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How NOT to Handle it When the Customer Says NO – #nocustomerever Navigation Chart

Proposing and closing is a high-stress moment in selling.  I’ve been there and I understand.  If you’re not just a little amped up when you put a proposal forth, you may need to check your commitment to selling.  I’ve been in selling for a long time, and I still get excited!

That means that when the customer says “no,” (and you will always have customers that say “no”), we have stress to manage.  One of the worst ways you can manage that stress is by insulting the customer’s intelligence.  A friend of mine described such a situation to me recently.  She turned down a salesperson, and the salesperson’s response was, “Well, obviously, you just don’t understand what I’m offering.  What questions can I answer?”  After a moment’s shocked silence, she said that the biggest question he could answer was how quickly the meeting could end.  NO SALE.

Look, it’s possible that the customer doesn’t understand your proposal.  Whose fault is that? YOURS, champ!  Not theirs.  A sale happens when need, solution, and timing are all present.

The customer has to have a definite need.

Your solution has to solve the problem – by the CUSTOMER’s agreement and standards, not yours.

And the timing has to be right.

Which means that if the customer said “no,” one of three things has happened:

  1. The need wasn’t present, important, or you didn’t discover the right need. Most of the time, this is the case – too many salespeople do only rudimentary questioning.  Ask comprehensive questions to discover needs, and then confirm with the customer that you have assessed their needs correctly.
  2. What you are selling didn’t solve the needs. Once you have discovered the needs, your presentation must be centered around their needs, not a one-size-fits-all “here’s how we are awesome” slide deck.  And once you have shown your solution, you must confirm that the customer agrees that this will solve the need.  A great question to ask:  “How do you see a win from making this purchase?
  3. You are hitting them at the wrong time. A friend whom I greatly respect always says, “you have to be there when their window is open.”  He’s right.  Ask timing-based questions; for instance, “When would you like to implement this?”  Know you’re at the right time; that way, it won’t surprise you.

And if you do all of those things, customers will still say “no.”  Nothing is perfect in selling.  But when they do say so, instead of telling your customer that they just didn’t understand all the ways you will rock their world, instead you should simply ask your customer why they are saying “no.”  Don’t whine.  Just ask.  Then let the conversation go from there.

You might not win the sale.

But you also won’t get booted out of the office because you expected them to say something that no customer has ever said.

Don’t sell stupid.

Want to fix stupid?  Contact me and let’s talk.

How To Sell To Younger Buyers – The Four C’s

There’s a youth movement afoot, and if you’re not on board with how to sell to younger buyers, you’re going to get run over by it. Purchasing power and corporate leadership is shifting.  Most of the time, I hear salespeople and sales managers bellyaching about how “different” the “new generation” is in terms of their purchasing habits, rather than trying to figure out what those habits are and how to adapt our selling methods to them.

Younger buyers may have different buying habits than you’re used to, but they ARE buying, and what you don’t understand about trends in purchasing is costing you money.  For the last couple of years, I’ve been talking to people at conferences who want nothing more to demystify the art and science of selling to younger buyers (for the purposes of this article, let’s just say that the dividing line between “younger” and “not younger” is 40).  Well, I’m here to help.  Let’s stop bellyaching and start learning.

The skill of selling to younger buyers can be summed up with 4 C’s: Concision, Connection, Collaboration, and Consideration.

