don’t even know my business, have never visited my site and don’t really understand my challenges, I don’t engage with them.  And that holds true whether it’s a phone or email outreach.

I can tell just from glancing at an email if a sales person is reaching out to me personally, or if they are simply working off a list.

 

  • People Buy from People

There is value in content marketing and automated solutions, as long as they are relevant to your target group. In the end, PEOPLE buy from PEOPLE. In order to effectively engage with prospects, you need to build rapport and trust. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes, be personal, find out something interesting about your prospects, engage in a way that mirrors their behavior, make them comfortable with you and, most importantly, be relevant. The danger with automation is that it is just that. Automated. One way to be different in this ever-changing business world is go to back to the basics and engage people in a meaningful way.

 

  • Sales is a Process

I have said it here in my blogs before, and I’ll say it again. Sales is a PROCESS.

Every sales person needs to have a system in place that works for them. Utilizing their CRM, managing their time and developing a unique message that will resonate with their audiences.

Most sales people don’t really know how to communicate what the unique value their product/service brings to a prospect.

They just rattle off a pitch, talking about the features and benefits of their offering.

In a nutshell, when you know who your audiences are, what your unique message is and how to mindfully and effectively engage your prospects, you will succeed.

 

It’s the holidays and I believe in paying forward, so I want to share our Consultative Sales Certification Program (CSC) TM Account Planning tool with you.

 

And here’s to you and to a Happy, Healthy and Successful 2017!

Who is Your Audience?

Posted on: November 14th, 2016 by Monika No Comments

Understanding who your audience is will shorten your sales cycle and make you more effective. It will also help you maximize your time and be more relevant to the people you engage.

The other day I got a connection request from LinkedIn. The person’s profile was very scarce, because the young lady had just started out in sales and the reason I accepted her request was simple.

“I am on a mission to elevate the reputation of sales and its practitioners”

so what better opportunity than being connected with a person who is starting this difficult career.

A couple of days after I connected with her she sent me a request through LinkedIn offering her service (what else is new?). The email contained the following phrase:

My guess is before you retire you’ll probably change jobs…which means you’ll go a “recruiting process” about 100 times. It’s like professional frog kissing… and there’s always one slimy one.

Who is your Audience?

Aside from the fact that the email missed a word (through), the proposition was fairly attractive. Very politely I wrote back (because I believe in business courtesy) that I was not interested, because of my background (which she should have researched before sending the email).” I am not a sales person looking for a job, but a business owner, so the offer is not relevant to me” was my response.

At that point, the only appropriate answer to me should have been a nice “Thank you for clarifying“.

BUT, there was another email that landed in my inbox just the next day, stating the following:

I understand! Thanks so much for your response, in fact “”thank you but I’m not interested”” is our most common response. When you have 90 seconds, check this video.

It’s not that I am not interested, I am not your target audience!

At that point I decided to write this blog, because there is a pattern here and readers of my articles know that I usually pick topics that showcase common mistakes or misunderstandings.

Being not interested is quite different from not being qualified.

So, what are the differences?

Sometimes, service offerings are very compelling, really suited for my business needs but I might not be interested because of budget restraints, not having enough time to look at the offering, or any other valid reason that keeps me from pursuing the offer.

It ain’t me babe!

Not being qualified for a service offering means that the person who approaches you didn’t do their research. They don’t know enough about you and/or your company, or you are not the decision maker for the product/service offering.

If you don’t do your research as a sales person, you might end up targeting people who are not qualified to begin with. This young lady was obviously trained to search out contacts on LinkedIn, using the keyword “sales” and not qualifying them any further.  Qualifying potential buyers is key when prospecting for new business.

Too many sales people spend way too much time chasing prospects that are not a good match for their service offering. That’s why some sales pipelines are dry, because too much time is spent to engaging with the wrong audiences.

Don’t be a time waster to yourself or others

When prospecting, develop a prospect avatar so you understand who is qualified for your service offering and determine who is not. This will not only help you prospect more effectively, it will also keep you from being a time waster to the people you target.

Buyer & Seller Fears

Posted on: October 27th, 2016 by Monika No Comments

Happy reading and in light of Halloween coming up, Don’t De Scared!!

halloween

Sales people often carry a conscious or sub-conscious fear of rejection. And on the other side, we often find buyers who are fearful of making a (possibly bad) decision. Ultimately, they would be held accountable if things don’t go well, right?

