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This guest article was written by Chris Bullick. Chris is a Principal Consultant who is the Creator of the Sales Diagnostic Questionnaire (“SDQ”), he provides analysis and strategy for go to market strategies, corporate messaging, pipeline metrics, relationship building and winning presentations.

I was speaking with a wildly successful colleague recently and she relayed the story of her latest accomplishment.  The company she was selling to was not necessarily in buying mode.  They reached out to a few vendors to conduct general capabilities presentations.  She had never met the buyer.

My friend’s presentation blew the doors off the buyer.  The buyer immediately put the wheels in motion to contract with my friend’s company to provide services to his and they never talked price until the actual closing. 

When I asked my friend what did the trick, she said her team prepared as if it was biggest and most important finalist presentation they had ever participated in.  

Best Practice: Treat every meeting like a finalist presentation.  Learn how to prepare for the big day.

She brought the team who would service the account, the potential account manager, a regional executive and a video from her company’s CEO imbedded into her PowerPoint that was customized for the prospect.  She noted that her biggest competitor was presenting right after her.  They sent one person and she learned later that their presentation was a generic one-page marketing piece. 

Best Practice:  Bring the team.  It’s great practice for those who are not in front of customers every day.  If you don’t win, you still may be setting the table for the future with that prospect.  Learn how to get your whole team comfortable presenting. 

Imagine that!  Allocating resources full bore on a deal with a low probability of success.  Do other organizations do that?  The answer is not many.   A lot of organizations handicap themselves out of deals.  They look in their CRM and see that they have tried to sell to that buyer in the past without success.  They think the buyer is just kicking tires or leveraging them on price.  Another great excuse is they haven’t met the buyer yet.  They place a low percentage of winning in the CRM. 

The organizations that handicap themselves will not allocate resources on a low percentage deal.   They will tell their sales people not to spend so much time on a deal like that, don’t burden marketing, don’t take anyone important and use generic marketing materials.  In doing so, they take the passion, urgency, energy and enthusiasm out of the deal.   They have set themselves up to fail. 

Best Practice: Don’t skimp on preparation and resources. Learn how to prepare the right way and bring the right resources to every meeting.  

Winning companies tell their sales people to jump in with both feet.  It’s alright to drop everything, muster your resources, and prepare with a mindset that you are winning the business right then and there.  When you present with conviction and purpose it reveals your company’s attention to detail, planning and execution.   

It may be February, but we’re still at the beginning of 2021, and many sales executives are laser focused on filling their pipelines for the yearSuccessful sales leaders know that a pipeline filled with qualified opportunities is essential to building sustained and repeatable revenue results, which is ultimately the fuel that drives organizational success. 

But the path to get to a healthy pipeline is not necessarily well understood and includes a number of variables, including the talent of the sales reps, market shifts, government regulations, and the competitive landscape. Despite these factors, there is one element that remains constant – selling skills. In order to have sales reps who successfully fill the pipeline with qualified opportunities, they must know how to identify, qualify, develop opportunities. 

Most sales managers are well versed in deal coaching. This means they know how to help their reps assemble the right mix of product and pricing to meet a customer’s requirements. While this is important, it does not address the fundamental need to understand how well the rep has qualified the opportunity, identified key players, and aligned your product/service offerings to meet the prospect’s business objectives. Each of these three steps requires specific skills, and managers who help their reps improve these skills are ones that will see the biggest impact to their overall sales pipelines and year-end results. 

Want to understand what prevents your sales managers from prioritizing skills coaching? Check this article out. And Look here for tips on successful skills coaching strategies.  

Virtually all the experts would agree that the following mistakes are commonplace when salespeople start to negotiate.  Awareness of these challenges may improve your ability to negotiate considerably.

  • Getting emotionally involved.  This one tops the list because, above all, your attitude toward something determines your success.  If you appear needy, conveying the message to your prospect that you’ll do almost anything to get the business, your prospect will sense this weakness and exploit it.  Avoid statements like, “We’d really like to get this done,” “I need this to make my quota this month,” and “What do we need to do to get you to buy from us?”
  • Making unilateral concessions.  A unilateral concession is agreeing to a prospect’s request too quickly, and without asking for something of equal or greater value in return.  For example, your prospect asks you to lower your price by 5%. Your response is, “Sure, we can do that.”  Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and reflect on what message your response sent. First, he or she is undoubtedly thinking that since you agreed so easily, he or she should have asked for more. Second, he or she knows that since you dropped your prices so easily, you’ve probably overpriced the product or service. This creates doubt about the overall quality of what you’re selling. Finally, you’ve demonstrated your inexperience as a negotiator, opening yourself for more abuse as the negotiation goes on.
  • Not understanding the prospect’s pain and alternatives.  This is your “ace in the hole” and without it, you are defenseless. As we’ve previously mentioned in this book, most salespeople qualify poorly, betting on their powers of persuasion, features, and benefits, and charming personalities to get the job done. That doesn’t work. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to stand your ground if you don’t know what the prospect’s business objectives are, and the downside if the problem is not fixed. Therefore, you must uncover how severe their pain is, how it impacts both the company and the individual you’re negotiating with, and what happens if the problem doesn’t get resolved through negotiations. 
  • Talking too much.  When you are monopolizing the conversation it’s impossible to “read” your customer or learn what their specific needs are. You’re giving information, not receiving it. Falling into this trap is a sure way to lose. 
  • Not understanding your objectives and value items.  Failure to have worked out, in advance, your list of primary (best case) and secondary (fall back) objectives will create confusion and indecision for you. If you don’t, you’ll just end up winging it, which is a surefire road to disaster.

