Tag Archives: Sales

How to Build a Sales Process That Works.

This is actually an update of an article I wrote six years ago after missing a flight.  The article is still a very pertinent tutorial on how to build a sales process.  While there isn’t much that I’d change about what I’ve written, I’ll add a few notes in italics that reflect our current realities in 2020.

Skipping steps in your business processes can be disastrous.  Read why here.

I’m writing this article from the Baltimore-Washington Airport.  That wasn’t my intent.  My intent was to write it from the warmth of my living room (yes, I do write a lot of these articles at home).  Unfortunately, I can’t do that.  The reason I can’t do that is that I missed my connecting flight.  And the reason that I missed my connecting flight is that I skipped a step in one of my processes.

When I fly, no matter what I’m told, no matter what’s printed on the boarding pass, I do the same thing every time I get to the airport, whether it’s a connecting flight or an origination flight.  I pull out my boarding pass, and I carefully double- and triple-check the flight number, the gate, and the time.  However, after arriving in Baltimore from Providence, I didn’t do that. I looked at the board and saw my destination and time, and didn’t check the flight number.  You guessed it.  I was at the wrong gate, and I arrived at the correct gate two minutes after the doors closed.  The result was that I ended up cooling my heels for four extra hours in Baltimore, and getting home later than I should have.

You know, every time I fly now, even six years later, I remember this moment and I recall sitting in the airport after a long trip, pretty disgusted with myself.  I’ve had similar feelings over the years whenever I attempted to skip a step in my sales process and it came back and bit me.

And yes, there’s a sales lesson on how to build a sales process here, and here it is.

Don’t skip steps in your sales processes.  Salespeople tend to get really excited when we get positive signals from a customer – so excited, in fact, that we want to speed things along and get the deal done.  Sometimes that causes us to skip important steps – like a complete discovery, a full proposal, etc.  And invariably, it comes back to bite us.  Usually, the results cost more than a few hours in an airport.

One of the issues, I think, is that too few salespeople and sales managers really understand “sales process.”  So, I’ll lay it out here in very simple terms, and you can expand on it as you need to.  The definition of a “Business Process” is this:

A Business Process is a set of steps, tasks, or operations that must be performed EVERY TIME to generate a successful result.  Notice that I said “must be performed.” One common mistake I see in businesses that want to build their processes is that they include steps that are good, and perhaps advantageous, but don’t have to be done every time to get the desired result. Here’s how to build a sales process:

  1. Find someone to sell to.  Whether this happens through prospecting, inbound marketing, or a current customer relationship, the sale begins with the identification of the person to sell to.
  2. Discover needs.  When a purchase is being considered, needs must be discovered and identified in order to move forward.
  3. Identify Product/Service Recommendations.  The needs are then correlated to a product or service that should be purchased.
  4. Price and Terms.  Most of the time we consider this the Proposal phase; the customer must be made aware of the necessary price and terms for the purchase.
  5. Decision.  The customer decides to purchase.

These steps happen on EVERY sale and purchase.  Right now you’re saying, “But wait, Troy, what happens when the customer buys and doesn’t even talk to a salesperson?”  Guess what – the customer still goes through those steps.  The difference is that the customer executes those steps HIMSELF OR HERSELF.  The customer still identifies his or her own needs, identifies a product or service to satisfy those needs, finds the price and terms, and makes a decision.

That’s not all parts of how to build a sales process, of course.  Your sales process may include other steps.  For instance, for a technical product, your customer may have to go through a technical demonstration, and this may be a mandatory step so that the customer fully understands your product.  That’s fine, but don’t fall into the trap of introducing steps into the process that don’t HAVE to happen.  The prime example of this comes from a regional manager at a company that I used to work for.

He discovered that closing ratios were much higher if the customer took a plant tour prior to buying, so he mandated that all prospects had to take plant tours before they could be offered a proposal.  The result?  Sales dropped dramatically.  The reason was simple – most customers didn’t want to take plant tours and wouldn’t. Yes, closing ratios were higher IF the customer took a tour – but the tour wasn’t a mandatory part of the process.  And if you’re wondering, sales at my branch were fine.  I ignored the directive.  The point was that my regional manager attempted to add an extra step that was nice IF we could get it, but shouldn’t have been mandatory – hence not part of our process.

