Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Consultative Sales Lessons from the Beach

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Apr 06, 2016 @ 11:04 AM

Parrots-BeachHawkersArticle_3.jpgCan you learn something about selling from a trip to the beach? I hope so, or I'll have a hard time writing off part of my trip. When I go there, which for reasons that will become apparent is not often, I cover myself completely and sit in the shade of a large umbrella. Then, like a pre-historic sundial, the umbrella is moved around the chair as the day passes, keeping me in the shade. It's a lot of work. Clearly, visiting a sunny place wasn't my idea, but let's make the most of it, shall we? Have you ever noticed the people who walk along the beach selling stuff? How would you like that job? At some resorts, there will even be a few vendors invited onto the property to sell people by the poolside, and this is where I got the chance to observe hand-to-hand sales up close. What fun!

Two salespeople walked from person to person: one with a parrot, and one with a camera. The offering was to have your picture taken with the bird, and later in the day, prospects would go to their office and purchase the picture. Before I get too far in this discussion, I want to be clear that this is not an article about how to sell stuff at the beach. So if you sell cloud computing, staffing solutions, mobile apps, building materials, construction equipment, television advertising or one of 732 other product and service categories, I promise there are lessons for all of us. 

One of the more simple rules in sales, that some find difficult to execute, is that one should be focused more on the prospect than on the product, at least in the early stages of the discussion. Yet when most of us first start working at a new firm as a salesperson, among the first things we learn are the products and services we offer. So this is where the confusion starts. To be sure, knowing your products is critical to your success, after all, and your ability to present them is often the prerequisite for the sales manager letting you get out there all by yourself. There is little attention paid to your ability to sell, because most companies do not measure it, or don't measure it correctly. In the movie, Tommy Boy, we see that the "teacher" wasn't much better than the student in this area, even though he could say, "the spectrometer readout on the nickel-cadmium alloy mix indicates a good rich strobe and fade, decreasing incidence of wear to the pressure plate," as though he was describing the omelet he had for breakfast.

Seldom is sales taught by companies specifically to improve selling skills. It’s like when teachers know their subject matter, but not how to teach it. Have you ever had a teacher like that? How was that class for you? What did you learn? One could ask the same about salespeople who haven't mastered selling. Have you ever run into a salesperson like that? How was that experience? At some stores, you’d grow old waiting for someone who could do more than simply read the product description on the shelf tag as easily as you can.

So back to the beach. The pitch goes like this, “How about having your picture taken with a parrot?” Let's look at the components of that question more closely. First, they mentioned the picture, which is essentially a description of the service they are providing. (So far, it's about them.) Next, they mention taking “your picture” which is how you fit in, but it's still part of the description of their product. (Also about them.) They just hope you have a need for such a thing. That’s not selling; that’s hope. I recommend the book, Hooked on Hopium by Michael Shannon for more about that. Lastly, they mention the parrot, which even though you can see the parrot, it is a just another feature of their product. (Again, it's them-based.)

So how did this play out? Less than 3% of the people encountered said, "yes," and presumably some of them only because they felt pressure, but with no intention of purchasing later. That 3% might be enough for them of course, but why not double or triple it, if you can? I bought the photo shoot of course, because I wanted a picture for this blog article, a fact entirely lost on them due to their ineffective sales process and inability to uncover any reasons why I might want to buy what they were selling that day. They must believe that the reasons to purchase are self-evident. How many of your people know your products and services so well, they believe your prospects' reasons for buying it from them are also self-evident? Sometimes, you still get the sale, as they did in this instance.

So how could they improve their odds of success and close more deals? How about using some of the same strategies that my clients use? What if we focused on the prospect? What if we made it all about them? It might be impossible to do initial research on our prospects in this case, but we are at a resort, after all, so we could assume that they probably have a smartphone and a Facebook account and they probably plan to tell their friends about the trip. If we're savvy enough to understand generational differences, then if our prospect is under 30 years old, they probably don’t use their Facebook account, and if they are under 20, they might not even have one, though perhaps they have Instagram and Snapchat, instead.

So we might ask something like any one of these questions, not necessarily in this order and not without waiting for responses and making it more conversational: “Have you posted on Instagram today to all of your fans? What are they missing out on today? Is it fair to say that you’re probably having more fun than they are? Is that the kind of thing you like to show each other? What are they expecting to see when you send them a picture? Are they expecting just a shot of you and your friend and that cool drink in your hand? What would it take to surprise them? Do you like surprising them? Is that what you guys usually do for each other? So if they saw a picture of a bird licking your face, would that do it? Would that be a "win?" Would that make them laugh? Tell me about it.” And so on.

