Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 27, 2015

Do You Talk To Your Prospects and Clients or Do You Talk At Them?

Knowledge should be one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox. 

Knowing how to use specialized industry vocabularies should also be one of our basic and power tools.

In reality, for many of us, knowledge and specialized lingo are powerful—in costing us business.

Naturally a great many new salespeople are tempted to try to impress prospects and clients by demonstrating their product knowledge and slinging their newly learned industry vocabulary around.  They tend to oversell, answer questions no prospect has ever had, dazzle with words the prospect and client may not be familiar with.  They talk about the fine points of their product or service; discuss how their service or product will impact ROI; how best to onboard new employees or products or services;  how their product or service creates a new paradigm to address the prospect’s issues or needs; and the list goes on.

Impact ROI?  I see, you mean whether or not it makes me more money than it costs.  Onboarding new employees or products or services?  I get it, you mean purchasing and integrating a new product or service or hiring and orienting a new employee.  Creating a new paradigm to address issues or needs?  You mean a different way of dealing with the problem, right? 

You can say ROI, onboarding, or paradigm, or you could just talk to your prospect.  Some say that if you want credibility with your prospects and clients you have to speak their language.  I don’t have a problem with that in the least—if you’re actually speaking your prospect’s language.  But how many prospects actually talk about onboarding a new product or service or creating a new paradigm to address an issue or problem?  And there’s certainly something to be said about just talking to the prospect in plain English.

And very often new sellers butcher their newly acquired vocabulary and confound and frustrate their prospects with their enthusiastic demonstration of their knowledge of the minutiae of their product or service.  Many lose more sales than they capture because of their lack of discipline and their need to impress.

Unfortunately I’ve noticed over the past three years that this desire to impress isn’t confined to new sellers.  I consistently run across experienced sellers who should know better that are making the same rookie mistakes.  The only real difference between these experienced sellers and new salespeople is experienced sellers tend to have a better grasp of the industry lingo.

In the current tough selling environment even experienced sellers are falling into the trap of trying to oversell and to impress with their knowledge and ‘deep’ understanding of the prospect’s issues.  We tend to pull out all the stops and often end up losing our discipline and the prospect’s attention.  We try to force the sale.

Rather than creating new clients, we end up alienating them. 

Whether you’re a relatively new seller bursting with enthusiasm and wanting to impress your prospects or an experienced seller feeling the pressure to produce, you need to step back and relax.  Giving in to the pressure to oversell and force the sale is self defeating.  Address your prospect’s needs and leave the unnecessary demonstration of knowledge and the impressive vocabulary at the office. 

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January 14, 2015

The “Prospecting” Disease

During my three decades in the sales industry I’ve worked with, met, coached, and observed thousands of sellers from a multitude of industries.  They’ve been new and experienced, inside and outside sellers, big ticket and small, specialized products and services as well as common, commodity products, some very successful and a great many barely holding their own or failing.

Some have been hail fellow well met types, others have been shy introverts.  Some pound the phones, others pound the pavement.  Some are highly attuned to technology, others can barely turn their cell phone on.  Some like to hit the office or the road early, others prefer to work late, a few do both.

But with rare exceptions they all have one thing in common—they’re busy.

They’re all doing stuff.

And a great deal of the time when you ask them what they’re doing they tell you they’re prospecting.

They’re busy trying to find business.  They’re focused on getting a contract in the door and getting paid.

Some, not the majority by any means, are very successful.  Most are not.

So the natural question is what’s the difference?  Why are a few really good at finding prospects and brining in business and most aren’t?

Turns out that most of the time the answer is really pretty simple.

The successful sellers spend their time prospecting.

The majority are simply infected with the disease of “prospecting,” that is, the illusion that what they are doing is prospecting when in reality it is nothing more than busy work to keep them from having to do the tough work of actually prospecting.

These unsuccessful sellers can show lists of several hundred names and phone numbers they have spent hours and hours researching that they have on a call list—a few dozen will have check marks beside them, even fewer will be scratched through.  They can show stacks of fliers and letters they have mailed out.  They can produce a list of networking events they have attended over the past couple of months.  They can produce a passel of emails they have sent out.  They may even have their business card pinned to every corkboard in every restaurant, laundromat, and other business that has a board to display customer’s cards.

Certainly they’ve been busy; no doubt about that.  The problem is although they have been busy, they haven’t been prospecting.  Instead of prospecting, they’ve been “prospecting”—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, making a phone call here and there—and increasingly spending more and more time “connecting’ with prospects via social media, tweeting and updating their facebook page and searching LinkedIn for any warm body that might be a prospect to try to connect with.  They confuse preparatory and busy work for prospecting, with the actual activity of interacting with a qualified prospect.

Although they spend a great deal of time doing busy work, they spend very little time actually prospecting.  They “feel” they are always prospecting, but in reality they are always finding ways not to prospect by spending their time preparing to prospect.  They engage in a great deal of activity, but the activity isn’t the activity that will produce business; instead, it is the activity that makes them feel good, feel productive, allowing them to convince themselves that they are being extremely active.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the business we must have in order to succeed.  But activity alone is fruitless.  Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a way to failure as inactivity.

Prospecting isn’t preparation to prospect; it isn’t finding easy ways to feel like you’re getting your message out; and it isn’t simply being busy all of the time.  Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting and interacting with qualified prospects.

If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to get on the phone.  If you network, it means actually being in front of and meeting prospects or garnering introductions to prospects from referral partners, not researching events or even spending time at non-qualified events where you’ll meet few, if any, prospects, or spending your time at the event hanging with friends and co-workers.

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed as many sales careers as inactivity has.

As salespeople we have three very basic duties—finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them satisfy needs or wants, and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale. 

Everything else is busy work and busy work doesn’t make a sale, doesn’t generate income, and doesn’t move us toward our sales or income goals.

Before you engage in any activity consider whether that activity is income producing or not.  If it isn’t directly producing income, does it really need to be done?  If not, move on to an activity that will directly lead to a sale.

