Sales Tips for the Optimal Salesperson

This page is dedicated to helping you become the best salesperson you can be. These one minute sales tips will help make you more effective and earn more money. Each Tip is a single actionable nugget designed to move you toward effortless high performance … In short to become the Optimal Salesperson.

Closing is not the most Important Skill

I’ll say it again closing is not the most important sales skill to develop. What good is someone who can close but who can’t prospect? What good is a closing skill if there is nothing in your pipeline to close? If I set you up with 5 appointments next week and all of them had a compelling reason to buy. They all had enough money to fix the problem and they were decision makers and they had agreed to make a buying decision based on what you had to tell them, how many could you close? The answer most groups give me is that they could close all 5, or they could at least close 4 of them. I get that answer even from novices who don’t know how to close for an order. What this thought experiment proves that anyone can close if the prospect is set up properly. It turns out that prospecting, qualifying and discussing money are far more important skills to have than the ability to close. If you have to start somewhere, work on those top of the pipeline skills first and closing will take care of itself.

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Don’t trigger the Prospect’s sales shield

Prospect’s know immediately when you drop into sell mode. As soon as they recognize that you are selling they get defensive, deny the existence of problems and actively try to extricate themselves from the sales interaction. So what triggers the sales shield? Anything that appears to be aggressive will do it. Asking direct probing questions will do it. Asking leading questions will do it. In fact, anything that sounds like a traditional feature and benefit sales pitch will do it. The optimal sales approach is to be consultative. This means you must break the traditional buyer-seller relationship and establish an open trusting relationship where the prospect trusts you enough to share what is really bothering them and what they are really going to do about it and what they might really like to spend to get it done. This is not easy since they come to the interaction from a position of distrust. That is due to the hundreds of salespeople they have interacted with in the past. It is a gradual process but one that needs to begin from the very first interaction you have with the prospect.

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Describe your Ideal Prospect

If you don’t have an accurate description of your ideal prospect on the tip of your tongue, you are unlikely to ever find one. And, more unfortunately, your clients and referral sources are not likely to ever refer you to one. It is vitally important that you describe in writing what your ideal prospect looks like. The ideal client is the one that gets the most value from your services, is willing to pay the price to get them, and they are large enough to have an impact on the growth of your company. You should describe your ideal prospect by the pain they are in or at least the problems they would have that make them the ideal prospect. Just because your best clients are all service firms in the Fortune 1000, does not mean that all such firms are ideal prospects for you. You are a labor attorney then maybe your ideal prospect is all fortune 1000 firms who have Non-Union Employees and are trying to avoid being unionized. That narrows the field and much more importantly allows your clients and other referral sources to be able to identify prospects for you while in general conversation with their clients or acquaintances. Being able to succinctly describe the pain your prospects might have makes you much more effective in networking situations and when working trade shows. Demographics are important when describing target clients but not as important as identifying the pain that they might be in.

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Listen for the Human Problems

Personal pain is the most powerful motivator in sales. Yes, it is possible to make sales based solely on the problems the company is experiencing. I call this corporate “pain”. These are issues like lack of efficiency, not enough sales, too much waste, air chillers on their last legs, leaky valves, etc. Good salespeople know enough to explore those further to discover another level of pain. Such as, lack of efficiency is causing waste in the product stream, which leads to higher cost and hence lost profit or worse, lost sales. Or, not enough top line growth is putting pressure on the stock price and profitability of the company. However, the optimal salesperson focuses on connecting the business problem to a human problem. The human problem ideally will cause pain in the people who make the decision. In the example of low efficiency leading to lost sales, the optimal salesperson will not stop there. She will ask questions to determine how this will affect the person who has the authority to make the decision to buy her product. She might discover that the VP of operations is worried that he might be replaced if he doesn’t correct the problem. Or the new VP of operations might view this situation as a chance to prove to management that they made the right decision to hire him to run the plant. Or maybe his bonus depends on reducing waste. Notice that if these are all personal emotional connections to the business problem. The salesperson who uncovers these motivators will have discovered truly compelling reasons for the project to move forward. An added bonus is that the prospect will be more bonded to the salesperson with whom he shares these emotions and be more likely to share others. The relationship will deepen and the probability of winning the business at the right price will be dramatically increased.

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Ask for permission to push back

Pushing back on a prospect can be difficult, especially for salespeople with lots of need for approval. If you are one of those who finds it difficult to disagree with an assumption the prospect is making or the decision they are about to make, then you need a way to push back without triggering your own self-limiting beliefs. It’s a very simple technique. All you have to do is ask the prospector permission to push back. It might go like this. “I understand what you are saying Frank. But is it OK if I push back a little?” That is all there is to it. This simple technique has the power to change the direction of your sales calls and have a dramatic effect on your future income.

