Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 5, 2015

Objection? Buying Signal? Maybe Neither–Maybe You’re Being Put Under the Microscope

A few years ago I wrote an article titled “How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale.”  In the course of the article I argued that it is natural for a prospect to ask about price–and often to do so too early in the sale, before the seller has had an opportunity to create real value for the prospect—because price is one of the factors prospects use as they seek to qualify the seller and the purchasing opportunity.

In response to that article I received numerous emails and comments from salespeople and sales leaders that they had never thought about the idea that the prospect is qualifying them and their offering at the same time they are trying to qualify the prospect.

Yet the prospect’s qualifying the seller and the seller’s value/solution is the crux of the whole sales process.

We are all familiar with the concepts of qualifying the prospect, investigating needs, developing a solution and creating real value for the prospect, overcoming objections, and the other aspects of making a sale.  All of these concepts are views of the sales process from the seller’s perspective.  These are the constructs that we as sellers tend to concentrate on.

We then view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections that are nothing but a smokescreen or are out-n-out buying signals.  For many of us, the questions and actions of the prospect are either those of an enemy or those of someone telling us they are ready to buy.

What if neither of those choices is true?

What if all of those questions and the statements by the prospect, instead of being obstacles to our sale or indications of their desire to consummate the purchase, are simply questions and statements to help them qualify us and our offering? 

What if they are doing the same to us as we are doing to them?

If that is the case, then that means we’re neither dealing with an enemy to be overcome nor are we dealing with someone asking us to close them.  Instead we’re dealing with a human being who wants to know whether or not we’re trustworthy, whether or not our offering is appropriate for them, whether or not we’re wasting their time.

In other words, they are in the process of qualifying us just as much as we’re qualifying them.  When we qualify a prospect we ask questions and probe to discover who we’re dealing with and what we might be able to do for them.  When we’re asking questions we’re not trying to play the ‘gotcha’ game.  Most of us aren’t trying to trap them into a sale.  We’re honestly seeking information that allows us to know whether or not we are in front of a real prospect with a real need that we can help solve in a way that produces real value for them.

The prospect is going through the same process with us.  Whether they are conscious of it or not, they’re trying to determine whether or not we are someone they want to do business with, and then, whether or not our product/service/company presents any real solid worthwhile value for them.

The traditional terms sellers think in—overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.—tend to set up an adversarial relationship where we are on the lookout for the dreaded objection and the opportunity to pounce with the closing question.

However, if we recognize that the sales process involves both parties qualifying one another and that the qualifying process involves the investigation and questioning of each party, we can relax and begin to address the prospect’s questions for what they really are—a legitimate desire to find out who we are and whether or not we are someone they want to work with.

Go forth and qualify—and let yourself be qualified.  It’s a whole lot more fun to sell when you’re working with a prospect to mutually qualify one another than it is to try to out fox and overcome an adversary.

 

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October 29, 2010

Guest Article: “The Biggest Goof Sellers Make When Dealing with Hot Prospects,” by Jill Konrath

Filed under: Closing Sales,Handling Prospect,Qualifying Prospects — Paul McCord @ 8:19 am
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The Biggest Goof Sellers Make When Dealing with Hot Prospects
By Jill Konrath

I dream of hot prospects who call me up and say, “We’ve heard good things about your company. We want to make a decision quickly. We’re hoping you can help us out.”

Occasionally my sales fantasies turn into realities. When it happens, it’s so easy to be seduced by this low-handing fruit. Outwardly, I try to appear calm, cool and collected – a true professional. But inside, every inch of my body wants to scream out, “Take me! Take me!”

Okay. I’m being a bit dramatic here, but I really want to make my point.

It’s so easy to be tempted by these opportunities. And when you yield to this temptation, you make fatal mistakes—ones that can totally derail your sales efforts and cause you to lose the business.

True, But Embarrassing Story

Let me give you a personal example, to show you how easy it is to get caught up in this seduction.