To succeed you need to spend your time prospecting.  Getting infected with the “prospecting” disease where you “feel” you’re prospecting but in reality are finding ways to keep from having to prospect is a career killer.

January 12, 2015

Take Action Now to Create the Success You Want this Year

Are you in control of your sales career or are you simply going with the flow hoping that you’ll end up somewhere on the plus side?

If you haven’t done so already, here are some things you need to do now to insure that this year is the year you not only meet your annual goals but that you exceed them–that, if fact, you blow them completely away.

1. Flush out all of the tail chasing “prospects” in your system.
We all have “prospects” in our pipeline that take up time and energy but that we know in our hearts will never buy. Get them out of your system now. Don’t spend any more of your precious time on them. Concentrate on real prospects not  the “hope someday.” Vow not to spend any more time chasing your tail.

2. Get organized.
Most of us spend as much or more time “organizing” each day as we do working. Take a day or two and get yourself organized and then 30 minutes each evening getting ready for the next day. Don’t waste half the year “getting ready” to sell.

3. Know who a real prospect is.
If you haven’t already defined your ideal prospect(s) in detail, do so now.  Many waste a great deal of time chasing unqualified prospects because they haven’t taken the time to define for themselves exactly who their real prospects are.

4. Focus only on real prospects.
Even many who have defined in-detail who their real prospects are find themselves chasing after those who don’t qualify.  Commit yourself to staying on track.  Defining your prospect doesn’t do any good if you allow yourself to wander.

5. Eliminate the success killing busy work.
If what you do isn’t directly involved with finding qualified prospects, making sales presentations and closing sales, or getting a sale completed its busy work.  Busy work may make you feel like you’re accomplishing something but it isn’t making you a dime. If it doesn’t make you money, don’t do it.

6. Learn to generate referrals.
Referrals are the best, most cost effective prospecting and marketing method there is. Nothing can beat referrals in terms of ROI, close ratio, and client loyalty.  Yet, few salespeople generate many quality referrals.  Less than 15% of all salespeople generate enough quality referrals to impact their business.  Learn the process that really generates a large number of high quality referrals and turn your clients into your marketing platform.

7. Create a consistent client communication campaign.
If you don’t already have a consistent communication campaign for your clients and prospects, create one now.  You should be touching each of your clients and long-term prospects 12 to 16 times a year.  Use a combination of media–calls, emails, newsletters, letters, postcards.  Make sure each of your communications brings value to your client.  The key question to ask yourself before making any contact is “does this benefit the client or only me?”  If it doesn’t benefit the client, don’t send it or don’t call. Never waste your client’s time.

You have a choice–you can either take control of your time, energy, and sales business or you can go from crisis to crisis putting out fires while desperately trying to get a sale here and another there.

Life’s a whole lot better when you’re in control than when you’re at the mercy of chance dictates.

September 15, 2012

Numbers Don’t Lie? Oh Yes They Do

How many times have you heard that one that numbers don’t lie?  Probably like me you’ve heard it thousands and thousands of times. 

And we in business, especially sales, love numbers.  We track everything that could possibly be tracked with a number—the number of calls made, the number of times someone answers a call, the number of appointments set, the number of contracts signed, the number of pencils used, the number of no’s we get, the number of contacts made before we get a yes, the average commission earned, the ratio of calls to appointments, and the list goes on and on and on.

We live our life by numbers.  We rival baseball in how fanatical we are about numbers.

We swear by our numbers. 

We live and die by our numbers.

Our numbers tell us when we’re doing something wrong and when we’re doing something right.  They tell us whether to be happy or sad.  They tell us if we can bitch slap Joe in the next cubical this month or whether he is going to be slapping us.  They tell us how much swagger to put in our step, whether we need to pick up the pace or if we can take a weekend off, whether we should answer that call from our boss or ignore it.

We also do some really stupid things because of our numbers.

I’ve had sellers get all giddy because their close ratio is super high or because their average contract has skyrocketed.

I’ve had sellers totally transform their way of doing business because they’ve busted through to a new level.

I’ve had sales leaders beef up personnel because their teams have finally got it and the sales are flowing through the door.

Some of the situations above were perfectly justified.  In fact, in some of the cases the seller or sales leader had waited too long to make the proper adjustments.

But in way too many cases the sellers and sales leaders have overreacted and ended up doing great damage to themselves and their company.

In all of the above cases decisions were made based on hard, cold, concrete numbers.

So how come some make wise decisions based on numbers while others make disastrous ones?

In my experience there are three major reasons why the numbers don’t tell the real story:

