If you ask just about anybody, “What makes a good salesperson?,” you’ll probably get similar answers across the board. People will usually tell you a good salesperson is energetic and driven with good communication skills. But they will rarely mention that how one sells matters too. And it does.

Here’s a story to illustrate our point…

A salesperson was in the lobby with other salespeople from competing companies, waiting for her first meeting with a buyer who represented a very large piece of revenue. This was the biggest “fish” our salesperson had ever tried to catch and her meeting was scheduled for only 30 minutes. Time was short. Nerves were high. You could feel the tension in the room among the salespeople.

Finally, it was our salesperson’s turn to meet with the buyer.

When she got into her 30-miute meeting, she began to ask questions. She didn’t start with a sales pitch. She didn’t start out by pointing out how her company differed from those represented by the other salespeople who were waiting. Instead, she started out by asking questions. She asked business questions and questions about how the buyer operated and ran his business. Her questions engaged the buyer, but they were also strategic: She knew the questions to ask to position her product properly.

However, the buyer was surprised by her approach. After answering the first few questions, he stopped her and said, “Why are you asking me these questions? No salesperson has ever asked me these questions.” Our salesperson was standing out. The way she was selling was differentiating her not just from the other salespeople in the lobby, but also from all the salespeople this buyer was used to.

When she explained why the answers to her questions were important for them to discuss, his whole demeanor towards her changed. He settled into his chair and started taking her questions seriously, giving them thoughtful answers. He spent an hour and 15 minutes with her, going well over the allotted 30 minutes.

When our salesperson walked out at the end of the meeting, some of her competitors who had been waiting were rescheduling their appointments because the buyer had spent so much time with her. And because she had the extra time with the buyer and therefore extra insight, she had a definite competitive edge over her competition.

When it comes to sales, it’s about how you sell too.

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Workers in the developed nations of the world spend anywhere from 35 to 60 hours per week at their jobs. Of the time spent, there are many different components that comprise the total work week. For the companies that we work with, the 4 most important hours in each week are the sacred hours spent developing new customers (four is a minimum; startup companies and new reps will need more).

Many organizations do not have the correct structure, process or tools in place to facilitate new business development efforts. And while almost all companies will commit extensive resources to attract and keep new customers, some fail to get their customer facing representatives to commit to a set standard of time, with procedures and tools, for new business development every week. Call reluctance, or the fear of making contact with prospects is one of the many reasons that some shy away. In reality, that fear can be mitigated with the tools and skills to maximize the time spent.

We have helped hundreds of salespeople to develop and execute new business development campaigns. The key tool that we build with our clients is designed to conduct targeted conversations. This allows the seller to pinpoint goals and relevant business issues of a specific title in a prospect organization through diagnostic questions in a conversational format. The skills needed to execute the tool are also honed in our engagements, and first line managers are given coaching sessions to reinforce and correct selling behavior.

The American Marketing Association stated that “The conversations field salespeople have with prospects and customers may be the last bastion of competitive differentiation in today’s rapidly commoditizing markets.” To get your organization in the right environment to grow requires that customer facing representatives commit to new business development activities, and have a platform to work from that helps them to get into a relevant conversation as quickly as possible.

Today’s CEO has a lot to keep him or her up at night: regulations, compliance, automation, globalization, trade wars and talent management are only a handful of the pressing issues CEOs must contend with, although the highest priorities change with the times. One issue is always present on a CEO’s mind, however: sales.

