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.

 

March 1, 2013

Book Review: Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul

principled-selling-cover-191x300Ethics.

Honesty.

Integrity.

Principles. 

All of these terms are on the tip of virtually every seller’s tongue.  We sellers talk about them, we proclaim we exhibit them in our personal and professional life, and we bombard our prospects and clients with the claim that we epitomize them and they can, thus, trust us without reserve.

To a great extent prospects have heard these claims so often and so loudly that the integrity and ethics of salespeople are a running joke.  For many as soon as a seller says they can be trusted the prospect expects to get screwed.

To top it off many sellers work for companies that preach integrity and ethics and then turn around and practice the worst possible business practices.

Many sellers are working hard to be the ethical, disciplined seller they claim to be.

Nevertheless, the question can legitimately be asked if it is possible to sell with integrity.  Can we as sellers be principled and succeed or is selling by its very nature an endeavor that demands a bit of larceny, manipulation and deception?

David Tovey has addressed the issue in Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul (Kogan Page:  2012).

Tovey argues that it is in fact possible—and not only possible but profitable—to with integrity than to sell using manipulation, deception, or by stretching the truth and trying to be all things to all people.

Principled Selling sets forth a comprehensive look at the sales process—both how it has been practiced in the past and how it should be practiced in today’s rapidly changing sales environment. 

The heart of Principled Selling is the five principles of selling:

Principle 1: selling is about motivation not manipulation

Principle 2: profitable relationships require investment

Principle 3: there must be congruency throughout the business development process

Principle 4: long-term relationships depend on being authentic

Principle 5: being human gets results

From those five principles Tovey constructs a process and shows in detail how to find and attract prospects and then turn them into clients. 

Unlike many books that start out and stay in the ivory tower of sales theory, Principled Selling gets down to the real world through the use of case studies and fleshing out the skills and attitudes necessary to successfully sell with full integrity.

If you’re struggling with how to become a fully transparent and ethical seller or if you’d simply like to learn more trust based skills, pick up a copy of Principled Selling—you really can sell more without selling your soul.

January 14, 2013

Are You Really The One Being Qualified?

Every seller is concerned about qualifying their prospects.  We all want to be in front of prospects who can buy—that is, who not only have a need or desire but also the means to consummate the purchase.  Qualifying a prospect can be simple or complex depending on how many criteria a suspect must meet in order to be classified as a quality prospect. 

Consequently we sellers try to use as many tools at our disposal as possible to learn about and quality those we think could be quality prospects for us.  And one of the most important and oft used tools is the question, open ended, probing questions in particular.

Unfortunately we seldom, if ever, consider that the prospect is doing exactly the same thing to us—they are actively trying to determine if we are someone they would buy from.    

Many of us have been taught that our sequence of events should be: qualify, present, close, answer objections, close again.  This sequence has a number of variations, some quite complex, but in the end, this is the format a great many of use have been taught.

Although we view our questions as important discovery questions, we tend to view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections or diversions 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.

Recognize an honest qualifying question for what it is.  Maybe those questions you are trying to overcome, especially about price or quantity or delivery or usage, aren’t objections or buying signals at all but are just honest discovery questions.

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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November 5, 2012

We’re Sellers, We Are The Hollow Men

Filed under: business,Client Relationships,selling,small business,trust — Paul McCord @ 10:26 am
Tags: , ,

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

(from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot)

Over the past few months as we in the US have been in the middle of an election season I’ve read numerous articles from sales experts exhorting sellers to refrain from discussing politics with prospects and clients even if they have reason to believe the prospect or client has the same opinions as the seller or if the prospect or client initiates the conversation.

We are the Hollow Men.

Oh, Seller, they argue, to voice an opinion on such a touchy subject as politics or religion or various aspects of culture that might be controversial is to be avoided at all costs for voicing an opinion might cost a sale.

We are the Hollow Men.

By all means, they say, feel free to take sides with your favorite football or baseball team, go ahead and state your opinion of who should win American Idol, and don’t be afraid to take a strong stand on who the Bachelorette should pick.

We are the Hollow Men.

But when actual issues of life are presented, be nothingness, be hollow, be stuffed with straw, be nothing more than a chalk outline of a human drawn on the sidewalk.

We are the Hollow Men.

