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. 

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 8, 2015

3 Steps to Getting High Quality Referrals From Your Clients

Are you one of the majority of sellers that isn’t converting the majority of the referrals you get because the “referral” is nothing more than the name and phone number of someone who isn’t a real prospect?  Are you one of the sellers who have simply given up even asking for referrals because they have proven to be more of a waste of time than anything else?   Chances are you said yes because that’s the experience of most sellers–weak or worthless “referrals” that cost more time and waste more energy than they’re worth.  Oh, sure, we all have some clients that will give us referrals all day long.  Just ask and they’ll give you name after name.  Other clients, the majority, aren’t nearly as generous with their referrals.

The biggest problem in both cases is so often the referral we get isn’t much better than pointing at a name in the phonebook at random.

How can you guarantee that you get great referrals?  Simple.  Make sure the client gives you a great referral by creating the referral for them to give you, rather than relying on them coming up with a quality referral to give.

The reality is that clients really don’t know who we’re looking for and most of them just don’t have a real incentive to invest the time and energy to come up with a great referral.

But we know who is a great referral for us.  And certainly we’re willing to invest the time and energy to find a great referral (if we’re not, we have some real serious issues to deal with).

Since we’re the one with the need; and we’re the one with the desire; and we’re the one who knows who makes a good referral for us, why would we rely on anyone else other than our self to come up with the referral?

So how can we create a great referral for our client to give us?

Here are three steps to guaranteeing you get great referrals from your clients:

  1. Get Your Client On-board to Give Referrals.  Most sellers wait until after the sale has been completed before they bring up the idea of referrals.  Bad idea.

    Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, so bring up referrals early in the relationship.  Don’t ask for referrals; just let your client know that your business is built on referrals and then drop referral seeds as the sale progresses.  Since your prospects and clients aren’t stupid, if they hear you mention referrals often in a casual manner, they’ll get the impression referrals are important to you and they will be expecting you to ask for them at some point.

  2. Find Out Who Your Client Knows.  We’ve already established that in order to get great referrals you have to do the work for your client, so do it by discovering during the course of the relationship who they know that you know you want to be referred to.How do you find out? Through small-talk (who do they mention in conversation they know); paying attention to what’s in their environment (pictures, association directories, membership plaques, and such); their background (where did they work previously); their work (what vendors and suppliers do they interact with).  Your job is to be a detective and to uncover the relationships they have with people or companies that you know you want to be referred to.  The more you uncover the more quality referrals you uncover.
  3. Don’t Ask for Referrals, Ask for THE Introduction.  Now when it comes time to ask for referrals, you’re not going to be like every other seller and ask a weak question such as, “Donna, do you happen to know anyone else (or another company) that might be able to use my products or services (or that I can help—or any other such weak question)?”

    Instead you’re going to ask for a direct introduction to someone you know is a great prospect for you and that you have reason to believe your client knows:  “Donna, I’ve been trying to connect with David Jones for some time without success.  You mentioned that you’ve worked with David for several years, would you be comfortable introducing me to him?”  You know she knows David.  You have reason to believe David is a good prospect for you.  Don’t waste Donna’s time with that weak general referral question; ask to get connected to a person you know she knows that you know you want to connect with.

Referrals can be the foundation of your sales business if you just develop the skills necessary to be a referral-based salesperson.  If Donna knows three people or companies you know you want to be referred to and you can get introductions to them from her, how much time and energy have you saved getting those three introductions through referrals instead of cold calling or sending out direct mail or hoping to bump into them at a networking event?

Forget what you’ve been taught about asking for referrals.  Referral generation is a PROACTIVE process where you do the work, not your client.  Your client doesn’t have the motivation, you do.  They don’t have the understanding of who makes a good referral like you do.  Your client doesn’t have the time to invest in figuring out a good referral like you do.  It’s your business, not theirs.