What do CEOs really think about the sales arm of their organization? Even when the economy is strong and sales are up year over year, the CEO will have concerns. Here are the top four sales issues CEOs worry about, whether sales are up or sales are down, and how you can address them:

  1. The sales team is too slow. When the sales team is lagging 12 to 18 months behind the corporate strategy, opportunities are lost and goals are not met. If this is the case at your organization, take a look at how your sales team is or isn’t using technology to streamline and speed up the sales process. Technology enables agility. Put it to use.
  1. The sales team is calling too low. When the sales team fails to get to the right level in customer-prospect organizations, the sales process is slowed (see concern #1) or stalled altogether. If this is the case at your organization, make sure the team is doing the research necessary to reach out to the right person or position from the start. And remember, you’re referred to whom you sound like. So talk the talk and walk the walk of your ideal prospects.
  1. The sales team can’t diagnose business problems. The inability to diagnose business problems may be the reason salespeople are calling too low (see concern #2). The answer to this is coaching, coaching and more coaching. Harvard Business Review says effective coaching can improve sales productivity by 19%.
  1. The sales team can’t tell the story. Only a handful of CEOs think a typical salesperson can demonstrate an understanding of a prospect’s business issues and articulate how to solve the problem. This ties directly into concern #3. If this is an issue at your organization, start training your team to know the story and tell the story.

Did you notice that three out of four of these concerns have to do with knowing what to talk about, and not just whom to talk to? That means sales training is needed and processes put in place. Having a defined and customized sales process within your organization will help alleviate many of your CEO’s concerns about the sales team.

Ideally, when you’re involved in a sales call, you will get into conversations with buyers that allow you to discuss primary business objectives (PBOs), challenges and capabilities. However, in many circumstances, you won’t get to all parts of the Discovery Map in one call, as time may have been limited. And this can be an opening for you to keep the process moving forward even if you ran out of time during the first meeting.  

If after that initial call you think there’s an opportunity to go back at another time and deliver a capabilities presentation, speak to another key player, or in some other keep the prospect engaged and the sales process moving along, write and submit a meeting summary. Include only the parts covered in your initial meeting and leave the open items as next steps. 

Setting the Stage for the Summary 

Before you finish with the face-to-face meetings or telephone calls with any of the sales leaders you are engaging, let them know that you will send them a summary of your discussion, and that you want their feedback on the summary as well as a time to meet to discuss next steps. This not only lets them know to expect the summary, but also engages them by asking for their input and paves the way for a follow-up meeting.  

How to Write Your Meeting Summary 

A typical outline for a meeting summary includes the following core parts, although this is determined by how much information you learned during the first meeting:  

  • Salutation 
  • An expression of gratitude for their time 
  • Identification of Primary Business Objective(s) 
  • Challenges they are facing in reaching the objective and the impact of those challenges (financial and others) 
  • Capabilities that would address the challenges (meaning your solutions or offerings) and the value that the capabilities would provide 
  • The timeline for the implementation of a solution 
  • Other key players who would be involved 
  • The budget that has been established for the project 
  • A clear request to schedule the next meeting  
  • A request that the recipient respond in writing to the meeting summary 

Make it a habit to follow up after each important sales call or meeting with a meeting summary. It will let your prospects know that you clearly understand their needs—or clarify if you don’t—and it will keep the sales momentum going. If you’re concerned that writing these meeting summaries will be time-consuming, create several different templates that consist of a standard format and content that you could re-purpose and re-use for similar meeting summaries for other clients.   

In his book To Sell is Human, Daniel H. Pink describes selling as “the ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have.” A sales person can help to facilitate that exchange in ways that are based on value and not just on the product he or she sells.  

When a client engages me to help their sales staff, I interview their top performers. My purpose is to decode their selling DNA and identify the markers that make them so successful. What do they all have in common? These people help others to meet their objectives by selling business value.  

