SalesReformSchool

Today’s Lesson: Moving the Sale Forward

In case you haven’t heard, I’ve been doing a webinar series with Frontline Selling.  I have posted links to our initial Q & A “The Start of the Sales Cycle” and our second effortExecuting the First Call“.  Unfortunately, we had some issues with the sound in our third webinar, “Moving the Sale Forward“, so I thought I’d post a transcript for those who missed it – how could you? – or struggled to hear us.

After the long transcription, I still have a Food for Thought item and suggest an Extracurricular.

A small request:  Is this helpful?  Is it too much?  Please consider reaching out to me with comments, questions, and feedback.

I made some small edits for clarity sake.  Lastly, Meredith Buckley Marketing Director at Frontline Selling and the Moderator wrote the Short Answers to save you time.

Moderator:                           Welcome everyone! Today we’re going to talk about moving the sale forward. If you’ve ever struggled with stalled deals, prospects going dark after a great call or just dealing with prospects who appear to be shopping you just for price, you’re at the right place today. Our panelists for not only today’s session, but for the entire series, are Adam Shapiro, President of SalesReformSchoolÔ, and Jason Stone, director of sales here at Frontline Selling. So let’s bring these guys in with video and get right to our first question.

Moderator:                           Jeff from Phoenix asks, “I thought we had a great first conversation now they’ve gone silent, what do I do?”

Short Answer:                       First, always make sure you secure next steps before getting off the phone. Second, return to your cadence, using all the tools at your disposal. Live phone calls, voicemail, email, Linkedin, other ways of contacting them. Find out if they have an admin or someone who could assist you in getting back on their calendar. Lastly, start researching other potential stakeholders and connecting with them, and remind them of the progress you’ve already made with your prospect.

Full Explanation:

Jason Stone:                         Right, yeah, so Jeff I think the first thing is define next steps. I always try to tell my folks not to get off to a prospect call, discovery call without next steps. Whether that is in your sales process a demo, a proposal, or whatever it may be, just define the next steps what you’d like to accomplish, and follow up. Then always have two or three dates and times available, so they have options, so it’s not this I’ll get back to you, send me an invite, they decline it. As we all know it’s a lot more difficult to say no when you’re physically on the phone or physically in front of somebody. I always try to make sure that my folks have defined what the next steps are in a successful conversation mutually. I always say, we’ve had success with our clients after a discovery call we typically go into X and we set expectations for that call and when it’s going to happen. Again I think that that’s the biggest thing. To say we thought we had a great conversation, if it was so great why didn’t you set up a next call. Or otherwise you just got off the phone all excited, and you forgot to define next steps.

Jason Stone:                         Or make sure that you keep that momentum going. The other thing about this too, I think it will, it gives you the clue whether it was a good call or not. If they’re as excited as you are about it, and you feel like you’ve driven home the value, or there’s some opportunity there, they should feel the same thing, and they’ll want to go ahead and set up another call.

Adam Shapiro:                    Let’s assume that you actually did set up next steps. You had it on your calendar, both yours and your prospect’s calendar, and they did actually miss the appointment. First I do want to say it happens- life gets in the way sometimes. Buyers are not necessarily going to be as considerate as you want them to be. Let’s go after three things. First, let’s return to our cadence, using all the tools at your disposal. Live phone calls, voicemail, email, Linkedin, other ways of contacting them. Return to that cadence of what it was that was so special about your initial conversation, reminding them about it, and then scheduling that next conversation, and asking for that next schedule specifically.

Adam Shapiro:                    While you’re doing that, if this prospect is high enough in an organization that they might possibly have an administrative assistant or someone that runs their calendar, call the switchboard at this company and ask if Mr. or Ms. Smith has someone who manages their calendar. Then, when you get through to that person explain what’s happened so far in your sales cycle, and ask to get put back on their calendar. Third, go to your other contacts and determine who are the other people that we would want to talk to in this prospect’s environment, and start talking with them as well. You can leverage the good parts of your previous conversation to try to get those conversations going.

Moderator:                           Callie in Denver said she works for a software company, actually a SAAS organization and she said, “What should I be asking for after the first call”?

Short Answer:                       Your defined ask needs to be around enlarging the group of people, the sphere of influence that you have at your prospect’s location to get greater buy-in. This helps get them socializing what you have to offer, the problems you can solve, the goals that you could help them attain. Your defined ask needs to be around getting other people involved in your buying cycle, or selling cycle.

Full Explanation:

Adam Shapiro:                    Okay, so in our last webinar we talked about how your initial meaningful conversation needs to have a defined ask, and even a back-up defined ask. Let’s assume you’ve done that, please reference our previous webinar available on the FRONTLINE Selling website, and the SalesReformSchoolÔ website. Let’s assume you’ve got those defined asks in there. Go back and remind your prospect about that. On the lower end of the offering spectrum if you will, if your SAAS offering is light on cost, light on total cost of ownership we need to shorten this sale cycle, get in there, and make their evaluation happen. We should be asking what’s the evaluation process, and what do we need to do next.

Adam Shapiro:                    If you feel like your offering is expensive enough that this isn’t going to be a one or two call close, your defined ask needs to be around enlarging the group of people, the sphere of influence that you have at your prospect’s location to get greater buy-in to get them socializing what you have to offer, the problems you can solve, the goals that you could help them attain. Your defined ask needs to be around getting other people involved in your buying cycle, or selling cycle.

Jason Stone:                         Yeah, I’ll take that a little bit further, you know Gartner does a lot of research on the buying cycle, and buyers. The average number of people involved in a sale has gone from 4.8, to 5.6, to 6.8, to now it’s such a large group it’s just six to 10 people. It’s a large group of buyers. To Adam’s point if your product or your solution is on the more expensive side, your sphere of influence needs to be widened, so make sure that’s in your next steps. But then the other piece is I would say if you don’t have a next step in your process defined, then you need a process. I would ask you back, what is your next step? What does your sales process say should be the next step? If that’s not defined, I would start there, and define that.

