Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 31, 2007

Recognizing Your Biggest Competitor

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 7:14 am

If you were asked to name your biggest competitor, whom would you name?  A specific company?  Maybe a specific salesperson?  Possibly, you view your biggest competitor as a product instead of a company or salesperson?

Competition is all around.  It may seem that competitors lurk around every corner.  Moreover, the bigger the competitor, the more fear it engenders.  For some salespeople simply hearing the name of a big company that competes in the same industry strikes fear in their heart.  For others, hearing that they are competing for a sale with a particular salesperson my cause them to determine they’ve already lost the deal.

Yet, that major company or even that big name salesperson that always seems to beat you out isn’t your primary competitor.  Certainly, they may be formidable.

Still, they really aren’t your biggest competitor.  Your primary competitor is far more difficult to outsell.  You run across your biggest competitor far more often than you run across that Big Name Company or top salesperson.  If fact, you compete against your biggest competitor every time you meet a prospect.  And more than likely, you lose far more sales to this competitor than you do to all other competitors combined.

Who is this omnipresent competitor?  It’s your prospect’s decision to do nothing because of either apathy or indecision. 

More sales are lost to the decision to do nothing than all other sales combined.  Indeed, this ultimate competitor doesn’t just compete on discretionary purchases.  It is an active participant even in purchases where you believe the prospect must do something.  That option of doing nothing is an available option—even if making that decision costs the prospect time and/or money. 

Moving your prospect to make a decision, even if that decision is to go with another salesperson’s product or service, is your central problem.  Of course, you want your prospect to make a decision in your favor.  Unless you eliminate the twin demons of apathy and indecision, which are at the heart of the decision to do nothing, you cannot make the sale you want.

The earlier in the sales process you can determine if your prospect is poised to make a no-decision decision, the more frustration you can save yourself–and possibly convert the no-decision into a decision.

What are the signs of apathy and indecision? 

Apathy is the most easily identified.  If your prospect is fidgeting, constantly checking his or her watch, doesn’t ask questions, is trying to multi-task while you’re speaking, or is obviously bored or distracted, you’re dealing with a prospect who is either distracted by other business or is apathetic. 

If the prospect is preoccupied because of other pressing issues, reschedule the appointment.  You’ll get nowhere at this time.  Allow your prospect the courtesy of taking care of their immediate business and rearrange your meeting.

On the other hand, apathy demands a wake-up call.  If you can’t get the prospect interested, you may as well move on.

Try engaging the prospect by asking pointed questions about their needs or issues.  Alternatively, if you know a bit about their situation, ask what the consequences of doing nothing will be.  Or, using a more direct approach of pointing out the consequences of doing nothing will be more effective.  You can’t lose what you don’t have, and confronting the issue head on will either move the prospect to engage you or prove that the prospect either doesn’t care or have an interest in resolving the issue at this point. 

Either way, you win.  You either bring the prospect into the process and gain their attention, or you move on to another prospect where your time is better spent.

Indecision is more difficult to deal with. 

A prospect that cannot make a decision is not only frustrating you, but they are frustrating themselves also.  Worse still, while apathy is relatively easy to spot early in the sales process, indecision tends to become evident toward the end of the process, after you and your prospect already have a significant amount of time and energy invested in the process.

Indecisive prospects must be lead to a decision—either to make a positive decision in your favor or to decide to do nothing.  Anything is better than someone who sits on the fence and cannot make a decision.

You have several tactics you can employ with an indecisive prospect:

Consequences of no action:  Review with the prospect what the consequences of taking no action or deciding not to purchase will cost in terms of time, money, energy, or prestige.  Depending upon the product or service you are selling, the loss of any one or a combination of the above may be the natural outcome of not purchasing.  By reviewing the negative consequences, you may move the prospect to make a decision.

The assumptive close:  Simply make the decision for the prospect and begin completing the necessary paperwork, forcing the prospect to accept to your decision to complete the sale or to stop you.  Either way, a decision has been made.  If the prospect stops you, you’ll have to dig to find out why, and then address any objections.

