3 Tweaks to Your Sales Approach Are Steps Toward Sales Greatness

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 @ 06:03 AM

traffic-circle.jpg

Consider how frustrating it is to approach a traffic circle, or as we call them in Massachusetts, a rotary, during rush hour.  You very slowly make your way towards the circle in a long line of traffic, attempt to merge into a congested circle, travel around to the other side of the circle, and finally exit the other end.  Being a bit impatient, I'm usually screaming to myself, "Come on - don't stop! - let's get moving - let's go!"

Hold that thought.

I believe that role-playing is the single most important thing I can do with salespeople to help them to become great.  There are three kinds of role-plays:

  1. I play the salesperson's part and the salesperson plays the prospect. This is my preferred method as it demonstrates exactly what the conversation should sound like.
  2. I play the prospect and the salesperson plays the salesperson.  This approach works best when conducting pre-call strategy and usually serves to show me how ill-equipped the salesperson is to have the desired conversation.
  3. The salesperson plays the salesperson and another salesperson plays the prospect.  This type of role-play occurs later in training when the salesperson has the foundational skills to execute the sales process correctly and to play the sales part with some confidence.

When I finally reach scenario 3 with salespeople playing their own part, it seems a lot like approaching the traffic circle. Let me explain.

When there is a question they need to ask or they need to summarize what they heard, the traffic circle scenario comes to life.  They slowly approach the circle, and when they finally reach the circle, travel around it a couple of times before exiting and finishing their comments.  In other words, they talk in circles, confusing, distracting and boring their prospect.  Take a step toward greatness: Be direct and concise because less is more memorable and powerful while being less confusing and boring.

Consider how a professional baseball or golf coach may break down swing.  Take a practice swing or two, get in your stance, use the proper grip, bend at the knees, open some at the waste and shoulders, eye on the ball, smooth, extend, hold your follow through, etc.  If you want to hit the ball solidly you must do those things in that order, but you can't be saying those things to yourself as you get ready to swing or bad things will surely happen.

Hold that thought.

You may have several talking points.  You may have rehearsed or even memorized those points; what you want to say about them and the order in which you want to say them.  But if you use your talking points and sequence, your prospect will be totally bored by the logic and mind-numbing time it takes for you to go through them.  A step toward greatness: Abandon the formality and sequence and simply have a conversation.  If there is a question or comment that makes it appropriate to introduce one of those talking points, then fine, but keep it conversational and do not become presentational.

Don't you hate it when a good prospect derails your momentum by asking for references?  This is truly a combustion point in selling.  (There is a great Disney book on combustion points called Be our Guest) You don't know if the prospects really want to talk with people or are using the reference requests to get rid of you.  You don't know whether to provide references, which ones to provide, whether they'll follow up with a call, or what your customers will say to them.

Hold that thought.

Today, it's helpful to have video on your smart phone, of several happy customers that can speak to any concerns your prospects might have.  No delays.  No wondering.  On demand references and testimonials.  Take a step toward greatness:  Everyone on the sales team must record a couple of great 1-minute videos from their best and happiest customers. The videos can be shared across the sales team so that everyone has a robust library of customers who can do the selling for you.  Third-party testimonials are much more powerful than the promises of a salesperson any day of the week. 

Speaking of testimonials, many of you have read my best-selling book, Baseline Selling.  Since writing that book, I have written, shared (complimentary) and given you the opportunity to read more than 1,700 articles on sales and sales leadership right here on my Blog.  I would be most grateful if you would return the favor by writing a review of my book at Amazon.com.  

Image Copyright iStock Photos

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, talking points, listening skills, sales conversation, sales presentation

3 Lessons that Apply to Every Sales Call No Matter What You Sell

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 18, 2017 @ 14:12 PM

3-nutcrackers.jpg

It's a family tradition that each December we attend the Boston Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker.  It's truly a magical show and even though the primary dancers change from year to year, the execution of the show's script and musical score is flawless.

Several years ago, during one of the performances, it dawned on me that the orchestra's role in the show correlated very nicely to an effective sales presentation.  There were 3 fantastic lessons that I presented then and as I have done each year since, will present again here.

