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How to Gain Trust With Customers

In a conversation a few weeks ago, I heard a phrase that, frankly, I was hoping had made it to the dumpster of old sales philosophies.  There is an antiquated mentality in sales that says “Buyers are liars.” This mindset teaches salespeople to be skeptical of everything a customer says and to never fully trust them. The logic is that if you don’t trust the customer, you won’t get taken advantage of or misled.  It’s a fear-based mentality, and as you know if you read my work, “Fear” is the worst four-letter word that starts with “F” in sales.

However, this distrustful approach is fundamentally flawed. You cannot build trust and have an authentic relationship with someone if you start from a place of skepticism and withholding trust. Trust has to be reciprocal – you have to give it in order to earn it. Salespeople who say they want their customers’ trust, but don’t extend any trust themselves, are being hypocritical.  And yet, this is something I hear a lot.  Let’s talk about how to REALLY gain trust with customers.

If you go into every sales interaction suspicious of the customer’s motives and truthfulness, the customer will pick up on that vibe. They’ll sense that you view them as a liar or adversary to be conquered rather than a relationship to cultivate. Why would they then open up, engage authentically, and place their trust in you?  Short answer:  they won’t.

The role of a salesperson should be that of a trusted advisor and solutions consultant, not someone just trying to tap the customer’s wallet, regardless of the result. When both parties enter the relationship with trust and authenticity as the foundation, better solutions are reached that serve both sides’ needs.

I’ve said before that “You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you.”  Well, if you want to gain trust with customers, you’d better embrace it.  In other words, you need to lead by example and be the first to extend trust to the customer. This means:

  1. Asking Open-Ended Questions & Really Listening: Too often, salespeople fall into the habit of talking at the customer instead of having a dialog. They make assumptions about what the customer needs instead of taking the time to truly understand through asking open-ended questions. Asking and sincerely listening shows you trust the customer to openly share their real needs, sources of dissatisfaction, desired future state, and thoughts.  In fact, let’s take this to another level.
  2. You must ask open ended questions, even when the answer might harm your ability to make a sale:  I’ve seen salespeople who are normally good questioners shy away from asking certain questions, because the answer might disqualify them as a solution to the customer’s needs.  Don’t do that.  “Putting yourself out there” in this way is a way to gain trust with customers – and it’s a way to avoid making deals that you’ll regret down the road.  Don’t ever be afraid to walk away from deals that will have a negative result for you or for the customer.  Many times, you’ll win that business back down the road.
  3. Being Fully Transparent About Your Business Process: Instead of obfuscating next steps or giving vague half-truths about pricing or logistics, be fully upfront and transparent about every aspect of the process. Lay out the exact path from where the customer is today to ownership and implementation of your solution. Hedge nothing. This open communication demonstrates you trust the customer can handle the full truth.  Keep in mind – your role is to help the customer navigate their Buyer’s Journey.  They already know what THEIR process is and where they are in it; you shouldn’t hide YOUR process from them (and of course, your process and their Journey should mesh).
  4. Being Upfront About Pricing & Value: Manipulative tactics like holding back pricing until the end, or overpromising value and downplaying costs, demolish trust. Be accurate and upfront from the start about pricing and quantify the concrete value/ROI. Trust the customer can make an informed decision in their own best interest.  Keep in mind:  Your customer CAN discover a price for your stuff – or your competitor’s – without a salesperson’s intervention these days due to technology.  If they have to resort to technology, you have made yourself unnecessary.  Don’t bitch when they treat you that way.

In today’s world of open information access and buyer empowerment, trying to “control” the sales process no longer works. In truth, it never really did – the customer always had the real control – but it’s definitely easier for customers to kick you out of their Buyer’s Journey now.  If you want to succeed in this world, you have to get rid of fear-based techniques, embrace transparency, build trust, and engage customers in an open and authentic sales conversation. When you lead by demonstrating mutual trust and transparency, you’ll get the right deals done – deals that make everyone happy that you did business, and deals that make the customer look forward to doing business with you again.  And isn’t that what we’re really after?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales and Marketing: The Marriage Whose Time Has Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Stephanie Smith:

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

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

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

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

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


You Can’t Fake Rapport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Do Cold LinkedIn Outreach

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

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

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

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

The ball is in your court.”

