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How to Easily Spot AI Blog Posts – And How to Use AI Properly

Hey there, savvy sales champs! Ever thought about having a secret weapon that boosts your sales game? Enter ChatGPT, your new best buddy in the sales world. It’s like having a Jedi master of conversation on your side, helping you charm clients, answer tricky questions, and close deals faster than you can say “commission.” Whether you’re a seasoned sales pro or just dipping your toes, this AI wizard is about to revolutionize how you hustle. Buckle up and get ready to unlock the magic of ChatGPT for your sales hustle!

Now, did that sound like me, Troy Harrison, the Sales Navigator?  Hell, no, it didn’t!  And if you use AI applications (whether ChatGPT or others) without any editing, it won’t sound like YOU either.  I purposely asked ChatGPT to write an intro for this article knowing that it would come up with something that was so transparently NOT me as to (hopefully) get your attention.  What we’re going to be talking about today is how to easily spot AI in blog posts, articles, and other written documentation – which, hopefully, will show you how to use AI correctly.

At current count, there are over 5,000 Generative AI applications competing for a growing AI user base.  “Generative AI” is the proper term for applications that accept a prompt from you and then generate some sort of written document as an output.  AI can write blog posts, articles, books, and even movie scripts (which is a big reason that the screen writers have been on strike – seems self-defeating to me, but I digress), and it’s easy to get started.  It can do this well or it can do it badly.  I hope we can agree that the opening paragraph of this article was “doing it badly,” but I bet you’ve seen a ton of posts on social media that looked pretty much like that.  AI is in its infancy, but at the moment, it has a number of verbal “tics” that are dead giveaways.  Let’s look at three of those now.

  1. Over-the-top language: Don’t get me wrong, I like enthusiasm. I once had a client describe me as a “human exclamation point!”  But too much AI output can sound like the person is on the biggest sugar high ever. My opening paragraph is an example.  “Hey there, savvy sales warriors” is a phrase unlikely to ever be typed by human fingers.  When you see a post that is virtually screaming at you, it’s probably AI.Your Hack:  I asked ChatGPT to use “casual language” in my prompt for the intro, and that was the result.  If you don’t specify your wording, you’ll get an abundance of business buzzwords and language that sounds like a term paper for an MBA program.  If neither one of those extremes mirrors how you speak and write – and they probably don’t – you need to be specific in the language you want for an output.  “Don’t use buzzwords” is one of my favorite prompts, and sometimes I’ll paste in a couple of paragraphs of my own work as a writing sample and tell ChatGPT to mirror my verbal cadence.  Until you get really good at your initial prompts, don’t accept the first result you get.
  2. Giveaway words and phrases: There are certain phrases that are dead giveaways.  “Say goodbye to X and say hello to Y” is a frequent one.  Or, “I hope this email finds you well.”  (That one sticks in my craw a bit, because I used to open a lot of emails with, “I hope you are doing well.”  AI took that one away from me.)  Words like “unleash,” “revolutionize,” and “unlock” are also common tics that give away a written product as AI-generated.Your Hack:  Sometimes, it’s enough to just accept a result with some buzzwords in it, and then rephrase it yourself into more direct and plain lingo.  Watch LinkedIn and Facebook ads, and you’ll see a ton of AI generated ads.  Read them and analyze them, and you’ll see other common verbal tics.  Then avoid them.
  3. Intros and closes: ChatGPT uses very familiar patterns of introductions and closes to its output.  Again – you probably already know what they are.  Avoid these, especially the intro.  The first paragraph or even sentence tells the reader if they want to continue, and if your first paragraph sounds AI, many readers will bail out.  Hmmmm….I’m hoping that most of you knew what I was doing and made it past that crappy first paragraph!Your Hack:  Always write your own opening and closing to a written document.  ChatGPT is actually pretty good at writing the body of an article with bullet points and analysis, but is weaker at getting into the article.  Your solution is to use your own ideas and thoughts to open your posts, blogs, etc., and then allow ChatGPT to do some of the heavy lifting in the middle.  Remember – make sure that the language flows and sounds like you.  If you come off as inauthentic, people won’t read you, and they won’t buy from you.

The bottom line is this:  Anytime you want to use a Generative AI tool to make your communications more efficient – and you should – don’t look at it as the complete solution.  As my friend Chase Aucoin likes to say, “ChatGPT is the best intern you ever had.  It’s smart, it has 20 PhD’s, and it has no street smarts whatsoever.”  The first paragraph of this article was an example of the lack of street smarts of ChatGPT.  It’s also the only piece of this article written with ChatGPT – but when I asked ChatGPT to write an article explaining how to easily spot AI in written documents, something happened that has not happened to me before.

I got a blank response. Zilch.  Zip. Nada.  Seriously – I learned that ChatGPT cannot explain to you what the dead giveaways of ChatGPT are and how to easily spot AI! After I stopped laughing, I wrote this article.

Generative AI is a great tool and will make you more efficient – but it won’t replace you.  So don’t ask it to, and you’ll be fine.

How to Navigate the Non-Buyer’s Journey

I’ve been writing about how to Navigate the Buyer’s Journey for months now (and if you don’t know what the Buyer’s Journey is, read this article now before moving on, or watch my Webinar on this topic).  I truly believe that this is the foundation for sales as we move into the future – but I’ve neglected the flip side.  My work on the Buyer’s Journey is optimistic (as I am as a person).  It begins with the assumption that the Buyer enters the Buyer’s Journey with a true intent to buy from YOU, if the Buyer’s definition of Success is met.

But we all know that it isn’t always that way.  Spotting the difference between a real potential buyer and someone just kicking the tires is tricky. Genuine buyers show real interest—they ask relevant questions and want to know more about what you’re selling. The time-wasters, on the other hand, might be more interested in getting information or a better deal without any real intention to buy. So, let’s take a little dive into how to qualify buyers for seriousness – or, as I say, Navigating the Non-Buyer’s Journey.

