Is This Sales Blind Spot Impacting Your High Performers?

Busy, highly-productive sales people move at a different pace.  They generate more activity.  They have more opportunities in their sales pipeline.  They drive operations a little crazy.  And as you read these sentences there is probably someone on your team who immediately comes to mind (hopefully several people who come to mind!).

Busy, highly-productive sales people get stuff done.  But could they do even more with one minor adjustment?  During a recent coaching conversation with Marianna, a highly-productive sales person at one of our clients, we had a bit of an “a-ha” moment.  A few weeks ago we were reviewing her pipeline and she was quickly going through the opportunities she had disqualified that week, along with her reason for moving them out of her pipeline.  As I listened to her reasons, dispensed machine-gun style with ruthless efficiency, I realized that she was quickly putting each opportunity into a category.  And this quick categorization was creating a sales blind spot for her.

This is an over-simplified example of the categories Marianna was using:

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had past success?  (Yes/No)

    • They have clear, compelling reasons to change

    • We are talking with someone who has the authority to make a change

    • We have discussed money, both in terms of the impact on their current operation if they do not make a change as well as the investment required to go with our solution

    • There is a clear timeline

    • There is urgency to do something about the situation

    • And so on…

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had trouble?  (Yes/No)

    • They are talking with our competitors

    • They have never made a change of this magnitude

    • The budget is undefined

    • Our pricing is perceived as too high

    • There are multiple parties involved in the decision process (and maybe we are not talking with the right players)

    • And so on…

What’s wrong with this approach?  In most cases, nothing.  These items provide a pretty decent start on a checklist to guide sales people through the discovery and qualification process.  For most sales people this type of checklist will be a great guide to identifying opportunities to pursue or discard.  However, the trouble begins for busy, highly-productive sales people when they just go straight down the list without slowing down to ask a few extra questions.  It’s their strength – their ruthless efficiency – that creates this potential sales blind spot.  For example, in Marianna’s mind the fact that a prospective buyer is also talking with competitors is an immediate disqualifier.  Not because she lacks confidence or feels she cannot earn the business in a competitive bid, but because she’s busy and it’s easier to move on to an opportunity she can close without the extra steps to navigate.Slow Down Snail

We coached her to slow down (just a little) to ask a few follow-up questions whenever a prospect showed one of her “disqualifiers.”  We discussed that it would only take a few extra minutes per call and she agreed.  The results?  It’s too early to tell but the early indicators look great – for both Marianna and our client.  In most cases her “quick categorization” is accurate 90% of the time.  But by slowing down just a bit and asking a few follow-up questions, she’s already identifying prospective clients she previously would have disqualified and keeping them in her pipeline.  For a high-producer like Marianna, increasing your pipeline by 10% will have a major impact on revenue growth.

Who on your team may have this same sales blind spot?  Remember, this issue will only apply to your elite, high-performing sales people.  What will happen to your revenue this year if your sales leaders can help this group increased their pipeline by 10%? 

Is Your Sales Forecast Giving You A False Sense of Security?

How many people in your sales department would enthusiastically endorse your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system?  When I talk with CEOs and Vice Presidents of Sales I rarely hear “enthusiasm” in their voice or see it in their face when discussing their CRM system.  Instead, I see a resigned look of frustration.  Or worse, a false sense of security (“You should see the charts and reports I can produce!”).  It gets worse when you talk with sales managers and sales people, the people who actually need to enter the data and keep all the information up to date.

Sales CRM Best Practices

CRMs are part of the landscape and are key to driving accurate sales forecasts.  And when properly implemented, rolled out, modified based on field input, and managed on a continual basis, CRMs can be powerfully useful.  We have clients who have come close to this type of installation.  Two of our clients that utilize Salesforce.com immediately come to mind.  We also have a client with a Membrain installation and another client with a GetBase.com installation that come close.  We use GetBase.com for our sales team, in part because we love the simplicity of the design and its similarity to our preferred project management tool, Asana.