Adam Shapiro:                    Yeah, let’s jump into that just for a minute or two. Every company has a proven process. Every company says when I look at our best customer situations where our sale cycle, and our delivery cycle went well, we can define that. What does that look like from first initiation to closing and delivery? What went on at the prospect site involving us, or not involving us that led them to evaluate us, and ultimately choose us? We need to go back and figure out what that was, document it, and then offer it as a way forward with your prospects.

Moderator:                           Paul in Boston says, “My manager wants me to hold off discussing our offerings with people who would ultimately implement and use the software until after the sale. I want to get them on our side during the sales process, and what do you think is the right approach?

Short answer:             The best way to mitigate risk on your end is to involve the people who are going to be implementing your offering. Yeah, I agree with you. Bring them in during the conversation to get them on board.

The other piece to that I think about is this single threaded verse multi-threaded approach. If you’re single threaded into an account, your chances for failure are significantly higher, and what I mean is that if there’s no visibility on that person’s decision, there’s no sense of urgency, there’s no accountability for whether it be a good decision or a bad decision, that person is operating in a vacuum.

Full explanation:

Adam Shapiro:                    This is a tough one because your manager is saying something, and you don’t know if they’re necessarily right. Without knowing you or your manager the question I would ask is: Are you proud of the way your offerings are implemented with your customers, or is there something we’re worried about? If you can’t discuss the implementation of your offering with your prospects, there is a bigger issue at your company. Likely making sales and then having to go back and retrace it, are your implementation people screaming at the sales people, are they over promising on things that they can’t deliver? This is a big problem area I see. As you move towards the higher end of total cost of ownership, there’s much more risk on your end than on their end. But how do we mitigate that risk?

Adam Shapiro:                    Over and over again I hear from my prospect base, and my customer base, the way that sales go south late in a sales cycle, which means it was expensive in both time, money, and energy where an implementer raised their hand, and said, “We can’t do that”, for whatever reason. It may have been something that you could overcome, but they had already been down a line in their decision making process that either delayed, or put your offering in a waste basket.

Jason Stone:                         I agree. I think, again not to be the mouthpiece for Gartner, but another piece of information that was really interesting to me is that the average buyer spends 17 percent of the time researching and making decisions with the sales rep. Physically with the sales percent, 17 percent of the time. That means 83 percent of the time they’re doing something else. I think you have to involve the people that are in this decision-making process, so that your time is best spent, and their time is best spent listening to that particular pitch or solution. Because 83 percent of the time they’re doing something totally different, and they’re influenced by something other than you. I think if you have the opportunity to do it it’s extremely important to get everyone in the same room.

The other piece to that I think about is this single threaded verse multi-threaded approach. If you’re single threaded into an account, your chances for failure are significantly higher, and what I mean is that if there’s no visibility on that person’s decision, there’s no sense of urgency, there’s no accountability for whether it be a good decision or a bad decision, that person is operating in a vacuum.

Jason Stone:                         One of the things we embrace at FRONTLINE is, when we have prospected into an account, we multi-thread it. We’re touching a number of key players, and institutions so that our message percolates down to the proper person that we ultimately want to end up with. But now we have this visibility, and we have this notion that this something someone is trying to solve it within the company. It’s no doubt on somebody’s plate if they’ve taken the call, or if they’re listing to a pitch. If they’re doing it in a vacuum there’s no accountability, and there’s no negative impact if they choose not to implement your solution.

Adam Shapiro:                    Whenever I talk to my clients, and we talk about why they either lose to a name competitor or lose to no decision – in other words the status quo is maintained, and they decide not to change. We can zero in on three stories that the customer did not embrace:

  1. There’s the value story: What’s my cost benefit analysis? What am I going to get back from this:
  2. There’s the usage story. How am I going to use what the seller says they have to offer us?
  3. The third one is implementation. How are we going to get there? How once we have this thing, or this offering, how are we going to get to our usage, and our value?

If they can’t understand how they’re going to get there to get the implementation, there’s a big chance they’re not going to buy, or they’re not going to buy from you.

Jason Stone:                         I think you’re also playing a really dangerous game with percentages. If I tell a story to one person, and we’ve all heard about ‘The Telephone Game.’ They take that story and they go tell their key implementers, and they’re going to miss a couple things-it’s going to be a different story than you told them. Conversely if I tell the same story to 10 people at the same time, all 10 of them are hearing something different, but the collaboration to get to a single point of communication is what’s key, and being able to deliver your message appropriately. I don’t know the reason behind that ask, but I always encourage my folks to get as many key players in the room as possible.

Adam Shapiro:                    One last thing on this subject, if your prospect is willing to spend time with you discussing implementation that means they’re spending time with you as opposed to other priorities which could be your competitors, so it becomes a qualifier. If they want to blow past the implementation discussion that could be a danger sign that you’re not doing well on sales cycle. Getting time from your prospect to discuss the implementation further qualifies you as a winner on this opportunity.

Moderator:                           David in Philly wants to know about pricing, “When should I give out pricing? How can I determine when someone is shopping for price, or genuinely interested in my solution?”

Short Answer:                       If your prices are published but they haven’t found them yet, simply tell them. But if your pricing is more complex because of the variations in your solutions, the best approach is to ask for a little more time/information so you can put together a solution that addresses their specific challenge. Otherwise, they are asking you to give them a diagnosis before you’ve had a chance to really look at the problem.

“You got a lot of really good information right here, I appreciate your time. I think the next best step is for me to get with my implementation team, and see what we can come up with to drive to the outcomes you desire. Then we’ll get back together, do a quick recap, and we’ll go through some of what the solution looks like and the pricing.”

