Friday, January 31, 2014

The 6 Key Questions that Will Clinch Every Sale (And How to Ask Them)


How are you? How are you doing?  How’s it going?  We ask questions all the time. And the next time you’re in front of a potential client should be no different, but knowing which questions to ask may be the making or breaking point of that sale.

Why ask questions?

Any experienced salesperson will be able to tell you that no two buyers are the same.  What’s more, it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  Asking questions can give you the clearest picture of your buyers’ needs and requirements and should influence the way you then go about selling to them.

Picture the scene: You’re in the market for a new tennis racket. The man in the tennis shop is promoting a great racket that is 50% off.  However, budget isn’t an issue for you.  You just want the best racket.  Consequently, you leave without buying because the salesperson hasn’t managed to identify your particular need.  In other words, he hasn’t asked the right questions.

Which questions should you ask?

Among the myriad of questions that you could ask your potential buyer, six key questions stand head and shoulders above all others and have the key words: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?

1. Who?

Unless you know who is going to use your product or service, and who the decision makers are, you are unlikely to have a successful selling experience.

Ensuring that you are in front of the decision maker is the only chance you have of making a sale.  Furthermore, knowing who will be using your product or service will mean you can tailor everything you say about your product to that particular audience.

2. What?

Most products or services have many features, but you may only have a few minutes with your potential clients so you won’t be able to promote all of them.  You need to identify what is most important to your customers in order to demonstrate that your product or service meets their needs.

3. Where?

It’s important to find out precisely where your product or service will actually be used.  For example, if it is to be solely internal, or even just the US, then that will affect how you make your pitch.  Conversely, if it is to have worldwide exposure, you will need to demonstrate that your product is up to the job.

4. When?

It's essential to establish exactly when a potential client needs your service.  If a client is keen to purchase there and then, then your pitch can be made timely. If the potential client will not be ready to buy until much later, there is little point in pushing hard for an immediate sale. In that case, booking a date for a later appointment will be more beneficial.

5. Why?

Understanding why your potential clients require your product or services will give you a valuable insight into their motivations and the value they ascribe to what you are offering.  If your product will solve a major problem for them, or enable them to make a great deal of money, you can hold a firmer position when negotiating.  If it is of less importance, or many of your competitors can also meet their needs, then you will have to work harder to obtain the deal.

6. How?

How often a potential client will use your product or service is also relevant, as is the number of people who will use it.  Knowing this helps you to price appropriately.  For example, it may be more expensive for you to deliver once every five years than monthly.

Similarly, consider how much volume is being discussed. If your product is used by one person every five years, that is very different from 1,000 people every month.  More volume may mean you can charge less per unit.

Of course, each sale is different and you may not need to use all of these questions for every sale, but it is a wise salesperson who knows which questions to ask at any point.

How to ask questions

It’s understandable that people sometimes feel suspicious or defensive when asked questions, so it’s important to put your potential client at ease.  One way of doing this is to use what NLP calls, "framing."
All words carry meanings, both implicit and explicit.  Implicit meanings are hugely important when you are attempting to persuade (i.e. sell).

When a manager asked his team, "How can we increase productivity?" he received no response.  However, when he asked, "How can we make your jobs easier?" he was inundated with replies.   The phrase "increasing productivity" implies that a person works harder to produce more for his/her company, but "making a job easier" implies that the employees themselves will immediately benefit (and, as a result, productivity will increase).

Framing questions by carefully choosing your words will help put your clients at ease and create an atmosphere where they can be honest about what they want and need.

Furthermore, questions put you firmly in control of the situation.  You can decide exactly what you would like your potential client to focus on by framing your questions so that this becomes the most likely result.
Asking questions is a vital part of any sales process.  Asking specific questions will not only allow you to discover the information you need, but, more importantly, it will enable you to pitch with accuracy.  You’ll make that successful sale because you’ll know exactly what your client wants.  In the words of Lou Holtz, American football coach, “I never learn anything talking.  I only learn things when I ask questions.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

6 Bad Sales Pricing Practices You Must Avoid

Whether you realize it, you most likely have salespeople who are cutting your company’s profits and doing it with a smile on their face. 
Read a few of these confessions.  Names have been left out to protect the guilty, but they’re all real, as I’ve experienced each and every one. Worst of all, I’ve experienced them from a wide number of companies.  Worse yet is how clueless the sales management was when I called their attention to the issue. 

Confessions of a Salesperson:

1. We all want to be recognized

 At the start of each sales meeting, my manager calls out the success of each salesperson. We all like to be recognized, especially because senior management is in the meeting too.  What is interesting is there is never anything said about the price or profit.  My manager is excited about the size of the order.  It didn’t take me long to figure out it would be in my interest to cut a price or offer something for free as a way of closing a sale.  If the recognition is on the sale, I will do whatever it takes to get it. Price and profit are simply not important.