Where salespeople really get into trouble is when they try to skip or shortcut steps.  For instance, salespeople – in a hurry to get to the close – will cut the Needs Discovery short because they think they have all the needs, when in fact they don’t.  Missing needs means that the customer probably won’t buy.

I’m sitting in an airport writing this when I should be home eating a nice dinner, and the reason is that I shortcut one of my key processes.  Processes exist for a reason.  If you shortcut yours, it might cost you more than time.

Here is what I would add.  In addition to thinking through the steps in your process, you should also think through HOW they will be accomplished, and leave flexibility.  For instance, will these steps be accomplished by phone, video, or live and in-person?  Can you build in options?  Let’s say that you need to add a step to demonstrate a piece of equipment, and the ideal way to do it is live and in-person.  If that live demo is impossible, how much of that live experience can you simulate via a remote demonstration or a Zoom call?  Today’s salesperson must be competent in both process and the means of delivering the process – which requires more of us.  That’s okay; we need to always be developing our skills.

You might also benefit from my video Six Tips For Better Video Selling.

How To Compete With Online Vendors

I paid $22.99 for a magazine yesterday.  Not a magazine subscription; a single issue of a magazine.  The magazine is called Magneto, and it is (big surprise for those who know me) a car magazine.  But it’s not just any car magazine.  It’s perhaps the finest magazine focusing on rare and exotic vintage cars, and the racing thereof, that I’ve ever seen.  And in the fact that I paid nearly 23 bucks for it is a sales lesson that’s very timely and very applicable in how to compete with online vendors.

You see, I’m passionate about car magazines.  I love them.  I love reading them, and I spent over ten years writing for them as a freelancer.  In fact, I wrote over 300 articles for them, and one of my stories was nominated for a National Motorsports Press Association award.  I was good at it and I loved it, although it was never more than a side gig.  I quit writing for them in about 2008, when two things happened – first, my business as The Sales Navigator started occupying all my professional time.  And second, the magazine business itself was in a decline.  Magazines got thinner in both page count and paper quality, the amount of space allotted to editorial content went down, and there was less of a demand for the in-depth analytical articles I liked to write.  And, full disclosure, the magazines were paying less.  It felt like a race to the bottom.  That was one race I had no interest in.

Fast forward to 2020.  Most of the magazines I used to write for (Circle Track, Stock Car Racing, Street Rodder, Rod & Custom, Racing Milestones, and many others) are gone.  History.  In fact, the largest publisher of car magazines shut down 19 titles last year.  The few that they have left are a shadow of what they once were.  Even Hot Rod, the magazine that arguably started the car magazine industry, is a shadow of what it was just fifteen years ago.  The reason is simple – the level of content and photography that those magazines used to provide is now widely available on dozens of websites, for free or very inexpensively.  Those titles attempted to continually cheapen their product to try to make the numbers work in the face of Internet competition – and they lost.  (Is any of this starting to ring a bell yet in your business?)

So, you’d expect that when I go into my local Barnes & Noble, the magazine rack would be barren, right?  Nope.  The space once taken by thin, low-quality magazines is now occupied by high-end magazines.  Magazines like Magneto, Rodder’s Journal, and many, many other titles that, on a per-copy basis, go for double or triple the price of the magazines they replaced.  And yet, people buy them.  Why?

Because those magazines are incredibly high-quality in all phases. The editorial content is the best, period.  The cars covered are unusual and important, and the stories told are complete and interesting, and not just a list of specifications and dates.  The photography is high-end, done either in studio or on location by the best photographers, in the best lighting, with the best equipment and the best editing software.  Advertisements are present but don’t dominate the magazines.  And these magazines are BIG.  My new issue of Magneto is 178 pages of automotive goodness, and it’s produced on very heavy paper and cover stock, most resembling a paperbound book.  In fact, some people refer to these as “bookazines” or “coffee table magazines.”  Are they successful?  Many of these magazines are all out of back issues for purchase, so I’d say that, yes, they are.

These magazines are successful because they don’t attempt to compete with cheap online vendors.  They have picked out a niche, they are doing that niche better than anyone else, and they have created an economic structure (the amounts they pay for writing and photography) that the Internet simply can’t match.  Do they sell as many copies as, say, Motor Trend?  Probably not – but they make the economics work very well for them, and have figured out how to compete with online vendors.

