Don’t Assume, Ask

One of the biggest obstacles to uncovering the prospect’s compelling reason to buy is that the salesperson does not ask enough follow-up questions. They hear the prospect explain the problem in summary form, then quickly move to solving it or expounding on their capabilities to solve it based on their own vast experience with similar problems. The problem is that when you do that, you are implicitly assuming that you know what is behind the problem, what caused it, the downstream effects of the problem, the consequences of the problem to the prospect and other stake holders, the context the problem exists within which may affect the solution to the problem or at least how the prospect feels about the situation he or she is operating within. I could go on but you get the point. the interesting thing is that a rookie is less likely to make that mistake because he does not have the experience to “know” the situation. He hasn’t seen it 25 times in the past so he has to ask the questions. So today’s tip is don’t assume … ask … you may be surprised at the answer.

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Speak their Language

Speak in the prospect’s language. No … I don’t mean Spanish or Swahili. I mean use words they understand and examples that make sense to them. It is fatal to talk down to prospects or to talk in a condescending manner. But it is equally ineffective to speak over their heads trying to make what you are saying sound more important. If you take either of these approaches you will find your meetings cut short as the prospect will feel uncomfortable … and they may not even know why they feel that way.
The best approach is to speak at the level of language the prospect uses. This level might be different in the corporate board room than it is on a construction job site. For example, a car enthusiast might understand the phrase “take the software for a test drive” to describe a demo better than he might understand “experiencing the software’s intuitive menu format in a structured test environment”. That would be especially true if the prospect was not a person with an IT background or had no experience in purchasing complex software products.

Don’t Ask Stupid Questions on A Cold Call

Asking questions is good. Asking stupid questions can kill a sales call. So what questions qualify as stupid? In today’s world with easy access to the internet and everyone having an online presence, you can get basic information about a prospect with 2 minutes of research. Prospects expect you to do at least that much so you don’t have to waste a lot of precious time on a sales call getting the basics. Your conversation (even the initial one) should demonstrate that you thought enough of the person to spend a few minutes to do basic research. I know it is conventional wisdom that “there is no such thing as a stupid question”. However, even intelligent questions asked at the wrong time and with the wrong tonality will appear to be aggressive to the prospect and that is not a good approach. Be respectful of the prospect by doing basic research (but not too much), don’t be arrogant, and converse either the prospect and you will not be perceived as asking stupid questions.

Loosen Up

Baseball players can’t hit the ball if they hold the bat too tightly, Golfers can’t putt if they squeeze the club too tightly and pianists can’t play well if they think too much. The most effective sales calls happen when salespeople loosen up and act naturally and are not tied to a particular script or sales process too rigorously. You need to have a process. But you need to be loose and free to listen and react to what you hear the prospect say. If you are too “tight” (read thinking too much) you will miss opportunities in the conversation to delve into deeper conversation about what matters most to the prospect. A “tight” salesperson is prone to pounce on a problem with a solution rather than ask for further details about how the problem affects the prospect. A “tight” salesperson will work to solve problems as they are presented by the prospect on a sales call rather than probe how the ramifications of the problem are affecting the organization as a whole. So loosen up, have fun, be yourself, listen and respond to what you hear.

Talk at the Right Level

People at different organizational levels have different concerns and your conversations at each level should be different, even if the product or service is exactly the same. Most executives don’t have time for the details and many worker bees can’t see the big picture. For example, the end user of a software package might be concerned with the ease of use of the system and how it will modify the work flow of his department, whereas, the VP who has to spend the money, might be focused on overall efficiency of the department and reducing headcount. You wouldn’t want to talk about reducing headcount to the end user and the executive might not care about the details of how the system worked. As a side note, you may not need the technical expert when you meet with the vice president, but she may be essential when meeting with the end user of the system or the IT department of the company. It is imperative that the optimal salesperson feel comfortable in both arenas and be aware of the different levels of conversation.

The Importance of Belief

Belief is essential to success in sales. If you don’t have belief, you will not be convincing when you speak about your product or service. Your lack of belief will communicate itself through your tonality and body language. In short, you will not be believable if you do not have belief. But Belief in what? First you need belief in the product or service you are selling. I think everyone knows that. But in addition, you must believe in your company. You must believe in your company’s ability to deliver the product on time if you are a distributor or manufacturer and you must believe that you can deliver the results you claim if you are a service provider. But the most important belief you must have is your belief in yourself. You must believe that you belong in the meeting with the person you are talking to. You must believe that you have the ability to carry on the conversation at the level it needs to be held. And you must believe that you have the ability to make this sale. If you don’t have belief in yourself, then it will be very difficult to even have the chance to exhibit your belief in your company and your product.

Call Someone You Haven’t Talked To In A While

The most overlooked source of new prospects exists right in your database. Everyone has old contacts. They are people you used to work with, old clients who changed companies, old friends, former members of networking groups among many other categories of people. When you make the call you don’t have to drop into “sell mode” All you have t do is “catch up” with them. After exchanging personal information about the kids etc., the discussion will naturally flow to what you are doing now. If you describe the pains you are currently addressing for a client similar to who they now work for, they might ask you if you could help them. Don’t spend too much time prejudging who to call and who might have a problem. And, whatever else you do, don’t launch into sell mode. These are old friends and most likely they know you and what you do. An Adroit description of What problems you are solving these days and who you are solving them for is all that is needed in most cases. One last tip, Let them talk first about what they are doing. It will help you decide which current client and/or problem you choose to talk about.

100% of Followup is a Waste of Time

Salespeople waste a lot of time following up. That is because they take put offs from a prospect and interpret them as sincere interest. The prospect says “send me a quote”. So they do thinking they have a qualified prospect. However, many times the prospect knows that asking for a quote (or to send information) is the easiest way to get rid of the sales person. Then they ignore the salesperson’s calls when he or she spends valuable time trying to track down the prospect for a decision. The way to avoid this is to get a commitment for a decision at a specific point in time and even to get an appointment (in person or by phone) to get the decision. If the prospect won’t give you that then they are probably not as qualified as you think they are. Its not following up if you have an appointment to discuss the outcome of the quote. Almost all of “follow up” can be avoided if you follow this simple rule – “Never do anything until you know what is going to happen after you do it”.

Jumpstart Your Sales

As the saying goes … doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is … well you know the rest. So if sales are down or not where you were hoping they would be, then inject a little jolt of energy (just like when you jump your car) by a short spurt of massive sales activity. It is almost the only thing you can do. In the short term your sales skills are fixed. Deals you are pursuing have a set timetable to close which you probably can’t change without giving discounts as an incentive or “twisting some arms” and neither one of those is ever a good idea. So inject a little energy by doubling the number of calls you make for the next few days or maybe a week. Then go back to your normal amount of activity. Call clients you haven’t talked to in a while. Call referral sources. Call people who didn’t buy from you in a while. Make cold calls if all else fails. You don’t have to do it forever … only a few days. You don’t keep your jumper cables connected once the car starts do you? So, commit to some massive action for a few days and the world will change around you.

Closing is a Journey Not an Event

Closing is a Journey you take with the prospect. You may guide the prospect through journey, but but it is something that is a joint effort. Closing is NOT something you do to the prospect at the end of a discussion. Way too much emphasis is placed on closing in popular movies and even in sales training. If you do the right things up front in qualifying the prospect, then closing will happen as a natural consequence of everything that went before. If you do not qualify properly then clever closing techniques will not save the day. Remember that closing can also mean ending the pursuit.