"The Navigator" News Blog

Category Archives: Sales Blog

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But In Sales, You’d Better Ask!

Sometimes, the key to success in selling is to get back to basics. I’ve talked a lot in the last few years about how the balance of power has shifted firmly towards empowered buyers. With more information at their fingertips than ever before, customers can research products, compare prices, and make informed decisions without relying heavily on salespeople. This has led some salespeople to become hesitant about taking an active role in guiding buyers through their Buyer’s Journey.

In fact, I’ll be frank. I worry that I’ve dissuaded some salespeople from remembering an essential truth of selling.  If you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get it.  To not ask your empowered buyers to buy – or help them advance through their journey – is to abdicate your responsibility as a salesperson.

Don’t make this mistake. Even as buyers have become more empowered, your job is still crucial – to your company and to your buyers. Buyers may have more information, but that information can also be overwhelming – and in many cases, inaccurate or a bad fit for their situation. A skilled salesperson (and you are one of those, right?) who takes charge can cut through the clutter, ask the right questions, and help the buyer arrive at the best solution for their needs.

The key is that you have to be assertive without being pushy. Buyers don’t mind assertive salespeople – but pushy salespeople get eliminated from the Buyer’s Journey. You have to recognize that the buyer is in the driver’s seat, but you must also understand that the buyer often welcomes guidance. By actively participating in the buyer’s journey, the salesperson can help the customer navigate the process more efficiently and come to a decision with confidence. Your buyers will find themselves thinking (or saying) “so, where do we go from here?” quite a bit.  Be prepared to guide them.

Here are some ways salespeople can reassert themselves in the sales process:

  • Ask thoughtful questions. Dig deep to really understand the customer’s needs, challenges, and goals. Don’t just go through a surface-level qualification checklist. Uncover the underlying issues the buyer is trying to solve. I’ve said for many years that 80% of your chance to win the sale is through your questioning, and that hasn’t changed.
  • Provide valuable insights. Use your industry expertise to share perspectives the buyer may not have considered. Offer creative solutions they hadn’t thought of. Position yourself as a knowledgeable partner, not just a vendor. And don’t be afraid to provide expertise, even when it’s not directly tied to a sale.  Salespeople today must earn their spot in front of the buyer, and you do that by making the buyer a little better and more knowledgeable during every sales interaction.  Salespeople are the world’s best collectors of industry best practices – and some of the worst at sharing them.  Break that pattern.
  • Journeys need a guide. Don’t be afraid to take charge of the sales cycle. Suggest next steps, schedule follow-up meetings, and keep the buyer on track. This shows you’re invested in their success, not just making a quick sale.
  • Address objections head-on. When the buyer raises concerns, don’t dodge them. Acknowledge their doubts, then provide reassurance and evidence to overcome them. Demonstrate you’re listening and want to alleviate their fears.
  • Close confidently and directly. Don’t be afraid to ask for the business. If you’ve done the work to truly understand the buyer’s needs, you should be able to make a compelling case for why your solution is the right fit. End the sale decisively, not tentatively.

The most successful salespeople today don’t just react to the buyer’s lead – they proactively shape the sales conversation and Buyer’s Journey. They recognize that even the most informed, empowered buyer still values the salesperson’s expertise and guidance. By reasserting themselves as sources of expertise, these salespeople are able to navigate the buyer’s journey and close deals with confidence.

Of course, this assertiveness must be balanced with genuine curiosity and a customer-centric approach. The goal isn’t to strong-arm the buyer, but to collaborate with them in a way that meets their needs. If you can strike this balance, you will thrive in the new era of buyer empowerment.

Sales and Marketing: The Marriage Whose Time Has Come

Note:  This article is a collaboration between myself and Stephanie Smith of The Grind Marketing.  I’ve asked Stephanie to collaborate with me because I want my readers to be on the cutting edge – and these days, you can’t be on the cutting edge of Sales without incorporating Marketing.  There will be more of this content to come.

For the entire time I’ve been in sales – and probably longer – there has been a disconnect between the sales team and the marketing team at many companies (including many that we have worked for and worked with). The salespeople, who interact directly with customers, often feel that the marketing materials and campaigns don’t match up with what they’re seeing and hearing from clients in the real world. Meanwhile, the marketing folks think the sales reps don’t fully appreciate the importance of presenting a cohesive brand image and messaging.

This divide causes issues. The messaging can be mismatched, lead generation suffers, and the overall experience for the customer gets jumbled up. When sales and marketing aren’t working together, it becomes really difficult to create a smooth, consistent experience for customers across all the different touchpoints they have with the company. This can damage trust and loyalty over time.  This is more pronounced now, since customers have more access to marketing messages through technology.

The key is getting sales and marketing on the same page through open communication and collaboration. They need to understand each other’s roles and perspectives.   Instead of working at odds, Sales and Marketing need to be viewed as one team with different, and complementary, roles.  Here are five good ways to get started:

1. Work-alongs:  We were tempted to call this “ride-alongs,” since the idea began with marketing people should periodically ride along with salespeople to see sales interactions in the field – but the concept works both ways.  Salespeople should be part of the creative process in Marketing.  In fact, the teams should have regular meetings to share customer insights, align their strategies, and get on the same page with positioning and messaging.  The marketers can take the customer pain points and challenges that the sales reps are hearing about and use that to shape more relevant marketing campaigns. And the sales team can apply the marketers’ skills around branding, messaging, and buyer psychology to have more impactful conversations.

2. Use Tech:  Sharing data and technology is also critical. You should be using a good CRM that both Sales and Marketing work with. When Sales and Marketing are using the same systems for tracking leads, analyzing customer behavior, and sharing data, both teams can make smarter decisions and create more seamless, personalized outreach.