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

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

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

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

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

Those Who Don’t Remember You Don’t Buy From You

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the need for salespeople to be memorable.  Last week, I was reminded of a funny thing that happened several years ago. I was in a business networking meeting, and we got to the point in the meeting where referrals were passed around. It’s a group of professionals from different (non-competitive) industries who get together once a week to network and further each other’s business.

To protect the innocent, I’ll not mention any names – but the insurance salesman turned to the mortgage broker and said, “I have a lead for you. One of my customers wants to refinance his home. He bought it a year or so ago, but he thinks his credit situation has improved, so he wants to see if he can get a lower rate. He didn’t know any mortgage people, so I gave him your name. Here’s his information.”  Comedy ensued.

Mortgage broker takes one look and says, “Hey, this is my lead to you! I passed this guy to you six months ago.” Immediately, there were two embarrassed faces and twelve laughing ones around the table. Most of us were glad we weren’t the mortgage broker right then. Turns out, he had written the customer’s home loan.

How does this happen? Six months ago, the mortgage broker had a relationship with the customer – or at least he thought he did. Now, the customer doesn’t even remember him. Is it possible for someone to forget the person that helped them get a home that quickly? Well, yes. In fact – as has been demonstrated numerous times – it’s possible for a salesman to think that he has had a “great” appointment with a customer, and the customer to not even remember the salesman’s name the next day!

Here’s a test you can try on your own. Next week, have someone else call back all the new prospects you met with this week. They should say that they are calling from the research department of your company, and they would like their help in gauging your company’s selling effectiveness. Ask your prospects if they remember meeting with someone from your company. Ask them if they remember the person’s name that sold to them. Ask them if they can remember anything specific about the meeting.

If you’re really good at your job, the answers will probably look like this:

  • About 75% will remember meeting with someone from your company.
  • Less than 50% will remember your name.
  • Less than 25% will remember anything specific or unique about the meeting.

Sound depressing? Well, it is, but it isn’t. Remember, I said those are the numbers if you’re really good. For most salespeople, your numbers will be a lot lower. When I did this with a company I worked for some years ago, a few reps were remembered less than 10% of the time! What’s more amazing is that some of these reps were still making quota.

If this suggests a major problem to you, you’re not alone. Think, for a moment, about the old phrase that “sales is a numbers game.” Well, yeah. It is, kind of. The real equation of sales is this:

(Quantity of activity) x (Quality of activity) = Results.

Let’s say that, of every 10 prospects you see, you close one. Your closing ratio is 10% – probably about average. But, if only 50% of your customers remember you after your first call, that’s a pool of five, so your closing ratio is actually 20% when a customer remembers you. Therein lies opportunity. Make more customers remember you, and you’ll win more sales.

So, how do you make your prospects remember you? Since memory is individual, it’s not going to be enough to have technical mastery of sales skills, presentation skills, or your own product. You must truly tune into your buyer – and get your buyer tuned in to you. Here are a few good ways to get started:

  • If your product lends itself to a hands-on, user participation demonstration, do that – and make it more fun and interesting than anyone else’s. If it’s not a hands-on product, come up with some sort of a hands-on game or activity that will get your prospect physically involved.  People remember being participants far more than they remember being spectators.
  • Ask questions that are so radically different than anyone else in the industry that your prospect has no choice but to stop and think before answering. That won’t be tough – most salespeople are genuinely lousy questioners.  Remember that the Investigation phase of the Buyer’s Journey is about helping the Buyer discover his or her true needs, and this requires deep and incisive questions.  People remember what they are ASKED more than they remember what they are TOLD.  The standard questions “what would you change about your current service if you could?” have gotten so routine that clients can answer them in their sleep.
  • Simple respect for the Buyer’s Journey sets you apart.  For instance, respect the Buyer’s progression through the five steps and don’t just blast sales messages.
  • Use technology in innovative ways.  For instance, if a plant tour would be helpful to your sales messaging, but it’s hard to get prospects to your plant, why not create an engaging video tour?

The number one way to get a prospect to remember you is simple.  Make the sales call an enjoyable experience.  Most sales calls are pretty neutral for the customer – the “great” meeting tends to come from us, not from the customers.  Whenever you have a “great” sales call, ask yourself if your customer would call it “great.”  If they wouldn’t, you shouldn’t.

You get the idea. To start out, do the exercise and count the people that remember you. That percentage is your “memory index.” Then start working on making yourself – and your company – memorable. Keep taking your memory index every three months. Don’t let yourself become forgettable.


