Sales & Sales Management Expertise

5 Sales Activities that Lead to Success: Are Your Salespeople Assertive Enough?

Tags: sales competencies, sales management, sales prospecting, Sales Strategies, asking sales questions

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Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others.  They care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the deal in order to make sure the prospect or client makes the right decisions.  Does that describe your people?  Are they assertive?

When we say assertive, what do we mean?  What sales habits do assertive and successful people do day in and day out?  In 2010, I wrote a blog entitled 5 Direct Sales Activities That Lead to Sales Success that has been one of my highest readership blogs.  I went back and reviewed and here are the five steps:

  1. Activities that lead to getting names - networking, speaking engagements, sponsored seminars, meeting with centers of influence and/or asking for introductions
  2. Calling a suspect on the phone for an appointment
  3. Conversations and meetings to qualify a suspect
  4. Gathering additional information that leads to a presentation meeting
  5. Presentations/pitch meetings that lead to decisions

Steps 1 and 2 have changed dramatically in the last 6 years.  Social selling and the evolution of the buyer’s process utilizing all of the multiple channels of information has completely changed the process of prospecting for business.  Step 2 - getting a suspect on the phone - is virtually impossible with voicemails and phone trees.

Our Own Prospecting Case Study

Earlier this year, we decided to test the waters for our hiring business solution, www.hirebettersalespeople.com.  We had some initial success right off the bat with our launch in January of 2016, but then activity seemed to cool down.  We purchased a local lead list based on company size and title and I began calling.  Here are the calling results:

  • 66% of the dials took me directly into a recorded phone tree
  • 25% of the calls took me to a receptionist who was very helpful and informative but transferred me to voicemail
  • Of the remaining 9%, I had in depth conversations with 3 people, met with one and generated one sale from that contact

3 people fit our profile; I met with 1 and sold that one… but not to help them hire better salespeople, but rather to help them test, train and track some of the salespeople that were not “hitting their weight”.  The second was not interested at the time and the 3rd introduced me to someone in the home office. That contact has put us in the middle of negotiations for a 5-figure initial engagement.

I tell you that story to make the following points about step #2:

  • Calling prospects on the phone doesn’t work like it used to.  
  • It requires more attempts and effort than ever before - you have to have a different tactic and message to differentiate yourself.
  • Once you make contact, you have to be extremely good at what you do and have a compelling reason for people to listen and stay on the phone. THAT is where being more assertive makes a difference.

Steps 3, 4, 5:  How to be More Assertive at Qualifying, Presenting and Getting Decisions

In our primary markets of financial institutions, investment services and insurance brokerage, we ARE the resource for sales growth solutions.  We coach our clients on the fact that the reason for either their sales growth or loss is due to their peoples’  1) effort or 2) execution.  But what does assertiveness have to do with Effort and Execution of steps 3,4 and 5?  In a word, EVERYTHING.

Steps 3,4, and 5:

  1. Conversations and meetings to qualify a suspect
  2. Gathering additional information that leads to a presentation meeting
  3. Presentations/pitch meetings that lead to decisions

In each one of these steps, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way, at the right time is critical.  In our selling system, we explain that -  in order for a prospect to qualify - they must:

  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, make a change, do something different
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the right time, money and effort required for the purchase/change
  3. Be in a position of decision making and be able to make the decision to find a solution to the compelling (have to fix) issue,  can make the money decision, can leave a current or add to a current relationship, and say yes or no.

There are lots of questions that need to be asked in order to find out if the prospect qualifies in these three areas.  Some of these questions require a sales person to be assertive.  Questions such as:

  • How will you go about telling your current broker/banker/relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?
  • If you don’t have the money, how will you solve the problem?
  • The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?
  • What will you tell your partner when they say they don’t want to make the change?

Additionally, sometimes statements are required that would be considered counter-intuitive to selling, gutsy and risky.

  • Based on our experience and deep domain knowledge about your business, your best action to take would be this: ________.  If that doesn’t seem to work for you, then there’s a possibility that we won’t be a good match.
  • If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated, then I would expect to be fired.
  • When we finish our presentation, solve all of the problems you’ve asked us to address within your budget and answered all your questions, I’ll need for you to be in a position to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.
  • Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”.  If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.

Imagine for a second that you had salespeople that were gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. What would happen?  You might fear that you would lose more business. But… suppose that wasn’t the case.  Suppose by being more assertive and gutsy, your salespeople eliminated tire kickers earlier.  Suppose this lead to the elimination of “think it overs” and actually got people to decide.  Imagine for a second that your salespeople stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”.  What would happen?

