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The Six Qualities That Win Sales

I have a close friend who is on the receiving end of a number of sales calls – some very good and some pretty lousy.  And she likes to share horror stories with me.  This is one, and it sheds light on the six qualities that win sales by addressing what customers need and want from us in today’s environment.  During a phone conversation, the salesperson said, “Can you shoot me an e-mail with the details on this?”

Well, my friend has a sense of humor like I do.  So she said, “Sure.  I shoot emails all the time.  Sometimes it gets pretty bloody in my office.  Nothing but dead emails laying all around the floor.  I’ll tell you, it’s carnage!”  Hey, I’m laughing.  But this guy?  He didn’t even notice what she said.  Just kept going as if she had said nothing.  So at his next pause, she said, “And I take it your company came out okay in that big fraud investigation?  You weren’t indicted?”  The salesman said, “Nope,” and just continued on.  This highlights one of the six qualities that win sales, and that salespeople MUST have to succeed these days.  These will be in no particular order – except that the most important one will be LAST in this list.

  • Listening: As you’ve probably guessed, listening – the ability to capture the words coming from your customer’s mouth, processing them, and interpreting them in order to build solutions for your customer – is incredibly important.  For most salespeople, this boils down to simply taking the time and effort to listen, instead of using the time the customer is speaking to form what you’re going to say next.  Even so, it’s amazing how many salespeople don’t do this – like the hammerhead that was selling to my friend.
  • Questioning: Of course, to be a good listener, you have to have something worth listening TO – hence, you should be a good questioner, as well.  What does “good questioning” entail?  Well, it means getting beyond the basic questions that are asked in your industry and understanding what the buyer’s real definition of success is.  It means understanding your customer’s needs as a whole, and understanding what they will be, or are likely to be, in the future.  It means not leaving a question unasked, and it means re-asking questions periodically to refresh your knowledge.  Precious few salespeople do that – but the ones that do are the ones who succeed.
  • Tech savviness: In today’s world, you have to be able to understand and use technology.  You have to be able to have, and use, a CRM system.  You have to be able to use various forms of communication platforms – email, text, IMs, Zoom, Teams, and Webex, and be prepared to communicate on any of them at a moment’s notice.  It means knowing how and when to use LinkedIn – and it means having, at minimum, a smartphone and laptop available to do them (I add in a tablet as well).  Age and seniority are no excuse – if you’re not keeping up, you’ll lose to people who are.
  • Intellectual curiosity: Intellectual curiosity is that characteristic which makes us want to know more, learn more, and explore more, even when no one is telling is that we have to.  This drives us to ask more questions (see above), and it drives us to seek out new ways to solve problems and add value for our customers.
  • Continuous development: I wrote about this in a recent Navigator, but it shocks me how few salespeople take it upon themselves to grow and develop their skills independently of their employer.  The salesperson that knows exactly what they knew five years ago is the salesperson who has put an expiration date on their own career.  Don’t be that person.  Spend time each week reading, watching videos, and building your skills.
  • SMART: This is the final and most important one.  Today’s salesperson must be SMART.  That’s not an acronym – I mean they need to be intelligent.  The age of the “charismatic dunce” personality who sells on charisma but can’t think on his or her feet is over in our profession.  Sales is an activity of the mind today, not of the emotions – and today’s salesperson must be smart, savvy, and ready to think on their feet and use their expertise to benefit their customer.  Nothing less will suffice.

So, there you have it – the six qualities that win sales.  Some can be learned and developed, some cannot – but if you are a hiring manager, you need to be thinking about these qualities and assessing them in your hiring processes.  If you’re a salesperson, you need to be figuring out what you can learn and develop (remember Continuous Development above), and making yourself the salesperson your customer needs you to be.

That way, when someone throws a great joke at you (and it was a great joke – I cracked up as she was telling the story), you can share a good laugh with your customer and let them know that you really are listening to them.

Activity Drives Results.