There must be something bothering you:  Is the indecision really masking an objection?  If you use the assumptive close, you may uncover an objection.  If you choose not to assume the close, you must still determine if the indecision is really an inability to make a decision or if it is covering a deeper concern.  Asking your prospect if there are concerns he or she has about the product or the sale is a legitimate question.  Flushing out objections masked as indecision can get your sale back on track.

Demand a yes or no:  Since you have nothing to lose, simply demanding a yes or no costs you nothing and forces your prospect to make a decision.  There is nothing wrong with asking a client for a definitive decision if you are convinced that the prospect is simply incapable of coming to a decision.  As with the apathetic prospect, at least you know your time can be better spent with another prospect.

No one wants to lose a sale.  Still, you cannot afford to invest time and energy with a prospect that simply has no interest or who is incapable of making a decision.  Since making a decision to do nothing is your biggest competitor, and the two major culprits of a decision to do nothing are apathy and the inability to make a decision, you must be prepared to deal them.  If you learn to recognize apathy and to handle indecision, you’ll not only save a great deal of time and frustration, your sales will increase as well. 


August 25, 2007

Don’t Ambush Your Clients

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 5:52 pm

Allison from Sydney, Australia wants to know why her clients are so reluctant to give referrals:  “Mr. McCord;  First, let me confess that I’ve not read your book or that much of the material on your website.  As a matter of fact, I only just discovered your site because a colleague directed me to it.  With that being said, you may think this is a stupid question, but I’m finding it very difficult to get referrals from clients.  My problem is that many of them seem offended when I ask.  What am I doing wrong?”

I emailed Allison and got a little more information.  Seems she has been taught to ask for referrals the way most salespeople have been taught—“do a good job and ask for referrals.”  She, like most salespeople wait until after the sale has been completed to bring up the idea of referrals.

There are many problems with the traditional referral training of the old “do a good job and ask for referrals.”  However, one of the most insidious is the position it puts the client in.

By waiting until after the sale is complete—with some salespeople, literally, as they are walking out the door—to ask for referrals, you’re taking your client by surprise.  In essence, you’re ambushing them at the last second with an unwelcome and uncomfortable request. 

Is it really any wonder the client isn’t receptive to the request when, as far as they are concerned, it comes out of left field?  After the sale is done, everything is complete, as they are beginning to think about other things besides the sale, they are pulled back in at the last second by a question they are not expecting and that they are unprepared for. 

Clients give quality referrals when they are comfortable giving them.  Most clients need to have an opportunity to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals.  They assume that whomever they refer you to will be more critical and more demanding than they themselves have been.  They need time to become comfortable with the idea that you are not going to embarrass them in front of co-works, friends, family or acquaintances. 

In addition, clients are humans.  Consequently, like most humans, they tend to do those things they perceive to be in their own best interests.  Springing the question on them at the last minute doesn’t give them any reason to give referrals.  Instead, you must prepare them and also let them know why giving you referrals are in their interests.

And, finally, that last second request only gives them about 10 or 15 seconds to come up with names and phone numbers.  Most people cannot go through their mental file cabinet in that short a period of time and come up with quality referrals.  Just as they need time to become comfortable with the idea of giving you referrals, they need time to think about whom to refer.

Your clients won’t be offended with your requests if you prepare them well ahead of time.  Giving your client time to get comfortable, an understanding of why referrals are in their best interest, and time to consider whom to refer will not only take the feeling of being forced into a corner away from your client, it will give them what they need in order to be able to give you quality referrals. 

August 24, 2007

Is Your Follow-up Communication Committing Prospecticide?

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 5:47 pm

     Like Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote,” I run into cases of murder everywhere I go.  Unlike Lansbury who faced cunning villains who intentionally murdered, the cases I come across are unintentional, but with the same deadly results.  Lansbury’s villains used guns, knives, and other assorted weapons, the killers I come across use words.  She dealt with homicide; I deal with prospecticide, the killing of prospects.