August 12, 2014

Your Client has a Vested Interest in that Referral They Just Gave You

I hope you are generating referrals from your clients.  If you’re not you should be as referrals are one of the most effective, if not the most effective, way of growing your business.  But know that once you have gotten the referral your job is hardly done.  No, I’m not talking about contacting and selling the referred prospect, I’m talking about keeping your client in the loop.

One of the primary reasons clients are hesitant to give referrals is that they are afraid of being embarrassed in front of a friend, relative, acquaintance or co-worker by you not performing as you should.  So, when they do give a referral, they have a vested interest in what’s going on between you and the person to whom they referred you.  Their interest isn’t in whether or not the prospect purchases but in how the prospect perceives you and the value being referred by the client.

When a client gives you a referral, you learn a number of things:

  1. The client will give referrals.  Obviously, you just received one or more.
  2. How well the client understands what you do.  The quality of the referral will let you know how well your client understands what you do and who is a good referral for you.  The better the referral, the more the client understands.  The poorer the referral, the more work you must do to educate them for future referrals (and future sales to them for that matter).
  3. How much they trust you.  Generally, the stronger the trust relationship between the client and the referred prospect, the more the client trusts you.
  4. They have more referrals to give.  Seldom will a client give you all of the referrals they can make at one time.  If a client gives referrals, you can almost bet they have more to give—if you keep earning them.

How do you get those additional referrals?  Additional referrals are earned, just as the original referrals were earned.  You earn those additional referrals by:

  1. Giving your client the assurance that you’re trustworthy with referrals.  You must show through your actions that their trust in giving you a referral was well placed by making sure that the referred prospect has an exceptional experience with you.
  2. By keeping your client fully informed of everything that is occurring with the referred prospect.
  3. By continuing to deliver superior service to your client.

Does the above mean that you must perform perfectly with the referred prospect?  What if there was an honest mistake or miscommunication?  What if something out of your control happened during the course of the sale?  Will these incidents destroy any possibility of acquiring additional referrals?

No, not at all.

The keys to gaining additional referrals from a client are to treat the referred prospect exactly in the same manner you treated the client and to keep your client informed of what is transpiring between yourself and the referred prospect.

Your client gave you referrals because they understood that giving referrals was in their own best interests and because you earned them through the service you gave them.  You must now demonstrate that same level of service for the referral they have given you.  They expect—actually demand—you perform at the same level—or higher—for those they refer to as you did for them.  That level of service you gave them was what demonstrated to them that they could trust with a referral.  Anything short of that and they will reevaluate whether you should be trusted with additional referrals.

That having been said, most clients understand that mistakes, miscommunications, and problems arise in business.  A single issue during the course of the sale to a referred prospect, even a major issue, will not sever your ability to gain additional referrals from you client if you address and resolve the issue in an exceptional manner.

Clients don’t expect perfection, they expect exceptional service—both for themselves and for those they refer you to.  How well or poorly you handle the issues will be a major factor in determining your future refer-ability.

Keeping your client informed of the progress of the sale with the referred prospect reassures them that you’re doing your job—and that all is well.  It is also your source of informing them if there have been problems and how they were resolved.

It is critical that you let your client know of issues involved with sales to prospects they have referred you to before the prospect has a chance to relate the incident.  You can relate the circumstances and the resolution in the most favorable light—the prospect may not.  This doesn’t mean that you can lie or gloss over it, just that you can give the background and the full resolution without the emotional involvement the prospect will have.  Of course, if you’ve done an exceptional job of resolving the issue, the tale told by the prospect should also be impressive.  However, you always want problems to be related to your client by you—you don’t want to get a phone call from the client asking what happened.

Keeping your client informed doesn’t mean bombarding them with emails, phone calls, and notes.  A simple “thank you for the referral” card immediately after receiving the referral and the occasional call or email will suffice.  The object is to keep them in the loop and to reassure them that their referral was well made for both you and the prospect.  Even better than the occasional call or email is to explicitly ask the client how and how often they would like to be informed of the progress.

Clients are interested in what’s going on with the referrals they make.  They want to know the prospect is being taken care of in the manner the client expected, and they enjoy knowing that they have provided you with a quality referral.  More importantly, they want to know that they haven’t embarrassed themselves in front of an acquaintance.