“Why do you care how many customers I see if I’m hitting my sales quota?”  That’s the question that sales managers have dealt with since forever.  Sales managers have been accused of being small-minded bean counters because they look at their salespeople and say, “Congratulations for the big sale – but let’s talk about your appointments.”  Even some “sales trainers” feel this way.

The truth is that activity drives results, and there are some extremely good reasons for sales managers to care how many appointments their reps are getting – and if you’re one of those reps, there are some very good reasons that you should, too.  Let’s talk about them:

For the sake of the discussion, let’s say that we’re in an environment where the average sales rep sells one out of every six customers he or she meets.  In this environment, management wants a minimum of one sale per week, so salespeople are expected to meet six people per week.  That’s easy, right?  Most salespeople on the team are hitting that number without problem.

Of course, not all salespeople are at the same talent level.  One is only meeting three customers per week, but still making the one sale.  And his defense to management is, “I’m hitting my number.  That’s all that matters.”  Sometimes managers get a bit tongue-tied at this moment, but they shouldn’t.  Here are the reasons why it matters that that rep goes ahead and sees six customers per week:

Marketing exposure:  Unless you work for a highly branded company (think Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Xerox, etc.), most of the potential customers in your territory don’t know who you are or what you do.  And in sales, if they don’t know who you are, they can’t buy from you.  In the small to medium sized business space, the best marketing material is a business card passed across a desk during a sales call.  Salespeople aren’t just salespeople, they are MARKETING people.  Working at half-speed takes away half of the company’s marketing in that territory.

We work on thin margins: In sales, we tend to work on thin margins.  Even that salesperson who is selling one out of every three people is failing 2/3 of the time.  It’s easy to go 0 for 3 instead of 1 for 3.  Stack that up for a few weeks and we’re in a slump.  More opportunities to do business = more chance for success.

Work up to potential:  In sales, the job isn’t just to hit quota – it’s to maximize our potential.  I’ve said many times before that the truly successful salespeople love the activity and not just the result.  The salesperson who loves the activity doesn’t only work half-speed; they work to their maximum and overachieve if their talent will do so.  As a manager, I always felt my job was to get the most out of my people – not just to hit quota.

It hurts the sales team:  Most of the people on the team don’t have the ability to work a portion of the appointments and hit quota – that’s why standards are devised around the average salesperson.  When the manager allows one set of rules for one member of the team and enforces a different set of rules for other members, it creates problems and hurts morale.  Many times, this morale actually harms the performance of other team members – thus taking away any benefit from the top person.

Sales is a full time job:  Your company employs many people whose job it is to make the stuff, distribute the stuff, ship the stuff, etc., and all of those people work a full time job and are dependent upon the sales staff to keep selling.  Frankly, I find it disrespectful to them to allow salespeople to work half-speed to sell that which they produce and service.  Salespeople should be good team members, as they expect others to be.

Look, if you’re that salesperson and your manager tells you that you need to work full-time and to hit certain activity numbers, there are several reasons for it – and if you’re that good, you’ll just sell that much more and make that much more.  Those are good things.  And if you’re that manager, don’t be afraid to confront this issue.  You’re working a much bigger picture, and if your team respects you, they’ll respect your wishes on this issue.

Activity drives results.

Are You Improving or Stagnating?

I started my sales career selling new cars in Topeka, KS, in 1990. At first, I wasn’t very good, as you would expect.  But, although the environment was pretty cutthroat, I worked hard at developing my skills.  I listened to a set of tapes that the dealership had (lousy).  I went to a car sales training school (not much better).  But then I started reading sales books.  Some of those were car oriented (Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, is still on my bookshelf), and some were not.  What was interesting was this – I was surrounded by salespeople who did the same.  We bought sales books.  We read sales books.  We traded sales books around.  And we worked hard at getting better at our profession.

I’ve been interviewing candidates for a client of mine.  This position is a highly paid position and is attracting mid- and senior-level candidates.  And a question I often ask is, “What’s the last sales book you read?”  And normally, the answer I get is either a blank stare, or an honest, “I don’t read sales books.”  “Okay,” I ask, “How do you develop your skills?”  Again, I get blank stares.  I find this both concerning and disappointing, and it ties to the most frequent question I get when I speak at conventions.