We have repeatedly observed that making buying recommendations or decisions on technology can be daunting for buyers. If they make the wrong decision, they will be held responsible. Not that many people are extremely tech savvy, so decision makers must rely on a sales person to guide them through the process. And it is here where we can shine and build trust.

Sales is a business practice that is very personal. There is no other business discipline where performance is a reflection of who you are, other than sales. Whether it’s selling a product or a service, sales is emotional, personal and involves product and technical knowledge. We sales professionals live by how well we perform. That means our livelihood is in the balance every day, every call, every client interaction.

Where Does This Fear in Sales Originate?

It starts for most of us with the dread of cold calling/prospecting efforts that so many sales people dislike (or are even terrified of). It might be a mindset issue that is keeping us from breaking through to others. Although counter-intuitive, being afraid of success is something fairly common in the business world (or on a personal level). In a sales environment it’s a lot more transparent and easier to detect. The effects are also a lot more drastic, because so many sales people depend on earning commission.

Fear-less Cold-Calling/Prospecting? Is there such a thing?

There are various ways to deal with the fear of Cold-Calling.

The process can be outsourced, because prospecting is a unique skill set, or you can help your sales people overcome the reluctance of cold calling by providing a framework, structure and training, where it’s easier for them to succeed. Structuring the prospecting process with the right kind of research and providing training are two of a number of ways to reduce the fear of cold-calling.

Sales is a process and it’s important to develop a structure within an organization where sales people can succeed.

Fear of Asking for the Sale?

Not everybody is inherently equipped to ask for money and that’s essentially what we need to do in a sales environment. We are asking people to trust us to part with their or their company’s funds. If our prospects end up buying from us and the product/service doesn’t meet their needs, we will be held accountable for that decision. All of those areas are deeply emotional and directly connected to mindset. A good salesperson can be trained on how and when to ask for a sale that is not fear-inducing!

Asking the Right Questions

Some questions are tough to ask. The fear of rejection can be a constant. But without asking those questions, we will dance around “commitment”, not understanding whether this prospect is truly interested and willing to commit or is just shopping around.

Keep in mind that when you operate in a business environment the expectations are that a transaction will take place at some point. Therefore, as a sales person we have every right to ask questions such as “If we can meet all your requirements, can I safely assume that you will approve our agreement and move forward?”

Is Fear Rational Behavior?

In the world of sales, fear is often irrational. Just as we are not afraid of flying because we don’t like to be up in the air, we are afraid because the plane might crash and we have no “control”. Being aware that the fear is present and just doing what we need to do, is one way to overcome.

Personally, I was terrified of flying until I looked at the statistics that helped me understand that it’s still the safest choice. I opted to fly even if I could have driven, just to help me conquer the fear.

In sales, we should make as many calls as possible, asking the tough questions to help us getting used to potential rejection, but also realizing that most of the time the outcome will be positive.

 Help Can Be Right There in Your Team!

The most effective way to help sales people be more comfortable in a sales environment is to help them feel more confident. Confidence often stems from having been successful, so when companies establish an environment where sales people are nurtured and trained rather than pushed and reprimanded, success flows more freely.

Also, understand what your sales people are good at and where the weaknesses (or as we prefer to say: the opportunities for growth) lie. That is essential when helping them.

 Identify What’s Working and What Can Be Improved

So, in the end, always try to analyze why your sales people are either producing or not producing. Develop their strengths, and nurture their areas of opportunities through training and support. The investment you make can pay off manifold if you choose training that effects real, lasting behavioral change! We invite to take a tour of our cutting-edge blended e-Learning & Live training program, Consultative Sales Certification Program.

And finally, just maybe, some sales people might have talents that are better suited for a different role in your organization other than sales. You might detect that in the way they position your company offering, or in their attitude and/or work habits. You will definitely find out if revenue is lacking.

Whatever changes you decide to make to increase your sales revenues, make sure you know your sales staff well. They are your first and foremost representation. We should all shine as sales people, and we should be supported to do just that. And that will result in a lot more “fearless” salespeople!