Simple actions will earn those additional referrals your clients have—you just have to earn them.

July 30, 2014

Guest Article: “The Proven Best Way to Gain New Customers,” by Miles Austin

The Proven Best Way To Gain New Customers
by Miles Austin

Looking for the proven best way to gain new customers & grow your business?

Testimonials and recommendations are the answer. Testimonials and recommendations work. Many will argue that they are THE most successful way to attract new business. Entire business models like Yelp have emerged to leverage this truth.

It is a recognized fact that our customers are active in the selection process before sales ever gets involved.  There is disagreement about how far the customer typically has progressed down the buying path, but they have typically started the process before sales is engaged. Much of the time, this activity will take them directly to customer reviews or testimonials. Having them available at this stage can make a positive impact on their interest in you and your company. If they are absent or hard to find, you might not ever have the opportunity to compete.

Why are sales people not taking full advantage of this powerful sales influencer?

1. Don’t know how or are uncomfortable asking for them. 2. How to use them.

How to get references and testimonials.

If you are not asking for testimonials you are leaving money on the table. Getting past this hurdle can deliver a significant uptick in your revenue almost immediately.

It goes without saying that in order to get good testimonials you need to be delivering top-notch products and/or services. If you are new to sales, it can be effective to let some early customers know that you are at the beginning of your sales career and that providing a testimonial is one of the most important goals you have for the relationship.

The timing of asking for a recommendation can make all the difference. We have all probably received a LinkedIn request from someone we have never done business with but wanting you to give them a recommendation.  Need I tell you that this is a bad idea?  The best time to ask is right after they have told you that they have been able to accomplish their objective because of your effort.  They will never be more willing to provide the testimonial than at that time. This might be immediately after your work is completed or several months down the road. It is important to listen closely to what they are telling you and when the time is right – ask.

How you ask will affect your success as well. It is important that you keep the focus of the request on their situation and their results. A testimonial that says how awesome you are is nowhere near as powerful as when they tell everyone that they achieved their goal/objective because of selecting your product or service. Future customers will relate much better and be motivated to act because they can put themselves in the place of the recommending customer.

Make it easy for your customer to provide the recommendation by giving them some tips. Sharing other recommendations that deliver a compelling message has worked wonders for me. I get asked frequently if it is ok to write the testimonial for the customer. I personally struggle with that, but am happy to ask the customer to just jot down a few bullet points and then help them edit it to their satisfaction.

Make sure that you are able to use your customer’s full name at a minimum, but preferably their title and Company name as well. A photo is very compelling if they have one to offer. If not, ask if you can use their LinkedIn headshot. They work well for this purpose. Every company is different with how they handle this so maintain some flexibility with what you are asking for. I recommend that you not use the recommendation at all if all you are able to use only their initials vs. a full name. One of the powerful benefits of testimonials is the social proof that they can bring. Using only initials makes your testimonial useless for most purposes. It is also helpful for both you and your satisfied customer in many cases to include a live link to their website or profile.

How to use them

There are so many places to use testimonials today. Here are just a few:

  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Blog
  • Slide Presentations
  • Video’s
  • Collateral
  • Websites
  • Webinars
  • Tweets
  • Company or office lobby

Here are examples of some of my favorites:

  • In your slide presentations, include a slide or two with customer testimonials after key points. A testimonial with a photo that addresses how happy the customer was after using you for that exact point is a powerful influencer.
  • LinkedIn Profiles are a great place to highlight your testimonials. Once you get more than ten or more recommendations, I recommend you select only seven to ten, and hide the rest. Switch out and change which recommendations you show every two to three months to keep things fresh. Looking at a profile with 50 or more recommendations seems to be counter-productive in my opinion and experience.
  • Displaying testimonials on your blog/website will always yield positive results. I have actually had customers ask what it takes to have their testimonial highlighted online. That is a good indication you have this recommendation thing figured out.

