Two Ears and One Mouth: Equipment for Sales Success!
In a recent Sales Best Practices Group discussion on Linkedin.com, discussion leader, Craig J. Lewis, asked, "What is the #1 most critical mistake that sales people make in the sales process" and "in your opinion, what is the solution?"
As of the date of this writing, Mr. Lewis' discussion stimulated 147 responses. 147!! Opinions on the #1 most critical mistake varied greatly. However, one common thread wove it's way through all of the responses: lack of listening caused by too much talking. In fact, over 30% of the contributors directly mentioned this as the #1 mistake that sales people make in the sales process. Many others mentioned related issues, such as:
- Failure to uncover real pain/needs
- Inability to conduct a discussion at higher levels
- Lack of planning
As Jay Millburn, Regional Aftermarket Sales Manager for RUSH Enterprises, puts it, "Many times the first instinct, even with sales veterans, is to tell the prospect how wonderful we are."
While this discussion was fascinating, very few of the contributors and "experts" provided solutions to the #1 mistakes listed. Maybe they didn't see the last part of the question, "In your opinion, what is the solution?" In other words, for sales bloviators, "How do we stop the talking and start the listening?"
The Real Problem With Sales Bloviators
Years ago in graduate school, one of my professors explained that in order to provide a solution, one must sort through the symptoms to the real problem. Sales bloviating is a symptom of a deeper problem. That problem is "lack of preparation."
Put another way, when unprepared, many salespeople try to dazzle the prospect with brilliance, baffle them with baloney, or overwhelm them with content free (as far as the prospect/customers are concerned it's content free) exuberance. These "sales bloviators" mistakenly believe three sales myths:
1. When they are talking (dumping) they are in control
2. Talk shows expertise
3. Bloviating is a substitute for real dialogue
The Cure for The "Sales Bloviator"
1. Change your terminology from "sales call" to "sales interview."
2. Embed the philosophy of "70/20/10." 70% listening; 20% questioning; and 10% telling
3. Sales Managers:
A. Focus on this formula during field observations and post-interview "curb-side coaching."
B. Demand a written pre-call plan on all prospective customer and key customer calls, especially the ones that you will be observing.
4. Sales Representatives:
A. Conduct a candid post-interview self-assessment based upon the "70/20/10" rule.
B. Perform due diligence research on your prospects and key customers.
C. Using the due diligence results, prepare a written pre-call plan.
Aids In Curing The "Sales Bloviator"
Is it expecting too much to ask a professional salesperson or business development professional to expend 3 to 5 minutes per customer to build higher probability for sales success?
If you believe that preparation is an aid in curing your sales bloviators, click here for a free Guide to Precall Planning.
If you would like to see the latest technology solution to alleviate sales bloviating, click here for a brief, live demonstration. Is 20 minutes of your time worth turning sales bloviating into sales success?
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Last year, you made a proposal to your senior management to invest in a software application that you believed would provide your sales team the horsepower to take them to the next level. Your proposal was unanimously and enthusiastically approved and you were told to "run with it."
Working with your IT and sales teams, you proceeded on implementation of the application. There were a few bumps in the road but your team appeared to embrace the application at your on-line kick-off session. A few of them were quiet but were the ones who were typically reserved.
After several months, the application's usage statistics looked promising but there were some laggards. You drilled down on the stats and found it was the ones who were quiet during your kick-off presentation. You then followed up with each and identified their obstacles. Some had clear cases of "application anxiety" while others were "reluctant adopters" who got by with the absolute minimum by just "going through the motions" by logging on sporadically and infrequently.
You had your IT people follow up with the "application anxiety" crowd to address their issues, which were largely technical. You got together with the "reluctant adopters," explaining how their consistent usage of the app would make them more productive and, at the end of the day, they'd have more money in their pocket. You also emphasized how the application wasn't a "make-work" project or a management control mechanism to "spy on them." You'd heard those stories through the grapevine.
Because of the laggards, your ramp-up and full implementation of the application was delayed by a full quarter and the project exceeded budget, which raised some eyebrows in your management ranks.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, here are some steps to take early on to avoid the laggards from dragging down your implementation:
- Establish and publish enterprise-wide acceptable usage standards and eliminate any "loopholes" which enable non-participation.
- Embed application usage within your sales team's job description along with appropriate notification/acknowledgement. This sends a clear message of "What's expected will be inspected."
- Include usage as a measurable performance expectation in the performance appraisals including inclusion in all of your formal written policies.
- Engage users consistently during the early phase of your implementation and listen carefully for any negativity or poor attitudes. If encountered, isolate and address them immediately. If you don't, your project goals will be stalled and delayed.