However, these are the exceptions!  We more commonly see examples of failed CRM installations.  Let’s be specific.  To us signs of a failed CRM installation include:

  • Inconsistent and incomplete data

  • Unclear process (no definition of milestones in the sales process)

  • Old, out-of-date data

  • Overly optimistic data

  • Opportunities consistently languish in the pipeline (no movement or very slow movement)

  • Opportunities that should be eliminated are kept in the pipeline/forecast

  • Limited clarity around next steps and customer commitments

  • A false sense of security among the leadership team (followed by “surprise” shortfalls)

And while there are many other signs to list, this should give you a general sense of what to watch for at your company when reviewing sales reports from your CRM.

During your next leadership meeting make the decision that 2015 will be the year that you can actually trust your sales forecast.  Review the checklist above as a starting point, then go further to discuss specific issues and challenges you see in your company’s use of sales forecasts and your CRM.  You should also have your sales managers facilitate a discussion at their next sales meeting to identify the most common reasons for sales that were projected to close falling apart and not occurring.  The output from that discussion will provide a great framework for on-going coaching topics as you move forward.  

Coaching Rhythm and Texting While Driving

My last post talked about the challenges of teaching my middle daughter, who recently got her learners permit, to drive safely.  We compared teaching safe driving to the importance of consistent sales coaching and the types of conversations that should happen with regularity and consistency between your sales leaders and sales team.  For this post I want to continue in the theme of safe driving and sales coaching.  My oldest daughter has been driving for a few years now and we recently had a conversation about texting while driving.  The data is overwhelming.  Here’s an infographic I found on this topic:

Texting and Driving

When you think about how little time it takes to travel the length of a football field while looking at your phone – and all the bad things that can happen while you’re distracted – it’s hardly surprising that so many accidents happen as a result of texting and driving.

So what is the connection to sales coaching?  In our sales consulting practice we recommend sales leaders establish a regular rhythm of coaching conversations with everyone on their team.  Ideally these should happen weekly and biweekly at an absolute minimum.  I can already hear sales managers groaning as they read that last sentence and thinking “when am I supposed to fit that into my already full schedule?”  Well, think of scheduling regular, structured, formal weekly coaching sessions with everyone on the sales team as the same as looking forward and paying close attention while driving down the highway.

Would you like your team to avoid big, spectacular sales crashes?  Ask your sales leaders to look forward on a regular basis.  Challenge them to ask questions on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns and trends in the market on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns, trends, bad habits, and self-limiting beliefs from your sales team on a regular basis.  Challenge them to engage in role play on a regular basis (most sales managers will resist this at first because most are really bad at it).  In short, make sure your sales leaders coach your sales people on a regular basis so they can stay ahead of all the subtle nuances and changes in your sales pipeline, allowing them to make minor smooth corrections rather than sudden shifts and dramatic changes.

As CEO what can you do?  How often are you coaching your sales leaders?  When you talk with them, are you simply going through a tactical review of the pipeline?  Are you asking the right questions?  Are you leveraging the market feedback your sales team can provide in real time?  Do you see patterns in where your sales leaders are focused?  Are they focused on the right things?  The right activities?  The right people on their team?  What would happen to your sales culture if you lead by example and coached your sales leaders as you expect them to coach your sales people?

Not sure where to start?  We can help.  We start by helping you understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sales leaders.  How do they measure up in terms of their coaching skill set?  How about the skills required to create a culture of accountability?  Motivating the team?  Attracting and retaining A-player sales talent (A-players won’t work for B-managers)?  Growing the team?  How about your sales people?  Are they capable of growth?  How much?  Where do they need help?  What self-limiting beliefs get in their way?  Are they coachable?  If you invested in their professional development would it be worth it?  How long would it take you to realize a return on your training investment? 

We can help you understand these and many other important questions with our Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.  We’ll be glad to send you a sample and discuss whether or not this would be a good next step for growing your revenue.  Or you could just keep your eyes down and hope you don’t crash.  It’s up to you.

For more information on how we can help Optimize Your Sales Team - click Here.

