Category Archives: Selling skills

Another Worthless Appointment?

Problem: Johan was sitting in traffic. Again. His mind drifted back to his last meeting which had ended rather abruptly. The client hadn’t even looked interested in his presentation or his brochures, in fact the meeting took only 10 minutes and it had taken him an hour to get there. He could tell it had been a waste of time and blamed it on the new telesales lady who had set up the appointment for him. Another dud. Oh well … he’d just pop in to see one of his regular clients for a cup of coffee on the way back so that it wasn’t a totally wasted trip.

Advice: Time to face the facts Johan: Your sales time is worth money. Your money to be precise. Why on earth are you even contemplating going on a face-to-face appointment without first knowing if it is worth your time and your effort?

Don’t blame the telesales lady – if you’re fortunate enough to have someone making calls for you, then write up a list of qualifying questions for the person to ask the lead. Make them specific to the market sector. The answers will determine if a first appointment is worth your time. If the telesales lady doesn’t have the technical skill to ask the type of questions you need answered, then make the call yourself before you confirm an appointment.

The same principal applies to just “popping in” to see clients. Again, what a waste of your time when that person is out of the office, in a meeting or busy! It’s also unprofessional. The only time you may be welcomed is if that client is also at the level where they are generally happy to waste time chatting with unexpected visitors just to pass the time of day. It’s generally not appreciated at decision-maker level. At the very least, phone ahead to ask if they can see you and have a definite objective in mind for the visit.

Result: After taking this advice, Johan now only makes quality, properly qualified face-to-face sales appointments, he closes more sales, makes more commission and is a much happier guy. He’s moved up the rankings in the sales team.

Request our free Weekly SalesBrief here – a concise read and motivational boost on a Monday morning! Also great material for a discussion point in your sales meetings.

Be Mindful of Their Time

Some years ago, a rep popped in to give me a quote. Even though I mentioned at least 5 times how hectically busy I was, he still engaged in story after story about his wife, kids, old school pals and more. Almost an hour later, I was literally hopping from foot to foot and finally had to politely edge him closer to the door in order to “escape”.

As a sales professional, do you really want your customer to be praying that you’d just shut up and leave? Do you really want them to start avoiding taking your calls? Or when a customer sees your car pull up unexpectedly, would you want her to quickly hide in the storeroom to avoid spending 2 hours with you?

As Jill Konrath so aptly describes, customers and prospects are ‘crazy-busy’ at the best of times. They don’t have time to waste. Especially the real decision-makers.

Sharper Buyers, Sharper Sellers

Buyer diceI was chatting to a senior procurement manager recently. When he asked me what I did for a living and I said that I helped business owners and sales managers sort out their sales challenges, he laughed and said that he hoped that my work didn’t include ‘hard-sell’ sales training. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate.

He said that he can sum up a salesperson from the minute they walk into his office. Some take ”the look to see what I can make small talk about” approach whilst others immediately whip out their laptops and presentation folders to start their “show and tell”.  He said if he picked up that they hadn’t done their research ahead of the meeting, he’d politely end the meeting within 10 minutes.

I smiled wryly because it just reinforced my thinking that many procurement folks have wised up to the ‘same old, same old’ style of selling. If you’ve been reading the SalesBrief for a while, you might recall that I’ve mentioned a training course for procurement people that specifically addresses how to outsell and negotiate with the average salesperson. That was 8 years ago. Imagine how many more South African buyers have attended that programme since.

So ditch the 15 alternative closes, drop the contrived approach and just be authentic. Sure, you have to ask for the order at the right time. Sure, there is a sales process that should be followed but not in such a way that you look and sound like a Sales 101 robot. Nowadays, the chances of getting five yeses in a row as a way to close a deal are getting slimmer and slimmer. Why? Because the person on the other side of the desk could be well aware that this is a staged and/or manipulative sales approach. As a result, you could personally be viewed in a negative light.

In 2015, selling is about the customer, their needs, their challenges and the way they buy. That’s the part of the ‘sales approach’ that needs your focus.

Integrity, authenticity and collaboration rules. Buyers are sharp.

Stress is caused by not knowing what the hell is going on

Stress is caused by not knowing what the hell is going on.

Speed On The Bases

In his book “Baseline Selling” Dave Kurlan uses a term called “Speed On The Bases” in relation to sales.

To explain: in the game of baseball, if you want to advance your team’s score you can steal a base, you’d better be quick – you’ve gotta get your foot on the next base before the pitcher can throw to first base and run you out. And boy, do you get the pitcher’s full attention.

In professional selling, the same principle applies. You need to be quick on the bases AND quick off the base so to speak.

Whether it’s a lead from your website, an inmail from Linked In, returning a telephonic enquiry, a quote or some or other document, be very quick and you’ll get your prospect’s undivided attention. Even if you can’t help them, it still leaves a professional impression.

Such a simple principle but sadly overlooked by so many people in sales. I do try my absolute best to respond immediately to each and every request I get and if I somehow miss one, I’m the first to apologise. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because it works exceptionally well for me and it will work for you too.

Don’t take a day to return a call, don’t put off responding to an email from a prospect. Your speed on the bases is a winning strategy. It sets you apart from your competition. Try it.

Thinking under Pressure

As salespeople, when month-end or a deadline looms and those “definite orders” don’t materialise, we may go into panic mode and start phoning as many customers as possible, literally begging for business and giving away unneccessary discounts.

Alternatively, we may shift into strategic thinking mode, then calmly and carefully work out where to concentrate our best efforts. As a result, we pull in worthwhile orders just in time, without giving away all the profits.

What type of a thinker are you under pressure?