A few years ago, my primary business focus was working with large corporations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area when they were launching new products. My expertise? Helping them shorten time to revenue on new product introductions.

I’d just launched SellingtoBigCompanies.com to help small businesses gain access to my expertise. It was my new baby. I’d invested tons of time and lots of love to get it up and running.

When the phone rang that day, I answered absentmindedly. But when the caller announced that he was from Southwest Airlines, I snapped to attention. He’d been all over my new Web site, was very impressed, and also very interested in my training programs.

The airline was going to be putting its salespeople through training in the not-too-distant future and was evaluating its options. When I asked who else he was looking at, I was delighted to be included with the industry biggies.

Mr. Southwest had dozens of questions about my content, delivery models, remote training options, learning reinforcement and more. I answered every single one of them in glorious detail.

When he requested a proposal, I asked, “How soon?” When he answered that he wanted it in two days, I quickly agreed.

The proposal I sent to him via e-mail covered everything we had talked about in our conversation, plus a full range of pricing options. It was a masterpiece. I had high hopes that this opportunity would take my business to a whole new level.

I never heard from Mr. Southwest again. Even though I contacted him many times, he never called back.

Lesson Learned

It was my own fault. I mistakenly let my own eagerness to land this marquis customer outweigh my common sense.

The truth is I really needed the business at that time. After spending many months and lots of money to create SellingtoBigCompanies.com, I was running short on cash. I should have known better, but I was seduced by the opportunity.

In retrospect, I failed to find out if Mr. Southwest was just exploring his options or actually in the final stages of decision making. It’s highly likely he was just doing the former.

Had I known that, I would never have written a detailed proposal. Instead, I would have focused on helping him determine the business value of making a change. I would have used my expertise to help him sell the concept internally and establish decision criteria favorable to my solution.

Over and over again, I see other sellers make similar mistakes when they have a hot prospect on the line. Like me, they expound on their capabilities and benefits. They willingly provide detailed information and do tons of extra work to create proposals or presentations—anything the prospects want.

While that puts you into the “nice” seller category, it’s not a good business decision to invest tons of time and effort to land a fantasy customer. Nor does it help your prospects make the best decision for their organization.

If Mr. Southwest was actually deciding in a couple days, I should have addressed the fact that I was a small boutique firm that didn’t compete head-on with the larger companies he was looking at.

Doing business with me would have been risky. I knew that. But I didn’t want to bring it up; I was hoping he wouldn’t notice!

I was so blinded by the opportunity that I was willing to do anything that he asked. It was delusional on my part. Wishful thinking. Hopeful. When we feel this seduction, we need to remind ourselves that “hope is not a strategy.”

While hot prospects may hold the promise of big paychecks, there’s often much that still needs to be determine if it’s a good fit for your company.

Don’t be overeager. Instead be ruthlessly realistic. Detach from the fantasy and assess your true chances. Bring up the tough questions. .

Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for both you and your prospect.

Jill Konrath, sales strategist and bestselling author of Selling to Big Companies and SNAP Selling, is a frequent speaker at annual sales meetings, kick-off events and professional conferences. Visit her website

August 9, 2010

Guest Article: “When Bad Needs Analysis Happens to Good Sales Reps! by Paul Castain

When Bad Needs Analysis Happens To Good Sales Reps!
by Paul Castain

The Needs Analysis is no doubt, a critical step of the sales process. Execute properly and and you pave the way for a higher probability sale. Execute poorly and you disconnect!

Here are several of the mistakes I see sales professionals make. I’ve included several tips on how you can ace your next needs analysis.

1)    Failure to have the proper selling environment. This includes everything from not having enough time, to allowing people to tell you “we know exactly what we want so you don’t have to ask us those questions” etc. Let’s be clear. We need to be respectful and control the meeting without being controlling (there’ s a huge difference) but by the same token, would you go to a Doctor’s office and say “Put away that Stethoscope Doc. It’s my bladder so I just need you to work up a quote on surgery?” Selling should never be different. If someone is rushing your due diligence to the point that you know that this will be a “screw you” down the line, get the screw you today instead and insist (respectfully) that they allow you to be the professional you are.