Take a look at your business.  At least once per week, someone asks me, “Troy, how can I possibly compete with cheaper online vendors like Amazon?”  My answer is, “You probably can’t – especially if you’re trying to do it the same way.”  Cheap online vendors aren’t a fad – they are here to stay.  But there is still a high demand for a higher-service, higher-contact, higher-quality business model.  Here are five quick ideas to help you compete, and win, against pure online vendors:

  1. Establish two-tiered pricing. Some of you CAN compete with Amazon on pricing – IF you do business the Amazon way.  With Amazon, everything is automated and there is no personal customer service involvement whatsoever.  If you’re selling a more commoditized product (for instance, reams of copier paper) and can make money at that pricing level as long as no personal service is involved, consider allowing your customers to buy at that price point IF and only if they are willing to buy with the same no-personal-service model.  But when they need personal service – even if it’s a phone call – they get a different and higher price point.
  2. Do it better. Let’s be honest – Amazon doesn’t thrive off high-end products.  Their biggest niche is in the low-end, cheapest possible, products.  Look at the Magneto solution; sell products that are so good they nearly require the buyer to have a more personalized experience (and the higher price point to go with it).
  3. Know your customer. One big edge you should have is this:  Your salespeople SHOULD know your customers better than any online vendor ever could.  That SHOULD be because they consistently question and update their knowledge.  It’s an unfortunate truth that too many salespeople don’t ask questions and don’t know much about the customer (good sales training should focus on questioning as a primary skill) – and those salespeople then wonder why they lose business.  Not only should you be asking lots of business-related questions early on, you should be updating your knowledge of those issues every six months or so.  Your business changes, and so does your customer.
  4. Focus on helping your customer run his/her business better. This is related to the previous point – what do you do to truly help your customers run their businesses better that isn’t tied to a check?  For instance, do you refer business to your customers?  Even better, do you put customers together who could do business together?
  5. Create an experience. I often pick on the car business, and for good reason – I sold cars at the start of my career.  As part of my education, I read a book called Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, the owner of Sewell Cadillac in Dallas. He talked about making a visit to Sewell an experience.  When salespeople greeted customers, they didn’t race each other to get to the door and they didn’t immediately ask them about buying a car.  Instead, they welcomed them and opened by offering them a cup of (good) coffee, a glass of wine, or a soda (I visited the dealership several years ago, and they really do this). They created an experience out of a visit to Sewell – and they sold an awful lot of Caddys.

There are, of course, numerous other ways to compete with the Internet vendors, but this is a start.  The key is to not try to be Amazon.  One of my favorite sayings (and as far as I know, it’s my own) is:  “You can’t beat your competition if you’re trying to be your competition.”  Magneto and their counterparts have figured that out, and that’s why they’re successful.  You can be, too.

How to Make Classroom Training Effective

A few days ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn asking, “Is classroom sales training effective?” Unfortunately, like most of these threads, it quickly devolved into post after post of sales trainers saying, “Well, no, most isn’t – but MINE is!” I honestly hate that, because some people are looking for real information about this topic. So, I’ll answer as best I can and I won’t mention my training; if you want to learn about it, you’re more than welcome to, but that’s not what this article is.

The truth is that classroom training gets a bad rap. If classroom learning didn’t work, why would we spend all those years going to school? And don’t give me that “but adults learn differently” stuff. They might – a little – but classroom training still can be very effective. But making it effective requires work – on the part of the trainer, on the part of the trainees, and on the part of management. I’ve been doing classroom training for 20 years, and here are the key elements I’ve discovered.

BEFORE THE TRAINING:

• The trainer should learn about your company, what you do, and what specific functions your people perform, and how that will impact the training.
• The trainer should prepare enough to be at least conversant with the language of the trainees. He/she doesn’t need to know as much about the specific work environment as the trainees – that is unrealistic – but at least the basic terminology; the trainer should incorporate this into the training materials.
• The manager should be open to conversation with the trainer. Sometimes, managers will want to hold back on their true impressions of their staff a bit to have the trainer ‘evaluate’ their people during the training. This is the wrong approach. The trainer’s job is to educate, not evaluate; if you want a second opinion on your staff, this should be a separate project. Sure, all trainers – myself included – will gain impressions and will probably share them, but this shouldn’t be their prime mission. If you want the best training experience, help your trainer help each person get the most from the experience.
• The manager should set expectations with his or her staff. Those expectations should include sharing the trainer’s bio, their agenda (the trainer should provide you with these items), and what the expectations for both learning and conduct will be. For instance, staff should know beforehand that phones should be silenced, side conversations kept to a minimum, etc.