Should we initiate political or religious conversations?  Should we be starting conversations on controversial topics?  No.  But that doesn’t mean we avoid them when they come up. Rather we converse with our prospects and clients as humans, not as checkbooks.  Heaven forbid we even disagree with them at times as real humans are wont to do.

Again, Seller, they argue, don’t be seen as being political or religious.   Take all measures to not offend.  Take that political sticker off your car; get rid of that Knights of Columbus lapel pin; don’t listen to that radio station within hearing range of a prospect, God forbid you express an opinion on Social Medi that someone might actually see.  Be nothingness, be hollow, be a stuffed shell of a human—but at all costs don’t be honest.

We are the Hollow Men.

Then we tell our prospects and clients that we’re honest, trustworthy, transparent.

We are the Hollow Men.


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July 13, 2012

Guest Article: Reputation Recovery, by Charles H. Green

Reputation Recovery
by Charles H. Green

When you are more virtuous than your reputation would suggest, you have a communications problem.

When your reputation for virtue exceeds the facts on the ground, you have a ticking business problem.

When Image and Reality Part Ways

When you have a communications problem, the communications team should hire a PR firm. Most firms do this.

But in the second case – where the reputation is better than the truth – most firms do not do what they should. They don’t even thank their lucky stars for having a better reputation than they deserve.

Instead, they begin to believe the hype.

Then one day, It Happens. The subsidiary defaults. The pipeline springs a leak. Animal byproducts show up in the food. Someone comes forward to testify.

Let’s be clear. These things just kind of seem to happen more often to the non-virtuous than to the virtuous firm. If the event truly is an anomaly, it doesn’t last on the front page. Acts of god don’t make good news for long.

But what about the non-virtuous firm?

When Disclosures Accelerate

When it turns out the smoke really did indicate fire, the non-virtuous firm all too often behaves predictably. Having believed their undeserved hype about being virtuous, they then do what the virtuous firms did – they hire a PR firm.

Which is all too often the wrong thing to do – and hardly ever the main thing to do.

In an interesting display of PR sensitivity, BP chose to hire Dick Cheney’s former campaign press secretary as head of PR, and a Wall Street PR firm as outside advisors.

Of course, there is a role for communications experts even in a crisis. With multiple constitutencies and tons of experience at keeping things secret, perhaps it made sense for Penn State to hire two outside PR firms.

But most non-virtuous firms aren’t looking for technical expertise; they’re looking to follow the lead of Muammar Gadaffi in seeking spin.

PR: a Delicate Balance

It cannot be an easy thing to tell clients seeking spin that the solution is to become virtuous. Clients want virtue now, and backdated if possible, thank you very much.

In such a milieu, the temptation for ambulance chasing is high. How can you keep on teaching virtue when the clients are paying you to shut up and stop the pain?

Yet that is what must be done. Arthur Page, the poster child for “good” public relations, had it right. He had a list of seven principles, the first of which was “tell the truth.” What a concept.

He also said that public relations is 90% doing and 10% talking about it. In other words, if you are virtuous, you’re not going to have much of a problem explaining crises.

Recovering Virtue

The fallen firm wants to know what they can do now to recover. After all, they always sought fast fixes in the past, and they worked. But there simply is no fast route to virtue recovery if you’re coming from a history of un-virtuous behavior.

At a personal level, it’s conceivable that someone could have an instant conversion and become virtuous, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it – most conversions I have seen have come through pain and hard work.

And at a corporate level? Fuggedabout it. The fastest route to serious change is to change all the top leadership, and even then you’ve got habits, policies and cultures to change. Minimum 6-12 months, and I can’t off-hand think of an example where change has happened that fast.

Non-virtuous leaders who’ve been caught with their pants down don’t want to hear it, but the best way to handle crises is to prevent them happening in the first place. The best way to be trusted is to be trustworthy.

Spin is not the solution; spin is the problem.

You may not be able to change by tomorrow, but you can always start the journey today.

Charles H. Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC; read more about Charlie at http://trustedadvisor.com/cgreen/You can follow him on twitter @CharlesHGreen

February 1, 2012

Killer Communication Strategy

So many prospects and clients to kill, so little time.  But don’t worry; salespeople all over the world are doing their damnedest to kill as many prospects and clients as possible every day.  Their weapon of choice?  Communication—or more specifically,  communication fraud.

I suspect you are like me, getting dozens of emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, and even face-to-face meetings with sellers who seem to have only one goal—waste as much of my time as possible.  They email and call wanting to know if I’m doing OK, or if I need anything, or if they can show me a new product or service without having the slightest idea if I could actually use it.  Some call to simply let me know they’re still around and want my business.