2)    Allowing Your Needs Analysis To Take On A “20 Questions Guessing Game” Vibe. Maybe it’s the impatient New Yorker in me coming out, but why get into this “Is it animal or mineral” BS? I like to cut to the chase and ask a question at the start of my needs analysis that goes like this “Granted I called you . . . what prompted you to take this meeting today?” It gives me a direction to go in 9 out of 10 times and saves everyone the annoyance of questions that have nothing to do with “where it hurts”.

3)    Asking a lame question. This includes everything from questions that you could have answered yourself by taking a time to research (How many locations do you have? etc) to weak questions that don’t serve you or the prospect. So how does one ask a better question? By mentally firing yourself from your industry and rehiring yourself in theirs! If you were the dude/dudette buying what you sell, what would piss you off? I would imagine it could be things like quality, deadlines, surprise costs, communication, managing multiple vendor relationships, internal customers, dealing with sales people, navigating around internal external buying policies, how to sell a change to the internal team, cost containment etc. On a more positive note, there are things all businesses want such as more customers, more market share, more profit, happy customers, employees and shareholders, lower turnover, better image and brand awareness, increased efficiencies, quicker to market turn times, innovation etc. What questions can you ask to get them thinking about this? This is the stuff they want fixed! Want to take this over the top? Think of one killer, “knock you on your hiney” question. I’m talking about one question that flaws the prospect and makes them think “Holy schnikees. Nobody ever asked me that before. The insurance industry has the ultimate “If something were to happen to you, could your family meet its financial needs?” Whoa! Way to stun me long enough to make me listen to you dude!

4)    Asking a good question at the wrong time: When we jump right in with a more intimate question, a prospect might think “Who the heck is the person to ask me that? I don’t know them or trust them” and then they shut down on you. Personally, I like to ease into my questions by starting with more situational types of questions and then increasing the intensity at a pace dictated by my read of the prospect.

5)    Answering your own question. Don’t laugh. It happens more than you think!

6)    Asking a clichéd question: Example “What keeps you up at night?  “On a scale from 1-10 how is your present service?” “What would it take to make them a 10?” Don’t get me wrong, I could think of worse things to ask a prospect, but why sound like every other sales person who sits in the hot seat? I know this is harsh, but when someone asks me cliched, used and abused questions I immediately think “is that all you got?”

7)    Asking a set up or “salesy” question: These are the questions that they see coming from like a hundred miles away. My favorite “If I could show you a way to blah, blah, would you seriously consider blah?” I think the 80’s called and wants their monkey style kung fu  back!

8)    Being so attached to your questions on paper that you don’t follow up on the answer or allow the conversation to “go there”. My best suggestion here (aside from being flexible enough to allow a “discussion” to occur) is to memorize by the topics your questions fall under. This way when a conversation goes from something that’s a deadline issue to a communication issue, you know how the questions execute out of sequence.

9)    Not asking continuation questions and racing to your next question. The best information you can get is usually when a prospect is encouraged to continue or expand. You can facilitate that by simply following up their answer with: “Tell me more” “can you give me an example of that?” “what happened as a result?” and even using some strategically placed (get this) silence. People have an innate need to fill silence. Let it be your prospect. One disclaimer: If you wait too long you might get  a “Bless your heart” and a pat on the head.

10) Making “I wasn’t listening statements” after they answer your question. Examples: “Fair enough” “Interesting” First of all, what the hell are you saying to me? When someone says “Interesting” I feel like you are doing some amateur psychoanalysis and you just concluded I was a bed wetter or something. Are you judging me? “Fair enough” WTF is that? Is that you feeling I was defending an opinion that you don’t agree with? Was that your reentry back into our conversation after an outer body experience and it came down to either saying that or shouting out some other random word like “DAISEYS”  Either way, congrats, you are conditioning me to not give you so much on the next question. Gold star, Rain Man! Here’s an idea. Don’t know what to say after someone responds, thank them for their answer and move on.