DURING THE TRAINING:

• The training should be as interactive as possible; nobody wants to listen to a talking head all day. The trainer should break up the lectures with exercises, role plays, and other ways to get staff involved.
• The manager should be in the training session. I can’t emphasize this enough. Talk to any trainer – myself included – and they will tell you that the worst and least productive training sessions they have ever done have been those where the key manager is absent. This means that the manager doesn’t know what’s being taught and doesn’t know how to follow up later, and it means that the conduct of the staff can be unproductive.
• Which leads me to this. The staff’s conduct should be professional and they should participate. It’s okay to have fun – good training should be fun – but the primary mission is to learn. On a (fortunately very) few occasions, I’ve had training programs that felt like Romper Room. The trainees just basically played around, talked among themselves, etc. “But it’s the trainer’s responsibility to control the room!” Not really, to be honest. I’m there (and other trainers are there) to help staff learn important techniques to help them succeed. I’m not there to babysit, and frankly, if your staff needs much “controlling,” you have deeper problems than a training program.

AFTER THE TRAINING:

• Most training fails to affect behavior because the training ends when the trainer walks out of the room. To make sure that the training bears fruit, the manager (who was in the training, remember) should reinforce what is taught with follow-up exercises, role plays, and on-the-job observation. Most of the time, less than 20% of what is taught makes it into the actual workplace. Good follow up can radically raise this number.
• The trainer should give some tips or guidance on how to follow up with staff. This can be written or verbal, and it can be as simple as showing the manager how to use the workbook to create future training and dialogue. If the trainer has an advanced program, milestones can be set up to trigger when that program is appropriate.

As a trainer, the most gratifying aspect of my work is when a trainee tells me that they have used my training to make money. The worst aspect of my work is finding out that the training died in the training room. In either case, proper preparation, in-training conduct, and follow up makes all the difference in the world. You’re investing the time and money in training. Invest just a little bit more and make it stick in the workplace.

What Does It Mean to ‘Invest In Yourself?’

I’ve talked a lot in this space about salespeople and their tendency to not invest in themselves and their own productivity.  I’m constantly amazed at the fact that, despite sales being one of the highest-paid professions, most salespeople won’t spend $20 on a book to build their skills.  Let’s get beyond that, though, and let’s discuss real and genuine investment.  Let me tell you about Dave.

Dave is a salesperson for an office supply company in the Midwest.  In fact, Dave is, and was, the company’s top salesperson.  Six years ago, Dave had a problem.  He was topped out.  His territory was strong and he was making decent money, and he had a strong and stable customer base.  Most salespeople, at this point, would have gone into “coast and collect” mode.  Those salespeople would have watched that huge base of business decline over a period of years, too, but that’s beside the point of this story.

One of Dave’s attributes is that he is very good at self-analysis.  When Dave analyzed himself as a salesperson, he new very clearly that he had one primary strength.  Dave is that rarest of salespeople.  He’s a pure “hunter.”  Dave is at his best when he’s chasing, presenting and winning, new business. Dave is like a seasoned thoroughbred racehorse.  On the other hand Dave recognized his primary weakness: He not a Farmer. Account management is neither his favorite part of selling, nor his top skill set.  Dave still wanted to grow his territory.  But all those hard-won accounts were now monopolizing his time, so how would he do it? He was at a greater risk of losing many of those hard earned accounts because he couldn’t keep up with the daily administration.

Dave did what a lot of salespeople would do first.  He went to management and asked about getting a skilled inside account manager to augment his efforts.  Management, looking at dollars and cents, and felt it wasn’t in the budget. So, this is where Dave got creative.  A couple of offices down sat another salesperson named Karen.  Karen had been with the company for just a few years, and Dave had noticed that Karen was a very gifted administrator, and that cold calling and knocking on doors was not her primary strength.

Dave approached Karen to see if she might be interested in making a shift in her responsibilities and becoming the inside account manager for the new Dave/Karen account management team. Dave would be the knock-on-door-cold-calling machine and Karen would take over the admin side. As Dave would say “I will Kill ‘em, Karen will Grill ‘em”. (NOTE – no actual customers were harmed in the making of this sales success story.) Dave figured that he and Karen, both using their specific skill sets and talents, would be a dynamic sales machine.

