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

Top 12 Reasons Why Sales Methodologies Fail

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Mar 09, 2015 @ 12:03 PM

sales methodologies

 McKinsey & Company did a study and documented that 75% of solution selling efforts were considered failures after only three years. I read this statistic in a book about sales conversations and was struck by it, but perhaps not why you might think. The authors went on to make a bold leap of logic. It’s the “messaging behind the methodology” that’s the problem, they concluded.

Why did this statistic jump off the page? It wasn’t because solution selling isn’t working. We know about its limitations. It wasn’t because they said “the right messages” are the key. I am sure that a good message is important. It wasn’t because I was shocked that most sales initiatives fail. That’s why I’m in this business.

It struck me because it’s almost exactly the same statistic as the number of salespeople who suck, 74%. Maybe they were rounding; I’m not. After assessing over 800 thousand salespeople, that’s the resulting number, and has remained consistent for the last three decades. It makes sense that the weaknesses at the salesperson level would scale up to organizations more generally. Without understanding why that happens and without understanding the impact of management, most sales process implementations will be doomed to failure.

Let’s take a look at what might be going on under the hood, but I’d like to start with two quick definitions:

What is a sales process? These are the specific steps you follow on your way from a lead to a closed piece of business. What are the stages along the way? What are your milestones within each stage? How do you know you completed a stage? How does that inform your pipeline and allow you to forecast?

What is a methodology? This is how you go about executing certain steps within your process. Solution selling, for example, is a methodology that suggests that you find out what your prospect needs and present a solution from your basket of goods or services. There are many others, including some that work well depending on the specific stage of the sales process.

We know there are lots of sales processes and methodologies. It could be that your “messaging behind the methodology” is not good enough, as the book suggested, or it could be that the messaging is only an important component of the execution of the whole process. Messaging, as described, is really a methodology itself. In a sales process, messaging is most important at the beginning, when you are getting the attention of your prospect, and at the close, when you are confirming your value differential.

In both cases, you are talking about whom you help and how you help them. At the beginning, your message refers to a hypothetical person, but presumably one just like your prospect with the same kinds of problems. At the end of the sales process, we’re talking about exactly your prospect, because now we have enough knowledge to do so, and furthermore, you identify the manner in which you help that highlights what your competition doesn’t have or doesn’t do well, but that your prospect needs. I believe that was the key message of the book I was reading.

Most salespeople don’t follow a process. To be precise, 90% of salespeople don’t follow a process. We know that because we asked 800,000 salespeople if they had one and 90% said they didn’t. Could that be indicative of the problem with your team? Just having a process, of course, won’t solve the problem, as the opening statistic from McKinsey pointed out. But without one, you’re wandering in a darkened Fun House at Coney Island hoping you bump into the exit door.

Most salespeople don’t use a methodology either. In my view, a good methodology should tap into what is already fundamental about selling and make it easier to follow so that everyone can use it. Dave Kurlan’s Baseline Selling, for example, accomplishes that.  Since Baseline Selling has a sales process built into it, the methodology component is comprehensive because it covers the entire process. When salespeople learn a methodology, sometimes it only covers a portion of the process.

To make matters worse, even when salespeople memorize a process and learn a methodology, they won’t necessarily execute it unless they have the skills and the underlying DNA. They might have to remove psychological barriers and other hidden weaknesses to clear the path. To learn more about this phenomenon, read this excellent article by Dave Kurlan.

So if most salespeople don’t have a sales process and don’t use a methodology, or if they do, it’s incomplete, and if most salespeople are missing important skills or have hidden weaknesses that prevent success, the fact that 74% of salespeople suck should be believable. As you might have guessed, that number isn’t a guess; it comes from those same 800,000 salespeople assessed by Objective Management Group, covering some 140 million data points.

It’s not enough to point out the failure of an incomplete and probably poorly executed launch of a methodology like “solution selling” and declare that messaging is the answer. There could be lots of other reasons for the failure rate.

Here are my Top 12 Reasons that Sales Methodologies Fail

  1. Leadership’s ability to create change
  2. Management’s impact on the sales force
  3. Inappropriate or incomplete methodologies
  4. Incomplete sales process
  5. Not following a sales process
  6. Too many skill gaps
  7. Hidden weaknesses
  8. Not enough training
  9. No reinforcement
  10. Ineffective coaching or simply not enough coaching
  11. No follow-through
  12. Lack of accountability

An evaluation of your sales team would reveal why your sales aren’t improving as much as you believe they could be.  It might be, after all, how you are messaging. It’s more likely, however, that it’s not that simple.

The first step is gaining an understanding of what is required to get your desired outcome. The next step is finding out what is standing in the way. We don’t have to guess, and we don't necessarily have to add a complicated message that only the elite 6% can execute. It’s best to measure precisely what is needed and construct a plan that results in a team that, regardless of your message, knows how to find a way to close more deals, faster.