 

Ask Questions to Ensure Your Sales Team is Slowing Down

Blog Questions

Last week we took a look at how you and your sales teams can improve on their effective listening skills, and in return increase their sales.  Many clients that we see at Intelligent Conversations rush straight to the proposal phase, without taking the time to discover enough compelling reasons to create urgency for the deal.  When this happens the client is rushed along, and may not have the ability to build a strong internal case needed for approval and funding. 

As a CEO or Sales Manager one of the main things you can do is sit down with your team and ask them to review their pipeline with you.  To do this, there are some key questions you can ask to identify if these opportunities are really as strong as they believe.  

What sort of questions should I ask my sales team?

Ask questions to poke, probe and challenge whether they can defend their probability of closing prediction.

Here are a few questions to help you get started, please feel free to add your own questions that fit your industry or business.

  • Tell me about the business problem our proposal will solve for this prospect:
    • How long has it been an issue for this company? When did they first notice it?
    • What have they done to try to address it?  How has that worked?
    • How much did that cost them?
  • What happens if they don’t address this issue?
    • How will it impact them financially?  Lost sales?  Increased cost?  Missed opportunities? Upset customers?  Damage to their reputation?  Key employees leaving?
    • What will the impact be on their operations if this isn’t fixed?  How does this slow down their workflow? Does it require people to do things they shouldn’t need to do? What would those people being doing if they were not working on this issue? Does it impact quality? Are their regulatory issues?
  • Who are all the people at the prospect that care about this issue?
    • Tell me about the roles and responsibilities for everyone you’ve met with for this opportunity.
    • Who could lose their job if this doesn’t get fixed?
    • Are you talking to the right people or are you calling where you’re comfortable? 
  • When you agreed to prepare a proposal for them, what timeframe did they give you for their decision process? 
    • Did you set up a meeting to review the proposal or did you just send it over?
    • What are the next steps?
    • Who else are they considering?  How do we stack up against this competitor?

Keep asking them questions.

Many of the sales people who have attended our Must Win Deal workshops can’t handle this rapid questioning.  They quickly realize that they went through the discovery stage of the sales process way too fast.  They didn’t ask enough or the right questions.  They didn’t explore all the issues.  They didn’t quantify all of the compelling reasons to change.  They didn’t meet with all the key stakeholders.  They missed a lot of critical information.

Have your sales people slow down during the early and mid-stage sales meetings. Ensure that your sales team is having meetings, and take the opportunity to probe them and coach them around this issue. Have them ask more and better questions.  Have them invest more time in the conversations at these earlier stages, and you will see a tremendous improvement in the quality of the late stage opportunities in your sales pipeline.

If you’re interested in learning how our half-day Must Win Deal workshop can sharpen your sales funnel, please contact us to learn more and find out if it’s right for your situation.

Planning For 2014: 5 Things CEOs Must Focus On To Improve Sales

Sales Team

It’s the time of year when we take stock of where we are, and make plans for where we want to go. What went well in your business in 2013? What didn’t go so well (or “needs improvement” as some people like to say)?

As you create a sales plan for 2014, and map out where you would like your business to go, consider some specific things you can do to improve sales productivity. Here are five (5) objectives we suggest you consider.  Whether you select one of these or come up with a sales improvement plan of your own, pick at least one area to focus on in 2014 and stick with it for the next four quarters.

1.  Face the brutal truth

In Good to Great and the many subsequent books resulting from his research on what makes companies great, Jim Collins notes that the first step to being a great company is to face the brutal truth. 

In our opinion, the single most impactful investment a CEO or business owner can make in their sales organization is to conduct a comprehensive Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis from Objective Management Group.If you are serious 

Sales Effectiveness Analysisabout making significant progress this year in terms of growing revenue, improving margins, building a predictable sales process, shortening your sales cycle, closing more business, and developing your people, investing in a detailed analysis of your people, systems, and strategies should be your first step (link to sample SEIA report landing page).