To make this work, Dave and Karen would merge their businesses into one territory. Dave then gave up part of his own compensation to increase Karen’s earnings. From that point on as the business grew, both Dave and Karen would benefit financially with continual account growth.  The company’s ownership, to their credit, allowed this innovation.  Thus, Dave and Karen determined that focusing their own individual strengths could catapult them to greater success and higher earnings.

If you’re waiting for me to tell you how the story went wrong, you’re going to be waiting a long time.  It’s been a rousing success.  Six years later, Dave’s territory (remember, already the company’s largest), now the Dave/Karen team’s, has grown over 260%.  This unique team approach has been wildly successful.  By far and away they are the top producers for the company in terms of sales revenue, gross profit, new account acquisition, customer retention and customer satisfaction.

Dave acknowledges that there is no doubt that Karen, with her inside account management gifts, is a heroine in her own right.  Not only does she retain accounts, but she also helps to grow those existing accounts.  The team of Dave and Karen could be a prototype for sales success.  What makes it work?  Let’s ask Dave.

“For us,” he says, “It was really about capturing and combining both of our unique talents, giftings and personality traits. It was also about completely honest in recognizing areas of ‘less than’ qualities. I’m good at certain parts of selling, and so is Karen. Between the two of us, we add up to a great sales team.” Dave says that it’s New Sales Math… One plus One equals Six. “Since both of us are working in our personal talent zone, we are motivated and happy. Yes, did I say happy. Ultimately it translates to having happy satisfied customers that notice a significant difference in their perception of our company, the services we offer, and most importantly how they are treated by Karen and myself. I’m sure you have heard the saying about marriage; Happy Wife, Happy Life. Well, Happy Customer, Happy Commission Check.”

This, Dave thinks, can be or should be a model for other salespeople and companies.  He’s probably right.

I believe that many company managers and sales people won’t take the risk or make the personal financial investment to see if they can multiply their output. If you have a territory that’s reached its practical limit in terms of productivity, maybe it’s time to think out-of-the-box like Dave and Karen.  Dave reminded me that Henry Ford’s greatest invention wasn’t the Model T automobile, it was the assembly line. Instead of building cars one at a time, as before, Ford subdivided the responsibilities with people using their greatest gifts and proficiencies and produce a thousand automobiles a day.

Here are the issues as I see them.

In any company, the sales role essentially consists of three elements:

  1. New account selling – prospecting, needs analysis, presenting, proposing, closing. This all falls under the umbrella of “Acquisition” selling.
  2. Driving growth in existing accounts through upselling, cross-selling, etc. I refer to this as “Development” selling.
  3. Retaining existing accounts through relationship development. This is “Retention” selling.

Let’s be honest.  Few salespeople – even superstars – are superstars at all of those elements.  I would bet that at least 80% of all salespeople would welcome the opportunity to sub out parts of the sales process that are not their favorites.  For instance, I’d guess that somewhere around half of salespeople would gladly get rid of prospecting if they could.

Many of those salespeople will, in fact, request to offload parts of the sales responsibility.  Even in companies where there’s only one salesperson, I’ll hear comments that ‘if the company would just get someone to set my appointments for me, I’d be so much more successful,’ etc.

What separates Dave from nearly all of those salespeople is his willingness to put his own skin in the game.  Dave didn’t just ask for an account manager – he volunteered part of his own compensation to make it happen.  In doing so, he was betting on himself.  Dave’s bet was that the money he gave up to pay Karen would more than be repaid back to him through growth in his sales territory.   Seeing the results, it’s hard to argue with him.

Should you go down the Dave road?  That depends.  First of all, you have to make a good self analysis.  What are you good at, and what are you not good at?  That’s the easy part.

Second, you have to gain an understanding of what it will really take, compensation-wise, to provide the parts of the sales process that you wish to offload.

Third – and this is the painful part – you must then be willing to invest in yourself, as Dave did, to make it happen.  Don’t get me wrong, if you can get management to provide the resource at no cost to you, more power to you!  But for most of us, that money has to come from somewhere – is it going to be you?

Fourth and finally – this is not a fix for failure.  I wouldn’t advise any business owner, sales manager, or salesperson to try to ‘save’ a failing salesperson with this model.  This model worked precisely because both parties were successful – Dave at winning new business, and Karen at retaining and developing.