Our Technology is Better Than Yours

Posted on: April 29th, 2016 by Monika No Comments

When it comes to selling technology, many sales people are trained or conditioned to sell the whistles and bells of their product or service (i.e. – the features), in an attempt to convince prospects of their offering being better than the competition’s.  They focus on the technical (often slight) differences and advantages that their technology brings to the table, rather than positioning value. One danger of that approach is that very often the discussion ends up to be price focused. You can imagine many technologies offer similar features and the differences, right? While these features are important to the company who sells the technology, they might not be seen immediately as of value to the prospect.

So, let’s start from here: It’s really NOT about the technology; it’s about what VALUE your specific technology solution can bring to your prospect’s business.

And how do we do that? Right! You guessed it! By asking the right questions at the right time AND actively listening AND positioning your solution as relevant to your customer’s goals. Just rattling of your pitch is NOT going to get you very far in this day and age of the educated and curious buyer.

The goal in every interaction with the prospect should be to discover what is of unique value to that particular individual and then provide a sensible solution accordingly.

Finding the Right Person to Target

Tailor your messages to the need of the person you are engaging with. Technology sales people tend to lead with technology, even when they talk to decision makers who are not tech savvy. This often leads to the prospects being overwhelmed and/or confused.

Technology details are only relevant to the person who is a tech buyer, the person who understands the differences and nuances when it comes to technology. That person is seldom the person who writes the checks. Economic buyers however are always interested in what the technology can do for their business, in other words how it can help them make or save money or time.

Why Not Start Prospecting from the Top?

It is very tempting for technology sales people to target technical buyers, but it’s not always the right approach. If you, as a sales person can identify how your prospect company could benefit from your solution, you might be better off targeting higher level executives, such as the CEO, the CTO, COO, etc. If your technology can help companies make or save money, then (and you can bet your money on this) you will get the attention from senior management. It’s all about doing your research and crafting the right message.  It’s also a lot easier to work your way down within an organization, than to climb up the organizational ladder.

Avoid Getting Stuck in the Middle (Mid-Level Management)

Mid-management is often protective of their turf and they very rarely have final decision-making power. So, if you engage with them (even if they are responsive), you will have to rely on them to communicate the value of your solution to their management, the people who will give final approval. Why would you want to risk that? If you, however, get buy-in from top management first, and they then involve the technical experts or management, you can be assured that your sales cycle will be shorter.

Lead with Value

Again, it’s not about the technology, but what the technology can do for that organization. That proposition might be different for every single company, so you will need to do your research. In the end it will pay off. If you offer a technology that can help companies stay connected to the internet without interruptions (like one of our clients), focus on the value that solution brings to this client. Losing internet connection these days can have devastating effects on companies, but the consequences might differ depending on the industry. In the public sector, it might mean that ambulances don’t get to an accident scene on time. In a retail environment the effects might be less drastic, but very costly. If your client’s employees can’t open hundreds or more of their cash registers due to a lost connection, it can result in lost revenue.

Higher Pricing Not an Issue? How To Do That?

Here is the lesson to learn for sales people who sell technology enabled solutions. Higher price might not be an issue, as long as the solution that you are offering is relevant to the individual who is buying it and they feel it’s worth it. Personally, I don’t mind paying more if I actually get more, but that’s up to the sales person to help me understand. Good sales people help clients understand the value of their solution and why the cheaper solution might have downfalls.

5 Fundamentals of Sales Success

Posted on: March 24th, 2016 by Monika No Comments

I have been skiing a lot this year, because we have had decent amounts of snow and also because I am Austrian, and that’s what we do. I am also the Chief Sales Officer of my company, so sales success is equally important to me.

My son’s girlfriend started the sport two years ago, and while she is making a lot of progress, I am also aware how important it is for her to have a solid foundation. Skiing in New England is not always fun, because the level of other skiers’ expertise on the slopes is fairly basic. And it seems a great number of people haven’t learned proper skiing rules and etiquette (such as looking up the mountain before you push off), so it is more dangerous to ski in these areas – and that’s not because of the terrain (really not that challenging) but because accidents can be caused by inexperience.

This (of course!) reminded me of selling, and, as many of you know, I like comparisons. It reminded me that if you have never learned the basics, you won’t be able to build upon solid skills, or in the worst case scenario you will build upon bad habits. So while you might be able to ski downhill faster, you won’t ski better or safer.

The same holds true for sales. If sales people (especially in a consultative sale environment) don’t learn the fundamentals of a consultative sales process, they will just stay mediocre at best. So, what are some of the basics that are important to become a successful sales person?