The most commonly asked questions I get are how to deal with price.  More specifically, it’s along these lines:

“Troy, I constantly have a problem with customers taking my (lower) price and using it to get their current supplier to drop my price.  Then I don’t get the sale.  How can I protect myself from that?”

Pardon me while I sigh and roll my eyes for a minute.  Okay, I’m back; here’s my answer.  There’s a dirty little secret in sales, and here it is.

Customers buy from who they want to buy from.  If that’s not you, your price doesn’t matter.  If it is you, your price might matter, but it’s far from the only thing that does.  If low prices are your only sales tactic, you aren’t a salesperson.  Period.

“But, Troy, all my customers care about is a low price,” salespeople wail.  Utter nonsense.  If everyone was paying the absolute lowest price possible for everything, there would only be one provider of any given service in any given market.  Before you think about offering “the cheapest price,” ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you asked and understood the customer’s definition of success for the purchase?
  • Have you shown them how you can solve their needs and achieve this success?
  • Has the customer agreed that you can achieve their success?
  • Have you gotten the customer to explain how they see an advantage in buying from you?

If you haven’t done these things, you haven’t positioned yourself to truly “win” the sale.  You’re cranking out a quote and hoping that it’s good enough.  And then you’re probably complaining that they took your price to the supplier that they wanted to buy from all along, since you didn’t persuade them that they would achieve a better result by buying from you instead.

Entirely too many salespeople ask a few rote questions trying to find a common problem in their industry, and then fire off a proposal figuring that this will make the sale.  Most of the time it doesn’t. It’s lazy and unskilled selling.

So, how does this tie back to my original point about sales books?  Simple.  The salespeople who take the time to reinvest in themselves, their skills, and their careers are seldom the ones who ask me price-based questions.  That’s because they understand how to ask great questions, how to make great presentations, and position themselves to truly win sales.  If you’re getting wrapped around the axle about price all the time (or even if you aren’t), maybe it’s time to get serious about this great profession of ours.

Read books.

Watch videos.

Read articles (there are over 400 of them on this blog, for instance).

Get SERIOUS about the art, science, and skill of selling.

From your learning, try one new skill per week.  Maybe it’s coming up with a new question.  Maybe it’s presenting in a different way.  Your customers will tell you – quickly – what works and what doesn’t.

Get better and your results will be better.

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse – and these days, our customers want and need us to be better.

How Not to Impress People in a Restaurant

A few days ago, I was having lunch with a good friend.  Just as we were seated, a man at a table about ten feet away started a phone call.  I couldn’t tell whether he was the recipient or the dialer.  He was wearing a very nice polo shirt embroidered with the name of his company, which was locally owned.  My friend and I overheard his conversation.  We weren’t eavesdropping; we couldn’t help it.  Neither could a few other groups around us.  That’s how loudly he was talking.

As we listened, we realized that this was the sales manager.  We knew this because he was discussing sales reports, prospects, and even individual results of salespeople.  At one point, he was speaking of one particular rep (whom he named to the person on the other end, including first and last name), and said, “Yeah, he’s not going to make it.  He’ll probably get fired in a couple of weeks.”

Wow.  Again, this was a locally owned company, so it wasn’t like he had a shirt of a company like Budweiser or Pepsi, where you weren’t 100% sure where he worked.  As I watched the faces of the people around us – who were clearly annoyed by this guy – I wondered if anyone knew the person who was about to get fired.  It was very possible – we weren’t in a bigger city like Kansas City.  And the conversation just went ON AND ON.  I was there for an hour, and he hadn’t stopped talking when we left.

There’s a lot to unpack here.  First and foremost, to have a loud conversation of that length in a busy restaurant is just plain bad manners.  He was disturbing the lunches of other people – myself included.  I could tell by the face of the server that she wanted to ask him to pipe down, but wasn’t quite feeling brave enough to do so.  I do of course take the occasional call when I’m eating lunch, but I keep them short or I step outside.