3. Define Lead Scoring Together: Historically there has always been tension between Sales and Marketing when it comes to defining a “good lead.” When markets are hot and the buying power is in your favor, the definition surrounding what constitutes a qualified sales lead doesn’t matter as much, because the opportunities inbound are plentiful. However, when markets are down, the definition matters more. Without definition, Marketing will continue to contest; “what do you mean sales are down? We sent you 800 leads last month.” Determining how to score leads requires both teams to clearly understand the buyer persona and what makes the perfect prospect. Assigning real-time lead scoring based on an agreed-upon set of criteria reduces the blame game and allows both teams to focus on optimizing lead-generation tactics. This type of clarity also provides the flexibility for both teams to adjust mid-campaign. If the results aren’t where the team forecasted that they should be based on known customer behaviors and market conditions, the team can reposition messaging and establish retargeting tactics to fuel the funnel appropriately.

One note here – if the sales department doesn’t respond to leads quickly, they don’t have a leg to stand on in this conversation.  As I’ve demonstrated before in this space, leads get cold quickly.

4. Think Holistically About The Stages in Your Buyer’s Journey Map: Formally known as a Sales Funnel, this approach takes similar concepts in defining what stage a customer is within the sales cycle and understanding the amount of nurturing it will take to close the initial deal. With so many new ways a customer can enter the pipeline and equally as many new ways to nurture a customer without ever even having to meet with them face-to-face, this is where a sales and marketing collaboration can truly shine to deliver consistent messaging throughout multiple touchpoints required to prompt conversion. Through this tactical approach,  it is important for marketing teams to share real-time behavioral insights with the sales teams. Again, by leveraging a comprehensive CRM platform, this important customer data can help both teams understand exactly where a customer is at in the funnel before the initial call is ever made. Not only does this create a better customer experience, it also reduces the sales cycle and enhances the time-line to close.

5. Create a Service Level Agreement Between Departments: Okay, that sounds more formal than what it needs to be, but honestly developing a written agreement on deliverables and clearly defining expectations for both teams is one of the most effective ways to maximize productivity. This can be as simple as assigning mutually agreed upon goals that benefit both teams. For example, marketing will provide X number of qualified leads required to help support overall sales quotas and the sales team will aim to close X number of deals from lead generation tactics to meet specific revenue targets. All Leads that are not “sales-ready” (i.e. Motivated and ready to begin a Buyer’s Journey) will be marked as such by the sales team and sent to marketing to be enrolled in automated lead nurturing campaigns through the CRM.

In the B2B world especially, where you’re dealing with long sales cycles and multiple decision makers, having this united sales-marketing strategy is make-or-break. Your customers don’t want to have to choose between brand messages and figure out which one is the “right” one.  Presenting a unified front throughout the entire customer journey builds credibility and trust, ultimately leading to more sales.

The old silos have to come down. When sales and marketing get in sync through transparency, cooperation, and shared goals, the whole company can deliver a much tighter, more compelling experience that resonates with customers and drives better results.

Can Sales and Marketing work together seamlessly? Sure.  This article is an example; Troy Harrison is the Sales Navigator, and Stephanie Smith is a marketing expert, and we coauthored it.  In fact, we will be doing much more collaboration on this concept in the coming months.

About Stephanie Smith:

Passionate about transforming ideas into impactful stories, Stephanie Smith brings extensive experience in strategy development, marketing, content creation, branding, and digital tactics.

Results-driven with a history of leveraging new technologies and market trends to develop collaborative sales and marketing strategies that consistently generate new revenue growth. Her strategic insights and ability to navigate the challenges of blue-collar industries have led to her being approached by B2B family-owned businesses seeking to enhance their go-to-market strategies. Under Stephanie’s guidance, these businesses have seen significant growth, with some experiencing a 300% increase in year-over-year sales performance while earning industry recognition for their impactful campaigns.

With over 15 years of experience in the ever-evolving marketing landscape, Stephanie has led cross-functional teams to align with overall business goals. Her adaptability shines through in fast-paced environments, where she manages multiple projects seamlessly. This experience and Stephanie’s passion for supporting blue-collar workers and their businesses led her to a pivotal point in her career to launch a startup marketing community. Dedicated to delivering go-to-market strategies specifically crafted for small to mid-sized business structures in these industries this community helps companies thrive in today’s business landscapes.

As the Founder of The Grind Marketing Collective, Stephanie leads a team of talented professionals responsible for developing and executing innovative and impactful marketing campaigns that drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and revenue growth for the companies they serve. Leveraging their experience in marketing communications, social networking, and B2B marketing strategies that showcase the value and quality of their clients’ products and services.

Stephanie is always open to connecting! To contact Stephanie visit thegrindmarketingcollective.com or email her at stephanie@thegrindmarketingcollective.com 


“I’m Not a Salesperson,” and Other Lies You Tell Yourself

If there’s anything that is guaranteed to drive me up a wall, it’s when salespeople refuse to call themselves salespeople.  In fact, when someone is selling to me and they say, “I’m not a salesperson,” I immediately put my hand on my wallet and leave it there.  I’m just amazed at the amount of people who think that the route to credibility lies in not claiming their role and responsibilities.

Look, I get it. A 2022 HubSpot survey showed that only 3% of the public trust salespeople.  That sucks, but it’s reality (at least we beat out politicians and lobbyists).  And – let’s be honest – that reputation has been earned by generations of salespeople who were, in fact, less than trustworthy.  But still, our profession, done right, is one of the noblest and one of the most important roles in business and our economy.  And when you disclaim your profession, you can actually harm your customer’s trust in you.  I’ll explain why.

My definition of selling (and my opinion about selling matters to you; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article) is:  Selling is the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions.  And, when you are engaged in the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions through interpersonal contact, you are selling, and therefore you are a salesperson.  We can all agree with that, right?  And again, I fully recognize that many of our predecessors didn’t worry about whether the customer was making a positive buying decision. It was “sell at all costs.”  I worked with some of those guys and worked for some of those guys.  Guess what?  They’re obsolete.

The tactics that those past salespeople used relied on a lack of transparency and the customer’s lack of access to information.  Today, customers can learn more about you in ten minutes than they could in half a day 20 years ago.  That’s changed the dynamic. Today’s customers are smarter, more informed, more savvy, and more empowered, and they expect their intelligence, knowledge, savvy, and empowerment to be respected by the salesperson.  Which brings me back to the issue of trust.

