Prep your expert

Experts can cause you problems if they you don’t handle them correctly. There should always have a reason to bring them on the call with you. It might be that they are there just in case there is a question you can’t answer. It might be to make the presentation about how you will solve the problem, or it might be to lead the effort in finding pain because the person you are dealing with is a technical person. It is important that whatever the plan is the expert knows what the plan and is ready to follow your direction. If they are just there in case a question comes up, make sure you tell them not to speak until you ask them to. To do otherwise is to invite disaster. If you are not careful they may take over the sales call in a misguided attempt to help you. This never ends well. In summary have a plan or don’t take the expert and make sure they know the plan and are ready to follow it.

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Wants to do it vs will do it – Follow up

There can be a big difference between someone who wants your product and someone who will buy your product. Many salespeople get excited when the prospect exhibits interest or says that they want or need their product. However, if you stop with need or want, you may end up with a pipeline bloated with prospects who are never going to buy. The difference between “I want that” and “I will buy that” mostly lies in whether there is enough pain to “compel” action. The first step in qualifying a prospect is to make sure there is a compelling reason to buy. The compelling reason usually resides in the answer to the question “why do you want it” or “why do you need it”. It may take more questions than that and many minutes of conversation but eventually the prospect must reveal what is driving them to move forward. If they don’t then there will be no sale in the immediate future.

Wants to do it vs will do it

Are your forecasts inaccurate? Is your pipeline bloated with deals that never close? It might be because you don’t appreciate the difference between someone who will buy form someone who merely wants to buy. As I write this I want to buy a new car. The Lexus I have is getting older and there are some minor problems with it. Nothing major, there are just some minor annoyances. Plus, I like some of the features of the new cars. BUT, I am not in enough pain to buy one. There is no urgency. Besides I hate cars in general and don’t especially relish the task of buying one. Money is not the issue. If I was in front of a car salesperson, I would sound like a buyer and act like a buyer, but I would not be a buyer since there is nothing pushing me to buy. However, that could change. If my mechanic would alert me to a major impending expensive problem, I would suddenly have enough urgency to buy immediately. Don’t be fooled by people who give “buying signals”. Make sure they have enough urgency to buy in the short term. Ask questions. Dig deeper and you will avoid the dreaded pipeline bloat.

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Verify time with the prospect

Knowing how much time you have for your sales call is vital to its success. It is frustrating to put all the work in to set up the meeting, not to mention time and travel expense, only to have the prospect cut your meeting short. You may have scheduled an hour, but the question is, “does the prospect still have that hour to give you”. Or, has another “emergency” or higher priority shown up between when you set the meeting and the time you got there? If they cut the meeting short, you will be rushed at the end, key people may have to exit the meeting early or the meeting may just end abruptly with no warning. There is a straight forward way to eliminate this problem. Just ask the prospect in the first few minutes of the call how much time they have set aside for the meeting. If they mention a time shorter than you were expecting, at least you know in advance and can plan the call accordingly. You can make sure you cover the most important topics and end the meeting in an appropriate way. Having a half hour meeting instead of an hour may be frustrating but knowing it in advance allows you to end the meeting in a natural way.

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The Closing Skill is Over rated

The closing skill is over rated. Too much attention is paid to closing techniques and overcoming objections to get a signature on the dotted line. Not enough attention is paid to the front end of the funnel. Closing should be the natural consequence of everything that comes before it. If you hunt regularly, sell consultatively and qualify prospects effectively, your pipeline will be full of prospects who are moving normally toward the close. The key here is to do enough prospecting and qualify effectively. Do not run to the quote and then try to close the prospect. Rather make sure they have a compelling reason to buy from you. Make sure they have enough money and you understand the decision process and what decision the prospect you are talking to has both the authority and the willingness to make. There is one right time to close. Close too early and you will look pushy. Close to late and you may look disinterested or miss the window of opportunity. The right time is decided upon by the prospect so have that conversation with him or her – don’t guess. If you prospect consistently, sell consultatively, and qualify effectively closing will take care of itself.

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Forget you heard it Before

Keep listening to prospects even if you think you have heard it before. The personal pain of each prospect is different. Some salespeople tend to stop listening when the prospect starts to tell them the problem because they have heard this a hundred times before and they think they know where the prospect is going with this description. If you do this, you will miss the real personal pain that this prospect has. Or at least you will miss the hint they give you which will lead you to ask more and better questions. Even worse, some salespeople interrupt the prospect in mid description with a statement like “Oh I know your problem!”. There is no faster way to turn off a prospect and ruin your chances to develop a relationship that saying that. So, even if you think you have heard it all before, listen intently and you will discover that the key to the sale may lie in the nuances of this particular situation and how the prospect reacts to them.

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Be Helpful Not Salesy

Talking about your company and your product is not always being helpful to the prospect. At some point they need to know about that stuff but only after you have uncovered the problem and the pain they are in. A much more effective approach is to be helpful to the prospect. Now I believe that every salesperson wants to be helpful, but many go about it the wrong way. One effective approach to being helpful is to ask questions which will uncover issues that the prospect may not be aware of. Effective questions may also help the prospect crystallize his or her thinking around certain issues. Questions are a great way to establish credibility since you tell more about what you know by the questions you ask than by the statements you make. So when you are talking with prospects be helpful. Ask questions that lead them to a better understanding and you can leave the sales talk at home.

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Pay Attention

To “pay attention” is one of those weird English formulations which non-native English speakers have a hard time understanding. (Where did it come from anyway?) Regardless of how weird it sounds, we can take a lesson from its literal meaning. When we pay for something, we give something up (usually money) to get something back (usually a product or service). In sales, when we “pay attention” we are giving our attention to the prospect in return for valuable information (pain, budget, decision process, etc.). unfortunately, most salespeople don’t pay properly. They don’t really listen to what is being said. Rather they listen for a break so they can start talking. Or they assume they know what they think they heard but they only heard half of it because they were not “paying” with their full attention. So the lesson for today is “pay” with your full attention and you will be rewarded with more and richer information.

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Comfort is not a prerequisite

Being uncomfortable asking certain questions or talking to certain people is no excuse not to do it. Comfort is not a prerequisite for success in sales. In fact, you could make the case that getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow. Everything is difficult before it becomes easy and in sales that is true in spades. Are you uncomfortable talking to strangers (making cold calls)? Do it a bunch of times and it becomes easier. Are you uncomfortable talking about money? Do it a few times and it becomes easy. Afraid to talk to CEO’s? Do it a few times and you will feel comfortable in the c-suite. In fact, top salespeople get paid because they are willing to do the things that ineffective salespeople are afraid to do. Repetition breeds comfort. And comfort paired with skill breed success. So, the best advice I ever got from a sales mentor was to “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. Whatever you are afraid of or uncomfortable with probably won’t happen.

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Better is not up to us

What we think is better in a product is unimportant. What the prospect thinks is better is what counts in sales. Your product might be better in one respect and worse in another respect. For example, yours might have more “bells and whistles”. But, on the other hand, it requires more maintenance because of the added complexity. You might think the bells and whistles make your product better, but the prospect may value reduced maintenance costs and have no use for many of the extras you provide. So, while you think the product is better, the prospect doesn’t agree and may go to a competitor even if yours is cheaper. The solution is to focus on the prospect first and determine what they value. Or, in other words, discover their pain. Once you do that, you can focus your pitch on what they value and eliminate any mention of the other things even (and this is the hard part) if you are passionate about the cool features your product has that the prospect does not care about.

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