  1. Emphasizing the Wrong Numbers.  Most companies and a great many sellers and sales leaders keep track of a large amount of data such various ratios, numbers, averages, and such.  At any given time some of this data is positive and some negative in terms of our performance. With so much data it can be easy to get lost in the forest of “stuff.”  It is even easier to drift toward the positive numbers and downplay or even ignore the negative data.  If perchance the positive numbers are the truly significant ones and you act on them, you stand an excellent chance of growing your business. On the other hand, if the negative numbers are the significant data and you brush them aside to concentrate on the positive numbers, you stand a very great chance of pursuing numbers that will damage your business.I had a client whose data indicated that their average sale for the past two quarters was over twice their pervious average.  But the data also indicated that the profits from those sales had declined substantially due to increased sales and delivery costs.  Which number got them excited?  Bigger contracts.  Which numbers did they assume were aberrations?  Increased costs and decreased profits.  What did they do?  They concentrated on going after larger contracts and consequently suffered a major hit to their bottom line.Using a very critical eye when analyzing what is happening in your business—whether the analysis is of a large business with tens or hundreds of millions at stake or your own sales business where your personal income is on the line—is critical.  We all like to see those positive results from our hard work and hate to confront the negative.  But the only way to grow our business is to look at the business as it really is which often means correcting or eliminating the negative is of more immediate importance than expanding the positive.
  2. Taking Too Short a Time Span as the “New Normal.”  Each of our businesses changes over time.  We all reach new plateaus or crater to new depths.  We all have winning streaks as well as slumps.  Our numbers ebb back and forth while over time remaining consistent or possibly increasing or declining. That constant near term change creates a long-term pattern. Although the near term ups and downs are important, it is the long term pattern that is most vital to telling us what is really going on in our business.  Unfortunately too often we get caught up in the short term change and convince ourselves that it marks a sea change in our business when in fact we’re simply on a short term roll or in a short term slump.  This isn’t to say to ignore short term trends, but rather that they must analyzed in the context of our long term history.If you’re a sports fan you’re more than a little familiar with short term rolls and slumps.  You live and die each season based on the streaks your team or a particular player is on.  Those streaks are one of the reasons they play a complete season and why players are paid based on a history of production and not based on short term bursts.   Hot and cold streaks come and go but over the long term their real win/loss or batting or passing record emerges and reveals their strengths and weaknesses.It is easy to get suckered into believing that what has happened over the past few weeks or months is the new reality.  It may be.  More than likely it isn’t.  Numbers have a way of being consistent and working themselves out over a long period of time.  Those short bursts and potholes get washed out over the long term.New plateau or momentary spike?  Only time will tell—but far too many businesses and sellers turn on a dime when they should be holding steady based on what’s happening today in relation to what their long term history has been.
  3. Ignoring Reality and Making the Numbers Conform to Their Pie in the Sky Hope:  In a sense, you can make numbers say anything you want them to say.  Good can be bad and bad good if you know how to spin them.  And many a manager and seller are good at spinning to make their numbers conform to their own fantasiesA few years ago I was speaking to a group of Realtors about building their businesses through referrals and how to become a referral based seller.  One lady raised her hand and proudly proclaimed that her business was already referral based because over the past year almost 90% of her business came from referrals from clients.  I and the rest of the group were duly impressed—until I asked her how many new clients she had acquired during that time.  Nine was her answer.  Hell, with nine new clients over the course a year she wasn’t a referral based seller, she wasn’t even in business.  But she had convinced herself that she was going great guns in the referral area.Too many find it all too easy to take a number they like and force it into a story that makes them feel good.  The sad part is they so often believe their own BS and must then suffer the consequences.

The truth is numbers don’t lie, we do.  We lie to ourselves; we cherry pick the number we like and ignore the one we don’t; we react to the immediate without regard to history. 

So I apologize to numbers that I so callously accused of lying.  They’re innocently just doing their job; we’re the guilty party taking them out of context and forcing them to represent something they don’t.

The moral of the story is simple—let numbers do their job.  Let them marinate for a period before trying to declare them to be shining a light on a completely new path; let them say what they’re trying to say instead of what you want to hear; and by all means, don’t force them at gun point to be an accomplice to a personal crime of self deception.

Now, go in peace and sin no more and your numbers will faithfully lead you in the right direction.

Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

On Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/McCordTraining

March 23, 2012

Can It Get Any Stranger?

We humans are funny animals.  We tend to do the same things over and over, no matter what the consequences.  Although we are admonished to learn from our mistakes, more often than not we continue to make the same mistakes time after time.  Maybe not the big obvious mistakes, but the little ones that we don’t notice we keep doing and doing.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if we’re doing something that has a negative outcome that we’d stop doing it?  Even more fundamental, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we’d notice that what we’re doing isn’t working?

Seems reasonable. 

But strange as it seems, our lives are full of things that have negative consequences yet we continue to do them. 

Some of these negative things we may be aware of and consciously choose to do anyway with such as smoking, overeating, or taking a tad too many nips of the juice.. 

Nevertheless, there are whole hosts of actions we take that have negative consequences of which we are completely ignorant.  We’re ignorant of these negative consequence actions not because we’re blind, or stupid, or too lazy to see them.  We’re ignorant because we have never examined them to see what the consequences of those actions really are.  We do them because we’re ‘supposed’ to do them or because that’s the way we’ve always done it.  We do them out of ignorance.

Unfortunately, that same ignorance that invests other parts of our lives, worms its way into our sales careers as well.  We do the things we’ve been told are the right things to do or we do them in the way we were told was the right way to do them.  And when the outcome of those actions isn’t what it’s supposed to be, we blame ourselves or chalk it up to bad luck or bad timing.  Worse, we decide the answer is to do more of those actions believing that if we do them more often and with more conviction, the outcome will definitely be better, right?  After all, weren’t we told that those were the right actions, so then the problem must be we simply aren’t doing them long enough or hard enough, never examining them to see if the problem might be with them, not with us.

So our solution is to do more of what doesn’t work.

Can it get any stranger? 

Yet, that is how the vast majority of salespeople run their sales careers.

Cold calling not working?  Make more cold calls.  Not closing enough sales?  Push for the sale harder.  Not meeting enough prospects at the networking events you go to?  Go to more events.  The direct mail piece you sent not producing results?  Send out more. 

The answer is always more of the same.  Do more of what’s not working and it’ll work

What a strange business we’re in.  What other business is there whose answer to the things that aren’t producing results is to do more of it?

Do you think that if the owner of a restaurant decided he wasn’t selling enough fish the answer would be to cook more fish?  Or, if the radiology treatment a physician has prescribed isn’t working they would just prescribe a larger dose without first examining why it isn’t working?  Of course not.  The restaurateur would want to know why he wasn’t selling more fish and he would figure out how to generate more customers who order fish or he would change his menu to reflect the tastes of his customers because if he tries to continue to force fish on his customers, he’ll be out of business.  Likewise, instead of just prescribing a bigger dose of the same radiology treatment, the physician will seek to discover why the treatment isn’t working and change her prescription accordingly. 

Neither the restaurateur nor the physician is just going to say, “oh, well.  What I’m doing isn’t working so I’ll just do lots more of it.”  We’d think they were nuts if that were their answer.

Yet, that’s the answer most salespeople come up with when their sales career isn’t progressing in the direction they want.  And the strange thing is few of their associates or their manager thinks they’re crazy for simply doing more of what doesn’t work.  In fact, they are often the salesperson’s biggest cheerleaders egging them on to do exactly those things.

