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This is an article on helping your sales reps uncover their prospects’ primary business objectives and the challenges preventing their fulfillment. This discovery phase is critical to helping reps align their products or services as solutions to their customers’ key business challenges.

We will focus on qualification, which involves getting customers to quantify their challenges. Without this critical step, it’s impossible for sales reps to show their prospects the cost of doing nothing and motivate them to make a change.

The following are questions that will help your reps quantify the financial gain customers stand to achieve by using your product or service.

Impact Questions. It is important to elicit from the prospect the impact that the overall pain has on the company and the individuals involved. Understanding the consequences motivates the prospect to take action.

  • “What kinds of problems is this causing for you?”
  • “What impact is it having on sales and profitability?”
  • “Seems like this might affect….., does it?  Can you tell me more?”
  • “What happens if it doesn’t get fixed?”
  • “Who else is involved or impacted?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “I’m under a lot of pressure to turn sales around and we’re having to offer discounts to move product. Our margins are down by 20%.”
  • “It’s affecting our ability to meet our customers’ expectations.  We’re starting to lose business.”

Commitment Questions. Commitment questions help determine how important it is to rectify the situation and what action the prospect might take if you were able to provide a solution that they felt would work.  Although they might have a problem, it’s wrong to assume they are committed or have a budget to fix it.

Ask questions like these to see how strong their commitment is:

  • “How important is it to fix this problem?”
  • “What priority is it to fix the problem?”
  • “Is doing nothing an option?”

How will you feel when your prospect starts to say things like this?

  • “We’d want to get started as soon as possible.”
  • “We’d be willing to start switching some of our business over by (date) if we felt you could do the job.”

Budgetary Questions. These questions that will help you uncover what kind of budget your prospect has to fix the problem.

  • “Do you have a budget to take care of the problem?  What would it be, approximately?”
  •  “Assuming we could make the problem go away, how much would you be willing to invest to fix a $_________ problem?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “We have a $200,000 budget for training and development.”
  • “Our server outage is costing us over $1 million annually, so we’re willing to invest quite a bit if we were confident the new solution will decrease downtime by 99%.”

These financial questions will help your sales reps complete a critical final step in the qualification process – getting their prospects to put a dollar value to the challenges they’re facing and discuss what kind of budget they have available to fix them.

Many sales reps lose opportunities not because they have poor presentation or negotiation skills, but more often because they have not done a thorough job understanding their prospects’ primary business objectives and challenges.

In order to maximize their chances of success, the best reps don’t force feed objectives, challenges and budgets to their prospects, but use a series of intelligent questions to encourage their prospects to come up with these on their own. As a sales professional, your credibility comes from the kinds of questions you ask, and your success depends upon your ability to help your customer achieve their objectives.

 

People are most convinced by ideas they themselves originate, 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. 

Open Questions.  Your prospect has discussed his primary business objective – now how do you get him talking about why he’s not able to accomplish 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 what’s causing the disparity.  Typically, there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve. 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, your sales reps should be able to encourage prospects to fully define their key challenges, which is a critical first step in the qualifying process. 

           

This is a question I often ask Sales Managers. 

Many of them respond that they do on the grounds of fairness. They try to distribute their time evenly between all team members and provide similar opportunities for coaching and development. 

While I appreciate the intent, I disagree with the practice. At the end of the day, being a great sales manager doesn’t lie in giving your reps a similar dose of the same medicine, but rather in tailoring your prescription to each individual, even though it will likely result in a disproportionate amount of your time and energy spent with some reps and not with others. 

Here’s what I recommend: 

First, divide your team into thirds in order of performance – top 10%, middle 60% and bottom 30%. Many managers find this exercise difficult, as they’re reluctant to label certain reps as bottom performers. But it’s a critical first step in optimizing your coaching time

Next, allocate your time with each rep according to his or her grouping. 

Contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of your time should not be spent with the top performers (because they’re the most valuable), nor should it be spent with the bottom performers (because they have the most room for improvement). It should actually be spent with the middle 60%. The middle performers are the group that has the most to gain from focused skills coaching, and statistically speaking it’s with this group that you will see the biggest performance lift. 

Of course, you should still allocate time for your top performers. But your time with this group should be spent focused on retention rather than skills coaching – are they happy in their current positions? Is there anything you can do to make their jobs better? Where do they see themselves three years from now? 

