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5 Signs It’s Time to Disqualify Proposals

One of the biggest time wasters in sales is a backlog of non-viable proposals clogging up a sales funnel.  Salespeople tend to be the eternal optimists, thinking that “one more call” might get the deal done, when in fact, the customer has declared the deal dead – they just haven’t told you.

Still, when is it time to let go of that optimism and disqualify proposals? That’s hard.  Some of it is gut feel, and some of it is science.  Ultimately, your customer will tell you to disqualify proposals – you just have to be listening.  Here are five signs that it’s time.

Sales Scripts Don’t Sell.

I see the posts all the time on LinkedIn.  “Hey, can someone give me a great script for prospecting/presenting/closing/etc.”?  Sometimes I even get asked the same question myself – and my answer is always the same.  No.  I can’t give you a great sales script, and no one else can.  There’s no such thing.

Scripts are for actors and theater.  In a script, everyone knows their lines and rehearses them, and the result is predictable – which is pretty much the opposite of selling, where your customer doesn’t know their lines and the result isn’t predictable.  The key to selling is something that all the “scripters” don’t tell you.

The key to selling is authenticity.  Here’s the thing – whether you are reading a script, or just memorizing and reciting it, your customers know.  And as soon as you are perceived to be inauthentic, customers will RUN from you.

The desire for a ‘great script’ is obvious.  It’s fear and insecurity.  Salespeople believe that the right combination of magic words will get the result that they want, and that if someone smarter and more experienced than them builds that combination of words, then they’ll sell, right?

The truth is that the most important words in selling come not from YOU, but from the CUSTOMER.  The real win in selling isn’t about the words you say, but the questions you ask – and even those have to be expressed in your own words and your own personality, or again, customers will perceive you as inauthentic and won’t buy from you.

So – how do you get an audience with your customers?  Have an idea of how you can solve their problems and explain what that is in a concise sentence or two – the words depend on you and your personality.

Ask good questions that get at their needs, in your own words.

Present to those needs, again in your own words.

Ask for the business, naturally.

That’s it.  Be YOURSELF.  It’s okay to be the best version of yourself that you can be, but be yourself.

And if a sales trainer tells you that they will give you a “Script,” find yourself a new sales trainer.

12 Business Books I Recommend

12 Business Books I Recommend

What’s on my Bookshelf?

A  couple of days ago, I got a LinkedIn message from a friend from Switzerland.  He said he’d been watching my videos, and was trying to identify the books on my bookshelf behind me.  I’ll tell you a little secret – I read a lot of business books, but I don’t KEEP that many.  The ones that I do are ones that I refer to and use on a regular basis. I responded with some recommendations, and then I decided to show you what’s on my bookshelf.  These are the books that the Sales Navigator reads and recommends.

Buy American? Sounds Great! Can We?

I know this one will be a bit controversial. That’s okay; I’m no stranger to controversy. I’ve seen a lot of comments on Facebook, Twitter, and on LinkedIn saying, “When this is over, we all need to stop buying our stuff from China. Everyone needs to look for American stuff and buy it!” Sounds great. In theory. In reality, it’s anywhere from “extremely difficult” to “impossible.”

You see, many things nowadays simply aren’t made here – or are so expensive that most people can’t afford them. Start at your feet. I wear dress shoes a lot for work. The cheapest pair of USA made dress shoes – not a certain brand or quality, just the cheapest I can do, period – is Allen Edmonds, starting at $395 a pair. I do OK financially (or at least I did before this madness started), but I can’t spend almost $400 on dress shoes. Want sneakers? New Balance has some Made in USA sneakers. They start at about $170. I found Made in USA cowboy boots for $1500. Work boots are better – Wolverines are $120 (although not all Wolverines are made here) and Red Wings are around $300. The point is this – many, many people simply can’t afford that.

What about jeans? That’s not an awful situation; All American Clothing has men’s jeans for $55, and women’s for $140. Again, the cheapest I could find. I was surprised to find out that my “All American” Duluth jeans were actually made in Vietnam, at $70 a pair.