Here’s something you need to understand, because your customer understands it:  When you tell the customer that you’re “not a salesperson,” when you obviously are, you are lying to your customer.  Worse, your customer knows that you are lying.  And when you begin your interactions with your customer on a lie, they’re probably not going to believe anything else you say.  It’s no coincidence that the “I’m not a salesperson” people are usually the least effective at selling.

There’s another level to this, too.  These days, there are a ton of job titles that are an attempt to mask the salesperson’s responsibility in selling.  “Business Development,” “Account Manager,” “Customer Consultant,” “Territory Manager,” and others are a way to try to elevate the salesperson in the eyes of the customer (and others that they encounter) and hide the fact that the holder of that title is, in fact, a salesperson.  Guess what?  Your customer knows.  They’re not stupid.

And, to take another side street in this route, those of you who are business owners, solopreneurs, consultants, and freelancers – when you are engaging your customers in an attempt to help them make positive buying decisions that go in your favor, you’re salespeople too.  Own it.  Be proud of it.

Selling – done right – is probably the most important role in our companies and our economy. To say that “nothing happens until someone sells something” is a true statement.  Without an order, no factory can build a machine, which in turn means that they can’t hire workers, which means that those workers can’t buy a cheeseburger, which means that nobody can open a burger joint, and…well, you get the idea.  Heck, last week, I had a speaking engagement at a company back east that makes corrugated boxes.  They had recently redone the plant to be almost fully automated.  And, as I was watching this huge, multi-million dollar machine convert corrugated cardboard rolls into finished, printed boxes, my first thought was, “Damn, I bet the guy who sold that machine had a great weekend after!”

Because, at some point, someone had to call on the owner of this company.  They had to ask questions to determine the needs.  They had to customize and make a presentation and communicate value.  They had to craft a proposal to show that value and ROI.  There was probably some negotiation involved and persuasion.  And then the sale had to be closed.  That’s the responsibility of a salesperson. Oh, and as a side note – nobody lost their job at that plant; people got reassigned and made the company much more efficient.

As you’ve probably figured out, I’m not a fan of titles that mask what we do, nor salespeople who disavow our great profession.  I’m the Sales Navigator.  I’m a consultant, I’m a trainer, I’m a coach, I’m a speaker, and I’m an author.  But at the root of all of these things is that I’m a salesman, and I’m damned proud of it.  You should be, too.

You Can’t Fake Rapport.

Last week, I made a trip to work with a client in Central California, doing a Sales Audit.  It was a great trip for many reasons, but one of the greatest was this.  That area is San Francisco 49ers country.  The Niners just lost the Super Bowl to the Chiefs (wait – should I have said “The Big Game” so the NFL doesn’t sue me?). Which meant that, for the first time in quite a while, people didn’t ask me “How about those Chiefs!” when they met me and found out that I’m from Kansas City, so I didn’t have to talk football!

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t dislike the Chiefs, nor do I dislike football. I’m a good Kansas Citian, and I’m glad they won.  I just don’t eat, sleep, and breathe it, and when people attempt to build rapport with me by starting a conversation that way, they are assuming that I do.  Most likely, they don’t care much about the Chiefs either – it’s just a fake way of building rapport.  And that’s the problem; entirely too many salespeople attempt to build rapport in a way that is inauthentic and actually hurts your potential rapport with customers and prospects.  The good news is that there’s a real way of building rapport, so let’s talk about it.

I should tell you that I’ve always felt that rapport-building is the weakest part of my sales skills.  Don’t get me wrong, I like people, but I’m not one of those guys who can be someone’s friend within 30 seconds.  I knew one of those guys in the car business, and coming from him it was the most natural thing ever.  He was great.  When I try to build rapport by doing the old “spot their interests” tactic, it comes off like Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross.  It’s painful.

However, there’s one fact that works in my favor.  I’m curious by nature.  I like to ask questions.  And I know one simple element of human nature.  The thing that most people like to talk about is themselves.  When someone is trying to get me to talk about football (or Kansas City barbecue – the other topic that people always bring up when they find out where I’m from), they are making an assumption that those things are things I’m passionate about. I’m not passionate about football.  I am passionate about barbecue, but I’m convinced that the best Q in Kansas City comes from my own backyard smoker.  But in either case, people are trying to build rapport by attempting to tell me what my story is, rather than asking about my story.

And that’s the key that I discovered early in my sales career.  If I just showed some genuine curiosity about my customers and prospects and asked them about themselves – giving them an opportunity to tell me their story – and then just listened, I built rapport with them without having to flap my gums.  It works.  Note that I said “listen.”  To “listen” means to engage with their words and remember those words, not just plan your next phrase.

Today, it should be easier than ever to build real rapport with people, because they are already telling much of their story on social media.  The vast majority of your prospects are already laying out what’s important to them for public consumption.  All you have to do is check it out and note it down.

Even when salespeople try to build rapport by asking questions, many of them screw it up.  They ask the wrong questions.  They ask questions that are personal in nature (“Are your kids involved in sports?”) that cross boundaries, rather than questions that are “safe” for customers to answer.  As I’ve noted in a previous Webinar, people build relationships differently nowadays.  Relationships are built on a professional basis and then segue to personal, rather than the old method of becoming buddies and then moving that relationship to a sale.  This is more pronounced with each subsequent generation, from Gen-X through Millennials to Gen-Z.

So, what can you do to show curiosity and build rapport without crossing boundaries?  Here are a few of my favorite ways.

  1. Ask your customer to tell his/her professional story. One of my favorite opening questions is, “How did you come to be in this position?”  This creates an opportunity for your prospects to tell you all of their successes, foibles, and their journey, without crossing any boundaries.  In fact, your prospect may take you into some of those personal spaces as well – but it’s THEIR choice to do so, not you prying.
  2. Ask your customer to tell you his/her favorite thing about their job. Again – you’re opening the door for them to brag.  You’re also possibly getting a window into how to sell to them.  If you sell something that can enhance their favorite thing about their job, or create more time or money to do it, you have a pretty powerful motivator.
  3. Ask about something they recently posted on LinkedIn. Yep, I’m being specific to LinkedIn here.  That’s the “professional” social media, and as such, it’s fair game in a business world.  For instance, “I saw you just took an award trip to the Dominican Republic.  That’s pretty awesome!  What did you do to win that trip?”