Do Your Customers Like Your Business Model?

“Do your customers like your business model?” is the most important question of 2024.  It’s always been the most important question, really, but too many business owners ignore it.  The reality is that many companies – and indeed, some entire industries – are built around sales models that their customers either grudgingly tolerate or actively dislike.  I’m going to tell you a story about an industry where this question was actively ignored, which led to that industry literally no longer existing in the 21st century.  It’s long but worth the read, and then I’ll give you some guidelines to analyze your own sales model.

In 1993, I had a job as the Sales Director for a regional magazine and book wholesale distributor.  I got this job – which I probably was too young and inexperienced to deserve – because I was the newly minted son-in-law of the president of the company.  My business experience to that point had been in the hypercompetitive world of car sales. A more dog-eat-dog business is hard to find.  That’s why the dynamics of this industry were so foreign to me.

In 1993, when you picked up a magazine from the rack at your local grocery or mass merchandise store, it had been delivered on a route truck from a regional distributor like the one that employed me.  In the larger stores, the route driver had done the “put up,” meaning that he had taken down last month’s issue and put up this month’s issue, and removed the returned magazines for credit.  Smaller stores just received tote boxes of magazines, and a store employee did the put up.

There were over 300 of these regional distributors.  Here’s what got me.  There was no competition.  This industry worked on a huge network of informal “gentlemen’s agreements” to not intrude on each other’s territories. The only way to expand your reach was by buying another adjacent distributor – which we did twice in the three years I was employed.  Nearly all of these businesses were multi-generational family businesses, and by 1993, were run by people who had never experienced a highly competitive market.

We also grew by “fighting the shelf wars,” or working to expand publication space in stores.  That’s what I did.  And I was good at it.  I had a lot of fun, met some great people, and gained some experiences that stick with me to this day.

The regional distributors bought through national distributors who rarely distributed any physical product.  Most of the publications were shipped direct from the publisher.  But the national distributors took their cut.

There were a couple of other small national distributors who worked outside this system, but they distributed small-circulation magazines to bookstores.  They were also the primary book vendors to bookstores, and they just shipped direct to the bookstores.  They didn’t service mass merchandise retail.

In late 1993, I went to my first industry convention.  I met other distributors.  I met people from the largest retailers.  And I met people from the publishers.  There were a number of presentations, but the one that stands out to me was from a representative of a major publisher who excoriated the industry for its business model because it was inefficient, and didn’t meet the needs of either publishers or customers.  This, of course, just made people angry.  It should have been a warning shot.

Also, the largest retailers didn’t like our model and were talking about vendor consolidation for efficiency (it cost them quite a bit to manage 300 vendors).  This was pretty much ignored.

Most of the regional distribution people were very genteel and very content.  I did notice that there were two who seemed to be taking a different look at the industry. Not coincidentally, they controlled two of the largest regional distributors and had a lot of power in the marketplace.  I spent quite a bit of time talking to them. I was mildly reprimanded for this – these guys were somewhat considered outcasts in the business, and my father-in-law didn’t want me to get a bad reputation.

When we got home, my father-in-law asked me to create a white paper on my observations of the industry and its future.  I wrote a two-page report which can be summarized thusly:

“You are all nuts. This industry is ripe for the picking.  All it’s going to take is one person (and I predicted the two most likely) who’s ready to be a complete pariah in the business. He can go to one of three large retailers and offer to take over their whole national business, maybe giving them an extra percentage point or two.  They’ll jump on it.  Then, he’ll have trucks running into everyone’s back yard with one of the top customers as an anchor.  He can send out salespeople to take more accounts.  The distributors won’t be able to fight him off, because they don’t know how to compete anymore.  They’ll be forced to either close or sell, because their business models only work if they have all the accounts in their territories.  He’ll roll up the industry like a cheap window shade.”

“Alternatively – WE can be that pariah.  We’re already one of the top 20 distributors in the country. Put me on the road.  I can win one of the big three accounts, and then I’ll be the guy going and selling the regionals.  Yeah, people will be mad at us, but we will survive and thrive.  Others won’t.  And all this will happen in the next 3-5 years, guaranteed.”

Well, my father-in-law, and other family members, patted me on the head and told me that I just didn’t “get” their business quite yet, but I’d learn.  Two years later, I was divorced and out of there (no regrets).