2. Focus on your sales pipeline

Your sales pipeline is the single most accurate forecast of incoming revenue in your company.  Your management team should review it regularly and make adjustments accordingly.  Your operations manager must use your sales pipeline as a guide to adjusting capacity requirements.  Your Chief Financial Officer should use your sales pipeline as a guide for making strategic investments and managing cash flow more effectively. 

In fact, everyone on your management team should look at your sales pipeline and gain confidence.  Most companies don’t use their sales pipeline this way because it is usually a joke your sales manager tries to defend and justify at management meetings.  What would happen if you had a reliable sales pipeline your leaders could count on?

3. Commit to coaching

Your sales managers should spend about 50% of their time directly coaching your sales people.  It is the only way your sales people will make consistent improvements so that every week, every month, and every quarter you will be able to look at the behaviors and activities across your sales organization and say “Yes, we’re clearly getting better.  We’re having better conversations.  We’re getting into better opportunities.  We are winning business more consistently because our proposals are better qualified.  We are selling better work at higher margins.  We are improving customer satisfaction.  We have better communications from our sales team to the rest of the organization.”  To be able to say these things you need to commit to a consistent and rigorous coaching routine.

4. Hire stronger sales talent

Upgrading your sales talent can be a growth strategy.  How many people on your sales team would you enthusiastically rehire?  Who are the mediocre performers on your team that you tolerate because you don’t want to make a change?  What is your plan for these B and C-players?  Can you develop them?  Coach them?  Put them in a position better suited for their skills?  What would happen if you committed to an A-Player-only hiring strategy?  Perhaps this is the year to make that happen.

5. Narrow your market focus

Sometimes we just take the work our sales people can sell instead of being focused and disciplined around selling to accounts that best fit our model. 

Who are your best accounts?  The idea of “best” could mean most profitable, easiest to work with, most strategic potential, deepest relationship, or many other factors.  What would happen to your business if your entire account base was comprised of customers who really fit what you do?  Who are the customers that take up disproportionate resources?  Can you adjust your pricing to encourage them to leave (freeing up valuable resources for customers who are a better fit)?  Looking at your sales pipeline, are your sales people targeting the right types of accounts and are they having conversations at the right level?  Or are they just taking whatever they can get?  What would your company look like 12 months from now if you narrowed your market focus and aligned your sales organization around the accounts that best fit your operation?

Make it a priority to clearly define what your ideal account looks like, and include it in your entire sales process.

Where does your sales team “need improvement” this year? Let us know which one you picked and we’ll check in with you in 90 days to make sure you are sticking with it!

Building a Profitable Sales Process – Client Onboarding

Customer, Client, Start Up, On-Boarding, onboarding, after the sale, new customer start up, building a profitable sales process, close more business, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Baseline Selling, Milwaukee, Consultant, Sales Expert, Objective Management Group, Partner, Wisconsin Sales, selling, sales management, CEO Sales BlogIn our previous article in this series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, we discussed the importance of asking for the business.

Using a simple, three-question close that should seem like a natural part of the conversation (if you’ve had the right kind of conversation up until that point).

Need help with the right conversations?
 
To review, the questions are: 

  • Based on our discussions, do you feel we understand your situation and what you need?
  • Do you feel we have the expertise to help you?
  • Would you like our help?

If everything goes according to plan you should get a yes, yes, and yes. If you get a no along the way that probably means you skipped a step in the process and you need to go back to discover either what you missed or what has changed on their side.
 
For this article let’s assume everything goes as it should and they say, “Yes, we’d like your help.” Congratulations, you got the sale! Now what?


The next steps in the salesproces
ask mike a questionYou need to immediately pivot and say “Great, here’s what we need to do next.” And then set a series of covenants to set expectations for the next steps. Your next steps will depend on what it is you’re selling, but generally speaking you probably need things such as:

  • A signed purchase agreement
  • A purchase order
  • A check or credit card
  • Agreement on next steps
    • Set date for project kickoff meeting
    • Get technical drawings or specifications
    • Set up introductory meeting with key people on each side
    • Order materials
    • Establish or reconfirm timelines
    • And whatever else might be necessary for your situation

The same principles that keep the sales conversation on track – building and maintaining a strong relationship, crisp clear communications regarding next steps, and strong covenants about what the next steps should be – will keep your customer onboarding on track as well.