Full explanation:

Jason Stone:                         That’s an interesting question. If you’re selling a transactional product, I have no issues with the prices being discussed on the first call. Often times in that realm that’s what people are looking for, it’s going to be a comparative shopping. Most of the time you have things like that on your website. So the pricing is pretty straightforward. As you get into a more complex sale, the idea of delivering a range versus just a solution pricing is probably the more appropriate approach. I would steer clear of it until you can actually design a scope of work that is fulfilling their outcome needs.

Jason Stone:                         For example- You go through a discovery call, and then you have some great information, and you think that this is a good fit, and you want to build a solution around it. If they ask your pricing right then and there, I would push back significantly, and I always use the doctor analogy. I’ve never walked into a doctor’s office and been handed a pill and told, “Here, take that you’ll be fine.”

Your prospect is asking you to give them a diagnosis before you’ve had a chance to really look at the problem. “You got a lot of really good information right here, I appreciate your time. I think the next best step is for, let me get with my implementation team, and see what we can come up with to drive to the outcomes that you desire. Then we’ll get back together, do a quick recap, and we’ll go through some of what the solution looks like.”

Adam Shapiro:                    I like to be transparent and give a range: “The minimum amount that our customers pay to us is X, but we have customers that also implement our full suite and pay Y, and they are extremely happy with a great cost benefit analysis. I can’t tell you right now where you would fall in that spectrum, but I can tell you it’s not going to be less than X. It likely won’t be more than Y.” (unless they’re like the largest company you’ve ever talked to.)

Jason Stone:                         Often, if they continue to push for pricing it’s an indicator that they’re not generally interested in you. Again I wouldn’t say that’s across the board, but it’s certainly an indicator and you’ve got to pay attention to it.

Moderator:                           Jennifer in Chattanooga says she’s worried that her contact is not high enough in the organization to actually make a decision, so she’s wondering how she can get to the decision makers without making her contact really angry.

Short answer:                       It’s all about positioning. Don’t look at it that you’re going around somebody, but you’re going with them. We’re asking our prospect to do a lot. To take our messaging and our value prop and deliver that the right way, or ask and then put themselves at risk of being asked questions they don’t know the answer to, and to really speak on our behalf. To position that, you could say: “I know this is not likely a single-threaded decision, as there’s typically six to 10 people in an organization that makes a decision. Adam, I don’t want to put you in a position to fail. You obviously believe there’s value in this product, and I would love the opportunity to talk to the other key players, and deliver what you and I have spoken about, so you’re not on the hot seat.”

Full explanation:

Jason Stone:                         This is always an interesting one, and one of the faults we make is we look at it from an adversarial position. We’re thinking that if we ask for something we’re going to put ourselves in a point of friction with this particular person. I always say, don’t look at it that you’re going around somebody, but you’re going with them. What I mean is that we’re asking them to do a lot. To take our messaging and our value prop and deliver that the right way, or ask to then put themselves at risk of being questioned, being asked questions they don’t know the answer to. To position that, say “I know this is not likely a single-threaded decision, as there’s typically six to 10 people in an organization that make a decision. Adam, I don’t want to put you in a position to fail – you obviously believe there’s value in this product, and I would love the opportunity to talk to the other key players, and deliver what you and I have spoken of, so you’re not on the hot seat. “

Jason Stone:                         This is to help them. If you’ve got somebody that’s extremely interested in a product or service, and we’re asking them to go to the next level internally for it, you will fail most of the time.

Adam Shapiro:                    The conversation needs to be practiced in your head first. It goes something like this: Let’s say your prospect is a mid-level manager. You know that typically 99 percent of the time maybe 100 percent of the time you don’t make a sale of your offering unless there are multiple people involved in the sales process, or the buying process like what Jason is describing. You’d ask Jordan. “Jordan we’ve had some great conversations around how you and others would use our product, what value you would get out of it. Who else besides yourself would be involved in selecting funding and implementing our offerings?” Then stop talking. Let them answer this question.

Jason Stone:                         One of the key things of what you just said is that you’re valuing them in that statement. You’re including them in the process, not trying to get around them.

Adam Shapiro:                    They have to answer that question, because they know they can’t sign the contract, create the PO, and then start implementing your offering – that’s not their job, that’s nobody’s job. It’s everybody’s job. There’s a lot of people there. Force them to answer that question. Once they do, ask “When can we setup a conference call, or a site visit if that’s in your process, where all of us including you (Jordan) can get together and discuss how we would bring value to your company?”

Adam Shapiro:                    Also, you have to ask questions that may make your prospect uncomfortable. I want the questions to be high enough, or detailed enough that Jordan can’t answer these questions alone. She’s going to say “Oh, well I’m not sure about that. So-and-so makes those decisions.” In other words, we’re treating Jordan as a proxy for Jordan’s boss, or manager, or other person involved in selecting funding, and implementing. They’re going to reveal that person to you. If they’re unwilling to reveal it, ask why. Go back to your proven process, talking about how you know it takes a village, it takes multiple stakeholders, selection funding, and implementing in order to make your sale, in order for them to make a decision that brings them value.

Moderator:                           Jeremy in Long Island says that he gets the sense that he’s being strung along by this prospect he asked, “Well, how can I create some urgency around their evaluation of us without being too pushy?”

Short answer:                       You don’t know why someone may not be getting back to you, and you don’t want to assume. So go ahead and ask the question. We know from the Challenger sale that the most successful reps take control of their sales cycle. One of the ways you can take control of your sales cycle without being pushy is to ask the question. It may even be disarming for them.

“Hey, Jason, I’m sensing there’s no urgency here. We’ve had great conversations around the following where it pertains to value, and how you would use it, and it seems like the cost of delay is X if you were to not move forward with us. What’s going on? I’m not sensing any sense of urgency from you.” Leave it at that. Sometimes prospects are just so busy that it’s hard to get back to everyone. But that doesn’t mean they are not interested, so keep in mind that doesn’t mean that they’re stringing you along.