You need to understand that qualifying the buyer is an area where your questioning skills come to the fore.  You can ask these questions in such a way as to turn a real buyer into a non-buyer if you’re careful.  Too many sales training “systems” have as their foundation a hefty skepticism – and I’ve seen those types of tactics send a genuine buyer right into the arms of a competitor.  My first sales job had a training system that said – repeatedly – “buyers are liars.”  I disagree.

It’s important to remember that when a Buyer enters into a Buyer’s Journey, they are probably going to buy SOMETHING from SOMEONE. Whether they buy your stuff from you is the open question.  Having a customer that is using you to “keep their supplier honest” is a pain in the ass and a huge time waster.  On two different occasions, I’ve had prospects say that exact phrase to me – “I want to keep my supplier honest.”  My response was, “If you’re worried about them being honest, why in the world would you keep buying from them?”  Both ended up as my customers.

Before we launch into a few guidelines for separating Buyers from Non-Buyers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Your time has value.
  2. It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to do everything the prospect asks just because they ask.  See #1 above.
  3. Any Request for Proposal has specifications in it. If you didn’t help write those specs, one of your competitors did – and they’ll probably get the business.
  4. A Buyer’s Journey is a MUTUAL journey – you should both be proceeding through at the same pace. If your Buyer stops, you stop.

With that said, here are a few questions you should ask to separate Buyers from Non-Buyers.

  • The Decision Making Process: Are you talking to the person who will make the decision?  The old method of doing this was to ask, “Are you the decision maker?”  It’s a personal and confrontational question that would almost always generate a “yes” answer – EVEN IF THE PERSON WASN’T THE DECISION MAKER.  A better way is to ask about the process, which depersonalizes the question and makes it safe to tell you that they are not the decision maker.  “Mr. Prospect, could you tell me about the process that will be used to make this buying decision?”  Remember – most of the time, a salesperson has access to the decision maker.  If it’s not you, you’re probably just doing this for practice.
  • Priorities: Your normal sales questioning should establish the need – but where that need is prioritized in terms of the overall company big picture is important, too.  Even if the need is important to your Buyer, does the Buyer have the horsepower within his/her organization to get it done?  Will, for instance, a Marketing project lose to an Engineering project?  Don’t just ask about your own sphere – ask about the overall picture.
  • Resources: For years, I’ve told salespeople not to ask “The Budget Question.”  There are many reasons for this – you’re unlikely to get an honest answer, it opens the door to price pressure, and there are issues beyond money that could prevent you from getting the business, among others.  However, I think there’s a place for a question about   Resources are more than money – it can include time, technology, personnel, etc.  “What resources to do you plan to allocate to solving this problem?”
  • Timeline: The “timeline question” is important – and it’s often done incorrectly.  Salespeople ask about the timeline for the decision – when in fact, they should be asking for the date the solution is needed.  This does two things for you.  First of all, it helps the customer envision their problem getting solved – which makes the process about them and not   When you ask about the decision, you are a supplicant – “please tell me when you are going to buy from me.”  Asking about the solution makes you a partner in the solution.  Secondly, asking about the solution timeline allows you to help set milestones for completion of the different parts of the Buyer’s Journey, as well as to guide the post-decision milestones. Ultimately, it gets you toward success for the buyer and for yourself.

The key is this:  If you aren’t getting the answers that you need, you must not be afraid to discontinue your participation in the process. Again – your time has value, and you could be prospecting to find someone who will embark on a Buyer’s Journey with you.  By paying attention, keeping communication clear, and using these questions, you can tell the difference between a promising lead and a dead end. It’s an ongoing skill that gets better with practice and helps focus efforts where they matter most.

Why Not? Four Innovative Ways to Prospect

Are you getting tired of me telling you that sales is changing?  Too bad.  I’m going to do it again.  Sales is changing.  That doesn’t mean that you have to throw out all of your old prospecting methods – but it does mean that you need to be adding new ones, and new tools to your toolbox.  That can be uncomfortable for some of us, but it’s necessary.

The reality is that we have more ways of contacting prospects than ever before. Some work – some don’t.  And there are some that you should try to see if it works for you.  What’s cool is this – there is no model of prospecting that “doesn’t work anymore.”  Teleprospecting?  Yep, still works, although the ratios are different now.  Walk in cold calls?  For many industries, they’re dead – but I have a client who lives off of them quite successfully.  And then there are new ones that you probably haven’t tried, nor have I.  Let’s talk about four innovative ways to prospect that you should probably try.

