Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

The Emperor's New Sales Brochure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

In a coaching call early this week, my client asked me a marketing question that I hear quite often but never wrote about until now. To answer their question, I am going to divulge research results from a study we did here at Kurlan & Associates that up to this point, has not been widely shared by Dave Kurlan, who conducted the study.

We get a lot of marketing questions but it should be noted that our primary area of expertise is sales and not marketing. We are concerned with the “top of funnel” hand-off from marketing to sales, however. And we are also concerned with the role that marketing can play to position products and services in alignment with sales messaging so salespeople will have better conversations. That's why we tend to get questions related to this crucial hand-off period.

So what was the question? It was this: “Would it help our cold-calling efforts to send out a brochure to prospects prior to calling them?” Have you ever asked that question? Have you tried it? Did it work? I bet it did. But I bet you’ll be surprised by the results of our study.

Here’s how the study worked. We divided prospects randomly into three groups. Let’s call them Group A, Group B, and Group C. To each group, we either sent a brochure ahead of the cold call or we didn’t, according to this schedule:

Group A
To Group A, we instructed our client to make a normal cold call. We did not send a brochure prior to this call. This was our “Control” group.

Group B
To Group B, we sent out a brochure to prospects. We then followed up with a call that started with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?”

Group C
To Group C, similar to Group A, we did not send a brochure, but we made a cold call and instructed our client to start the conversation with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?” If you noticed that Group B and Group C said the same thing, then you are one very astute reader.

So Here’s the Summary
Group A: No brochure sent. Cold-called the prospect.
Group B: Brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.
Group C: No brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.


Photo Credit: ©blotty/123RF.COM and Dennis Connelly

And Here’s the Results
Group A, the cold-callers, were able to convert the call into a meeting one out of 10 times. 1 in 10.

Group B, the folks who sent the brochure out first and then followed up with a call, did much better, converting twice as many calls into meetings. 2 in 10. So now you know the answer to at least one question. It’s better to send out a brochure first and then call. You will have a much better conversation rate than simply cold calling by itself.

Putting ethics aside for a moment, there are two reasons why you might want to try what Group C did – either you are pressed for time and don’t want to wait for a mailing, or you are short on stamps and don’t want all that return mail clogging your actual brick and mortar (or aluminum) mailbox. There’s a third reason I should mention that you might want to try what Group C did, which is that their conversion rate was three out of 10 calls. 3 in 10. This is 50% more than group B and 200% more than Group A. This result surprised us. We were expecting it to be the same as Group A and certainly no better than Group B.

How can this be? There are a few explanations that appear to be at work in Group C and not in the other two. 

  • Group C knew in advance that the prospect hadn’t seen the brochure so there was no worry about their opinion of it
  • They had a useful conversation starter
  • The prospect, feeling a little guilty for not seeing it, might have given them a little extra consideration
  • Knowing the prospect’s answer ahead of time gave the salesperson more confidence

So now let’s get back to ethics. Do you really want to start off your relationship with your prospect with a lie, acting as if you did something you didn’t do? Keep in mind that with Group C, there was no brochure sent at all. What made the difference was the mindset of the salesperson.

So how can we learn to bring the more successful, Group C mindset to the call every time without dishing all the bullcrap? Which skills and what hidden weaknesses might be holding us back?

  • Do your salespeople develop early rapport?
  • Are they confident and credible?
  • Do they ask questions easily, and listen carefully?
  • Are their positioning statements aligned with prospects real issues?
  • Can they create urgency?
  • Do they recover from rejection quickly?
  • Do they have excellent sales posturing?

How many of your salespeople can be developed to hunt and close new business effectively? How well does management coach them and hold them accountable? How motivated are they and what actually motivates them? Are you training the right people? How many cannot be trained? If these are top of mind questions for you, a sales force evaluation will answer them. Click here if you would like to learn more about that.