Parrots-BeachHawkersArticle-2.jpg

Okay, this is just one approach and there are lots more, and I was only giving you your half of the conversation. Use your sensory acuity to determine the best conversational direction for your prospect. The point is that you are focused on them, not you. You could ask them if they have a wall of photos at home.  “I bet you have lots of friends and family on that wall, and lots of faces, but no colorful tropical animals, right?” Once they are connected to the outcome – a unique post, a more interesting photo wall, or just more cheerful gloating – closing the deal follows naturally. "How about making that happen right now?"

As you read this, you might protest, “But the way they are currently asking is much quicker, ‘Would you like a picture with a parrot?’” See, they can quickly move from person to person, right? Yes, that’s true. But we aren’t interested in speedy conversations, we’re interested in closing more sales. Slow it down to speed it up. You've probably heard that many times before. In your business, ask yourself which part of the conversation you should slow down, in order to speed up the sale?

At a two-day sales training intensive in the mountains of Montana last week, we talked about slowing down the conversation to speed up the sale. “If they want a price now,” a salesperson asked, “why wouldn’t we give it to them?” And she continued, “I can only spend so much time with each prospect.” Hmm, I thought. “How long is your sales cycle?” She responded, “Averages thirty days,” So I asked, “How much is an extra 45 minutes going to throw that off?,” adding, “What if 30 days turned into 15 days as a result, or five, or one?”

How many of your salespeople can move past product knowledge and become more effective at selling? How many of your sales managers recognize that the products, services, and the intricacies of your industry are only prerequisites to selling and that mastering selling skills is the difference required for high performance? How much of your onboarding includes learning an effective sales process and helping your people clear away the mental blocks and self-limiting beliefs so they can execute it? Take five minutes and fill out this sales force grader to see where you stack up compared to other companies. And if you're interested, click here to receive a white paper on the Modern Science of Sales Force Excellence. The next time you're looking to unwind away from home, I suggest someplace cool and cloudy. It's less labor-intensive.

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales process, sales book, hunting, beach

How Can Consultative Selling Already be Dead?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 @ 06:04 AM

 

obsolete11.jpg

In this article for Middle Market Executive,Tom Searcy insists that Consultative Selling is dead.  He says that consultative sellers end up with buyers who can only make small decisions, experts end up in purchasing and only industry authorities can reach executive decision-makers.  He also says that consultative sellers ask, "what is your pain?", experts say, "here is your pain", and authorities say, "here is the pain your industry is having and how you can uniquely overcome it."

Is he right?

Read the entire article on Dave Kurlan's Blog

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales methodology, sales force evaluation, objective management group, Tom Searcy

Transcending the Transactional to Drive Better Sales

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 04:05 AM

be the difference, selling against the tideA version of this article appeared in Building Products Digest in May, 2014.

After all the advice you’ve been getting from sales professionals, managers, trainers, and sales columnists over all these years, why is the transactional sale still so common? Why haven’t we swam against the tide and found a better way? Perhaps it’s because it’s easy. Someone calls, you quote a price, you get the order…or not. Move on to the next call. What’s wrong with that? In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with it; in other cases, there’s a lot. Let’s break it down.

 Transactional sales are easy and uncomplicated. That’s the irony. We love them. And that’s why your sales people gravitate to selling transactionally even when they know there’s a better way and even when they know that applying a sales process and applying better selling methodologies might give them better results. 

In an ideal world, we have the best product in a category with the best value that no one else has and everyone in the market knows we have it. Just sit back and let the phones ring, right? Imagine being an iPhone salesperson. I mean no disrespect to the helpful folks at the Apple store, but if there were ever a quintessential example of an order-taker, that would be it. And if your products were like that, you wouldn’t need sales people at your company either. Imagine if your people drove around with a hand-held order machine like those guys have. “And would you like your receipt emailed to you, Mr. Campbell?”

But your products might not be like that. There is always an alternative, to your product, to your company, to your category, or even to your people – more on that in a minute. And thankfully, this is so. It's why we need good sales people. It gives your people a chance to shine, to build value, to solve business problems, and to differentiate not only your products but themselves.