- Identify and circulate user "success stories" frequently throughout the initial implementation; the more the better.
- Draft a sales automation policy defining the standards and expectations for application usage and stress how that usage is mandatory, not optional.
Remember it's all about EXPECTATIONS and ACCOUNTABILITY. As a manager, it's up to you to clearly communicate consequences for lapses in adapting to any new application.
Photo credit: Pink Chick
New Metric Belongs On Your Sales Management Dashboard
There are four primary, key metrics that belong on YOUR company's sales management dashboard:
- Actual sales vs. forecast
- Gross margin vs. forecast
- New business dollars (includes new accounts)
- Sales Efficiency Index
The first three are no doubt on your dashboard already. So, what is the Sales Efficiency Index and why is it so important?
What Is The Sales Efficiency Index (SEI)?
To begin, let's examine the fundamental meanings of "efficiency."
1. Competency in performance (sales performance)
2. Accomplishment of performance vs. the cost of accomplishment
3. Ratio of output vs. input
Quite simply put, YOUR SEI is the output (measured in gross profit) of your sales team, collective or individual, compared against the total input (measured in dollar cost) of your sales team, collective or individual.
Why Is SEI So Important That It NEEDS To Be On YOUR Sales Management Dashboard?
- It is the one and only measurement of true sales efficiency and return on investment in your sales team, collective or individual.
- It is the only metric that exhibits cost of the sales team, collective or individual, vs. what that cost produced in profit.
- SEI is the only impartial, unbiased, true measure of YOUR return on investment in your sales team/individual.
- It is the best comparative measurement in stack rankings (regional teams and individuals).
- SEI is the only true measurement of how effectively YOUR sales managers are utilizing YOUR investment in YOUR sales team. It is an excellent measure of "management prowess."
Your SEI is purely quantitative. It is much more meaningful than most metrics because it does take into consideration sales production (in the form of gross profit) and what YOU have invested to get that production.
How Often Should I Calculate MY SEI?
The answer to that question is determined by the other metrics displayed on your sales dashboard. "Best practices" dictate YOUR SEI should be calculated monthly, quarterly, and annually.
Besides Sales Efficiency, What Other Uses Are There For MY SEI?
Since this is a true measure of return on investment, YOUR SEI is very useful for:
- Compensation plan modeling
- Account and territory alignment
- Management evaluation
- Fringe benefit changes and their impact on ROI
- Gross margin analysis
How Interested Is Your TOP Management In Seeing Their Return on Investment In YOUR Sales Team?
Blog format is not conducive to displaying the electronic calculation for YOUR Sales Efficiency Index. If you would like to have a free, no-obligation calculation and explanation, please click here.
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Solving crimes and selling have something in common?
"Absolutely," answered Rick Huffman. "In fact, I bet there is more in common with crime investigation best practices and selling than you would ever think," he continued. Mr. Huffman speaks from experience because not only is he a retired police detective and insurance private investigator, but his wife, Linda, is the owner of a top producing real estate business in Florida.
Both selling and solving crimes are process oriented.
Solving crimes Selling
1. Identify potential suspects Same thing
2. Find out everything you can Same thing
about them - "use whatever
source of information is available"
3. Profile the suspects Same thing
4. Develop "case specific questions" Same thing
Detectives attend a "what, when,
where, how, why school" in their
5. Conduct suspect interview We qualify suspects
A. Technique varies by Us too
suspect's behavioral style
B. Establish rapport We do that
C. Pace your questions to the We do that, too
time you have available
D. Plan your questioning to We'd better do this
test the veracity of your suspect
E. Always end on a positive note Absolutely
6. Building the case
A. Establish motivation We want to learn &
(obvious and hidden) present what's in it
B. Determine if the suspect Need/Want/$
was/is capable of doing the
C. Tie the consequences of the Tie their benefits to
crime to what they have our solution, both
at stake...their freedom business and career
Adaptability and Urgency
Mr. Huffman goes on to say that successful crime investigation depends upon two key factors: adaptability and urgency. That is so true about top producing salespeople.
Is your sales process conducive to you becoming a SUCCESSFUL SALES DETECTIVE?
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Given the current reality of an "employer's market" you thought it was going to be easy to hire a new sales rep.
You and your recruiting team spent hours scanning resumes. For a few days, you were getting around 100 a day in response to your online posting.
Undaunted, you plowed through them to select ones for initial phone and later face-to-face interviews.
The interview process was lengthy and time consuming and your hire decision was challenging. You had to choose between several strong candidates who had winning track records in sales as well as glowing references. You wanted to hire them all.