Most importantly, after you receive a testimonial, say thank you. Let them know how much their efforts are appreciated and how it validates what you told them at the very beginning of the relationship.  “Their testimonial is one of the most important goals you have for the relationship.”

That is a great way to formalize what you have done for them now and positions you as their preferred source to provide similar products and/or services in the future

Miles Austin is recognized as one of the leading authorities on Web Tools for sales, leveraging deep experience in the selection, strategy and tactics necessary to maximize sales productivity.  Read more of Miles’ material at the Fill the Funnel blog.

July 22, 2014

Is There More to Social Selling than Just Hype?

Are you sick of the social selling hype yet?  Have you had your fill of the unrelenting BS that bombards you day in and day out about the miracle of social selling and how it makes selling so much easier, how it eliminates the horror of cold calling, the expense of advertising, the time consuming drudgery of attending networking events?

Or, have you bought into the hype and discovered that in reality it is nothing more than quicksand that will drag you down and destroy your business slowly?

The truth is there is a great deal of hype and BS going on about social selling.  There are promises of easy business, millions to be made quickly, and unlike prospecting and selling; it’s just all great fun.

But there is also a kernel of truth in all that hype.  Social selling does work—when recognized for what it really is and integrated into a comprehensive prospecting and selling process.

Despite what many preach, social selling isn’t meant to be a standalone business development strategy. 

It isn’t a panacea, freeing sellers from the day-to-day work of picking up the phone, of generating referrals, of attending networking events, and the other work of finding and connecting with quality prospects.

Social selling is an adjunct to traditional prospecting, not a replacement of it.  Adopting social selling as a part of your business plan doesn’t eliminate all of the traditional strategies you’ve used in the past, it simply makes those strategies a bit more effective while adding another way to find and connect with your prospects.

Finding and connecting with prospects is a complex problem for not all prospects are alike.  Your prospects will accept and respond to different means of approach—some will respond to cold calling, most won’t.  Some will respond to being approached through a referral—of course, that assumes you have a referral to them.  Some will respond to direct mail, others to being approached at a networking event, others through advertising, others through an email campaign.  And others will respond through social media connections.

It isn’t our prospect’s responsibility to respond to us in the way we want to connect with them; it is our responsibility to connect with our prospects in the way they will accept.  And that means we must employ a variety of strategies if we want to find and connect with a broad prospect base.

This is where social selling comes in, allowing us to find and connect with those prospects who prefer to connect via social media.

It also allows us to transfer or continue our relationship online with prospects and customers that are found through offline strategies.

Social selling can open many doors but it can’t replace our offline efforts to find and connect with prospects.  In fact, we should be spending only a small fraction of our time online—an hour or so daily.

Don’t buy the ridiculous hype being put forth by so many.

By all means embrace social selling, but don’t destroy your business by thinking that it will produce magical results and free you from the work of prospecting.

It won’t.

July 11, 2014

Never Again Struggle with Staying in Contact with Prospects

Do you have a proven process for insuring that your relationships with prospects are continually moving forward in a manner that is purposeful and leads to the natural culmination of the process? In other words, are you and your prospect always on the same page, consciously and constantly moving forward to a purchase decision? Or do you, as most sellers do, approach the sales relationship process haphazardly without knowing where the relationship is going—and often not knowing where it should go?

Rather than shooting from the hip, making follow-up calls to prospects without having an idea of how or why to make the call, you can turn the sales follow-up process into an organized and logical progression that makes the sales process comfortable and valuable for both your prospect and yourself.

Unless you are engaged in a one-time close sale, you know going into the initial meeting with a prospect that your sales cycle will require you to maintain contact with them over an extended period of time before the sale is consummated, whether that be a week, a month, or a year.  Since you know you will have to follow-up with additional information, more meetings, a proposal, a committee presentation, and/or a formal needs analysis, you should be fully prepared to carry the relationship forward, knowing exactly what your next move will be before you ever enter the initial meeting with the prospect.