  • Concision: Concision is the art of being concise in your communication. One complaint I hear all the time is, “Troy, younger buyers just don’t want to talk to people in person and they don’t want to see salespeople!”    Younger people are in face to face contact with other people all the time.  We are social creatures, and that trait is not generational.  However, younger buyers want you to get to the point – to be concise.  A younger buyer doesn’t want to sit and talk football for 30 minutes before they discuss business.  If you are in front of them, that means that you need to get to the point and give value for the time spent. Forget the old “fish on the wall” fake rapport tactics – you’ll get tossed out. Ask good questions and make to-the-point, targeted, individualized presentations that improves the buyer’s condition in the time you spend with them.  Hack:  Prepare five great questions about their business to open every new sales call.
  • Connection: Younger people are the most connected generation(s) that the world has ever seen, and this is due of course to technology. It’s not unusual for younger people to have friends literally all over the world.  Have they met all of those people face to face? Probably not – but through technology, they have fostered connections.  That means that they have a larger business network than could have ever been dreamed of decades ago.  That also means that they want to be connected with YOU.  How much do you use LinkedIn?  Hint – just putting up a rudimentary profile is not “using” LinkedIn.  If you aren’t posting, commenting, and engaging with other people, they’ll see it.  When you approach a younger buyer, they are likely to check you out on LinkedIn within 24 hours.  If your presence is found wanting, you will be less likely to become a business connection to them.  Staying off of business social media is an outdated strategy.  Hack:  Set your browser’s home page to LinkedIn, so that every day when you fire up the computer, it’s staring you right in the face.  You’d be amazed at how much you can get done in 15 minutes a day.
  • Collaboration: Studies show that the average buyer today has completed 57% of his or her buying process before ever seeing a sales rep.  Younger people are researchers, and when they bring knowledge to a sales call, they expect it to be part of the conversation.  More than that, they want to be active partners in the purchasing process – hence, collaboration.  A salesperson who doesn’t respect the buyer’s journey is going to lose out.  Worse, a salesperson to takes it upon themselves to explain to the buyer why everything they have learned is incorrect will mightily anger the buyer.  When the younger buyer comes to the table, expect that buyer to be current on the offerings of your competitors and how they compare.  Are YOU that current?  Hack:  One of the first questions you should ask a buyer is, “What have you done thus far in this purchasing process?”
  • Current: There are still many salespeople out there who are technophobes.  If that’s you, you are setting your own expiration date.  Being “current” means being up to date on the technology that affects your customers’ buying process and communication needs.  In today’s world, if you don’t know how to use video conferencing platforms, social media, IM, and text, AT A MINIMUM, you’re limiting your potential for success.  Why do you need to be comfortable in all of these platforms?  Because you need to meet your customers where they are – and they might be in a number of different places, in terms of communication.  I have one client that is nearly impossible to reach by phone, but if I text him, I have a response within minutes.  If I refused to text (as a salesperson told me last week that he did), I’d never get ahold of him.  Hack:  Ask your customers (not just the younger ones) what they prefer for communication.  Then communicate the way they want to.

Are younger buyers different?  Somewhat, for reasons both cultural and technological.  But they are still people, and they are still individuals.  By now, you should have noticed that none of my four C’s put all younger people in one bucket.  The real art of selling to younger people is to recognize who they are as individuals, be adaptive to meet them where they are, and respect their skills, processes, and abilities.  We’ll delve into this topic a lot more as 2023 continues, but the four C’s should give you a good starting point.

No Customer Ever Navigation Chart: The Email That Begins With “Re:.”

No Customer Ever Video

Okay, who likes to be lied to?  Raise your hands.  You in the back – put your hand down.  You look stupid.

I see salespeople and marketers who lie every day to their customers and still expect to sell to them.  In fact, they begin their relationships with a lie and still expect to sell to them.

That’s stupid.

When you use a tactic like beginning a cold email with “Re:,” to attempt to fool your prospect into thinking you had a dialogue with them, not only will they delete the email – they’ll delete any chance of buying from you.

Why? Because you are a LIAR.  And – I know this is shocking – people don’t like to buy from liars.

So, what is a salesperson to do when it comes to cold email prospecting?  Well, there are a few pointers I can offer you.

First – understand that return rates for emails are low.  The rule of thumb for direct mail used to be a 1% to 2% response rate.  I think that would be a high rate for email prospecting; if you’re going to send out prospecting emails, be prepared to send a lot of them.

Second – rather than lying in your subject line for attention, think clickbait.  In a business sense, your prospecting should be problem solution oriented.  What problems can you solve for them, and how can you communicate that in as concise and impactful a way as possible?

Third – your email itself should also be concise and impactful.  Get your message across with as little fluff as possible.  You want to make good use of your client’s time, so give them the meat of the matter in something that only takes them a few seconds to read.

Fourth – no attachments.  Attachments are the kiss of death; they get your email sent to the spam folder.

Fifth – everything should be brand consistent.  I don’t just mean your company’s brand, but also your personal brand.  That’s why deception is bad; unless you are a liar by nature, lying in an email just to get attention is the wrong path.

There’s more to prospecting, of course, but those are topics for the future.

Don’t sell stupid.  If no customer has ever said they like it, don’t do it.

#saleshack:  Work with me.

I Love Negotiating With Your Boss! – #nocustomerever


Can we agree that making the customer negotiate with the boss is stupid?  No customer has ever said how much they loved negotiating with “the boss.”  As I promised in the video, let’s fix stupid.

“Boss Negotiation” happens because the boss doesn’t trust the salesperson to make an acceptable profit on the deal, so the boss must be “the bad guy” in order to help the salesperson hold price.  I have a sneaking suspicion that many sales managers do this because they like the control, as well.

The problem is that this disempowers the salesperson and makes the customer think, “Well, why don’t I just talk directly to the boss?”  In fact, many customers say this outright.