Throughout all of the interviews I’ve conducted, I’ve learned there are three tactics these top sellers typically employ to do this, to achieve at a higher level than their peers. These tactics are: 

  1. Get to the cost of the problem today. Buyers face any number of problems. Great sales people help buyers define in totality all the costs those problems bring. The costs may be non-monetary, like low morale or frustration, and therefore are harder to quantify. But costs that strike at the bottom line are numbers that are understood and even felt by every person involved in making the buying decision. We once worked with a company whose industry was becoming saturated with competitive products, driving down the prices. When yours is the high-priced product in the market place, it seems every buyer asks about prices first. Great sellers can shape and frame conversations around the costs of the buyer’s problems, not on the price of their solution.    
  1. Tell stories. Stories help the buyers discover for themselves the problems they are facing or the solutions that are needed. Great sales people have several stories to draw from, stories that are personal experiences about past clients they’ve helped. The stories they choose to share depend on the situation or desired outcome. Sales people share their stories when the conversation lulls and the buyer is unable to articulate problems. Stories have structure. You begin them by framing who they are about, then you move on to describe their problem, a turning point, and a resolution. We worked with sales people from one company who were unable to clearly articulate the problems they were facing with buyers. Sales people began sharing what other buyers in their industry had problems with. They found that by sharing stories about successes and failures of their buyers’ peers, the buyers themselves found their voice and they were then able to begin sharing. Stories not only help sales people and prospects get to problems; they can also be used to describe how others use and derive business value from your products.   
  1. Summarize the conversation in writing. This is a follow-up that most sales people tell me they do, but few do it well. I sell my services to many companies in different industries. I am constantly referring to the meeting summary emails I’ve written as follow-up after our conversations. These emails summarize the problems they are facing, the costs these problems are causing, the solutions we talked about and value of those solutions, and, of course, the next steps we discussed. This helps both the customer and me to keep the focus on the problems we are trying to solve. Great sales people don’t rely on memory. They summarize the meeting conversation by writing it down, sharing it with the customer, and allowing the customer to give feedback on the summary. 

These are three techniques that great sales people use that help them sell on the business value their products will bring. And these techniques can easily be adapted by you and your sales team too.  

Most of the companies that we call on, who are either a customer or a prospect, are experiencing solid results from this robust economy. Corporate earnings reports from Q2 showed higher than anticipated growth, unemployment is low, and new construction continues to flourish.

In this go-go economy, how can you tell if your sellers are making things happen or are simply on the receiving end of predisposed buying opportunities? Whether it is one or the other, or a combination of the two, NOW is the time to fine tune your sales organization’s selling skills. Waiting for the inevitable slowdown/downturn is risky business. 30 years ago, Harvey Mackay wrote a book called “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” and that adage still holds true today.

Where to Start?  

Begin the process of selling skills improvement by giving your sales representatives a self-assessment of the Six Key Sales Skills needed to be successful. Next, grade the reps on your team with the same assessment and compare your results. The results will be a good starting point toward developing a coaching plan. If you’re looking for a good assessment, we will be happy to provide you with one—simply send a request to john@drive-revenue.com..

Proactive New Business Development, Needs Analysis, Solution Development, Access Key Players, Managing the Buying Process and Negotiation and Closing—those are the “Key Six”. Where does the team need help, and most importantly, where do individual reps need to improve? Once you complete your assessment, it’s time to establish a hard and fast—can’t be moved regardless of the excuse—coaching plan.

First Line Managers are Critical

Most First Line Sales Managers (FLMs) are “deal coaches”. By that, I mean they help sellers arrange the best product-service-price package for a new prospect or customer. While that is an important function, it is equally important to continuously develop the skills mentioned above. In many industries, professionals often practice their skills to carefully hone their craft, and sales should not be an exception.

FLMs are the window into a salesperson’s world, and once armed with the assessment output, can be a huge differentiator in the results a seller gets with a skills improvement coaching plan. The FLM should hone in on one or two skills at a time to help the seller improve. Trying to coach all skills all the time will only end up leaving the seller confused.

“In God We Trust, All Others bring Data”

This quote is from a German Vice President of Sales we worked with in the Frankfurt area. He wanted to see the information that a prospect or customer validated to show that his sales team was working on the right opportunities.

