Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rules 10-12 From The List

10. Keep the buyer saying Yes.

Get the buyer used to agreeing with you early and often so that it comes to them naturally when it's time to close the deal. This is accomplished by phrasing your sentences so that there is little choice but to respond in agreement. Just ask them to agree with you on the obvious as your conversation progresses from introduction to information gathering to solution delivery to close.

"You're looking to save money, right?" "So, if I showed you that my product could help you save money, then you'd probably be smart to do business with us. Is that correct?" "Because, from what you've told me, I think I can help you save X percent. Do you agree?"

Creating a pattern of harmony breaks down the initial tendency towards objection that arises the moment someone feels they are being sold. Guide their thought process to acknowledging the value of your proposition, and you'll find that the focus stays on how to work together rather than possible reasons that you shouldn't. Make it easy to say Yes.

11. Position yourself as an educator/authority. Be an industry advocate/evangelist.

The core tenet of the consultative sale is that you are here to help, not sell. This means making it clear that you are an expert or 'consultant' specializing in delivering the most relevant information and advice pertinent to your product, so you better damn well know your industry (rule #1), or at least your piece if it, better than the decision maker. Otherwise, you're just another rookie tasked with pitching them on a solution you haven't made the effort to understand.

Make it clear that you intend to do your research before teaching while displaying a knowledgeable sympathy for their situation. "How do you plan to deal with X" is a great question. Or, phrased another way, "Now that X is behind us, are you looking to adjust by Y?" It should be apparent that you are a person who stays current on relevant issues and how other decision makers are adjusting to compete.

Use specific examples if you can. "Company X just folded because they failed to react to Y. I'd like to help you avoid their mistake by working with my company." Nobody wants to get caught unprepared, so they'll want to work with someone they can rely on to be in the know.

Establishing credibility reduces resistance. Take the time to learn how the prospect is approaching the decision pertinent to your product, and explain as an informed expert why it makes sense to do business together before the opportunity has passed them by.

12. Destroy all acronyms and words with negative connotation.

Some words just should not be spoken by a working sales professional. The most glaring being alphabet soup understood by only a handful of industry insiders and words that automatically frame anything about your product in a negative light.

Possessing a working knowledge of industry jargon and acronyms does not mean that you are obligated to use it without provocation. Understanding what it means to be an XLC PCU converter with a 5-BTSU rating is a display of competency. However, challenging the prospect to express their understanding of the same is a quick route to avoidable alienation. It makes you seem self-absorbed, not educated or likeable. If you must get into technical talk early, start with the most basic level of understanding and work your way towards more advanced intricacies. You want to get into the dirty work with mutual understanding instead of jumping there without company.

'Can't' 'Won't' 'Don't' 'Shouldn't' "Couldn't' 'Wouldn't' - These are all words that bring people to a condition of negative thinking. A place you don't want to be during the sales process. If they do sneak their way out of your mouth, make sure it's about the competition or an alternative solution. Instead of admitting what you can't do, suggest what you can do. Instead of acknowledging your limitations, focus on your relative strengths. "There's no sense even discussing X without adequate Y" or "What we can do is X, which means that Y is not a concern." Prepare yourself with a reply for every challenge to your product's capacity that shifts the spotlight from a weakness to strength. You control the conversation, so don't trap yourself into an adverse exit by alienating the prospect through unfamiliar language or acknowledgement of your own inadequacies.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rules 7-9 From The List

7. Never act desperate, unless you are.

Conventional wisdom correctly teaches that sales professionals should maintain the appearance of being willing to walk away from a deal rather than settle it on undesirable terms.  Nobody wants to do business with a nagging beggar.  Desperation is a stinky cologne, and there’s no sense letting yourself get pushed around until there is zero margin or commission. 

The more you’re willing to give away in price, the more you devalue your product, credibility and paycheck.  Negotiate pricing early so that you don’t discredit yourself later.  Simple enough.

BUT, there is something to be said for the closing technique of simply letting the prospect know that you would appreciate the deal.  As a fellow professional (or at least human), the prospect may be moved to buy when informed that their decision could help you keep your job, hit a commission target or achieve the next level of bonus.  This is especially true if you’ve gotten them to like you. 