Full explanation:

Adam Shapiro:                    Companies buy your offering, Jeremy because they need to improve, increase, or decrease something. It’s your job as a sales rep to figure out what that is. It’s also your job along with marketing and other executives in your company to figure out your ideal client profile, or in that sweet spot in the market, what they are trying to improve, increase or decrease. You need to remind your prospects of those things. If you’ve had a detailed discussion around value and usage then you have some cost-benefit, you know what the cost of delay is. Whether it’s in opportunities lost, or actual cost that they’re incurring because they’re not using you. You need to remind your prospects of these things as you move through your buying process and they move towards hopefully evaluating you.

Adam Shapiro:                    If they’re stringing you along and you’re not sure where they stand, why not ask? It can be disarming. It could be that they have competing interests, it could be that they have four kids who have been sick for the last two weeks, and they just haven’t been able to get around to you or to getting to their next step in their buying cycle. You don’t know, and you don’t want to assume, so go ahead and ask the question. “Hey, Jason, I’m sensing there’s no urgency here. We’ve had great conversations around XYZ where it pertains to value, and how you would use it, and it seems like the cost of delay is – whatever it is – if you were to not move forward with us. What’s going on? I’m not sensing any sense of urgency from you. Leave it at that.

Jason Stone:                         Yeah, I think that that’s a great tactic on the back end. My response would be a little more proactive in the sense of we talked about single threaded, I think again to get accountability, and visibility on the solution and the problem, so identifying key players initially, so that someone has someone to answer to they’re not operating in the vacuum. The other piece is simply ask. One of the things you see with Adam and I and a lot of the discussions that we have is full transparency. I can tell you what my day looks like, and if I don’t have time to answer an email from a prospect that I’m genuinely interested in, then I’m not going to answer it- I’m going to do it the next day. There’s going to be a delay. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested, so keep in mind that doesn’t mean that they’re stringing you along.

Jason Stone:                         Simply being direct and asking is best, because it’s sort of like dead weight to you. If you can get rid of it and move forward faster then that’s what you need to do-but you need to be able to identify it, and dancing around it is not going to identify it. Be direct.

Adam Shapiro:                    We know from the Challenger sale that the most successful reps take control of their sale cycle. One of the ways you can take control of your sales cycle without being pushy is to ask the question. Too often we hide behind email, or hide behind letting the buyers do their thing without actually asking the tough questions. We can’t be conflict avoiders. We have to be okay with some conflict and asking what’s going on here, what’s happening. They may see that as you being authentic wondering what’s going on, and now they’re going to open up to you about what’s actually going on within their organization.

Moderator:                           Next question is from Ken, he’s written in from West Virginia and he said, “What should I say if a prospect tells me they are looking at two other vendors?”

Short answer:                       Don’t be put-off by this. At least they’re seriously evaluating you. Make sure you understand what is most important to them for this purchase. There are certainly requirement specs that they’ve established to make this selection, so ask for them. One of the things I like to always try to get my reps to do is say, “That’s great. Most of our customers have gone through a similar process, and have chosen us. What does your process look like? Obviously if you guys are down this path and have chosen a few possible vendors, you’ve got criteria built around it. Are you able to share that criteria with me?”

                                                     Put it back in their court and be sure you act like you’re not worried about the competition. “That’s great, we go up against competition all the time and we typically win.”

Full explanation:

Adam Shapiro:                    Well, congratulations they’re in an evaluation, and at least you’re top three. It is a danger signal though. That means they like two others as well as you. There’s something they like about your two competitors you need to find out what it is, and how important it is to them. If you can get equal first, do it. Hey, we have that too, here’s how we do it, and then get to how you’re different. But you do have to explore the differentiators, hopefully in terms of stories. When you ask the question, hey, what do you like about my competitors, and their answer is something you don’t have, you need to figure out what the value is of that part of the competitor’s offerings, and whether you agree that it would totally disqualify you if you were the buyer in this situation.

Adam Shapiro:                    If it doesn’t matter, if it’s something you think you can overcome easily, then we need to ask the usage and value questions around your differentiators that overcomes the things that they’re perceiving as needed in their competitors. First things first though, get equal, and then get different.

Jason Stone:                         I’ll be a little more cynical at first and say that that doesn’t always mean there’s two or three more competitors. However, if that is the truth and let’s assume it is there’s got to be a criteria that they’re looking at, there’s got to be a requirement specs that they’re looking at to make this selection, so ask for it. One of the things I like to always try to get my people to do is say, “That’s great. Most of our customers have gone through a similar process, and have chosen us. What does the process look like? Obviously if you guys are down this path and have chosen a few possible vendors, you’ve got criteria built around it. Are you able to share that criteria with me?”

Put it back in their court that you’re not worried about that. “That’s great, we go up against competition all the time and we typically win.”

Adam Shapiro:                    Yeah, so there’s two situations this comes up, right. They looked at you, and then someone else said, hey, we should look at what else is out there in the market and they find two other companies who offer what you offer, and now it’s a bake off between the three of you. That’s okay. Because they spent time with you already, and now you have a rapport, you have a relationship you can work through those things. The other situation which also harken back to the previous question about pricing is they come to you, and say, hey we’ve been looking at two of your competitors can you give me a proposal as well, or pricing on your offering.

Adam Shapiro:                    This is where I want you to slow down and hold on. They need to be worthy of your proposal and your pricing, and what Jason is saying is they need to detail for you how they got there in the first place, so you can go through your discovery process to make sure that you’re qualified for them and they’re qualified for you. Slow it down at that point. If they’re not willing to invest time in your relationship, and just want a proposal or a price because they’ve got two others, you’re not going to win that deal anyway.

Jason Stone:                         Yeah, that was going to be my next statement, that deal is already dead. The biggest thing that I can say is, if you believe in your product or your service, then believe in it, and stick to the process, and don’t get happy ears. Getting happy ears is one of the worst things you can possibly do.