Many of these intrepid sellers have bombarded me with so much time wasting junk communication that they’ve taught me to completely ignore them.  When I see an email or letter from them or if I get a voice mail message from them I know that I need pay absolutely no attention to them.  Their time wasting communications have completely killed me off as a prospect—and, worse, I’ve even had some sellers kill me off as a client because of their insistence on trying to waste my time.

Sellers work hard to find and connect with quality prospects and then to win them as clients.  Why in the world would they want to then commit prospect and client genocide?

Obviously, their intent isn’t to become mass murderers, but that is the final result of many sellers’ communications.  Their killer communication strategy is to unintentionally kill off massive numbers of their prospects and clients by teaching them to ignore any of their communications. 

So many sellers think of communication as nothing that important.  Their object is to keep their name in front of the prospect or client and to that end they feel a need to contact the prospect or client even when they have nothing of import to communicate.  Actually and more correctly, they feel the need to draw attention to themselves even when they have nothing of value to communicate.  And even more correctly, they are just too damn lazy to find something of value to deliver to the prospect or client. 

In other words, their killer communication strategy is tell their prospects and clients in no uncertain terms that they just aren’t important enough for the seller to invest the time and energy necessary to add value for them.

Now that’s a killer communication strategy.

There is a very simple communication rule that I teach my clients:  every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them to either pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to ignore you because all you do is waste their time.  In other words, every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them that it’s worth taking your phone calls and reading your emails because they know you’re not going to waste their time–or you’re teaching them to avoid you because you have nothing of value for them. 

The next time you pick up the phone or write an email or want to schedule an appointment, ask yourself one simple question: “am I adding value to them or to just me?”  If your honest answer is that you’re only adding value for yourself, don’t make the call, don’t send the letter, don’t send the email until you have taken the time to make sure you’re adding as much or more value to them as you are for yourself.

January 30, 2012

Guest Article: Are You Client Focused or a Client Vulture?, by Charles H. Green

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

Much has been written about client focus. We hear about sophisticated clients who will leave if we don’t focus on their needs. We hear about the virtues of client loyalty, and the virtues of measurements like client profitability. The key to competitive success is to do a better job serving clients than the next guy. And so on.

But there’s a dark side to that theme. The reason to be so client-focused is almost always phrased in terms of the benefits to the seller. And that changes everything.

Client focus, as it is too often practiced in business today, is the focus of a vulture. It is all about the benefit to the firm—not to the client. When client benefits are discussed, they are as discussed as a means to the seller’s ends. Yes, we want to serve clients better—but for our sake, not theirs.

Should we be surprised, then, when clients become cynical, send out RFPs, and refer us to third-party buying agents? In our rush to dissect the client brain, we have forgotten that motives matter.

I’m not talking about ethics—I’m talking about the simple facts of trust. We trust those we believe to have our interests at heart, and we distrust those we believe to have their interests at heart. But we particularly distrust those who pretend to be the former, while behaving like the latter.

Sometimes it’s hard to see trust faults in our own business. By way of metaphor, consider an industry recently hard-hit by trust issues—pharmaceuticals. One of the drug manufacturers’ wounds is self-inflicted—the failed relationship between physicians and reps.

Doctors long relied on reps to keep them up to date on new drugs—an important and valuable advisory role. In recent years, the drug companies tried to increase reps’ sales effectiveness. They increased the number of reps per doctor, focusing on hiring young and attractive people. They introduced complex measurement systems to evaluate rep performance, and purchased sophisticated statistical data to calibrate the impact of rep visits on physician prescriptive behavior.

Sensible steps all, it would seem: but they’ve produced negative results.

  • Less than one rep visit in 10 now results in a conversation with a physician, and lasts on average only 90 seconds;
  • Personal relationships have been reduced and curtailed; reps are valued only for the samples they leave, turning them into pill-pushers;
  • The doctors have little respect for the reps, which in turn is debilitating for the reps.

How did this happen? Each change in the system was motivated largely, if not entirely, by a desire to increase physician prescription-writing of drugs produced by the pharmaceutical company. That motivation was very clear to the doctors—and they saw no benefit evident to them. Like most clients, the doctors reacted negatively. A past trusted relationship was degraded because the seller was motivated only by the seller’s needs.

