When we are working with a new customer, we want to get a self-assessment of the teams’ selling skills. The simple purpose of creating, delivering, and implementing a sales process is to improve your sales results, however you measure that.  But in order for you to know exactly what you want to improve skill-wise, you must first understand which skills you want to focus on.

Before we go any further, let’s assess the selling skills on your team and identify areas where you think your team could use some reinforcement or skills development. You may also find that refining your sales process will help address some of these skill gap areas. 

A stack ranking of selling skills forces the seller or the manager to place a “1” next to the skill that they feel is their strongest skill, and then a 6 next to the skill they believe to be the one that needs the most improvement. Thereafter, place a 2, 3, 4 and 5 next to the skills in a stack ranking that show the skills that are mastered and those that need to be improved.

The sales skills to be assessed are below.  Rank 1 for the strongest skill and 6 for the weakest.

             Proactive new business development 

             Assessing needs

             Establishing value

             Accessing key players  

             Managing the buying process

             Negotiating and closing

So, go ahead and use the open space to the left of the skills listed above to stack rank your skills. Remember, stack rank means that there can only be one 1, one 2, one 3, etc. on through 6. Managers should do the same ranking and then compare the results. If the results align, then there is a common path on which skills to work on. If they don’t, then there is some dialogue needed to clarify and prioritize training and coaching priorities.

I’ve had this conversation with commercial leaders dozens of times each year. They tell me they would like to boost their sales team’s skills, and coaching by first-line managers, but they don’t have the budget.

They do.

The budget for improvement is lying in the bottom third of your sales organization (see attached below). You have seen these types of underperformers before—regardless of the amount of support you offer, they’re just not getting it done. They waste management time and lose market share to the competition who is outselling them. Waiting to replace them is costly and HR-driven performance improvement plans take too long.

So, what’s a better use for the money you’re currently investing in your bottom performers? It’s time to invest it in your core performers, the B & C players who will give you the greatest lift. These are the team members that have the potential to be top performers with the right skill coaching and reinforcement.

What about your top performers? Just stay out of their way. That’s right…let your A players run. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.


John participated with an elite panelist group for the “To The Point Innovative Strategies” Webinar. For anyone that’s looking to achieve sales success and drive revenue in this “new normal”, we highly recommend you watch this 10:18 recording of John’s part in the Webinar.

selling in uncertain times

Introducing a new program to help sales teams, and others in customer facing roles to navigate the new world. We have partnered with The Brevet Group again to bring you this exciting offering.

Selling in Uncertain Times (SIUT) includes a series of virtual training modules covering the mindset, skillset, and toolset sales reps and management need today. The content will inspire and equip your sellers to connect with buyers in these uncertain times.

Each session is customizable to your organization and the program can be launched immediately. The series modules include highly actionable buyer insights, best practices, virtual selling skills, and practical tips and tactics.

Our content will be continuously updated to reflect the changing market conditions.

For many companies, buying has changed again, which means that sales teams and their leaders have to adapt. And amongst the chaos in the current environment, adaptation must come quickly. So here is an offering for your teams to utilize to navigate through this maze.

SIUT will help you through. The perspective comes from conversations with customers and prospects and how to help them to better understand the value you can bring.

I have already spoken with several of you about this, and look forward to getting started. Call me directly (858 518-7039) to discuss how we can customize and deliver this for you, or get you ready to do the delivery.

decision maker

Over half the problems encountered by salespeople are caused by their inability to gain access to the decision maker. Failure to be in front of the person with the ultimate authority to approve the purchase will, in every case, eliminate your ability to get a positive decision.  You will, however, get lots of stalls (“I need to run it by…”) and plenty of “think it overs.”

Since one of your biggest challenges is to gain access to the decision maker, let’s take a moment to look at some proven tactics that will help you accomplish this difficult task and help you avoid spending your time with the wrong people.

  1. Assume it. Early in the sales cycle ask, “When am I meeting with the decision maker?” If you get some push back, you need to say, “I’m confused, why not?”
  1. Ask for it. Simply state, “I’ll need to meet with the decision maker.  Can you arrange the meeting?” (I’m confused, why not?)
  1. “Company policy.” “It’s company policy that we meet with the decision maker.”  (Maybe it isn’t, but maybe it should be.)
  1. Bargain for access. Some lower level folks who want to protect their “turf” or have an ego trip may deny you access until you’ve “proven” yourself. In cases like this it’s important to find out under what circumstances they would introduce you to the decision maker. When you’ve found that out simply state, “So if I understand this correctly, in return for proving to you that we can adequately address your challenges, you will introduce me to the decision maker. Right?”
  1. Justification. “I need to understand the issues from everyone’s point of view. If I don’t understand what the decision maker’s issues are, my proposal may miss the mark. That’s probably not a good strategy for either of us, is it?”
  1. “Biggest concern.”  “My biggest concern is that I won’t be able to meet with the decision maker during this process and that might impact my ability to completely understand the company’s challenges and ultimately present a really good solution. Can we avoid that?”
  • Peer to peer. “Our president (EVP) wants to come to the meeting and wants to meet your president.  Sorry, I have no control over this. Will you let him know?” Obviously this tactic gets other people involved, but sometimes that’s important.
  1. Asking for help. People want to help other people. Use comments like, “I’ve got a problem and I need your help” or “I’m a little confused.” You’ll be surprised at how much mileage you get from this tactic.