2. The yelling sales manager

My sales manager comes unglued anytime I can’t close a sale.  It’s amazing how ballistic he goes when I call him to let him know a customer didn’t buy.  First thing he does after yelling at me is to then start threatening how he is going to take other customers away from me.  After having experienced his wrath a couple of times, I figured the way around it was to get marketing to offer me better pricing.  Sure, I would tell them I hoped not to use it, but there was no way I wasn’t going to use it. Closing the sale at a discount saved me from getting chewed out.

4. Gaming the accounting system

It’s amazing how messed up my company’s accounting system is.  It’s so bad there is no way for them to track accurately revenue and profit by customer, so we in sales argued years ago that our bonus should be based solely on volume.  This is so sweet for us in sales. For us, it means, “Sell baby sell!”  Objective is the volume, not the price or the profit.  I hope the company never gets the computer system working right. If they did, we’d be screwed!  It’s far easier to sell when we don’t have to be worried about price.

5. Changing the invoice

Our accounting department is not very sharp. It seems their objective is to get stuff off of their desk as fast as possible.  A few years ago, I noticed how I got paid full commission on a price the customer ultimately didn’t pay.  What I realized is as long as I put into the order system the full-price, I would get paid the full commission.  My company thought they were smart by paying based on price/profit, but they would only look at it at the time of the order. 

After the order was processed, I would go back into the system and change the price.  Since there is a delay in the time between when the order is first processed and when it is ultimately shipped, on the generated invoice the customer would only see the lower price.  Beautiful thing for me is although the customer is getting a discount, I’m getting full commission!  

6. Deductions are worth it

I know accounting hates me, but it’s worth it.  When I can’t get a sale due to price, I simply tell the customer they’ll get the lower price they’re looking for.  I tell them when the invoice comes to ignore the stated amount and simply pay the price we agreed on.  What is so funny is it takes several months for the deduction to float through the system.  I head the situation off by telling the customer to ignore any correspondence they get on the shorted amount. After that I call accounting and give them some garbage about how upset the customer is and they’re threatening to not do any business with us again.  It’s amazing, but it works!  Accounting gets scared their actions are going to result in a lost customer and poof, the entire issue just goes away.  I get the sale and I get the full commission!

Yes, these bad sales practices happen and it happens far more than anyone can imagine

 I’m not trying to bash salespeople, but I’m being blunt. They will find a way around any obstacle that stands in their way of making more commission.  You may find these as being unethical and I will agree with you, but unethical or not, it is still resulting in lost profit to you and your company. By learning about the bad sales practices, you can turn it around and ensure your sales team does it right.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Exclusive Confessions of a Sales Professional


Most would be impressed with the extensive rejection I received at the start of my career. I took it personally.  I didn't know any other way.

The rejection began to take a significant toll on my sales efforts:
  • I became afraid to approach new clients
  • I avoided interactions with existing clients
  • My sales accounts were mostly handed to me
  • I only spent time with clients I was comfortable with
  • I was saddened by my poor performance
You could describe my sales strategy as aggressively waiting by the phone.

I was always very successful in previous positions as an engineer and as a team leader.  I approached selling with the same techniques that brought me so much success.  I read the conventional wisdom, implemented these strategies and planned to move forward with the winners.
I was absolutely baffled that my efforts to win new accounts resulted in so much rejection. 

Conventional wisdom

Most of the literature I read regarding sales strategies and dealing with rejection suggests a form of the following:
  • Do not give up, persistence will pay off
  • Ask questions and uncover hidden hurdles
  • Rejection is simply qualification
  • Accept rejection as part of the profession

The unfortunate truth

Let's take an experienced based or practical view at rejection.  A quick discussion with most seasoned sales professionals reveals the following:

Being rejected means that what you are offering is simply not able to provide value for the client. Further attempts will most often result in dropped communication.
  • Most times you will not have the opportunity to ask questions after rejection.  If you push, the client will become defensive or annoyed.  They are busy and simply wish to return to work.
  • Long term, repeated rejection will take a toll on your selling attitude.     
  • Attempting to qualify a prospect with a meeting most often results in rejection.  It is also very poor use of time.  
  • Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is often idealistic and superficial when put into practice.   

There is a light at the end of the tunnel

Review the accounts you've won and compare them with those you have not.  You will see basic patterns and milestones that were reached before your clients trusted enough to buy. 

You will begin to see the buying process from your client's perspective and discover their reasons to buy.