After only a short exposure to meetings with prospects you have seen virtually all of the variances your meetings can take, from the prospect that shows a great deal of interest, to those who show no interest at all, and everything in-between.  Once exposed, you have no reason not to be fully prepared to take control of the situation when exposed to that type of prospect again.

Since you will see the same basic situations over and over again with your prospects, you should know exactly what the next step in your process will be before you wrap up the initial meeting with your prospect.  Instead of going back to your office and wondering what to do next, you should have already agreed with your prospect on the next step to take, whether that be another meeting, sending follow-up information, or simply putting the prospect on your long-term touch program—or removing the prospect altogether because they really are not a prospect.

Think of the sale as a staircase with a number of alternate stairways branching off of the main staircase.   If you are familiar with the drawings of E.M. Escher, think of his etchings of stairways where there are myriad branches but all stairways eventually lead to the same location.  That’s your sales stairway with all of the branches eventually leading to your central location-the sale.  Some stairways are short and direct, others take a very circuitous route.

Your job is to have planned each route and to know exactly what you must do to guide your prospect through the stairway he or she has chosen.  To do that you must have a well defined plan, knowing exactly what your moves will be well ahead of time.

The first step in your staircase is, of course, setting the initial appointment.  That step naturally leads to your second step-the appointment itself.  Unfortunately, that is where the staircase ends for many salespeople, not knowing what the next step for any particular prospect should be.  Don’t allow yourself to ever be put in that position.

Just as the first step-setting the appointment-lead naturally to the second, your second step should lead naturally to your third step, and so on throughout the sales process.  What your third step is will depend on what transpired during the initial appointment since your prospect may choose one of several staircases to climb.

For most of us, the initial appointment serves numerous purposes, one of which is qualifying the prospect.  In fact, for many, the appointment isn’t with a prospect at all, but is rather with a suspect–someone we think, or maybe just hope, might be a prospect.  During the initial meeting one of your primary jobs is to determine if the suspect is a prospect, and if they are, what type of prospect–short-term or longer-term.  Your staircase will branch off in different directions depending on whether you determine the suspect is not a prospect at all, is a short-term prospect, or a long-term prospect.

If you determine your suspect is not a prospect, your staircase ends with this meeting.  There is no need to pursue them further.

If you determine your prospect is a short-term prospect, your staircase will continue, but you’ll have to decide during the meeting which branch of the staircase to lead your prospect–are you going to set another meeting, present a proposal, send or deliver additional information, or is another move appropriate?

The key to building your staircase and your relationship is to have your prospect agree on the next move before the end of the meeting, and in order to do that you must know both what the logical next move for the particular prospect is and where that move is going to lead in the sales process.  Never leave a meeting without agreeing on what will happen next and when it will happen:

  • Are you going to research an issue for the prospect?  If so, when will you deliver the results of your research and how will you deliver them-in person, via an email, or will you send them via the mail?   Once delivered, what is the next logical step to have your prospect agree to?
  • Will there be a second meeting?  Set a date and time and a specific goal for the meeting before you leave the initial meeting.
  • Are you going to get the prospect additional information or data?  If so, agree with your prospect when and how the information will be delivered and the anticipated results of supplying the information, as well as what the next step after the information has been delivered should be.

The key to building your stairway and leading the prospect to the sale is to always have your next step built before you finish the step you are on.  If you are to deliver information, know exactly what information to deliver, how you will deliver it and agree on what will happen once the information is in your prospect’s hand.  If your are setting a meeting, agree on the time and date, the goals for the meeting and the next step to be taken after the meeting.

Don’t rely on chance, luck, or happenstance–plan your moves well in advance and gain your prospect’s agreement and commitment.

Planning your moves is not difficult.  If you are meeting with a short-term prospect you know what the likely next moves will be, in fact, there are probably only a handful of possible moves.  For some prospects the next move will be another meeting, for others additional information, for others possibly a demonstration or a proposal.  Since you know what to anticipate, have a clearly defined plan of action for each eventuality.

Build the third step in your staircase the same way.  During the second meeting you gain your prospect’s agreement on what should take place next and then set a specific time and date for that step along with specific goals for that step.  When delivering the agreed upon research, agree with your client on the next step and again set a specific time and date and goals for the next step in the process.