By improving your sales force so that the bottom 74% are trained up or out; and by improving management to effectively recruit, coach, motivate, and hold people accountable; and by selecting the right processes and methodologies for your business, it’s much more likely that you won’t find yourself among the 75% in the graveyard of failed initiatives.

Topics: Hidden Weaknesses, sales process, sales methodology, sales management, sales evaluation, sales skill gaps

Price and Substance of Sales Objections

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 13:07 PM

Objections 070814 175pxWe all know the prospect who waits to the last minute and then tells you everything is fine except for the price. “What can you do about the price?” or “If you can match these guys’ price, the deal is yours.” or “The committee is prepared to approve the start date with you, but we need to get to our budgeted number. If you do that, we're good to go.”

When coaching clients, I like to ask them questions when they have prospects who seem to be changing the game at home plate. Here are some examples:

  • What was the return on investment (ROI) at your quoted price? 
  • What was their compelling reason to work with you? 
  • Before you gave them your proposal, when you asked them if they could spend this much money with you to solve all their problems and/or realize all these gains, what did they say?

Is price really the problem? Or does the problem lie in the execution of the sales process? We shouldn’t be in a position where nothing matters at the end but price. If we find ourselves there anyway, then we must not have uncovered a good enough reason to buy, or there is not enough urgency, or we haven’t differentiated ourselves, or we don't understand the decision process, criteria, and timeline, or all of the above. In other words, we weren’t following an effective sales process. Or they’re bluffing!

Recently, I was coaching a client who faced another problem. His prospect told him at the last minute, “Your product needs to have this one other feature,” adding, “That would really make it work for us, and we'd be prepared to say 'yes' now.”

I asked my client the following questions:

  • Were they already getting this feature from the incumbent? No
  • Are there other features you're providing that were important to them and that they couldn’t get anywhere else? Yes
  • And without this ‘important’ feature that they 'really need,' do they have a compelling reason to buy from you? 
  • Can they spend the money? 
  • Do they believe you understand their issues and have the capability to solve them? 
  • Do you understand the entire decision making structure?” 
  • Etc.

In short, doesn’t this look a lot like the price issue?

At the home stretch, your prospects have one last chance to exercise their leverage before committing to the deal. At this moment, they believe they can extract stuff from you – a better price or more features. Why not try, after all? But if you have followed the sales process correctly, then you know where your leverage really is, and you know whether or not they are bluffing.

The trouble is that they might really believe that they need these issues solved at the last minute. They need that price lower. They want the additional features. It would be just great! And even if they are bluffing, it might not be conscious. Such a devilish place to be, no?

Moving past these objections means acknowledging their concerns and requests, and then reverting back to what's really important. "I understand getting to your budgeted number is really important to you. Can I ask you a few questions about what we talked about in our first meeting?" If you do this well, they might even forget they brought it up.

Following the correct sales process for your business is critical to avoiding this endgame. Does your team have a process that they follow religiously? Do your sales managers know how to effectively coach to your process? Do they hold their people accountable to the sales process? Are your sales people getting one incremental step better every day? Maybe it’s time to find out.

evaluation_checklist_cta

 

If you would to see Dave Kurlan talk about the value of an evaluation, click on the link below.

evals

 

If you would like to send one or more of your sales managers to a two-day Sales Leadership Intensive, or would like to learn more about it, click on the following link.

Sales Leadership Intensive

 

Image Credit: Copyright: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales process, sales leadership, Salesforce, kurlan, salesforce evaluation, objections, sales objections, handling objections

Building Rapport - The First Step in Your Sales Process

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Nov 29, 2013 @ 03:11 AM

CrossFit 240 borderYesterday morning, for a brief 49 minutes, I wasn’t very thankful for Navy SEAL, Lt. Michael P. Murphy.  But today I am.  And I will continue to be, every day until the next time I subject myself again to the particular workout that bears his name, simply called “Murph.”  It’s a CrossFit exercise explained in this New York Times article.  He called it body armor, because it so effectively made you stronger and faster.  And yesterday morning, when I was in the middle of it, I wanted to have a word with this guy and tell him what I thought of it, given the pain and strain I was under to complete it.  But I couldn’t, because he was killed in Afghanistan, at the age of 29, in 2005 fighting for our country, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

In the United States, today is our holiday called Thanksgiving.  As you read this, it might not be today anymore, but think back not too long ago, if you will.  Many of my clients are not from the U.S., but this holiday is so easy to embrace that most seem pretty cheerful about going along.  There’s nothing necessarily religious or geo-political about it.  You get together with family and/or friends and eat.  Humans like eating. 

But of course, Thanksgiving is also about being thankful.  I’m not going to indulge in list-making today with all of things I’m thankful for, and it’s a long list.  That’s not the point of this blog.  But I will relate it to living sales excellence.

