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The Six Qualities That Win Sales

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

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

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

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

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

Activity Drives Results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activity drives results.

Are You Improving or Stagnating?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read books.

Watch videos.

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

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

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

Get better and your results will be better.

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

How Not to Impress People in a Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Define a Successful Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy NOW, NOW, NOW, or Get Lost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Your Sales Maintenance Program?

Most of you know by now that I’m a car guy.  I should point out, however, that I’m not a NEW car guy.  In fact, my daily driver is a 2006 Cadillac Escalade.  It’s the newest vehicle I’ve ever owned.  I bought it, used, over three years ago.  I’ve put nearly 100,000 miles on it. It’s as least as nice now as it was when I bought it.  Most of my vehicles are.  I have friends who buy new, or much newer, cars than I have – and in a couple of years they are in worse shape than my 16 year old SUV.

“Sure,” you’re saying.  “You’re a car guy, Troy.  It’s easy for you.”  Keeping a vehicle running well and looking good is easy – and so is keeping a sales territory healthy.  In both, you have to do the little things before they can become big things.  You do a little bit of the right things every week, and the right things happen.  Let me explain.

My Caddy doesn’t get trashed in the interior because every time I gas it up or arrive home, I immediately clean any trash out of it (spoiler alert – I have been known to drink a bottled water or soda, empty it, and toss the empty into the back seat floor; I also have been known to eat in my car).  I wash it at least once a week (this prevents rust and other nastiness), I change the oil promptly when it’s time, and do any other maintenance as required.  This saves me time and money because I don’t have to do the “rollercoaster” cycle of vehicle maintenance.  Stick with me, I’m getting to the sales stuff.

By cleaning the interior and washing it, I don’t have to spend $150-200 to have it detailed.  The other maintenance works the same way.  Now, think about your own sales territory.

The common sales cycle for most salespeople looks like this:

  1. Do a bunch of prospecting to find people in the buying market.
  2. Sell your guts out to this group of people (riding the rollercoaster up).
  3. Make some sales and put up some numbers.
  4. Run out of prospects (down goes the rollercoaster).
  5. Return to step 1 and repeat.

This cycle frustrates management and costs salespeople money.  Properly maintaining your sales territory is about doing smaller amounts of the right things week in and week out, so that you never run out or prospects, nor out of time to work the ones you have.  I hear salespeople complain all the time about the “metrics management” approach to sales management – but it works.  That’s why those metrics exist (and why I always create them in my own sales audits that I conduct).

If you really want to be effective and efficient at the “territory maintenance” approach to your selling, do this.  Budget certain amounts of time each week for certain activities – and then block times to do them.  For instance, if two hours of telephone prospecting will get the job done, make an appointment with yourself on your calendar to prospect, and then keep it.  If you need to do 8 appointments per week, block time for that.  Etc.  Manage and maintain your territory, and you’ll never be that salesperson who is scratching for new business to try to make a goal or quota.

By the way, my plan is to drive my Escalade for two more years.  Why? Because I like it.  A lot.  And because it’s still as nice as it was three years ago – and probably thirteen years ago.  That’s because I maintain it.

Are You Selling Emotionally in an Intellectual World?

I just returned from speaking at a conference of independently owned businesses in Las Vegas.  As usual with this group, I had a great time, made some new friends, and made some new business connections.  They are truly great people, and honestly, they are a lot of fun in the sessions.

As I was looking through the business cards that I received from attendees, however, something struck me.  Most of the businesses had slogans on their cards, as you might expect.  And a majority of the slogans were centered on phrases like, “We’re a family business,” “your local source,” etc.  That’s normal – but it started me wondering what those company owners wanted to accomplish with those slogans.

Slogans like these are designed to create emotional appeal.  By saying that you are a family business, for instance, the idea is to conjure an image of the All-American family that customers support through their patronage, rather than a big, faceless corporation.  That’s okay, if your customers are prone to such emotional appeals – but fewer and fewer customers are susceptible to emotional appeals.

The problem is that buying decisions today are made based on intellectual rationale, rather than emotion.  That’s not to say that relationships don’t matter – they definitely do – but the basis for those relationships (or at least the start of them) has less to do with personal affinity than with a business decision-making process to select the best vendor for the customer’s needs.