By continually gaining agreement from your prospect to the next step in the process, you keep your prospect engaged, you continually monitor the prospect’s level of interest, and you prevent yourself from falling into the awkward situation of wondering how to re-engage your prospect.  Never leave a meeting or finish a conversation with your prospect without knowing what will happen next, when it will happen, and what the anticipated results of the step will be.

If you find you are working with a long-term prospect, you build a staircase that, like an Escher staircase, takes a longer, less direct route to the sale, but just as with a short-term prospect, you guide the prospect along a stairway that you know leads to the purchase decision.  Your steps may have longer intervals and may entail less direct interaction, but they must still be agreed upon by your prospect.  These steps may include your monthly or quarterly newsletter, scheduled phone calls at a specific future date, or even calls based on specific future events such as the release of a new product or the passing of a specific threshold such as the beginning of a new quarter.

Prior to your next appointment with a prospect or suspect, create your staircase and map out a logical route to the sale for each scenario you are likely to encounter.  Although you’ll have stairways branching off from your main staircase, you’ll probably have no more than a handful of branches for short-term prospects and probably no more than two or three for your long-term prospects.

Lay out on paper each logical step for each branch and then plan how you will lead your prospect to agreeing to each step along the way.  Although many salespeople believe writing out scripts is fake and insincere, be aware that you will eventually create an effective-or ineffective–script that you’ll use over and over to introduce and seek agreement from your prospect to the next step to be taken.  You can either leave the creation of your script to the spur of the moment as you are standing in front of your client, or you can take the time and care to do it while you can carefully think through the best way to introduce the next step and gain your client’s agreement.  Either way, you’ll eventually end up with a script you’ll use over and over.

You don’t have to be like the majority of salespeople who struggle to keep in touch with their prospects and move them along the sales process.  Instead of worrying about what to say, when to contact a prospect, or how to get your prospect to move along the process, simply build the next step while you’re with your prospect.  Not only will it give you more confidence since you know you’re in control, you’ll close more sales and close them faster-and that’s a good move.

July 7, 2014

Guest Article: “Beware of Who’s Preaching that Prospecting No Longer Works to Develop New Business,” by Mike Weinberg

Beware of Who’s Preaching that Prospecting No Longer Works to Develop New Business
by Mike Weinberg

There is a lot of noise and confusion about prospecting in the sales world.

It’s always been hard to get salespeople to prospect for new business — even when proactively pursuing strategic target accounts was widely accepted as a valid method for acquiring new customers.  Today, the false teachers, many from the Sales 2.0 movement, loudly proclaim that prospecting is dead and completely ineffective for developing new business.

Be on guard when you hear people preaching that prospecting no longer works.  Be careful because it is exactly what your itching ears want to hear.  No one really likes to do the grunt work involved to prospect successfully, especially if it involves cold calling. So it is natural for us to gravitate toward those who tell us what we want to believe.  It’s the same concept our parents taught us:  It matters who your friends are.  Much of our subjective truth is based on the beliefs of those we choose to listen to.

Here’s what I’ve noticed over the past couple of years as a coach and consultant to business to business sales teams:   Those with the loudest voices boldly proclaiming that prospecting is ineffective and that proactively pursuing target accounts who aren’t coming to you is a waste of time, are not only wrong, but they also have an agenda.

There are two distinct camps of loud voices preaching the deadly advice that many in sales are excited to hear.

The first camp is filled with  your under-performing colleagues in sales.  These are the folks who survived, or possibly thrived, when times were good and there was plenty inbound demand for what they sold.  For the most part, they never had to prospect for new business. It came looking for them.  Or they were so skilled at account and relationship management, they benefitted from an abundance of opportunity at existing accounts during good economic times. These people did well without ever having to go out, turn over new rocks, hunt for new relationships, etc.  So, now, in tougher times, not only do they not want to proactively prospect for new accounts, truthfully, they don’t know how.  And because of their own fears, struggles and current poor results, they don’t want you to prospect either. You get it? They are failing and the last thing they want to see is you succeeding picking up new business when they’re not.  They’re scared, lost and confused.  And they figure that the louder they yell that prospecting doesn’t work that a) you will listen and agree, and b) they may not be forced to do it themselves.