  1. Video messaging: This is an offshoot of a conversation that I had with a recruiter this week while on a speaking engagement.  He’s finding good candidates on LinkedIn and, instead of sending a generic text message on LinkedIn, he is recording a highly personalized 30 second video, tailored directly to the individual, and sending that.  Yes, it takes more time to do – but he tells me that his pull-through has actually doubled.  That’s a great idea for recruiting, but it might be a great way to prospect, too.  The key to this (as will be the key to all the methods we’ll discuss) is that it must be very 1-to-1 and speak to the individual – not a mass message.  Have I done this yet?    Am I going to try?  You bet your commission check I am.  And I’ll tell you the results.  But don’t wait for me; give it a shot yourself.
  2. Rethinking the cold call: We know that the ratios of calls to contacts (someone actually answering the phone) have dropped precipitously.  Whereas we used to see someone answering on about half of the prospecting calls we made, now it’s closer to 1 to 5, or even 1 to 10.  So why not make that work for us?  Instead of hanging up or leaving a boring voice mail, think of something exciting to say – and tailored – and consider it an opportunity to get your name on their radar screen, rather than considering it a failure if you don’t get an answer.  In my training with my clients, we see that salespeople who leave voice mails get views on their LinkedIn pages from some of the people they called.  Great!  Leave a tailored voice mail asking them to call you – but also to look you up on LinkedIn or to text.  When they do look you up, send a connection request.  Then slow-play the relationship development (see my comments on LinkedIn prospecting below) so you don’t immediately get blocked.
  3. Buy the appointment: OK, this one is out there a bit, but a close friend sent it to me and it was too good not to share. One ad agency discovered that it cost them $126 to get a lead on LinkedIn, so they skipped the middleman and sent out a nice brochure with $126 in cold hard cash, asking for an appointment.  As the article shows, the sample size is small so far – but the results are good at the start.  This is admittedly one for a company with a decent sized budget, but if you can, why not?  Save it for your top prospects, of course, but if you get business, the ROI is there.
  4. LinkedIn prospecting: You’ve probably seen it.  You accept a connection request from someone you haven’t met, and immediately you get bombed with a hard-sell message.  If you’re like me, you either tell them you’re not interested, or you block them.  Don’t get caught in that trap.  You absolutely should use LinkedIn to prospect, but you should also be aware that it’s a slow play.  Once you receive the connection request, just send a simple message thanking the person for joining your network.  Then, engage with them – like their posts and comment or share where appropriate (but make sure your comments are appropriate and not stalkerish).  Then – when they post or comment something that indicates an opportunity for you – send them a SOFT message suggesting that you can help with their problem, and asking if they’d like to have a conversation.  If they say no, keep engaging.  LinkedIn is a relationship based strategy, but it can work if you do it right.
  5. Send a handwritten note: Admittedly, this is not “new” or “innovative.”  But it’s pretty damned different now.  Nobody sends handwritten notes now.  And by “handwritten,” I don’t mean a note with a printer that looks like handwriting.  I mean an actual handwritten note.  Again – as are all of these methods – it must be tailored and speak directly to your prospect on a one-to-one basis.  This is one that I can tell you works today.  In fact, on a percentage basis, it might work better today than it used to.  Want to combine old tech and new tech?  Send a handwritten note on a card that has a QR code that allows them to reach out quickly.

While you’re digesting those four innovative ways to prospect, I want to cop to a change in my own thinking.  I used to say that prospecting was a function of the law of large numbers, and I told managers to discourage their salespeople from doing extensive research on prospects – instead, make the calls and get the appointments. A good database that tells you who your target contact is and their company’s demographics and industry data was enough. For some industries and environments, that still is appropriate.

For many of us, though, it’s time for a shift.  Notice that every one of those four methods above demanded tailoring.  To succeed, you must speak directly to your prospect on a person-to-person level that demonstrates that you know a little bit about them and have a reason for reaching out.  The good news is that it’s so easy to research now that, within five minutes, you can come up with enough information to have a ‘hinge’ for your contact.

Have I personally tried and trained on all of these methods?  No.  Not YET.

Do I think some of them might fail for myself or for you?  Possibly.  Not everything is a fit for everyone.

But we are in a moment where there aren’t many rules, where these four innovative ways to prospect present a relatively blue ocean (because not many salespeople are trying them), and thus you have an opportunity to use them to succeed.  So try things.  Learn things.  Innovate.  Hell, think of ways that I didn’t think of above.  Maybe in a year, you’ll have developed four innovative ways to prospect that are all yours.

Sales is changing.  You can sit back and not change with it, and you will likely fail.  Or, you can change with it, or even be an agent of change.

Let’s move forward together.

I can help.


What if Your Prospect Says, “I Just Want a Price?”

It’s an all too common phenomenon.  A fresh lead calls in and declares, “I just want a price.” These prospective customers have often conducted extensive research on their own, formed a clear idea of what they want, and are primarily seeking quotes. Reality is that buyers have changed, their expectations have changed, and this can make traditional sales approaches seem outdated and inadequate – because they often are.  Old-school sales techniques often depended on buyers who were uneducated, leaving us as the oracles of all wisdom.  It isn’t that way anymore.  Studies show that the average buyer has completed nearly 60% of his or her Buyer’s Journey before reaching out to a salesperson.

Trying to take one of these buyers and slam them into your “sales process” is a sure way to failure.  Nowadays, “sales processes” are obsolete, and the Buyer’s Journey rules all.  If you haven’t read my article explaining the five steps in the Buyer’s Journey, do it now – that will help the rest of this article make sense.  The only way to handle this type of call is to treat these informed prospects with respect; by doing so, you can still have a significant impact on influencing and persuading them.

You have to understand that, when this type of buyer calls you, their mindset is that they don’t really need you.  They have already (at least in their mind) gone through the Motivation, Investigation, and Solution steps of their Journey, and they aren’t going to be excited initially about backing up.  Look – we know that sometimes, buyers get it wrong, and what they’re asking for won’t really solve their problems.  Been there, done that.  But you absolutely MUST NOT give the impression that this is what you’re thinking; that will turn this prospect off like a faucet.  So, how do you handle it?  Here are a few steps:

  1. Acknowledge and Validate Their Research:

When a prospect comes in well-informed, it’s essential to acknowledge the time and effort they’ve invested in their research. Begin the conversation by saying something like, “I appreciate the effort you’ve put into understanding your needs. It’s clear you’ve done your homework.” This not only shows respect for their knowledge but also helps build rapport by demonstrating your understanding of their situation.  What this buyer has missed out on is the experience of being heard, respected, and understood.  You have the opportunity to give them this experience, and in doing so, you’ll build rapport.

  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions:

Instead of jumping straight into pricing, ask open-ended questions that encourage prospects to share more about their needs and goals. For example, “Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for in a solution?” or “What challenges are you hoping to overcome with this purchase?” These questions steer the conversation towards a deeper exploration of their needs and allow you to provide tailored solutions.  Let your buyer give you their definition of success.