Very little time should be spent with bottom performers. These sales reps can be an extreme “time suck” with very little payoff, and allocating the bulk of your time to coach the bottom tier very seldom translates into sales results. 

So, is this a fair management strategy? Maybe not. But it is effective. It allows you to align your time and talents with the sales reps that stand to make the biggest gains, thus improving your ability to impact overall team performance and revenue generation. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you were hired to do? 

Is there a “right” way to sell? Perhaps. But, if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change in a flash and the “right” way may no longer work. 

In my role as asales trainerand consultant these past 16 years, I’ve seen a constantly changing new twist and turn on the “right” way to sell in light of current economic conditions. Personally, I have worked through four popular sales methodologies in my career: SPIN Selling, Miller Heiman, Solution Selling, and Customer Centric Selling. 

Admittedly, each of those methodologies provides an excellent framework for helping enterprise sales organizations understand how to organize themselves and face the market. However, the one aspect that has regularly challenged my clients is that these programs often have components that are too complex to use in a practical format. 

During many of the conversations I have with sales and executive leaders, I’m regularly told that they have “tried” two, three, or sometimes even four different methodologies but none of them worked. They just didn’t stick. What I hear loud and clear is that they want something that’s their own, a sales process that reflects how their customers buy, aligned with the tools and skills that their sales people can use to excel. 

The ultimate goal of a sales process in any organization is to help drive more revenue. Is there a right way to sell? I’d say yes. But it needs to be what’s right for your organization and sales team. And a popular sales methodology might not be the answer—especially when the economy takes a turn for the better or worse. On the other hand, a customizedsales processmight be a perfect fit. 

 

All of our clients have made some investments in their sales organization. Whether it be money spent on sales training, a time and territory management offering, or an outing for team-building, many companies are making important investments in their people. However, one disconnect we see is that while companies are willing to spend money up front, they don’t always do the follow-up work needed to reinforce the lessons learned.

One area in which many companies have invested is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. While their potential is invaluable, it’s clear that CRMs are not being used as tools to optimize the dollars spent in their people. Here are three questions to assess your sales training optimization as expressed through your CRM.

  1. Do tools reflect the steps in the sales process and promote the common vernacular used in training so everyone speaks the same language? Matthew J. Boyle, marketing director at a Massachusetts accounting and consulting firm, describes this scenario, “When employees manage their own contact information and share it unsystematically, data-quality issues proliferate, and compiling and sorting correct, current information becomes an immense task. This can result in a firm that functions like several different small practices under one roof instead of a cohesive whole.” CRM’s customized with company-wide vernacular can help.
  • How do salespeople internalize their customer’s needs and what steps are necessary to complete the sale? This can be laid out in a CRM as well. If companies were better at defining and following up on sales steps within their CRM, training would be internalized and wins would increase. For example, salespeople could attach the follow-up letter outlining their sales meeting. That way, managers could coach to the correspondence, communication skills would increase, forecasting accuracy would improve, and trends could be analyzed.
  • How do you coach through the information in your CRM?  Organizations can all have the same training experience, yet inevitably skill levels will still vary dramatically. With a CRM based on a well-defined sales process, management will be able to quickly assess where individual development is needed. For example, a CRM would show that a salesperson has sent samples to a prospect. This is useful information, but it can also show that there has been no meeting or discussion of that prospect’s needs prior to the samples being sent. Product sent to a client before goals are shared is money down the drain. A manager could see this and use it as a coaching opportunity to reinforce the skills taught in training.

Like all good relationships, the match between training and the CRM is reciprocal. We help companies maximize their training dollars and dollars spent on CRMs by making sure both systems are optimized and well-integrated. Let us help your company design and implement a sales process that is optimized through your current CRM.

We have a lot of exciting things to look forward to in 2020. One of my personal favorites is the Summer Olympics, which are coming to Tokyo this July. The event I’m most looking forward to is the 4×100-meter relay race. This is consistently one of the most popular events in the Olympics for both spectators and tv audiences alike. It’s an athletic endeavor which combines both speed and endurance, great individual performances as well as cohesive teamwork.