It’s wasteful for the salesperson and annoying to the customer.

Worse, in my experience, the achieved final price actually ends up LOWER than what it is when the salesperson handles their own negotiation – thus defeating the purpose (I think this is because the salesperson is so devalued in the customer’s eyes).  So, how about we stop doing it?  Here are a few keys to getting away from this:

If you are the sales manager:

  1. Teach your salespeople how your company makes money. I don’t just mean that you sell goods and services at a price; teach your salespeople about all of the moving parts that go into generating an acceptable profit.  I find that most salespeople will be good agents of the company and protectors of the company’s profit if they know this information.  Keeping them dumb is dumb.
  2. Establish pricing guidelines that salespeople can use in the field so that they don’t have to come back to the batcave to get pricing and proposals. When salespeople can quote price on the spot, they become more important in the customer’s eyes.  Part of this process is having a high/low set of guardrails around pricing – or even better, a pricing matrix like the rate cards used in advertising and media with brackets for pricing.
  3. Teach your salespeople how to quote price in a definite fashion and how to negotiate on their own. Yes – this means you give up some control.  The time you save can be used to coach your salespeople and develop their skills; that’s a win/win.
  4. Make it safe for salespeople to say ‘no’ to bad business, and stand up for them when they do. There’s nothing worse than being a salesperson who says ‘no’ to a deal that the boss won’t accept – and then finding out later that the boss would have accepted it (because there is information you haven’t been told by your boss).  Ask me how I know this.  If the salesperson turns down a deal that’s outside the guardrails you set for them, it’s your job to stand by them and praise them for making a good decision.
  5. Finally, say ‘no’ as a last resort for when salespeople come in with a bad deal. If you’ve done steps 1-4, they already know that they are bringing you a bad deal, so the ‘no’ won’t be a surprise.  Even so, use it as a coaching moment to help them not bring you bad business in the future.

If you are the salesperson:

  1. Be a businessperson that is a good steward of company profits, not just a salesperson who is trying to get any deal that you can. This means being assertive about learning how your company makes money and the role that you play in it.    Then live it.
  2. Don’t make anyone else “the bad guy” in negotiation. “This is what my boss needs me to do” shouldn’t come out of your mouth.  “This is what I need” or “This is what my company needs” are acceptable – YOU are the representative of your company.
  3. Hold price and don’t bring your boss junk deals. The principle here is that you, the salesperson, are trustworthy and able to be a good guardian of profit.  So be that.
  4. Don’t ever sell JUST on price. You should be able to come up with at least two solid non-price reasons for the customer to switch their business to you.  If you can’t, don’t bother – if you win them on price, you’ll lose them on price.

Selling this way is empowering and professional for the salesperson and sales manager, it’s a lot more fun, and it produces a better buying experience for the customer.  And better buying experiences lead to stronger relationships and higher profits.

How to be Disruptive in Sales

“Disruptive” is a word that’s frequently used an infrequently understood.  To be “disruptive” is to blow up current expectations and patterns, and set new expectations and patterns.  Our profession of selling is one that could use some disruption.  According to a recent HubSpot survey, salespeople are one of the least trusted professions.  Only 3% of people say that they trust salespeople!  At least we beat out politicians, so there’s that. Still – it’s time to update and change.

Any profession with a 3% trust rating needs some work.  The problem is that our customers have been telling us for years how they want to be treated, and we ignore them.  We focus on “Sales Processes” instead of the Buyer’s Journey.  We ask limited questions.  We hold back critical information thinking that we’re giving out “free consulting.”  In short, when customers have the chance to kick salespeople out of the process, they usually take it.  The good news is that this leaves a lot of ways to be disruptive in sales.  Here are three:

  1. Be transparent.  Today, the ultimate sales flex is transparency; customers don’t want to fight for critical information.  Those fine-print contract terms?  Put ‘em on your website so that customers can read them before you visit.  Publish pricing.  Be aware of, and reactive to, your online reviews.  You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you. And if you’re scared of putting your information out there, don’t be.  It’s out there anyway.  Technology has made it so that there aren’t any secrets – and if you don’t look like you’re trying to keep secrets, customers will trust you more.

    This also means that you should stay current on what information is out there about you and your company.  Did you get a bad Google review?  Chances are that your prospects will become aware of it.  Be ready to discuss it with them, openly and honestly.  Someone has ripped your company on Glassdoor?  Same thing – be informed, ready, and candid.