Thankfulness is a close cousin of gratitude.  Being thankful is about acknowledging what’s good in your life.  Gratitude comes from the good feelings you have for the people in your life.  When you meet someone new, try bringing both of those feelings to the surface.  Find a reason to feel thankful for this new encounter.  Find something about them to appreciate and feel grateful to them for sharing that part of themselves with you.  Isn’t that a recipe for rapport?

Now try it with a prospect?  See how your tone changes, how relaxed you become, and how your good feeling helps make the dialog more natural and conversational.  Your appreciation and understanding, born of a genuine sense of gratitude and thankfulness, moves the conversation in a positive direction, allows people to breathe, and opens them up to consider your offer of help where there might once have been resistance.  Isn’t that the first step in the sales process?

I’m sore today from the Murph yesterday morning, but I completed the exercise and made another incremental improvement.  I’m one day stronger, one day healthier, and one day closer to a personal goal.  I spared you my long list today, but it is worth remembering, on this day of Thanksgiving, that Lt. Murphy and so many others have died for the cause of our health and safety.  I learned about this man from Mike Collette, who owns the CrossFit gym where I work out. 

The good feelings generated by these and so many other great people in my life shape my attitude every day.  They contribute to an overall balance and sense of purpose that is the motor of my willingness and desire to help company executives achieve in sales, what Dave Kurlan calls “results they only imagined.” 

My gift to you on this day is to make you aware of a book entitled, Just Listen, by Mark Goulston.  I’ve included it on my book list, but I call attention to it today because it holds the secrets of rapport – of understanding and appreciating the world of others.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thanksgiving is a day that generates feelings that are just like those that help us build the kind of rapport that is so helpful in the early stages of the sales process, unless of course, you’re in the middle of the Murph.  But like any worthwhile effort, the pain of the exercise goes away, leaving you stronger and maybe a little better than when you started.

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales process, Rapport, Thanksgiving

Sales Process and Skyscrapers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 @ 08:01 AM

sales process,sales model,Dave Kurlan, Dennis Connelly,sales methodology,sales assessment, sales blogThere was a discussion in our recent sales meeting about the lack of excellent sales processes at most companies.  We ought to know.  Led by Dave Kurlan, we've written over a thousand articles combined to help companies better understand their sales force.  While many of these articles are about process, he noted in a recent article that there has not been a significant shift in this area by most companies.

The structure behind a sales force's activities is the process which they follow to bring a potential customer from lead to suspect to prospect to qualified to closed.  Your CRM tool, in part, should be designed to help with process.  Following it carefully and in the right sequence, can make an enormous difference on the outcome.  It ensures that every good lead has the best chance of a successful close.

I was recently in lower Manhattan and noticed the progress which was being made on the Freedom Tower.  It occured to me that the sales process is similar to building a skyscraper.  To an outside observer, it looks like a magic trick.  How do they get the crane to go continuously higher as the building gets taller?  Don’t you need something higher than the building to lift it up?  How do you attach enormously heavy windows and cladding to the outside of the building which is a thousand feet up?  How do you accomplish seemingly simple things like getting water to come out of a sink on the top floor?  It seems impossibly complicated and daunting.

How they build it is beyond me, but it's clear that they have a process.  They do things in order.  The order makes sense.  They are experts in their field.  All of the contractors and suppliers work together so that each piece fits on the next one in the proper order and at the proper time.  They are aligned in their purpose.  Without this process, the building can’t be built.  If they do it out of order, they have to tear part of it down and redo it in the proper order.

A sales process works the same way.  For sales to be effective, there must be a structure and a process.  It must be executed in the proper order.  If it’s out of order, it gets stuck.  Think about the specifics of your sales process for a moment and ask yourself some questions:

  1. Do we have a process?
  2. Do our people use it?
  3. Does management insist that it be followed, in the right order?
  4. Is the sales organization aligned with my view that the process is important?
  5. Is our CRM tool a good fit for our business?
  6. Am I concerned about pushing my people too hard?
  7. Am I fearful of the consequences of change?

For even more sales process issues, read Frank Belzer’s recent article.  While you’re at it, download his new E-Book on having a great 2013.  Your team must be experts at selling your products to your market.  Are they working together with management in alignment with your corporate mission and standards?  Are they helping to build an edifice of effectiveness where strong growth is standard and where your business stands out above the competition like a skyscraper?

Take a few minutes to grade your sales process.  It’s free.  Whether you take it any further or not, it could be valuable and useful information.  Increasingly, companies are asking us to rebuild their sales process.  They're looking for greater accountability, better metrics, clear action items, measurable progress and outstanding results.  If you're interested in having a conversation like this, let me know.

Topics: sales blog, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales model, sales methodology



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