Rejection tends to leave your vocabulary when utilizing a process. Rather than a view of rejection, you start to see that a customer is simply stuck at a certain milestone.

This applies very well to a list of clients.  You are then able to track what milestone many clients need to achieve in order to buy. When blessed with a new advantage or a meaningful referral, you will know which clients to approach immediately.  

This also applies well to business referrals. It is key to quickly realize a potential client is part way along your process.  This allows you to move them toward the next appropriate milestone rather than always starting from the beginning.

It is very important to continually review your process. It is rare that the process changes. Most often your skills at moving clients from milestone to milestone improve.

It is also paramount to realize that your process is not necessarily linear.  This freedom allows you to move to any appropriate milestone without fear that you missed one.

Do not let conventional wisdom dictate your process.  Do the work, review your wins and determine the process that works best for you.  It must be a personalized process since it is a person selling.

Please share one of your milestones in the comments below and I will as well.

Monday, January 6, 2014

50 Sales Tips for 2014

There is something inate in all great salespeople that prevents them from ever being satisfied. Great salespeople push endlessly to break records, learn new skills, close new deals, and conquer new challenges.
It is this same drive that makes sales tips, quotes, and strategies so appealing to salespeople. Great salespeople believe in their potential to always be growing and perfecting their trade. Tips and quotes provide the perfect opportunity to try something new and reinvent strategies and approaches. It is with this passion in mind that we have created our first ebook of the new year: 100 Sales Tips for 2014.

Loaded full of insights on 10 distinct sales topics from nearly 70 sales experts, this ebook is the perfect way to start the new year with fresh ideas and inspiration. Let's take a look at 50 of these 100 sales tips, with more details in the ebook.

Sales Pricing

1. Customers don’t buy features. They invest in outcomes. 
2. The most successful salespeople know that price is neither a feature nor a benefit. 
3. Push yourself to move away from bringing up price in your conversations with customers. 
4. Get to the business of explaining how you can help the customer with their desired outcomes. 
5. No matter how low the price, if the product or service doesn’t help the customer achieve their desired outcome, low price means nothing.
6. If you can’t land the customer at the profit margin your business plan is built upon, then that particular customer is not worth having.
7. Maintain a strong pipeline of prospective buyers. 
8. Never attempt to close a sale until the customer has identified to you the benefits they want and the needs they have. 
9. As tempting as it can be to close a sale quickly, the pressure of the price discount is many times what emerges when you close too early. 
10. Strive to know at least three customer needs or desired benefits.

Sales Hiring

11. Take the time to check the candidate’s previous performance claims by speaking with their former sales managers. 
12. The very first hire that you make should be at the managerial level and someone who possesses complementary skills to your own. 
13. Don’t hire a stereotype of a salesperson.
14. All of your salespeople don’t need to be in the same demographic. 
15. Hiring is a question of prioritizing which one component is mission critical and focusing on just that one aspect.
16. A typical sales leader gets hiring right about 50% of the time. 
17. Don’t rush to hire.
18. [Sales managers] hire fast and fired slowly, and it should be the reverse. 
19. Any position can be narrowed down to include six critical functions. 
20. Bring in a trusted friend or colleague to asses that person and see if they’re a cultural fit for you. 

Sales Enablement

21. How well companies define and manage sales enablement can determine how predictable their revenue is.
22. When you have a multi-tiered sales effort, the first thing you want to do is understand the market. 
23. For sales enablement, a critical success factor is simply understanding. 
24. Research by CSO Insights clearly shows that many teams need to get better at selling solutions, outcomes, and business value. 
25. Salespeople today are the differentiator. 
26. Develop a clear charter for sales enablement that balances strategic with operationally oriented functions. 
27. Every company has a vision. But can your sales reps clearly articulate it? Probably not. 
28. If I had a dollar to invest in a sales effort for a company, it would go to building inside sales process and execution.
29. Organizations that consistently achieve or exceed their sales goals have a vibrant sales enablement function making strategic contributions. 
30. Responsive sellers position their people and resources with the deepest product knowledge and industry expertise closest to the customer. 

Sales and Marketing

31. Automate your outbound and benchmark the results. 
32. Stop distracting people on your landing pages with visual embellishments or motion. 
33. Garbage data in, garbage results out. 
34. Build advocates and mobilize them. 
35. Customer point of view. Always. 
36. Webinars, as a form of content marketing, are a great vehicle to educate and inform potential buyers.
37. Today’s buyers do a tremendous amount of their purchasing research long before they ever speak to a salesperson.
38. The buyer's journey is no longer a standard funnel.
39. You must take a few steps back and look at your product or service positioning from your customer's perspective. 
40. When you're sending emails, you live and die by your subject line. 