 
Setting Up Operational Success
One of the biggest friction points we see in every company we work with is between sales and operations. In fact, we had a CEO tell us “I know your program is working because Joe is complaining a lot.” Joe was the Vice President of Operations and while a high level of frustration in that position often correlates with strong sales results, we don’t want it to impact our newly acquired customer. Your sales people can help themselves tremendously by setting the right expectations – both internally with their partners in operations and also externally with the customer. The most common complaint we hear from operations managers is:

“Our sales people will promise anything to get the order, even if they have no clue what they’re committing us to do!”

 
So how can your sales people minimize this operational friction? 

  • Communicate early and often. 
  • Get input from operations before making a commitment to the prospective customer.
  • Qualify the prospective customer by making sure they agree to accept what you can and cannot do.  Nothing frustrates a customer like getting the order with an expectation that they’ll receive their product in two weeks only to find out there’s a six-week backlog.
  • Stick together.  Don’t throw operations under the bus or blame your company if circumstances change and the timeline is extended.  If you’ve built the right relationship and have earned trust from your customer, they will understand your situation and appreciate your direct communications.
  • If there’s bad news, share it right away.  Delay is the deadliest form of denial.  Hoping it will somehow come together at the last minute isn’t a good strategy.
  • Communicate early and often (yes, we listed it twice).

 
Remember to Say Thank You
 
A quick call from someone higher up in the organization (could be your VP of Sales, could be the President of the Division, or it could be the owner or CEO) to let the new customer know  you appreciate their business and giving them permission to call you if they need anything will go a long way toward supporting your sales people and setting them up for future success.  Customers (new and old) want to feel appreciated and a simple thank you note or brief phone call can make a big impression.

What would happen if you put some focus on client onboarding in your organization? Do you see the typical friction points between sales and operations? If so, what can you do to smooth it out and improve communications? What would happen if you were more purposeful about saying "thank you" to your new customers? Would implementing this type of system improve your company's performance? Would you like some help?

Contact Mike Carroll when you would like to discuss the salesprocess, operational success or operational friction.
 

Contact Mike Carroll  

  
 
 
  

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Asking for the Business


Building a Profitable Sales ProcessContinuing our series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will address step 9 - asking for the business.

If you survey your sales team or ask a potential sales candidate during a job interview to describe their closing methodology you will hear all sorts of interesting ideas.

They'll describe the "closing tricks" they've learned....they'll outline the "killer questions" they read about in a sales book somewhere....they'll name specific tactics they've learned from some sales trainer - techniques with clever names like "The Columbo Close" or "The Ben Franklin" or "The Puppy Dog Close" or "The Thermometer Close" that always work in role play but never quite work right in sales conversations in the real world.

 
The question you may be asking right now is "If it's really that easy, why are my sales people struggling to close business?"

In our experience, usually when a sales person struggles at the close it's because of one of three reasons:

Let me tell you a little secret about closing more business. If your sales people are having the right type of conversation through the sales process, asking for the business should be the logical next step in the discussion.  And it should seem natural to both your sales person and the prospective buyer. All the tricks, tactics and techniques in the world cannot substitute for an intelligent conversation where both parties ask questions, explore all the issues, and reach the same conclusion to move forward. Asking for the business shouldn't be a big deal, it's should be the obvious next step in a good sales conversation.

Here are three common mistakes we see sales people make when trying to ask for the business and bring the sales conversation to a successful close:  

1. They ask too early
Some sales people rush to the close and ask for the business before they've earned the right.

  • if they have not asked enough questions to really understand the issues and the full impact of those issues...
  • if they have not built rapport and earned the trust and respect of the prospective buyer....
  • if they have been "mechanical" in their sales conversation (just going through a list of questions instead of having a genuine, authentic conversation)....
  • if they are going through the motions or trying to manipulate the conversation....
  • if your sales people are doing any of these things the close will blow up 9 out of 10 times (the tenth exception being a relative or friend).