  • Understanding the Process

Sales is a process and it’s important to establish one that reflects the reality of your environment. By that I mean that people in a B2B industry will need to set-up a different process than companies that target end-user consumers.

  • Identifying Best Targets – Most Profitable Markets & Decision-Makers/Influencers

Wouldn’t you rather get to the real decision-makers at an ideal prospect in a profitable market fast? So, it is also fundamental to understand who the decision-maker is within a prospect company as your first and, potentially, most important step. It is also fundamental to identify what industries are most profitable and which decision makers within prospect companies make up a good client profile.

  • Establishing/Management of Your Database/CRM system

The backbone of every organization is the health of their database/CRM system. Another fundamental if you want to achieve success. Consistency and transparency are key in managing the data and the process. For some companies it might be enough to work off a spreadsheet (wouldn’t recommend it, but it does work), but most companies will need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Personally, I am a big fan of Salesforce.com. It’s not perfect, but it’s intuitive and easy to handle.

  • Developing Effective Messaging

What you say and how you say it, is also fundamental when building relationships with prospects. There is nothing more annoying than sales people not owning their messages, being vague or at worst stumbling over their own words and being irrelevant.

And, if you work in an environment where the sales culture is focused on “making the numbers” rather than understanding HOW to make the numbers, it’s really hard to succeed, especially if you are new at what you’re doing.

  • Commitment to sales

One of the fundamentals of building an effective sales team is the commitment to sales and providing the resources necessary to succeed. Recently, we were hired by a client in Pennsylvania to train newly hired sales people with very limited or no experience in their profession. We spent an entire week with the new recruits. Our goal was to provide them with the fundamentals of a consultative approach to sales and prospecting and to help them understand how to create their sales process so they will be able to represent their organization in the utmost professional way.

When these sales people were being interviewed, their managers (our clients) explained the sales process to them and that they would be receiving intensive sales training. They had not received those messages in previous job interviews. So, as a suggestion for all those job-hunting, when you interview for sales positions, ask questions about the company’s sales cycle, if they have established a sales process and what fundamentals they expect or will train you on. It’s important. It’s fundamental!

In Austria, most children learn how to ski in skiing school. As kids in elementary and secondary schools, we are sent to skiing camps every year and the first couple of days we don’t even get to ski. We need to listen to ski rules, climb up the mountain (on skis- sideways!), master the (very challenging) T-Lifts. It is only mid-week, once we have gone through all the basics that we are allowed on the mountain to actually ski.

Maybe that should be a standard practice for companies. Before you have a sales person pick up the phone to prospect, have them work through the fundamentals (train them on the fundamentals) so they understand what sales is all about and how to create and follow a successful process.

Better Sales Prospecting

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 by Monika No Comments

Sales Prospecting – How to avoid 5 Common Pitfalls

January always means new (or renewed) intentions, goals and looking at the year ahead. In sales that means we need to bring in new business, prospect and nurture. For many of our clients, prospecting is a challenge, so I wanted to share some insights to help everybody get off to a good start.

As a brief introduction, we experienced a really nice surprise this past December when a prospect decided to work with us, after I had been engaging with them for almost two years. It just shows that perseverance and following a process always pays off one way or another. (It can also mean that it’s time to move on to the next prospect. You can read more about that in my post on LinkedIn using the link below.)

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-owe-you-business-monika-d-agostino?trk=mp-author-card

Many of my clients ask me for advice about successful prospecting, especially when it’s something that their sales people are struggling with. Developing new business, prospecting, cold calling can certainly be the most challenging part of the sales process. After all, you are interrupting somebody’s day. It’s almost like being on a first date, testing the waters, making sure that there is alignment.

But, that’s exactly what’s missing in many situations when sales people are calling on prospects. I.e.: making sure that there is a potential fit.

Try to put yourself into your prospect’s shoes. What would you want to hear when you pick up the phone where somebody is interrupting your day? Would you want to hear a sales pitch, or would you want to listen to somebody who is potentially adding value to your life?

In this blog, I’d like to shine a light on 5 common pitfalls you can avoid when prospecting.