Dave believes that this could be, and should be, a new model for selling.  I think he could be right – IF salespeople are willing to put their own skin in the game.  Whether that’s you is up to each of you to answer.

Three Very Important Words

One of the most important three-word phrases in business is: sense of urgency. When I look over the various winners and losers I’ve seen in the business world, those three words tend to define the difference between winning and losing. In a nutshell, winners have the sense of urgency; losers do not. When you’re analyzing your own performance or that of your salespeople, ask yourself, “do they display a sense of urgency about their jobs – or not?”

One might think that tighter economic times would provoke greater sense of urgency on the part of those whose responsibility it is to make things happen (i.e. salespeople). Often, however, the result is the opposite, because urgency’s enemy – fear – sets in. Salespeople who would otherwise be highly motivated to make calls get nervous and apprehensive about “the economy,” and thus calls go unmade (“I’d rather call them when the news is better.” Of course, since “the economy” is simply the cumulative effect of individual decisions to do or not to do business, every such postponement actually makes the economy a little worse.

Let’s take a look at some of the roles within a (your?) company, and look at how a lack of urgency can negatively impact sales success.

The salesperson: This is fairly easy. In fact, we just discussed such an example above. However, I see a lack of urgency in many different parts of the sales process. As an example – recently, an out-of-town company prospected me to purchase a fairly innovative marketing program. Coincidentally, a local KC company contacted me the very next day, offering a similar service. I know and like the owner of the local company, and I am a buy-local guy when it makes sense. So, I met with them and discussed some possibilities. I then waited for a proposal. And waited. And waited. Meanwhile, the out of town company kept calling me to follow up. When I finally received a proposal from the local company (after not one but two calls asking if they wanted my business or not), it was less targeted to my needs than the one I’d received well before from the out of town company. Reasoning that if the local outfit didn’t have a sense of urgency about winning the business, they were unlikely to have one when it came to servicing the business, I went with the out of town company. I’m pleased with my decision – but if the local company had followed up aggressively, they’d have won the deal.

The sales manager: Sales managers can lose sense of urgency in many ways; the decision to make changes in personnel, for instance, becomes a lack of urgency. The most common way for urgency to get lost at the sales management level is when changes are desired by ownership, and the sales manager is lackadaisical about pushing that message to his reps, and making sure that the right things happen. The biggest way the sales manager can reflect a lack of urgency, however, is simply by not making certain that his reps are maximizing their 40 hours per week.

The business owner: Business owners can sometimes lose a sense of urgency because acting quickly is painful. For instance, I have seen numerous instances where long time managers needed to be replaced or reassigned within the company; their abilities weren’t a match for the company’s needs going forward. However, the business owner was reluctant to do so because of personal relationships or simple fear of change. The problem is that the one thing we can never recover is time lost – and when a decision needs to be made, every day lost in the action is time lost (and money lost).

People lose a sense of urgency because they believe that there are no consequences for slow action. In a restaurant, it’s the idea that the customer won’t walk out if their order isn’t taken promptly (I do walk out); in a salesperson, it’s the thought that the customer will be just as willing to buy tomorrow than they are today – or even more willing (not always true); in a business owner, it’s a lack of understanding that money lost today can’t be replaced tomorrow.

While there are other ways “sense of urgency” can hamper companies at every management level, hopefully, you’re getting the idea. Sense of urgency means maximizing every lead, every call, every proposal, and every hour. If you’re doing it, great! If not, remember those three little words.

Another Way to Screw Up a Cold Call

Cold calls have been on my mind again this week. There are several reasons for that. First of all, I received one a couple of days ago that had the classic “first three ways to kill a cold call.” Then, soon after, I received an email from a regular reader of the Navigator, and one of the things she said was this:

“At some time in a future weekly newsletter….would you mind talking about a sales person who won’t shut up?  This guy wouldn’t allow me to get out one full sentence of response without cutting me off.   Wouldn’t stop the sales pitch, even after I told him that for the most part, the services he was offering we didn’t need, but was very interested in one service.  Told him to get me info on that particular service and would sit down and talk with the owner about scheduling a meeting.  At that point, he went right back in to the overall sales pitch of all the services he had to offer again, and wouldn’t shut up even when I told him this wasn’t the most convenient time to talk and for a fact am on a deadline today.  He simply wouldn’t SHUT UP!  I finally had to abruptly end the call, of which he may have thought rude, but don’t care.”