 
2. They ask too late
When it's time to close you have to close. If you have sales people who wait too long and miss the opportunity to ask for the business it's too late. By the time they realize they should ask for the busienss, the buyer has moved on (to another problem or to another provider). And often the prospect is irritated and will avoid your sales person at all cost (no matter how long they chase them).

 
3. They get in their own way
Sales effectivnessEven when everything lines up and it makes perfect sense to ask for the business, some of your sales people will struggle because they get in their own way.  Maybe they have difficulty talking about money and asking about budget.
 
Maybe they fear being rejected and would rather just have a conversation without every brining up the next step. Whatever the reason knowing what gets in their way (on an individual, salesperson-by-salesperson basis) is critical to fixing this issue. If your sales managers don't know what issues may get in the way, how can they coach and develop their team?
 
  
Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis
How long is your sales cycle? Could it be shorter? What would your business look like if it were? Are your sales managers capable of coaching your team to set strong agreements at the beginning and end of each sales meeting they go to? 

Need answers? Ask for a sample of our newest analysis report - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Qualify the Opportunity

Qualification, Sales Process, Close more business, hope is not a strategy, wishful thinking, sales people, sales manager, pipeline, building a profitable sales process, quote and hope, sales effectiveness, sales coaching, Mike Carroll, Intelligent Conversations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sales consultant, Objective Management GroupHere's a radical idea - let's have your sales team qualify opportunities before you prepare a quote!  Too many sales organizations seem to use a "quote and hope" strategy that rarely drives consistent revenue growth.

Continuing our series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will cover step 8 - qualifying the opportunity.

 

 
  

 

If you asked your sales people and sales managers what's the most important area to explore in the qualification process you'll probably hear "budget".  And that's good, profitable business begins by working with customers who can afford your product or service.  But there is much more to the qualification process than just finding out if they can afford to pay you.

Here are eight (8) questions to have your sales managers ask when coaching your sales people to review opportunities at the "qualification" stage of your sales process:

  1. Have we uncovered all of the issues and do we fully understand the impact our product or service will have on the prospect's situation?
     
  2. Does the prospect agree with all the issues we have identified and do they have urgency to make a change?
     
  3. Have we discussed the investment required to implement our solution or purchase our product and does the prospect understand the value this investment will create?
     
  4. Do we understand the prospect's timeline for when they need our product or solution and do we have the capacity to take on this work within the timeline the prospect requires?
     
  5. Do we understand the prospect's decision process, know all of the stakeholders involved, and have a strategy to leverage our advocates and covert (or at least neautralize) our detractors?
     
  6. Have we asked enough questions about the competitive context in which the prospect is making this decision?  Do we know the advantages our solution provides and how these advantages fit into and align with their buying criteria?
     
  7. Do we have all of the technical information we need to produce an accurate quote?  Has the prospect provided contact information for any technical people on their side (engineers, quality control, etc.) we may need to contact with clarifying questions as we prepare our quote?
     
  8. Have we clearly defined what happens when the prospect receives our quote?  Has the prospect agreed to make a decision?  Have we set up a meeting to review the quote and go over any questions?
And of course there may be more questions your sales manager should add that are specific to your business.  What would happen if your sales managers regularly asked these types of questions of your sales people?
Would the quality of your quotes and estimates go up?  Would the total number of quotes sent out go down?  Would your sales people win more deals?  
  
Free analysis report - download it here
Too many companies use a "quote and hope" strategy where their sales people use the quoting process as a means to have the discovery conversation they should have had earlier in the sales process.
  
Too many sales people waste valuable company resources preparing unqualified quotes. And too many sales people (and sales managers) mistake "being busy" with "being productive."   
What would happen to your sales results if your team consistently took a more disciplined approach to the qualification stage of your sales process? 
 