Finally, you chose one who you believed had the smarts, energy, skills and drive to be your next "A Player." In the following weeks, your new rep was put through the paces learning the 4 "P's" - process, product, procedures and practices - in your new hire training program. After that, your new rep will be equipped and ready to hit the ground running and start bringing in the sales.
This period, the timeframe following when a new sales rep has completed their training and starts calling on accounts, is generally referred to as the "ramp-up time," where they're still finding their way around. It is a crucial transition period when your new rep is absorbing and mastering your sales practices, environment and culture, all of which will impact the rep's future success or failure.
It's also a timeframe requiring as much of your time, if not more, than the recruiting effort did. You will need to be observing and coaching your new rep as closely and frequently as possible.
Where do you get the time to do that? You can't be on every call but want to be sure your new rep maintains the momentum toward attaining their sales goals.
You may be thinking about using one of your top "A Players" to mentor your new hire, but that unfortunately takes them away from their primary objective of making sales.
A very strong and time-effective solution is to instill pre-call planning throughout your sales organization. Your pre-call planning effort should incorporate the "best practices" of your sales process and identify all of the steps and activities that will furnish your new rep with a road map to success.
Your first step in accomplishing that is to download our free Guide to Pre-Call Planning which will introduce the benefits of pre-call planning across your sales organization.
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A Brief Review From Last Week
The key points from last week's discussion were:
- TOP is an acronym for The Opportunity Producer
- TOP is similar to the "C" level concept, but TOP may or may not be in the "C" level suite.
- In many large accounts, although it's preferable to call on the "C" level, you may not be able to get there. Therefore, TOP is the highest person that you can reach within your customers/prospects' organizations.
- We advocate calling on your TOPs because they: are less price focused and more solution focused; tend to be decision-makers; can shorten your sales cycle.
- TOPs are strategic thinkers and want you to be prepared when you meet.
For the full article from last week, click here
Making Your Initial Meeting with TOP Count!!
Okay, you've made the appointment with your customer's TOP (The Opportunity Producer), now what is the best way to prepare?
Step #1: Create a written list of Unique Selling Propositions that end with the focus on TOP's bottom line.
Example: Mr./Ms. TOP, we are the only company with pre-sales engineers with industry specific experience. What that means to you, Mr./Ms. Top is a time savings in project completion, thereby reducing YOUR cost.
Step #2: Develop 2 written open-ended questions around the following topics:
TOP's role in the decision-making process
Improving TOP's bottom line or budget success
Key problem areas (both inside and outside your realm)
Your role in helping TOP grow business (improve efficiency or increase gross margins, etc.)
Example: Ms. TOP, since your #1 priority is to improve efficiency, what kind of solutions do you expect from companies like ours?
TOP's perception of your organization
Issues that would keep TOP from achieving his/her goals
Step #3: Write down the tough questions that you anticipate TOP will ask. Then go back and write down how you would answer them.
Example: (TOP) Tell me how you handle situations where my employees may not buy into your solution? (YOU) Great question, Mr. TOP! Give me a few more specifics so that I may address your concern better.
Step #4: Craft a written list of possible objections/issues/concerns that TOP may have about moving forward with you. Include any possible ways of overcoming those objections. Our experience shows that you may hear these objections from TOP:
- We are already firmly entrenched with your competitor
- Let me refer you to the next management level down
- This is not a priority right now
- I deal with much more strategic matters
Step #5: Prepare two written commitment statements asking for TOP's assistance in moving forward.
Example: Ms. TOP, let me recommend that we set-up a time to meet with the major stakeholders in this project.
BE PREPARED FOR TOP! THEY EXPECT NOTHING LESS!
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TOP is Different Than "C" Level
Before we begin exploring the "best practices" of calling on TOP (The Opportunity Producer), let's take a moment and differentiate between the well known concept of "C" level versus TOP selling. "C" level within your customers' organizations refers to the "chief" level of executive management. Examples are CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CIO (Chief Information Officer), CTO (Chief Technical Officer or Chief Training Officer), and CSO (Chief Sales Officer or Chief Science Officer).
Many TOPs in our day-to-day selling lives are lower on the organization chart that the "C" level. TOP is the highest person you can reach within a division, unit, department, or branch of a customer or prospect. TOP is the one who can make or break an opportunity for you. In other words, depending on the size of the customer/prospect, TOP may or may not be a "C" level person. Many times, the actual decision-maker may report to TOP. One thing is for sure: TOP is the "ultimate decision influencer."
Why Call On TOP?