Well, your wish is my command. Let’s go into the call I received, and then let’s talk about the call she received. We’ll figure out how to solve all of these issues together.

The call I received was a classic. I answered the phone, “Troy Harrison speaking.” If you call me, and I am able to pick up, that’s what you’ll hear. No “Dial 1 for,” or a receptionist – you’ll hear my voice ready to talk about sales. Sadly, I didn’t hear someone ready to talk about sales. Instead, I got a few seconds of silence – long enough to know that I had just been auto-dialed, and someone was about to pick up on the other end. I hate auto-dialers. If you use them, stop it.

Then, the woman on the other end said, “May I speak to Troy, please?” Good grief. Of course, since it was an auto-dialer, she didn’t hear that she was already talking to me. Now I know it’s a salesperson, and a bad one, but she was about to lock that description in. I replied, “You already are.”

“Hi, Troy. How are you today?” If you’re looking for the all-time dumb, moronic, time wasting, defense building, way to kill a cold call, this is it. There is only one type of person who says, “How are you today?” to someone they don’t know, and that’s a pesky, not well trained salesperson who can’t think of anything good to say, but thinks they are building some cheap rapport.

I sighed and said, “What can I help you with?” And she started into a spiel about some investment opportunity. I didn’t hear the end of it.

When you call someone, attempting to gain their interest in seeing you, talking to you, or buying from you, you have to give them a reason to talk to you without giving them reasons to put up their defenses. When people answer the phone, their defenses are typically down because they don’t know what the call is about. It could be a customer, a friend, a relative, or a salesperson. Your job is to give them a reason to talk to you while their defenses are down, because if you give them time and reason to put up their defenses, it’s much harder for your value message to get through. Look at the 20 seconds of the call I just described. She gave me three reasons to put up my defensese before she ever began a value message: The obvious auto-dialer, asking for me when I already said it was me (showing me that she wasn’t listening to whoever answered the phone), and then the obnoxious “How are you today?” Her call was DOA.

Now, let’s look at the different type of call that my friend wrote me to discuss. This call was not DOA. In fact, it was very much alive until the salesperson killed the call. Here are some of the things that my friend said:

“This guy wouldn’t allow me to get out one full sentence of response without cutting me off.” That’s a hallmark of a pre-scripted sales pitch. Worse, it’s the hallmark of just plain bad manners. When your customer or prospect is talking, words are coming out of their mouth – and those words could be important. Shut up and listen, even if it’s not taking you down your pre-scripted path. Sometimes customers don’t know their lines because they haven’t seen your script – but if they’re talking to you on a cold call, that’s a good thing.

“Wouldn’t stop the sales pitch, even after I told him that for the most part, the services he was offering we didn’t need, but was very interested in one service.  Told him to get me info on that particular service and would sit down and talk with the owner about scheduling a meeting.” Are you banging your head on your desk right now? Me too. The salesperson was winning the call, and wasn’t capable of seeing it. She didn’t just say “interested.” She said, “Very interested.” Granted, he wasn’t talking to the decision maker – but he’s the one who called. I’m betting that this was the classic “person who” call, i.e., the salesperson asked the receptionist to speak to the “person who” handled his particular service (this is another call-killer, by the way). The salesperson had her interest. He had her commitment to attempt to set a meeting with the owner of the company. This was a WIN. And he still turned it into a loss.

“At that point, he went right back in to the overall sales pitch of all the services he had to offer again, and wouldn’t shut up even when I told him this wasn’t the most convenient time to talk and for a fact am on a deadline today.  He simply wouldn’t SHUT UP!  I finally had to abruptly end the call, of which he may have thought rude, but don’t care.” Amazing. Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, and that’s what is frustrating to me as a salesperson. My friend might have genuinely benefited from the service he was offering, but we’ll never know because he burned the call.

What this salesperson didn’t realize is that a sales call is a dialogue, not a monologue. Worse, he failed to recognize an opportunity when he saw one – likely due to poor or nonexistent training.

Don’t be that guy. Instead, open the call right (avoid the call killers that I mentioned), and remember to make the cold call a dialogue. Cold calling is still a viable way to generate new business; I have a feeling that most salespeople who think otherwise aren’t doing it right.