If you attend a Nutcracker performance or simply listen to some of the orchestral suite during the holiday season, one of the selections you'll hear is the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy".  Perhaps you can't match the music to the title, but I'm sure if you listen to the first 30 seconds of this version, you'll recognize the melody regardless of your religion or ethnicity.

Even though you've surely heard it before, can you identify the four primary musical instruments at the beginning of the selection?

In this version, you're hearing the glass harmonica, while most orchestral versions and performances feature the celesta, oboe, bassoon and flutes.  Can you hear them?

Just as the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" sounds familiar to you, your salespeople find familiarity in the sounds, questions, comments and discussions on their sales calls.  As much as you may not be able to distinguish the specific instruments creating those sounds in "Dance...", your salespeople may not be able to differentiate the credible comments and questions from the noise on their sales calls.

During a first sales call, suppose your salespeople hear one prospect say, "This has been a very interesting and productive conversation and we might have some interest in this."  And imagine another prospect at the same meeting says, "We'll get back to you next month and let you know what kind of progress we've made."  And still a third might say, "In the meantime, please send us a proposal with references and timeline."

Lesson #1 (based on Objective Management Group's data) - Of every 100 salespeople:

  • 70 rush back to the office to begin work on the proposal and tell their bosses that their large opportunity is very promising because all 3 prospects in the meeting were very interested;
  • 19 leave the call and make 2 entries in their journals - "propose" and "follow-up" - and they'll do both eventually;
  • 11 are still at the meeting, asking more questions.

Lesson #2:

  • Prospects' voices are like musical instruments.  Each instrument in "Dance..." has a specific role in the performance.  If the wrong instrument or notes are played or they're played at the wrong time, the entire selection is ruined.  Prospects' comments in the scenario above have different meanings depending on their business titles and their roles in the buying process.
  • If "please send us a proposal", "we're interested" or "very productive" are spoken from an Executive - the CEO, President or VP of something - it has a far different meaning than if the comment were to come from a buyer in Procurement.
  • When any of those 3 comments are spoken by a user - an engineer for example - rather than a buyer or an Executive, the comments may be far more genuine, but carry much less authority.

Lesson #3:

  • Sometimes it's more fun to listen to a song, symphony or simple melody and to figure out how and why the composer or arranger selected the particular instruments to play the particular parts of the selection.
  • Your salespeople must apply that wonder and analysis to their sales calls.  The prospect may be the composer (started the initiative), arranger (selected the vendors to talk with), director (charged with the initiative and conducting the process) or musician (following directions of the conductor).  It's the salesperson's job to figure out who they're dealing with, what role they play, what influence they'll have and how to get the various players aligned on the compelling reasons to buy and your ideal solution.

Homework Assignment - Return to Lesson #1 and answer 2 questions:

  1. Which of the 3 sales outcomes do your salespeople typically find themselves doing?
  2. Which additional questions do those 11 salespeople stay to ask?

Image Copyright iStock Photos

Topics: Nutcracker, sales tips, sales put-offs, listening skills, Dave Kurlan, asking questions

The Key to Powerful Sales Conversations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 @ 19:08 PM

ContextEarlier this week, I wrote this article about the importance of using specific words and phrases at specific times. 

That article discussed some of the milestones in the sales process where just the right word or phrase can make such a huge (make or break) difference in the direction that the sales call takes.  In the article, I mentioned "at just the right time", but I didn't elaborate.  I'll correct that omission with the following examples.

The ideal time to ask specific questions with carefully selected words or phrases is when it's contextually appropriate.

For instance, you shouldn't come right out and ask which competitor the prospect is buying from today.  But when you learn about a quality problem that has persisted for 9 months, it is a contextually appropriate time to ask.

You shouldn't come right out and state that your prices will be higher than the competition.  But upon learning of a compelling reason to buy, quantifying the problem and hearing that the reason (that they are still buying from the vendor with the quality problem) is because of their prices, it becomes a contextually appropriate time to let them know.

You wouldn't come right out and ask who the decision-maker is.  But upon learning that the problem is costing the company $5MM, it would be a contextually appropriate time to ask who else cares about $5MM.