Your people would sell more, more quickly, at higher margins.  They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, stop being shopped by a prospect that was just trying to keep a current provider honest.  

Here’s How Sales Managers Can Get Their Salespeople to be More Assertive

Sales managers must hold their salespeople accountable to the right level of sales activity.  To do this, you must have a success formula and a well-defined sales process so that you can identify where the choke points are for individuals when they fail to close “sure thing” opportunities.  You must also have a pipeline tool that actually helps you predict the possibility of an opportunity closing rather than a tool that just reports that there is activity in the pipeline.  And, finally, you must have a full pipeline – an anemic pipeline makes cowards out of salespeople. These are the tools you will need to help your salespeople be more assertive and close more business, more quickly, at higher margins.

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Is Your Sales Team HUNTING or Hunting?

Tags: sales competencies, hunting for sales prospects, sales hunting

When I was a youngster, I used to go hunting with my dad and my older brother, Ray.  I never hunted with my younger brother, Michael, until just a few years ago.  But Ray, Dad and I spent many weekday evenings and weekends in the woods. We were doing two things:

  1. Preparing to hunt
  2. Hunting

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PREPARING to hunt included:

  1. Going into the woods to scope out the places where deer frequented or could be convinced to frequent
  2. Building tree stands in close proximity to deer paths or food plots
  3. Going to the sweet potato or squash fields to pick up potatoes and squash left from the previous day harvest. Sometimes we would get apples or peaches
  4. Taking basket after basket after basket of deer food (see number 3) into the woods
  5. Practicing our bow skills by shooting targets at 20 yards. Dad was so good he could hit a moving quart milk jug!
  6. Getting a license to hunt
  7. Getting the right clothes for cold weather
  8. Getting the equipment ready
  9. More practice

HUNTING included:

  1. Sitting in a tree stand freezing your baguettes off waiting for a deer to show up
  2. Not moving for 3 hours even if you had to pee
  3. Shooting at a deer
  4. Retrieving arrows that missed the deer
  5. Tracking, finding and field dressing the deer if the arrow hit its mark
  6. Carrying the deer out of the woods – sometimes up to a mile
  7. Skinning and butchering the deer (Actually, I did none of #6 or 7...)
  8. Eating the venison (I did lots of this!)

Everything I just listed (and yes, Ray, I’m sure I missed something…) would be defined as HUNTING.  Even if it appears that sometimes it is waiting and not actually hunting, I assure you it is all hunting.

Then... there is the hunting I’ve done the past week:

  1. I joined a hunting club.
  2. I showed up either early in the morning or early in the afternoon.
  3. Brian, the manager of the club, took me to a tree stand.
  4. Using a buck call, I called for and waited for a deer to show up.
  5. If one showed up, I shot it (I actually got my first dear about a month ago) and sent a text to Brian. If I didn’t see or hit one, I sent a text to Brian and he came to get me.
  6. When I hit a deer, Brian and I tracked the deer.
  7. Brian field dressed the deer.
  8. Brian took the deer to the processor.
  9. I picked up the packaged deer meat.
  10. I prepared venison parmesan.
  11. We ate.

This is hunting in my world today.  Notice the differences?

Yes, I still have to practice.  I still have to get my hunting gear together and make sure my equipment is ready to go.  I still have to get up early and get to the game club.  I still have to sit in the tree quietly and not move.  I still have to have skills to put myself in a position to draw the bow, release the arrow and hit the target.  What I really do not do anymore is sit and shoot… or, rather, just sit.

Now, I want you to think about the similarities in HUNTING for deer and HUNTING for prospects.  And then, I want you to answer some questions:

  • Which hunting is your sales team doing?
  • Which steps are they doing?
  • Which steps are they skipping or failing to do?
  • What impact does this have on their ability to close more business, more quickly, at higher margins?
  • If they are not consistently hunting, then what is the likelihood that they will have consistent sales results?

Brian and I went out last week when the weather was rather warm.  It was too warm to expect a good hunt, really.  I knew that.  He knew that.  But I told him I was going out anyway.  On the way to the stand, we talked about the weather and I made the comment, “It might be too hot, but I certainly won’t even get a chance to shoot a deer unless I go into the woods.”

And… there you have it.  Regardless of how you do it, regardless of the environment, regardless of the difficulties you have to face, the reality is that, in order to get someone to say “yes” to your product or services, you must have salespeople who "go into the woods" and hunt!

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Important Resource:

Find out if you have hunters, account managers or farmers – Assess the ability of your current team to grow sales.