1. TOP is more ROI sensitive than price conscious
2. TOP is the ultimate advocate for your product and services within the account/prospect
3. Leveraging TOP's influence will shorten your sales cycle - TOP can "short circuit" the standard decision-making process
4. TOP is a great ally when problems arise
TOPs Concerns Are Strategic
Many reps don't call on TOP because they feel uncomfortable discussing strategic issues and concerns relating to TOP's organization. Most of this reluctance is caused by lack of:
1. Experience calling on TOP
2. Understanding the "big" picture
The Two Primary Reasons TOP Won't See You
1. You haven't provided a significant benefit to TOP
2. You have not validated your competency or knowledge about their business
What TOP Wants YOU to Know Before You Make Contact
- Industry conditions and developments (TOP's competitors; current events and their affect on TOP's organization; uncontrollables - new government laws; etc.)
- TOP's company's recent developments (new products/services; acquisitions; new locations; new personnel; etc.)
- TOP's personal background
10 Things TOP Expects From YOU
1. Be prepared - planning and preparation are the answers to all of the above points
2. Show that you are a "solution provider," not a product/service pusher
3. Be direct and to the point
4. Take copious notes - just that one activity illustrates interest and customer vigilance
5. Follow-up - keep TOP "in the loop"
6. Focus on TOP's bottom line
7. Produce results
8. Stay out of TOP's organization's corporate politics
9. Make TOP more efficient/effective
10. Make TOP look good
Next week, we will explore the preparation process for calling on TOP. This will include due diligence, best questions to ask, what objections and questions to expect at this level, and how to leverage TOP's position throughout his organization to shorten your sales cycle.
Hope and Luck Are NOT Sound Account Penetration Strategies
...but if you are relying on them to boost your sales this year, you just may be in the mainstream of sales professionals we speak with every day. In other words, if you are hoping your customers...
- Purchase higher quantities from you this year
- Try NEW products/services you are introducing
- Replace current competitor purchases with your offerings
...you are probably leaving your good fortune up to LUCK and CHANCE! This is NOT a sound strategy.
More and more sales managers want to know "exactly where sales increases are coming from."
The answers are NOT:
"I hope that XYZ customer will buy more widget units this year!"
"With any luck, we should replace our primary competitor at XYZ customer this year!"
Yet we continuously hear sales managers expressing their frustrations with they hear these very answers and doubts about achieving the stated goals.
There are 2 processes that are key to successful account penetration (synonymous with increasing wallet share and includes effective cross-selling):
- The Pre-call Plan
- The Account Plan
The Account Plan
Account planning is a consultative sales approach that:· Plans what a customer/prospect will buy from you during a given timeframe, usually the customer’s fiscal year.· Outlines a strategy to sell more to “A” accounts.· Sets an accountability timeline for purchases (decision-maker accountability).· Creates buy-in from the top of the organization and provides a “buying roadmap” for other influencers.· Places control of the sales process in YOUR hands.· Plans to replace competitive products.· Helps partners and department heads achieve goals and strategic initiatives.· Greatly assists forecasting.· Takes “hope” out of the sales process.The benefits of conducting account planning are:· Strengthens the relationship and loyalty with the decision-makers· Facilitates you becoming part of the customer decision-making process· Shortens the sales cycle· Provides a barrier of entry to competitors· Helps create more accurate forecasts· Provides sales management with several accountability points
· Provides a roadmap for you to hit sales forecasts
The best ways to utilize an account plan:
1. Use it as a “consultative selling” tool to enlist the decision-maker’s buy-in2. Base quarterly meetings with decision-makers on the plan for purchase accountability
Successful global sales producers told us that once they have written the account plan, it is easy to produce a pre-call plan to insure account penetration.
Believe it or not and although some won't admit it, your sales reps are human!
And as humans, their approach to situations, people and events is formed by prior experience.
A good example is a story we heard about a fellow and a gas station air pump. The air pump had a defective pressure indicator and he overinflated his tire to the point where the tire burst and knocked him over. Although not seriously injured, for a very long time after the incident he was wary and suspicious of all air pumps and avoided them. He drove his car on underinflated tires and when the risks were pointed out to him, he would have somebody else put air in the tires of his car. Finally, a friend wisely suggested that he invest in a good tire pressure gauge so he could properly monitor his tires' pressure.
While the story is an extreme case and the solution is obvious, it does illustrate how experience impacts behavior.
"Big deal, I knew that!" you're thinking. "What does this have to do with sales and sales reps?"