Second, when you are on a call in a public place, you should be careful about WHAT you say.  More than one sale has been lost because of an overheard conversation.  I saw this exact thing happen in an airport a few years ago.  I was heading back from a convention and a few other people from the same convention were at the same gate.  One of the attendees was having an easily overheard conversation about pricing strategy.  The guy next to me got really quiet, and I could tell that he was listening.  After the first conversation ended, he jumped up and walked off quickly.  After a couple of minutes he came back grinning.  I said, “You’re going to snake that guy’s customer, right?”  He just looked at me and smiled.

Third, when you are wearing apparel that readily identifies the company you work for, you must be on-brand at all times.  That’s because you are not 100% yourself – you are a representative of that company.  And yes, that even goes for times when you are not “on duty.”  Look, I’m as much of a “work hard, play hard” person as the next guy.  Maybe more.  But you have to be conscious of what you’re doing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone drunk and behaving like a jackass in their work apparel.  Do you think that leaves a good brand impression on those around that person?  It does not.  And in this case, based on the glares that our subject was getting from those around him, he was leaving a negative impression of his company.  And I’m betting it’s not the first time.

Much of what we are talking about here is simply common sense.  Use good manners.  Keep company business within the company.  And don’t do harm to your company.  The sad fact is that “common sense” sometimes isn’t common.

How to Define a Successful Sale

A few weeks ago, I was engaged in a debate with someone in one of my training classes.  The salesman that engaged me was a good guy, well intentioned, but like a lot of salespeople, he’d been trained into some bad techniques.  He asked me about a particular technique for voice mail that relies on deception (getting the contact to believe you are a customer, rather than a salesperson) to get the contact to call you back.

“It works,” he said.  “I get a lot of calls back.”  When I asked him how many of those call backs result in sales, the answer got a lot more vague – but I can’t blame him.  It occurred to me that one of our problems, in building sales methodology, is that we (salespeople and trainers) many times define “success” incorrectly.  We only look at the immediate step rather than the overall result.  So how should we define success?

The ultimate success in selling is when you sell a customer, they’re enthusiastic about buying from you again, and they will evangelize for you by giving testimonials and referrals.  That’s the ultimate success in selling.  Too often, we settle for much less, and the reason is the way we sell to our customers.  Let’s look at a sales process and see where we can go wrong – at EACH STEP – to prevent ourselves from doing that.

Initial contact:  Typically this is a prospecting call but it can be a call from the customer to you.  Our objective is to turn this initial contact into an opportunity to discover the customer’s needs and present solutions. Definition of success:  The customer is interested enough to enter into a sales process with us.  Failure point:  Either we don’t give the customer a reason to be interested, or worse, we do or say something that creates a NEGATIVE impression so that the customer becomes biased against us.  Deceptive tactics fall under this umbrella.

Discovery:  Our purpose here is to work, in tandem with the customer, to discover their needs, define the successful result of a purchase, and create interest in a Presentation.  Definition of success:  You discover needs and the customer agrees that you have identified the correct needs, and the customer is enthusiastic about seeing a presentation.  Failure Point:  You skip or shortcut the needs, you don’t get the customer’s agreement that these are the needs, you move to Presentation before the customer is ready.

Presentation:  Our purpose here is to show the customer how we can satisfy the needs and met the customer’s criteria for a successful result.  Definition of success: The customer’s interest increases, the customer agrees that your solution would achieve their desired result, and the customer requests a proposal.  Failure Point:  You don’t show the customer how you can achieve their needs, you don’t confirm with the customer that you have achieved the needs, or worst – you do or say something that is perceived as deceptive.  Rushing through the Presentation to get to the Proposal will create customer discomfort.

Proposal:  We show the price and terms of our solution.  Definition of success:  The customer understands the price and terms clearly because we present in a simple fashion with no “fine print” involved.  Failure Point: You quote a proposal that glosses over important details, leaving the customer to be surprised later by things like incidental and ancillary charges, etc.  You use “sales words” that increase customer skepticism about your credibility.  All of these can “stall” a proposal and kill the customer’s urgency.