At about the same time that I left that business, the distributor in Dallas – one of the two I had highlighted – signed a national contract with Wal-Mart.  The rest played out exactly like I had forecast.  Two years after that, my former in-laws sold the company to him for a small fraction of what it had been worth.  They still did well financially, but not nearly as well as if they’d sold in 1994.

So, the guy in Dallas is fat and happy today, right?  Wrong. He addressed the vendor consolidation issue on the part of the main retailers, but there were still inefficiencies in the supply chain.  You still had national distributors taking a cut without really adding value, the cost of all those trucks and employees sucked up margin dollars, and the publishers and customers still didn’t love the system – even with one main vendor.

Remember those small specialty distributors that shipped direct to bookstores?  One of them figured out that he could do the same thing, only with mass market retailers, and split the margin savings three ways – some to the publisher, some to the distributor, and some to the retailer.  Ten years after dominating the industry, the guy in Dallas found himself out of business.  And to this day, that’s how magazines get to the mass market.  An entire industry of regional wholesalers is GONE.

So what happened?

A bunch of people ignored their customers and now they’re out of business.

Every day, I talk to business owners who extol the virtues of their “business models” and their “sales processes” in terms of the benefit to the business.  However, many of them find it much harder to articulate the benefits of their business model to their CUSTOMERS.  I think they just assume that the customers don’t have a choice – that their customers will continue to have to buy from them.

I’m here to tell you that this isn’t so.  Remember that everything in my story happened before the Internet and before information became so readily accessible.

All it took was one disruptor – and then another.  Someone with the guts to step outside “the way we do it” and instead focus on “the way my customers want it to be done.”

As we roll into 2024, here are five questions that you should be asking yourself.

  1. Do my customers enjoy the way I do business with them?
  2. Does my sales process mirror and match my customers’ Buyer’s Journey?
  3. Are my people communicating with my customers in the technological platforms that they need to?
  4. What parts of my business model would my customers eliminate, if they could?
  5. How is my business and/or industry ripe for disruption – and can I be the disruptor?

The pace of change is such that you should be periodically reviewing these questions at least every six months.

Do your customers like your business model?  If the answer is “no,” or “I’m not sure,” it’s time to make some changes.  Don’t be like the people who ran the magazine distribution industry.

If I can help, let’s talk.

Sales Forecast for 2024

Right now, most companies have already developed their sales forecast for 2024.  Many of them will be fatally flawed, because they only take into account changes in their own marketplace and offerings, but not changes in the sales profession itself.  That’s what I’m here to talk about today.  I’ve talked about the changes in selling. I’ve done a webinar on what I see as the top four trends in selling.  Now, I’m going to humble myself just a tad.

I don’t have all the answers.  I have most of them, and I’m learning more all the time, but I don’t have all of them.  What made me realize this was an experience I had a few days ago.  At the request of one of my clients, I put together a recommended prospecting blueprint for his new sales hires (and no, you can’t have it unless you’re a coaching client of mine).   That used to be an easy task.  It’s not anymore, because prospecting, like many aspects of our great profession, is something of a moving target right now, along with others.  What I’m about to tell you about sales in 2024 is done with the knowledge that I don’t have every answer – but anyone who tells you that they do is full of it.

Big Change #1:  Prospecting must evolve.  Prospecting used to be very linear.  You dialed the phone from a quality database X amount of times.  You would get a contact (a voice to voice conversation with your target decision maker) about 1/3 of those dials.  A good prospecting talk-track would get you an appointment on about 1/3 of your contacts.  So, you’re getting an appointment on about every 9th dial. A salesperson can dial the phone about 20 times an hour, so an hour gets you 2-3 fresh appointments.  That was pretty nice.

Now, as I’ve noted before, the contact to dial ratio is about 1/8, and everything else flows from there.  Contact to appointment ratios are about ¼, which in my opinion is because people get so many messages that they are more skeptical.  Now you’re getting an appointment on every 30th dial.  That means that we have to redefine and rethink prospecting in order to succeed, incorporating multiple channels of contact.  That’s the topic of my next Webinar.

Big Change #2:  Customers expect more.  Your customers are carpet-bombed with information every day, and they expect you to use information to make better use of their time.  Showing up, talking about football for 30 minutes, and walking out with an order is a thing of the past.  Your customers expect you to have expertise about your product or service and to use that expertise, coupled with knowledge of their situation acquired through your great questioning skills, to help them improve their condition.

