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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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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.

Every spring, I get calls from friends with children who are graduating from college. It’s an exciting time for the parents and the graduates. During these calls, after we complete the small talk of catching up, the parent will usually tell me that their son or daughter is “good at working with people” and therefore would be a good fit for a career in sales. While being good with people may be one characteristic that can help in sales, a solid sales career requires much more than being an interested extrovert.

There are three key pieces required to success in sales. These concepts were important when I started my career cold calling for Pitney Bowes in 1987, but the collective notion was solidified by my colleague, mentor and friend Gerhard Gschwandtner at a conference he conducted in 2015 in San Francisco. The three are skills set, tool set and mindset.

A leader in the sales industry and the CEO of Selling Power, Gschwandtner says, “It’s all about creating the right mindset, building the right skills set and selecting the right tool set.”

Two of these are easily attained. For the skills set, a fledgling salesperson can get training to learn the skills needed. Sales skills might include negotiating, communication, active listening or closing skills. For the tool set, sales tools can be bought or acquired. Sales tools can include a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, marketing automation, or video conferencing.

But the mindset cannot be learned or purchased. And the mindset has to come first. As the saying goes, your attitude determines your altitude.

You need the right mindset to achieve peak performance. In an article published on LinkedIn, Gschwandtner says happy salespeople sell 38% more, and that people with a positive mindset live on average 7.5 years longer. The right mindset can boost your confidence, change your negative thinking into positive thoughts, increase your energy level, and reduce your stress. With the right mindset, you have a much better chance of achieving your sales goals and you can make better use of your learned skills and purchased tools.

If you want to succeed in sales, get the right mindset. You can learn the skills. You can get the tools. But without the right mindset, neither the skills nor the tools will do you much good.

If you’re investing in sales training, make sure your time and money are well spent. Plenty of service providers promise to take your team to the next level and hey, they’re in sales so they’re convincing. But you don’t have time to waste. So use the criteria below when choosing a service provider, to make sure you’ll get training that’s comprehensive, actionable and long-lasting. 

  1. Instruction: Look for sales training that includes stages, tools, skills, and how the sales process is reflected in the CRM. Try to avoid sales training that relies on an instructor doing all the talking and instead look for training that is interactive. Training that includes role playing and a participative format will help attendees learn, practice and share with one another before deployment in the field.   
  2. Accountability: For success, there needs to be clear direction from the managers to the reps on what’s expected, what’s to be accomplished, and the metrics that will be the window into achievement. If this is lacking in your organization, look for a service provider that can provide training in accountability.  
  3. Measurement/Metrics: What are the reportable pieces of data that will help in the new commercial strategy to get the most qualified customers into the pipeline? Training should also teach that the metrics must be clearly defined and realistic to achieving goals—as well as how to make that happen.  
  4. Reinforce and Reassess Through Coaching: Rather than send your sales team through training and leave it at that, look for a service provider that offers follow-up coaching to make sure lessons stick and to answer any questions that come up later when the sales team is implementing the new process and training. 
  5.  Online Learning Platform (OLP): Repetition is the key to success in learning new skills and modifying sales behavior. An OLP gives your team the opportunity to revisit lessons as needed after the training is over. 
  6. Sales Managers’ Development and Accountability: Sales managers should also receive training to prepare them to act as coaches for the sales team members.  

A lot depends on the effectiveness of your sales team. Make sure the training they get is effective too by using these criteria when choosing a service provider.  

Negotiations are part of the sales process, but they aren’t necessarily straightforward, especially because there is a buyer on the other end with his or her own motivations and needs. And sometimes that buyer has done some homework and is ready to make your job harder. But you can go into a negotiation with an upper hand simply by preparing ahead of time using these tips to turn the tide.

1. Do your research. Know as much information about the company you’re negotiating with as well as the individuals involved in the process. Information is power. Know what’s at stake for all parties. When you know the other side’s needs and intentions, you gain an upper hand in negotiations and might walk out with a better deal. In fact, you’re not prepared to negotiate until you thoroughly understand the other side, and why they’re “in it.” Do your research ahead of time to learn:

  • The company’s goals, pressures, options during negotiations
  • The negotiators’ personal goals, pressures, options
  • Their bottom line
  • What will happen if they decide to walk away from the negotiations?
  • What are they willing to concede?