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What the Numbers Tell Us about Salesperson Readiness

Tags: sales competencies, sales management, building successful sales teams, DoL regulations

We recently delivered a webinar specifically for one of our clients – BISA (Bank Insurance and Securities Association).  The topic was The Customer-First Advisor: How to Help Your Salespeople Survive and Sell in the Coming DOL Environment – regarding the recent Department of Labor ruling outlining the fiduciary responsibilities of financial advisors giving advice to prospects or clients. (Click here to listen to recording.)

NOTE:  This post doesn't just apply to investment advisor salespeople.  Salespeople in all industries continue to face changes in economic, competitive and company climates.  As a sales leader, it is important to recognize that those salespeople that got you where you are today probably won’t be the same ones that will get you through the other side of change unless you get them ready.

Up until this year, advisors had to satisfy a “suitability” standard when providing advice.  The problem is that sometimes “suitability” also was conflicted advice. It was “conflicted” apparently because some of the products that were “suitable” were also the ones that paid the advisors the most commission.  I have strong feelings about this and why the DoL would stick its nose in this… but that discussion is for another day and time!

As a result, one of the issues at hand is how advisors actually conduct themselves now that there are new regs in place.  During our webinar (click here to listen to recording),we asked a couple of poll questions.  Here are those questions and responses:

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What does this tell us – you?

  • Skills to be successful – If you look at your sales results in a 80/20 power curve, you always see that about 36% of your team represents close to 90% of the sales results. What does that tell you about the rest of the team?  Answer: They either fail in effort or execution of the process, or they lack skills.  Question: Did you hire them that way or make them that way?
  • Pipeline – The question applies to anyone selling anything but ESPECIALLY if you are selling products and services of higher dollar amounts and selling B2B. Not everyone that fogs a mirror is a prospect.  Yes, people may call you out of the blue, walk into your office and ask to buy. Sell them!  But, day in and day out, your salespeople need to be looking for and talking to Zebras. (click here for book)
  • Depending on how your salespeople go to the market, the first contact has to be compelling. One of our rules is this: “Don’t look, act or sound like a salesperson.”  If your people open up with how good the company is, great pricing and unbelievable service, then they are bringing nothing to the conversation that is compelling.  REMEMBER THIS from Verne Harnish in Scaling UP – People are distracted.  Prospects have lots of other people looking to take their time.  You must have a compelling message in order to get people to keep listening.
  • Tracking is the name of the game when it comes to performance management. Lots of companies talk about performance management, but normally all that means is that there is an arbitrary line that someone has to cross before they go on a PIP – Performance Improvement Program.  By then, it’s normally too late. The key to performance management is to have systems and processes in place so that you can “catch them early”.

What does this mean?  It means the following:

  • Regardless of the levels of success in your organization, you should constantly invest in your people so that they continue to improve important skills and learn new ones.
  • Make sure that your salespeople clearly understand the ideal client in your organization and make sure that you have a process to “inspect what you expect” in terms of what segment of the market you are capturing.
  • Review your go-to-market messaging and ask yourself – “Does this really differentiate us from the market or are we trying to sell the same message everyone else is?”
  • Identify your sales steps. Have a process in place to calculate exactly how many of each step each salesperson has to execute in order to succeed.  Make sure that you have assumptions about the conversion ratios from one step to the next step.  These ratios will vary from person to person. Collect actual performance results.  Compare actual activity and effectiveness to target activity and effectiveness.

Additional Resources:

Building a Sales Formula for Success – Link to success formula

Tracking – Sample output of data collected

Being Assertive in Sales

Tags: sales competencies, sales assertiveness, sales management

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Prospects want you to have honest, direct and assertive conversations with them so that they can make better, critical decisions.

There are many contributing factors as to why someone may not be assertive such as: learned helplessness, low self-esteem, having a go-get mindset versus a go-give, false bravado, life out of balance causing a sense of desperation and a crisis management approach to work rather than a self-management approach to work.

Assertive people have certain characteristics.

  • First of all, they have minimum acceptable standards for themselves and those people around them. They don’t associate with toxic people – they work with nourishing people.
  • They have a goal philosophy; they have lots of goals and then they continue to pursue those goals and achieve those goals.
  • They get outside the box. If you’ve seen the 9-dot exercise, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They get outside the dots- they expand their comfort zone.
  • Next, they take risk and they understand that taking risk can result in failure. But, failure becomes defined as just another step towards success. They’re persistent. They find other ways to close.
  • They themselves make decisions; that makes it hard for them to understand why someone would want to think it over.
  • They know what they stand for and they won’t fall for just anything that falls under the category of objection or stall.
  • They control the sales process. You can ask them about next steps and assertive people can give you specific details about what happens next.