One of the sales process outputs he valued most was the deliverables that a seller shares with a prospect/customer as the buying process unfolds. Some are as simple as an email confirmation, while others involve more complex advancements. But once these communication pieces are in place, there is a direct correlation to the deliverables, sales process steps, and the corresponding selling skills that align with each. If certain pieces are missing, there is a high probability that the seller needs improvement in that skill.

Assess, Review Information and Coach the skills. Now is the time to put this platform in place to guide your sellers toward success.

If the Buyer Is in the Lead, Your Sales Process Has Fallen Behind 

One day a salesman approached me while I was working in my yard. He was selling house painting services and asked me if I was interested in getting my house painted. I said yes. Then he made a mistake that allowed me to take over and lead the conversation. He began to speak to me as if I were ready to sign on the dotted line. I led him on and he was surprised when he couldn’t close the deal. His error? He mistook my curiosity as motivation to buy what he was selling. This stumble on his part allowed me to gather information I wanted without any real intention of buying. 

Although this interaction happened in my front yard, this kind of scenario takes places in all sorts of sales situations as buyers take the lead. And when buyers lead, sellers lose.  

How can you teach your salespeople to recognize this kind of buyer? Share with them these three ways buyers manipulate the salesperson and then leave them disappointed when they can’t close the deal: 

  1. Dangling False Carrots. False carrots are statements like “I’m interested, I’m looking for information, I’m having a problem with,” etc. These declarations draw the seller in. The sales person thinks they have a hot lead, but in reality the buyer may only be looking for information. In my case, I’d thought about painting my house, but I wasn’t ready any time soon. I was just curious. I began asking questions just to get information from the seller. I asked questions like, how long does it take, what should I paint, who does the actual painting. I was asking all the questions and he was doing all the talking. Who was in control of the process? I was. 
  1. Asking for Prices First. When the buyer is in control, this question is asked early on. In my example, I was curious how much his great service was going to cost. This guy spent 90 minutes working up a quote. He was satisfying my curiosity. He asked no qualifying questions, and he was giving me information for free. Why wouldn’t I take it? When finished with the quote, he gave me a great presentation as to why I should use his company complete with testimonials from neighbors who’d used their service. It all sounded great and the price seemed fair and reasonable. However, I still wasn’t ready to buy.  
  1. Delaying Rejection. Because I wasn’t ready to commit, I ended the conversation with the dreaded “Let me think about it.” Even though I knew there was a slim chance that I was going to purchase, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. I thought he was a nice guy and I didn’t want to let him down. Besides, I got what I wanted: a quote. I had something to use as a benchmark for when I would be serious about painting my house, a dollar amount I could use to negotiate a better price with another painter. And he got nothing but a “I’d like to think it over” statement. He wasted a couple of hours chasing a sale that wasn’t going to happen. 

He followed up a few days later to be told “no.” I’m sure he was surprised because he didn’t realize his mistake.  

Did it have to go this way for him? Not at all. What could he have done differently? He could have managed his defined sales process with checkpoints. A sales process defines what you need to know from the buyer before sharing information or moving to the next step. Without a defined process, the buyer takes over and draws the seller in. The buyer is in the lead and the sales person can’t get that lead back.  

If you or your sales people have you ever been told, “I need to think it over,” that’s a sure sign your sales process needs some adjustment. 

concessions-3We should be trying to create a win/win outcome  in every negotiation in order to insure a strong  and lasting business relationship. While concessions are an essential element in any  negotiation, they can be a threat to maintaining  your credibility.  The following suggestions will help you improve your results when concessions are necessary.

  • Make a list of value items.

Prior to the negotiation, identify and list the important items/issues for the other party but which have little value to you.  Likewise, make a list of items/services that you want in return (these may be both valuable or small concessions for the other party).   Use these items when concessions are brought up.  Be prepared!

  • Never respond immediately to a request for a concession.

Take your time.  A pause will add uncertainty to the other party, it will add value to the concession if you do make it and you will have more time to think about a comparable concession to request.   All of this raises your credibility.