Maybe you sell a broad mix of products. Some are special. They might have a longer sales cycle as you try to get the product sold as a stock item, or at least regularly purchased as a tried and true product. Perhaps you’re hoping an end user will get hooked on a particular type of widget or that a dealer stocks a certain set of products. We’ve talked a lot about how to sell those items in other articles.

But what about the products that sell more like a commodity? What about the products for which customers call and say, “I need another 300 pieces.” What about the products that seem like price is the only thing that matters? That’s our domain today.

Let’s first divide the transactional sale into three categories so we can understand what to do in each case.

  1. First we have the customer calling who always buys this product from you.
  2. Then we have the customer who sometimes buys it from you.
  3. And finally, we have the customer who calls and never buys from you.

Case 1: In this first case, where they always buy from you, that’s as close as you’re going to get to selling iPhones. Be happy, but don’t be complacent. The key to it working long term is maintaining a great relationship with that customer. They’re not shopping you, therefore they like you. All of the other qualifications are there, by definition. So the only thing you can mess up is the relationship. Put your best account managers on it and cherish them.

Case 2: In the second case, where they sometimes buy from you, you’re locked in purchasing department purgatory. When I talk to companies about this group, I’m almost always told the same thing, “They only care about price.” I remember one such dealer many years ago who was purchasing primed wooden trim boards and everyone in distribution “knew” that price was all that mattered to him. Then one day, someone sold him PVC trim boards at three times the price. What happened? Different value proposition? Really? Are all primed wooden trim boards the same? This was a missed opportunity.

The key, in this case, is not accepting that the sale is transactional at all. They sometimes buy from you and sometimes someone else. Why? Is price all that matters? What is the product being used for? Are there alternatives? Have they ever had a problem? And what other problems did that problem cause? Does timing matter? Does having it in stock matter? What if it costs more to keep enough in stock to never run out? Who else is affected by this purchase? How often do they need it? How many more times this month? How else could we structure this to get more of their business? Why is this important? Who else cares? Should they be in the conversation? 

Find out who’s wearing the decision and get to that person. The best salespeople can do this. Then, have a business conversation. If all you do is quote the price, then you’re the same as the other guy but with a different phone voice. When the product seems the same, and the service seems the same, and the only thing that changes is the day of the week, then you need to be the difference.  Slow down the call, find out what other factors are on the table, and talk about their business. Be the only one who really gets it. When your people can do that, they are the difference.

Case 3: In the third case, where the prospect frequently asks for a quote, but never, or rarely, gives you the business, we must take a different approach and it might sound something like this. 

Salesperson: “You call a lot asking for a quote, and you’re real nice; you say we’re competitive, and you say good things about us, but we never get the business, why is that?”

Prospect: “It’s just business.”

Salesperson: “Is it fair to say you’re in business to make money?”

Prospect: “Aren’t we all?”

Salesperson: “And if you never get the business, how can you make money, and how can you be in business?”

Prospect: “Look, I get a lot of quotes from people who don’t get the business, and I give a lot of quotes for my company and don’t get the business. That’s what it means to be in business.”

Salesperson: “That doesn’t work for me. With all this price quoting, I’m spending a lot of time and not getting paid. Tell me what it’s going to take to do business with you and if it makes sense, I’ll give you another quote.”

Often, what’s happening in this third case is that you are being used to keep someone else’s prices low. The prospect is behaving as if business is devoid of relationship, both with respect to you and to the incumbent. And they will keep behaving that way until someone shows them a reason to change their thinking. Why not be the first one to do that? You have nothing to lose. They’re not your customer, but they called you. Seize the moment.

In summary, we tend to like transactional sales because they are easy. But we are leaving much on the table. We’re either vulnerable to the competition, we're stuck in a price war and a race to the bottom that no one can win, or we’re getting walked on while letting good potential business slip away. 

Can your sales people cope with these issues and reverse the transactional tendency? Can they change the nature of the conversation and reverse the downward pressure on margins? Can they sell more consultatively and become the primary differentiator? Getting the answers to these questions could be the beginning of transcending the transactional sale and having your best year ever.

 

Image credit: ajcotton / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management, role play, transactional sales, better sales people

Retail Selling, the Role of the Salesperson, and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

LuxuryStore Mall 250pxJust yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle. 

This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.

But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.

How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.

The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.

The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.

Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”

Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?

This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.

  • How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
  • Is your company fostering the problem?
  • How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
  • Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
  • Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
  • Can they listen?
  • Can they react in the moment?
  • Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?

Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?

Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.