11) Asking questions that are so full of prefacing and tangents that they confuse the prospect. I’ve witnessed a bunch of those in my career. The best was when the prospect just stared at the sales rep when he finished and said “I have no clue of what you said, or where you are going with that last question. Was it a question?”

12) Making the Needs Analysis an interrogation instead of a conversation. I offered to help someone the other day with a challenge they were having. I came prepared with a page and a half of ideas. I didn’t get a chance to help this person because they just kept peppering me with questions. At one point I resisted the urge to ask her if I should get my attorney. The cure (in my opinion) is to use different types of questions and to make the exchange conversational and collaborative. Otherwise you are encouraging the prospect to shut down on you.

13) Failure to validate feelings. When someone tells you about a challenge or an incident, don’t race to the next question, acknowledge and validate. This goes back to something I say all the time in this blog “Everyone has a story and wants to be heard” How about a little “I give a damn? How about an “I’m sorry to hear that” or “that would bother me too, and what a testimonial to your professionalism that you kept a cool head” Remember: race to your next question too quickly and you might brand yourself as insensitive and cold. The best part, is that they might not even be able to articulate that. It may hit them as more of a “gut feeling”. When that happens, classic fight or flight kicks in and we simply avoid.

14) Asking a closed question. Under this same category (I’m too lazy to make another category) are questions that make it easier to default to a nice safe “no” Instead of asking closed questions, try focusing on “Experiential” questions. That is, questions that bring a prospect back to a time when they experienced a less than favorable result that you can impact with your solution.  The topic of experiential questions deserves its own future post so stay tuned!

15) Recycling Questions (asking the same question multiple ways) Unless you have a really good reason for this and you are really good at disguising repetition, don’t go there girlfriend!

16)  Conclusive Questions (aka putting words in the other dude’s mouth) Example “Tell me about the challenges you are having with your current vendor” Meanwhile, nobody said anything about challenges.

17)  Allowing Unproductive Tangents. Part of your responsibility as the professional is to facilitate a process without being controlling. If the conversation is going in a direction that isn’t beneficial, then you need to get things back on course.

18)  Failure to Customize Your Questions based on your Pre Call Planning findings: Don’t be this creature of habit who must ask the questions they always asked. Better to have your arsenal, and choose your weapon and even create your weapon based on the situation at hand. Besides, doesn’t asking a very specific set of questions, that demonstrates that you did your homework help out in the rapport department?

19)  Committing Any Combination of the 4 deadly sins: Interrupting, talking over, finishing thoughts, rushing the prospect’s answer.   I know someone who has this annoying habit of saying “right, right, right” when you are answering their question or just making a statement they want you to cut to the chase on. Don’t ever do that to your prospect or you will be (once again) conditioning them to not give you the details you need. The best way for you to avoid interrupting or talking over is to simply pause after they answer the question. Done!

20)  Disrespecting the word “Why”. The word “why” can serve you, and in many cases it can hurt you in that it might make the other person feel they have to defend their position. Try changing “why” to “what” as in “what prompted you to take that position” or “what were the events that led to those feelings”  The “what” question gets you into mechanics and processes which can be far more productive. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get to the emotions and the feelings. That’s why I phrased this one “Disrespecting the word “why”.  I can’t emphasize it enough that if we aren’t careful, we literally condition prospects to be guarded! Not a good place to be hombre!

21)  Considering a Needs Analysis A One Time Thing: I hope you highlight this one. I see so many people who conduct a brilliant needs analysis, win the account and then never do it again. Things change my friend. Statistically speaking, just in the time you spent reading this post, something has changed somewhere. Immediate Action Item: Starting thinking of a needs analysis as the annual check up at the Dr. Schedule a check up with your clients and every prospect that you haven’t done a needs analysis in the last year. Some will argue that it should be 6 months. That’s your call to make, not mine.