If you manage reps who've been selling for any length of time you must be aware their actions and performance are impacted by the accumulation of their experiences. Those experiences can be very beneficial to their ability to build rapport, establish specific industry/segment credibility, and incorporate best practices for future success. After all, experience results in seasoning and strength.
But a rep's prior experiences can be an obstacle to their success, too. In the case of favorable experiences, such as winning a string of opportunities, they're acknowledged and awarded for their strong performance by you and their peers.
Based upon that experience, your rep may decide that a "one size fits all" approach will work when calling on the next prospect. Although the environment, circumstances, and the players have all changed, your rep may take an inappropriate strategy that will result in lost deals instead of closed ones. Prospects shut down when they're being called on by a rep who claims to "really know their business" before the first question is asked.
One rep we know - who'd been very successful in selling to IT - fell to that very flaw. After closing a series of deals, he assumed all he had to do was to follow a formula which was to impress upon his prospects the significance of what he'd done for others. That strategy can be an effective one, but not in all cases as the rep failed to recognize the differences in the varying needs between his prospects. As a result, his sales went into a tailspin.
What do you do to avoid this happening to one of your reps?
Obviously, you can't be on every call; both geography and time limit your ability to do that. An effective tool in your sales manager's toolbox would be to mandate pre-call planning. You can then review calls before they occur and perform some very useful managerial diagnostics. A few pointers for you to look for are:
- Patterns. Look for patterns that tell you your reps are not just following a formula. Sample your reps plans to verify they are tailoring their approach on upcoming calls which should reflect the differences between each prospect and customer. If you continually read the same questions on every plan, it's time for some field coaching sessions.
- Innovation: Get your best reps to share their successful plans and share them to build your team's bench strength and to incorporate best practices, emphasizing the "whys" of the techniques and not just merely duplicating content.
You can get started by downloading our free guide to pre-call planning.
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Top Global Sales Executives Rate Pre-call Planning
In a mid-2009 study of global sales executives with "consultative sales processes," we asked:
"Please rate the importance of effective pre-call planning to successful completion of your sales process."
100% of the study participants told us that pre-call planning is "important to extremely important" to successful completion of their sales process.
Top Global Sales Representatives Rate Pre-call Preparation
In another mid-2009 study of several hundred top global sales representatives with "consultative sales processes," we uncovered these facts:
- 97% of top producers said that pre-call preparation is a major key to their success
- 100% said their customers appreciate it when they are prepared
- 3 out of 4 said they use pre-call planning more effectively than their underperforming peers
The Key Questions Are, "If This Data Is Correct, What Prevents Top Sales Reps From Doing More Pre-call Planning?" AND "Why Don't The More Marginal Producers Pre-call Plan?"
As a result of these global studies, our research revealed there are two key hurdles that keep salespeople from writing pre-call plans.
1. The time it takes to complete this task
Over 75% of the global top producers say it takes at a minimum of 10 -15 minutes to prepare for each call. Of that group, 18% say they spend over 20 minutes in pre-call preparation for each consultative call.
Based upon these figures, do you really feel that the marginal producers will spend that kind of time planning for call success?
2. Inability of field sales management to provide constructive, timely coaching before an important call
Over the past two years, due to budget cuts, the span of control for field sales managers has increased significantly. This has had an adverse affect on field sales management's ability to spend quality time coaching sales reps before key calls, especially those geographically dispersed. In fact, this is a problem even when times are good.
The net affect is that many sales reps are on their own when it comes to call preparation. They do not have the ability to receive pre-call coaching or best practices from their peers.
- Create an enterprise-wide, uniform pre-call planning process leveraging the "best practices" of your top producers.
- Take out time-consuming busy work and isolate your reps' thought process so that it takes less than 5 minutes to create a pre-call plan, customized to your methodology and sales process.
Are three to five minutes per call too much to expect...
...from a professional salesperson to prepare for a successful sales call?
...for a field sales manager to review the plan and make coaching suggestions for call success?
...for your entire sales team to implement the best practices of the top producers in your company?
- Provide flexibility that allows your professional salespeople to select options for different call scenarios.
- Realize that pre-call plans are best utilized for prospective customer calls and calls on key accounts. Do not mandate for every customer encounter.
- Allows managers to the ability to provide feedback and coaching before the call.
- Regardless of experience, require it of all new hires. This will shorten ramp-up time significantly and get them in the habit of planning for success.
Remember Our Aforementioned Study of Top Global Sales Representatives?
92%! Yes, 92% said they could sell even more, if they could improve the effectiveness of their pre-call planning process!
Click here for your free Guide to Pre-call Planning.
Click here for a free, no-obligation online demonstration of Precallpro.com.
photo credit: mstorz