To overcome the hurdles that might trip you up as you attempt to be more assertive, you might consider the following:

  1. As they said in the Godfather movie, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” Don’t take it personally.
  2. Take ownership of how you feel. Nobody can make you feel the way you feel in terms of being uncomfortable. You choose to feel a certain way.
  3. Consider Emerson’s quote, “Do the thing and you’ll have the power.” There will be times during a sales process or sales step where you will feel the need to be assertive but you will be afraid. DO the thing… do the thing that you’re feeling and you’ll have the power.

As always, thank you and have a perfect day.

What Habits Support or Prohibit Effective Selling?

Tags: sales competencies, sales management, sales success, sales habits

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I reached out to 4 people that I respect in the field of sales and sales management.

  1. Bill Eckstrom, President and CEO of EcSell Institute and also the creator and developer of a super cool sales management application called Oneup.
  2. Dwight Kollmeier, President of First National Insurance Agency and former batting practice pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
  3. David Kurlan, President of Objective Management Group. Dave created and continues to improve the #1 pre-hire sales assessment in the world.
  4. Rick Wirthlin, Regional Director for Commercial Lending at Huntington Bank and scratch golfer. I’ve known each of these professionals for many years and respect their expertise and insight about selling and sales management.

Last week, I started writing about habits. I let everyone know that I promised my wife Linda that I would be more consistent in my good habit of exercise and that got me thinking about the habits of sales people. As I was thinking about what I wanted to write about, I emailed each of these guys and asked them to provide me a list of the “bad habits” they see in sales people. Below are their slightly edited responses:

Bill Eckstrom: I would say the following, in no particular order:

  • Procrastination
  • Lack of understanding the big picture  (can’t see beyond their own objectives)
  • Offering solutions too early in the process

Dwight Kollmeier: Unfortunately, I know these all too well. I see them everyday.

  • Over-confident with existing customers, assuming there is zero competition.  I believe in the old Satchel Page quote, “Don’t look over your shoulder because someone is always gaining on you.” Assume that there is always competition and ask the right questions to find out for sure.
  • Assuming that business in the pipeline will close but not knowing for sure (unclear and fuzzy future). Know the odds by asking the difficult questions up front and be able to walk away.
  • Over presenting and not having good, solid discussions with prospects to find out if it makes sense to do business together.  Ask questions and listen. Probe deep.
  • Wasting valuable selling and prospecting time by placing it low on the time management ranking and placing other non-productive activities higher on the list.  Do the hardest things early in the day religiously and then one can do other activities after prospecting is completed.
  • Failing to get upfront contacts or commitments from the prospect as to how the sales process will work.

Dave Kurlan: Top 5 Bad Habits of Salespeople:

  • Demo too soon in the sales process
  • Give up on contacting prospects several attempts too early
  • Don’t thoroughly qualify
  • Make too many assumptions
  • Don’t reach real decision makers

Rick Wirthlin:

  • Lack of desire,
  • Not executing to a consistent sales process,
  • Not setting goals so commitment to success is conditional
  • Not uncovering motivation to take action, make a change,
  • Not getting to decision makers,
  • Not making commitments to make a decision stick

This article has been sitting in the dock of my Mac for two days as I contemplated how to close. In the meantime, I realized that calling them “bad habits” may not be the right thing to do. Let’s just call them habits - habits that either support effective selling or prohibit effective selling.

- What habits that prohibit effective selling would be on your list?
- What do you see in common in all of the comments of these other sales professionals?
- What impact do these habits have on your team’s ability to sell more, sell more quickly, sell at higher margins?
- What influence do you have on this?
- Did you hire your people this way or make them this way?
- I know you inherited some of this, but now what?
- What training have you done and what impact has it had?

Habits are difficult to break. Maybe some of them are impossible. I don’t claim to know. In all cases, in order to improve any kind of performance, you must:

  • Recognize that you are getting an outcome that you DON’T want and HAVE to fix
  • Recognize there is a root cause that lies beyond the symptom of the outcome
  • Address possible ways to correct the habit
  • Implement a disciplined approach to changing the thinking and then the behavior
  • Inspect what you expect
  • Report on actual activity vs. goal
  • Adjust and take action

 

Don't miss out on our Extraordinary Sales Manager Webinar Series! It's not too late to get involved - Part 2 is coming up June 29, 2015. SIGN UP TODAY for the "Hire Better Salespeople" FREE webinar and get ready to take your hiring to a whole new level!

 

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