  2. Ask your customer how they want to buy. Again – your sales process is “you” focused – be “them” focused. Being “them” focused is one of the easiest and best ways to be disruptive in sales.  I learned how to be disruptive in sales when I was 19; I just didn’t recognize that I was doing so.  I had a job selling mens’ suits at a large department store in Topeka, KS.  Topeka was not a big ‘suit wearing’ city, and most of my customers were coming in to buy a suit for an occasion – a graduation, a funeral, or a wedding.  We all know what retail salespeople do, right?  They say, “Can I help you?”  The customer, knowing their line in this play, quickly says, “Just looking.”  In other words, “leave me alone.”  I did that for a little while, and then one day this couple came in.  The man looked decidedly like he was there under protest.  So instead of the standard question, I asked him, “So, how do you like to shop?”

    He stared at me for a moment and then grumbled, “Well, I really don’t.”  I smiled and said, “Let me guess.  You’re here because someone is graduating, someone died, or someone is getting married, right?”  At that, he smiled and said, “Yeah, my daughter is getting married and I need a suit.”  I quickly sized him up and walked him to his size on the rack (48 regular, if I remember right).  He grabbed the most conservative blue suit on the rack and said, “That’ll do.”  I stopped him, agreeing that it would do the job for the wedding – but what if I hooked him up with a suit that was equally acceptable for the wedding, but had a little more flair?  That way he could wear it with a sport shirt to take his wife out for a nice dinner.  At this, his wife perked up and elbowed him.  He said that this might be possible – so I found a windowpane plaid suit, paired it up with a dress shirt and tie, and then found a couple of sport shirts to try on with it.  I’ll never forget the look on his wife’s face when he came out of the dressing room.  Suffice it to say that I bet that he had a very good evening.  I sold him two suits, two sport shirts, and a shirt and tie.  After that experience, that’s what I did – and the older guys never could figure out how a punk kid was outselling them.

    I was being disruptive by breaking the customer’s expected patterns, and instead working with them to help them buy in the way they wanted to.  I made the customer a genuine partner in the process – and it worked.  It will work for you, too.

  3. Give free advice. Salespeople are petrified of giving “free consulting,” meaning that they want to hold back their prescriptions for solving the customer’s need until they feel that they have a deal.  The fear is that the customer will take their advice to another vendor, get a cheaper price, and buy elsewhere.  This fear ignores two essential facts.  First – customers eventually buy from the vendor they want to.  If you aren’t that vendor, you’ve done a lousy job of showing the customer your value.  Second – the knowledge that the customer wants and needs is out there.  Remember that whole “technology” thing we were talking about.  Giving the customer essential knowledge is one way to build a relationship that is based on openness and trust.  “Don’t be a free consultant” is one of those old philosophies that has been made obsolete.  Remember – there are no trade secrets today.

Most of the time, when “disruptive” is used in a business context, the writer or speaker is referring to technology.  In our profession, tech is vital – but technique can be even more disruptive.  Going against the grain in a way that your customers want is the best, and most profitable, way you can be disruptive every day.

Why “Buy Now or No Deal” is STUPID – #nocustomerever

Navigation Chart

I’ll be honest – I thought this technique was dead.  I like to think that my finger is on the pulse of my profession nonstop, 24/7/365.  Surely THIS old, hackneyed technique would be dead as a doornail, right?  You would think.  As educated and savvy as buyers have become, and as much information is available to them, there’s really no excuse for salespeople to continue to think that this old saw would still cut.

Then it happened.  I was buying a piece of equipment for my garage (as I am wont to do), and the salesman said, “And if you’ll buy now, I’ll knock $50 off!”  I was actually ready to buy the thing, and I didn’t even need the discount.  But as much as I’m a car guy, I’m always The Sales Navigator.  And I couldn’t help myself.  This was on a Friday.  I replied, “So, if I come back Monday and I’m ready to buy, cash in hand, you won’t give me the $50 off?”

The salesman’s jaw dropped and he said, “uhhhh…..uhhhh.”  As salespeople are wont to do when a customer hoists them by their own petard.  Like it says in the video, I was there, but only once.  I had the feeling this wasn’t this guy’s first time, which made it worse.  I smiled, gently explained to him what I do, and told him that he might try a different technique.  And then, since I wanted the equipment, I went ahead and bought.