Want to read more about negotiating? Try our earlier blog posts 5 Ways to Turn the Tide When Negotiating and The Art of Making Concessions.

There are six things you should know before rewarding your prospect with a proposal. In order to discover them, you’ll have to conduct a complete qualification of your prospect during the meetings leading up to this point in the sales. Here are the checkpoints. 

1.  You understand the PBOs thoroughly and are able to provide a satisfactory solution.

If you don’t understand the customer’s primary business objectives completely, how can you be sure you can suggest a solution that would be enthusiastically endorsed?

2.  The prospect has to do something – it is NOT an option to keep things the same.

If keeping things the same is an option for the prospect, they might very well select that option.  Problems tend to fall into the “fix it” or “forget it” categories. Unless there’s a compelling reason to change, most find it easier to do nothing.  Find the compelling reason they’d want to go through the hassle of changing suppliers or implementing something new. If they can’t present a compelling case for change, they probably won’t change.

3.  You have access to the decision maker and will make your presentation to him/her. 

You must have access to a decision maker before delivering a proposal. A good rule of thumb is never to make a presentation to someone who can’t say “yes.”  It’s that simple. 

4.  The prospect needs to implement a solution in a time frame that makes sense for you from a business standpoint.

Time kills deals. What’s the point if your prospect doesn’t want to do anything for 18 months? Too much can happen to in the interim to send the deal sideways.

5.  You understand the prospect’s selection criteria, and have a reasonable chance of meeting those criteria successfully. 

What are the top three things they’ll evaluate when selecting a business partner, and why are those things important?  This will give you a good handle on just how good your chances are.  If this is a price-driven deal, for example, and you can’t or won’t compete on price alone, why try to compete at all?  It’s a very competitive world out there and your competitors are trying just as hard to win the business as you are.  You’ve got to know their strengths and weaknesses, how they’re likely to react in certain situations, and how hard they’ll fight for the opportunity that you’re trying to win.

6.  The prospect is considering only a small number of suppliers and is not putting the deal out to every company in the area. 

Generally, “RFPs” are not an optimal type of business to win, since price plays such a major role in the selection process and the opportunity to communicate openly with the prospect is limited. Prospects whose attitude is “the more, the merrier” are more interested in price than a relationship. Finally, increasing the number of options for the prospect decreases your chances of winning.

If you made it through the checklist above with a reasonable chance of proceeding, your job is to now understand what will happen after you deliver the proposal. You must have this conversation BEFORE you provide the information the decision maker is looking for in your proposal. If you wait until after delivering the proposal, you will be in the age-old game of cat and mouse, chasing a decision with endless call backs and delays.

Join John and three other experts on Thursday, April 30th at 4PM EST/1PM PST who will cut to the chase to provide contrarian insights on how to navigate in this new environment. You will get perspectives from Strategic, Financial, Sales and Growth capacities that can be applied straight away to make a difference.

Forget the rest, join the best! See you on Thursday.

John will be discussing how to sell value when everyone else is selling themselves. There will also be 3 other expert speakers. Click on this Zoom Meeting link to register .

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.

“Selling In Uncertain Times” 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 the conversation to get started. Call me directly (858 518-7039) to discuss how we can customize and deliver this for you, or get you ready for 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?”

2. Ask for it. Simply state, “I’ll need to meet with the decision maker.  Can you arrange the meeting?” (I’m confused, why not?)

3. “Company policy.” “It’s company policy that we meet with the decision maker.”  (Maybe it isn’t, but maybe it should be.)

4. 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?”

5. 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?”

6. “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?”

7. 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.

8. 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.

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.

Your sales team is one of the greatest assets your company has. A late businessman, William Clement Stone, once said, “Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect.”  But how do you maintain your company’s strong standing and keep the company moving forward? One way is to turn simple habits into effective sales strategies.

Here are some great practices to help maximize your sales performance:

  1. Analyze Your Success – Don’t wait for the metrics and stats given to you by your manager to track your progress. Analyze each sale and failure to see how you can improve for the next time. Not only will this help you for future sales, but will also show your manager how on top of your work you are. It’s a win-win.
  • Encourage Your Prospects to Engage Before the end of a Meeting – Many sales people wait until the end of a meeting to allot time for questions and comments. Why wait until the end? Tell your prospect at the beginning of the meeting to ask questions or explain their concerns when one arises. This small change can increase your closing ratios significantly.
  • Never Skip a Follow-up Opportunity – Most sales don’t close on the first contact, maybe not even on the second. It can take multiple touches to get your potential clients to trust you and your product. Do not hesitate to follow up. These opportunities just may be your actual sale.
  • Know What You Want – Have a purpose before starting your sales. What goal do you want to achieve? The best sales people know what they want before starting so they know how to manage their buyers and every action they make gets them closer to success.
  • Celebrate – Celebrate after each sale. This is a habit that can be done with the rest of your team. Hang up a bell that you can ring each time you close a deal or find something else to let others know you’ve helped the company get one step closer to your goal. Celebrating is a great way to boost morale.

As a sales rep, you are a key player in your business. Focus on building simple habits that reinforce key selling behaviors and, when implemented, help create effective sales strategies. Are there other habits your sales team uses to maximize performance? We’d love to hear them!