Relationships and Fake Trust

When client focus becomes a tool for seller profit improvement, clients notice and become cynical. Lately, the language of client focus is adopting the language of relationships, fostering yet another layer of cynicism.

Think of “relationship,” “loyalty,” and “trust.” All once had significant emotional connotations—for “loyalty,” think “semper fi” or “’til death do us part.” For “trust,” think the bonds of a handshake, or of fiduciary responsibilities.

Today, loyalty gets defined behaviorally as repeat purchasing behavior. “Client relationship management” software is sold on the basis of its ability to create client profitability analyses (to the software owner, that is, not to the client).

In the dating world, it’s considered forward to say you want a relationship on the first date—but in business, some firms have gone one better and built “relationship” into a marketing slogan before even meeting the client.

Relationship concepts have been hijacked in service to selfish motives. When a company’s ad copy says, “you care about your children; that’s why we here at XYZ corporation are doing blah blah blah” the company is not only lying, but lying baldly and shamelessly about their motives.
What is at stake here is no less than the meaning of words, and therefore the credibility and trust of the company saying them.

Being Truly Client-Focused

The most difficult act for us as sellers of professional services is to stop viewing everything from our own perspective. And it has to be a personal act—a self-willed, psychological belief or attitude.
The economics of trust-based selling™ rest on a paradox: if we do what is good for the consumer, we will eventually gain more than our proportionate share of business. It may not come from this transaction, in this quarter—or even from this client—but it will come. Nothing motivates repeat business or referrals better than a trust-based relationship with the provider.
If our motives for being trusted are not truly client-focused—then it all falls apart. This is the paradox. Great results come from client focus—but only if you stop doing client focus in order to achieve results for yourself.

In today’s business climate, “best practices” and financial analyses are defined in ever-smaller, ever-shorter, ever-narrower slices. They are often not “best,” but among the most insidious.
These practices are harmful because they blind us to opportunities to serve our clients.

In the perennial Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s Santa Claus is nearly fired for recommending that a client go to competitor Gimbel’s for a particular product. That is, until Macy’s Chairman realizes the profound increase in client trust produced by Santa’s approach—having faith that doing right by the customer will end up helping Macy’s anyway.
Being truly client-focused means believing in the superiority of client relationship strategies over competitor-focused strategies; the medium- and long-term over successive short-terms; and truth-telling over spinning.

The good news is the field is wide open for firms willing to practice what everyone else only preaches—serving the client, believing that to do so will ultimately return more than the self-serving narrowly calculating strategies of the vulture can ever hope to do.

A truly client-focused relationship strategy built on trust is the best deal going. It is rare; most competitors are afraid to try it. It is powerful; ask any successful salesperson about the power of trust. And it is proven—just look at your own behavior as a buyer in relation to a seller you trust.

Trusting relationships have to start with the selling firm, not the client. Go ahead, take a risk. The ultimate paradox is, taking a risk ends up being the lowest risk. Being trusted is a very low-risk, high-return strategy.

Charles H. Green is a speaker and executive educator on trust-based relationships and Trust-based Selling in complex businesses. He is author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005), and co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford, Free Press, October 2000).  Visit his website

June 3, 2011

Hey, Now, Just Who’s Qualifying Whom Here?

Recently 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.

May 31, 2011

How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale

“So, how much will it cost?”

“What would something like this run me?”

“We have a very limited budget.  I don’t want to waste my time.  What’s your fee?”

“Sounds to me like you’re talking about a lot of money.  Before we go any farther I need to know what kind of money we’re looking at.”

We’ve all heard these questions or a million other variations of them.

They always seem to come way too early in the conversation and always at an inopportune time.

The fact is that no matter what you’re selling, the price of your goods and services is always a primary concern to your prospects. Whether you like it or not, price is top of mind with the majority, if not all, of your prospects.  If it isn’t, you might need to question just how serious your prospect is since price is always an important part of the equation when contemplating a purchase.

The fact that prospects are concerned about price isn’t a surprise and it really shouldn’t be a big deal—except it so often comes up before you’ve had any opportunity to establish the value you bring to the table for the prospect, and price without value equals a no sale.

The price question presents you with a serious dilemma:  how do you honestly answer the question of price, yet at the same time save a detailed conversation about price until you have had the opportunity to build the value in your product and service that justifies its price?