The demise of the “hunter”

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the word “hunter” when referring to salespeople. The connotation of the word implies that there must be prey. Which again implies a win/lose situation i.e. the salesperson wins at the prospect’s expense – literally. This might have been true in the old world of selling when hardcore salesmen (no women allowed in those days) went out to track down unarmed customers. Customers who didn’t really need what they were selling but were bedazzled into buying it because of the relentless pressure and persuasive fast-talk salespeople had been trained into. But today, if you try to hunt a prospect down, you’re more likely to come up against someone with a more powerful weapon. That weapon is information.

Prospects are extremely well-informed about their needs and already know what options are out there and how your product or service stacks up. Many will have already googled your company and perhaps even your name before you arrive for that first appointment. (That’s why those er … interesting party photos on Facebook ain’t such a good idea).

Prospects are attending training about professional procurement in growing numbers. I sat in on one such programme a long time ago. It was quite an eye-opener in terms of just how knowledgeable buyers are about sales methodologies. “Closing techniques” got quite a laugh.

“Hunters” who chose to hang on to their old outdated ways of bringing in new business are going to go mighty hungry. Sincerity, authenticity and expert knowledge of your business sector and of course, up to date selling skills are what’s required.

Here’s to the final demise of the word ‘hunter” when it comes to describing us sales folks.

Suzanne Burgess

PS – I’ve tried to find the source of the lion pic attached that was forwarded by a friend but to no avail – for now I’ll credit it to “anon” and keep searching.

Sales Pipelines Are Not “Optional” – For Sales Professionals

One of the basics that all sales professionals have in common is owning a clearly-defined personal sales pipeline. Even if it is just a basic spreadsheet typed up in Microsoft Word or Excel. It doesn’t necessarily have to be housed in a state-of-the-art customised CRM software system that your employer has invested in to help you be more successful.

When interviewing job applicants, it really concerns me when a sales executive is unable to produce this selling tool on request. In this day and age, maintaining a well-documented personal sales pipeline is deemed ‘Sales 101’ by ALL sales experts worldwide.

Contrary to popular belief, It is not the sole responsibility of a sales manager or employer to set it up for the team. Having said that, many sales managers and/or their organisations already have an excellent sales process or pipeline framework in place. This should be viewed as a bonus for any sales pro to have as a base to work from. It’s what helps to define a professional sales organisation. But to me, it is still the individual who is responsible.  Just because a company doesn’t have a system in place is no excuse. 

Maintaining a well-documented personal sales pipeline shouldn’t be viewed as a grudge-admin-duty to keep your sales manager (aka The Sales Police) happy. The benefits to your personal sales and your pocket far outweigh this outdated perception. A sales manager has every right to ensure that you keep and maintain your personal pipeline – that’s part of his/her responsibility as a team leader. That’s professional Sales Management 101.

Consistency Keeps Clients

Consistency. Defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ” The quality of always behaving in the same way … happening in the same way and continuing for a period of time”.

Delivering quality, consistent service keeps clients happy. Happy clients stay with their suppliers. (Note the emphasis on “quality” – it doesn’t help to be consistently pathetic by not returning calls, not delivering on time, not invoicing correctly etc, etc.)

No matter how much new business we B2B sales folks bring in, if the company as a whole doesn’t deliver consistently once the honeymoon period is over, the potential value of that account is lost.   A tad frustrating, especially when commission earnings are based on annuity sales or spread over a lengthy time period. Not to mention the personal embarrassment experienced by salespeople who then have to apologise, make excuses or even feel forced to lie to their clients on their company’s behalf. It’s enough to make someone resign.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? To allow a business scenario to evolve where, after such a happy-smiley start to the relationship, clients end up having to nag and nag and then literally throw their toys to actually to get something that they are paying hundreds, thousands if not millions of rands for. In some cases clients should be sending their suppliers an invoice for their time.

Be consistent in every way. It says “You can count on me”.

Are Your Clients On Your Competitor’s Sales Meeting Agenda?

Of course you’ve realised that just as you are holding your weekly or monthly sales meetings, so are your competitors.

Right now – on your competitor’s sales meeting agenda, it’s more than likely that they are busy “plotting and scheming” on how to take your biggest clients right from under your nose.

Sound dramatic? Not really. Just as you have their existing customers in your sights, they have yours in theirs. When you’re discussing when THAT big contract comes to an end and what your strategy is to jump in at the right time, chances are that they are doing exactly the same with your biggest contracts too.

The sales lesson? Make sure you are looking after your existing clients really carefully. Your competitors are always hoping that you mess up really badly.  They are looking to get their foot in the door. Your job is to keep it tightly shut. Locked and bolted.

There is absolutely no point in working your butt off to create new opportunities in your pipeline when your  client base is dwindling due to bad service. It’s like filling up the bath and taking out the plug at the same time. Your net sales gain at the end of the year will be almost zero.

A case in point: I consulted to a large organisation a while back and was tasked with helping the sales team focus on new opportunities, tracking them with laser-beam accuracy.  By monitoring their overall sales efforts, it soon became obvious to me that the folks managing their ecurrent client base weren’t doing their jobs particularly well and/or perhaps management’s will to address the problems was lacking.

Their customer service was so bad that they were shedding clients regularly – almost on a monthly basis. The new business folks were taking a great deal of flak from prospects about their name in the marketplace for poor service and standards. This made the acquisition of new business even more difficult.

Although I brought it to their attention, senior management still insisted on concentrating all their efforts on the sales pipeline as a way to increase their market share and sales figures.  And no, the contracts that their competitors were taking from them  were not ones they wanted to lose – far from it.  Now, a few years later they are still in the same boat – healthy pipeline, unhealthy overall net sales results.

If your type of sale is repeatable, expandable, annuity-based, contract based or similar, invest in your client base. Guard it carefully.  AND go after those rather appealing new prospects.