Free analysis report
Does your sales team have the skills and strengths to effectively qualify the opportunities in your sales funnel? What challenges and weaknesses get in their way?  Who on your team is capable of selling at a higher margin?  Who can you save and who should you consider replacing or putting into a different role within your organization?

If you're not sure how to answer these questions, ask us for a free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis™ - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Make Every Appointment Count

All of the work your sales people are doing at the front of the sales process (identifying the right targets and making initial contact to get an appointment) is a waste of time if they blow the appointment.  What needs to happen to make every appointment count?

Here are five (5) key goals every sales person on your team should focus on when they get in front of a prospective buyer:

 

Sales appointment, asking great sales questions, discovery process, make every appointment count, building a profitable sales process, Milwaukee sales consulting, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Sales Expert, Objective Management Group, coaching

1) Set Clear Expectations

A sales appointment isn't just about having a nice conversation and hoping a next step results.

Your sales people should make it clear - right at the beginning of the appointment - why they are there and what they want to accomplish.  

 

 

Something as simple as "I have a lot to learn about your situation so I'm going to ask you a lot of questions; I'm sure you'll probably have a lot of questions for me; so let's ask all of our questions and by the end of our discussion if it seems like we might be able to help you we can talk about potential next steps.  And if it doesn't make sense, I'll let you know.  Does that sound fair?"  

 

2) Ask Great Questions
Questions are the answer. Too many sales people show up and start talking about all the features and benefits of their product without ever asking the prospective customer what is important to them.

Instead of diving right into a demo or launching into a presentation, what would happen if your sales people asked questions that made the prospect think about their issues and challenges differently?  What would happen to your revenue if your sales people were more memorable?  Do they have the skills they need to drive this type of conversation and help a prospect discover the gap between where they are now and where they could be if they worked with your company?

 

3) Create Urgency
Will a prospect feel compelled to take action by the end of the conversation your sales people typically have during an initial appointment?  Or will they politely say "thank you" and get on with the rest of their day?  The questions your sales people ask...the areas they explore to identify issues and challeges....the way they summarize and recap what the prospect says...all of these things should drive the prospect to want to take action (whether with your company or with someone else).  A run-of-the-mill demonstration or presentation doesn't do this.


4) Ask Questions 3-deep
When your sales people are asking great questions and creating urgency, make sure they don't rush through each issue in a hurry to get to the end of the call. Slow down!

Ask follow up questions. Ask questions about when the issues identified first showed up. What impact is it having on their business? What would they do if they didn't have theses issues? How would that translate to improved revenue or greater efficiency or stronger margins or a faster product launch?  And what would that mean to their business?  Chances are your sales people rush right past these issues and move onto the next area they want to explore. What would happen to your sales pipeline and the quality of your proposals if everyone on your sales team slowed down and asked at least 3 questions for every issue they uncover?


5) Concise Summary and Next Steps
After spending enough time asking questions and exploring each area (at least 3 questions deep), your sales people need to master the skill of summarizing what they've heard into clear, crisp bullet points that get right to the heart of the matter.  At this point they should know whether or not it makes sense to discuss next steps. If the prospect doesn't have the types of problems your company can solve....or if they have these probelems but they are not urgent enough to be a high priority....stop the process and let the prospect know that while you might be able to help them eventually, right now may not be the best time to move forward. They will thank your sales person for being direct and honest. And if they had the right conversation (great questions, strong follow up questions, and a succintct summary of the situation) they will call you back when the timing is right.  

And the other side of that coin is when the prospective buyer has urgent needs and is a great fit for your prodcut or service, the clear next step will be to talk about how you deliver, what the investment requirements and terms might be, and how you might work together. In other words, a qualification discussion.

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Qualifying all of the areas necessary to move an opportunity forwared in a profitable sales process will be the focus of our next article in this series.  

 

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How long is your sales cycle? Could it be shorter? What would your business look like if it were? Are your sales managers capable of coaching your team to set strong agreements at the beginning and end of each sales meeting they go to? 