Worse, these slogans send a subliminal message.  That message is, “We’re not the best, but you should root for us.”  It’s what I call “Underdog selling.”  Yes, people definitely root for the underdog – but they don’t buy from them very often.

When I ask these business owners why the customer should care, they always respond with answers like, “Well, we have great service,” or “our customers aren’t just a number.”  In other words, they use “me too” statements that have no real benefit to the customer.

I like to give slogans and taglines the “so what” test.  That’s what speakers do when they think about a speech.  They imagine the audience saying, “So what?  Who cares?  What’s in it for me?  It’s all about me!”  Most of these slogans don’t pass the “so what” test.  That said, there is a way to make slogans like this meaningful.

What you’re really trying to say when you say things like “we’re family owned” or “we’re local” is that the customer’s buying and ownership experience is different.  Okay, great.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  How is it different?

Do you ask different questions than your competition?

Do you give the customer a more personalized presentation than your competition?

Do you focus more on the customer’s buying process than you do your own sales process?  Even better, do those two processes harmonize?

Can you flex and create a more customized solution than your competition?

Does your post-sale experience differ in a positive way from your competition?

And if the answer to any of these is “yes,” how can and do you prove it?

The problem with “we’re small” emotional appeal is simple.  Not all customers think that big corporations are something to be avoided.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your customer if he/she buys from Amazon.  I love independently owned companies, and support them whenever I can.  That said, the best way to get a roll of burgundy colored duct tape to me the next day is to buy it on Amazon (yes, I just did that), so that’s how I spent that money. If you go down the road of thinking that a “we’re small” emotional appeal is an automatic advantage, you’re going to lose a lot of business.

Instead of saying “we’re small,” “we’re family owned,” or “we’re local,” find ways to say “we’re excellent at what we do and here’s why we are the best solution for you.”

In today’s intellectual, information-based world, selling is about discovering customer needs, finding ways to solve those needs, and continuing to solve those needs on an ongoing basis.  Failure to do so is to surrender your sale.

Are Your Sales Calls Important?

I have a few guilty pleasures.  One of them is (or at least was) professional wrestling.  I stopped watching several years back for reasons that we might get into in a future article, but up until then, I was a fan.  I’m particularly a fan of the wrestlers of my youth, and so when videoed retrospective interviews of them became popular, I watched quite a few.  One of the best is called Kayfabe Confessions, done by a guy named Sean Oliver (“Kayfabe” is wrestling lingo for pretending that everything you see is real).  Oliver’s interviews were a cut above the rest in terms of production values and questions asked.  And, not surprisingly, Oliver has his own retrospective book now, which inspired this article.

In it, Oliver notes that at the time he started, most such interviews were done by a guy wearing a T-shirt like the wrestler being interviewed.  He, however, always wore a suit and tie because “that signifies that something important is happening.”  I thought about my own sales career, and I had to agree – even when I was in an industrial sales territory, I’d leave the office with a jacket and tie.  I might remove them if the situation demanded, but I’d start out with them.  Why? Because I wanted my customers to know something important was happening.  I see many ways that salespeople diminish their own importance every day, and the visual presentation is only one of them.

So, how do salespeople diminish their importance?  Here are my thoughts – I’d like to hear yours.

  1.   Here’s where a lot of people are going to get mad at me.  When I started in sales, the philosophy was, “dress one notch better than your customers.”  So, I always had a jacket and tie available to me.  Sure, I took it off for some calls but I left it on for others.  As an example, if I were going to a manufacturing plant, I might take off the jacket and tie to meet with the maintenance man – but I’d have them on to meet with the plant manager.  As time goes on, I have seen average sales dress go from “casual” to downright sloppy.  When I bring this up, salespeople squeal that “my customers wouldn’t like it if I dressed better.”  Why not?  You are selling yourself as a resource – if you look like an unmade bed, you undermine that sale.  My advice is as it always has been.  Dress professionally.  For men, a well pressed shirt and slacks are the minimum standard.
  2. Going in empty handed. I have always carried a briefcase – at a minimum, a zipped up padfolio with literature and other supplies in it.  Some salespeople say, “I don’t want to carry a briefcase because I might intimidate my customer.”  That’s just silly.  Guess what?  Your customer knows that you’re a salesperson, and that your objective is to transact business.  Going in with a briefcase gives you more carrying capacity for items that make that transaction easier.  So why leave it in the car?  Walking in empty handed is just dumb – yes, even with the tech we have available to us today.
  3. “Just.” One of the worst words I see salespeople using is “just.”  As in, “I was just stopping by to…” or “I was just calling to….”  When you say “just,” you disempower every word that comes after “just.”  Why?  Be assertive and let your customers know that you are using their time wisely.  Again – you’re a salesperson.  Be proud of it.
  4. The stop by. Since I mentioned “just stopping by,” let’s talk about that.  Stopping by is a poor substitute for an appointment.  An appointment is a commitment to meet at a specific time and place to discuss a specific topic.  That topic is usually on the pathway to transacting business.  Having appointments connotes respect for your time and your customer’s, and it is the core of professional selling.  Stop-bys help you fill out a call report or make a CRM entry, but they seldom yield more than a quick “hello.”  And while we’re at it…
  5. Agenda free sales calls. Every sales call should have a reason for being and an objective to be reached.  To not do so is to waste time.  I see entirely too many salespeople doing what they call “P.R. calls,” which is “hey, just seeing how you were doing.”  Your customers are busy, and a “P.R. call” denotes nothing important. It will not generate anything important, either.

