Time Shift

Pay time activities are things like talking to prospects, closing deals, and setting up appointments. If you call in the time zone you live in then any time is usually somewhere between 7:30 AM and 6 PM. Of course, this varies with who you are calling. Admin (non-pay time) activities are things like expense reports, some email actions, proposals (many times, especially low probability proposals), and similar activities. In order to increase your ability to hit your sales targets you should shift as many non-pay time activities to be accomplished outside of the time frame when you can be talking to clients. An added side benefit of this is that you may have more motivation to qualify prospects harder. If you realize that you are going to have to choose between writing a proposal or spending time with your family, you might ask a few more questions and increase your probability of success or decrease them to zero which means you don’t have to write the proposal at all.

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Tell a Story

Stories are a great way to uncover pain and simultaneously explain what you do. But there is a formula so that you don’t bore the prospect or give too much away. Most sales people don’t tell third party stories during the pain step. They focus instead on asking questions and trying to uncover issues which can lead to pain. That is not a bad thing. But telling a story in the right way can really help the prospect to share the pain when they might be reluctant to do so under direct questioning. Stories have the added benefit of giving the prospect insight into how you work and the value of your service or product. But you have to tell the story correctly. When salespeople do tell stories, they tend to focus in excruciating detail on what they do and how they do it. If you do it that way, you will lose control of the call and end up giving away too much information without getting anything in return.

The best way to tell a story is to do it according to the formula 40-20-40. The first forty percent should describe the problem that a similar customer had. Describe the pain in some detail. The reason you do this is so that the prospect can identify with the example. The pain should be something that you suspect the prospect is experiencing. Then you describe, without much detail, what you did to address the problem. This should take up the next twenty percent of the time allotted for the story. Then finish the story with a description of the Utopian condition after you solved the problem. So, if the story length is 100 seconds, there would be 40 seconds on pain 20 seconds on what you did to fix it and then 40 seconds on Utopia. In general prospects can identify with the pain much better than they can identify and understand exactly what you do and how you do it. There is a time to explain that but the pain step is not the place.

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Beware of people who are interested

People are interested in things they have no intention of buying. Interest is only the first step in qualifying a prospect. You also need to determine if the prospect has pain and if there is any urgency to solve the pain. If you have all three of those elements you have a compelling reason to buy. Then of course you need the prospect to have enough money and there is the whole decision process that needs to be contended with. The real danger in prospects who are interested in your product or service (and eagerly tell you that early in the process) is that the salesperson gets excited and forgets all about the sales process. They think “Great, finally someone recognizes the value of my product”. Then, having abandoned the sales process, they begin talking. Before you know it, they have stopped listening and qualifying and have explained all the features and benefits of the product and extolled the virtues of working together. And when they finish and try to close they are surprised that they get put off or shut down all together. The lesson is to control your emotions. Do not get excited. Prospects are expert at manipulating you into giving them the information that they need without giving up too much on their side. Listen. Ask more questions. And totally qualify the prospect before you launch into a presentation or provide a quote. You will do much better that way. You can get excited when the check clears.

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Be Your Own Boss

If you are to be your own boss, you have to do the things that bosses do. For salespeople the boss is the sales manager. Sales managers have goals for each member of their sales team. They demand that the salespeople have a plan to reach their goals. They also have a sales process that they coach their salespeople to follow and they hold them accountable to follow that process. So if you are to be your own boss, you must do no less. You need to have goals that empower you and motivate you. You need a sales activity plan to reach those goals and you need to have a sales process that you follow on each call. But the biggest thing you have to do is commit to doing the activity and following the process. If you hold yourself accountable and do the activity and follow your sales process you work for yourself if not, then you work for your sales manager.

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Don’t short change yourself

You need to internalize your successes. If you accomplish something outside your normal comfort zone, it is important to give yourself credit for it. Unfortunately, the tendency of most salespeople is to feel that closing an extremely large deal or blowing away the quota this quarter when that is unusual for them was due to outside forces like luck or favorable market conditions or things “just falling in place”. When you think like this, you are perpetuating your comfort zone. You are finding an excuse why it wasn’t you who did it. After all, people like you just don’t accomplish those types of things. What you should do is congratulate yourself and internalize the result. Understand the value you brought to the situation and realize that you have the native talent to accomplish this every time. You have to start believing that you are a million dollar a quarter type of person. You are capable of closing big deals. Once you actually believe that, you will replicate that result continually. Eventually you will be surprised when you don’t have those accomplishments. But it all starts with giving yourself credit for the successes you do have. To discount them will stunt your growth as a salesperson.