Those are a few examples, but remember that the key is shutting up and listening while they talk.  Don’t interrupt their story (that shows that you really don’t care about it) and don’t immediately transition from a story point to a sales pitch (ditto).  If you do hear something that can lead you to a sale, make a note and ask about it later during your normal questioning.

Real rapport building is about showing genuine curiosity by asking, and genuine interest by listening.  The old “fish on the wall” method comes across as fake – even when it isn’t.  And fake rapport sets you back instead of moving you forward.  In other words, fake rapport isn’t rapport at all.  It gets you kicked out.

Just ask Shelly Levine (Jack Lemmon’s GGR character).

What to Do When Business is Down

I hear salespeople say, “Troy, business is down,” a lot.  After my years of experience in sales, I usually translate that to, “Troy, sales aren’t coming to me as easily as they used to.”  As a manager and coach, I think, “You aren’t selling enough.”  Don’t get me wrong; our profession is definitely affected by economic conditions that we don’t get to set or create.  Sometimes those conditions harm us and sometimes they help us.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t change our own economic conditions.  Despite what I hear sometimes, it’s rare that “nobody is buying anything.”  “Nobody is buying anything” means that “not enough people are buying things from me.”  Look – the aspect of selling that I love the most is that we are the tip of the economic spear, and we have the opportunity to be our own economy.  When “business is down,” it’s time to innovate, get aggressive, and keep our own economy strong.  Here are a few ways:

  1. Ramp up your prospecting.  I’ve always said that the real job description of a salesperson is to be a “self-contained business generation machine.”  In selling, the big bucks go to the salespeople who are continually building and growing their businesses, and who do not allow themselves to get complacent.  Yes, it’s true that prospecting is a slow play now.  The prospecting call you make now might not initiate a Buyer’s Journey for six months or so – or it might start one right now.  And even if it is six months out, if you don’t prospect now, the journey won’t start then.  Or worse, it will start and it won’t include YOU.
  2. Use every sales call to develop your customers.  The number one cause of sales stagnation is the agenda-free sales call.  Don’t make your calls on existing customers just to make them and get a pat on the head.  Have a reason and an objective.  Get away from the rote “how are things going” calls with your existing customers, and instead start using EVERY CALL to build your business.  Sell them more stuff, deepen relationships, and get some referrals.
  3. Work on your LinkedIn.   If you’re not on LinkedIn (and yes, I talk to salespeople and even managers who aren’t), there’s a good chance you’re losing business to someone who is.  Create a network, post relevant insights, and give people the opportunity to hold up their hands.
  4. Get some testimonials.  When customers tell you what a great job you’re doing, what do you do?  Do you just grin and say “thanks,” or do you ask them to put that information in the form of a testimonial? Testimonials can be video (the preferred method – smartphones make this incredibly easy), written on letterhead, or even posted on LinkedIn as a recommendation.  What matters is that your customers are willing to state, for the record, how good you are and how you have solved their issues and fulfilled their needs.  Once you have a testimonial, you can post it EVERYWHERE.  And you should.
  5. Innovate and diversify.  Sometimes we get locked into a particular type of thinking that works against us.  For instance, we have a product that works really well in one market, and that’s the market we sell to.  That product might work well in another market, but we don’t take it to that market.  Maybe that means facing new competition, new buyer types, and other fear-inducing challenges.  Who cares?  If your current buyers have slowed down, your opportunity cost for trying to find a different kind of buyer is near zero.  So do it.  I’m exhausted by the phrase “think outside the box,” but this is a good moment to do it.
  6. For the Owners and Managers, if you can’t change your people, change your people.  If your people aren’t doing the right things – if they’re complacent and unwilling to take the actions needed to build your business – then it’s perfectly OK to give them opportunities, training, and tools to change their behavior.  I encourage it, for that matter, whether I’m the one providing the tools and training or not.  With that said, if your people refuse to take hold of those opportunities, they’ve given you little choice.  Your salespeople should be the driving force behind growth at their company.  If they’re not, you might not have the right people.

I see entirely too many salespeople that moan, “Business is down,” and whose strategy seems to be to wait until “business picks up.”  Nonsense.  When business is down, it is not a time for complacency, for comfort, or for defeatism.  Whatever profit you don’t make in 2024 won’t come back; that opportunity is gone forever.  If you’re down because “business is down,” it’s time to take a deep breath, remember why you feel in love with selling, and go back out and improve your OWN business.

When You Join the Buyer’s Journey in the Middle

Joining the Buyer’s Journey in the middle is a unique challenge, but let’s face it – most of you are doing that on a regular basis.  When a buyer calls “just wanting a price,” they have completed a significant portion of the journey – at least in their minds.  In 2019, Forbes Magazine published an article quoting a study saying that the average B2B buyer has completed 57% of his or her Buyer’s Journey before ever contacting a sales rep.  Well – this blew up the Internet, and continues to do so.

In researching this article, I found a number of posts that argued with the 57% number.  Some say it’s much lower, and some say it’s higher.  But I never found one that could effectively argue with the concept that buyers are performing much more of their own due diligence and research before involving a salesperson.  As I’ve been saying for years, it’s a different world.  Today’s buyer is more educated and informed than buyers used to be – which creates different responsibilities and opportunities for us.  It also creates some significant challenges.  I’ll list those challenges and give some ideas on how to deal with them.

