ACTG Sales Management Blog

Sales & Sales Management Expertise Blog  

Bringing Clarity to Ambiguous Conversations

Posted by Jack Kasel on Wed, Jan 23, 2019

adult-american-analyzing-1059111 (1)

In selling, properly qualifying a prospective buyer is crucial in order to move an opportunity through the pipeline and ultimately close in your favor. Highly effective salespeople do this through the art of asking great sales questions and not fearing the outcome if they challenge a prospect’s statement, or question, in order to gain clarity.  

In this blog, we cover the 3 things to remember about all prospects and how to fully understand and qualify their motivation to make a change.

 

Seek to understand, rather than being understood is a very loose paraphrase of what Steven Covey said in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I think that statement is especially true for sales professionals. When we coach our client’s we try to get them to understand and remember these three tips when in conversation with prospects and client’s:

  1. The statement they make isn’t the actual statement.
  2. The question they ask isn’t the true question.
  3. The problem they have isn’t the actual problem.

Your job is to fully understand, is this a symptom or a problem? Problems get solved, symptoms are tolerated. I was working with a prospect and he kept saying he needed to fix his cash flow problem. The more we talked, it became clear that wasn’t the real problem, the real problem was he missed out on an opportunity to purchase one of his competitors. The symptom was cash flow, the problem was missing opportunities to acquire market share. We focused on fixing his true problem. There are many ways a sale can be killed. Too many times sales are killed by Assume-icide. We assume we know what they want.  However, we never truly understand the real problem or challenge.

One of the ways, and really the only way, to bring clarity to the conversation is by asking or saying the following when we hear prospects make statements or ask questions

  • Tell me more about that . . .
  • What happens if that problem isn’t fixed?
  • When you say (insert statement here), I’m not sure I know what you mean.
  • Many people ask me that question for a variety of reasons; I would like to hear yours.

We also need to listen to emotionally charged words such as . . .

  • Need to fix. .
  • I’m going to. .
  • We simply can’t tolerate. .
  • Others include. . Worried, upset, mad, frustrated

These are emotionally driven words and emotion drives sales.  Listen for them!  Facts and figures justify sales, but emotion drives it.  If we don’t fully understand the reason for the statement, the purpose of the question, or dig deeper to find the real problem, we will waste time and miss opportunities. 

Topics: qualifying prospects, Qualifying skills, sales management, consultative selling, sales advice, salespeople

The Two Truths and a Lie of Prospecting

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Jan 11, 2019

Prospecting for salespeople is often a struggle due to varying factors including their ability to stay committed to the process and overcome rejection.

In this article, we cover the dreaded,  but mandatory, task of sourcing and creating new sales opportunities.

deceive-1299043_1280Salespeople have to prospect – that’s the truth. Salespeople can find their prospects through a variety of different avenues, including; introductions, direct mail, internet offers, networking, internal referrals from business partners, cold calling, campaigns, association memberships, and business networking groups. 

What is also true is that, no matter how a sales person gets a name, the next step is to contact them. You can contact them by mail (email or snail mail) or by phone (the most common method). If you are going to have any chance to schedule time to talk with them about their current situation to determine if they are a prospect for you, you must have contact. That’s the truth.

Prospecting is FUN! Now, that’s a lie. Prospecting isn’t fun. It’s not intended to be fun. Anyone that says it’s fun is lying. If you are a manager, don’t tell your people to “just pick up the phone and have fun with it”. They will know you don’t know what you are talking about.

They’ve had fun before: Water skiing, swimming, hiking, going to a play or the opera, having a picnic, watching a ballgame, getting a promotion, a raise, or recognition for a job well done. All FUN! However, facing rejection, not talking to anyone, having people curse or hang up on you, having people who schedule appointments and then cancel or don’t show up?  ZERO FUN.

If prospecting isn’t fun, then what is it? Back in the day when I was still trying to figure out how to be successful in selling, my coach told me this:  “You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it!” And that is prospecting.  It’s called work and not play for a reason. It is work. You have to put a lot of preparation, emotion, intellect and skill into being successful at prospecting. David Kurlan from Objective Management Group has found that the single biggest contributor to sales success is the ability to be rejection-proof. Even with all the skill, techniques, scripts and preparation, if you cannot handle the rejection and emotional roller coaster of prospecting, then you will struggle, be inconsistent and fail more than you succeed.

The bottom line is that this isn’t about making it fun. It’s about getting the job done so you have solid appointments that turn into solid opportunities that turn into closed business. THAT’S where the fun is!

Topics: Prospecting, introductions, Cold Calling, sales management, commitment, networking, salespeople, overcoming rejection

How to Eliminate the Rollercoaster and Anemic Pipeline Syndrome – 5 Sales Management Best Practices

Posted by Tony Cole on Wed, Sep 27, 2017

Why are rollercoasters and anemic pipeline syndromes important?  They aren’t important if:

  • You have validity and complete confidence in the credibility of your pipeline report.
  • Your CFO never asks you about solid sales forecasts.
  • You are ok with the unpredictable ups and downs in your team’s production.
  • Your top performers don’t mind carrying the load for the other 66% of the team--who typically generate 10% or less of new business sales. (Get more out of your non-performers)

The rollercoaster/anemic pipeline discussion is important if you need to know the answers to these important business questions:

  • How many new leads are we really generating?
  • How many of those new leads are converting to new opportunities AND what is that conversion rate?
  • What is our real average size account?
  • What is our closing ratio from new opportunities to closed /won accounts?
  • What is the dollar volume or number of new opportunities on a rolling 90 day time frame throughout the year?

Knowing the answers to these questions helps you have better predictability from your pipeline. The answers also helps you develop a more intentional coaching strategy; one that allows you the intelligence to coach your sales people on their specific choke points.