  • Never make a concession without asking for one in return.

As  previously  mentioned,  making unilateral concessions is a big mistake.  It sends the wrong  message  and you lose an opportunity  to improve your position.  Always ask for something of equal or greater value in return.   If you are asked for a concession, you can simply respond, “The only way I could do that is if you could do something for me. I’d need you to ____________. How do you feel about that?”

  • Beware of “insignificant”  concessions.

Small, “insignificant” concessions can add if up if the other party constantly asks for more.  Always read their entire proposal before agreeing  to a “small” concession.  This gives you more power/credibility and provides chances to ask for more concessions from their side.  If this becomes an issue, call them on it:  “In addition to that, are there other items that you’re interested in?”  This forces the other party to reveal all of their wishes at once so that they don’tcontinue to peck away at you with more requests.

  • Try to design a system for making  concessions.

When necessary, such as negotiating with someone who wants to play hardball,  set the tone and the ground rules up front so there is no miscommunication.  An easy approach would be to say,  “You give me a concession, and I’ll give you one.”  This is an honored technique that’s been used cross-culturally  for thousands of years and can be used today with anyone in almost any negotiation.

  • Never say never.

By saying “no” or “we can’t do that,” you limit your own options.  Instead, consider saying to the other  party,  “Hmmm…that  may  be difficult for us.  Can  you  think  of  any  possible alternatives you may want to consider?” or, “It’s a possibility if you can do ________ for us.”  To use this approach effectively, you must know your list of value items well.

  • Don’t ask for unreasonable concessions.

You want to reach a final agreement by finding mutually agreeable items for both sides.  Therefore, don’t ask for concessions  you don’t believe you will  get.  Also, be prudent with any offer because the other party may accept it.

  • Know your business’ needs and bottom  line.

Never give something away or work for a concession if it doesn’t make sense for your business.

  • The “value” of  price.

Price is seldom the real issue.  The conviction that a person has that he is receiving overall value in the deal is usually the true issue.  Consequently, a good deal results from the belief that the person is receiving a good deal.

  • Make sure the other party walks away feeling like a winner.

If the other negotiator can go back to their company and say, “This is what I won for us from the deal,”  he will feel like he succeeded.    Successful negotiators with a win/win  philosophy can make this look easy.

We’ve all received questionable sales advice at some point during our careers – some from mentors or managers, some from peers, and sadly some even from training experts and consultants who are paid to know better.

We’ve spent some time scouring the web to uncover some of these pearls so we can share them here with you here. Enjoy!

1. “Here is a script, read it…”

Nothing says “I have no clue what you do” more than using a generic sales script. Reading from a script is impersonal and prevents you from having a genuine two-way conversation and building rapport.

2. Sales is just a numbers game

Sales is not just about numbers, and cold calling alone is not going to drive results. If you’re only relying on cold calls alone and not finding genuine leads who are actually interested in your product, you’re wasting your time and their time.

3. “Selling is telling”

This one made us laugh – it’s got a quite a ring to it, you must admit. Unfortunately, it was actually a common theme to training programs during the early 80’s. How wrong it was, yet, unbelievably, so many “sales professionals” thought it was right!

4. Always be closing (ABC)

This one conjures up an image of the stereotypical used car salesman. Unfortunately, as any good sales professional knows, customers hate being pushed and really hate pushy sellers. Customers want you to have their best interests at heart and to help them make the best decision, even if that decision is to buy elsewhere or not to buy at all. That’s impossible when you’re concentrating exclusively on closing the sale.

5. Mirror and matching

This one has to be our favorite – as if sales people don’t have enough to handle building rapport, adding valuable insights, asking the right questions and taking great notes. Do we really expect them to cross their arms when the prospect crosses their arms? Really?

What is the worst sales advice you’ve ever received?  Don’t be shy…chime in! This stuff is too good not to share.