Purposeful evocation of sympathy can be powerful on both sides of a deal.  If you’re truly in a bind and in need of some business, you might as well see if compassion turns the tide in your favor.


8. Find the buyer’s pride points. Relate them to the sale.

People tend to have two or three facets of their life that they are most proud of which are easy to spot because they are mentioned early and often.  Finding these pride points is equal parts research (rule #2) and observation. 

On the research side, whatever they’ve chosen to put in their bio or display case was put there for a reason.  On the observation side, keep tabs on whatever personal tidbits are revealed.  Pictures of family or mentions of a blissful home life mean you should focus on the elements of your solution that benefit or are of interest to their wife and kids.  Mentions of an alma Mata or military experience are to be noted and referenced whenever possible. The same goes for stories about travel, professional accomplishments and hero stories from the boardroom to the bedroom.  If they’ve made an effort to point out that their proud of it, it belongs in your pitch. 

One of my sales reps once had a guy on the phone that (although completely irrelevant) made it a point to mention that he had been a Navy Seal before starting his current business.  The rep started almost every sentence with “Back when you were a Seal…” or “I’m sure someone who has been a Seal can understand…”, and she closed her biggest deal of the year.

Stay on the lookout for indicators of pride points.  Everybody likes to reminisce about their heyday, so remind them of it often on the way to making the sale.

9. Offer to do more than what is expected.

Opportunities to do a favor for a prospect are to be nurtured, not avoided for lack of guaranteed payback. It’s simple psychology; you go the extra mile for them, and they’ll feel obligated to do the same for you. 

This is why “I don’t know” can be a good thing.  It gives you the chance to say, “I’ll find out and get back to you with an answer”.  Whether it be a technical specification about your own product or a competitor’s, some obscure industry term come across during an exchange in making their purchasing decision or a random statistic that happened to come into question during a meandering conversation, taking the time to do the research will result in the most pleasantly surprising follow up call the prospect will receive.  You will come across as diligent, dedicated and trustworthy.  All good qualities for someone to do business with.

Constantly be aware of chances to become an asset.  Pick up their kids from school if that’s what it takes.  If they owe you one, it will be hard to tell you no at decision time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rules 4-6 From The List

4. Be the person the buyer wants you to be. Mirror them.
Now that rule #3 has you acting like a generally likeable joke-telling, ass-pecking ball of confidence (I know, the worst stereotypes of sales person. But stereotypes don’t form in a vacuum), it’s time to tailor yourself towards mimicking the buyer’s favorite person. Namely, themselves.

Did you ever notice that - despite the fact that all of your friends and coworkers dress and act alike - everyone else is a follower? The high school cafeteria was divided between jocks, nerds, goths, drama kids, skaters, and thugs with each group pointing towards the others as mindless sheep. It turns out that we all haven’t grown up as much as we’d like to think, because the same trend continues in the workplace. People choose to associate with (and buy from) those who best reflect themselves, so the best sales people are social chameleons capable of tweaking their persona to fit in with the cool kids…whatever that means at the time.

The speed and tone of your voice pattern should match those of the person you’re essentially trying to impress while your body language should reflect their mood and interest level. A guy leaning forward speaking a million miles an hour is not going to be enthralled by a guy leaning backwards with his arms crossed saying only the minimum to avoid silence. Just the same as a lady dressed in the latest fashion is not going to take seriously the young lady across the table wearing her grandmother’s smeared lipstick. Don’t pitch a guy talking jive without breaking a few linguistic rules of your own, and don’t come at the country crowd with a greaseball schtick. Cater to your audience.

Warning: Know and acknowledge your limitations. Most sales people were the cool kids at some point, but some things just can’t be faked. As a native New Yorker raised amongst Jews who all thought they were in the mob, I made a great living clowning myself to the yokels in Georgia while selling high-end residential outdoor lighting in college. Now I’ve adapted a customizable non-regional drawl to let the Southern folk know I’m familiar, but there were a few years when “Don’t let the gold chain scare you. I’m really a nice guy.” was all I had. If you can’t join em, make em laugh at your differences.