I won’t lie to you, there’s a lot here to digest. My suggestion is that you print this out, and commit to “owning” these tips.

Your closing ratio will go up dramatically when you do!

He who asks is a fool for 5 minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever

Chinese Proverb

Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics (CGX) one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. Paul has over 25 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales and sales leadership professionals.  Visit his blog: Paul Castain’s Sales Playbook

February 19, 2010

Guest Article: “The Seduction of Low-Hanging Fruit,” by Jill Konrath

The Seduction of Low-Hanging Fruit
by Jill Konrath

I remember the first time it happened. It was on a Thursday, about 4 pm, and I was worn-out after a day of cold calling. I hadn’t uncovered even one viable prospect. Enough was enough! Time to go back to the office and do some paperwork.

When the phone rang, I answered it tiredly. But by the time I hung up I was a new person. I had just talked to one hot prospect!

Her company was BUYING! Not just looking – BUYING! They needed several new systems to handle their growth. And they wanted to make a decision quickly.

“Can we come in for a demonstration,” she asked.

How could I refuse! They came in the following Monday and we spent about two hours together. We discussed their needs and I showed them several possible options. Things seemed to go really well. In parting, they asked me to call back early the next week.

Tuesday morning I left a message. Wednesday and Friday too. My calls were never returned. It wasn’t till a week later that I finally got my prospect on the phone. She thanked me for my hard work, fast service and excellent demonstration. Then, very apologetically, she told me they’d selected another vendor.

I asked “Why,” but her answer was evasive and focused on minor details. Of course, price was thrown in too – as it always is when you lose.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that this happened to me more than once. And sometimes I invested an inordinate amount of time and effort in those so-called “hot prospects.” I coordinated elaborate meetings and prepared detailed proposals. I even rearranged meetings with prospective customers who weren’t quite ready to move ahead.

Can you guess what happened? That’s right. I almost always lost the business.

Lest you think I’m not too smart, it didn’t take me too long to figure out something was wrong. My proposals, presentations and demos were fundamentally sound, so it had to be something else. But what … When I talked to the more seasoned sellers, I was cautioned on wasting my time with ‘low-hanging fruit” – in other words, companies who are ripe to buy.

They told me that many of these prospects already have made their decision, but are checking the market for two reasons: 1) To prove to higher-ups they did a thorough investigation, or 2) To leverage competitive offers to reduce their preferred vendor’s pricing.

Yikes! That explained a lot of things. Naively, I had assumed that I had a fair shot at every deal.

Learning how to ferret out those opportunities where it was worthwhile to pursue low-hanging fruit was hard. I had to be much more straightforward than I was used to being and ask questions that made me uncomfortable. But by doing this, I saved myself lots of hard work. And, I had more time to spend on prospects where I could win.

* * ******************************************************************

It’s not only individuals who are seduced by low-hanging fruit. Sometimes whole companies are sucked into these ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes.

Several years ago one of my clients introduced a new product targeted at a highly profitable niche owned by their competitor. They were late to this market and, in essence, their product was a higher-priced copycat with enhanced capabilities.

In the months preceding the launch, sales reps continually fed marketing stories about all the money being left on the table because the new product wasn’t ready. They told marketing about all the prospects who called wanting to know when their new system would be available. Everyone was drooling. So many buyers, so little time.

Their entire launch plan focused on the low-hanging fruit. Sales reps, armed with proposal templates and PowerPoint presentations highlighting competitive strengths, were chartered to go after companies on their “Hot Prospects List.”

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince them of the folly of this decision. The seduction was complete.

So what happened? In the six months immediately after the launch, very few systems were sold. Their only orders came from existing customers where reps had strong, long-term relationships with key decision makers. Within two years the company quietly exited this market niche because it was too costly to penetrate.

The lure of low-hanging fruit never completely goes away. The chance to make easy money is just too seductive.

I still have to caution myself when I encounter these opportunities. The worst thing about them is the wasted time that could have spent with prospects where my chances of winning were much higher.