Are you guilty?  Are you one of the millions of salespeople who have committed one of the worst of sales crimes?  Worse, are you a serial prospecticider? 

Most typically, prospecticide isn’t a one-time crime.  It becomes so ingrained in the perpetrator that they don’t even realize they are committing the crime.  And just as with Lansbury’s villains, the prospecticider faces stiff penalties in the form of lower income, more difficult sales, and, possibly even the sales equivalent of the death penalty, having to find another occupation.

How do you commit this heinous crime?  You commit prospecticide when you kill your prospects through communications with them that train them to avoid you because you’re focused on your needs not theirs.  Your phone calls, your e-mails, your voice mail messages, and other communications are designed to advance your cause, not theirs. 

Every communication you have with a prospect trains them either to pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to avoid you because all you do is waste their time.

Particularly in a long sales cycle, your communication with your prospect is crucial.  Each time you send something, call, or leave a voice message, you are telling your prospect what you think their time and attention is worth.  You’re telling them whether you’re concerned about them—or about yourself. 

In addition, you’re telling them a great deal about you and your business.  You’re telling them what your time is worth, what you think is important, and, most importantly, whether or not you have anything of value to say.  You’re telling your prospect how professional you are—or how shallow. 

Your communications, no matter what form they take, are you.  Your letter, your e-mail, your voice message, your thank you card are all you, just without you physically being in front of the prospect.  They are you and your business to the prospect.  The message they send is just as important as any message you would deliver in person.

Before sending anything, before picking up the phone, and before leaving the voice message, ask yourself a few questions: 

  • Would I want to hear from me?
  • Would I want to receive this? 
  • Does this represent me well?
  • Does this add value to our relationship?
  • Is this designed to benefit the prospect—or me?

If your answer doesn’t indicate that the communication is prospect centered and adds value for the prospect, why are you delivering it?

Most salespeople seldom think about the content of the communications they deliver to their prospects.  The object, they figure, is to keep their name in front of the prospect and to let the prospect know they are interested in acquiring the prospect’s business. 

The issue isn’t with the salesperson’s objective, but with the way they do it. 

Typical follow-up communications are the “how ya doin’?” call, the “is there anything I can do for ya?” call, the “did ya get my package?” call, the “I couldn’t reach you, but I wanted to see if you need anything” e-mail, and the “here’s my information again just in case you misplaced it” package.  As most often made, these communications are time wasters for the prospect.  If they had made a decision or if there were anything they needed, they would have called.  These communications teach the prospect to avoid the salesperson because they’ve learned the salesperson will do nothing but waste time.  The next thing the salesperson knows, their calls are screened and their messages not returned.

Prospects don’t have their calls screened, ignore voice mail messages and e-mails, and throw written correspondence in the trash without reading it to be rude.  They do these things because they have been taught by salespeople that answering and returning calls and reading the material salespeople send have no value.  Salespeople have taught them to avoid salespeople at all costs.

Does that mean you can’t communicate with your prospects?  Certainly, you can.  However, your first job is to teach your prospect that you, unlike other salespeople, value of their time, that when you call, when you send an e-mail, when you request a return call, when you send a letter or package, it is important and adds value for the prospect. 

What can you communicate that will add value for your prospect?  There are a myriad of possibilities. 

  • Articles relating to aspects of the prospect’s company or industry that may impact the their business.  These articles must come from a source the prospect is not likely to have read.
  • Changes in your product or service that enhance your ability to meet your prospect’s needs
  • Articles or reports about micro or macro economic issues that may make it advantageous for the prospect to make a decision now instead of later.
  • Announcements of awards your company has won for its products or about new product enhancements or releases
  • Possibly the prospect or his/her company has recently received awards or press coverage or sponsored events you can congratulate them on
  • Articles relating to an interest outside of work you know the prospect has.  Again, these articles should come from sources the prospect isn’t likely to discover on their own.
  • Special discounts, upgrades, or arrangements you can offer the prospect that are outside your company’s normal procedures

The above are just a sampling of the items that can add value for your prospect.  The more timely and pertinent the message, the more value it adds.  The more value you add, the more valuable you become.  The more valuable you become, the more you ease competition out of the way and the less price is an issue.