 

 

 

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring, Baseline Selling, Sales Coaching, retail sales, retail, adapting to changing sales environments, roleplay, role play, alignment of sales and marketing, alienate the prospect, CEO, changes that sales people need to make, change sales behavior, developing better sales teams, gimmicks in sales, getting your foot in the door, dysfunction, improve sales, hard selling, losing the attention of the prospect, losing the business, sales competency, losing the sale, sales mistakes, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales strengths, SOB Quality, selling process, what gets in the way of selling, amazon, sales shift, frank belzer, David Kurlan, Kurlan & Associates, Living Sales Excellence, sales excellence

Hiring Salespeople from Failed Competitor Carries Risk

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Nov 08, 2013 @ 13:11 PM

RatOnLineI was speaking with a ­­sales leader recently, discussing his experience of receiving lots of resumes from a recently defunct large competitor. His story reminded me of a related hiring practice that also almost never works.  His experience was a twist on the now proven idea that when you’re an industry small player, don’t try to hire away the folks from the big players. It simply doesn't work.  His experience was a little different.  He said that when one of those big players folds and every third resume that lands on your desk is from that company, don’t hire them either.

On the surface, this isn’t obvious.  But typically, when you hire the sales person from the big player, you tend to get the ones who don’t cut it.  If they had been truly successful there, why would they come and work for you?  Even if they had been reasonably successful at the big, well-known company, there must be a reason they're jumping ship.

Often, their success came from other less obvious factors which we call “intangibles.”  If IBM calls for an appointment, you’re likely to accept it.  And there’s an IBM in every industry, so maybe their success had something to do with this kind of “red carpet” effect.  Maybe they had a lot of support, or a team that helped to close sales.  At your company, they might have to do much more on their own, without a big team helping them, and they might struggle with that. Maybe they are used to selling a lower-priced product.

The big guy might chop prices to buy business or have greater economies of scale or some other reason why their prices tend to be lower.  If your candidate can’t build the kind of value that takes price off the table, he or she will not succeed.  In short, when the company is the primary differentiator, then without a highly-evolved, sales-specific assessment, it’s hard to tell who can make the switch to becoming the key differentiator themselves.

This sales leader was telling me that the large numbers of candidates from the recently failed, big player were not good candidates either.  Why is that?  Having previously worked for that same big player himself, he knew who the good players were and what made them different from the people whose resumes were decorating his desk.  The good ones had moved already to other companies well before the business failed.  They were smart, savvy and had many of the attributes which made them good at selling and understanding when it was time to leave. Those who didn’t get it beforehand, all need a job now.

How will you know the truly good salespeople from those whose intangibles are the driving factor?  The resume, and even the interview, almost never expose the hidden weaknesses which can be frustrating and costly after they are already working at your company.

This is one example of the kind of problems companies regularly face when hiring new salespeople.  They should also be concerned with the following:

1)      Can they and will they hunt for new business?

2)      Can they sell consultatively?

3)      Do they know why inbound leads are different?

4)      Are they good closers?

5)      Can they qualify properly?

6)      Are they trainable?

7)      Are they coachable?

8)      How much does their life get in their way?

9)      Can they make the jump to an entirely different selling environment?

10)    Do they make excuses?


If you want to learn more about the Science of Sales Force Selection click here. If you think your current sales team could be better, click here to learn about Sales Force Evaluations.

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring

3 Common Myths About Sales Managers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, May 24, 2013 @ 14:05 PM

sales force evaluation, coaching, sales recruiting, sales management best practices, consultative selling, sales force development, sales training, sales call, sales competenciesI’ve heard several CEOs in the past few weeks make assumptions about sales management and I would like to set the record straight. In fact, I've heard them so much that they are starting to sound like those annoying song refrains that get stuck in our head from time to time. I must make this unwanted noise stop! But how? Here's an idea that might work.  If these management refrains are in your head too, reading about them might be your cure as I hope writing about them will be mine. Let’s try it.  Here are three good ones:

Refrain #1:  Great sales managers are promoted from within the sales team.

That can happen and often does. However, the skill set required of a sales person is necessarily different than that of a sales manager. Dave Kurlan has written extensively on the required skills of sales managers. Most commonly, it is believed that sales people who are promoted internally to sales management know the industry, customers and experiences of the sales staff day to day. So they must be the best people to relate to and empathize with the sales team, right?