Need answers? Ask for a free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

 

 


Building a Profitable Sales Process - Making Initial Contact

Building a Profitable Sales Process, making initial contact, cold calling, prospecting ideas, how to make effective cold calls, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee Sales Development Expert, Objective Management Group, sales ideasContinuing our series on 10 Steps to Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will address steps three and four.

If you are following this series and applying the ideas to your sales organization, by now your sales leaders should have lead the sales team through the process of identifying your most profitable prospects to target and everyone on your sales team should have a focused list of top prospects.  If that's where you are right now congratulations!

 

You're off to a great start.  If not don't worry, you can easily catch up.

Now it's time to get to work by actually contacting these prospective customers. There are a lot of cold calling articles, books and scripts available to you, so our focus for this article will be high-level principles rather than specific tactics.
  

  1. Schedule Prospecting Time
    Everyone on your sales team should specific times scheduled on their calendar for business development activities.  Zig Ziglar wrote about this years ago urging sales professionals to schedule a time by which they will make their first call of the day.  The earlier the better.
     
    I'd say go one step further and have your sales team schedule a block of time to make contact with prospective customers. They should treat this time as a "can't miss appointment" and their should be consequences for missing it.
       
      
  2. Low and Slow
    One of the problems we see when sales people make cold calls - especially if they are out of practice and are just getting started again - is they tend to talk too high and too fast.  Think "low and slow" when making initial contact with a prospective client.
     
    A lower tone conveys confidence and authority. So does slowing down a bit and being comfortable with the inevitable pauses that occur when making first contact. Have your sales leaders listen to some calls and remind their sales people to slow down and lower their tone of voice.
       
      
  3. Point of View
    When making initial contact, your sales people should look at the world from the prospective customer's point of view. What is important to them? What are some common frustrations they might have? Have your sales people position your product or service from their point of view rather than your company's point of view. For more on this highly effective approach read about "positioning statements" in Dave Kurlan's Baseline Selling.
      
      
  4. Sell with Stories
    Instead of describing the features and benefits of your product (which will generate a quick hang up), have your sales people sell with stories. Give examples of issues and challenges people like your prospect are experiencing and ask if that's something that is challenge to them.
     
    A strong story or example followed by an engaging question is much more effective than just describing your product or service. Remember, the goal of the initial contact is to engage them in a conversation that (hopefully) leads to a next step.
      
      
  5. Ask Questions Three Deep
    Once your sales people have engaged the prospect in a conversation it's important to keep the conversation going by asking questions and going at least three questions deep (more if possible).  Questions and phrases such as "when did you first notice this...." or "how long has this been an issue..." or "tell me a little more about how that impacts your operations..." can go a long way toward keeping the conversation going. 
      
      
  6. Ask for the Appointment
    After a few minutes of phone discover, if there's a problem your sales people might be able to solve, ask for the appoinment. That's the goal of making initial contact, so don't let them beat around the bush.  Get right to the point and ask if it makes sense to get together or schedule a follow up call to explore the issue in more detail.
     
    If your sales people are having the right conversation this should be an easy, logical next step.  If they're forcing the conversation this will be difficult to convert and they will continue to struggle.
     
      
  7. Ask for a Name
    If your sales people cannot find an issue worth exploring in an appointment or follow up phone call, have them form the habit of asking for another name to call.  It's as simple as "it doesn't sound like you need us right now, is there someone else in your network who might?"
     
      
  8. End with a clear next step
    Even if there is not an opportunity to get together right now, everyone on your sales team should set expectations by asking permission to re-engage in the future.  I like to use the sports calendar as a reference point because it's more memorable.  So instead of saying "I'll call you next fall" I might say "I'll call you when the Cowboys are 2-0" (if I'm prospecting in Dallas).  Or "I'll call you right after the Masters..."  Or "I'll reach out to you again around the All Star break...."
     
    Make sure your sales people keep good notes in your CRM so they can keep track of these follow up calls. 

     What's holding your sales team back from making initial contact with prospective customers?  Find out by investing in a detailed analysis of the people, systems, and strategies that impact sales at your company. Download a free sample of the new Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.
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