On the other hand, the less value you bring, the less valuable you are.  The less valuable you are, the more difficult it is to reach your prospect.  The more difficult to reach your prospect, the less likely a sale and the more likely you just committed prospecticide.

If you’re a serial prospecticider, there is hope.  You can be rehabilitated.  Yes, there is a chance for recidivism, but once you become aware that every communication you have with a prospect is just as important as your first, and once you see the payoff of becoming a respected and valued source of information, the less likely it is you’ll go back to your old murderous ways.

Do you want to be able to reach your prospect anytime you want?  Do you want your calls returned?  Do you want to move your competition out of the way?  Do you want to eliminate price as a primary issue?  Then stop teaching your prospects to ignore you and begin teaching them that you are the one salesperson they need.  If they determine they need you and that you add value to them and their business, you’ll have no difficulty in gaining their attention anytime you want it.

August 22, 2007

Can You Profit From an Economic Downturn?

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 2:43 pm

At this time, it certainly doesn’t look like we’ll see an implosion of the economy, but we are going to see a pulling back.  We have to, simply because there has been a huge increase in the number of unemployed in just the last few weeks, due to the credit market crunch that has caused over 125 mortgage companies to either close their doors or to reduce their activities substantially.

Moreover, there will be ripple effects from those closings.  Most of those people won’t be able to find jobs in the mortgage industry, leaving them to fight for jobs in other sectors.  With the tightening of credit requirements in the mortgage market, combined with the already weakening housing market in many areas of the country, there will be far fewer homes sold.  Fewer homes sold means fewer Realtors—and fewer title company employees, appraisers, real estate attorneys, and others associated with the existing housing market.

And don’t forget the new housing market.  They’ll going to shrink also.  Meaning fewer new home salespeople, few construction jobs, fewer supplier jobs, etc.

Those will ripple out to other areas.  Fortunately, some sectors are stronger than ever— energy being one.

Nevertheless, the signs are there.  The economy is changing.  How long will the process take?  I don’t know.  Months—or a couple of years. 

Either way, the message is the same—if you’re in sales, no matter what you’re selling, it’s going to be tougher to sell in just a little while from now. 

What can you do about it?  Plenty.  Get prepared and get out ahead of the game.

Here are three things you need to do now to get yourself ready (and, hay, if the market doesn’t weaken, you’ll just make more money):

1.  Learn how to generate a large number of high quality referrals.  Referrals are the most sophisticated method of prospecting and it also happens to have the best ROI.  To really learn to do it right takes time and effort.  Start now; if you wait until the market really weakens, it’ll be too late.  And when selling gets tough, it gets tougher to get in the door.  Referrals get you the appointment when nothing else will.

2.  Develop a PR strategy to establish yourself as an expert.  Learn how to get press releases published, how to get articles published, how to get on radio programs, to become an expert source for the media, and to begin speaking to local civic and business groups.  You want to promote yourself, not the company you work for.  You want to become recognized as the expert in your field in your area.

3.  Go back to your prospect and client database and begin building a strong, value added communication campaign.  Shore up your relationships now—before things get weak.  Once things begin to get weak, you’re clients and prospects figure you’re just trying to cozy up to get in their good graces because the economy is down.  If you do it now, it’s because you value your prospects and clients, not because you’re desperate. 

Be proactive and get ready.  Do it well and you can find an economic downturn to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

August 17, 2007

Your Golden Opportunity

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 8:19 am

If you are a mortgage loan officer, a title escrow officer, Realtor, or have another sales role in the real estate market, you are looking a golden opportunity to move your business into high gear.