Well, not exactly. It might be counterintuitive, but empathizing with the sales team can get in the way. It is as important to challenge a sales rep as it is to challenge the customer.  Many of their assumptions are born of their knowledge and experience with the company.  Too much empathy might cause a manager to omit an important question that a less experienced manager might not have known "not" to ask.

Refrain #2:  Sales managers are most effective when they know the industry.

Really?!  Before I explain why this is a myth, let’s first point out that after assessing over 700,000 sales people (many of whom are sales managers), we now know that sales managers who come from outside the industry have a slight advantage over those from within.  How can that be?

The reason is that the best managers have a toolbox which is independent of industry. Industry knowledge can skew their viewpoint and distract them from the essence of great sales management which should be focused on Coaching, Motivating, Recruiting and Accountability, among others specific skill sets.  The latter three look like areas which might be independent of industry knowledge.  But the coaching skill set has an aura that makes it seem like it must work better with experience in the industry.

So often, however, we at Kurlan & Associates coach sales people without any specific expertise in their industry because we're asking good questions and challenging their assumptions. For example, if a sales rep says that his prospect will improve his margins to 14%, an insider might think, "that's not so great in this industry." But we need to hear that from them. Maybe it's not true for them. I once sold a product to a distribution company that was not satisfied with less than 17%. They bought it, and they got their margin. My next call was to a similar company that said, "This looks good, I wouldn't be surprised if we could get eight, maybe ten percent." He was happy.

When coaching, we ask, what is the strategy for the call?  What questions will be asked? Where do we think the customer might need the most help?  After the call, we might ask, how did the call end?  How did it get that far?  Which steps in the process were missed?  How are we going to do it better the next time?  None of these questions are industry-specific.  If you can accept this analysis, then you’re ready for the third refrain I've been hearing.

Refrain #3:  The best sales managers lead by example and sell more than the sales people.

I was recently talking to a sales leader who was describing how much he learned from his first manager a long time ago.  He said, “That guy sold more than all of us.”  Here we are in 2013 and he still had the sense that the sales manager needed to outsell the team.  I said, “You must have been selling Cutco knives or something like that. What was it?” And he said, “Encyclopedias.”

How similar is door-to-door book sales to what you do today at your company?  The fact is that people are more specialized than ever.  And in the age of inbound marketing, it’s no longer about getting Mrs. Jones to make you a cup of tea so you can tell her about your vacuum cleaner.  Frank Belzer shows us why inbound leads are different and how you can prosper in this new environment in his new book, Sales Shift.

Today, selling is more sophisticated, sales conversations are more consultative, business is more complex, and the best managers are full-time leaders with no time for selling.  And the best of the best spend fully half of their time coaching.  We know from the data that 85% of all sales managers spend less than a quarter of their time coaching.  Most aren’t even sure what coaching really means.  Interaction is not coaching.  Asking “How’d it go?” is not coaching. And coaching is not training. It's the hand-to-hand combat of real selling situations every day.

Are your sales managers too empathetic with the sales people?  Can they relate to the put-offs and excuses a little too much?  Do they know too much?  Remember how many crimes Columbo solved by not knowing anything and by asking a lot of questions. On his way out the door, he'd pause, look a bit perplexed, and then ask one more seemingly innocent question. Do you know what impact your sales managers are having on the team?  Maybe it’s time for a sales force evaluation to find out.

Topics: sales competencies, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, sales force evaluation, sales training, coaching, sales recruiting, sales force development, sales call

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return on Investment

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 @ 13:04 PM

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return

What happens when you walk into a large, expensive tradeshow booth stocked with company staff, but are greeted only by a young woman who was hired for the show to explain the products to attendees who wander into the booth?  The answer is that you get to witness a common tradeshow strategy fail.  This happened to me recently and I thought it was time to expose the folly of such a tactic and suggest what might be a better approach.

I walked into this booth to see five company representatives talking with each other.  They never looked up because they had hired not one but two young woman to greet me and anyone else who walked in to their well-constructed 30 x 30 island booth.  I don’t want to sound completely naïve, but these young women might have been hired for reasons other than selling skills and product knowledge.  She delivered a memorized script.  It didn't matter that I wasn't in the market for such a product.  She never asked.  The company staff never stopped their own discussion to find out if I was a prospect.  After a few questions, the woman confessed that she was hired the previous day and given a briefing on the product.  It showed.