Big Change #3:  Customers expect less.  Wait, WHAT?  I said what I said.  While customers expect more from you in your use of their time, they also expect less of some things.  Customers want less meaningless pressure, less of the old sales tactics, and fewer “donut calls” to just “check in.”  Those things are for YOU, not for them.  Customers are all about their own Buyer’s Journey, and if you don’t know what that is and how to make it work for you, customers will have less of you, and you’ll have less of their business.

Big Change #4:  Hiring is different.  If you’re a sales manager, you’re probably dealing with smaller candidate pools and less responsive candidates.  That’s a simple function of supply and demand.  While the supply of quality salespeople has decreased, the demand has remained constant – which means that you have to employ more competitive practices to hire good salespeople.  I can help with that through my Hiring Assistance programs.  Your hiring must be more marketing-centric than ever, you must be responsive to good applicants, and when you have good applicants, you still have to employ a quality hiring process to vet the candidates.

You might not be excited about all of these changes – prospecting, for instance, is much tougher and more challenging – but you should embrace them.  Salespeople that embrace them will quickly gain separation from their competitors.  And if your sales forecast for 2024 doesn’t take account of these changes, you might need to revise it.  Might I suggest a Sales Audit?

Now, what hasn’t changed?  Well, there are a few things.

Questioning remains the primary sales skill.  In my 33 years in the sales profession, the most important skill is to ask great, incisive questions that make the customer think.  In fact, I teach in my Elements of Sales training that 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale depends upon the questions you ask.  Still true.  In fact, great salespeople are constantly refining and learning.

In-person sales interaction remains king.  Much like Mark Twain, the rumors of the demise of in-person interaction (face to face sales calls, networking events, trade shows, and conventions) are greatly exaggerated.  Customers still like to see YOU.  Networking events and trade shows are still big.  Some, in fact, are even bigger than they were in 2020.  Keep a focus on generating face to face sales meetings.

You can still benefit your customers.  Most of what you sell can be bought without the intervention of a salesperson – but that doesn’t mean that it should.  Your role – if you are a good salesperson who is a student of your profession and your customers – is still viable.  In fact, it might be more viable than ever, given the amount of white noise that’s out there on the Internet.  Great salespeople help their customers solve their problems by separating the wheat from the chaff.  That can and should be you.

The Overall Outlook For the Sales Profession

The old saying was, “If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always gotten.”  That’s no longer true.  My sales forecast for 2024 is this:  Our profession is changing quickly enough that if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re going to get less than what you’ve always gotten.  In times of change, some companies go backwards and others go forwards.  Embracing the changes in selling, while honing your skills on those fundamentals that remain viable, is a way to gain more separation from your competitors than you’d have thought possible just a few years ago.

Now is a time to either win big or lose big.  I’ll be here to lead the way.  You’ll read about new developments as they come up.  As I learn, you’ll learn – and I’ll keep providing articles on my blog and videos on my YouTube channel to help.

And, if you’re the owner or manager of your company, maybe it’s time to take advantage of my complimentary Sales Strategy Review session.  Let’s have a great 2024, together.

How to Overcome Cold Call Reluctance

Apparently, the old “How to overcome cold call reluctance” techniques are making their rounds again.  I’ve gotten three webinar solicitations in the last two weeks for webinars like these, and looking at the outlines, it’s the same old crap about managing rejection, stress handling techniques, and the like.  Those are great techniques for salespeople who are cold calling – in 1993.

What I’m about to say is a change in my own viewpoint, so if you attended one of my seminars on prospecting a year or more ago, don’t say, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not what you said then!”  You’re right.  It’s not.  Sales is evolving, and we (I) have to evolve with it.  It’s time to redefine what cold-call prospecting really means – and along with that redefinition, we can realize that it might be even MORE important now.

There’s an old saying:  “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success!”  Well – conventional cold-call prospecting still succeeds, but at a much lower numerical rate than in the past.  But maybe we can redefine it and modify it to help our numbers, and in so doing, help some of you overcome cold call reluctance.