Instead of telling them they need to “See more people”, “Do a better job of closing” or “Increase your average size sale”,  you will have the ability to show the data so that they understand where they are lacking and must increase efforts and/or learn skills. 

Sign up for 1-Hour Sales Management Coaching Session

Here are 5 Sales Management BEST PRACTICES to eradicate the rollercoaster anemic pipeline problem, ALTHOUGH you must have a CRM system that does more than just allow your sales people to enter data about leads.

Your CRM tool must have a milestone centric sales process format that collects information about leads every time they go to your site, read an email, or look at your LinkedIn profile.  Your CRM must produce and display a dashboard with all the pertinent information that answers the questions asked above.  And your CRM must have a library of content you can use to help coach your people.  (Ask about about CRM – email mark@anthonycoletraining.com)

BEST PRACTICES:

  1. You have established for each sales person on your team a “Success Formula”. You can go to this link to download a template.  The individual Success Formulas puts you and your sales people on the same page which outlines effort and effectiveness required to meet and exceed extraordinary goals.
  2. You have a Huddle Process to collect real time information on effort. The entire sales process hinges on one step – effort to generate leads.  It is nothing more than effort.  While skill is required, true effort in the form of necessary behavior is critical .  S.  If you don’t have true “hunters”, recruit and replace.
  3. Read and understand what the data for business intelligence. Sales people know when they are not performing well. What they need help with is the “Why?”  The business intelligence you gain from your CRM will point you in the direction of the answer to the question “What should I be doing differently to improve sales?”
  4. Establish coaching plans for those failing (even just 5% off of target requires coaching).

**Side note:  Failing is failing.  Don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security with comments like, “He is close. He is trending in the right direction. He is one deal away from hitting goal.”

  1. Each coaching session must end with an action step: eg. “Mike, what I want you to do now is to call ABC Company and talk to your contact.  Have the discussion we just role–played and report back to me by the end of business tomorrow.”  Without action steps your sales people will leave these 1-on-1 coaching sessions and promptly forget the discussions. Unfortunately by next week you will be wondering what they did differently, if anything at all.

These 5 Best Practices are not meant to be the all-inclusive list of steps required by sales managers to drive sales productivity.  You must still have steps and strategies to motivate your people, recruit more of the right talent, have great sales meetings, develop teams that work together etc.  But focusing on these 5 Best Practices will help you develop a more credible, valid and consistent pipeline.  This is important to you, your people and the company.

Sign up for 1-Hour Sales Management Coaching Session

Additional resources:

CRM best practices-An article by Izzy Witts at Bablequest.com

9 Keys to Coaching Sales Success  Are you a great coach?

Topics: Pipeline management, Effective Coaching, sales management, Sales Coaching

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

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Dec 30, 2016

success_work.gif

 

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.

subscribe-to-blog.png

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

Habits of Highly Successful Sales Managers

Posted by Tony Cole on Wed, Nov 02, 2016

salesmgrhabits.jpg

The sales management activities that we are performing today are creating the results we are achieving today.  What activities are you doing now that are creating your current unsatisfactory results?  It is up to us as sales leaders to set higher standards for sales behaviors and hold people accountable so that we get better results.

It is a given that successful sales management requires contributions on many levels:  skill, time, effort, effective execution and systems and processes to support coaching, performance management and recruiting.

To help understand what makes a successful sales manager, it is helpful to review the Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople. I recently asked the participants of a workshop to identify and share those habits that they believed contributed to the success of their best salespeople.  Below are some of the common habits identified:

  • Develops great relationships
  • Networks regularly
  • Good time management
  • Gets to decision makers
  • Is selective in prospecting
  • Provides exceptional customer service

Then I asked them to talk about the flip-side of the list – those habits that inhibited or hurt a salesperson’s ability to close more business.  Below are some of the habits they identified:

  • Sells on price
  • Inconsistent prospecting
  • Procrastinates
  • Presents to the wrong people
  • Sells to anyone that fogs a mirror
  • Poor prioritization
  • Is too comfortable

How about you and your habits?  What are those habits that you can point to that you KNOW have a positive impact on your team’s sales behaviors and results?  Here are some that I observe and hear about:

  • Coaches: in-the-moment to get a deal closed
  • Reports sales results
  • Makes joint calls
  • Sets goals
  • Conducts regular sales meetings
  • Reviews and reports pipeline

This is a good list and with some additions, it can become a great list when we identify the skills of a great Coach, one of the most critical roles of an effective sales leader.  To examine what else you might want to consider, take a look at the following list of elements necessary for successful coaching:

  • Debriefs sales calls effectively
  • Asks quality questions
  • Controls emotions
  • Allows salespeople to fail
  • Implements and manages the execution of a consistent sales process
  • Motivates when coaching based on individual/personal goals
  • Coaches to improve skill and change behavior
  • Gets sales people to follow through on commitments

It’s not enough to just have the skill.  In order for managers to be successful at having a sales team built for growth, the manager must be in the habit of using those skills.

Being an extraordinary sales manager is grueling and time-consuming.  It requires attention to detail, the ability to have tough conversations with those who are not meeting their numbers, the desire and commitment to grow yourself and your salespeople, consistent activity and patience.  Like the coach of a winning team or conductor of an extraordinary symphony, you have the ability to positively affect the success and the lives of your salespeople and company. 

subscribe-to-blog.png

Topics: sales management, managing sales teams, sales habits, highly successful salespeople

    Follow #ACTG

     

    About our Blog

    Founder and CLO Tony Cole has been working with financial firms for more than 25 years to help them close their sales opportunity gap.  He is a master at using science based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss his weekly sales management blog insights.

     

    Subscribe Here

    Most Read

    Recent Blogs