By getting salesperson selection right, training and coaching existing salespeople, and ensuring alignment with leadership and corporate goals, you will improve the quality of your sales organization. You will improve sales efficiency, preserve margins, and create more success for you and your people.

 

Photo Credit (Top): ©MarinaGallud/123RF.COM

Topics: sales force evaluation, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidate selection, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, hiring sales candidates, coaching sales managers,

Inbound Marketing Part Three – The Other Hidden Weaknesses

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 08, 2013 @ 14:10 PM

Screenshot 2013 10 30 16.32.03In Part One of this article series, I talked about how Inbound Marketing leads have changed the nature of selling and how sales and marketing must interface better.  I also talked about how an information feedback loop between sales and marketing is critical to the growth of sales and the success of the organization.  Frank Belzer’s book, SalesShift, best captures this change in the market and in how sales must be done in an Inbound world.

In Part Two, I discussed how the selling process is necessarily different as a result of the nature of leads generated through Inbound Marketing and how there are certain key skill sets, such as consultative selling, which must be mastered to survive and thrive in this new environment.  I explained how two important, potential, hidden weaknesses can thwart a salesperson’s efforts to master this kind of selling.

In this article, Part Three in the series, I'm going to look at three other hidden weaknesses which can get in the way of salespeople.  Hidden issues are important to understand because they can trump your knowledge and skill.  Training your people on how to sell consultatively will give them the knowledge which they need to sell in an increasingly Inbound world, but that won’t be enough to execute it.  To do that, the barriers, preventing them from performing at their best, must be removed .

In Part Two, I discussed Need for Approval and the tendency to get Emotionally Involved.  These two are of particular importance for consultative selling.  As I described in that article, Need for Approval can prevent one from asking tough questions; getting Emotionally Involved can result in losing control of the conversation.  When these weaknesses are strong, you’re missing your rudder and will have trouble navigating through the buoys and obstacles under the surface.

Three others of the most common hidden weaknesses include Discomfort Talking about Money, a Non-Supportive Buy-Cycle, and Self-Limiting Beliefs.  Let’s look at each one individually and think about how these might be affecting your sales people.

When someone is uncomfortable talking about money, it is harder to have conversations which lead to uncovering the budget, trial-quoting, and otherwise getting over the hurdle of price.  Ask yourself, "What is a lot of money?"  Find out if your salespeople are asking for more money than is comfortable for them.  Dave Kurlan wrote about this problem in this article a few months ago.  How uncomfortable are your prospects talking about money?

A non-supportive buy-cycle is referring to the strong correlation between how a salesperson makes purchasing decisions for themselves, and what they are willing to tolerate from and empathize with the prospect.  Most of the time, we think of empathy as a good thing.  And it certainly is a good thing in a sales setting if it contributes to your understanding of your prospects’ issues, concerns, fears, and desires.  When you empathize with your prospects’ put-offs, it becomes non-supportive.

Self-limiting beliefs (or as we call it, your “record collection”, if you are old enough to remember what records are) refer to the thoughts which we have about an outdated reality, even if they once served you.  Dave Kurlan has written about this issue as well in this article and he points out that our assessment research of over 650,000 salespeople reveals that the following three beliefs are the most common ones standing in the path of success for most sales people.  They are, "I must make a presentation", "It's not OK to ask a lot of questions", and "It's OK if my prospects shop around".  

Are any of the above hidden weaknesses getting in your way or getting in the way of your sales people?  Do you ever suspect that the ability of your sales team is really a lot better than their achieved results, but you don’t know why?  More than ever in the new world of Inbound marketing, the keys to success are moving past these issues and building a sales force of people who have no fear asking enough or the right questions, and who are able to engage in a business conversation rather than a sales pitch.

Need some help with your sales force?  Feel free to contact one of our Sales Development Experts or consider Kurlan & Associates' Sales Leadership Intensive.

 

Topics: sales competencies, Dennis Connelly, Inbound Marketing, Hidden Weaknesses, sales training, sales force development, record collection

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



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