The challenges can be:

  1. Your Buyer doesn’t trust you. A 2017 HubSpot study concluded that only 3% of buyers consider salespeople to be trustworthy.  That’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it?  At least we beat out lawyers and politicians, but that’s not exactly good.  Unfortunately, the actions of too many past salespeople stick with our profession, and when a buyer calls saying that he knows what he needs and just needs a price, that is an expression that he doesn’t trust salespeople to accurately define his needs and assist in a solution.
  2. Your buyer has done a lot of research, and not all of it may be correct. Research on nearly any topic is both plentiful and readily accessible nowadays, but that’s a double edged sword.  Most articles, guidelines, whitepapers, and other forms of Internet research are nonspecific and one-size-fits-all.  In fact, so is this article.  I know that most of my readers are B2B salespeople and the managers and business owners who employ them – but that still leaves a wide field.  What the Buyer’s Journey means, specifically, may be different between industries or even companies and product lines within the same industry.  That means that your buyer can access a lot of information that might actually run counter to what he or she really needs – because it’s not specific to your buyer’s situation.
  3. Buyers don’t know what they don’t know. Even when defining their own needs, buyers might be asking the wrong questions of themselves and their counterparts and co-workers.  This is especially true when entirely new types of product or service are being considered.  We add value when we can be a part of the Investigation phase of the Buyer’s Journey – if the Buyer will allow us in.
  4. Competitors may have guided their research. We have all seen this one.  We get an RFP with specifications that are obvious attempts to limit offerings to one company’s products or services, and we know – the competitor helped set the standard.  Today, it doesn’t have to be a bid spec.  A buyer with a pre-existing relationship could have had that salesperson point them to sources of research that favor your competitor, thus setting the standard for the purchase.   The road here is uphill.

Not all of this news is bad, however.  What you must realize is this.  When a buyer calls asking for a price, or even a demo on a specific product, they believe that they have completed a substantial part of their own Buyer’s Journey, and they believe that they have completed it correctly.  Whatever you do from here, you absolutely must respect the work that they have done – or they will disconnect from you, and buy elsewhere.

When the buyer calls you and makes it obvious that they believe they have completed a substantial part of their Buyer’s Journey, here are some ways to position yourself as a key part of their process:

  1. Show respect. This is mandatory.  If you come off as know-it-all or condescending, your buyer will immediately assume that you are trying to get one over on them (remember that 3% number), and either disconnect or make it incredibly difficult for you to impart your knowledge and expertise.  Instead of saying, “How do you know that’s what you need?”, ask a question like, “Wow, you’ve obviously done your homework!  Knowledgeable customers make my life a lot easier.  Just out of curiosity, would you mind telling me how you researched and found our product to be the one you need?”  Hopefully, they will give you enough information to let you know exactly where in the Buyer’s Journey that you intersected with them.
  2. Have 2 or 3 great questions to ask. If your buyer believes that they already have the answers, they’re not going to give you much time for a full discovery.  At least, not at first.  What you need to do is have two or three really great, incisive questions to ask to pinpoint their needs.  Sometimes, the answers to these questions will let you know that their research is right on target – or sometimes, it’s wrong.  Depending on their demeanor, if their research is on target, you may want to move ahead with them in their journey to the Evaluation step.  If they’re wrong, a more gentle approach is needed.
  3. If there’s a pitfall, expose it, but in a different way. Sometimes there are common pitfalls with products or services that nobody talks about, and that you can’t easily find with Internet research.  These are things that your buyer must know – but remember, you have to respect their knowledge.  You can do both.  The approach here is to say, “Well, as much research as you’ve done, I’m sure you already know about X problem.  Do we need to talk about that?”  If the buyer isn’t aware, this could be a “Wait, what?” moment for them.  If it is, now you have the credibility to back them up and go back through the Investigation phase.
  4. Don’t sell them the wrong stuff. Sometimes you will go through as much due diligence and questioning as possible, and not only is your buyer determined to buy something that won’t fix their problem, they’re getting mad at you for attempting to guide them.  This situation is no fun at all.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But ultimately, it’s your credibility that’s at stake.  Sometimes you have to lose a sale now to win a relationship later.  Politely but firmly explain that, based on your experience and expertise, they will not get the result they are looking for and that you’d rather not sell them something that won’t meet their needs.  Further, you hope that you can recontact them down the road.  Keep the relationship whole; few things build trust and credibility quite like refusing to make a sale.  That’s pretty much the opposite of the behavior of those salespeople who created that 3% trust stat.

Joining the buyer’s journey in the middle is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that grows more common each day.  As I always say when people complain about the new trends in customers – get good at dealing with them, and you can separate yourself from the pack.  Is 57% the right number, in terms of how far a buyer has progressed down their road prior to talking to you?  I don’t know – but I don’t think it’s as far off as some other people do.  Within change lies opportunity.  Let’s capitalize on it.

How to Do Cold LinkedIn Outreach

Most salespeople don’t know how to do cold LinkedIn outreach.  Many salespeople try to do cold LinkedIn outreach and do it badly.  Houston, we have a problem!  Don’t we? I’m in a fairly good place to talk about this, because I do LinkedIn outreach and I teach how to do LinkedIn outreach.  However, most importantly, I’m the recipient of a lot of LinkedIn outreach – and nearly all of it is awful.

When you’re a trainer, a coach, or a speaker, you quickly learn that there is an entire industry of people just dying to separate you from your money by promising miraculous growth – if you’ll just pay them to market you or help you market yourself.  This entire industry focuses on reaching out on LinkedIn.  I get somewhere between four and six messages a day.  Most of them follow the same format.  “Hello, Troy, you should know that I’m different and here’s why…” not realizing that they sound exactly the same as everyone else.  Well, I received a message a few days ago from a guy who started that way. When I didn’t respond, he messaged again the next day.  His message was a bit longer than most.  I decided to try an experiment.  Here’s how I responded to him:

“I suppose I’d be open to a brief strategy call.  However, you should know this – you might ‘be the opposite of every LinkedIn marketing company,’ but you sound exactly like every other LinkedIn marketing company that bombs me with messages every day.  There’s no shortage of people ready to separate coaches like me from their money, with big promises and crap returns.  And of course, you’ve done the typical move of reaching out with a hard-sell message right away with no attempt at getting to know me or building a relationship that would give you credibility with me. So – with all that said, if you’d like to schedule a short call, I’m open to it, and I’m always open to learning ways to build my business.  That said, I don’t apologize for being direct and protective of my time.  But here’s my expectation for that call:

  1. You will have at least viewed my website to get an understanding of what I do.
  2. No small talk or cheap rapport building.  I don’t schedule these calls to talk football.
  3. Your questions should be to gain understanding, not lead me.
  4. You be ready to tell me, in simple and straightforward terms, how you can help based on what you have learned about my business.