Since the real estate market has been hot for several years, you’ve acquired a tremendous number of competitors who have no business being in the business.  You may have started out as one of those.  You may have been one of the millions who saw a market that was going nuts and decided you could make a career for yourself.  Or, you may be one of the hundreds of thousands who entered your industry prior to the housing boom but have never experienced a pullback like the one we’re seeing now.

Whether you are a newbie, an old timer, or experienced but never have gone through a declining market, you have an exceptional opportunity in front of you.  A year from now, you’ll have lost half or more of your competition.  If you’re a Realtor in an area with say, 9,000 Realtors on the books, a year from now there will be about 4,000.  If you’re a mortgage loan officer with 1,000 companies competing in your market, a year from now there will be 350. 

Some of the household company names you are used to won’t be here twelve months from now.  Some that you’ve come to think of as invincible may be off the map.  Companies like Countrywide are on the edge.  Did you ever think Countrywide would be in serious trouble?  Or, how about Capital One?  Could happen.  Both companies have made serious errors in judgment due to greed.  Moreover, they certainly are not the only ones.

There will be casualties from the real estate brokerage sector also.  Not just small brokerages, but big names also.  Same is true in the title industry.

Look at the offices or cubicles next to yours.  Say goodbye to those folks now, they won’t be there in a year.

The question is will you be?  Not only are you looking at the biggest opportunity you’ve ever had, you’re also looking at the most dangerous time in your professional career.  Instead of turning your career into the dynamo it could be, you could more easily be in the unemployment line.

The natural reaction in the current climate is to pull back.  To ease your spending in the areas of marketing, training, and all other business expenses. 

That is exactly what your competition will be doing.  They are looking at the current market and determining that their income will be lower, requiring them to decrease their expenditures and activity.  They are running scared.  They’ll try to push prospects harder.  They’ll try to take shortcuts and find ways to increase their profit on each transaction.  They’ll try to make more off fewer.  They’ll be out of business.

And you?  What should you be doing?  You need to do four things starting today:

  • Hire a sales coach.  Right now.  Today.  Virtually every top producer has a sales coach.  A coach can give you direction, help keep you on track, and give you personalized training.  Hire a coach who is a sales expert.  There are a huge number of sales and business coaches that have never sold or been in business.  Avoid them.  They can’t teach you anything.  Hire only a coach with years of actual sales experience.
  • Increase your marketing.  Right now.  Today.  As your competition falls off, take on the challenge of increasing your business.  Double your prospecting activity.  Increasing marketing doesn’t mean increasing your expenses, it means increasing your activity.
  • Increase your personal training.  Not product training.  Rather, sales training.  Increase the number of sales books you read, the number of CD’s you listen to, the number of seminars and tele-seminars you attend.  Get good at selling.  Become an expert at selling.  As there are fewer prospects, your sales skills will become more and more important.  Double your personal training budget.
  • Develop a personal PR campaign.  Begin writing and publishing articles, send out press releases, begin speaking to local business and civic groups, expand your exposure.  PR is the most reliable way to enhance your image and reputation.  And most of it is free.  If you hire a good coach, they can help you design and implement a PR campaign that integrates with your marketing campaign.

You’re facing a true crisis in your career.  Now is the time you will either take advantage of these tremendous opportunities—or fail like the majority of your peers. 

It’s your choice.

August 14, 2007

Ah, The Smell of Fear is in The Air!

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 3:59 pm

The market is in turmoil.  Credit markets are headed for even more difficult times.  More and more mortgage companies will bite the dust in the days ahead.  Soon, small securities brokers will join them.

Investors are turning from greed to fear.  The bear isn’t only raising his head, he’s preparing for a rampage, at least many investors think. 

What a perfect time to be in the securities industry.  Whether you sell individual stocks, concentrate on debt instruments, focus on mutual fund sales, or drive money into managed accounts, you’re looking at probably the best time in years to find and bring on new accounts. 