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Listen to your Self-talk

Listening to your self-talk is way more important to listening to yourself talk. Everyone knows that listening is an important skill in sales. But have you ever listened to what you say to yourself? You say things like “I can’t ask that question because it might upset the prospect”. Or you might hear yourself say “our prices are high. I better sharpen my pencil”; or, “this is a big deal. I better not ask any tough questions. I don’t want to rock the boat”. Sometimes these are only faint ideas in the back of your head so you have to listen very carefully. More importantly, it pays to ask yourself questions at the end of each call. This is called debriefing yourself. Ask ‘why did I say that” or “why didn’t I say that”. There are many other questions (just think of what your sales manager might ask and you will come up with plenty). Asking those questions will force you to come up with a reason. The reason you give yourself is almost always a self-limiting belief. The first step to overcoming a self-limiting belief is understanding what they are. So listen carefully to your self-talk. It helps you grow as a salesperson and it is more productive than listening to yourself talk.

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Don’t forget the Fundamentals

Complacency happens when you think you have “finally gotten it”. You relax. You stop paying attention to what got you there. And that is when the fundamentals of being the Optimal Salesperson which you worked so hard on go out the window. Next thing you know you are trying to work your way out of a slump and wondering how you got there. Everyone has been there and it is so easy to avoid. Just pay constant (read that as daily) attention to the fundamentals of selling. Sure, week by week you can add a little something here and there. Work on a belief system that is getting in your way for a month. Practice a new questioning technique for a week. It never hurts to continually hone your skills. But don’t ignore the basics. Mastery of anything comes from constant repetition of the basics. It’s true that pro golfers can do things with the ball mere mortals can only dream of. But that doesn’t mean they can forget about taking the proper stance over the ball, grip firmly and follow through appropriately. Musicians make their instruments “sing” but they still need to pay attention to how to play the basic notes. To become a true master, you have to continually work on the fundamentals. And make sure that you execute them every time. the only way to do that is to critically review each sales call against your sales process and evaluate whether you could have done better on some parts of the call. It doesn’t have to take long, 5 minutes at the end of a call is all it takes.

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Growth lies just outside your comfort zone

Getting outside your comfort zone is scary. Inside your comfort zone you feel confident, knowledgeable and above all safe. But outside your comfort zone who knows what will happen! “They could reject me if I push too hard”. “They could get mad at me if I call too often”. “I could blow the whole deal with that question”. If you have ever had any of these thoughts or similar ones, then you know that you have bumped up against the walls of your comfort zone. The most common reaction is to retreat well within the confines of the very safe comfort zone. But growth demands that we break through those walls. The interesting thing is that whatever we are afraid of happening when we go to the other side of the comfort zone … usually never happens. What is even more astounding is that life outside of your comfort zone can be much easier. If I am afraid to ask tough questions for fear of what will happen, I most probably will end up working harder with less qualified prospects with far less results. Once I get comfortable with asking better questions, they seem far less risky. Therefore, I ask them regularly and get better and richer information. I disqualify many prospects quicker and increase my chances of success with the ones I do pursue. I therefore spend less time making more money. Who doesn’t love that? But it all starts with asking what seems to be a tough question and breaking out of your comfort zone. Once you realize that life is easier outside the walls of your current comfort zone, you will have the motivation to take the risk and ask those questions or do other sales-related things that scare you today.

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Where to find value

The value of your product or service varies from customer to customer. Some like the variety you provide. Some buy because of the convenience. And some people become customers for reasons you and your marketing consultant didn’t foresee in your market planning sessions. The fact is that value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the prospect or customer. So when you are trying to sell value instead of being the low price, don’t look inward at the product or service you are providing. Look outward at the prospect. Your service will only have value if it solves a pain that the prospect cares enough about to spend money to fix. The fact that you have 30 years’ experience in the business may mean nothing to the prospect if she is looking for new, fresh ideas that have not been tried before.

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Don’t Snorkel Scuba Dive

Uncovering the prospect’s compelling reason to buy requires conversations that go deeper than “What do you need” or “What do you want”. My observation is that many salespeople in the discovery phase of the sales cycle act like snorkelers. They stay near the surface of the conversation. They are satisfied with answers like “we’d like to increase throughput by 15%”; or “we are not happy with our current supplier”. Like snorkelers in the lake, they are afraid to go deeper lest they “run out of air” so to speak. The Optimal Salesperson knows that the true compelling reason to buy lies several layers below the surface. So, like SCUBA divers, they head into deeper waters in order “to get to the bottom” of why exactly the prospect wants what they want and what the ramifications of not getting it are. They are not afraid of “running out of air” (i.e. getting stuck) because they brought plenty of air (read selling skills and product knowledge) with them. They are not satisfied with knowing that the goal is for throughput to increase by 15%. They want to know why 15% and not 20% or 12%. What happens if they don’t achieve 15%? How does failure to achieve that 15% affect the production manager who is buying the product or service. They want to know why the prospect is not happy with their current supplier. Is it delivery time, technical knowledge, or responsiveness? Does it have something to do with the product? Or, is it the salesperson they are unhappy with? So the main point here is to go deeper. Ask another question. Ask why. In other words, act like a SCUBA diver not a snorkeler on a sales call.

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