Can it get any stranger?    

Why would a rational person decide the answer to correcting something that isn’t working is to do more of what isn’t working? 

Although there are a number of reasons such as the advice they are getting from their sales manager, many of the sales books they read, and their associates, all assuring them that all they need to do is make more calls, push harder for the sale, send out more direct mail pieces, often the real culprit is that they have no idea what they are doing that is working and what they are doing that isn’t working.

Salespeople for the most part tend to work off gut feeling.  “I feel that my cold calling isn’t producing the desired results.”  “I feel that my closing skills are really good, I just don’t feel that I’m getting to make enough presentations.”  “I feel that I’m getting a lot of referrals, they’re just not very good.” 

Working off gut feeling is a surefire way to feel–and be–broke. 

The problem is few salespeople take the time and put in the effort to examine their sales business in detail to discover what they are doing that is really producing the results they want—and what they are doing that isn’t.  Few salespeople know exactly:

  • What activities they are investing the majority of their time in
  • The characteristics of the prospects they really connect with
  • Where their sales–not their prospects but their sales–are coming from
  • What prospecting and marketing methods are actually producing sales and not just bodies
  • What they are doing in the sales process that is working and what isn’t, furthermore, most have no real idea of what their sales process is
  • Or know exactly how many qualified prospects they talk to, how many of those prospects bought, what specific products or services they bought, why the prospects bought—or didn’t buy

In order to run a business, the business owner must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their income statement and their balance sheet.  Those two documents tell the business owner what’s really going on in their business.  They tell them not only how well they are doing, but where to invest more time and money, they warn of potential problems, and they reveal new potential opportunities the business owner might not otherwise have seen.  The balance sheet and income statement are the history of the business and the business’s history tells the business owner what’s going to happen in the future—good and bad–unless the business owner makes changes to the business.

Salespeople need the same roadmap as any other business owner.  Salespeople are not employees—despite getting a W2.  Every salesperson is self-employed.  They run their own sales company.  For those salespeople who are W2’d, it just happens they have only one client—the company they are currently selling for.  Like any business owner, they must have a historical document that alerts them to problems–as well as opportunities.

Rather than having a balance sheet and income statement, salespeople must take the time and invest the effort to reconstruct their sales and marketing history in numerical form.  They must create a document that informs them of not what they think or feel has happened in the past, but tells them exactly what has happened.  Such a document will tell them in no uncertain terms where they have really spent their time; what they have really done in terms of prospecting and marketing; who their ideal prospect really is; what prospecting and marketing methods are really working; what their closing ratio really is; and a great deal more.  And it tells them that if they continue doing what they’re doing, exactly what will happen in the future.  On the other hand, it will also tell them exactly what changes must be made in order to change their future.

If a sales history document is so powerful, why do only a handful of salespeople have one?  Although one of the most powerful tools any salesperson—and their manager—can have, reconstructing one’s sales and marketing history is tedious, takes a good deal of effort, and for many the results are very uncomfortable. 

If you are serious about changing your sales business, you must learn to run it like a business and to take full responsibility for what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.  You can’t do that unless you know–and you can’t know by guessing or going on gut feeling.  You can’t change your career if you simply continue to do what you’re doing. 

For salespeople, finding and selling quality prospects is how they make a living.  Yet, most leave their success or failure up to chance and gut feeling.  Can it get any stranger than that?  You don’t have to be like 85% of all other salespeople who meander along with no real idea of what to do to be successful. 

Sit down and do a thorough review of your prospecting, marketing, and selling activities for a reasonable period, say a year.  Dig out your records of what you did and exactly what activity produced what business.  Figure out what produces business and why.  Likewise, figure out what you’re investing time in that isn’t producing business—and why. 

Once you know those two things you can begin to put together a solid plan to exploit those things that are producing for you and take corrective action on those things that aren’t.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in control of your sales business and you’ll no longer have to wonder where your business will come from—or if it will come.

follow me on Twitter at: @paul_mccord

March 7, 2012

Your Attitude Is Showing–Is It Killing Your Sales?

Whether we like it or not, whether we want it to happen or not, whether we believe it or not, our attitude toward our job, our attitude toward our product or service, and especially our attitude toward our prospects and clients is telegraphed to our prospects and clients through our voice, our body language, and the words we choose.

And, again, whether we like it or not, our attitude has a direct and often disproportionate bearing on whether or not we close the sale

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of sellers.  I’ve seen all kinds of attitudes.  I’ve run across sellers who were genuinely honored to work with their prospects and clients, others who were true believers in their product or service, others who had a servant’s heart and were anxious to be of service to their prospects, and others who were excited to be a part of their company’s success. 

The prospects of these sellers pick up quickly on the seller’s enthusiasm and confidence.  The seller’s prospects and clients are to some extent influenced by the seller’s attitude and are more likely to have a positive view of not only the seller but also their products and services. 

On the other hand, I’ve met sellers who were only going through the motions, who looked upon their prospects and clients as nothing more than a checkbook, who hated their product, service or company, or who simply hated the very act of selling.  Almost all of these men and women knew their attitude was damaging their careers and sales efforts.  Most were too lazy or fearful to address the issues or to find more appropriate employment. 

Just as positive begets positive, negative begets negative.

But I’ve found two attitudes to be particularly destructive simply because most of the individuals who exhibit these attitudes don’t seem to understand how damaging their attitude is.  In fact, those who have one of these attitudes are convinced that their attitude is a major asset when dealing with prospects and clients.

These two attitudes are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are far too prevalent and both are extremely difficult to eradicate:

Fear: Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of getting fired, fear of not being able to pay the rent, fear of going back to the office empty handed are all common fears with sellers and they all send out an unmistakable beacon to the men and women these sellers try to connect with.  And that fear kills sales.

The problem with fear is that although the prospect or client picks up on the fear, they have no idea the source of the fear and can easily mistake it for something more ominous such as an attempt to lie or cheat or even an attempt to scam the buyer. 