How could he avoided this?  There are a few ways:

  1. Understand the customer’s priorities. A sale happens when there is a need, a solution, and the timing is right.  Any one of those three components can derail your sale.  Even if your solution truly does address the customer’s need, if that need isn’t the highest priority for the customer, the timing won’t be right.  Asking good questions to understand the priorities is the best way to understand timing.
  2. Ask time-frame questions early. You should ask your time-frame questions well before you attempt to close the sale.  Your questions should be centered around the desired time of delivery or use, not around the timing of the decision itself.  When customers make a buying decision, they want immediate gratification; if that isn’t possible, it’s on you to let them know.
  3. Ask checking questions. Never assume things. Don’t assume that the need you are trying to solve is an important need to the buyer.  Don’t assume that they agree that your solution works.
  4. Ask the customer how they see a gain in buying. This is a great pre-proposal question; if the customer has a good answer, they are basically selling your product or service back to you.  If they don’t have an answer?  You’ve missed something.
  5. Listen. This should be obvious, but listen to the answers you’re given, and act on them.  Respect your customers and their intelligence.

“Buy now or the deal can’t happen” is stupid selling. We can fix stupid. Don’t be that guy.  Come up with other ways to get the sale moving that don’t require dishonesty, and you will be more successful

9 Ways to Be More Productive

This is an answer to a question that I get asked every now and then.  “Troy, how do you get and stay productive?”  I’ve found 9 ways to be more productive.  I’ll be honest enough to say that my own productivity system has been a work in progress for most of my career, and it will continue to be so (I’m always learning).  Some of the techniques have come from reading, most from practice, and many from my passion for building race cars and hot rods.

Yes, I said race cars and hot rods.  It’s a hobby that has taught me a lot over the years about problem solving and work habits.  There’s no such book as ‘Seven Habits of Highly Productive Gearheads,’ but if there were, some of the habits below might be in it.

Game-plan every day:  This seems obvious – but many people don’t do it, and in fact, I didn’t do it for many years.  Every day has a game plan for me.  The obvious components of the plan are ‘live’ activities – appointments, speaking engagements, and the like – but I always have some phone calls to make, some tasks, and some work on at least one long-term project.  I also plan in my personal projects (I still work on cars and motorcycles) and my workout time.  Rigid?  Yes.  But planning all this is what gives me time for fun, believe it or not.

Write it down:  OK, call me a Luddite if you wish, but my game plan is always written down with a pen on real paper in a real (inexpensive) planning pad (it’s fun –and here it is).  I’ve tried using the task management components of Outlook (I use Outlook for my contacts and appointments), but I find that it’s too easy – at least for me – to simply put a new date on an old task.  Writing implies permanence and commitment (which are also reasons that handwritten thank-you notes are particularly effective, but that’s a different story).  I like CRM and use it – but there’s still a place in my world for a pen and paper.

Make appointments with yourself:  My phone calls are programmed into my day, including the time slot that I’ll be making them.  Particularly for telephone prospectors, it’s vital that you block time into your schedule – ESPECIALLY for those parts of your job that you don’t love.  If you don’t, it’s too easy to slide them off.

Checklists are great:  I like lists.  I like them a lot because they keep me focused.  Again, this is a benefit of writing things down instead of using Outlook.  For me there’s a satisfaction involved with taking a pen and checking an item off my list.

Touch big projects every day:  This is one that I learned from racing and hot rodding.  Sometimes a car build can stretch out over years, and if you lose momentum on one….well, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are full of aborted projects being sold at a heavy discount.  You lose momentum by taking one day off, then another, then another…..and soon your project is gathering dust and you can’t remember where you left off.  When I’m working on a car, I touch it every day, even if it’s just to change a light bulb or do a little sanding on a fender.  When I do this, I never lose momentum and I never lose track.  This method has segued over to business projects, as well.  To write Sell Like You Mean It!, I spent an hour every day working on the manuscript for six months.

Work ahead:  If you’re making calls today for appointments tomorrow, you’re already sunk.  Don’t be that guy or gal.  Instead, work well ahead.  This article was written two weeks before I posted it.  Why?  Because I was inspired, and my own history tells me that when I get inspired to write an article, I’d better go ahead and write it, even though I might have a couple of articles ahead of it in line.

Stop when you have to:  One of the things that I’ve learned through painful experience with my cars is that, sometimes, it’s best to stop in the middle of a task or project if you’re thrown a curveball, and reapproach it with fresh eyes later.  A couple of months ago it was late in the evening and I was installing a part on my old Mercury, and I was determined to get it done that night.  The problem was that a bolt hole wasn’t lining up and I was starting to cross-thread a bolt.  Now, intellectually, I know that this is bad and that I should stop – but I didn’t.  Instead I turned the ratchet harder (perhaps hoping that the bolt gods would smile upon me and magically make the bolt line up), and messed up the threads.  At least now I stopped.  The next day, I got a tap, recut the thread on the Mercury’s frame, and as I was doing it, an easy method for making the parts line up popped into my head.  Ten minutes later it was done.  I could have saved myself quite a bit of time if I’d stopped when things started to go bad.