30 years ago, the numbers looked like this.  If you were calling from a good database, not doing the “person who” call, and using a strong introduction, you would generally get a contact (speaking to the person you wanted to talk to) on about one of every three times you dialed the phone.  Then, if your introduction was strong, you’d get an appointment on one of every 2-3 contacts.  Hence, if you were doing it right, you’d get an appointment on one of every 6-9 dials.  That’s a pretty good number.  Most of the time, salespeople working from a good database could average 20 dials per hour, so an hour of focused cold calling got you 2-3 appointments.

Of course, there were other techniques like “schmoozing the secretary” that came into play for when you didn’t get a contact, or when you needed human help to get to your person.  Technology has pretty much made those techniques obsolete.

Now (in most B2B industries), you’re lucky if you get a contact on one of every ten dials.  From what I see, the contact to appointment ratio has dropped as well, but not as drastically – now it’s more like 4 contacts yield one appointment – most likely because one-size-fits-all messaging isn’t as effective.  What that means is that now, doing it the old way, it takes about two hours of focused cold calling to get one appointment.  That’s frustrating – and it feeds into cold call reluctance.  Nobody likes to fail – and these numbers mean that you’re failing 39 of 40 attempts, as opposed to 5 of 6 attempts 30 years ago.

HOWEVER – when I have done cold calling training with my clients, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon.  When salespeople leave a strong voice mail (more on that in a minute), their LinkedIn profile views go up in the next couple of days.  Who’s viewing them?  You guessed it – some of the people that they tried to call.  That means that whatever they said to the prospect interested the prospect enough to check them out, even if they didn’t return the call (even 30 years ago, returned calls from voice mail ran about 10-20%, so that’s never been a strong lead generator).

That is a success.

The purpose of cold calling is simple.  We want to find people who could buy from us but don’t know we exist, and spark interest in them so that they might buy from us, now or in the future.  If prospects are interested enough in what you said that they type your name into LinkedIn and look you up, you have sparked at least some interest in them.  Next, of course, you should request a connection on LinkedIn (I outlined a LinkedIn strategy a couple of weeks ago).  The idea is to get on their radar screen, and stay there.  And, if you can pick up 3-4 new LinkedIn connections from an hour’s worth of prospecting, you’ve won.

In redefining prospecting, we need to think of creating awareness that you exist as someone who can solve problems for your customers.  The old cold calling strategy held that any call that didn’t result in an appointment was failure.  In fact, I used to teach that salespeople should make three attempts to reach a prospect by phone before leaving a voice mail.  That’s obsolete – the voice mail should now be considered a messaging medium, just like social media or LinkedIn, with the objective of creating awareness.

With that in mind, here’s my recommended new prospecting process:

  1. Start with a good database. The data you begin with still matters.  You should have a database of targeted prospects using whatever demographics work for you.  I normally recommend searching by geography, type of business, and size of company.  If you know what they do, where they do it, and how many people they have to do it, you can usually get a good database.  This database should include contact names and titles.  Most quality databases do.
  2. 3 minutes of research. Yes, I said research.  I used to recommend against this, because in the old “only an appointment is success” model, extensive research slowed down the process and cut into the number of quality dials.  Now?  Your message – whether delivered voice to voice in the case of a contact, or by voice mail if not – must be personalized.  It should speak directly to your prospect, his/her position, and the company’s anticipated needs.  2-3 minutes on their website and the person’s LinkedIn page should get you there.
  3. Call. When you call, be prepared to deliver a great and short, impactful introduction about how you can help the prospect with a possible need that you spotted.  Remember – attention spans are short, and your introduction should be.  The numbers say that you might get a contact only 1/10 of the time, but you’d damn well better be prepared for that call.  Some industries will do much better than that 1/10, and if you’re there, that’s a good thing.
  4. Leave a voice mail. Again, this is a departure from the past.  Leave a short, impactful voice mail about how you can help, with multiple ways of contact.  Invite your prospect to call, text, or look you up on LinkedIn.  Leaving an email address is fine IF it’s simple and comes across well in a message. Mine is troy@troyharrison.com, so that lends itself to a voice mail.  If yours has dots, dashes, and is complicated, you might want to skip this.  Remember, though, the first sentence must hit hard.  You want to capture interest before they hit the delete key.
  5. Watch your LinkedIn views. As I said before, you’re likely to get LinkedIn views from those you prospect. When you do, reach out, connect, and take a long-play approach to messaging them.
  6. If nothing happens, wait a couple of weeks and call again, varying your message.