Fear is sensed almost immediately and sends up red flags in the prospect that tells them to proceed slowly and with great caution.  Further, the seller’s fear simply reinforces the natural fear that many buyers experience when making a purchase, making it even that much more difficult for the buyer to pull the trigger and make a positive purchasing decision.

The only cure for fear is developing confidence.  Confidence comes through developing the skills and experience to be successful.  Fear is often attached to a lack of preparation, training, and coaching. 

Fortunately, fear can be overcome, but too often it is simply allowed to fester to the point the seller either moves to another career choice or the company lets them go. 

If you or one of your sellers suffers from fear, address it immediately and get them on a training and coaching path to replace their fear with a solid self-confidence.

Arrogance: Just as deadly in sales but more difficult to address is the attitude of arrogance and disrespect for the buyer. 

Arrogance comes across in many ways.  I’ve heard comments from sellers such as: “He wouldn’t take my cold call and I’m a customer of his company.  I told his secretary that he owed it to me to talk me and any other seller who called,” “I finally got an appointment with the jerk.  I’m going to be a few minutes late just to let him know I’m not so impressed that I’m going to fall all over myself just because he said yes to seeing me,”  “He thinks he knows more than I do.  He’ll pay when it comes time to sign a contract,” and hundreds of other comments that indicate the seller thinks the buyer either owes him something or that he has little respect for the buyer.

The biggest problem with arrogance is most sellers with an arrogant attitude believe that their attitude is an asset, one that exudes confidence and power.  In reality arrogance is usually covering up some other issue whether a lack of confidence, a fear, or a personality or character defect. 

I’ve seen this attitude in a great many men and women who were at one time top sellers and who are now struggling.  It seems their way of coping with their lack of success is to become boastful and arrogant.

I’ve also encountered this attitude with relatively new sellers who very quickly were very successful and bought into the idea that they were in some way special.  Their quick success just as quickly went to their hear—and often their success quickly turns into struggles as they fall back to earth.

Whatever the root cause, prospects and clients pick up on the attitude quickly and when they do, their natural defense mechanisms come up, making it almost impossible for the seller to close the sale.

Dealing with a seller suffering from arrogance is very difficult simply because it is so difficult to get them to understand they are their problem.  Most arrogant sellers have bought into the BS they spout.  They have become believers in their own trash talk.  Not that they actually believe they can outsell and outperform, but rather that they are better than those they try to sell to and they deserve the respect they try to demand from others.  Ultimately they believe the prospect owes them something.

Are they a lost cause?  Frankly, most are.  However, I’ve seen a few that with heavy coaching and a period of close management have seen the error of their ways and repented from their sin.  Unfortunately, they are the rare exception, not the rule.

If you have either of these attitudes in your sales team (and I’m willing to bet most sales leaders have at least one seller with one of these attitudes) you must deal with them immediately and directly for more than likely they won’t deal with their attitude issue on their own.  Those who are fearful won’t know how to deal with it and those who suffer from arrogance won’t have the slightest idea their attitude is a liability.

If you notice that you suffer from one of these attitude issues, get help immediately.  If you are fearful, get the training and coaching that will give you the basis for developing the confidence to overcome your fear.  If you are arrogant, get with your sales leader and develop a plan that will help your eradicate your malignant attitude before it destroys you and your career.

Connect with Paul on Twitter @paul_mccord

January 9, 2012

Four Signs It Is Time to Throw in the Towel

Filed under: attitude,career development,sales,Sales Failure,selling — Paul McCord @ 1:03 pm
Tags: , ,

A question I’m asked more often now than in the past is “how do I know if it’s time to look for another career?”  With the economy in dire straits it is more difficult to sell now than in the past.

For many sellers who began selling prior to the current economic morass, when selling was pretty easy and many sellers were gobbling up the sales and commissions, they’re having to radically change their thinking as they discover selling isn’t as easy as they thought.

Those who began selling only since 2007, today’s economy is the only selling environment they know.  In a sense, that’s a real advantage.

Although it would seem reasonable to assume that most of the sellers who entered the field prior to 2007 would have adjusted to the new reality by now, I find that many still haven’t and are still having a difficult time trying to get mentally and emotionally adjusted to the fact that what they did in the past isn’t working today.

And, of course, many of the newer sellers are struggling with the traditional problems of learning how to sell which are compounded by having to compete in a very tight and cut throat market.

Thus, I find myself addressing the how to know when to quit question more today than in the past.

I wish I could give a more cut and dried answer, but in reality there are so many factors involved in that decision that for many a cut and dried answer would do more harm than good.  Are the seller’s struggles things that he or she can take responsibility for–or do they lay outside their ability to control?  If the issues are ones they have some control over, are they willing and committed to addressing them?  If they are, do they have the time to do or has their time literally run out?

These and many other questions need to be addressed to really come to a decision on whether it is time to give up a career in selling—for a great many sellers.

However, for many others I think the answer really can be and should be cut and dried.  If any of these five issues apply, you need to make a quick exit, stage left:

  • No Passion or the Passion is Gone:  If there’s no passion for selling or if the passion that had once been there is gone, it’s time to hit the streets.  I’m not talking about a passion  particular products or services (if you’ve lost that passion but still are passionate about selling, all you need do is find a company whose products or services you can get passionate about).  I’m speaking here of a general passion for selling, a desire to provide the goods and/or services that will solve buyer’s issues or wants.
  • A Dread of Doing the Selling:  I’ve known men and women in selling positions who loved the ancillary work of creating selling materials, putting together lists, attending sales meetings, putting together proposals, and attending networking events but who dreaded and hated the actual selling.  For them the fun was in the busy work while the actual work of selling was despised.  If you hate the actual selling, get out and get out quick.
  • Unwillingness to Invest the Time and Money to Become a Professional:  The unfortunate truth is that few companies provide every bit of training a seller needs.  Companies by nature are more interested in providing product training than sales training.  Product training and sales training are not the same, although many sellers and companies want to think they are.