  1. Share Your Advantages:

Rather than listing features and pricing, focus on the advantages your product or service can provide for your buyer. Help the prospect connect the dots between their needs and how your offering can address them. Highlight real-life success stories or case studies that illustrate how you have solved similar problems for other clients.

  1. Address Concerns and Objections:

You should never have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to objections.  You already know what your common objections are – and you should already have “first, best” responses to resolve them.  Be prepared to sell at a higher price than your competitors.  ALWAYS.

  1. Offer Options:

Provide prospects with different options, such as various product packages or payment plans, to give them a sense of control over their decision. This approach allows them to weigh their choices more thoroughly and may reduce their fixation on price alone.  I always like a “Good/Better/Best” approach.  In fact, if you want to be more effective, present it in a “Best/Better/Good” scenario.  When you start low and add advantages and price, those advantages can seem less important than if you start at the top and take them away.  And when you do quote price, quote it forthrightly and directly.  Be proud of your price.

  1. Close:

Never forget to ASK FOR THE BUSINESS.  Even if your buyer says that he or she is going to check multiple sources, ASK.  People do buy without multiple sources, even when they say they won’t.

  1. Stay Connected:

Even if you don’t get an immediate sale, stay connected with these prospects. Share valuable content, industry insights, and updates to reinforce your expertise and maintain a relationship. This keeps you top-of-mind when they’re ready to make a decision.  If you have a drip marketing program, put them in it.  Lost sales now can result in wins later.

Our reality today is that the buyers are the stars of the show, and they KNOW IT.  It’s tempting to just fire off a price to this type of buyer (what we used to call the “price and puke” in the car business), or to treat their research with a certain amount of disrespect while looking for mistakes.  DON’T.  Ultimately the relationship will go to the salesperson who makes this buyer feel respected and validated.  If that’s you, the rewards will come.

Navigating the Buyer’s Journey is an essential skill for today’s salesperson.  It’s also the topic of my Webinar coming up in a few weeks, and if you haven’t registered, what are you waiting for?  It’s on November 16.  Click here and get signed up.

Four Keys to A Successful CRM Implementation

A few weeks ago, I read a recent article in a monthly trade magazine by a guy who is/was one of America’s most prominent sales authors.  The article was about CRM.  Specifically, it was about how he had finally seen the virtues of CRM (Customer Relationship Management app) and moved his own business off of the old spreadsheet model.  Well, golly gee whiz!  He’s selling like it’s 1999.  Look, let’s be honest.  If you don’t have a CRM system that is up, running, functional, and being used (the definition of successful CRM implementation), you are as behind the times as he is – and you’re probably getting your ass kicked by sales teams that do have one.

I’m tempted to say that “in today’s world, CRM is essential,” but that would be a lie.  Twenty years ago, CRM was essential.  Today, it’s foundational.  Product knowledge isn’t king anymore.  Customer knowledge is king.  And if you don’t have a functional CRM system, you don’t know enough about your customers.  I’m of the opinion that the reason that sales teams don’t implement and use CRM systems is that they make it too complicated.  Hence, I want to simplify CRM.

Entirely too many CRM implementations are guided by the IT department or vendor.  That’s a mistake.  IT departments love features and functionality – the more, the better.  CRM should be guided by sales and marketing, because they are the users and the ones who benefit from successful CRM implementation.  Sales and marketing tell IT what they need, and IT implements it.  Here are the four things you must have for successful CRM implementation:

  1. Contact management: For me, contact management includes the “business card information” for every contact at your target companies. It incorporates demographics on their business – size, industry, etc.  It also includes data-input fields on their current method of doing whatever they do:  Who they buy from, what they buy, how often they buy, how big their potential is, and whatever other fields are vital to your business.
  2. Activity management: Activity management is the recording of every interaction and “touch” with the customer.  What did you do?  When was it?  What was the result?  What important information was discovered or exchanged?  All calls, meetings, video contacts, emails, and texts should be recorded.  The good news is that the best CRM systems will interact with your email client to automatically log emails; a good mobile app will log phone calls and texts as long as you’re using your smartphone with a mobile app (more on that in a moment) to make them.  One more thing.  All CRM systems that I’ve seen include a generic “notes” function.  Don’t use it.  “Notes” are for information gleaned, and that information was discovered within an activity – a call, email exchange, or meeting.  Log all your notes within the activity that generated the note.  That gives context.
  3. Opportunity management: An “opportunity” happens whenever the customer or prospect enters a Buyer’s Journey with you; i.e. there is a buying decision to be made.  A successful CRM implementation gives you the capability to log the opportunity, trace it through the sales funnel, and log the win or loss.
  4. A usable mobile app: The old model was that salespeople would go out into the field, make sales calls, come back to the office, and sit down at the computer and type in their activities and notes, usually with the sales manager haranguing them about it.  That’s obsolete.  Today, a good mobile app is part and parcel of a successful CRM implementation.  That way, salespeople can have a meeting, return to their vehicle, quickly log the meeting and results while sitting in their vehicle using a few taps and talk-to-text, and get on to the next meeting.  It’s far more efficient for the salesperson, it communicates information in real time to the office, and frankly, it’s just plain smart.  If (like me) you take a lot of notes using pen and paper, snap pictures of the pages with your phone and use the app to attach those notes to the customer record.  Boom – they are forever logged.  Want to know how to make your work more efficient with a mobile app?  I have a video for that – watch it here.

Are there more ways a CRM can be useful?  Sure.  Automated workflows, email blasts, data segmenting, integration with your back-end accounting program, and other functions can be good to have – but don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.  If you don’t have a successful CRM implementation, start with the four keys above, and you can always make your CRM more robust as time goes on.  And don’t worry about picking “the wrong one” if you’re just getting started.  You can always export data out of one system and into another.  When in doubt, start simple and work up from there.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you what I use.  I’ve used HubSpot for five years, precisely because it has the four keys above, it’s easy to use, and oh yeah, if you use the basic version, it’s free. No, I don’t get a kickback for referring people – I’m just letting you know.