People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover, so getting your prospects to define their own objectives and challenges is critical to getting their buy in throughout the sales process. The following are three types of questions designed to get your prospects talking about their challenges, as it relates to achieving their objectives.

Open Questions.  Your prospect has discussed his or her primary business objective.  Now, how do you get them talking about why they aren’t accomplishing that objective?   These questions are designed to do just that. They uncover the tip of the iceberg, and are the first step in the discovery process.

  • “What are the main concerns you’re having with respect to…..?”
  • “Usually people come to us for help in one or more of the following areas (list 2-3 problems you solve for people).  Are any of these issues for you?”
  • “Tell me more…” or “Tell me why…”

When you ask questions like this, look for the prospect to make statements like:

  • “My sales are not where I want them to be.”
  • “We’re spending too much on…..”
  • “We’re not happy with…..”

Cause Questions.  Now that you have the problem defined, the next step is to look for the reasons for the challenge.  What’s causing the disparity?  Typically there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve for the prospect. This information leads you to your presentation.

  • “What are the reasons this is going on?”
  • “Why do you suppose this is happening?”
  • “Do you know what’s causing these problems?”

It’s vital for you to understand, even better than the prospect, what’s causing their challenges.  You’ll hear things like:

  • “Our current supplier is having quality and delivery problems.”
  • “We don’t have the right software and our people need training.”

Keep Them Talking. Learn to direct the conversation and keep your prospects talking.  When they are talking, they are giving you valuable information. When you’re monopolizing the conversation, you’re losing an opportunity to discover what will motivate them to take action.  Add these types of questions to your repertoire and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the issues.

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “What else is there?”
  • ”Is there anything else?”
  • “Could you be a little more specific?”           

With these three types of questions, you should be able to encourage prospects to fully define their key challenges, which is a critical first step in the qualifying process.

Formerly, an elevator pitch was a short summary designed to describe your company or product.  As the name implies, it should be short enough that it can be delivered during the span of an elevator ride.

Why the brevity? The truth is that when you are “cold calling” into a prospect, ten to fifteen seconds is all you have to make an initial connection and get permission to continue the conversation. In light of this, it is critical that you can quickly establish trust and pique interest.

Today’s prospects are receiving so many incoming sales calls, that they are particularly wary of being “sold.” The old way of delivering your company’s message is no longer good enough.

Let’s take a look at how elevator pitches have traditionally been made and how they should evolve to become more effective in today’s selling environment.

The Old Elevator Pitch

The call starts with, “I’m Bob with XYZ Printing. How are you today?” 

The “clever” segue into the sales pitch, assuming we still have the prospect on the line, goes something like this.  “We’re the premier printing company in the area.  We’ve been serving the local market for over 20 years and have the most advanced digital printing equipment in the area.  Our specialty is quick turnaround and competitive pricing.  I’d like to set an appointment to meet with you to show you how we can save you time and money on your next printing project. Would Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning be better for you?”

Does that sound familiar?  It probably does and there are many problems with this approach:

  • “How are you today?”  Every telemarketer in the world starts the call by asking about the prospect’s “well-being.”  While this is an honest attempt at politeness, prospects know you don’t really care, so it comes across as insincere and makes you sound like a telemarketer.
  • The “compelling” pitch by the printing salesperson sounds like the other printing company that called the prospect yesterday.  They said they were the best in town and could save him or her time and money too.  Whom should he or she believe
  • “Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning?”  How many times have we heard that over-used alternative choice close?  Nearly every salesperson uses it.
  • The salesperson wants an appointment but doesn’t want to take the time to find out if there’s any pain.  This is the typical product pusher’s strategy and the prospect knows it.
  • The easy blow off that the prospect can, and often does, use is to say, “Just send me some information about it.”  And you know how sincere that request is.

The New, Improved Elevator Pitch

Never fear, there is a better way. Take a look at this new, improved approach.

This call starts with, “I’m Bob Smith with XZY Printing.  Thanks for taking my call.  Can I take about 20 seconds to tell you why I called, then you can tell me if we need to talk further?”

When you get permission, you say, “I’ll be brief, right to the point.  We’re one of the leading commercial printing companies in the area.  Typically companies switch to us because they’re upset with long turnaround times, concerned about the inconsistent quality of the final product, or frustrated that their printer can’t offer any creative ideas to improve the job.  Are any of these issues for you?”

Or, you may want to give a specific example of how you’ve helped a competitor with a specific pain, something like “We recently helped [competitor’s name] save $2,000 per month on printing fees and reduce their turnaround time to 48 hours. Is this something that would be helpful to your business?”

If the answer is affirmative, you then go on to explore the pain further.

If the answer is negative, you could conclude the call quickly by saying, “Sorry to have bothered you.  Have a good day.”  And make another call.  Remember, you’re trying to find that gold nugget quickly and not waste time with people who are not good prospects.