    Professional selling has nothing to do with the stereotypical fast talking huckster and everything to do with being skilled in understanding human nature, having strong analytical and problem solving skills, being an excellent communicator who is more attuned to listening than talking, and having the process that will enable you to work with a prospect to analyze and then solve their issues.

    It is the seller’s responsibility to acquire these skills and since few companies provide all of the needed training, the seller must be willing to invest their time and money in becoming the best seller possible.  If you’re not willing to make the time and financial commitment to become the highest skilled seller possible, a new, less demanding career would be an excellent choice.

  • No Commitment to Succeed:  Having a passion for selling does not necessarily translate into a commitment to succeed.  Selling is a tough business.  It certainly isn’t a 40 hour a week business.  For most sellers the selling part is the easy part, it’s the finding and connecting with high quality prospects and then the follow-up and problem solving that’s the hard part.

    Selling takes a great deal of energy, both physical and emotional.  It also demands a level of commitment that few other positions demand.  In a word, whether you’re a top seller making a million or more a year or an average producer making 6o or 70 thousand, selling is hard work.

    For a great many the time demands and the physical and emotional energy needed is simply too much to ask.  They want the rewards without having to make the investment.  They either can’t or aren’t willing to take the passion and put it into motion.  And frankly, unfulfilled passion is more of a tragedy than having no passion at all.

  • Undivided Focus on Money:  Selling can be extremely lucrative.  On the other hand, many, many sellers starve because they don’t have the commitment, passion and dedication.  Unfortunately for some, money becomes the only focus in the sale.  They don’t care about the prospect, the company they are selling for—and in many cases for themselves as they are willing to sell their soul to the Devil in order to get a few bucks with a “whatever it takes” mentality.

    If the only reason you’re in sales is money, get out as you’ll eventually find that you either hate what you do or, more likely, decide that the end justifies the means and you’ll do whatever it takes to pry the dollars out of the prospect’s hand.

    Selling is a high potential income SERVICE business and when the service becomes secondary to the income, ethics and honesty have a way of becoming secondary also.

Do any of these ring a bell?  If they do, it’s time to get out.

If they don’t and you’re still questioning whether or not it’s time to throw in the towel, I advise you to get with someone you trust—a mentor, coach, or maybe your manager—and work through to discover the issues you’re facing and whether or not you can and if you are willing to take the necessary steps to overcoming them.

Selling is tough and you need to be tough to succeed.  But if you’re struggling and are wondering if it is time for a new career, do yourself a favor and make an honest analysis of the situation before you make your decision.  If you decide to stay, you’ll know where your issues lie and what to do about them.  If you decide to leave, you’ll know you made the right decision and won’t be wondering for years to come what might have been if you’d stuck it out.

 

Connect with Paul on Twitter @paul_mccord

Or on Facebook at McCord Training

July 22, 2011

Are Your Roadblocks to Success Really Real?

Ray is a seller for a software company that I have been working with for a few weeks.  Although he is a strong seller, he wants to develop more effective prospecting strategies so he can bang on the phone a less while increasing his sales.  We’ve been working on increasing the quality and quantity of the referrals he gets from his clients.

We began by reviewing his then current method of trying to get referrals.  It was no surprise that he used the typical, “do a good job and ask for referrals” method.  It was also no surprise to learn that he didn’t get many high quality referrals.  Mostly he just got names and phone numbers of companies that were either poor prospects or not prospects at all.

He did get a referred sale here and there, just enough to keep him asking, but not enough to really make a difference in his production.

He agreed with me when I explained why the “process” he was using to get referrals didn’t work very well.  He recognized all the problems—clients uncomfortable with the request, clients not having time to think about who to refer, clients not knowing who to refer, him feeling uncomfortable asking as he knew he was making his clients uncomfortable by putting them on the spot.

He also agreed with me when I showed him a much more effective and natural way to work with his clients to generate high quality introductions to prospects that he knew he wanted to be introduced to.

We did some role playing.  We made a list of possible introductions he could get from his clients.  We reviewed all the steps he needed to take and all the potential issues and problems that could arise.

Ray was ready to begin talking to some clients and getting some quality introductions.

Off he went—and quickly back he came.

He had gone to talk to a client he had just finished selling and installing the software and training the staff.  The client was a plumbing company.  The software was a package of accounting and payroll modules.

The sale had gone well.  The software was doing exactly what it should.  The client and his staff were happy.

Ray had identified a great prospect who he really wanted his client to introduce him to—another plumbing company in town.  His identified prospect was one Ray had been trying to connect with for months but couldn’t get the owner to take his calls or acknowledge his letters or emails.  He was getting nowhere—but he also believed this was a great prospect for him.

His plumbing client was going to be the key to getting in.

That is until he went to see his client.

When Ray was visiting with his client, he thought about all the reasons his client wouldn’t give him an introduction to the other plumber—that other plumber was a competitor after all and that other plumber was bigger than Ray’s client; why would the client want to give the competitor anything that would help them?  In addition, Ray knew that his client was bidding on a big project and that other plumbing company was probably bidding on it too.  There were just too many reasons for his client to turn him down, Ray reasoned.

Knowing that he was off to get his first introduction commitment, I called Ray that afternoon to get a report.  I was dismayed with what I heard.

Why again, I asked, did Ray believe his client knew the other plumber and were friends?

Because there was a picture in the client’s office of the client and the other plumber each holding a huge Bass and were both smiling and obviously comparing them.

Ah, I reminded him, they really were friends.

Anything else?

Yes, Ray said, his client used to work for the other plumber.  In fact, they still do some jobs together where the other plumber will sub-contract Ray’s client when needed.

Ah, they’re friends and they work closely together.  In fact, Ray’s client makes money off the other company.  Sounds like cut throat competitors to me.

So why did he determine it would be useless to ask his client for an introduction to the other company?

Well, Ray said, they’re competitors.  Why would his client want to give a competitor an advantage?