Find your idea time:  We all have times during the day when our mind is unfettered and is likely to give us great (and, honestly, sometimes not so great) ideas.  For me, that’s the last hour before bed.  I need to keep my mind unoccupied with important tasks (so, no business work during that time), and I need to keep my planner handy so I can capture those ideas.  What do I do during that time?  I watch TV, I read something unrelated to business…..but I am ready to grab a good idea when it hits me.  Find yours and use it.

Keep a diary:  Okay, okay….if you prefer to call it a ‘journal,’ go right ahead. I suppose that’s more manly.  On the other hand, George Patton called his a ‘diary,’ so I think I’m OK on that count. At the end of every day, I write a little summary of the day in the same planner book that I use to plan my day.  I do this for two reasons:  First, I want to see if I accomplished my mission for the day. Second, sometimes the big success of the day wasn’t planned, and I like to keep track of positives.  I do this because it makes me my own accountability partner.  I never want to write “pretty pointless day,” so I strive to make it a day that advances me somehow.

There’s one other aspect that I didn’t mention, because it’s highly individualized.  Do what works for you.  You don’t have to use all my 9 ways to be more productive; heck, you don’t have to use any of them if you have a system that really works for you.  But you should have a system and you should faithfully execute it, day in and day out.  Until I did, I often had days where I sat in the evening wondering where the day went and why it didn’t produce a result.

How to Develop Your Selling Skills

Last week, we talked about the need for salespeople to build and expand their selling skills in order to adapt to, and compete with, artificial intelligence.  This week, let’s talk about exactly HOW to develop your selling skills.  “But, Troy, I work on my selling skills all the time!”  No, you probably don’t, if you’re like most salespeople.

I ran a poll on the biggest LinkedIn sales group.  I asked, “On the average, how much time per week do you spend improving and practicing your sales skills, not counting time you spend selling?”  The results were about as I expected:  “Less than one hour” – 48%; “1-2 hours” – 32%; “2-5 hours” – 13%; “more than 5 hours” – 7%.  That old 80/20 rule really is looking valid on this one.  So, how should you be practicing?

My recommendation is this:  Pick one critical skill of selling, and work on it each week.  Next week, pick a different one, and so on.  That will keep you from getting bored and falling into a rut.  The critical skills are:

Prospecting:  Work on your approach.  There’s no prospecting approach that can’t be made better; in many cases, making it shorter makes it better.  Your initial approach statement should be 10-15 seconds – no more.  That goes for telephone prospecting (you do that, right?) or live, face to face prospecting.  Refine it, hone it, improve it, and test it.

Questioning:  The most important skill set in questioning.  Develop two new, great questions to ask a prospect.  Practice them, and more importantly, practice LISTENING ACTIVELY to the answers.  Repeat and refine.

Presenting:  You already know that I don’t like one size fits all presentations.  However, I do like a “modular presentation,” where you are prepared at a moment’s notice to present on different benefit/feature combinations, or aspects of your service.  Think of it as a mental “slide deck” where the slides can be rearranged, inserted, and deleted on the spot.  Practice one “slide” per week.

Proposing:  Present price and terms confidently and in a way that doesn’t invite distrust or uncertainty.

Closing:  Practice getting comfortable with asking simple, to the point, closing questions – and then shutting up.

Handling objections:  Make a list of common objections, and then come up with your first, best response to each one.  Practice clarifying, isolating, and resolving objections.

As I said, rotate these around to stay fresh and incrementally build your skills over the long haul.  And practice.  Most salespeople don’t practice skills except in front of the customer.  That’s dumb.  In front of the customer, mistakes cost you money.  In your office, it costs you nothing except a little time and a little pride (if anyone else sees).

And here’s the mentality you should use in your practice.  Some of you know that I am a former and reformed wrestling fan (today’s product is just insulting to the intelligence, in my opinion).  Still, I like listening to podcast interviews of past wrestling personalities.  It’s mind candy for when I drive, and I drive a lot – but occasionally, something really profound emerges.

One such profundity came from a wrestler and wrestling trainer named Dr. Tom Prichard.  The host and Prichard were discussing a particular dangerous wrestling move that had been botched on a recent show, and could have caused paralysis or even death.  Prichard said, “People shouldn’t do moves that they don’t know how to do.”

The host agreed and said, “Practice till you get it right, right?”

Prichard said, “Nope.  Practice until you can’t get it WRONG.”