The ball is in your court.”

He has read that message, but I haven’t heard back from him.  I doubt that I will.  He’s sending out hundreds of these per week, and probably half of those people are blocking him immediately.  But, since he’s working on the law of large numbers, I’m sure he’s getting some appointments.  And that message will put him off because he’ll figure that I’m a jerk, or too tough, and there are easier marks.

Here’s what this guy doesn’t know about me and probably won’t ever get to learn:  I’m a tough sale but once I’m sold, I’m SOLD.  I’m loyal as hell, and if someone helps me, I will evangelize for them at every opportunity.  But I’m protective of my time.  When someone wants to sell to me, I expect them to have their act together.  They should have a basic knowledge of what I do and be able to fit their services into that context.  I’m happy the Chiefs won the Super Bowl (will I get sued by the NFL for using the name, or should I have said “the Big Game?”), but it’s neither the focus of my life nor something I’m interested in talking about during a sales call.  And I expect a straightforward dialogue with no manipulative BS.

In other words, I’m like most of your prospects, and that’s where this worm is going to turn.  You see, the guy who messaged me works nationwide to a big industry.  There are some 4 million people in the USA alone who are engaged in some form of speaking or coaching – so if he burns some potential leads, who cares?  He has a monstrous base of prospects.  Most of you are measuring your prospect list in the thousands, hundreds, or even tens.  You can’t afford to burn too many of them.  So, if you want to avoid failing in your cold LinkedIn outreach, here’s how to do cold LinkedIn outreach right:

  1. No immediate hard sell. I’ll be honest; I cringe when I accept connection requests from people in certain lines of business.  That’s because I know that, within minutes, I’m going to get a hard-sell message for how they can revolutionize my business.  This hard-sell message is going to be incredibly generic and not speak to me as an individual at all, and there will be no attempt at relationship building.  Try this:  When your request is accepted, just send a soft message thanking them for accepting and telling them that you’re looking forward to networking with them here.  And leave it at that.  Believe it or not, you will stand out and be memorable by NOT telling them how awesome you are and how you can solve all their problems!
  2. Engage. Now that you’re connected, engage with them and their posts. Why do people post on social media?  They want ATTENTION.  Give it to them.  Like their posts.  Comment on them when it’s appropriate – and the comment shouldn’t be, “You know, if you buy from me, you can do that even better!”  We get just a little dopamine hit when we see that someone has liked or commented on our posts, and very few people actually do that.  When you do, your name appears and they remember it.  Don’t be a stalker, of course – but give them a little attention.  You might find that they give it back.
  3. Post meaningful content. Post about more than your current product line.  Post interesting articles that you’ve read (this one, maybe?), post tips on how to do business better, even a personal post every now and then is good.  But be active.  I’m not talking about posting all the time.  One post every day or two keeps you alive on LinkedIn.  Between #2 above and this tip, you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in 30 minutes a day.
  4. Cold LinkedIn Outreach should be appropriate and individualized. When you do reach out directly (no less than 3 weeks from initial connection), it should be individual, specific, and appropriate.  It should display some knowledge of who they are and what they do, and speak directly to how you can help them.  For instance, “Hey, Stan, I saw you’re opening a new branch in Peoria.  You might not know this, but we have a great service center in Peoria that can help you with the startup and maintenance of that building.”  No generic hard-sell crap.
  5. No fake rapport. Two things I’m sick of when someone tries to sell to me.  “How about those Chiefs?” and “Kansas City?  Great barbecue there.”  I’m sick of it for two reasons.  First, it’s an assumption – if you’re from Kansas City, you must be a dyed in the wool Chiefs fan, right?  Er, not so much.  Like I said, I’m a good Kansas Citian, I’m glad (and surprised) that they won, and I attended my friends’ watch parties.  But football does not absorb my life.  And if you’re from Kansas City, you’re big into barbecue, right?  Well….yeah, I am.  I have my own smoker and I’m convinced that the best ribs in Kansas City come from it.  But that doesn’t mean that I want to spend time that I’ve allocated for a business conversation on a topic that the salesperson probably doesn’t have any real interest in.  It’s fake and inauthentic, and it works against building rapport.  Want to really build rapport?  Ask a couple of good questions about your prospect that both demonstrate that you’ve done a bit of homework and that you want to dive deeper.  Then LISTEN to the answer.

Unlike the people who approach me, I’m guessing that you can’t really use the “law of large numbers” to generate a prospect flow, and that you can’t afford to have half of those you approach block you.  So, understand that prospecting and outreach are a slow play now. Instead of doing outreach for next week’s appointments, you’re going to do cold LinkedIn outreach for next month’s appointments – or next quarter’s.  That’s okay.  Those appointments will likely be better and more productive.

Motivation: The Foundation of the Buyer’s Journey

Last week, I did a one-on-one Zoom call with a guy who was trying to sell me a marketing system.  He opened by saying that he had sold life insurance for over 40 years and, “As we both know, all sales are 90% emotional.”  I stopped him right there.  I told him that I’d been in sales for 34 years, and that the emotion-to-intellect ratio in the sales had shifted significantly over my career.  In fact, I said, it had never been “90% emotion” in my career, and that salespeople who understood how their customers think have the edge over those who attempt to manipulate how they feel.  His response was, “You’re wrong.”  The call ended there.

I tell you that to tell you this:  Today, we’re going to talk about an element of sales that melds thought and emotion, and it’s the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey.  Your job is to help navigate the customer through the Buyer’s Journey.  Think of it like building a house.  A good house needs a foundation, it needs walls and a roof, it needs mechanical systems like plumbing and heating, and it needs furnishing.  But without a foundation, that house can’t be built.  Motivation is the foundation of the Buyer’s Journey – without it, you don’t have a sale, and yes, there is a combination of emotion and intellect that drives Motivation.  So let’s dive into what Motivation really is, shall we?