There are many benefits to this approach:

  • It’s different.
  • You won’t have done anything to destroy rapport.
  • You won’t sound like every other salesperson that calls.

Your ability to differentiate yourself in your initial call with a prospect will dramatically improve your success at developing new business. Try our new and improved elevator pitch for yourself and see how it works for you.

When a client engages us to help their sales staff, we often ask to interview their top performers. Our purpose is to decode their selling DNA and identify the markers that make them so successful. One common thing we’ve found is that top sales performers consistently help their customers to meet their objectives by selling business value.

There are three tactics these top sellers employ to establish value:

  1. Get to the cost of the problem today.  Buyers will face any number of problems. Great sales people help buyers define in totality all the costs those problems bring. The cost may be non-monetary like low morale or frustration, but costs that strike the bottom line are numbers that are heard by every person involved in making the buying decision. When you are the high-priced product in the market, it seems that every buyer asks about prices first. Great sellers shape and frame conversations around the costs of the buyer’s problems, not on the price of their solution.  
  • 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, personal experiences that they share depending on the situation or desired outcome. They share stories when the conversation lulls and the buyer is unable to articulate problems.  Stories have purpose and you begin them by framing who they are about, their problem, a turning point, and a resolution. Stories not only get to problems, they can be used to describe how others use and derive business value from your products. 
  • Summarize the conversation in writing. All sellers tell me that they create meeting summaries, but few do it well. We sell our 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 discussed and value of those solutions, and, of course, the next steps as discussed. This helps the customer and I keep the focus on the problems we are trying to solve. Great sales people don’t rely on memory.  They summarize the meeting conversations by writing it down, sharing it with the customer, and allowing the customer to give feedback.

Have you used any of these techniques to establish value in your sales process? Do you have others you use? We’d love to hear from you.

Referrals are the best way to increase your sales.  When you begin to build your business through referrals, you lessen your dependence on having to make cold calls and other less productive (and frustrating) prospecting activities.  Yet getting qualified referrals is not automatic by any stretch of the imagination.  There is a prerequisite.

The most important concept to understand about referrals is that you must provide outstanding service, superior products and be professional in every way in order for anyone to consider providing you with referrals.  No one will want to refer friends and business associates to you if they are concerned that their referral might have a bad experience with you or your products.

The vast majority of professional salespeople who do provide outstanding service and quality products still do not get nearly the number or quality of referrals that they should, missing out on the easiest way to build their business.  As a result, they work too hard, have to resort to other, less productive, forms of prospecting and their business and income suffers. 

Why Don’t Salespeople Get Referrals?

If referrals are the easiest way to build business, why don’t salespeople get more referrals?  It’s not always due to the lack of quality or professional standards, but rather other factors, and this chapter will address them all.

  1. They don’t ask for them
  2. They don’t know how to ask for them
  3. They don’t tell the referring source what they’re looking for

Our experience is that most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referrals and as a result, when they do, they hear things from the potential referring source like, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do, I’ll call you.” 

When someone asks you for a referral, what is your typical response?  If you normally say, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do…,” then you are very susceptible to having what might be called “referral avoidance empathy” – a belief that your client feels the same way you do.  Then your subconscious thought process goes something like this:  I normally don’t give referrals myself and suspect that he doesn’t either, so why bother asking?  If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re done; it’s over.  No referrals for you.

There’s a lot we could say about referrals, but simply understanding the following will help you improve your referral business.

When to Ask

     The best time to ask for referrals certainly depends on a lot of factors. But here are a few ideas.

  • Set the stage early in the relationship.  (“At some point when you’re totally satisfied with us as a supplier, I’d like to ask you for referrals.  How do you feel about that?”)
  • After you’ve just completed delivery of your solution and your customer is satisfied.  (“Who do you know…?”)

Dos and Don’ts

  • Ask them about their willingness to give you referrals.  Don’t assume they will.
  • Begin the question with “Who do you know that…………….?”  Don’t ask, “Do you know anyone ….?”  It’s too easy for them to say, “I can’t think of anyone right now, but if I do……”
  • Ask to be introduced to their friends and associates.  Don’t ask to be recommended – it puts too much pressure on the prospect and is presumptive.
  • Focus your question on the end result to the client – a benefit or problem you can solve.
  • Phrase the question as though the referring source will be doing the friend a favor.
  • Tell your referring source exactly what you will be doing with the referral.  Don’t forget to keep the referring source informed of your progress.

Click here to read Part 2: including how to ask for a referral, what your ideal client profiles are, how to “upgrade” your referrals, and finally how to give more to get more.

John and the FSS team will be in Rome to work with a global commercial translation services company in the first week of February. Italy will be the 17th country that we have worked in, helping our customers to drive revenue in their approach to the global marketplace.

Rome has it all: history, art, architecture, food and finance, and a great place to gather perspective on the shifting landscape on business from the European continent to the rest of the world.

Would you like to meet with John in Rome? Join him for a cappuccino or plate of pasta to discuss your revenue generation plans, and how to get to the next level of productivity.

Until then, Ciao Bella!