Lessons Learned

1. In most cases, you can’t get into a sales process late and expect to win. If your competitor already has a strong relationship with the customer, they’re in the driver’s seat. They’ve likely already established decision criteria that only their company can meet.

2. Be willing to ask tough questions. If your new prospect is ready to buy, make sure you ask them:

– Who else are you looking at?

– Has your company done business with these companies before?

– Why would you consider switching?

If your prospects express strong dissatisfaction with a competitor, you might have a real opportunity. But if they’re just looking around, be wary of investing too much of your time and company’s resources trying to get the business.

3. Your best prospects will be those companies where you already have an established relationship OR where you get in early, before customers are making a decision. In the latter case, by uncovering and developing account needs, you’ll build the strong relationship you need to win the order when they’re ready to make a change.

Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big  Companies, is a recognized sales strategist in the highly competitive business-to-business  market. A popular speaker at sales meetings, she helps her clients crack into  corporate accounts, speed up their sales cycle and generate demand for their offering.  Visit her website http://www.sellingtobigcompanies.com

December 7, 2009

Guest Article: “The Don Quixote Approach to Opportunity Assessement,” by Jonathan Farrington

The Don Quixote Approach To Opportunity Assessment
by Jonathan Farrington

Emerging salespeople typically believe that all business is good business and to an extent, I can understand this viewpoint. If you are trying to make a name for yourself, being put under pressure by your sales manager to get “runs on the board” and earn the respect of the more experienced and successful members of the team, it is difficult to walk away from any opportunity if you believe you have the remotest chance of winning it.

However, it is essential that more seasoned professionals fully understand both the value and importance of rigorous objective qualification, not just at the front end but right the way through the sales cycle. Qualification is a process not a single event and even internal and reactive salespeople should be fully skilled in asking a small number of basic questions regarding precise requirements, time scales, budget, competition etc before they are prepared to reveal their price and delivery.

As the value of the product, service or solution increases, the depth of the qualification should increase proportionally.

External salespeople have the opportunity to meet with prospective customers and it is far easier to extract information face to face than it is via the telephone, however, it is vital that some initial answers are elicited prior the that first exploratory meeting in order to ensure that the meeting will be worthwhile to both parties. With sales costs spiralling upwards and sales time becoming limited, considerable prudence is required on the part of the salesperson.

During that first meeting, a considerable amount of detail can and should be uncovered e.g. background and history of the company, the key individuals, the composition of the DMU (Decision Making Unit) if there is one, timescales, budget, competition, current suppliers, buying criteria etc. Only by rigorous questioning will the salesperson be able to answer the following questions when they get back to the office: Is there a requirement/need that my company can satisfy? Is it winnable? Do I want it?

The very best sales professionals will not pursue the opportunity, after proper objective analysis, if the answer to any of those questions is “No”. They will rather invest their precious selling time seeking out and closing opportunities that will provide a profitable return on that investment.

At the very highest selling levels i.e. strategic “big-ticket” selling and marketing, clearly the sales cycle is much more protracted, complex and typically moves through four stages i.e.

■Rigorous Opportunity Assessment
■Develop A Strategy
■Present The Solution and Re-Assess The Opportunity
■Gain Formal Commitment, Sign The Order and Develop

In Summary:
Having a tilt at every windmill that presents itself, is neither practical nor profitable. Qualification is a core competency that every professional salesperson should take on board as quickly as possible. Working to the maxim that “All business is good business” is unrealistic and totally erroneous. It takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the pipeline only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one – the ability to determine which is which, can have a huge impact on your ultimate success in a front-line sales role

Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author and sales strategist, who has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world towards optimum performance levels. He is Chairman of The Sales Corporation, CEO of Top Sales Associates and Senior Partner at The JF Consultancy based in London and Paris. Early in 2007, Jonathan formed Top Sales Associates (TSA) to promote the very best sales related solutions and products. TSA is now a subsidiary of The Sales Corporation, based in London and Paris.  Visit his website

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