I was recently thinking that the 4×100 relay can be compared to a great sales process. How? Keep reading: 

  1. Leg 1 – REFINE: The opening leg of a relay is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important stages of the race. It’s critical for runners to get out of the blocks quickly to establish their team’s position. Similarly, the “Refine” stage of a sales process is where sales teams hone the steps they will take to build a steady, repeatable revenue stream. This includes how leads are generated and moved through the sales funnel.
  • Leg 2 – BUILD: The second leg of the relay is where runners build a steady, consistent pace in order to hold onto their positions. The runners are taking inventory of their positions, maintaining steady speed and lining things up for a clean handoff.
  • Leg 3 – DELIVER: In the third leg, runners rely on stamina in order to set their teams up for the best chance to win in the final leg. Getting ready for that transition to win is critical to delivering the best case possible for success in the end.
  • Leg 4 – REINFORCE: The final leg is where relays are won and lost. The first three legs may go well, but if runners in the anchor position don’t finish strong, their teams won’t come out on top.  In the same way, your sales team may have a solid sales process, but without ongoing reinforcement of sales skills, your overall performance will fall short. Sales managers must be equipped to provide timely, personalized rep coaching to reinforce the skills needed to consistently meet and exceed sales targets.

Like the talented athletes that will make up Team USA’s 4×100-meter relay teams this summer, your sales teams will rely on certain strategies to ensure success. One of the most critical is a well-defined sales process that will help sales teams get off the blocks quickly and maintain their stamina all the way to the finish line.

For more on ways sales process drives revenue, click here.

What does it mean to giver buyers permission to buy? Dictionary.com defines permission as “authorization granted to do something; formal consent.”

As a salesperson, you might not think you need to give buyers permission to buy. They are free to do what they want: buy or not buy, buy from you or buy from your competitor. Where does the concept of permission come in?

It’s not actually permission from you. It’s you as the salesperson helping the buyer to give themselves permission to make the purchase.

Buyers are often more sophisticated than sellers give them credit for. They are also more risk adverse and they will second guess their decisions. Simply stated, buyers are not going to buy until they are comfortable that they have all the information they need to make a good decision.

You as the salesperson can help them get to that point. Here are five ways you can help the buyer give themselves permission to buy from you by ensuring they believe they have all the information they need:

  1. Understand their needs. As you get to know the buyer, ask targeted questions that will help you really understand their needs and the problem they are trying to solve. Use active listening skills and repeat back to the buyer what you think they are saying so they know they are heard.
  1. Build trust. Buyers won’t buy from a salesperson they don’t trust. If a buyer senses the seller is genuinely interested in helping them address a need, he or she is much more receptive to sharing information when asked questions, as well as more likely to trust the salesperson. When a seller appears to be pressuring the buyer to make a decision, the buyer becomes wary of the seller’s intentions and may defer the decision or say no.
  1. Help buyer discover the solution themselves. By building trust and asking the right questions, you will be able to paint an accurate picture of how the buyer will use your product to solve their problem. They need to get to the “aha” moment when they can actually picture who will use the product and how.
  1. Establish value to overcome barriers. Buyers will have barriers based on value. They will do research online on their own to overcome enough of these barriers to be willing to engage in a conversation with a seller—and this conversation is critical. According to an article at com, “Forrester research indicates that the conversation with sales reps is still a strong source of buyer influence.” Once in the conversation, the seller must understand what the buyer perceives as value of the product and build more value on that basis to overcome additional barriers.
  1. The cost of NOT doing business today. There was a time when sellers were encouraged to close early and often. In today’s tight market place, this approach no longer works. Buyers are increasingly risk adverse and decision making has expanded to include a larger group of people. When a salesperson can help the buyer calculate how much waiting will cost them in a week’s time, a month’s time or a year’s time, that dollar value will help underscore the need to close quickly.

As a seller, you’re not the one granting permission to the buyer to buy. But you can help the buyer to give themselves this permission with these five tips.

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By one definition, process is “a series of steps with input and output.” Whether you are aware of it or not, process impacts our lives from the moment we are born. My kids go through a process to get out the door to school every morning. The orange juice they drank also went through a process to get to the table. Their teachers go through the process to advance their learning over a year’s time. All these processes are designed to get a predictable outcome.

In business, a well-defined sales process can lead to year in, year out predictable revenue. Wall Street rewards public companies based on their ability to annually predict their earnings. Some miss wildly and some are spot on. How can this be achieved? Look to the sales process, the organizational engine that generates the revenue. Here are few ways that sales process can help to generate revenue more effectively:

1. Use objective criteria – once defined, a sales process provides objective criteria and the framework to make decisions. Say a sales group is underperforming. What numbers or facts are available through sales process to pinpoint the problem? From the pipeline or opportunity review standpoint, there are specific data points you can rely on for analysis. Is it in the types of clients you are calling on? Are your sellers getting stuck in prolonged evaluations that never yield a decision? Or is it in the close ratio? It may not matter where the problem is, what really matters is that you are able to look at each problem objectively with certain criteria and then correct the course.