Whatever you use, pick a CRM and use it.  Frankly, today’s selling is far too data-driven not to.

6 Reasons Why You Should Respond to Leads in Five Minutes

I hate wasted opportunities.  I bet you do too.  One of the biggest sources of wasted opportunities is slow response time to incoming leads.  I truly do not understand this – salespeople work their guts out to get new prospects, and yet when someone holds their hand up by calling, emailing, messaging, or filling out a contact form, salespeople let that lead sit there and get cold.  I’ve seen it as a coach and I’ve experienced it as a customer.

The only reason that I can fathom for this is that salespeople don’t want to appear “too anxious” to react.  It’s kind of like the old dating philosophy that “you should never call her (or him) the day after the date.”  Well, it’s dumb in dating and it’s dumb in sales.  Incoming leads are gold and they should be worked immediately.  How immediately?  Here are the numbers, according to a study by M.I.T.:

Five minutes is the ideal response time.  Yes, I said five minutes.  What that means is that a lead that is responded to with a personal phone call, not an email, within five minutes has the highest chance of being qualified, and further in turning into business.  In fact, a call placed within five minutes is four times as likely to be qualified as a call placed at ten minutes – and 21 times more successful than a call placed at 30 minutes.  If they don’t answer the phone, send a text – again, immediately.

WOW.  Why is that?  Because the moment when someone holds their hand up is the moment when they are hottest for you.  That should just make sense.  But seeing the numbers in this format is right in your face, isn’t it?  Let’s take it farther.  A lead that is responded to in the first 30 minutes is 17 times as likely to turn into business as one responded to within 24 hours.  In fact, over 20 hours, a lead response has the same percentages as an ice-cold call.

All of this should be intuitive, but let’s take a deeper dive into the psychology of why quick lead response is essential.

  1. First Impressions Matter:

The old saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” holds especially true in the realm of sales. When a prospect contacts you, their interest and enthusiasm are often at their peak. A swift response demonstrates that you are attentive, eager, and professional. It conveys your commitment to providing exceptional customer service and sets a positive tone for the entire sales process.  In other words, your prospect figures that if you’re that quick about responding to sell them, you’re likely to be that quick about responding to service them.

  1. Capture the Prospect’s Attention:

Leads are often fleeting. If you don’t engage with a potential customer promptly, there’s a high likelihood they’ll move on to a competitor who responds more quickly. Today, customers expect instant gratification, and a rapid response can help keep their attention focused on your solution.  And if you don’t respond quickly, they’ll move on to someone who will.

  1. Nurture Leads and Build Relationships:

Timely responses enable you to strike while the iron is hot. By addressing a prospect’s queries or concerns promptly, you’re more likely to keep the conversation going. The more you engage with a lead, the closer you come to building a relationship, which is the foundation of successful sales. It’s in these interactions that you can demonstrate your expertise and tailor your solutions to their specific needs.  When a prospect holds his or her hand up, they are signaling that they are Motivated and are beginning their Buying Journey.  Great salespeople understand and respect this – which is a relationship builder.

  1. Stay Ahead of the Competition:

In a competitive sales environment, quick responses can be a game-changer. Your competitors are just a click away, and they are ready to swoop in if you fart around. When you are the first to respond, you are the first to set the stage.  Even if they do talk to other vendors, you become the yardstick against which all other vendors are measured.

  1. Avoid Lead Coldness:

Leads, like food, have a shelf life; as noted above, that shelf life is less than 24 hours, and drops off very quickly after the first 5 minutes. The longer a lead sits unattended, the colder it becomes. Cold leads are harder to convert as the prospect’s interest wanes over time. With rapid responses, you can keep leads warm and maintain their engagement.

  1. Demonstrate Reliability:

A quick response time is a testament to your reliability as a business or sales professional. It reflects your commitment to customer needs and your ability to deliver on promises. In a world where trust is a valuable currency, demonstrating your reliability is crucial.  Again – quick in sales response means quick in service response.

The bottom line is this – leads are gold.  Customers today have so many options that, if they are holding their hands up and calling to you, you need to react and respond QUICKLY.  If you’re a sales manager, you should have some mechanism for rapid personal response – and remember, personal response means a phone call.  The typical “Thanks for contacting us, someone will be in touch” email is NOT enough.

Bonus info:  If you’re a sales manager, you know that hiring is getting tougher these days.  This technique works just as well in the hiring arena.  When you receive an application or resume’, you should do a quick triage, decide if you want to talk to them, and make a phone call within a few minutes if at all possible. We live in a world of instant gratification – and job applicants are no different. In my Hiring Assistance programs, I teach a four-question phone screening that can aid you in doing this.


How to Build a Brand Service Promise

Sometimes the hardest questions are the most common.  Here’s a scenario that is repeated every day in sales.  Skeptical Customer: “So, why should I buy from you? We’ve been buying from (company X) for years.”

Earnest Salesperson (smelling the sale): “But, we have great service!” Or, if Earnest Salesperson decides to put a little extra oomph behind it, “We have the best service in the business!” Earnest Salesperson confidently smiles at Skeptical Customer, knowing that at any moment Skeptical Customer is going to reach for his checkbook. Instead, Skeptical Customer yawns and says, “Yeah, but everybody says that. Why should I buy from you?” And another sale dies before its time, and that’s because salespeople don’t know how to build a Brand Service Promise.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is that way more often than salespeople would like to admit. Why do we do this to ourselves? Answer: because you – or your boss – don’t have a better idea. Want the truth? Everybody says they have the best service. When everybody says it, it’s meaningless. And yet there are businesses – lots of ’em – where service is the main differentiator between competitors. There are also buyers – again, lots of ’em – who make service the main criteria in their buying decision. Sales result when salespeople communicate “great service” to a buyer who wants to buy “great service.” Of course, to make that sale, your Brand Service Promise has to stand out from the white noise of your competitors promising “great service.” Building a Brand Service Promise that stands out from your competitors – and making it mean something – is a three step process.