For the past few years, anyone with a dart could make their clients money.  The question wasn’t whether their clients would make money, the question was how much.  In a market like that, few people move their accounts.  Why risk it?  The company they’re with is making them cash.  Who knows about the new guy or the other company? 

But when the market turns, the flight begins.  And the flight isn’t too something, but away from where they are.  The tendency isn’t to move rationally, it’s to escape the hell they’re in. 

The same bloodbath the mortgage industry is experiencing with companies going under, thousands being laid off, loan officers scrambling to find another occupation will be hitting the financial sector soon. 

Yet, for those advisors who are prepared, this is a golden opportunity.  This is the time to be aggressively marketing yourself.  This is the time to be expanding your training and marketing budget, not reeling them in. 

Take this market for what it is—not your death, but the best opportunity you’ve had in years to gather new clients.

August 2, 2007

STOP the Busy Work and Sell

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 6:16 am

Is your pipeline a little anemic?  Running low on quality prospects?  Sales aren’t where you want them?  Commission checks kinda skinny?  Or, worse, are you just plain starving to death?

There are ways to ramp up your sales.  And one of the quickest ways to get your sales in gear is to take a two-week sabbatical.  Yep, take two weeks off.  Sorry, not two weeks off from work, but two weeks off from the busy work you do—all the “stuff” that takes time away from finding prospects and selling.

Studies indicate that the average salesperson only works one week per month.  Amazing isn’t it?  If you are like most salespeople, your whole month is only one week long.  “But,” you say, “I’m working my tail off.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Working only one week a month.  What a crock!”

Wait, don’t lose me yet.  Of course you work hard.  You’re probably putting in long hours.  You’re probably working longer hours than most of the people in your company.  The question isn’t how many hours you’re working, the question is what are you doing during those hours?

The study mentioned above found that the average salesperson only spends two hours a day on average doing the things that generate money for them—prospecting, making sales, and handling serious client issues.  The remainder of their time is spent doing “busy work,” work that needs to be done but that doesn’t generate income.

On the other hand, top producers work three weeks out of the month.  Their time is spent doing those things that make money, not those things that “need” to be done.

What would happen to your sales if you refused to do the busy work you do for two full weeks?  First, your business wouldn’t fall apart.  As a matter of fact, probably no one other than yourself would ever notice that you weren’t doing those things.  Secondly, if you stopped doing the busy work and devoted that time to finding and selling prospects, you’re business would take off again (or for the first time).  How can you possibly just stop with the busy work?  1.  Get organized.  Much of the busy work is done because the salesperson isn’t organized.  Everyday is as if they wake up in a new world and have to start all over getting themselves organized to start the day.Take a day, get yourself organized, and then take the last 30 minutes of everyday to make sure things are organized for the next morning.2.  Don’t answer the phone.  The phone is deadly.  It wastes more time than almost anything else.  So, simply don’t answer it.  Instead, each morning put a message on both your office and cell phone voice mail that tells your clients, prospects, friends, and everyone else the two times during the day you will return calls, say between 10:30 and 11:30 and again between 4:30 and 6:00.  Now, you’re free.  Get busy finding new prospects.  Then, return calls during your designated periods. 3.  Don’t do other’s work.  Client needs to know a shipping date?  Don’t get it—that’s shipping’s job.  Client has an issue?  Get customer service involved.  Don’t assume the responsibility of others—all you do is kill your prospecting and selling time.  Of course, if it is a true emergency, get it done.  Other than that, hand it off to someone who’s time isn’t as valuable.4.   Don’t hang with the gang.  No discussions, no playing around, no gripe sessions, just work.  Let the others languish if they will you have work to do. 5.  Prospect and sell.  Take all that extra time you’ve just freed up and make good use of it.  Prospect, prospect, prospect.  Spend all of your time prospecting and turning those prospects into customers.  It’s only two weeks.  The world won’t fall apart in just two weeks.  But you just might see your pipeline and your paycheck swell by the end of the month.

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