Jason Stone:                         It’s when you get really excited about getting a proposal and pricing out to someone who has requested it. It’s of no context if it hasn’t been built around value, if you haven’t led to your solution versus with it. It goes back to the doctor analogy. I’ve never ever had been diagnosed before I walked in the door. I think it really is interesting to push back on that. If it was me who requested pricing or a proposal and the rep would come back to me and say I can’t give you one until we discuss further, I would think that’s bizarre. Don’t we all jump at the opportunity to put a proposal or pricing in front of somebody? But that’s smart selling. One caveat after delivering the proposal, is that if it goes silent, it goes dark, don’t continue to have happy ears on this thing. The absence of no does not mean yes.

Moderator:                           Carly in Sacramento has one last question here. She said, “I need to get other important stakeholders involved in the next conversation in order to progress the deal, but I’m having a hard time doing that. What’s the most effective way to gather those stakeholders into that next call?”

Short answer:                       The answer is simple – but not easy. You have to ask. A great question is this: “Who besides yourself are going to be involved in selecting, funding, and implementing what we have to offer?” Once you ask that question they have to answer. We know it can’t be just that one person. Some of this builds around research, so I would go in prepared to ask, “I also noticed that Adam Shapiro was over the Southeast region for business enablement. Does he need to be involved in the next phone call?” The response will likely be, “Yeah, he probably does.”

Full explanation:

Adam Shapiro:                    Well, if it was easy everybody would do it, Carly, we’ve all felt your pain. We’ve covered that somewhat earlier in this webinar. You’ve got to ask. Again, let’s go back to two things, first, select fund, and implement, who are the people involved at your company who are going to be, besides yourself who are going to be involved in selecting, funding, and implementing what we have to offer? Once you ask that question they have to answer. We know it can’t be just that one person. The other thing is to ask questions around goals, objectives, challenges, and issues. If your prospect, Carly, can’t answer, so they’re a proxy – so they have to reveal who else they have to go to in order to work through their buying process, and your sales process, so let’s get those. Lastly, use something like the FRONTLINE Selling platform, Linkedin, other things to figure out who we might want to involve in the sales cycle, and ask if that person should be involved.

Jason Stone:                         Yeah, I think that was the key that I was going to go to. Some of this builds around research, Carly, so I would go in prepared to ask. Also, I noticed that Adam Shapiro was over the Southeast region for business enablement does he need to be involved in the next phone call? Yeah, he probably does. There’s one key player identified. Noting that you’ve identified another person in the organization shows that you’ve done some research. If you go in empty handed, so to speak, with “Is there anybody else we need to involve?”, someone typically is going to say NO.

Adam Shapiro:                    Carly, I also want you to gain more respect in the sale cycle. Like Jason said, as soon as you name somebody or describe your process that’s happening successfully with other prospects you will get instant respect from your prospect for two reasons. You know your business, and you’ve done some research on their business. Many buyers these days have encountered too many sales people who don’t take the time to understand their business, or do any research before calls. They smell it, and they can’t stand us for it.

Jason Stone:                         Here’s one other approach. “Adam when we’ve worked with healthcare companies in the past, we’ve brought in the procurement manager and the revenue cycle manager. Is that something we would need to do in the next phase of this process?”

That shows that you’ve experienced the healthcare business before, but you’ve also considered how to help this process along, and you’ve identified some other key players. It shows ‘thoughtfulness’ on your part.

SalesReformSchool: Food For Thought

Have you found any affirmation recently about what you’re doing with your life?

You may have read the SalesReformSchool name origin story on the website or in our workshop materials:

Since I help individuals, teams and enterprises improve their sales and marketing behaviors, a friend suggested a few years ago that I call my business “SalesReformSchool™.” It seemed kind of edgy and people smile when they hear it, so it’s keeper.  I like the metaphor for a number of reasons.  To improve, it helps to embrace learning, change, and practice. The best practitioners are students of their craft.  They don’t believe they know it all and are willing to try new processes and behaviors.   So SalesReformSchool™ makes sense.  For now, it is officially just me but I do rely on a network of interesting and talented people to help out when my client’s needs dictate.

That was nearly 14 years ago.  Personally and professionally, you can probably tell I’m all about improvement. I felt some prideful affirmation a few days ago from this tweet:

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

While on vacation for the first time in Acadia National Park, we did an awesome hike up and down Cadillac Mountain, the first place to view a sunrise each day in the United States.  And we learned about Bates cairns, which are rock formations stacked as guideposts for confused or lost hikers. cairns
Want to learn something new?  Hike a new trial or maybe a walk somewhere you haven’t been before.

Good Selling!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: What Stuck Most

A year ago, I had a full process-messaging-behavior engagement with a client that culminated with a full two-day workshop. They went on to have a terrific year. We are now rolling out an Account Growth process and met this week to introduce the idea in a quick team lunch meeting.   The team of account managers and sales executives is fully engaged – a credit to their management team.

Since I had them all in a room together, I asked during a pause:  Read More

Today’s Lesson: Beatus Aures

Over coffee last Friday a coaching client of mine told me about an RFP he was excited to answer. “It’s in our wheelhouse, but I have to go soon so I can get the answer out. It’s due today and they are making a decision Tuesday.”

I responded that I could see why he was so excited and asked him a few clarifying questions including:

  • Who are your competitors? Um, I don’t know.
  • Do they have a prior relationship with the prospect? Blank stare.
  • How many individuals and what are their roles do you know at the account? Just my one contact.
  • Have you asked to meet with all the decision-makers before agreeing to answer? No, she answered every question I had about the work they need.
  • If there are competitors, how can the prospect possibly make a decision in one business day? Mouth agape.