Is it as immediately gratifying as the old, one appointment out of six dials, method?  Nope. But I don’t think those days are returning any time soon.  And this method still allows you to take control of your destiny, which is what cold-call prospecting is all about.

So, if you are experiencing cold call reluctance, think of it as spreading your message.  After all, that’s really what cold calling is all about, and always has been.  We just have a different path to motivating people into their Buyer’s Journey now.

How To Make Sales Meetings Meaningful

When should you stop training your salespeople?

If you answered, “never,” you got the right answer. Training never stops.  Effective training for your salespeople should cover your products, your services, and sales technique, and it should be ongoing.  In fact, I recommend that you do at least a small training exercise at each weekly sales meeting (you ARE doing weekly sales meetings, aren’t you?).

That means that 52 times per year, your salespeople get some level of new knowledge and professional development.  Since “inadequate training” is cited as the reason about 70% of the time that salespeople change jobs, good training retains salespeople.  I think that the reason that sales managers don’t do much training is that the task seems daunting – to come up with new topics every week is seen as a significant demand on the manager’s time.

It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s an exercise that I have always found to be effective, and it’s simple.  For a given unit of time (say, 8-10 weeks at a time), each salesperson must come into the meeting with a NEW question that they have created.  This question should be one that customers and/or prospects can be asked on every sales call.  Notice that I said, “new.”  The point of this exercise is to get your salespeople to THINK about selling, and to think about new ways to get knowledge about your customers that could benefit them in making more sales and building better relationships.

In my opinion, about 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale is determined by the questions you ask – so if you’re asking more and better questions than your competition, you give yourself a big edge on outselling your competition.  Challenging your salespeople to be the ones to come up with new questions also involves them and engages them in their own training.

Here’s how this works.  On week 1, tell them that for the next (however many) weeks, your focus is going to be on becoming better questioners.  In fact, you are going to become the best questioners in your market.  Tell them to take five minutes and come up with one potentially-great question that they have never asked a customer.  After five minutes, they present their question to the group.  They should explain why they think it’s a good question and what they think they will accomplish by asking it.

During this time, you should instruct your team to suspend judgement on the questions – this is a criticism-free zone to try things out.  Once everyone has presented theirs, then everyone on the team must ask each question the following week at least once (preferably more), and then report back at the following sales meeting how well the questions worked.  Take a vote – the good questions become part of your boilerplate questioning structure (again, you do have one of those, right?), and the ineffective ones get discarded.  Then repeat the exercise, except that this time, they should already have a new question when they arrive at the meeting.

Do this for at least eight weeks, and your team’s effectiveness at questioning and discovery will go up significantly.  How significantly depends on their openness to new knowledge and their creativity in creating questions.  You can also take a vote each week on which question worked the best, and whoever came up with it gets some sort of a prize – a restaurant gift card, perhaps.

There are a few things to remember about this program to make it a success.

First – no matter how badly you want to – don’t supply your own questions or criticize theirs before the team puts them into real-life action.  For this program to succeed, they have to be the stars of the show (not you), and they have to be the ones that are taking the risks.  If you supply your own questions, then it’s just the boss ramming things down their throats.  Besides, given room to work, you’ll be amazed at the quality of questions they come up with.  As my friend and fellow trainer Ed Tate likes to say, “Often, the answers are already in the room.”  This is one of those times.

Second – make the emphasis be on NEW question creation, not a regurgitation of what’s already being done.  As soon as a salesperson says, “Here’s one I like to ask,” thank them for the contribution but tell them that you want them to dig into their heads and come up with something new.  Your salespeople are smart; this respects their intelligence and creativity.

Third – you should be doing ride-alongs as the program progresses to see that the new questions are really being asked in live sales calls.  This program only works if it’s being put into action, and not just discussed in meetings.  The whole idea is to improve their SELLING skills, not their MEETING skills.  So, as they say, inspect what you expect.

Fourth – be prepared to discard some questions that your salespeople used to ask in favor of newer and better ones.  In fact, this might be a topic for weeks 6-8.  “Since we have these new and more effective questions, what ones can we, or should we, jettison?”

If you do this, by the end of eight weeks, your team’s questioning skills will have gone up exponentially, which means that their sales will go up.  You should repeat this exercise at least once per year, to continually refine the questions and skills.  Besides, market conditions may dictate that questions get modified or discarded over time.