To effectively build a Brand Service Promise, you must do three things: first, you must Define exactly what your great service means to the customer; you must Offer Proof of your specific service, and you must Have Consequences for failure to provide that service. Sound tough? It is – but it isn’t. Some of America’s best companies have been built on this simple philosophy.

First of all, Define your great service. Preferably, you’ll do that by offering something that your competitors don’t. Start out this way: get your key people together. Include salespeople, customer service people, department managers, and anyone else whose primary responsibility is dealing with the customer. Go around the room and ask each person to come up with one specific thing your company does to add value to its product or service offering. Then, next to each thing, write the advantage to the customers. Make this a no B.S. meeting – only list those things you really do consistently, not the things you only do on your best day when all the stars are aligned properly and the boss is in a good mood.

When you have all the ideas in the room, you have a nice feature-and-advantage list for the sales department. Now, on the board, go over each item and ask which competitors do the same thing. When two or more competitors do it, erase it. It’s good for the salespeople to know, but it’s not your “great service” offering. You should be able to come up with one or more things that make you unique, are specific, and have tangible advantages to the customer. (If not, get to work and figure out something you can do.) You have now defined your service offering.

Next, you must Offer Proof. A good way to do this is with a specific written service policy. A better way to do it is with written references from happy customers who have received quality service from you. Either way, salespeople should carry a “brag book” (which can be digital, or even on your phone) and be prepared to prove their “great service” promise.

Of course, in today’s world, your customer won’t settle for YOUR proof.  They are probably going to look up their own proof – which means that your Google reviews, for example, have to be strong.  If your Google review index is a 3.7, you’re not a provider of “great service.”  Get those reviews up!  Consider other sources of feedback, as well – Facebook reviews, LinkedIn recommendations, etc.  It all matters now.

Finally, you need to Have Consequences for not living up to your Brand Service Promise. The most common form of this is a money-back guarantee, but it doesn’t have to be the only consequence. Other forms of consequences for failure to provide service could include merchandise or merchandise certificates, some sort of gift to the customer (such as a catered lunch for their employees), or other “make good” gesture. The key here is that the consequences need to be part of your written service policy, and they should be presented to the customer as part of the service presentation, rather than decided upon after the fact.

Perhaps the best one used to be Domino’s Pizza. Now, I can’t think of anyone – including Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan – who would say that Domino’s is the best pizza you can buy. Monaghan’s concept was that, if you called Domino’s for a pizza, you’d have it in 30 minutes or less (thus Defining his “great service” proposition). Domino’s made that Brand Service Promise part of its advertising (Offering Proof with their written policy), and gave you the pizza free if it took longer than 30 minutes (the Consequence for failure). This simple Brand Service Promise grew Domino’s from a single college-town pizza joint to one of the largest fast food companies in America. Domino’s was eventually forced to drop this policy due to a couple of lawsuits resulting from overzealous delivery driving, but it’s still rare to get a Domino’s pizza in less than 30 minutes. Yes, I still order them every now and then when I want a flashback to college.

Domino’s service promise has been copied in one form or another by restaurants from coast to coast. One common version is where a restaurant usually known for dinner will institute a “timed lunch” offering, where lunch is guaranteed to be served within a certain time from ordering, or it’s free. Another version is the “quick oil change” outlet that guarantees a full oil change and fluid check within 20 minutes, or it’s free. Both service promises are targeted at busy people who don’t have time to linger over small tasks.

Let’s put the three-step process to work for a hypothetical business. Whenever I go new car shopping, I’ll always ask the salesperson, “Why should I buy here when there are several other dealers selling the same car?” The salesperson will enthusiastically reply that they have – you guessed it – “great service.” No sale. But what if the car dealer put some meat into the promise? A program could be started where the salesperson could honestly reply, “Because buying a car here gets you extra privileges in our service department. When a car that’s been purchased here is brought in for routine maintenance, we guarantee that the maintenance will be finished within X time, or it’s free, no matter what. With or without an appointment, we put you to the head of the line if you buy your car here. Here’s a copy of our service policy.” Now, there’s a service promise that means something.

Brand Service Promises don’t have to be elaborate. If your company gets a lot of phone calls for service or support, how about a promise that the phone will be answered by a real human being who is empowered to help? The cable TV company’s promise that “our person will be there between 8 A.M. and 6 P.M”. doesn’t mean much to me – but the air conditioning repairman’s Brand Service Promise that he’ll be there at 4 P.M “and if you don’t mind, allow me a half hour either way” does. Make it matter to your customers, and it’ll matter to you.

Of course, every business doesn’t necessarily have to have a Brand Service Promise. Businesses that differentiate from their competition on price (like Wal-Mart), by product (like Apple Computers), or by emotional appeal (like a sports or entertainment business) don’t usually provide Brand Service Promises – but if yours does, make sure to define it. Your salespeople and your customers will thank you.  And if I can help, let’s talk.


How to Motivate a Prospect

“Hi, Troy.  I’m blah-blah with blah-blah company.  I’d like to talk to you about your printing needs.”  It was the most typical of cold calls.  I guess I should be thankful that the person wasn’t using an auto-dialer, so I didn’t get that 5 second pause where I said, “Hello?  HELLO?”  Still – this was a bad cold call.  And most salespeople who cold call (yes, some still do, and it works if it’s done well) still do them that way.  As Tony Soprano would say, “Who gives a ****?”  I didn’t care, in the slightest, about her desire to talk to me about my printing needs.  I care about my business.