Read More

Today’s Lesson: “Social” Selling

No, this is not another post on using online sites like LinkedIn to build your pipeline. Rather, I want to talk about my friend Mitch (real person, fake name). Mitch is looking for love. He’s a good guy. Works hard, takes care of himself, and is a true mensch. Over the years, I’ve lived vicariously through the ups and downs of his love life, trying to support him.

Why am I telling you about Mitch? No, I’m not pivoting to match-making, but I do want to talk about your social life.

This year among other things, I’ve taken on two coaching clients who have the express goal of improving their business development efforts. These engagements have reminded me that the early stage dating scene which Mitch is not shy about going through is very similar to early business development conversations. The same goes for other areas of your social life, like making new friends. Read More

Today’s Lesson: Two Existential Questions

For today’s lesson we are going to explore two existential questions:

  1. Why does your company exist?
  2. Why should your ideal client want to talk to you?

Why does your company exist?

The answer to this question should scream at visitors to your web site and all pockets of social media. Every employee, not just salespeople, should be able to recite the answer in some form in every new interaction, whether in a meeting, at a trade show, cocktail party or barbecue.  For us sellers, this question cuts to the very heart of where to place your focus in your initial conversation with your prospects and key players. You’ll return to it as a qualifying tool later and possibly a negotiation tactic at the end of your sales process.

Yes, this is very similar to a mission statement. I worry, though, that the concept of mission statements too often gets lost in translation in actual conversations.

Why does my company SalesReformSchool(tm) exist? Read More

Today’s Lesson: Don’t be a Poodle

During a recent workshop I described how we sales people need to constantly work to be perceived as our prospect’s equals. What do I mean? Here are three examples where we are equals, but not necessarily perceived as equals:

Like you, I am a busy professional.

Often, towards the end of our conversations with prospects or even customers, they will suggest you “circle back” or “re-connect” next week or next month or some time in the future.  At times, your prospect is genuinely interested in this subsequent conversation, but thinks since you are in sales you can’t be as busy as she is. So, in between your checking Facebook and Instagram, they think you have tons of time to call them in the suggested date range and maybe catch them at an available time.  Or that at your leisure, you can bang out an email that you hope they answer. Read More

Today’s Lesson: The Implementation Story

impl-plan-image

Many of you are trying to close deals with your prospects this week and next to finish the year or quarter on a high note. So, I have a question: Have you included an implementation plan discussion as part of your buyer’s evaluation of your company and its offerings?

I learned years ago from Michael Bosworth’s CustomerCentric Selling that sellers lose to No Decision, Inc. or an actual competitor because the buyer doesn’t embrace at least one of the following stories: Usage, Value or Implementation.

Many sellers have now been trained to show buyers how to use their offerings and the value of that usage – think ROI calculations and Cost v. Benefit tables. But, what about the implementation story?

When the buying organization feels unsure in their (and your) ability to deliver or only have a vague notion of how to achieve success, your opportunity is at risk. Often, your buyers will hide this squishiness out of embarrassment or mistrust. In their minds and possibly in their internal meetings, they may be saying,

“I understand what this is, I understand it’s value,

I just don’t understand how WE can get there.”

So, they decide to do nothing or worse, go with a competitor who has gained agreement on the implementation plan, even if only at high non-detailed level.

What can you do NOW if you find yourself wondering whether your buyers understand the implementation story?

Try the following.

Look at your current open opportunities and ask these five questions:

  1. Have I shared a customer implementation success story?
  1. Do my buyers know how THEY are going to get from their current situation – where they are now without you and missing out – to successfully reaping the benefits of my stuff?
  1. Have I worked with the buyer’s implementers to outline and gain agreement on expectations and processes for both sides for their implementation?
  1. Are questions #2 and #3 documented, shared and agreed to?
  1. Do the main influencers and implementers believe all of the above?

If you have five “Yes” answers, good for you! If you don’t, and your buyer hasn’t told you they are ready to buy, perhaps you need to request a conversation to focus on the implementation.

And by the way, you should also consider the implementation discussion a potential disqualifying tool: If you don’t have five “Yes” answers, AND they haven’t given you a solid verbal buying signal, AND they don’t feel a need to have an implementation conversation, it’s time to question whether you will ever close the opportunity.

Agree?

SalesReformSchool Food for Thought

Before ultralight weight laptops and notes apps that seamlessly flowed through all my digital devices, I took notes in internal and sales meetings on yellow legal pads. Spiral notebooks or even fancy paper-based notebooks never worked for me because I’m left-handed.

Then, a few years ago I switched to digital note-taking either on my iphone or laptop for utility – my handwriting is awful and I didn’t like having to type my notes up for emails, CRM or otherwise. I did, however, feel at times that something was lacking or missing in my notes and understanding.   I also recognized that using an electronic device while in person on sales calls was much colder and impersonal than pen and paper. Was I hurting rapport (already a worry for me for other reasons)?

After reading this article and this one, I’ve returned to taking handwritten notes for in person meetings. It’s been a couple months now, and although I can’t measure the difference, I do feel my interactions are richer. Also, by slowing down and having to type up my handwritten notes, I have a better understanding of my conversations. Think about it.

What do you think?  Type or Write?

SalesReformSchool Extracurricular

Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or just a winter break – whatever your fancy, you are likely going to get together with friends or family soon. What are you going to do? How about a game? I have a friend – you know who you are – who says he can’t be friends with someone who won’t play. A little drastic for me, but I get it. Tons of fun. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may be embarrassed, but all in good fun.

Happy Holidays and Good Selling!

P.S.  I’ve had some interest lately in providing keynote addresses for year-end or new year kickoff programs based on some of the things I’ve written you about. Email or call me if you want more information.

P.P.S. Did you like this email? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a reply or  email me and consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: Why Am I Here?

question-606954_1280You may be thinking I am about to go off on an existential rant about authenticity, our place in the universe, or possibly a lecture on the appropriateness of a paleo diet.