How about dress shirts? I wear a lot of those, and finding an American made dress shirt under $100 is impossible. Period. Again, that’s a big spend for most people. I have two dress shirts from a high-end Italian brand. I looked – it turns out they were made in Bangladesh. If you wear suits as I do, even spending $1000 or more is no guarantee it’s not made in China.

The point is, unless you have a LOT of cash to spend, and are VERY selective in your purchasing, you’re not going to be able to even get dressed in the morning without wearing items made in China. It’s not a consumer choice that most people can even make.
Household goods are the same way, as are appliances. Even our food. I love Ritz crackers, and I’ve noticed that they have a tendency to crumble nowadays. As I was throwing away part of a box this morning, I looked. Made in Mexico.

And then there are the things we don’t even know about. I take Losartan for blood pressure. It’s probably made in China, my doc told me, and I have no control over that. If you live in a house built in the last fifteen years, it was probably nailed and screwed together with fasteners made in China.

Why is this? Is it simple corporate greed? That’s the popular line, of course. Some might be, but more of it is due to corporate (and small business) SURVIVAL. Like consumers, businesspeople can only play within the rules that are on the table, and since 2000, when China got Most Favored Nation trade status, those are the rules. Think about this. China can import our raw materials, take our designs, make products, and ship them back to us far cheaper than we can make them ourselves. It’s not just the cost of labor, although that’s a part of it. We have massive built-in costs in taxation, regulation, and other soft costs that drive the cost of manufacturing in the US higher than in many other countries – and results in the fact that for many goods, small, high-end boutique manufacturing is all that can be done.

If we really want to make “buy American” more than a bumper sticker or a Facebook virtue-signal, the rules must change, and that’s out of the hands of consumers or corporate America. That’s in the hands of our elected officials. Whether we want that is a different story, and perhaps a conversation for another day (arguing about that is not the purpose of this post) – but until then, businesses and consumers can only play the hand they are dealt.

Buy Today, Dang It!

Growing up, in Topeka, Kansas, there was a furniture store called “Crazy Bob’s Discount Furniture”. Every decent-sized city had one of these. You’d see the TV commercials with Crazy Bob telling you about how the prices were so low because he was “CRAZY!” Well, ol’ Bob finally decided to pull out all the stops and put on a “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!” Of course, you had to get the great buys RIGHT NOW because it would be GONE SOON! It took Crazy Bob five years to go out of business!

Scarcity Close

I thought of this the other day, clicking through my LinkedIn feed when I saw a long discussion about one of the oldest, most manipulative, and one of the most hackneyed (and well past retirement age) techniques: the “scarcity close”.  You’ve probably heard it or seen it; it is based on the principle that there Just Isn’t Enough Supply of what you’re selling.  So if you don’t BUY NOW, you might MISS OUT.

Apparently, based on the discussion, some salespeople still have some success with this approach. To me, it’s always seemed like “Crazy Bob’s Furniture Going Out of Business Sale”.  The thread drew a number of salespeople commenting, as well as other sales authors and trainers, and (as usual) I was the contrarian in the group.

You see, here’s my philosophy on the “Scarcity close”.  It’s designed to play on customer emotions – fear of missing out, fear of losing a once in a lifetime “deal,” and other anxiety-based emotions. To me, that’s not the right reason for a customer to buy.

I will also fully accept that scarcity does actually exist in some situations. For instance, when I bought my Harley, it was a used police motorcycle from Daytona Beach, Florida. That was important for a couple of reasons; first of all, it had a higher-performance engine than a standard Road King. And second, it had a special Mystique Green and Pearl White paint scheme that cop bikes around Kansas City didn’t have.  When presented with this one bike at a good price, I chose to buy because I didn’t want to miss it.  I’ve never regretted it.

Also, when I bought my first house in Topeka, it had some very specific characteristics that were hard to find in my budget at the time – so I moved fairly quickly.

What made both of those instances work, however, was that the SALESPERSON didn’t use a scarcity close. Instead, enough value had been built over the conversation that I recognized the value of the purchase. I also recognized that the opportunity wouldn’t be there forever, so I more or less closed myself.  I never regretted either one, because I didn’t buy because of external pressure.