The second group motivated to turn you against prospecting are those in the Sales 2.0 camp peddling products, services and content for Inbound Marketing.  Don’t over-read into that statement.  There are some incredible sales minds and great people delivering huge value to the sales community from the 2.0 group. And I’m as big a fan as anyone of integrating new media and smart inbound marketing into our business development initiatives.  But there is also a contingent of false teachers vehemently declaring that prospecting is passé, worthless, dead . . .  that “old” methods don’t work anymore.  And it just so happens that many of these same folks stand ready to sell you their solution so you never have to cold call again. Not exactly unbiased advice, is it?

We can embrace the new without discarding the old.  Social media and inbound marketing are great supplements to, not replacements for, our personal prospecting efforts.  Pay attention to who is telling you not to prospect for new business.  I bet there’s a good chance they’re from one of the groups described above.

Mike Weinberg is the author of New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development.  Find more of Mike’s wisdom at The New Sales Coach blog.

February 24, 2014

Looking to Grow Your Business? Learn How to Get Directly Introducted to Your Best Prospects

Whether you’re relatively new to sales or are a scarred, proven old pro, prospecting is a tough chore that we all must do otherwise we’ll quickly find ourselves out of business. 

And there are a great many ways to prospect, from cold calling to cold walking to networking to purchasing ads to social media to encouraging word of mouth referrals to the traditional asking for referrals from clients and friends.  Depending upon your industry and personality, some methods work better than others.

But in the end the object is to get in front of decision makers that are great prospects for you, that is, decision makers who need and can afford your product or service.

Like a great many sellers I was taught that after the sale I should ask my client for referrals to others they know that might be able to use my product or service.  And like a great many other sellers I discovered that asking for referrals in that manner simply didn’t produce much of value.  Sure, I’d get some names and phone numbers but most of the time they were either poor prospects or no prospects at all.

Over the years I’ve spoken to thousands of sellers who were taught the same referral generation process who have experienced the same disappointing results that I experienced.  Many continue to ask knowing that only a small portion of the names and phone numbers they get are of value, while many, many others have simply given up on referrals all together.

A few years ago I discovered a referral generation process that is far different than the traditional “do a good job and ask for referrals” process that most of us have been taught that produces so little return for so much time invested.  Rather than asking clients to do our prospecting for us, the process I discovered demands that we do the work for our client and instead of getting a name and phone number of someone who more than likely isn’t a real prospect for us, the process I use generates a direct introduction to my hand picked prospect. 

The process that I teach allows you to maintain complete control of the referral process, takes all the work off the client, doesn’t put the client in an awkward and uncomfortable position of feeling that they have to give a name and phone number, and gets you introduced directly to someone you know is a great prospect for you.

If you’d like to learn more about how to generate direct introductions to your hand picked prospects head over to LeadLifter as I just completed a 45 minute webinar for them that outlines the whole process.  You can listen to the webinar at your leisure and for free at the LeadLifter events page.

February 3, 2014

Breaking Through the Noise and Connecting with Prospects

On Saturday, February 1st I was interviewed by Deb Calvert on her Connect! Online Radio program about one of the most serious problems sellers have—breaking through all the noise that is bombarding prospects.  You can listen to a recording of the show here.

During the hour interview we discussed some of the most effective ways sellers have of breaking through and connecting with great prospects.

It isn’t an accident that it is getting harder and harder to connect with prospects.  They are finding more effective ways of keeping us at bay; from gatekeepers to email blockers to caller ID just to mention a few.  They are making it as clear as they possibly can that they’re not interested in hearing from sellers.

So how do we knock these barriers down and get through to them?

Listen as Deb and I discuss the issue at Connect! Online Radio.   

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