The early introduction of the price question seems to put you in a position of having to choose between two rules of selling that appear to be antithetical to one another at this point-1) always answer your prospect’s questions honestly and directly, and 2) never discuss price until you’ve built value in your product or service.

Fortunately, you can honor both rules.

The key to addressing the price question is understanding why the question is asked in the first place.  Many salespeople see the price question as an objection; it isn’t.  It’s an honest question by the prospect who is trying to determine their interest level in your product or service. 

Just as you are trying to qualify your prospect, they’re trying to qualify your product or service, as well as qualifying you, and one of the major qualification questions they have is price.  They’re simply asking the question too early, before they have sufficient information to determine whether your product or service justifies the investment.

The easiest way to handle the question is to give the prospect a direct answer and then bridge back to your investigation of their wants and needs to build value.  Depending upon the product or service you’re selling, your answer to price may be specific-“This truck is twenty five six fifty four”-or general-“depending upon your specific needs we find when we do the needs analysis, the complete instillation of the software and training can range from a few thousand dollars on up into the low to mid five figures,” or, “Frankly, Jack, at this point I really don’t know because I don’t know what needs to be done, if anything, but I can tell you that the investment can range from just a few thousand dollars on up.  But it depends upon the scope of the work to be done and we’ve still to determine that.”

Your statement then needs to be immediately followed up with a question to bridge back to investigating their needs to help you build value.

In the truck example above you might then ask, “Will you be pulling a trailer often, or just on occasion?”  In this example your full statement would be, “This truck is twenty five six fifty four.  By the way, will you be pulling a trailer often or just on occasion?”  You’ve answered your prospect’s question, but you then lead them back into a discussion of their needs, which will help you determine what vehicle will best meet their needs, give you information to highlight the features of the truck that will meet those needs, and the benefits of those features that will give value to the price of the truck.

In the software example, the full statement might be something like:  “Well, Nancy, depending upon your specific needs we find when we do the needs analysis and the modules you need, the complete instillation and training of the software can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars on up to the low to mid five figures; by the way, what other applications do you run that our software will have to be integrated with?”  Again, you’ve given an honest answer to the price question since at this point you don’t know what the package will cost.  Instead of trying to answer an impossible question, you’ve given the typical cost range and then followed with a question that will put the conversation back on track of investigating your prospect’s needs, allowing you to gather the information you need to build value in your product before you get into a serious price discussion.

In the third, the consulting example, the full statement might be: “Frankly, Jack, at this point I really don’t know because I don’t know what needs to be done, if anything, but I can tell you that the investment can range from just a few thousand dollars on up.  But it depends on the scope of the work to be done and we’ve still to determine that.  What do you think has been the cost of the shipping department’s logjam that has extended shipping time by almost two days?”

Price questions need not create problems for you or for your prospect.  Price is a natural concern for the prospect, but knowing a price without understanding the real value of the product or service is meaningless.  Your job is to answer your prospect’s question and return the conversation to a point where you can build value for your prospect, so they can appreciate the price in context of value.

If you refuse to answer the price question you run the risk of insulting or angering your prospect-not to mention the damage you do to your credibility and trustworthiness.  But if you begin a serious discussion of price before you’ve had the opportunity to build value, you ask your prospect to make an investment without having a basis to determine whether the investment is justified.

May 8, 2011

Financial Advisor: You Must Match Your Message with Your Desired Image

The typical financial adviser will spend over 650 hours a year studying their profession through reading professional books, blogs and other publications, attending on-line discussions and webinars, going to seminars and conferences, listening to CD’s or watching DVD’s, and other study methods.  That’s almost 17, 40-hour weeks of study a year to become good at what they do.  Broken into the equivalent of college courses, it equates to about three full semesters of college work a year. 

Three years into the profession, they will have completed the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree, plus a semester of graduate school.  After only 5 years in the profession, they’ve invested the equivalent of 7 ½ years of class time.  Since most enter the profession with at least a Bachelor’s degree, they have, in essence, earned a Ph.D. 

During the same time, most have invested little, if anything, in their profession’s other side—learning to sell and market their services.  By the end of their 5th year in the profession, most advisers have invested little more than a college semester’s effort in learning how to generate the clients necessary to be able to practice their profession. 

Unfortunately, being technically good is useless if you don’t have a client to work with.  Being half a financial adviser will get you nowhere except into another profession. 