Closing:  We want to get the business in a customer-friendly fashion.  Definition of success:  Your customer agrees, enthusiastically, to buy.  Failure Point:  You ‘hard close’ the customer until they bleed from the ears.  Maybe you even get the order but the experience is so unpleasant that they won’t repeat and won’t evangelize.  When I first started in sales, selling cars, we had a sales manager that was nicknamed “The Hammer” because of his hard closing style.  Many times he “hammered” a customer into buying a car – and most of the time, they wouldn’t ever return our calls again.

Post Sale:  We want a customer that, as I said above, would happily buy from us again, would evangelize and refer us, and in general smiles when they think of us.  Definition of success: Your customer recommends you, takes your calls, takes your meetings, and is open to buying more from you.  Failure Point:  Poor customer service, poor follow up, or any negative experience during the sales process.

Some tactics in selling are best thought of as “buy or die” tactics – in other words, if the customer doesn’t buy, we’re dead to them.  In my experience, I’d rather lose the sale today and preserve a potential customer than go all-in on burning a customer with the hope of slapping one deal together.  If you stay in your business and your job long enough, you’ll be surprised at how many of those customers come back to you later because you treated them with respect – and many times, the ultimate deal ends up being far more lucrative.

On the other hand, you can use tactics that deceive, manipulate, and use words to try to box your customer in to try to get them to buy once.  And when you do, they’ll remember you, but not in a good way.  The choice is yours.

Buy NOW, NOW, NOW, or Get Lost!

Spoiler alert.  The title of this email is a selling philosophy that can cost you sales – but it’s still prevalent.  I had a reminder of that at a convention in Orlando when someone took the wrong message from my program.  My speaking program, “Win it Easy or Come In Fourth,” is about making good decisions regarding time allocation.  The basic idea is that salespeople spend too much time on customers that don’t move the needle and not enough on their “Freds,” the customers that are difference makers.

One attendee misinterpreted it and recounted how, when he was a sales manager, he would make sure that his team quickly qualified who was in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, and if they weren’t, to move along.  Wrong move.  I’ll explain why.

In today’s world, when someone is in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, they can do so without ever dealing with a salesperson.  Most of the time, they can order what they want to order online and get near-immediate gratification.  That means that salespeople are superfluous in this type of buying environment.  So what are our jobs?

Well, we need to be relationship builders.  Relationship building is more than being their buddy – it’s positioning yourself as a valued business resource that can help the customer achieve their objectives. Being a “person of value” is far different than being a “good time Charlie,” but people of values will be in position to get that opportunity when the customer is ready to buy.

We need to be expertise providers.  That means that we contribute value through the sales call itself – by finding ways to help the customer achieve efficiencies, by sharing best practices, and by helping the customer anticipate future change.  And we must do that without first getting an order.  Yes – that goes against the old “don’t be an unpaid consultant” canard, but I’m here to tell you that most “unpaid consultants” eventually get paid, and paid very well.

When I sold cars at the start of my career, they told me that the best thing I could do to start a customer’s visit was to ask, “Are you here to buy a car today?”  I counted.  50 times out of the first 50, the answer was, “no.”  Worse, I started the customer off by making them uncomfortable – and then I had to climb out of that hole to get them to buy.  I stopped asking that stupid question, and my sales went WAY up.

Making good decisions about time allocation isn’t about scurrying around looking for a customer with a pregnant RFP that you can price-cut to “win” by being the cheapest.  It’s about positioning yourself to be top of mind with difference-making customers so that, when they are ready to buy, you’re the one they call (or email or text).

4 Useful Networking Tips for the Digital Age

Networking will always be a vital part of business. Traditional methods play a significant role in this effort. Yet it’s also undeniable that the pandemic has changed the way we network.