One of the reasons, why salespeople fail to gain traction, differentiate and convert opportunities to sales, is that the relatively small number of questions which they are asking are coming from a list of questions rather than at a contextually appropriate time.

If you ask the right questions and get the timing right along with it, you'll get the results you are looking for as well.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, sales leadership, sales tips, listening skills, questioning skills

Drivers and Your Salespeople Need to be Patient

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 @ 22:11 PM

slow driverI was driving to a meeting when I became frustrated with the car in front of me.  The driver was traveling much too slowly and, despite the fact that I had plenty of time to get to my meeting, I could feel the developing anxiety.  As I thought about the irony of not being late, yet feeling anxious anyway, my thoughts turned to selling.

In a sales call, no matter how slowly it may be going or how difficult a prospective client may be, I have the patience of a saint.  If I were to experience the same impatience because a meeting was moving too slowly, as I do with slow-moving traffic, I would rush to the end, leaving my potential client behind, and those meetings would end very poorly for me.  

In order to create urgency and accelerate the sales process, your salespeople actually must slow down their meetings.  Instead though, in much the same way that I rush to get to my next meeting, they rush to the presentation or demo.  To make matters worse, your prospects want your salespeople to present and conduct demos.  They want prices and proposals and your salespeople are too willing to oblige. 

When you and your salespeople begin to develop a better understanding of what consultative selling entails and the related business conversations that go with that approach, they often have the same urge to move the meeting along.  It's similar to when I'm trying to run to my next meeting.

The patience that's so elusive to me on the road (but so easy for me in a sales call, consultation, coaching call or training session) is exactly what your salespeople must develop to be effective in differentiating your company on every sales call.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Moneyball, listening skills, questioning skills, sales traction

Sales Traction - The Key to Measuring the #1 Sales Competency

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 16, 2011 @ 06:11 AM

One of the KPI's I introduced in my Moneyball article two months ago was Traction, the ratio of suspects that become prospects.  Using the Baseline Selling process, that is also the ratio of opportunities that move from 1st base to 2nd base.  Translating that one more time, it is the number of 1st meetings that move to "we have a real opportunity here".

Many companies track some or all of the following KPI's for their salespeople:

  • leads to appointments
  • leads to closed
  • opportunities to closed
  • proposals to closed
  • demos to closed
  • quotes to closed
Traction brings a sales opportunity to life in much the same way that 3D on a big screen brings a movie to life.  While the other KPI's above are helpful, they are much more like watching a movie in black & white on a 19" TV.  You watched the movie, but you weren't part of the movie.  
So what does traction consist of?
Aside from the obvious, how effective salespeople  are when attempting to move opportunities from "some interest" to "solid prospects", Traction tells us how consistently a salesperson accomplishes that.  And by measuring their consistency and effectiveness with that single ratio, we get much better insight as to how well our salespeople are applying and executing the #1 sales competency, their consultative selling skills.
Traction will also provide meaningful insight as to exactly where in the sales process the opportunities are getting hung up (closing is not the cause, it's the effect) and why.  In most scenarios, if your salespeople aren't consistently developing traction, it will be for one of the following reasons:
  • Relationships aren't strong enough
  • They jumped from 1st Base (start of 1st meeting) to 3rd Base (conducted a demo or presented)
  • They didn't uncover the compelling reasons to buy (see #1 sales competency)
  • They didn't distinguish or differentiate themselves because of one of the 3 reasons above
Track salespeople's traction daily.  If you conduct a daily huddle, add the number of 1st Base meetings that converted to 2nd base but make sure your salespeople completely understand the criteria for reaching 2nd Base or you'll have them believing they arrived at 2nd Base every time and that will defeat the purpose.  2nd Base Criteria:
  • They need what you sell
  • Compelling reasons to buy were identified
  • Compelling reasons to buy from you were identified
  • Strong Relationship was established
  • Differentiated your salesperson and company from the competition through effective questioning
  • Quantified the cost of the problem or opportunity
Try it today and tell me what happens!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Moneyball, listening skills, questioning skills, sales traction

Get Your Veteran Salespeople to Take Baby Steps

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, May 11, 2011 @ 22:05 PM

 

baby stepsWe expect newer salespeople to be sales challenged, that is, not very effective when it comes to listening and questioning.  But the reality is that for at least 74% of the sales population, veteran salespeople aren’t very effective at this either. Here are some of Objective Management Group’s additional statistics from assessing more than 500,000 salespeople:
•    58% talk too much
•    58% don’t ask enough questions
•    84% present too early in the sales process
•    85% offer quotes or proposals too early in the sales process
•    86% take prospects at their word – they trust enough to not ask a clarifying question

I see this over and over again in the early stages of sales development at every company we help.