Nah, let’s save those for a get together over coffee or other notes. Today, I’m sticking to an easy-to-implement, do it now, sales behavior.

The other day I serendipitously ran into an acquaintance at a local AA-ISP event. We fell into easy conversation and shared our recent professional histories. Right before it was time to settle down for the scheduled speaker, he asked if we could meet next week at his offices. “Of course!” I responded.

At his office after catching each other up on family goings-on, it was time to get down to business.

I viewed my attendance at the networking event as a marketing effort, so this first real meaningful conversation was the equivalent of an inbound lead. He was “inbound” since he took the first step with his invitation.

I had some options.  I could have started with a description of how I help clients similar to his company.  Then, described my offerings.  That, however, would have been a big mistake. It would have meant I would have to make an assumption correlating his team or company to one of my clients.  I would have also been assuming I knew which offering was most appropriate for him.  You may have heard what happens when you assume.

I could have started with some questions about his team, how many sellers, sales quotas, what they sell, what problems they are having.  Perhaps.  That line of questioning has its time, but not now, in the beginning.  It risked boring my host, or worse, bothering him as self-serving and tedious Q&A.

Instead, I asked a simple question:

“Why am I here?”

He chuckled probably realizing that this question perfectly put the onus on him to describe the reason he felt we needed to spend time together now.  This question’s brevity shocks a lot of people who expect salespeople to open with a long-winded soliloquy about their greatness. It demands thoughtfulness. His answer would tell me where he was in his buying process and what was most important to him.

“Why” gets to purpose and sets the agenda for the rest of our discussions.

Remember, he took action first with his invitation.  NO other question gets to the heart of the matter better in a real first meaningful conversation, which this was.

Consider this:  Where else do prospects take action first requiring a “Why” type – objective or purpose driven question?

Retail.  Retail clerks everywhere usually ask, “May I help you?” And what do we do?  We throw up the Heisman pose and reply, “no, just looking”  at least most of the time fearing the seller is operating on their agenda, not ours.heisman_trophy

But, isn’t walking into a store the same as inviting that store into your life? How much more effective would the clerk be if she asked, “What brought you into the store today?” which is a much softer and congenial but equal version of “Why are you here?” It demands a thoughtful answer telling the seller the main objective for the visit.

Inside Sales.  A prospect downloads an infographic, a white paper, attends a webinar, or just imagine, requests that a sales rep contact them.  The inside sales rep wants to engage the prospect.  Too often (you know who you are), the rep emails, speaks to, or leaves a voicemail for the prospect asking for time to introduce the prospect to the seller’s offerings or learn more about the prospects current situation.  Instead, the seller should merely ask a “Why am I here?” question such as:

“I’m wondering, why did you _____?” or
What’s going on that led you to ____?”

Website Visit.  Imagine if your web site creatively asked visitors early in the visit, “Why are you here?”  Isn’t that the reason for the elegantly simple yet amazingly effective google home page?

google-image

Implicitly, http://www.google.com asks: “Why are you here?”
Your answer:  To search for something or because I feel lucky.

Bonus Effect”Why am I here” right at the beginning places both prospect and seller on even ground.  It subliminally screams, “I’m your equal, we are both busy business people, and I deserve to know whether I am wasting my time or not?” 

n-equality-628x314

Back to my meeting.  My host sighed and related,  “We have 50 sellers and 50 sales methodologies and that’s what’s keeping us from transforming into one world-class sales machine.”

Long story short – our next step was my being invited back the following week to meet with other key players.

By the way, isn’t “Why am I here?”  the business equivalent of “WASSUP!”

SalesReformSchool Food for Thought

Here’s the seminal Simon Sinek TED talk on Starting With Why.
Please consider it SalesReformSchool required viewing.  Reserve 18 minutes of uninterrupted time, and mute your phone.  It’s that good.

SalesReformSchool – Extracurricular

One of the things I do to keep in shape and clear my head is to go for walks and listen to podcasts.  I’m currently using these awesome earbuds I received for my birthday.  I highly recommend them.
My three favorite podcasts:
1) The Tony Kornheiser Show – smart, adult conversation on current events and sports;
2) Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History – he makes me think differently; and
3) The Tim Ferriss Show – lifehacks and excellence.

 

That’s all for today.
Good Selling!

P.S. Did you like this email?  Please post feedback to this note below or email me and consider sharing it!  
Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

KiteDesk Goes to School

Sean Burke, CEO of my client KiteDesk, wrote this blog post   – about our work together. If you sell to other businesses and need new customers, get to know Kitedesk and tell them I sent you. KD

Hubie, T.K., and the Ideal Prospect

When Hubie Brown and I were much younger, he was my favorite basketball coach.  I had just moved to Atlanta and adopted the hometown Hawks – his team.  He was smart and energetic.  In interviews, he seemed like a great guy.  Hubie is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor due to his stellar coaching and ongoing broadcasting career.  Although nearly 80 years old, he is still top on top of the game.  I find his commentary spot on, educational, and engaging.  He makes NBA game broadcasts better.

I’m happy to remember that our paths have crossed in person. Years ago, while waiting for luggage early one summer Sunday morning at the Atlanta Airport baggage carousel, I spotted him.  I was returning from a business trip, and of course, could not pass up the chance for a short conversation with my favorite basketball guy.  I am 99.999% sure he has no recollection of this brief encounter, and guess it has happened 100s of times before and since.  He did not disappoint me.  Instead, he made the impression we all hope for.  It was the off season, so instead of bouncing around from city to city broadcasting basketball games, he was returning from a Russian basketball camp. We chatted amiably about basketball and travel.  Hubie Brown was a true gentleman, gracious and engaging even with a  fan for five minutes in a nearly empty airport early in the morning after a long flight.