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Don’t listen to the Noise

Sales calls are often full of noise and you need to filter it out and not be distracted by it. I define noise as anything that distracts you from the goal of the sales call or is not helping to move the “ball” down the field. Sometimes the prospect will give you lots of irrelevant information about the project but is shies away from talking about his actual motivation for moving forward. In other words, at the end you know a lot about the project but no idea whether there is a compelling reason to move forward. In that case you were distracted by the noise. Sometimes prospects (and salespeople) talk about personal stuff to excess leaving no time to discuss the pain they are in and the decision process they need to go through to get the deal done. If that is the case, then, as important as bonding with the prospect is, you were distracted by the noise (personal information or sports stories) on this sales call. There are many other examples such as excessive detailed information which is irrelevant to the sales process but I think you get the idea. You need to listen through the noise to pick out the pain indicators or other hooks to get the conversation back on track and moving toward achieving the goal of the sales call.

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Value is not related to price

Just because the price of a product is lower it does not necessarily mean that the value is greater. If a car has 4-wheel drive, a sun roof and real leather seats it probably costs more than the identical car without those extras. The car salesman might claim that the vehicle with the extras has added value because of the extras, especially since he is throwing them into the deal at 50% of their normal cost. However, if I am a car buyer who hates sun roofs (It messes with my hair and I try to avoid the sun. Besides they leak.), I live in Florida where it never snows and I never drive off road, and I am a member of PETA (people for the ethical treatment of animals), those extras have no value to me. They might actually act as a deterrent to my purchasing that vehicle. Admittedly, I chose an extreme example. But I think you get the idea. If I am using the car every day to commute, I may care more about gas mileage than prestige or load capacity. In that case, a car with higher gas mileage may be a better value even though it costs more because it solves my pain. So, focus your efforts on finding and solving the pain rather than on sharpening your pencil to give them a better price.

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It’s not What It’s Why

The answer to the question “what do you need?” gives you intellectual information. Typical answers might be “a chip that can store 2 terabytes of data”, or a “car that has a good safety rating”, or “a service company that is more reliable”. You need to know those things but that is not enough to get to the prospects pain. None of those answers is pain. However, if you follow up the what question with a why question you get a whole lot richer information including pain. I need a reliable service company because “my current service company did not show up and it put me in a terrible bind with a client. I was totally embarrassed and it almost cost me a client.” I need a chip that handles that much data “because the competition only can handle half of that and it is important to me to be able to beat them to the market.” That one may need another “why” question to get to the real pain. This is a simple concept but one that will pay huge dividends.

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How Jargon can Hurt you

Jargon is insider language. Every market or niche has some. Many salespeople mistakenly think that if they just master the jargon they can sound smart and that will mark them as someone in the know. However, that is not necessarily true. There are certain pieces of information it is important to know. And not to know the basics would be a mistake. But knowing the basics is far different from intentionally littering your speech with buzz words and acronyms which the prospect may or may not understand. Overuse of buzz words marks you as someone who is trying too hard and more importantly it can make the prospect feel not ok if they do not understand what you are talking about. You lose them as they try to decipher what you meant by that last statement you made. Once they feel not ok, the easiest remedy is to disengage from the conversation or to end the meeting prematurely. At the very least it detracts from your ability to develop a deeper relationship. So the lesson here is to speak simply and use terms common to most people in the industry. Don’t add acronyms and buzz words whose only purpose is to make you appear smarter than you are. Prospects can see through that anyway and it does more harm than good.

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Confidence Can Kill a Sale

Confidence is important. But confidence that you know the prospect’s problem can kill a sale. If you have been in the same industry for a while, pretty soon you feel like you have seen everything. You listen as the prospect starts to explain his or her problem. At some point you feel like you have heard this before and you pounce in with the solution. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that you start to sound like “know it all” or the smartest person in the room. This has the potential of making the prospect feel “one down” or “not Ok”. Since people don’t like the ‘not ok” feeling, they push back and can eventually shut down the meeting if they are dominant types. Or, people who are not strong willed just humor you until the meeting ends and give you some lame excuses when you try to close or to follow up. The second reason confidence that you know the prospect’s problem can kill a sale is that even though the problem might be the same the consequences of the problem may be different or how the prospect reacts to the problem may be different in every case. These two elements define the prospects pain. So even though the problem is the same the pain could be different. If your solution is geared to the wrong pain, you probably will lose the sale. My neighbor and I might both have tires on our car that don’t pass inspection (same problem). My neighbor’s spouse and kids ride in that car every day to school. The neighbor’s pain might revolve around the safety of the family and durability of the tire. In that case price would be no obstacle. My car may be a third vehicle in a two driver family and will be traded in or sold in the next 6 months. In that case I will want to spend as little as possible and safety might not be an issue and long term durability certainly is not. It’s good to be confident. But in the pain step, humility to admit you don’t know everything will get you closer to the sale.

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