Wow.  That’s pretty profound, isn’t it?  There’s a big difference, as I thought about it, between “until you get it right” and “until you can’t get it wrong,” and it’s the difference between conscious thought and habit.  I encourage you to follow Dr. Tom’s advice.  Whatever technique you are working on, practice it to the point that you can’t get it wrong, and you won’t.  How much does that take?

It depends on you and your mental makeup.  Studies show that habits form at 21 repetitions.  Maybe it takes that much for some techniques; maybe it takes less than others.  I’d suggest that when you realize that you aren’t having to invest the same level of conscious thought to get through a particular technique, you’ve got it.  Then, when you’re in front of the customer, that conscious thought can be invested in paying attention to the customer, their reactions, and their words.

Because – even though they aren’t practicing the way you are – the customer is always the star of this particular show.  Don’t forget it, and keep working to develop your selling skills.

Can Salespeople Be Replaced by AI?

“Can salespeople be replaced by AI in five years?”  That was the topic of the poll on LinkedIn.  My instinctive reaction was probably the same as yours – “Of course not.”  Then, I did a little thinking before I answered.  And I realized that, yes, a lot of salespeople could be replaced by AI – not in five years, but RIGHT NOW.  That’s because their skills aren’t really any better than your basic chatbot – and therein lies a problem for those of us who care deeply about the role of the professional salesperson.

In 2011, Selling Power Magazine interviewed me as part of a cover story on the future of selling.  I’ve always thought of myself as a very forward-looking person when it comes to our profession – but boy, was my crystal ball broken when I gave my responses to their questions, and I realized this when I looked back at the article.  If you click, you’re going to read a pretty long article, but if you care at all about the sales profession and your role in it, you’d better click.  I’ve written over 600 articles on selling and this might be the most important.

Here’s what I said.  In response to a question about what the future of the sales profession looked like, I said, “Midline salespeople of tomorrow will be displaying the same level of expertise ten to fifteen years from now that the superstars display today, and the superstars will be on a whole new level.  Staying on top will require a higher level of mental commitment.”

I was wrong, but I should have been right.  I’ve written about this before, but if anything, the aggregate level of sales ability has declined somewhat in the twelve years since I made those comments.  That’s because most salespeople of today spend less time and energy developing their skills.  They find a level and stick to it.  Midline salespeople are, at best, no better than they were in 2011.  Some of the responsibility for this rests on the salespeople themselves, and much of it rests on CEOS and sales managers who don’t foster a culture of continual sales skill development. Are there exceptions?  Yes.  Absolutely – I’ve encountered some remarkable salespeople (although I don’t think that “whole new level” has happened).  But they are exceptions.  By and large, the aggregate sales skills at each level have remained constant.

When I was asked how the Internet is changing the game, I said, “The Internet can take orders and distribute content [thus taking up functions once designated to salespeople], but what it can’t do it discover customer needs.  It can’t build relationships, and it can’t prospect on its own.”  Well, I was wrong about that one, too.  AI bots can do a rudimentary job of discovering customer needs at present, and that will only get better as time and technology marches on.

What about the other two components of what I said – relationship building and prospecting?  Obviously, AI cannot build a true, interpersonal, face to face relationship.  However, AI can do an excellent job of REMEMBERING what was said and has transpired (because it can feed directly into CRM systems) and from a business perspective, it can make excellent use of a customer’s time.  That’s a threat to, but not a replacement for, traditional sales relationship building.

Can AI prospect?  That’s a tantalizing thought, isn’t it?  Most salespeople dislike prospecting (full disclosure – I’ve never been in love with it myself).  I can envision a time when an AI bot is able to prospect through email, LinkedIn, and even the telephone.  In fact, the technology for email and social media is already here, and I’m willing to bet that if the phone prospecting tech doesn’t exist yet, it will shortly.  Imagine an AI bot that dials a prospect, engages in a voice to voice conversation using prospecting and sales best practices, and even sets appointments.  Heck, take it a step further and imagine it doing so in the same voice as the real salesperson who would handle the live appointment.  Or how about an AI bot that sets Zoom sales appointments and then carries them out in a hologram?  This kind of thing would have been science fiction five years ago – now it’s a coming reality.

Don’t misunderstand me – I still think that a well-trained, skilled, passionate, and engaged salespeople can do all of those things BETTER – but too many salespeople are not well-trained, skilled, passionate, and engaged.

Now that I’ve told you two areas where I was wrong, allow me to tell you one area where I was right – or will be soon.  When asked, “How do salespeople keep social media from being the tail that wags the dog?” I responded, “Social networking is a strategy for marketing promotions and relationship management.  It is not a prospecting tool [OK, I was a little wrong about that]. A lot of those functions are going to slide down to the lowest-paid person who is competent to do them.”  Given the level to which AI apps like ChatGPT write social media posts, I was right on target – ChatGPT is definitely cheaper than even an administrative person.