Social Selling

41. The modern sales professional doubles as an information concierge -- providing the right information to the right person at the right time in the right channel.

42. Social selling is not just a small-business play.

43. Make each sales rep responsible for monitoring a certain number of competitors using LinkedIn.
44. Salespeople should only use social to the extent that it helps them sell more.
45. Social opens a secret door that puts you right in front of decision makers.
46. Join LinkedIn groups. You are 70% more likely to get an appointment with someone on an unexpected sales call if you cite a common LinkedIn group, than if you don’t.
47. By the year 2020, 85% of the buyer-seller interaction will happen online through social media and video.
48. Social selling in the enterprise has to start with strategy.
49. B2B customers are now making first contact with suppliers 57% of the way through their decision process.
50. Tweet less and talk more to the customers and contacts that really matter.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Customer Service Skills: How to Satisfy and Delight Your Customers

In the world of customer service, a lot of attention is given to the concept of customer delight. There are books written about it, and training classes offered on how to do it. Influential customer service experts tell us we’ve failed if we don’t delight every customer every time.

Legendary tales are breathlessly retold around the customer service campfire. Did you hear this one? A store once gave a customer a refund on a set of tires despite the fact that the store didn’t even SELL tires.

There are also valid arguments against trying to delight everyone. Giving one customer a refund on set of tires you don’t sell is the stuff of legend, but you’ll go bankrupt if you do it for everyone. Something that delights one customer may annoy another. What delights a customer today may simply satisfy that same customer tomorrow as they become accustomed to a new level of service.

So, is customer delight truly a business imperative? Or, is focusing on customer satisfaction enough?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. Delight and satisfaction actually co-exist quite nicely. In fact, they need each other.

Satisfaction and delight defined

Customers’ perceptions of service are based on how the experience matches their expectations:
  • Satisfactory service occurs when expectations are met
  • Delight occurs when service exceeds expectations
  • A service failure occurs when service falls short of expectations
The rub is that we only really notice experiences that are different than what we expected.

Imagine you walk into a room and flip the light switch. You expect the lights to turn on. That’s exactly what happens 99% of the time, so you hardly pay any notice when they do. Satisfactory service is a lot like that.
What if something different happens?

You’d be sure to notice if the lights came on to reveal a room full of people shouting, “Surprise!” A surprise party would be an unexpected delight.

Delight is great, failure is bad, but most of the time the lights just come on as expected and you go about your business.

Customer service is the same way. We get satisfactory service most of the time but we don’t really notice it because that’s what we expected. The delight and failure outliers are what we notice and remember.

Why we need satisfaction AND delight

Our tendency to only notice the unusual plays an important role in customers’ perceptions of service. If a customer has four satisfactory service experiences with your company and one delightful one, their overall perception will be heavily influenced by the delightful encounter.

Imagine a frequent flyer who settles into a comfortable routine with her preferred airline. The flights are generally on time, the flight attendants are friendly, and her elite status provides a few extra perks that make travel easier. One day, a severe storm cancels all departing flights and the traveler must wait until the next day to fly home. While other passengers scramble for accommodations, an airline employee seizes the opportunity to be a hero and books the frequent traveler in a nice hotel room at no charge.

These hero moments don’t happen every day, but they’re the experiences that are remembered.
It’s impractical to create hero moments like this all the time. It’s also not necessary. Providing satisfactory service most of the time and delightful service in the right moment is often enough to make your service stand out.
Companies that seize these hero moments benefit from another quirk of human perception called "confirmation bias." When people have a strongly held belief, they’ll selectively filter information based on whether or not it supports that belief.

If the frequent traveler pledges her unwavering allegiance to her favorite airline after they put her up in a hotel, she’ll unconsciously find herself biased by this experience. Good travel experiences become further proof in her mind that the airline is great. An occasional poor experience is dismissed as an anomaly and quickly forgiven.

The opportunity and danger of service failures

Strangely, service failures also represent an opportunity to delight customers. Service failures can and will happen in every company, but what happens next separates the great organizations from the rest.

By definition, a service failure is an experience that falls short of a customer’s expectations. This puts the customer at a crossroads. The service failure is amplified if the company fails to fix the problem. It might even negate the impact of previous satisfactory experiences and cause the customer to dwell on the one service failure. The customer can develop confirmation bias where they expect the company to provide poor service and selectively filter information based on whether it supports their opinion.

But, what happens if someone seizes the hero moment and quickly fixes the problem with style and grace? Now, the feeling of delight is amplified because the customer started out feeling so poorly.

Start with consistency

If you want to delight your customers, start by being consistently good. Fix chronic problems. Get the basics right every time.

Do this well and your hero moments will stand out and delight your customers.