5. Start memorable. Stay memorable.
After every sales call I listen to, I ask the sales rep the same question: What made you memorable on that call? This is something I will come back to time after time as the key to all successful sales engagements. There has got to be something striking in your interactions that the buyer mentally references in a positive light every time their mind engages in this buying decision.

It could be that you were the most knowledgeable, charismatic, humorous, helpful, informative, patient, or relentless person they spoke with in the hunt for making their best purchasing decision. Maybe you told a story or joke they'd like to tell as their own. Perhaps you went the extra mile explaining your proposal down to the most minute level of understanding. Something as simple as honest sincerity amongst a storm of hardline sales pitches could be all that it takes to differentiate yourself.

"I don't know" and "Can you find out" are great opportunities to show that you're willing to do research and go the extra mile. Embrace every opportunity to become an ally and resource. Even small favors are memorable.
It is your duty as a sales professional to ensure the prospect or customer remembers speaking with you. Constantly ask yourself what you are doing to be memorable and you will never be forgotten.

6. Always be approachable. Always be interested.
Sales people are never interrupted by customers or potential customers. They only have pleasant surprises.

They say “Sorry”, you say “It’s not a problem.” They say "I hope I'm not bothering you", you say "You'd could only be a bother if you conferenced in my mother-in-law." You get the point.

Sales people don’t accept apologies from the people that pay their bills. We reject them as unnecessary. Now is never a bad time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rules 1-3 From The List

1. Your product is the star of the show. Know it well.

Nothing undermines a sale person quicker than being stumped on a question about your product. That’s not to say “I don’t know” is always disastrous. It can actually be a great sales tool given understandable circumstances (i.e. assessing the feasibility of an alternative application for your product), but nobody wants to risk making the wrong purchasing decision because they got shaky information while serving as guinea pig for a sales person learning on the fly. Your job is to position yourself as a credible expert showing off the merits of your product, and you just can’t do that effectively while pausing to check the manual or ask your manager for specifics. If your product is positioned well enough in the market, simply knowing what it can do could be enough to win you the deal. Conversely, knowing the limitations of your product helps avoid wasting time on an opportunity that is a poor fit. As great of a natural sales person you may be, you won’t close many deals without taking the time to become an expert.

There’s not much to it. If you don’t know your product and industry, your competitors will. No level of charm or killer instinct can compensate for getting caught not having done your homework. Expertise sells, so stay current.

2. Study your prospect before making contact. Know their business and history.

A little reconnaissance goes a long way when approaching a decision maker. Anything you can find out about what this person likes is potential ammunition for building rapport and solidifying your place in their psyche. Also, knowing about the prospect before initiating contact shows them you care while building in natural talking points for your eventual conversation.

Whether the prospective buyer is a business owner or executive at a large corporation, there is probably some available biographical information about them available on the web. Make note of where they were raised, where they went to school, what charities or organizations do they donate towards and what you can find out about their family, religious beliefs and political affiliations. What are they most proud of, and how can you show that you share the same values? Any commonalities or anecdotal trivia relating to their history should be queued up for conversation to make a positive initial impression and fill the inevitable gaps in what you hope will be a naturally convivial dialogue.

Learning what to avoid can be even more valuable than what to bring up. You don’t want to ruin momentum by mentioning an embarrassing incident or painful memory. Nobody wants to buy from someone who reminds them of times they’d rather forget.

You should also be on the lookout for clues heading into the first meeting or conversation. Signs of ego, such as naming the company after themselves, flashy cars or apparel, or anything else indicating a pension for the spotlight mean that you should tailor your pitch towards the more self-serving aspects of your product (form over function). Indicators of humility, such as understated surroundings and a stress on the company as an organism, indicate that you should stress the more practical elements of what you have to offer (function over form).

Not only does doing your research help you steer the prospect towards thinking of you as a likeminded pea in their pod, but it also speaks well about your level of diligence and attention to details in taking care of customer needs. Poking around for intel to develop a strategy ahead of time if far easier than backing out of a poorly planned approach.