The Most Valuable Commodity You Can Market

From time to time, I enjoy engaging practiced salespeople and sales managers in conversation about selling on a deeper level. One such conversation that happened this week centered around the question, “what is the most valuable quality salespeople can bring to the table?” Answers ranged from “product knowledge” to “likeability” to “good communication,” and on into “expert questioning” before one of the salespeople hit the correct answer – the answer that trumps all of the above.

That answer is trustworthiness. The reason it is the trump card is simple; if the customer doesn’t believe what you say, it doesn’t matter how well you know your subject matter, and if the customer doesn’t trust you, they won’t answer questions honestly. Trust, then, is a prerequisite for all activities that center on communication – selling in particular. In that spirit, this week I’ll share a few methods for building trust with customers, but first I have to share one of the most outrageous stories of a salesperson ruining his customer’s trust in him. It’s too good a story not to share.

It seems that this salesperson was employed by a cleaning company that was providing janitorial services to a group of hospitals. The hospital management liked him a lot, and liked the service provided. They believed in him and the quality and integrity of his company. Then came a charity golf tournament.

As a friend of mine (who happened to be in the same fivesome as this salesperson) explained, “It was a typical five-man scramble; one guy would hit into the sand, one into the woods, one way into the rough, one guy would dunk a ball and one would get stuck in a tree somewhere (sounds like my own lack of a golf game wouldn’t have been out of place – but I digress). The salesman would hit first on each hole, then drive the cart down the fairway to ‘spot’ for the team. When the rest of the group had hit and went down the fairway, a ball would have magically appeared in the middle of the fairway with the salesman explaining that one of the shots ‘kicked’ into the fairway.” Yep – he was cheating in a charity golf tournament. But wait – it gets better.

It seems that the key decision maker for the hospital account was also in this same fivesome, and what was happening wasn’t escaping him. In fact, immediately after the 18th hole, the manager left in disgust, skipping the post-tournament party. Slick Salesman wasn’t done, however. He did the same thing a month later – at a tournament sponsored by the hospital. After getting a feel for this guy’s character, the hospital management began watching everything that the janitorial company did, and lo and behold, they found bad billing, cleaning that was supposed to be done that wasn’t, and other problems. Long story short, the salesman is no longer employed by the company, and the company no longer has the account. The moral of the story? Some salespeople believe that trust is solely generated by work habits and activities; the truth is that anything you do that shows a lack of integrity can ruin your trust. In that spirit, here are some ways that you can build trust with your customers:

Do what you say, and say what you will do: This is so painfully obvious that I hate to even say it, but I encounter salespeople on a daily basis who think nothing of not fulfilling promises in a timely fashion. When you make a promise to a customer, they remember it. When you fail to fulfill that promise, they remember it FOREVER. It’s not that tough; only promise what you can actually do, then DO IT.

Do the right thing, even when you think no one is looking: Someone once said that this was the very definition of integrity. Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to behave in ways that you would never think of doing if you knew a customer was watching; guess what? They might be. Several years ago, I was in Minneapolis making calls with a salesperson as a favor to a branch manager of the company I worked for. On our second call, the customer got a look at my salesman and immediately threw us out. It turns out that, the night before, the salesman had been out at a bar, got a few drinks in him, and started a conflict with another patron over a particular seat at the bar. Huge stuff, right? Well, it turned out to be. The other patron turned out to be the person he wanted to sell to the next morning. Behave like a jackass in public at your own peril; you never know who is watching.

Keep your big yap shut when it needs to be: These days, customer confidentiality is huge. Salespeople are regularly trusted with company secrets of their customers. Unfortunately, many salespeople are “Instant babbler, just add beer.” I’ve seen salespeople who think nothing of telling me incredibly confidential details about their customers – stuff that their customers would probably have a heart attack if they knew the salesperson was repeating indiscriminately. If you want to continue to have your customers confide in you, you must respect and value that confidence by keeping it.

Respect your customer’s boundaries: Sometimes, there are pieces of information that your customer doesn’t want to give, or places they are unwilling to take you. If that’s the case, consider it a measure of the increasing bond of trust when your customer eventually gives you those pieces of information or takes you those places. Continue pressing immediately for them and your customer will back off.

Of course, because trust is such a huge subject, there are many more ways to build it. However, this has hopefully given you some things to look for in conducting yourself and building trust in your customer base.