I define Motivation this way:  Motivation is a feeling of dissatisfaction with the Current Situation, and a desire for a better Future Situation.  In other words – “I feel like something’s wrong now, and I want something better.”  This feeling can be emotionally driven, it can be logically driven, or it can be a combination.

One thing I want to make clear:  Motivation is different than Prospecting.  Motivation is buyer-driven; i.e. it is something that the Buyer thinks, feels, or thinks and feels at the same time.  Prospecting is salesperson-driven; it’s that activity where we reach out to potential Buyers that we don’t know and attempt to engage them.  Here’s where they do come together.  Good Prospecting is designed to highlight or create Motivation in order to engage the Buyer.  That’s why your prospecting message is important.

The lamest prospecting messaging begins like this:

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  I’d like to talk to you about…” Who cares?  That’s “me” driven.  Good prospecting is “them” driven.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  Can I quote on your next order of…” Yes, by all means, let’s reduce the entire sale to a price right out of the gate.

“Hi, Mr. Customer.  How are you today?”  That announces you as a pesky salesperson who can’t think of anything good to say.

Back to Motivation.  As I said, Motivation can be either discovered, highlighted, or created.  Here’s how:

  • Discovering Motivation: This is an “educated guess” approach, and it’s based on the idea that your targeted prospects are very likely to have a problem that you’ve solved for others like them.  The problem is just bubbling below the surface in your prospect’s mind, and that feeling of dissatisfaction has to be highlighted in order to move them into a Buyer’s Journey.  Let’s say that you know of a common problem in a given industry that you serve, and you’ve fixed it for others.  Your messaging needs to center around acknowledgement of the common problem, painting a picture with your words of what the prospect’s day will be like when it’s solved, and then asking a question about their experiences with the problem.  For example:  “Mr. Customer, I know that independent shops like yours replace a lot of exhaust gaskets on late model GM V-8s, and when they do, they break bolts – which takes up your shop time and money.  Our induction bolt heater has solved that problem for other shops like yours.  Would you like to see a demo of how this can save you hours on every one of those jobs?” (For the record – bolt induction heaters are awesome.)  A talk track like this highlights a dissatisfaction with the Current Situation that your prospect already has, and may bring Motivation to the surface – enabling you to get an audience and start them on a Buyer’s Journey.  Your Buyer probably is aware of both the problem and a potential solution – but you are bringing it to the surface.
  • Highlighting Motivation: This is possible if, in researching your Buyer, you discover something that would be a motivating factor for purchasing your stuff.  As an example, let’s say that you notice that your Buyer is getting ready to add three new locations, and they are in an area where the incumbent vendor for your stuff doesn’t go – but you do.  Or, they’re taking on a new product line and you sell a product that perfectly complements their new line.  You get the idea.  In this case, the Motivation probably exists on some level – you just have to bring it to the fore and suggest that you are the key to relieving their dissatisfaction.  This can get you an audience, if you do it right.
  • Creating Motivation: This approach works best when you have something new that your Buyer is probably unaware of.  The Buyer might not even be dissatisfied with the Current Situation as they understand it – but the awareness of something new could change that.  For example, once upon a time, the Lockheed Constellation was considered the luxury yacht of the skies and passengers loved flying on it.  Then came the jet – and all of a sudden, the Constellation was consigned to history because it was very loud and too slow.  Creating Motivation isn’t easy, and it requires a product that is genuinely new to the market and has such a high ability to change the customer’s perception that the mere awareness of it Motivates your prospect.

Whatever way Motivation happens, understand that you will not get a sale unless it’s present.  If your Buyer reaches out to you rather than vice versa, you need to understand what Motivated them to enter their Buyer’s Journey – and as you move through the Journey, you need to verify that it’s still present.

The bottom line is this:  When you approach a potential Buyer, you should understand that he doesn’t care, in the least, about what YOU want to talk about.  He only cares about his own dissatisfaction with his Current Situation – and the first words out of your mouth (or keyboard, as the case might be) need to speak directly to that.  If not, you probably won’t get the appointment.  Then, as you move through the Journey, you need to make sure that this dissatisfaction is still there.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs. If Motivation goes away, so does your bouncing baby sale.

Fakes, Frauds, and Charlatans

You know, sales is not an easy profession.  In the absolute best of times, we face a high degree of customer suspicion, high rejection rates, and the other challenges that come with being the tip of the economic spear for our companies.  In fact, a 2022 HubSpot study found that only 3% of people trust salespeople!  The good news is that we came in ahead of lawyers and politicians – so we have that going for us.

I personally believe that sales – done right – is a noble profession and is probably the most fun one can have in the business world.  That’s why I’ve been in it for 34 years and counting.  And that’s why I am so mightily offended by those salespeople who contribute to the 97% of people who find us untrustworthy, rather than the 3% who trust us.  As much as I’d like to believe that the low trust factor is based on past salespeople and past actions, I can’t.  I’ve had a couple of instances recently that reminded me that deceptive sales tactics are still out there.  I’m going to share those instances with you, and then I’m going to give you some advice to build trust.

Several months ago, I connected with the editor of one of the most popular magazines for Entrepreneurs.  It’s widely read and has a high degree of credibility in the market.  Yep, my interest was in writing for them.  This editor had a series of posts on LinkedIn about all the bad article queries he received, and implored people to “do it right” if they wanted to get published in his magazine, and if people would just query him the right way, they could get published.  Well, I’ve written article queries for over 20 years, I know how to do it right, and I had content that bore on issues his readership faced (as noted in some of his other posts).

So, I queried him by email.  He thanked me for my query and directed me to a link where all his queries had to be submitted, though his magazine’s online system.  And – here’s where I got upset.  In order to submit a query, you first had to be a member of his “online community.”  It costs $3000 a year to become a member.  SO – “doing it right,” as he had been blaring for months, wasn’t what it really took to get published.  You have to pay to play.