3. People buy from people they like.

It makes total sense to prefer giving time and money to someone whose company you enjoy over someone you’d rather avoid. Given a somewhat generic or interchangeable product (and truly, most products are), simply being the preferred person to interact with could swing the balance of favor in your direction to win a deal. You won’t find many successful sales people that don’t make a generally well-received first impression.

So, what makes someone likable? The answer is an affable sense of humor balanced by the right mix of confidence and humility. If you’re not likeable, either get out of sales or represent a miracle product that can’t be replicated. Monopolies on reputable miracle products are difficult to come by, which means you’d better be funny.

If a joke worked once to lift the spirits of a dull exchange, it will probably work time after time until you can’t stand to hear the words come out of your mouth and you have found a suitable replacement. Yes, I’m telling you to tell the same jokes over and over again like you just came up with it. Your coworkers will roll their eyes at your stale delivery then copy your gimmick all the way to the bank. Professional comics do routines, and the best get ripped off mercilessly. Sales is no different

You know what else people like when giving away money? Getting their ass kissed a little bit by the guy collecting the check. Just a little bit, no drooling. Stroking egos while maintaining your own dignity is a delicate balance made simple by stressing accomplishment over naked praise. Praising accomplishment: “I’m sure you got to where you are by…” or “This could be just like the time you were successful at…”. Embarrassing ass kissing: “My wife loves you.” or “It’s an honor just to meet you.” Sucking up a little doesn’t mean sacrificing your pride.

I work with a supplier who greets me every time with "You're looking good as usual." He obviously says this to everyone he meets in business and his social life, but I still love the guy for making me feel good about myself. We buy his crap, and all it costs him are a few basic compliments he spurts out by habit. Ok, I'm vain, but everyone likes to feel good in their own skin.

Confidence is infectious, and everybody wants it. If you carry yourself with an authority reinforced by the warm conviction of your voice, people will want to buy from you. Winners are easy to see and follow.

The other 29 rules will all help to make you likeable in the eyes of the buyer, but being a funny source of renewed self-esteem is the most simple way to get your phone ringing at decision time. Just make sure you still like yourself enough to want to answer when it does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sales Basics - The List

In no particular order, here are my top 30 basic sales rules that will serve as topics for posts in the near future as I get this blog some actual readers:

1. Your product is the star of the show. Know it well.

2. Study your prospect before making contact. Know their business and history.

3. People buy from people they like.

4. Be the person the buyer wants you to be. Mirror them.

5. Start memorable. Stay memorable.

6. Always be approachable. Always be interested.

7. Never act desperate, unless you are.

8. Find the buyer’s pride points. Relate them to the sale.

9. Offer to do more than what is expected.

10. Keep the buyer saying Yes.

11. Position yourself as an educator/authority. Be an industry advocate/evangelist.

12. Destroy all acronyms and words with negative connotation.

13. Admit when you don’t know. Find the answer. Close with it.

14. Keep the conversation 65% buyer / 35% seller.

15. Ask open-ended questions to keep building a database of buying wants/needs.

16. Solution ≠ Product. Speak to their pain by presenting solutions to problems.

17. Note and constantly reference the core selling points.

18. Use examples to explain benefits.

19. Dismiss the competition as inferior or jealous. Never take the bait to bash.

20. Close on every contact by asking for the final decision.

21. Always give a specific time to reconnect instead of a vague timeframe. Set an appointment.

22. Leave your full name and contact information twice on all voicemails.

23. Follow up with a purpose. Never just ‘touch base’ or ‘check in’.

24. There is no substitute for persistence.

25. If it’s not documented, then you didn’t do it.

26. Eye contact and a handshake will get you in the door. Empathy will keep you there.

27. If you can’t make a physical connection, make up for it with sincerity over the phone.

28. Constantly seek referrals. Every prospect is an opportunity for additional prospects.

29. Honor the process and review your checklist constantly.

30. Proactively contact customers to maintain the relationship.