Rather than bore you with what needed to be different in that booth, let’s examine what was happening and why.  Often, in the absence of clear objectives, companies default to what they have done in the past – whether or not it has proven to be successful.  The above experience is only one example.  It could be a flat-screen panel giving a running loop of product demos.  It could be a beanbag toss or mini-golf competition.  When uncoupled with purposeful conversation and good selling skills, the apparent tradeshow strategy is the following:

1)     Make a showing.

2)     Demonstrate your industry commitment.

3)     Attract attention.

4)     Get the product “out there” so you’re seen as a player.

5)     Collect a bunch of business cards.

6)     Have a good time in Vegas (or wherever).

Does this sound familiar?  Have you ever seen it lead to tremendous amounts of new business?  I mentioned in a previous article that Frank Belzer, author of the new book, Sales Shift, calls this the “Denial = Visibility Model.”   Companies who adopt this strategy are accepting the low standard of mere visibility and denying that there is another way that might even reap multiples of their investment.  So let’s unpack the scenario above a bit further.

The five company employees missed at least 100 people who walked by in 10 minutes.  That might sound like an exaggeration, but this was a show with 40,000 attendees.  It’s likely that this is how sales works in their office as well: “Let someone else attract leads. Call us when you’re ready for a proposal.”  It’s the easy route, and yet it’s a tough road.  Dave Kurlan described this paradox perfectly in this recent article.

And what about using this “attraction-distraction” method, as I like to call it, in a tradeshow booth?  That the hired booth personnel know very little about the product is not even the real issue.  It’s that they have no idea how to sell.

Instead of the strategy outlined above, maybe it’s time to update our view of tradeshows and what they can produce for our companies.  Here are a few tactics which compose a strategy that you might find more helpful:

1)     Have preset goals on the number of prospects which the booth must generate to be worth the investment. This is fairly simple math and it’s based on your critical sales ratios and margins. Email me if you need help with this.

2)     Only real sales people should greet prospects. A good salesperson knows how to lower resistance sufficiently to allow for a more in-depth product discussion. This is the art of sales. More on that in another article.

3)     Visitors should be asked questions to find out if they fit the customer profile, so that time is not wasted on tire kickers while real prospects walk by. You spent too much money in a short period of time to veer away from your tradeshow goals.

4)     At large shows, booth personnel should stand in the aisle to ask questions filtering the thousands of people passing by, rather than waiting for someone to wander in. This is an obvious point, but it takes leadership to get it done. Elect or appoint a team captain for the booth each day.

5)     The sales process is updated, reviewed, and executed. It should follow time-tested methods of consultation, discovery, needs-assessment, urgency, and qualification. Dave Kurlan’s bestseller, Baseline Selling is a great resource describing these skill sets in more detail. The sales conversation must leverage the many potential customers walking by your extremely short-term store front.

6)     Salespeople who stand out from their competitors know how to have a business discussion which can lead to how they can genuinely help a prospect through their product or service. This is the most consistently effective way to be seen as different, and is an especially critical sales tool in commodities or when differences are otherwise subtle. In non-commodities, the right kind of discussion can even eliminate competition from the mix altogether. If you want to understand how that works, send me an email.

7)     All salespeople should be committed to their share of the total prospects needed for that show by relentlessly pursuing attendees and maybe even competing with each other to make it fun.

Applying good selling skills to a tradeshow environment, setting clear goals for sales outcomes, and keeping everyone energized and engaged in the effort is the key to an effective tradeshow strategy, especially when so much time and money is invested.  There are many articles written on the subject of tradeshow etiquette and best practices, and they are helpful (e.g. don’t talk on the cell phone in the booth.)  I believe that the problem is even more fundamental and ties directly to the basics of sales effectiveness.

After drawing data from over 600,000 empirically assessed sales people in thousands of companies across hundreds of industries as Objective Management Group has, we know that 74% of all sales people do not have the skill sets and sales “DNA” to be effective.  Where could your organization make a sales shift to match the changing market dynamics?  How is management impacting salespeople and their effectiveness at meeting company goals?  Do you have the right people, systems, processes, and metrics to meet the expanding marketplace challenges?  Even if business is on the rise, is your boat rising faster than the others?  How can you ensure that will be true a year from now?

Improving the entire sales function in your company will carry over to the tradeshow floor.  In this dynamic and shifting business climate, with ever increasing time constraints, it’s no place for amateurs, no matter how good looking.