There are, unfortunately, many more ways that salespeople kill their own importance.  All of them have their root in a feeling of shame about being a salesperson.  There’s no reason to be ashamed – selling is a profession that is both proud and incredibly important.  Ask yourself what ways you employ to make your sales calls important to your customer – and what ways diminish them.  Then think about why.

My closing thought is this:  Sean Oliver was by far the most successful of the “behind the scenes” interview producers.  Maybe that’s because his interviews were important.

How to Recover From a Mistake

Whoops!  We’ve all been there, right?  You make a mistake.  How do you recover from a mistake? Maybe it’s a big one, maybe it’s a small one.  I made one last week in this space.  I sent the Navigator out without the correct article link.  I loved that article too – if you haven’t read it, read Schrodinger’s Proposals.  But, in my excitement to get it out, I forgot to get the right article to link to the “read article” button.  Facepalm time.  Here’s what’s funny – I always test every link before I send the article.  Except last week, darn it!

I caught my mistake immediately after I sent it.  This is the moment of truth in mistake recovery.  What do you do when YOU realize your own mistake, but the customer (or reader) hasn’t caught it yet?  If you are a regular Navigator reader, you already know what I did – but even so, let’s walk through how to recover from a mistake.

  1. Own it. I immediately fixed the link and re-sent the Navigator to the recipients with the subject line beginning, “CORRECTED.”  I know that sending two Navigators within five minutes of each other might have been an irritant to my readers (and if you were one of those irritated, I do apologize), but it’s better to irritate them than to have them click a link to the wrong article.  When you discover a problem, own up to it, to the customer, RIGHT THEN. Get out in front of it.  It’s always better to be in front of a problem than behind it.  But, if they do discover it first, own the problem as soon as you understand it.
  2. Find out what the consequences have been for the customer. In the case of the newsletter, there were no consequences.  In most sales and business situations, there are. Never assume what those consequences are – ask.  The root of all good things in selling is the ability to ask the hard questions.  Ask this question.
  3. Alleviate the consequences. If at all possible, make the customer whole again.  Whatever damage has been caused by your mistake (and normally, if you get out in front of the problem, that damage will be minor), fix it.  No questions and no excuses.
  4. Don’t place blame on anyone but yourself. This is the time to take one for the team.  Don’t say “it was this department” or “it was that guy.”  You are the face of the company – so be the face of the problem.  You have all the time in the world to solve the problem internally, if others need to be addressed.  To the customer, it was YOUR fault.
  5. Go the extra mile. Now that you’ve owned the problem, fixed the consequences, and taken all the blame, figure out what you can do to give the customer something extra to make up for all the trouble.  What this is might depend on the customer and their needs – it could be something personal or something that accrues to the benefit of the company.  The only way you will know is by knowing your customer inside and out – you do that, right?

If you wait for a problem to be discovered – as all too many salespeople do – you’ll have a much bigger job of recovery.  Get out in front of it, and you will be in a much stronger position.  In fact, sometimes getting out in front of the problem can actually build trust with your customers.  That’s how to recover from a mistake.

This was a pretty good lesson – you’d almost think that I messed up the newsletter on purpose, wouldn’t you, so that I could write this article?

Spoiler alert – I didn’t.