I love the NBA, and this season has been a blast to follow.  Needless to say, Hubie has come across my consciousness more than once in the last few weeks.  SInce my day job is helping my clients improve sales and marketing, but my attention is getting drawn to this weekend’s beginning of the NBA playoffs, I thought I’d combine the two memes by channeling my inner Hubie Brown.  If you don’t know, Hubie has a sui generis talent for speaking in the second person, and yes, you can make a game of this during his broadcasts.

So here it goes.

You’re a successful CEO with an exit dream, but not necessarily a strategy. One of the biggest daily pressures you face is boosting bottom-line profits by spending most of your time, or more appropriately, your sellers’ time on more high-quality “A” prospects.  Or, you are a CEO of a small, but growing, entrepreneurial company that has started making sales but you are worried about how you are going to keep the funnel full. How are you not going to lose track of where the business is going or should be going?

In both cases, you may also be wary of today’s uncertain economy.  Privately, as either of these CEOs, you may stay up at night worrying about whether your sales people or sales agents are spending time on the right prospects – whomever those are.  In staff meetings, you may ask – or should be asking, “Out of the dozens of different lead-qualification techniques, how do you select the most effective one? (sic, still channeling Hubie). How do you hit the ‘bull’s-eye’, which represents the most profitable, most favorable prospects available? Are you ranking prospects or just going after whoever you can?  If you lose a lot of prospects, waste a lot of time, is it because you are shooting at “B” clients?   How can you take aim at – and score more – ‘A’ quality clients?”

Most of the time, when I help my clients with figuring out their prospects, it’s one layer down the process; more about understanding the individual buyer personas and architecting the sales conversations sellers should be having. But sometimes, leadership can’t articulate their ideal prospect. At this one layer up (or lay-up, groan, I know!) lies the expertise of T.K. Kieran, President of T.K. KIERAN & ASSOCIATES, Inc.

(T.K. and I had lunch this month at Alon’s Bakery in Dunwoody, GA. I think Hubie would say, “You go there for a nice business lunch, you can go rich with stuffed sandwiches or cross over to nice and healthy with veggies or salads.  Either way you can’t go wrong.  And you’ll notice it’s a great people watching spot.”  But I digress.)

T.K. calls this process identifying and implementing your “Ideal Prospect Criteria™”.  As a CEO, you need this Ideal Prospect Criteria™ to overcome some of your biggest head-bangers: keeping your sellers from wasting time on losing prospects and keeping marketing from wasting time, effort and money.   To grow revenue more predictably you need to be able to:

1.       Eliminate the pursuit of low potential prospects

2.      Build a common, effective lead qualification process

3.      More consistently pursue “highest potential, highest payoff” prospects

4.      Segment a prospect base into A, B, C, and D priorities

So, how do you do that?  T.K. shares a few hints:

  • Use no less than five, and no more than eight, criteria in your lead qualification process
  • Writing each criteria to reflect the behaviors, beliefs or abilities (with respect to buying/purchasing) of past clients who were “ideal”, who you want your future prospect to also possess/demonstrate
  • Be prepared to answer your criteria with a binary, “yes” or “no”, without further explanation, otherwise the criteria is too murky.

Strategically, executive leadership looking to grow exponentially or prepare for an exit, must consider constantly where future sales are going to come from.  If you are smart, you will figure out your Ideal Prospect Criteria™” and call T.K. She can help.

Oh, and one last thing.  You have to have the Heat over the Thunder in six games.  As Hubie might say, “You have to respect LeBron James athleticism and the Heat’s attention to detail defending the goal.”

Good Selling and Thanks Hubie.

#$%E!

No, I am not cursing at you!

What I do want to point out is one of the most often overlooked sales closing tools.

I know, “every one knows the key to increasing sales is a good cost v. benefit analysis.”  Then, ask yourself if you’ve ever had a terrific sales presentation, felt the deal was going to close, slacked off (maybe decided to play a round of golf or angry birds) and then NOTHING HAPPENED?

No Angry Birds until after you've inserted #$%E! into your Cost v. Benefit

Why?  Maybe because you were so confident the buyer would buy, that you neglected to put together and gain agreement on the Cost v. Benefit of your prospect using your solution.  The prospect did not feel attached to your capabilities and either chose to stay pat or worse, go with a competitor.

Notice that I did not call it a “return on investment”.  That expression is so yesterday.  ROIs seem so far in the future that buyers don’t believe them.  Even worse, “return on investment” might remind them of their meager personal investment returns and make them shudder.

Alternatively, Cost v. Benefit is upfront and factual.  “Here’s the cost.  Here’s the short and medium term benefit using the information you told me.”  It may be semantics.  So what.  Inituitvely, a cost v. benefit sounds more reachable and less risky than an ROI.

The tricky part is the benefit side of the equation. How do you get there?  THAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE!!!  You get there early in the sales cycle by asking the right questions to gain clarification of what’s actually happening within your prospect’s environment that your capabilities could improve.

Once you both understand and agree on the frequency the challenge or issue arises (“#”), the amount of dollars overcoming the challenge is worth (“$”), and the percentage of time the challenge occurs or percentage of individuals who suffer with the challenge (“%”).  It helps then to know whether the prospect is emotionally connected to improving the situation or circumstances (“E”).  If you are not sure, then ask.

For example:

“How does it make you (your team, the effected group) feel?”

“How badly do you and your team members want to fix …?”

This gives you and your prospect an idea about the emotions of the situation. At times, all the hard dollar gain in the world may not help you close the opportunity if your prospect isn’t connected on an emotional level to your offering or solution.

#$%E!!!!

THESE ARE NOT SUBSTITUTES FOR SWEAR WORDS.

BURN THESE SYMBOLS IN YOUR MIND PRIOR TO TALKING TO PROSPECTS.

Even better, plan out the questions prior to the call that will draw out value or benefit, questions that will lead to your gaining agreement from the prospect on #$%E! of their current situation.  Now, what are you going to do next?  Take aim at some sheltered pigs or have a #$%E! conversation with your prospects?

Good Selling.