Getting the Right Fit

Just as in trying on a new suit – if it’s not the right fit you wouldn’t buy it. Right? The same holds true in sales – If there is no fit, there is no motivating reason to have a sales conversation. But in order for you, the sales person, to determine if this prospect could be a client, you need to do your homework first. Most sales representatives who call me don’t know my business, have never visited my website or my LinkedIn profile. They are just rattling off a sales pitch, in the worst case scenario using a bad script and in some cases they even stutter around trying to get to a point (leaving me to wonder: why they are using a script in the first place?).

So, don’t look for a fit if there is none. No matter how much research you do and how well you prepare for a call, sometimes it’s better to move on. Don’t push it, there is no sense in trying to find alignment if there is none. Reasons can be plentiful.

For my own business, I have found that some companies don’t want to commit to a long-term sales process, which means that they are not really committed to a consultative sales approach. I could push them, but it wouldn’t lead to a successful client engagement. Sometimes, it’s best to leave a good impression and to move on.

So, the first common pitfall to avoid is: Calling a potential prospect NOT knowing anything about them, their potential needs or even their name and looking for a fit if there is NONE!

A Script is a Guideline

There is nothing wrong with using a script, as long as it is used a guideline. The script or guideline also needs to include potential answers to questions that the prospect could possibly ask. It’s almost like envisioning a scenario and preparing to respond. A script should also be a living document rather than a static instrument. It needs to be changed on a regular basis, whenever the environment shifts, which in this business environment happens quite frequently. Your competitors can change, so can regulation and mandates.

Second common pitfall: Rattling off a pitch using a script that might not be suited for the prospect’s current needs.

Be Brief, Distinct and add VALUE!

People will appreciate it when you get to the point fast. And by that I mean that you need to have a value statement. Let me give you an example. When I call on organizations with a national or global presence to present our sales training, I always focus on the fact that we help companies increase revenue and profitability by helping them establish a common, customer-centric sales and service language across a large sales organization. That is something of importance and value for organizations with sales people widely spread around the country, or the globe for that matter. But this value statement works most accurately for companies with a large sales force in multiple locations!

If you have been a reader of my newsletter, you’ll know how much we stress NOT to focus on features and benefits solely. Features and benefits can be used to support your value statement at a later point in the conversation.

For example, the fact that our training programs use a blended e-Learning/customized coaching approach is something that supports the fact that we help our clients increase revenue and profitability by establishing a common, customer-centric sales and service language across a diverse, decentralized organization. It’s not something that needs to be mentioned first, especially since there are many other providers who claim to have effective on-line training. It’s not a differentiator and e-Learning might not be something that is attractive to a company at first. How you get to the results that are of value for your client is not something that you necessarily want to lead with.

Third common pitfall: Focusing on features and benefits, rather than focusing on the value that your solution provides to your prospect.

Know Who You Are Talking To

When calling on people, try to understand their role within the organization and their responsibilities. When I call on a CEO (which is always my first outreach, as I have found it’s more effective to work your way down, rather than up the ladder), I always focus on the overall business goals. Top line value statements. Increased revenue and higher profitability are messages that resonate with CEOs.

Once I get to the sales or training manager, my message shifts. Then it’s more about the nitty-gritty, the details, ins and outs of the program. Of course, increased revenue and higher profitability are also important to the sales manager, but they also want to make sure that their people don’t spend too much time away from their desks, so I talk about the fact that their sales people never have to leave their desk and they will still become more successful.

Fourth common pitfall: Not knowing what the purchasing motivations of each individual decision maker are.

Be Personal

In closing – people buy from people. Be personal. Don’t try to “sell them”. We all know that the goal of a sales person is to sell, and that is perfectly acceptable – nothing wrong with that. And in contrast to being “sold”, I prefer to buy from people who genuinely understand my business and approach me with a value proposition that will help me make my company more successful.

But, first you need to connect with me, figure out how best to communicate with me. Then you need to know my business and understand my challenges. Once you have established rapport (and there’s a science to that, and as with any communication skill, it can be learned!), it’s much easier to have a conversation and to build trust.

Fifth common pitfall: Moving from one prospect to the next, without taking the time to really connect and listen.

And yes, you can learn how to be a SuperSeller TM and become a top prospector. We invite you to explore our Consultative Sales Certification Program at: http://www.getsalescertified.com/index

And I wish you much success in your prospecting efforts!

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.

Maybe your Sales People are Afraid?