Indiana State University Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Swallow points out that virtual networking practices ease barriers to access by eliminating the risk of transportation restrictions, long travel times, and location inconveniences — all while accommodating a larger number of attendees. With increased networking potential, Swallow predicts that remote networking will continue to be used even after the pandemic.

Indeed, becoming adept in both traditional and remote networking can provide you with more avenues with which to build your professional network. That being said, we dive into some remote networking tips that you may find useful below.

Cultivate your online presence

The majority of remote networking inevitably takes place on social media, so make yourself someone appealing to connect with by creating a formidable professional profile. The best way you can do so is with LinkedIn, which has over 180 million users in the US alone. When using LinkedIn for remote networking, change management expert LHH recommends sprucing up your profile with an updated professional photo, an accurate and comprehensive job history, and relevant skills. Writing a concise bio for your profile can also give potential connections a better idea of who you are and improve your chances of meeting professionals in the same industry.

Utilize social media

Many social media platforms offer a variety of features that are perfect for remote networking. You can use Facebook to connect with people in your existing network whom you haven’t contacted in a while. Popular communication platform Slack hosts communities specifically geared for remote workers across a variety of industries. Artists, photographers, and professionals in related lines of work can use Instagram to showcase their portfolios and view others’. You can even reach out to YouTubers that create industry-specific content for referrals. The possibilities for networking with social media are virtually endless.

Leverage virtual events

Many organizations and institutions have shifted to virtual networking events, so leverage your membership in professional social media communities to attend any and every relevant webinar you come across. This is a great way to meet like-minded individuals from all walks of life and every corner of the globe. You need not limit yourself to networking events, either. You can stumble across your next important contact by chance while upskilling yourself with various talks relating to everything under the sun. You can even take the initiative by partnering with other organizations and institutions to host your own networking events.

Try the coffee chat

Here on The Navigator News Blog, we’ve previously discussed that great networkers never stop networking. Establishing connections is only one aspect of a successful networking strategy — the rest involves maintaining those connections over time. You can do so through coffee chats. Instead of heading over to the local Starbucks, try meeting up with a professional contact over Zoom and some coffee. You can start with small talk and build your way up to rapport-building questions, such as asking how they got into their current career path and what their typical workday looks like. Such laid-back and casual conversations can help cultivate more meaningful and longer-lasting connections.

Remote networking isn’t meant to be a replacement for traditional strategies — it’s meant to supplement it, instead. By increasing your options for making connections, it helps you cover more ground and create a stronger and more diverse professional network.

How to Get a Testimonial – The Easiest Way

Testimonials are the very best marketing materials you have, bar none.  I truly don’t care how good your marketing department is, how much you invest in marketing materials, etc.  You will never have a better marketing piece than a testimonial from a happy customer. The trouble is that most salespeople don’t know how to get a testimonial.

That’s because a testimonial allows a prospective customer to see you through THEIR eyes – and that bridges the credibility gap.  That’s the hardest thing to do when attracting new customers.  So, with that in mind, I’m going to talk about a few ways to get testimonials, and show you a very recent example of the easiest way to get them.

Testimonials used to be hard to get.  You had to ask your customer to write a letter on their letterhead, and sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t.  Even your happiest customers sometimes don’t take time to write a testimonial letter; they just get busy and it gets pushed to the bottom of the stack.  Technology makes testimonials a lot easier to get.  Here is how to get a testimonial in three methods, from toughest to easiest:

  1. The old school. Yes, you can still ask for the testimonial letter.  And your odds of getting one are roughly the same as they always have been – about 50/50 if the customer is truly happy.  Those aren’t bad odds and if you ask enough customers, you’re going to get one.
  2. The LinkedIn recommendation. Easier than the testimonial is the LinkedIn recommendation.  The Recommendations section is, fortunately, one thing that LinkedIn has left in their free option (thus far), and I like it a lot.  It’s pretty simple to use.  Here’s LinkedIn’s tutorial on getting them.  NOTE:  Do not confuse LinkedIn “endorsements” with LinkedIn RECOMMENDATIONS.  Their “endorsement” section is meaningless – it just asks people to check boxes.  I have endorsements for things that I don’t do and have never done.
  3. The video testimonial. Now we’re talking!  This is one way you can really make tech work for you.  When you’re meeting with customers, they have a tendency to say a lot of nice things about you.  Wouldn’t it be great if prospects could see and hear them do it?  You have a smartphone, right?  All you have to do is ask the customer to say those things, again, on video.  Explain to them why.  My favorite way is to say, “I really appreciate that.  You know, one way that I attract new customers is through comments like that from customers like you.  Would you mind repeating those great words on video?”  The vast majority of customers will be happy to do so.  Then you turn on your video camera on your phone and record them.You can either just ask them to repeat what they said, or even do a little interview with them.  I had just such an opportunity yesterday after a Sales Audit with Excel Linen and the raw video is below.  The reason I left it raw, rather than editing out some of it (for instance, me asking questions), is that I wanted you to see how the process works.  It’s easy.  In fact, I probably didn’t do as good a job on this one as I could have; few of my clients are local these days, so I am a bit out of practice on face to face testimonial gathering.  Still, when opportunity knocks, you answer.

    Wait, you’re saying that most of your sales calls are video and not face to face, so this won’t work?  Sure it will.  All major video conferencing platforms have an option to record.  Record your conversation and then download it and convert it into a video you can use.  Make the tech work FOR you, not against you.

Once you have a testimonial, USE IT.  Post about your recommendations on LinkedIn.  Splash the video all over social media.  Have them handy on your phone to show your customers.  And don’t think that a testimonial on one platform has to stay there.  Transcribe video comments and put them in text form on your website.  Take a LinkedIn recommendation and use it as a video frame.  Once people have said how awesome you are, for the record, you have a duty to USE IT!

Now go get some testimonials.  Here’s my video from yesterday.

How to Prepare For a Sales Call

I’ll be honest.  How to prepare for a sales call is something that is so fundamental that I forget to write about it.  For one thing, it’s not all that “sexy;” it’s much more fun to give great presentation tips, or some killer questions, or even talk about management strategy.

But then I talk to salespeople, the conversation slips around to how to prepare for a sales call, and I realize that many salespeople still don’t use all the resources available to them.  So, in that spirit, here are four ways that you should research every prospect with whom you will be meeting:

  1. Company web page. Yeah, it’s simple, and I have to think that nearly everyone does it – but not everyone looks for the right things.  We tend to get overwhelmed by the ‘pretty’ of the site and fail to read what we should be reading.  Here are the biggest touchpoints on their site:

    The ‘about us’ page:  This is where they will show potential customers why those customers should be buying from your target company.  In essence, this is their best foot forward.  Know it and refer to it.

    Their ‘news’ section:  All too often, this will be obsolete – if it happened in 2017 and it’s still top of their blog, they don’t have much ‘news.’  That said, if there is genuine news, scan it to see if there’s anything that impacts you or gives you a feel for their company culture.

    Executive bios: Is your contact listed here?  If not, why not – are you starting your selling efforts too low in the company? If so, what can you learn about your contact?

    Ease of contact:  This will give you a great idea of how “open” they are to the world.  This might seem surprising to you, but some companies close themselves off to the outside world.  They have a great web presence, but getting ahold of them can be very difficult, to say the least.  Openness to contact can mean openness to new ideas.

  2. Reviews. You should ALWAYS look at their reviews.  If they are on Yelp (for instance, food and hospitality), look at those reviews.  If not, Google and Glassdoor can also be great sources of insight into what their customers and employees say – and you’d be surprised at how often a sales need can be uncovered in looking at reviews.  Don’t be afraid to ask about those reviews in the sales call, even having them up and on your phone to refer to if necessary.  It’s possible that your customer might not have even seen the review.
  3. LinkedIn. You should always look up your contact on LinkedIn.  Looking at their career history is good – looking at their activity is better.  What things do they like or share on LinkedIn?  What causes are they passionate about?  What GENUINE (never fake this) commonalities can you find with yourself or your company?
  4. General Web Search. Finally, search (Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, etc.) the company name and your contact name and see what comes up.  A couple of years ago, I had a client who sold large-ticket items that usually involved some level of company-offered credit terms.  A quick Google search ended that idea – the first ten results after the company web page were lawsuit filings from the previous year – all for non-payment of debts.  Usually your results won’t be this dramatic, but you can get some good general insight on the company by searching them.