A great many advisers struggle when it comes to generating new business; and, of course, thousands struggle themselves right out of the profession every year due to their inability to acquire enough business.  Some cold call, others network the local chamber of commerce.  Some stick their business cards to bulletin boards at restaurants or under windshields in parking lots, send unsolicited emails, fax fliers all over town, invest in direct mail, buy leads, or purchase expensive advertising.  Yet, few invest their time and money in learning more sophisticated prospecting and client acquisition methods.

When acquiring complex and sophisticated services such as financial products and guidance, prospects want to work with an adviser they believe to be expert. 

Indeed, whether their assumptions are correct or not, prospects make a number of assumptions about what an expert is and how experts acquire their business.  They assume that experts are not cold calling, sending unsolicited emails, sticking business cards on windshields or bulletin boards, putting up cheap yard signs on street corners, or faxing fliers. 

Prospects assume that true experts don’t have to do these things because their practice is populated through referrals from the adviser’s current client base. 

Consequently, the very act of cold calling, faxing fliers, blasting emails, or engaging in any other form of prospecting that prospects identify as crude, sends the message that the adviser is not what the adviser proclaims himself or herself to be—an expert.  These prospecting methods confirm Marshall McLuhan’s proclamation that “the medium is the message.”  The medium used to communicate to the prospect shapes the prospect’s perception of the adviser more than the content of the message.  Unfortunately for the adviser using these media, the message the medium communicates is the exact opposite of what the adviser seeks to communicate. 

Nevertheless, there are client acquisition methods available whose medium message can reinforce the adviser’s content message.  Learning and perfecting these formats requires as much dedication and commitment as learning the technical aspects of the profession.  Alternatively, hiring someone who understands the financial adviser’s business and can perform a number of these activities for the adviser will both expedite the process and free the adviser from the time commitment to learn and hone the required skills.

Communicating an expert message requires you use the media of an expert.  Mixing an expert message with a non-expert medium doesn’t send a mixed message, it sends the dominate message of the medium–a message that the adviser is just another one of the crowd. 

What are the media of an expert?  There are many:

Networking:  Networking through various organizations and associations is an expert format.  However, as all things associated with the expert, how and where you network is crucial.  An expert is more likely to be networking through specialized business, industry, and charitable associations than through more general organizations.  Working within a physician, engineering, architectural, CEO, or charitable organization is more “expert” than surfing the local chamber of commerce or breakfast networking group.  In addition, becoming an active member and developing relationships without overt “prospecting” is more “expert” than trying to evangelize someone you just met.  The relationship converts the prospect, not the overt “selling.”

Referrals:  Prospects assume true experts acquire clients through referrals.  Generating a large volume of high quality referrals requires learning and practicing a well-developed process that leads clients to a comfort level to give strong, quality referrals.  Simply asking doesn’t produce the quantity or quality desired.  However, there are processes used by the top sales professionals that work extremely well.

Press Releases:  Learning how to write and distribute well-written press releases about yourself and your practice will have far more impact than advertising.  Most prospects are resistant to advertising and direct mail.  Press releases, on the other hand, have the authority and subtlety of being reported as hard news.

Published Articles:  Becoming a published author on technical subjects important to the prospect demonstrates expert knowledge—and is in a medium most prospects recognize as educational and informative, not one that is “selling.”  With the thousands of article databases on the internet, becoming a published author is quick and easy if the article is well-written, educational, and void of overt self-promotion.

Speeches:  Giving educational speeches to local business and civic groups and organizations will also establish your credentials as an expert.  Moreover, like writing articles, the medium used has automatic expert credibility.  By appearing before the group as an expert, you become an expert.  And like writing articles, the emphasis is on education, not self-promotion.  Experts are far more effective at promoting themselves when they don’t overtly promote themselves.

Becoming an Expert Source:  Recognized experts are interviewed and quoted in various media—print, audio, and visual.  The “experts” quoted and interviewed in your local media have worked hard to become expert sources for the reporters, columnists, and freelance writers interviewing or quoting them.  You can become an expert source also by learning the ins and outs of working with the media and establishing yourself as a source for information, quotes, and interviews when they are dealing with a subject that you can address as an expert.

By carefully matching the medium you use with the content of your message, you can establish a public image and reputation as an expert in a matter of months that will continue to grow over the years.  These media are not easy to use, nor are they a quick solution to client acquisition.  They are, however, highly effective and they come to the prospect in a format that doesn’t confuse the message or, worse, defeat the content of your message.

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