The reason that most salespeople don’t get results at cold calling is that they stink at it.  And the reason that they stink at it is that they don’t know how to motivate a prospect.  I’ve talked about the steps in the Buyer’s Journey before – and if you haven’t read that article yet, go do it now.  Seriously.  Do it.  That will make the rest of this article make sense.  I’ll wait.  OK, got it?  Good.  Now that you understand Motivation and its place in the Buyer’s Journey, let’s talk about how to motivate a prospect.

When you are making a prospecting contact to any prospect in any fashion – on the phone, in person, by social media, by email, or by carrier pigeon, your real desire is to Motivate them to enter their own personal Buyer’s Journey.

People become Motivated when they feel dissatisfaction with the status quo.  That’s when they embark on a Buyer’s Journey.  Calling someone and saying, “I want to talk about selling you my stuff” does not motivate them, unless you fall ass-backwards lucky into someone who just happens to be embarking on a Journey already.  Most of the time, however, that approach results in a “no thanks,” and a disconnection.

Doing the “I want to talk about” is LAME.  And it’s LAZY.  Salespeople do it because they aren’t interested in learning how to motivate customers – or maybe just because no one has told them that this is a lame approach.  So I’m telling you.

If you want to get an appointment – whatever the prospecting platform you choose – you must motivate your prospect by provoking dissatisfaction with the status quo.  Period.  How can you motivate a prospect?  Well, there are a few options.

  1. Paint a desirable picture of the future. In my experience, this has been the best prospecting approach.  When people buy your stuff, they win, right?  So, in ONE sentence, use your words to paint a picture of them winning with your stuff.  For example:  “Our websites deliver three times the incoming leads of the typical website used by your competitors.” The key to this approach is that you aren’t doing the typical “looking for pain;” instead, you’re saying that, no matter what they are doing right now, you can help them do it better.  They can be standing atop the mountain looking down – IF they will meet with you.  When a prospect envisions a desired future state, dissatisfaction with the status quo follows.  Most food and beverage commercials on TV work on this principle – they just show someone drinking an ice-cold Pepsi, and the prospect (you) thinks about how much better life would be if you, too, were drinking an ice-cold Pepsi.
  2. Point out how you solve a common problem. For instance, one of the industries I have worked in over the years is the rental laundry (uniforms, mats, linen, etc.) industry.  One of the biggest issues in that industry is shortages – meaning that the mechanic turns in four shirts for laundry and gets three back.  One approach for that industry would be an opening statement about how the salesperson’s company solves shortages.  Word of caution here – if you are going for this approach, you have to be very specific with your solution statement.  “We are better than our competition” or “We have the best service” isn’t a winner.  “Here is the system we use to solve this problem, and it works” is the way to go.  As my mentor, Patricia Fripp, likes to say, “Specificity brings memorability.”  And it gets you appointments.  Platitudes don’t.  In this case, you aren’t creating dissatisfaction with the status quo (as you did in the option above); you are instead highlighting an existing dissatisfaction and promising to alleviate it.
  3. “Here’s how we helped your neighbor/competitor/someone else you know.” People like to be like other people, and if you have helped someone succeed that has a commonality with your prospect, this can provoke dissatisfaction as your customer thinks, “Why are they doing better than I am?”  Yes, we’re raising the old green-eyed monster here, but this can work.  Basically, the dissatisfaction comes from thinking that someone else, of whom they are aware and share some common factor with, is achieving something that they aren’t.  A couple of notes here:  First, if you are going to name names in your story, make sure you have permission.  And second, your prospect doesn’t have to know the person you are talking about – they just have to be aware that this person exists.  Finally, you don’t have to name names – but the story has to be real.  “A steel company located near you” is fine – as long as it’s real.  Don’t lie.

Whichever approach you take, you must deliver your statement concisely and clearly. In 10-15 seconds, your prospect will make a decision about whether or not to give you an audience.  A concise, powerful Motivation Statement will be key to making that happen.  Then, ask clearly and confidently, for the appointment.  Again – this is the approach to take, no matter what platform you are using.

Most salespeople fail at prospecting because they don’t know how to motivate a prospect.  Now you do.  So if you haven’t been getting the results you think you should, take a good look at your approach and re-tool it.  As I always say, “Cold calling never works.  Unless you do it, and do it well. Then it still works pretty nicely!”

How to Handle Sales Competition

I had an interesting conversation last week.  I was talking to a prospective client and toward the end of the conversation, he said, “You should know that I’m talking to one of your competitors, too.  Would you like to know who it is?”  I think my response surprised him. You see, I have a pretty definite idea on how to handle sales competition – and I hope you adopt my idea.

I said, “You’re welcome to tell me if you like, but it won’t change my behavior.  My offerings are dependent on my clients, not my competitors.”  He was surprised by this, and I understand why.  In sales, we are constantly having our competitors being used as leverage against us by customers who want to gain better pricing, terms, etc., and a potential service provider that won’t play that game is anathema to many people.  But, why did I say that?  Therein lies a window into my philosophy, as well as some hard questions you might want to ask yourself.

I find that too many companies focus inordinately on their competition, rather than their customers.  That manifests itself in any number of ways; here are some of the most common:

Pricing: When a sales manager demands to know “who we’re up against” before issuing pricing, you have a problem.  I’ve seen that in a number of my clients, and I always ask the same question: “Why?” Dithering over pricing based on your competition is one of the dumbest, and least customer-friendly, things you can do.  You know what your costs are.  You also know what your acceptable profit margin is.  You also know, or should know, what the common market pricing for your services is.  So, why not offer a deal you are comfortable with?  If your pricing is dependent upon having fewer competitors for the business, aren’t you incenting your customers to bring in multiple vendors?  And for the love of God, don’t ever match price.  That’s NOT how to handle sales competition.