As a salesperson, I only had to use this close a few times before I recognized that smart customers could quite literally shove it down my throat. “So, what you’re saying is that, if I come in and want to buy this car on Monday instead of Saturday, you WON’T honor that price?” I stammered, knowing full well that we would, in fact, honor the price.

Or, there was, “So, if someone is going to buy that from you regardless, why do you care if it’s me? Why are you bothering to apply this pressure?” Again – stammering.

Here’s the truth. The “scarcity close” is designed to INJECT urgency into the buying process. The problem with that is simple. If that urgency doesn’t already exist, then the close you use won’t matter. A sale happens when need meets solution meets timing, plain and simple. If you’re having to use scarcity as a “buy now” tactic, you’ve missed something in the process that you can’t make up later. It smacks of desperation and people don’t buy from desperate salespeople.

The scarcity close – when it “works” –  is a great instigator of buyer’s remorse, and can greatly harm your relationship going forward. Customers know when you’ve played their emotions and they don’t like it.

Like many cheap sales tactics, this is a “patch” for poor work early in the sale. My advice – do the work early. Ask great questions. Present to the needs. Truly understand your buyer, the buying process, and the timing thereof. And, the all-time greatest defense against needing to use these types of sales tactics, always keep your funnel full enough that you don’t NEED the next deal.

What’s Your Career Level?

When I was recruiting, and even now as I work with clients on hiring salespeople, I see salespeople referring to their “career level” and getting it wrong. Mostly, it’s salespeople who call themselves “Senior Salespeople” but who in reality aren’t even close.

One of the least understood aspects of sales achievement is the correlation between job tenure and profitability/productivity for the company. In most sales environments, a salesperson does not become profitable for the company until somewhere between 13 – 18 months.  Hence, if a stint is shorter than that,  the salesperson was a sunk cost for the company.

Additionally, most salespeople do not reach maximum productivity until at least year three or four on a job.  So, if you have someone who has never lasted three years, they don’t even know what maximum productivity looks like.

For that reason, I’d like to offer up my own guidelines as a recruiter, hiring manager, and sales coach, on what the various career level look like. I’d also point out that these are not industry-specific; industry changers fit here too.

Entry Level

Most people think that “entry-level” means that you are just getting started in sales. It means that, of course, but it also has to do with your level of achievement in sales. Here’s my guideline. Unless and until you have at least three years of sustained success ON THE SAME JOB, you are entry-level. “Sustained success” means that you have spent at least three consecutive years AT QUOTA OR BETTER, not that you’ve merely been employed for three years. You can have had fifteen years in sales, but if all your experience is 1-2 years and out, you’re entry-level as far as I’m concerned. In fact, a salesperson with a number of short stints is actually LESS marketable as a candidate than a person right out of college, because a smart hiring manager will assume that the job-hopping will continue.

Mid-Career

A mid-career salesperson, in my opinion, has at least eight years’ experience in sales with at least a five-year successful stint at quota or above. You haven’t established the gold-plated track record of success that gains you entry into the high-end sales pool, but you’re on your way. The trajectory of your career is definitely up.

Senior Salesperson

Here’s the one that too many people misunderstand or fake. A “Senior Salesperson,” to me, is one with fifteen years or more in sales, with progressive experience and achievement. At least eight of those years should be spent at one company with a successful (quota or well above) track record. Promotions can also come into play. Outside of that eight-year stint, you need other success as well (if you have multiple companies in your fifteen years); if all your success is with one company, your skills might not be transferable. Yet, I see salespeople all the time with short careers and short tenures who refer to themselves as “senior salespeople”.  If you want to be a senior salesperson (with all the money, perks, and opportunities that entails), you have to put in the work; it’s as simple as that.

Too often I see salespeople attempting to package and pretend their way into a job that they aren’t qualified for. Sometimes they do get hired (managers make instinctive hires rather than logical ones), but they fail badly. If you’re in that boat, you are far better off to be realistic about your career level, find a job that’s appropriate, and decide that you are going to make a stand and be successful. Put in the work, put up with what you have to put up with, and you really can turn a career around. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen it NOT happen. The choice is yours.