Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rules 28 - 30 From The List

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

Opportunity is everywhere if you just bother to seek it out.  Your network truly is your net worth, and who you know is still more important than what you know.  Both clich├ęs for sure, but whether speaking with your oldest customer or newest prospect, there is an appropriate circumstance in which to solicit their endorsement for a valuable trip through their rolodex.

Start with the lowest hanging fruit of loyal established customers.  If they’ve volunteered to serve as a reference or stuck with you through adversity when they could have easily saved some pain by jumping ship to the competition, they surely think highly enough of you and your product to help you build a bridge to their contacts when simply asked nicely.  Reach out and let them know that you value their business and would appreciate an introduction to anyone they know who shares their purchasing influence and professional standards. 

New customers and prospects take a more proactive approach to seeking referrals, but their inherently closer proximity to the decision making process tends to reap more immediate rewards.  They don’t have a track record of satisfaction to draw upon, so make them more likely to open doors by incentivizing them to do so.  Come up with a kickback program that rewards referring customers for their endorsements.  Very few business decisions are made without counsel, so a prospect may be compelled to move first and bring on board the rest of the crowd if made comfortable that they won’t regret the putting their stamp on your name.

Even lost deals can be a source of referrals. “Hey, I know this didn’t work out, but can you point me towards anyone you are familiar with who might be a better fit?”  The worst case is they turn you down, but you had nothing to lose anyway.

Constantly seek referrals.  Then seek referrals from referrals.  Repeat.

29. Honor the process and review your checklist constantly.

Every sales program needs to have a logical and repeatable process if there is to be any chance of sustainable success.  Presumably, this was handed down by your manager during training or laid out on your own before any attempt to bring a product to market.  If you can’t define your process, stop everything and map out the steps from initial contact to closed sale immediately.

Now, assuming this process is at least theoretically in place, it should be the first place you look when sales fall off pace.  Either the process needs revamping or you’ve let yourself get out of the habit of following it adequately.  Most likely, if the process worked in recent history, you’ve gotten away from executing on the plan that has made you successful in the past. 

Review your recent behavior to be sure you’re following the process from start to finish.  If you’re not, the fix to your sales troubles could be as simple as going back to the basics.  If you are, the market may have changed, and it’s time to revise the plan.

Ensuring that you are honoring the process is step one in troubleshooting recent failure.  Revisiting the process when it’s failing over a long period is step two.  Remembing Rule 24 is step 3.

30. Proactively contact customers to maintain the relationship.

Disasters happen and tastes change.  You want to know about both before they occur, or at least be in the loop when they do.  It’s called loyalty, and you can’t build it retroactively.

The nature of your relationship building efforts depends largely on the industry.  In high ticket low volume sales, schedule monthly ‘status update’ meetings.  It could be as simple as lunch or a conference call.  In low ticket high volume sales, you may need to work hand-in-hand with Marketing to develop a feedback loop through newsletters, gifts or personalized emails/letters. 

Do whatever you can to stay informed and in front of customers without being intrusive.  Ongoing relationships become friendships beyond that of ‘my sales guy’, and nobody want to turn their back on a friend.  Build the relationship.  Build loyalty.  Built revenue.  Churn and burn won’t get it done, especially with competitors more than willing to court your beau. 


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rules 25 - 27 From The List

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

Your memory can’t be trusted. Maintaining the habit of keeping detailed notes on every exchange will prevent you from falling back on the crutch of using a generic pitch when you should be focusing on the specific details that you previously felt were essential to making that deal a reality.  Especially in high volume sales, it’s hard to follow up effectively when you fail to provide yourself with mental clues on what to ask and where to shine the spotlight. 

Timeframe.  Budget. Purchasing motivation. Key selling points.  Tone of the conversation.  Next steps in the sales process.  Competing products they may be investigating.  These are the types of details that need to be inputted into your CRM tool or another place where you store notes for future reference.  Come up with a personal system to codify these details so that you ensure all of the information you need is captured to be referenced in the same order every time.  Make it a template that can be relied upon as a refresher for every opportunity in your pipeline. 

Keeping your calendar constantly updated and adhered to is equally important.  Otherwise all those notes may go to waste.  As I said in rule 21, scheduling an event is how you make it real.  Plus, your boss is at some point or another going to ask for insight on your progress and procedures, and you want to provide yourself the opportunity to show that you are logically and effectively moving along every opportunity towards a sale. 

Documenting everything keeps you on track for success with the evidence to prove it.

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

Sales professionals are generally skilled enough socially to make a first impression that gains their agenda at least the appearance of some attention.  A trustworthy or attractive exterior may in itself be enough to get you the sitdown, but charm alone is rarely enough to sail you through the deal.  Once you’re across the table, displaying an understanding of and solution for their needs is what will keep you looking glossy.

It comes down to the same sage advice that’s been working since the beginning of time: ‘Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.’  It’s not sexy or original, but you have to get out of your own head and into theirs to be effective in sales. 

If you don’t already understand their perspective, ask for help.  Try phrases like “Help me understand how…” or “Can you tell me about why…”  Prospects will appreciate your willingness to explore their processes and concerns while revealing the key selling points you should stress when it’s time to go for the close.  And once you feel comfortable with their situation, tell them about that too with phrases like “I understand that…” and “I appreciate how…” 

Just because they like you initially doesn’t mean they’ll buy.  Look at the problem from the customer’s angle to maintain the momentum of a positive first impression. 

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

Just about any non-retail sale involves some level of communication over the phone where dreamy eyes and a nice smile can’t be relied upon.   This is why many successful outside sales professionals struggle when they come into a strictly inside sales role.  Sincerity of tone and content are your best weapons to compensate for the lack of physical interaction.

One of the advantages afforded by the phone is that enthusiasm can be easily faked.   Sounding like you care is easier than looking the part, especially when you’re not having your best day.  Simply standing up and painting a smile on your face while on the phone is enough to manufacture an enthusiastic tone under just about any circumstance.  Inside sales is no place to get self-conscious about the cheese factor….

The same phrases that worked in rule 26 work to convey sincerity over the phone.  Ask for help understanding their predicament, and constantly affirm your concern for exceeding their goals.

Keep your phone voice enthusiastically discussing solutions to real needs. You won’t miss the travel and dress up required for face-to-face prospecting and appointments.