What advantage, I asked?  Did his software package improve his client’s quality as a plumber?

Well, no, not really, Ray answered.

Did the package give him an advantage when competing for business?

Sorta, Ray said, in the sense that it made his company more efficient.

Efficient enough to blow his competition out of the water?

No.

If his competition had the same package would it blow Ray’s client out of the water?

No.

So, I asked, what’s the problem?  Give me one good reason why his client wouldn’t recommend to a friend and someone he works closely with something that might help him save time and money if the chances are that that something really isn’t going to hurt him?

Ray couldn’t, of course, come up with a good reason.

He went back, asked for and got the introduction—and eventually a new client

So often when they can’t find them out there naturally, sellers put roadblocks in their way themselves.

Ray was so concerned about getting a negative response that he thought of all kinds of reasons why his client would say ‘no’ instead of why the client would say ‘yes,’ and that predetermined ‘no’ almost cost him a sale.

How about you?  What are the predetermined reasons you can’t pick up the phone and call that great prospect?  What are the predetermined reasons you can’t close that sale?  What are the predetermined reasons you can’t get that job?

Don’t be Ray—don’t defeat yourself before you even try.  A great many of those roadblocks that keep us from success have been put there not by others but by ourselves.  What roadblocks have you created?  Find them and get rid of them.  Life is hard enough without you defeating yourself.

July 16, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Sales Success

A little over one hundred years ago the father of a young 8 year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon encouraged her to write to a then leading New York newspaper, The Sun, and ask the question she’d just asked him—if there were in fact a Santa Claus, for all of her friends were telling her that he really didn’t exist and she wanted to know if they were correct.

The Sun answered Virginia in one of the most famous editorials ever published—Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.  The reply was a resounding YES, there is a Santa Claus and the writer of the editorial laid out his proof.

Unfortunately, today all too many deny there is a real secret to sales success also.  Like Virginia’s friends, the claim is made that there really isn’t one single thing that if done can guarantee success in sales.  No, they say, you must become a master of every aspect of selling and then you’ll be prepared to become successful.  Oh, sure, they’ll admit, a few here and there appear to succeed by blind luck, but they’re the exception, not the rule.  Forget your silly search for the magic bullet of selling and resign yourself to learning the minutia of sales before seriously turning your eye to becoming truly successful.

Many, many others are all too eager to promote the idea of the sales secret—and to let you know that they are the sole keepers of the great secret that so few have known.  Better yet, they tell you, they’ll be happy to share the secret with you, but since it is such a valuable thing and should only be shared with those who are truly deserving of knowing, they must make sure you are worthy.  But since they really don’t have any other way of discerning who is and who isn’t worthy, they must charge an exorbitant fee to keep the riff-raff and undeserving from attaining it–and since you have the money to acquire it, you must be worthy and deserving of being given the great secret (as soon as your check clears, of course)..

Lucky for you I know this great secret and I’ll give it to you—and it won’t cost you $1,995.  Won’t even cost $995.  Heck, I’m not even going to charge you $9.95.  I’m simply going to give it to you—no charge.

Why in the world would I give such a tremendous secret away for nothing?  Because I know that once learned, the vast majority won’t put it into practice.  You see, the secret is simple, but it is far from easy.

Anyone can take this secret and become a successful seller—just how successful will depend on their commitment to implementing it.

So what is this secret?

Is it a super-duper sales process?  No.

Maybe a super special leads list?  Nope, not that.

How about some special words that will immediately connect with prospects?  Not that either.

Could it be a special super power like a super hero has?   Now we’re getting warm.

The secret is a super power of sorts–one that few are capable of acquiring.

This super power is tough-mindedness.  It’s the ability to out work and out prospect your competitors.  It’s the ability to take the rejection, the ‘no’s’, the frustration of making calls and not reaching anyone, of being stopped dead by a gatekeeper, by having the phone slammed down in your ear, of networking until you feel like you can’t network anymore–and to then do it again and again and again until you’ve reached your goals.

The secret is simple—if you have the determination and commitment to prospect longer and harder than anyone else, you will become successful.

I’ve seen this truth worked out time after time as new sellers enter the field and out work and outperform even the top sellers in their office. They know nothing–but work their tails off and sell like crazy. Unfortunately, many times after they “learn” that they’re not supposed to be having the success that they’re having their production craters. They’ve “learned” how to be average. Sometimes we simply learn the wrong things–such as there isn’t a secret to sales success.

This isn’t to say that all the other things in sales aren’t important.  They are.  You need a great sales process; you need to know how to probe and discover needs and wants; you need to know how to solve issues.  There is a great deal that every professional seller must learn.

But there is still one key to being successful in sales above all others—prospecting.

The better you become at qualifying suspects; the better you become at finding and solving real needs; the better you become at finding and connecting with your quality prospects; the easier success will be and the less time you’ll have to spend prospecting.

That being said, even if you know nothing about sales, have the world’s worst close ratio, have no discretion in who you spend time talking to. and haven’t the slightest idea of the difference between a closed-end and open-end question, if you outwork your competition in prospecting, you will reach a measure of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t a simple secret to success in selling that alone can make you successful because there is.  It certainly isn’t complicated—but it is hard.  And it can be claimed and implemented by anyone. 

By all means, acquire a great sales process, learn the most sophisticated and effective prospecting strategies you can, learn to become great at identifying and solving prospect issues, learn all you can to make selling easier, but if you aren’t having the success you want, take heart—you now have the secret.

Take it, claim it as yours, implement it, and enjoy the rewards.

And know that even if your competitors know it too, few, if any, will claim it as their own because it simply costs too much for most.

April 14, 2011

A Tale of Three Villages

This was related to me by a sales executive—I’ll refer to him as Robert–who swears it is a true story.  Although I have his permission to use his name, I’ve chosen not to for as you will see, the story is not complimentary to the company he was working for (and it’s too pleasant a Spring to worry about a law suit).

Like many other companies, Robert began, we had gone through a terrible year in 2008. 