I called him out via email, and asked him if he didn’t feel a bit hypocritical.  He explained that it was “just the way it was done.”  OK – but if the real qualification was writing a check, don’t tell people that “doing it right” gets you what you want.  To me, that’s unethical.  If I have to write a check, tell me that UP FRONT.  He has lost all credibility with me, and I told him so.

Then, earlier this week, I was messaged by two different people asking me if I’d be interested in being a guest on a podcast they host (this happens from time to time), and telling me to set up an appointment to talk.  I did so, and set them on the same day.  The first appointment was with a man named Jeff Davis, who hosts a podcast called Twelve Mavens.  I’ll be on his show on March 20; I’ll put out more info when it gets closer.  Had a great conversation with him and it’s legit.

The second was less legit.  Keep in mind, I’m fresh off a conversation where a guy shared the makeup and size of his audience, asked about my content, and we agreed on a topic and time.  That’s how you do it.  I’m not going to name the second – but he immediately launched into a presentation about “Now, this is what I do for free.”  I stopped him and asked if he was asking me to guest on his podcast, and he said, “Well, yeah, but I’m showing you my process.”  Ultimately, what became clear is that I wasn’t really being asked to guest on a podcast, I was being sold a marketing package.  I don’t think there even IS a podcast.  He set the appointment under false pretenses – and I bailed.

Look, I get it.  When you are a speaker, or an author, or a business owner or manager, there’s no shortage of people lining up to separate you from your money.  All I ask is that you do so transparently.  I also realize that I tread that line a bit – I offer my complimentary Sales Strategy Review to business owners and managers, and in it, I promise 2-3 actionable takeaways geared around helping them with their sales team.  Yes, my objective is to get new people into my sales funnel.  But that is usually a separate conversation – and I genuinely enjoy helping, and I do so without asking for money to do it.  I don’t require money before I help and then hide it.

And now, here’s where it comes full circle to you.  I’m seeing a resurgence in disingenuous sales tactics, borne out of desperation to get appointments.  The idea is to use whatever verbal or written “hooks” you can in order to just get the conversation – and then, once you have a buyer pinned down, turn that conversation into something they didn’t expect or want.

The problem is this.  In sales, what we really market is our credibility.  That credibility stays with US throughout our careers, and when you undertake an action that makes you a fake, a fraud, or a charlatan, it sticks with you.  I’ll never buy into anything that editor says again, even if he changes jobs.  Nor for that matter will I accept his magazine as credible.  I’ll never accept a conversation with the second podcast guy again, for any reason.  I’d rather get fewer appointments for the right reasons than more appointments for the wrong ones.

Sure, tactics like that can be a shortcut to money.  But there’s more to this business than money.  There’s being able to look in the mirror at the end of the day.  There’s being a true benefit to people you encounter.  And there’s the knowledge that when you do move into a well-deserved retirement, you left the profession a better place for those that follow you.

Stand Out from the Crowd: 4 Ways Salespeople Can Differentiate Themselves

In your customer’s eyes, it’s easy for you to blend in with all the other reps out there. Every industry has its “pattern.”  From the typical business casual uniforms to the cookie-cutter pitches, everyone starts to sound the same, look the same, and feel the same after a while. The whole thesis of this newsletter – and my approach to selling – is that we are premium salespeople who sell premium products and services, who deserve to sell them at premium prices.  Anything less is cheating yourself, your customers, and your company.

However – if you blend in with your competitors, you probably aren’t going to get a premium price.  You might not even get the sale.  As a salesperson, distinguishing yourself is critical for getting more prospects to pay attention, keeping them engaged, upselling successfully, and ultimately charging higher prices because you offer greater value. Here are four straightforward ways any rep can differentiate themselves:

1. Dress How You Want Customers to Perceive You

Most sales reps dress very similarly – company polos, logo jackets, khakis. But consider the type of client you’re trying to attract, then dress at least a notch above that to project confidence and capability. Let’s face it – if the only difference between you and your competitors is the color of your polo shirt and the logo on it, you blend in.  Don’t blend.  Your customers aren’t going to cringe in fear when you dress a little nicer than what’s expected, or even better than them.  But you will stand out – and standing out is a huge part of our battle today.

2. Ask Better Questions

Many sales interactions follow a familiar back-and-forth with a features-heavy pitch (aka the “brochure barf”) and some small talk before closing out quick. Maybe some leading questions get tossed in there, but there’s seldom a real attempt at meaningful discovery. Try leading instead with great open-ended questions about the prospect’s true needs (for their business AND for your “stuff”), problems they face, goals they have. This shows that you genuinely care and that you’re trying to help THEM put a win on the board, not just put one on for yourself.  In a sea of brochure barfers, be a questioner. It builds trust and lets you direct a conversation that helps the Buyer move through his or her Buyer’s Journey.

3. Prove It.

Anyone can talk, talk, talk.  Your customer probably doesn’t believe most of what you say.  It’s not you, personally – they have just been conditioned.  The best marketing is that which allows your prospective customer to view you through the eyes of a current, happy customer. To differentiate yourself, put together compelling proof your product delivers with customer reviews, testimonials, case studies, demos, guides, ROI calculators. Anything that shows you’re focused on their bottom line. This builds confidence in working with you.


When your customers are buying from you, they are also buying you.  So put yourself into the game as much as possible.  Mentally engage. Show prospects instead that you can actively listen, answer questions on the fly, and pivot your examples based on their feedback. Bring some passion and urgency too. This flexibility and conviction leaves a memorable impression and builds credibility.

Taking these four steps – raising your professional polish, leading with great questions, backing claims with social proof, and exhibiting some personality – helps you stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. This grabs attention, builds rapport quicker, and makes competitors seem generic. That’s good – we want THEM to seem generic, not to join them.  That’s how we generate premium prices.  If you’re different in a meaningful and positive way, you can charge higher prices over the long haul.  What’s more, your customers will be happy to pay those prices.  That’s a win, isn’t it?