2. Allocate human and technological resources – How much should we spend to hire and train people? Or how much should be invested in CRM or other sophisticated software tailored to my business? As you pinpoint where bottlenecks exist, the lens you look through will help to determine if people or technology is needed to help improve. On the front end of the process, many solid lead generation services exist to help identify qualified opportunities. It’s my experience that the challenges towards the end of the selling process come in the form of the skills of the seller, or ability to effectively negotiate and close.

3. Increase visibility into new areas for growth – This may be viewed as an ethereal, strategic choice based on gut feel and economic trends, but hard data is needed for this process as well. Sales process delivers the hard data on what types of customers are attracted to your product, and why they are attracted. If this data not captured in a consistent way, then the top management loses connectivity and an ability to analyze trends with proper perspective.

Agree or not, process is King. I have this discussion with sales professionals from all industries . We learn how each person implements process in their industry, what’s working and what’s not. Broaden your understanding, challenge your thinking and, hopefully, define or refine your sales process. Tonight at home, however, I’ll be taking my queues from the process Queen. When the process Queen is happy we are all happy. It’s also my home recipe for predictable success.

Flannery Sales Systems (www.drive-revenue.com) helps organizations define or refine and implement a repeatable sales process. Increasing revenue through sales process is the ultimate goal. Flannery Sales Systems works with a broad cross section of industries and we are confident we can enhance your results.

If your sales conversations with buyers seem too focused on price, they probably are. Why is that happening? Because the buyer only sees what you’re selling as a commodity, meaning interchangeable goods indistinguishable from the competition’s.

In a buyer-seller relationship, the verb commoditize often applies. It’s what the buyer tries to do to you during a sales cycle, to make you think that your product or service is interchangeable with other brands so they can beat you up on price.

Does that sound familiar? Probably! No matter what you’re selling, at some point in the sales cycle, usually near the end after the deal is forecast to close at “the end of this quarter,” the buyer starts treating your product or service and even YOU as a commodity. You will suddenly hear them say things like, “I can get the same thing elsewhere for a lower price.” They would happily replace you too as well with a different salesperson. That is unless, of course, you’ll admit that they are right by discounting the price.

How Buyers Get the Seller to Only Talk About Price

You know that your products or services aren’t the same as the competition’s, but you probably find yourself in this price-focused situation more often than you would like. And now you’re “buying in” to the idea that yes, it is just a commodity you’re selling. Buyers repeatedly tell you that the criterion for product or service selection in your industry is based on “best price,” so you’ve become convinced that you have to discount in order to win business. And now you too are price-focused.

Here’s what typically happens: You meet with a potential customer, anxious to describe or demonstrate the high-quality, amazing, customer-friendly, popular, easy-to-use, etc. capabilities and benefits of your offering. The customer seems interested and asks you for a price quote. Back at the office, you convince your manager that you could “win this” if she’d just discount a little bit.

What has happened? You let the buyer make it about price and you fell for the idea that you’re only selling a commodity. You were guilty of prescribing your products or services without first diagnosing the unique needs of the person you were talking to. And that’s a form of selling malpractice. You accepted the product or service and even yourself as a “me-too” solution, allowing commoditization to occur.nAt Flannery Sales Systems, we’ve heard stories like these for years, in every industry we have worked in.

You set yourself up as a commodity by failing to position the unique capabilities of your offering in order to differentiate your product or service within a competitive environment. Your customers didn’t have the experience to know what separated you from your competitor. It was your job to assist them in making a valuable connection between their needs and your unique selling proposition so they could see that your organization could provide them with something that the competition couldn’t. You missed the opportunity to win.

Differentiation Takes the Conversation Away from Price

Flannery Sales Systems helps organizations develop a process for diagnosing the potential needs and objectives of target customers, and providing those customers with specific objectives that they should be focused on in their industry. In doing so, we can help you position your unique products or services in a way that a potential customer will see your differentiator as a “must have,” avoiding the “It’s all the same to me” scenario. You have the option: position your own goods, or your competition will do it for you, and you’ll end up with the limited options of discount or be dismissed.

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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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