Where I went wrong, I went wrong for two reasons.  First, I anticipated a higher level of sales skill development on the part of the average salesperson.  Second, I didn’t see AI coming.  Shame on me.  Apps like ChatGPT have the capability of being game-changers, and they also have the capability of being harnessed (by skilled salespeople and managers) to increase the effectiveness of a company’s sales force.

How to avoid being replaced by AI

So if the answer to “Can salespeople be replaced by AI?” is “yes, it’s very possible,” then the question for we human salespeople is, “How can we avoid being replaced by AI?”  Here’s where the wicket gets sticky, because this requires some serious engagement and effort on our part.  Here’s a three-point plan.

  1. Get better at your job. The key for salespeople in this environment is to constantly learn, develop, add new skills, and shed old techniques that aren’t working anymore.  Unfortunately, few salespeople do this.  When I interview salespeople on behalf of my clients, I always ask, “What’s the most recent sales book you’ve read?”  Ten years ago, I got a good answer more than half the time.  Today, it’s rare that I get one at all – in fact, about half of the salespeople I interview have never read a book on selling.  When I ask a follow up question about how they develop their skills, they answer that they really don’t.  Sales is a profession of constant change and constant development, and if you don’t care enough about your profession to get better at it, you are replaceable.  Don’t be that guy or gal.  Invest in yourself.  Read books.  Read articles.  Watch YouTube videos.  Attend training programs.  And then practice, practice, practice.  Next week we’ll talk about what it really means to practice and learn sales techniques. Get better and do better.
  2. Embrace technology. Yes, this article is partially telling you how to combat a new technology, but those who do not embrace it will find themselves steamrolled by it.  I’m constantly amazed when I see salespeople (and worse, sales trainers) fighting the use of tech like CRM.  I have actually seen a “sales trainer” recommending that salespeople ditch the CRM and instead use paper note cards.  The 1990s called, and they would like their mentality back!  Today, salespeople must embrace and use tech of all types.  CRM, social media, video conferencing, and IM’s are all tech that salespeople should not only be conversant with, but competent in.  Not only that, you should be ready and anticipating the next trend.  There’s a reason that I refer to “AI” in this article for the most part, and not “ChatGPT.”  ChatGPT is but one AI app, and who knows whether it will be the most prominent in five years?  Remember MySpace?
  3. Flip the script. We always like to think about the “Sales process,” and what we want from the process and what activities we will be performing to get there. I want to challenge you, and I’m taking this challenge myself.  Stop thinking about “Sales processes” and instead think of the “buyer’s journey.”  Think about the act of selling from the perspective of the person buying, evaluate the steps from the buyer’s point of view, and work to help them achieve what they want.  It’s a change in thought and terminology, and as 2023 progresses, I’ll be helping you get there with articles, videos, and even training.

Make no mistake about my outlook.  A great salesperson will always be better than AI.  A good salesperson will always be at least as good as great AI.  I’m a 100% passionate advocate for personal selling by human beings to human customers.  If I sound pessimistic in this article, it’s because I’m concerned.  But as I said, I’m here to help, and I’ll be doing so through the Navigator and through my YouTube channel.  If you’re a salesperson, start reading, watching, and practicing.  In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about how to practice and about how to view sales from the perspective of the buyer.

And if you’re a business owner or sales manager, I can help you, too.  In addition to the free resources above, I can train your salespeople to be irreplaceable.  I can help you hire great salespeople.  And I can coach you to manage the very best sales team in your market.

The future might look spooky, but it doesn’t have to be.  This is another challenge to our profession, and we can and will overcome it and be better and more valuable to our customers than ever before.

The Power of Great Questions

This is an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review on the power of questions. I’ve said for many years that, in selling, 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale is in the questions you ask, and questioning is a key piece of my sales training programs. Still, most salespeople don’t ask enough questions. I ran a poll on the “Sales Best Practices” group and asked how many questions salespeople were asking on the discovery appointment, and the results shocked me. 37% said that they asked five or fewer questions; another 41% said they asked 10 or fewer questions. Only 22% of salespeople ask more questions (wanna bet which group has the better results?). Overlay this with the result from the article that said that there is a significant difference in likeability and rapport building between asking five questions and asking nine – and now extrapolate that to a sales call where you are trying to define customer needs. If you’re not making enough sales, you’re probably not asking enough questions.