2. Know your position. In addition to understand the buyer, understand where you’re coming from. Why are you involved in the negotiation and what do you expect to achieve? Be absolutely certain what your stance would be in the following scenarios:

  • Best-case scenario. What does your ideal outcome look like? Is it acceptable to the other parties involved? This may be a pipedream, but you could also get lucky.
  • Worstcase scenario. What is the worst possible circumstance in which you will still sign the deal and do business? In other words, what is your bottom line?
  • Anticipated/expected scenario. What is the most probable result? What conditions/concessions might be involved to achieve this result?
  • Break point. At what point will you get up and leave the negotiations? This point is important because it distinguishes what is a good deal vs. a bad deal for your organization. It is an absolute limit on what you’re willing to accept as a reasonable deal.
  • Backup plan. What’s your alternative to signing a deal? What will you do if you can’t reach an agreement? Having a backup plan is a powerful mechanism that will alleviate the pressure to make a deal.

3. Set the tone of the negotiation by speaking first. You can set the tone for the meeting even before it happens by using a meeting agreement to establish the structure for the meeting. The meeting agreement should include the time, the agenda and the outcome that you want to manage the meeting to. Then when the meeting starts, speak first. “When we’re through today, what would be a great result for you?” would be a good question to start with.

4. Ask more questions. By asking the more questions than the buyer, you’ll determine the content and direction of the negotiation.You control the negotiation by asking questions and listening, not by monopolizing the conversation. Try to get the prospect to complete a shopping list of his or her personal and organizational needs and understand exactly what he or she wants. Remember that information is power.

5. Don’t argue. Even when you believe you are right, it’s not appropriate to argue with the other players. An argument will hurt any rapport you might have developed and sow the seeds for failure. Negotiating successfully depends on a collaborative effort to share information, not on trying to prove who is right or wrong.

Just as you’re entering the negotiations with a set goal, so is the buyer. The more you can know about that buyer and your own motivations, the stronger your position. And you can maintain that upper hand by setting the tone and asking the questions.

This month John was fortunate enough to see the Rolling Stones in concert at Lincoln Financial Center in Philadelphia. He originally saw them here 38 years ago and has seen them 27 times since. Take a listen to what he has to share.

The use of stories to transfer information has been around as long as humans have walked upright and used language to communicate. Even before we had a written language, humans have used stories to teach, to entertain and to track their histories. We are innately drawn to stories as a result, even in the digital age. That makes storytelling a compelling method for the sales person to master, both the engage prospects and discover opportunities.  

Using Stories in Sales 

The use of storytelling in sales can help a sales person enter into a dialogue with a prospect to connect with them before going into a questioning sequence. There should be some situational fluency exercised by the seller to get to the primary business objectives that the prospect or customer would like to discuss.  

We encourage our customers to enable their sales people to be ready to share a story at any point in early opportunity development, as it is a powerful way to introduce ideas, and then get the prospect to speak. However, it’s not enough to simply tell your sales people to tell stories. They need to be trained in an approach in order to be effective.  

The STAR Story 

We suggest using a storytelling format called the STAR Story. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Trial, Ah-ha, and Result. Each element is explained below:  

  • The Situation helps to set the stage for the rest of the information you will share as part of your story. It describes the environment that another customer was in when you first met them as a prospect. This narrative should be described in a way that the person you are speaking to can relate to in a similar capacity, by job title or the role that they play in their organization, or by the business environment that was unfolding.  
  • The Trial part of the story describes the challenges(s) that your other customer was facing during the situation described above.  
  • The “Ah-ha” moment is the part of the story when your customer made the connection to the capabilities or solution that you offered as a way to solve their challenges.  
  • The Result is the positive outcome that you helped your customer to accomplish. Be specific in your description of the quantifiable outcomes that resulted, whether it was monetary, a percentage increase, a numeric value improvement or a morale lift. 

Stories are told to transfer information. They demonstrate to the prospect that you have insight into their industry, and have helped others to meet their primary business objectives. But they also generate interest because stories appeal to people. A story can make possible a dialog that you might not otherwise be able to enter into with a prospect.  

Ask to Hear Their Story too 

Conversely, you should also try to have the prospect share their story with you. In this way, you can learn more about their business objectives and challenges, and the capabilities they are looking for to improve their results. And since we all like stories—both telling them and listening to them—this exchange should do a lot to move your relationship with the prospect forward, either closer to a sale or closer to realizing this is not a solid lead after all.  

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.  

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.