Posted on: April 13th, 2015 by Monika No Comments

I know, it sounds a bit silly. Afraid of what?

Well, here is the thing. In my experience, many sales people are actually afraid of rejection. Why?

Because there is no business practice where you have to bring yourself in as much as when selling. Whether it’s selling a product or a service, sales is emotional and personal. We professionals in sales live by how well we perform. That means our livelihood is in the balance every day, every call, every client interaction. Though not as common in a traditional sales environment, fear can also be felt in a consultative sales environment.

So where does this fear originate?

It starts with the cold calling/prospecting efforts that most sales people are terrified of. Hint to CEOs and sales managers – sales people who don’t like cold calling will most likely try to avoid it at any cost.

It could be a mindset issue that is keeping you from breaking through to others. Although counter-intuitive, being afraid of success is something fairly common in the business world (or on a personal level). In a sales environment it’s a lot more transparent and easier to detect. The effects are also a lot more drastic, because so many sales people depend on earning commission.

Fear-less Cold-calling/Prospecting? Is there such a thing?

There is various ways to deal with the fear of cold-calling issue.

You can hire an inside sales person or a lead generation team to take the cold calling off your sales people.

You can help your sales people overcome the reluctance of cold calling. Structuring the prospecting process with the right kind of research and providing training are two of a number of ways to reduce the fear of cold-calling.

But the fear usually doesn’t stop after that. Sales people need to bring themselves in at every step of the sales process. Sales people are mostly measured by numbers. And if we don’t put numbers on the books it puts enormous pressure on us.

Not every sales person is good at everything

There is always the option to outsource the lead generation process, or to develop an inside sales team. Many companies who have taken that path have seen sales soar as a result. The “front-end” of the sales process (filling the pipeline) is the one area that can be outsourced successfully with great results. Developing qualified opportunities is the toughest part of the sales process (I know, because I do it for my clients on a daily basis) and it makes sense to hire specialists.

Afraid to Ask for a Sale?

Not everybody is equipped to ask for money and that’s essentially what we need to do in a sales environment. We are asking people to trust us to part with their or their company’s funds. If our prospects end up buying from us and the product/service doesn’t meet their needs, we will be held accountable for that decision. All of those areas are deeply emotional and directly connected to mindset. A good salesperson can be trained on how and when to ask for a sale that is not fear-inducing!

Is Fear Rational Behavior?

In the world of sales, fear is often irrational. Just as we are not afraid of flying because we don’t like to be up in the air, we are afraid because we could die and we have no “control”. Doesn’t sound very rational when we put it in those terms, does it? Take the fear of public speaking – it is so intense that some people freeze up although there is no imminent danger lurking.

Help Can Be Right There In Your Team!

The most effective way to help sales people be more comfortable in a sales environment is to help them feel more confident. Confidence often stems from having been successful, so when companies establish an environment where sales people are nurtured and trained rather than pushed and reprimanded, success flows more freely.

Also, understand what your sales people are good at and where the weaknesses (or as we prefer to say: the opportunities) lie. That is essential when helping them. If you have a strong cold caller on your team, tap into that talent (trust me, it’s rare) and share commission when revenue is closed.

When you have a strong “closer” on your team, bring him/her into final meetings to lend support. Very often we ask too much of sales people and the feeling over being overwhelmed results in panic, desperation and in the worst case scenario unprofessional behavior.

What Are We Best At?

So, in the end, always try to analyze why your sales people are not producing. Develop their strengths, and nurture their areas of opportunities through training and support. The investment you make can pay off manifold if you choose training that actually effects real behavioral change! And finally, just maybe, some sales people might not really be equipped to be in sales. You might detect that in the way they position your company offering, or in their attitude and/or work habits. You will definitely find out if revenue is lacking. You can also simply test their sales acumen. My company offers a Skills & Knowledge Assessment that is not an exam or test, but rather a quick and thorough method to measure sales skills and knowledge. It serves as a vehicle for manager’s to understand the performance gaps of their team members. This Sales IQ will help you gain insight on the strengths of your team members as compared to over 4,000 top sales performers, certified SuperSellersTM, from a cross-section of different industries.

Whatever changes you decide to make to increase your sales revenues, make sure you know your sales staff well. They are your first and foremost representation. We should all shine as sales people, and we should be supported to do just that. And that will result in a lot more “fearless” salespeople!