How to prepare for a sales call isn’t that tough; you just need to plan for it. Are there more things you can do to research? Sure – but sometimes it’s better to simply ask questions in the call.  Hitting these four touchpoints above won’t take you that long (probably fifteen minutes or so), but will make you far better prepared to ask good questions to discover deep needs which then gains you a competitive advantage.  Don’t skip this step.

A Good Sales Job Shouldn’t Hurt Your Conscience.

A few days ago, I got a message from a salesperson who used to work for me many years ago, when I was a sales manager. It said, “Troy, you’re not going to believe this, but I have found a sales job that I am not good at!”  From most salespeople, even those who have worked with me, this wouldn’t raise much of an alarm.  But this message was from one of the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with, who has had a long track record of success across multiple industries.  I immediately perked up. I asked her what she was talking about.

“My problem,” she said, “is that I’m trying to save customers from quitting their service – but when they tell me why, I actually see it from their point of view, and I feel like I’d probably do the same thing!”  It’s not a big surprise that she sees things from the customer’s point of view.  One thing that makes her great (and can make you great, too) is her empathy and ability to see situations from the customer’s point of view – and if seeing things from the customer’s perspective is a hindrance to success, that’s a signal that bigger changes are needed than a simple sales approach.

To make a long story short (I know I don’t do that often – don’t get used to it), the real problem is that the company’s business model is obsolete now, given the wider range of choices available to the consumer. Those choices tend to not only be priced lower, they also provide better service and better meet the customer’s needs and expectations.  Essentially, her company is selling high-priced buggy whips in a world that is adopting the automobile.

The larger problem, for her, is that it hurts her conscience when she “succeeds” in getting a customer to stay, even when she knows it’s not in their best interest to do so.  I understand that – I had a job like that in my sales career, and I stayed for less than a year.  When you make promises to customers that aren’t being met, and you know they won’t be, it’s a stain on your personal integrity.

Worse, she has caught her management in enough lies that she no longer believes in the integrity of her company.  She will leave this job, I’m sure, and the company will lose a quality salesperson.

But believe it or not, this article isn’t about her.  It’s about you and your company, and the need that we all have to take a quick self-check from time to time about what we do.  If you aren’t having the kind of success and results that you feel you should have, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does what I’m selling still have value in the marketplace? Sure, everything has SOME value – but is your product or service worth what you charge for it?  If time has passed you by, it’s time to update and evolve.
  • Is my customer making a good decision by buying my stuff? This is the crux of selling.  My definition of selling is this:  Selling is the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions.  If you’re winning when you make a sale, but your customers aren’t winning, it’s time for a re-evaluation.
  • Am I asking my salespeople to make promises that I know I won’t fulfill? Yeah, it sounds awful, but it happens every day.  I once left an industry when the service manager at my company said, “Troy, your department’s job is to sell fantasy – my department’s job is to re-sell them on reality.”  If there is a significant difference between the sale and the service, you are being unethical.  Stop it.

It can be tough to know when to evolve or change.  And not all evolution is good – many businesses have evolved themselves right out of business, when staying the course would have kept them viable.  But if the answers to the first two questions are “no,” and the third is “yes,” you have a problem.  And there’s no better time to fix it than the present.

My former salesperson will be fine (and frankly, I’m a bit honored that after nearly 20 years, she still comes to me for advice and counsel).  She’ll end up leaving this company and find another position where her skills are more appropriate.  Her company, however, won’t be fine.  They might be okay this year and next year, but soon, the obsolescence of their business model and the nature of their sales process will catch up to them.