 

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales and marketing, sales management practices

Consultative Selling - Lesson from a King's Trusted Advisor

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Jan 02, 2013 @ 16:01 PM

Geoffrey Rush playing Lionel Logue resized 600

Take a quick look at your sales organization and count the number who are consistently selling consultatively.  If it's less than 100%, then count the salespeople who at least know what the term means.  Of that group, who could tell you with clarity and passion, how it differs from other forms of selling?  For bonus points, who could tell you why consultative selling is a more desirable approach in 2013?  If your company didn’t score high on this test, it might be time to question why some of your sales people consistently miss your targets.

Most believe they're selling the best possible way.  “I’m asking lots of questions,” they might say, adding “I have the solution to their problem, have great relationships and they trust me.”  All that sounds right until you consider that almost any seasoned salesperson can say all of that.

What makes one salesperson so much more effective than another?  It’s not about asking questions; it’s about asking the right questions.  It’s about drilling down to uncover issues which weren’t on the table beforehand.  It’s not about having a solution to their problem; it’s about defining the problem in a new way which plays to your strengths.  It’s not about having great relationships; it’s about standing apart from the competition so much so that you command your customer’s attention.  This is what Dave Kurlan calls “Speed On the Bases” or SOB Quality.  You want to be like the great base-stealer who forces the pitcher to pay more attention to you than the batter.  If consultative selling is the lock, then SOB Quality is its key.

There was a movie not long ago which demonstrated SOB Quality (among many other sales lessons) called The King’s Speech.  In it, Lionel Logue, a commoner from Australia, was the service provider.  The prince, the future King George VI, known as Bertie to his family, was the potential client.  The prince had a speech impediment which others hadn’t been able to correct.  Logue came recommended, but couldn’t prove that he could solve his problem anymore than the knighted doctors who'd previously tried.  Here’s an excerpt from their first encounter, before any agreement is made to contract his services:

Logue:  “Please call me Lionel.”
Bertie:  “I prefer Doctor.”
Logue:  “I prefer Lionel. What’ll I call you?”
Bertie:  “Your Royal Highness. Then Sir after that.”
Logue:  “A bit formal for here. What about your name?”
Bertie:  “Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George”
Logue:  “How about Bertie?”
Bertie:  “Only my family uses that.”
Logue:  “Perfect. In here, it’s better if we’re equals.”
Bertie:  “If we were equal, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be home with my wife and no one would give a damn.” Bertie lights a cigarette.  
Logue:  “Don’t do that.”
Bertie:  With astonished look, “I’m sorry?”
Logue:  “Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.”
Bertie:  “My physicians say it relaxes the throat.”
Logue:  “They’re idiots.”
Bertie:  “They’ve all been knighted.”
Logue:  “Makes it official then. My ‘castle,’ my rules. What was your earliest memory?”
Bertie:  “What on earth do you mean.” Now visibly irritated.
Logue:  “First recollection.”
Bertie:  “I’m not here to discuss personal matters.”
Logue:  “Why are you here, then?”

What Lionel Logue goes on to uncover is that the Prince’s stammering problem, regardless of its original cause, might have been compounded by personal issues such as the unkind treatment he had received by members of his family.  Logue’s probing inquiry eventually uncovers that his self-image is more important than the stammering.  In fact, the breakthrough comes when Logue sits in the king’s cathedral throne before the coronation, angering and challenging the king, until he finally yells at Logue, “I have a voice!”  Logue calmly replies, “Yes, you do.” and gets up out of his throne.  The King never questions his credentials again.  Logue has become a trusted advisor.

That’s how a commoner with no credentials, title, formal training nor guarantee of success took the business away from his high-powered competitors who possessed the inside track.  That’s SOB Quality and it’s at the heart of consultative selling.

Do your salespeople push back and uncover the underlying problems?  Do they challenge the decision-maker and ask questions which could cause discomfort or even irritation?  Do they look past the original inquiry, listen intently and ask follow-up questions until something interesting emerges?  Are they always looking to disqualify (“Why are you here, then?”) and letting the prospect sell themselves?  If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, could they be trained? What would a sales force evaluation reveal about your company's potential for change and opportunity for massive growth?  Do you have the right people to help you realize your organization's full potential as you envision it?

January is a terrific time to reflect on questions like these.  Rather than wondering whether you can hit your 2013 goals, perhaps you should be looking further and asking which sales force changes you must make in order to achieve sustained, double-digit, year-over-year growth.

Topics: sales competencies, sales force assessment, sales blog, sales culture, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Trusted Advisor



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