I had joined the company as chief sales officer at the beginning of 2007, just a very few months before the economy really began to hurt our sales.

During the course of the year we had cut back on everything—even to the point that office supplies were monitored, hourly employees were forbidden to work overtime, a hiring freeze was instituted which not only meant that no new positions could be created but if someone quit or were terminated we couldn’t replace them.  There were no merit raises, and, of course, there we no bonuses.  Travel, training, meeting, and other “non-essential” budgets were greatly reduced if not entirely eliminated.

We in the sales department were under a great deal of pressure to bring in business—any business.  At first, profit margins were watched with an eagle eye, but after a few months the goal was to get a sale at virtually any price.  The entire sales staff was working under tremendous pressure.  Two satellite sales offices were closed during the year as well as one branch office.  The national and all regional sales meetings were cancelled.

Despite the emphasis on bringing in business at any cost, sales were still down by almost 20% for the year—and 2009 looked like it would be even worse.  The company posted a loss for the first time in almost 15 years and we knew that the following year would be an even bigger loss the way things were going.

During the first quarter of 2009 all the department heads and executives were called in for a strategy meeting.  The goal was to figure out what could be done to stop the bleeding.  I was to lay out in detail what was needed in the sales department. 

When it finally came my turn to present, I started with an overview of 2008’s sales and the current projections for 2009.  I then wanted to make a case for funding an aggressive training program starting immediately.  During the previous year our one in-house trainer had quit and wasn’t replaced.  We instituted some training during weekly sales meetings but that was totally inadequate.  For several years prior to the recession when business was really good the company had cut back on the amount of training it provided.  Business was coming in and frankly they didn’t see a reason to spend the dollars.  As I said, we had a company trainer but he wasn’t really a sales trainer although he had gone through one of the major sales training systems and was our “official” sales trainer so to speak, supplemented by our branch and regional managers and on occasion me.

Rather than giving a straight forward argument for increased training of the sales team and the associated expenditure, I decided to tell a story that I thought might illustrate the need better than simple facts.

I stood up and started:

“Around the mid to last half of the 19th century in the Midwest farming was becoming the backbone of communities.  Small farming villages were constantly forming as more and more farmers developed their farms.  Often these communities were founded on a river.

“In one area in particular at about the same time, three farming villages were founded, each on a fork of the same river. 

“Each village was thriving as more framing families moved into their area.  Over the years, additional commercial interests began to move into each community.

“For many years life was good.

“But from the beginning, each community took a different view of the fork of the river they lived on.

“The first village understood that the river was the source of their livelihood.  The village council made sure that the river was well maintained.  Any trash that was found in the river was removed.  If sand, silt, or rocks began to build up around the banks of the river, it was cleared out.  About every couple of decades they dredged the river if they needed to.

“But the elders of the second and third villages didn’t see a need to pay much attention to the river as the river was always there.  Sure, over the years the silt and sand had accumulated.  The river was shallower than it had been but it was also broader, so it had just as much water as ever.  They thought the first village’s efforts to keep their fork of the river narrow and deep a silly waste of time.  Life was good–why invest in something that didn’t need to be done?

“But then a year of drought came.  The first village barely noticed that the rains had ceased as their river still ran strong and deep and provided all the water they needed.  But the other two villages began to see their forks of the river begin to dry up.  At first it was just a bit of bigger semi-sandy beach.  Then there were mud flats that seemed to go for hundreds of yards before there was any water.

“The drought didn’t break in the second or the third years. 

“By the end of the second year the first village had seen a noticeable decrease in the flow of their fork of the river.  Even so, they had plenty of water and had no fear that if the drought lasted another year or even two that they’d be in any real trouble.

“The people in the second and third village were in very different shape.  Their forks of the river were on the verge of drying up completely after the years of neglect. 

“The village councils of both villages finally had no choice to face the crisis. 

“Both villages talked about their options—they could sacrifice and pay the price to do the work they should have been doing all along and invest in getting their fork of the river in shape to handle the drought, they could give up and move out of the village, or they could stay and hope that the drought relented before they were driven out.

“The people of the second village debated and debated and finally decided that as much as it would hurt short-term, they had no choice but to hire someone to come and help them save their fork of the river.  The sacrifice was painful—and it wasn’t quick, but finally it began to pay off and the water began to flow, each day the flow of water seemed to increase. 

“The people in the third village decided that the cost to deal with the river was just too great to bear.  They believed that the drought would abate and they would be able to delay any repairs to the river until times were better. During the fourth year of the drought the final residents of the third village moved away, leaving their small village and most of the surrounding farms to decay.

“Unfortunately, we have several competitors who, like the first village, didn’t fritter away the good years.  They maintained a high level of training for their people even though for many, us included, it seemed a waste of time and money.  They are now reaping the rewards of that investment.  Some have even seen their sales increase during this downturn.

“We now have to decide if we’re going to be like the second village that was willing to pay the price in the short-term to rectify past neglect–or whether we’re going to hope against hope as the third village did that somehow we’ll make it through.

“It’s our choice—and our responsibility.  Where do we go from here?”

 

I’d like to say that my little story had the desired effect, Robert said.  It didn’t.  We limped along through 2009 and most of 2010.  The loses grew larger each month. 

I eventually left out of disgust. 

The company is still hanging on but is looking for someone, anyone, to purchase them.  Most of the executive group that was there for my story is gone also.

Would things have been different if we’d made the decision to ratchet up our training?  Of course I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet they would be very different.  We had a good product.  We had some good salespeople.  We didn’t have the right support in terms of training and coaching to help them at a really difficult time.

Since then I’ve changed my focus, Robert ended.  My team is 100% focused on gaining and implementing skills—and every manager is required to learn how to coach their team members.  No longer will I get myself in a situation where my river is going to silt over and die.

 

I thought Robert’s story both timely and relevant to many a company right now. 

I hope if your company didn’t follow the example of the first village that you at least joined the second village in digging deep and sacrificing to dredge your river to get the saving water flowing again.  If you’re with the third village, well, good luck.

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