Hiring:  There are certain industries where the “competitor hire” is way too common.  Company managers, instead of having the courage to hire people from outside their industry and grow their own talent, decide that they should hire salespeople from their competitors.  The problem with this approach is obvious; you seldom if ever get your competitors’ top people. Usually, you get the people they are glad to get rid of, which makes them stronger and you weaker in one hire.  Competitor hires, in my experience, have about a 90% fail rate.  If you’re struggling, my hiring assistance programs might help.

Proposal presentation strategy: Recently, I was presenting a training program when a salesperson said, “I always like to be the last person to present my proposal; that way they have everyone else’s numbers when I go in.”  Seriously, what difference does that make?  From a strategic perspective, I actually prefer to be FIRST, for a couple of reasons.  First, the first person to propose is the first person to have the chance to close – and I’ve seen, and sold, many deals where the second person in never had a shot because the first person got the business.  And second, if you’re trying to communicate to your customer that you will have a sense of urgency in servicing the business, why not demonstrate that by exhibiting that same sense of urgency in proposing the business?

Your offering: I see many companies and sales teams that want to alter key pieces of the offering, such as product specs, service frequencies, contract terms, and more, based on who their competitors for a given deal are.  This makes no sense – value, and solutions, are driven not by your competitor, but by your customer’s needs.  Focus your offering on solving your customers’ needs, and your competitors become irrelevant.

The problem with all of these approaches, and other competition-dependent sales tactics, is that you are allowing your competitors to set the arena and the rules of the game.  One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t BEAT your competitors if you’re trying to BE your competitors.”  When you are as reactive to your competitors as in the examples above, you’re simply trying to be a less-effective version of your competition.  And worse – your customers will sense it.  Set the agenda and expectations – don’t follow the agenda of other competitors.

Now, are there times when competitive selling is important?  Sure.  For instance, if the customers of one of your competitors suddenly start informing you of service problems that the competitor is having, with resultant dissatisfaction, you might want to put together an attack on that competitor – AS LONG AS it doesn’t distract your salespeople from building productive funnels.  Sales blitzes can be great short-term tactics.

Here’s how to handle sales competition:  Act as the best possible version of YOU.  Focus on your customers and their needs.  And act as if your competitors don’t exist – you’ll be surprised how often this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Five Important Sales Questions That All Begin With the Same Word

Years ago, when I was in high school, we did a short unit on Philosophy.  You’ll have to forgive me for not remembering which class included this unit – high school was quite awhile ago.  In any case, the teacher began the unit with an anecdote that, for him, summed up philosophy.  As part of a college philosophy class, the instructor brought the class in for the final, and told them that the final was one question, written on the blackboard.  The question was, “Why?”  The students began writing furiously, some filling page after page with verbiage answering the question, “Why?”  One student quickly finished and left.  When the grades were posted, this one student received the only “A” in the class.  His answer?  One word – “Because.”


I recount this story because it’s funny, and as they say, if it isn’t true, it ought to be.  I also recount this story because it seems to me that the most important questions in professional selling are the ones that begin with the word, “Why?”  Not coincidentally, these are also some of the questions that frighten salespeople the most (because they’re scared of the answer).  They shouldn’t.  Being a true professional salesperson entails a thorough knowledge of one’s products, one’s customers, and oneself.  It also entails a level of intellectual curiosity that demands that questions be asked and answered; questions unasked can never uncover a need or a buying motive.  With that, I’d like to give you my top five questions that begin with “Why,” and how asking these questions consistently can make you a better salesperson.

Why do my customers buy from me?  Salespeople usually have no problem with asking why customers do not buy from them; postmortems on lost sales are part and parcel of a learning process.  However, salespeople who attempt to understand why they win business better position themselves to continue winning it, now and into the future.  It’s the difference between playing offense and playing defense; knowing why they buy from you teaches you to win.  Knowing why they don’t conditions you to prevent loss.  Both are important, but ultimately, knowing how to win is the most powerful thing you can learn.

Why would a customer be interested in seeing me?  Like it or not, prospecting for appointments is part and parcel of most good salespeoples’ routines.  This isn’t a bad thing if you do it right.  Unfortunately, too many salespeople endeavor to use their precious phone time to educate, rather than to motivate.  You can teach your customer all about what you do without interesting him or her in seeing you; instead of that, why not look for what excites and motivates customers to invest the time with you?  If you’re stuck, ask the customers who do give you appointments about why they did.  It can be a great educational experience that helps you get more appointments in the future.

Why should a customer buy my stuff over my competitors’?  I’m sure you can recite features and benefits of your products as if they were tattooed into your brain.  The more important question is how those features and benefits stack up against your competitors’ products, and for what needs are your products more appropriate?  Can you identify those needs that make your product a better purchase – and which ones do not?

Why would fellow salespeople want to network with me?  Networking is a great way to build your business and generate referrals – but do your networking partners truly win when they work with you?  Are you as active in generating referrals as your networking partners are for you?  If you can’t come up with reasons for networking partners to want to be a part of your network, you might consider making some changes in how you handle your relationships.

Why do I sell? I saved the best for last.  Sales is a tough job, and without the proper motivation, it’s even tougher.  Without knowing or understanding what it is that makes you want to sell, the peaks may never be as high as they could be, and the valleys could be career-killers. For a little self-analysis, make a list of the things you love about sales, and keep it handy.  There will be times when you’ll need it.

Of course, this is only a small sampling of the “Why?” questions that salespeople need to ask of themselves, their employers, and their customers.  Without the intellectual curiosity to ask them, however, you will never be as effective as you could be.  When you get stuck for a sales question, start with “why,” and you’ll find that you get better answers that are more to the point and lead to more important customer knowledge.