Read this great example from yesterday's mailbag:

A salesperson emailed his lessons learned and included this one:

“The final lesson again concerns the compelling reasons to buy. Ideally in your line of questioning during uncovering these you should try and get the prospect to attach a monetary value to the compelling reasons. This made me think of a prospect of mine where I believed I had two separate compelling reasons but when I looked at them I didn’t have the monetary value associated with the issue. The two reasons were: 1) The current test environment is all physical and is taking up too much space in the datacenter. By replacing it with new virtual infrastructure it will save lots of space and data center power and cooling. My next question should have been ‘How much money is it costing you each month in space, power and cooling by not moving to the new infrastructure?’ 2) The test environment was so different to their production environment half of all application go lives were backed out of after application issues when they moved into production. Again, my next question should have been ‘How many times has this happened and what do you estimate the cost of each aborted go live to be?’”


I wrote back, “On your very last example, you suggested questions that you could have asked – good job.

“To help even further, there should be some additional questions in and around “how many times has this happened?” and “what did it cost?”

“It should start with:


Tell me more about that!
How big of a problem does that cause each time it happens?
What are the users saying?
Who are they saying it to?
How do you feel when you have to retract an app that already went live?
How many times did that happen in the past 36 months?
What should that number be?
How much time is wasted as a result?
What does it prevent you from doing?
What would it be worth to recover that time?
Is there a lost opportunity cost associated with this?
Is there a hard cost associated with an abort?
So if you had to guess, what is the overall cost associated with not moving to the new environment?
Is that a lot?
Who else cares about that?
How do you feel about that?”

That’s 17 additional baby steps to get from “half of the go lives have to be backed out” and “how much did it cost?”  Most of your salespeople attempt to go from A to Z without stopping to visit B through Y.


You cannot script these questions.  Your salespeople must be able to identify the questioning opportunities in real time while their prospects are responding to the question currently in play.  This requires VERY focused listening, note taking, and patience.  And the biggest challenge?  Your salespeople must avoid the temptation to jump to a different question topic, jump to presentation, or jump in with a solution!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, active listening, listening skills, questioning skills, sales assessments

Selling is Like Rocket Science Until You Do These 2 Things Well

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 08:03 AM

sofaWe were in the designer furniture store where everything is made to order, takes 8-12 weeks and the price of a chair starts at $2,500 US.  I was reading my Kindle when a woman walked in and began admiring one particular sofa.

A salesperson walked up to her and you'll never guess what he asked...  Believe it or not he asked, "Can I help you?"  I cringe whenver I hear that question but that's an article for another day. 

Of course the only possible answer she could respond with was, "Just looking."

Crucial point #1 - he could have approached her and introduced himself, learned her first name and asked why she came in today?  He could have asked what she liked about the sofa she was admiring.  He could have asked if she was hoping to find a sofa.  What he did ask could just as well have been,  "Ignore me because I'm a mindless robot who doesn't respect you or care enough about you or your potential business to make it seem like you are important."

Next, he said, "We just got some outdoor furniture in over here!"  Huh?  Outdoor furniture?  She's falling in love with a sofa and he's pulling her away to look at outdoor furniture?

She ignored him.

He's not stupid.  No, he's a moron and tried again.  "We have some really good deals on the outdoor furniture...."

She ignored a second time.  Good for her!

He walked away.  He was done!  Rejected.  He gave up.  Wasn't that easy?

Then her husband walked in and asked, "Did you find anything?"

She said, "I love this sofa but I can't find anyone to sell it to me..."

Selling isn't rocket science but it seems like rocket science until you learn to do two things really well:

  1. Listen.
  2. Ask questions that will get specific desired responses.

The furniture salesperson (yikes!) got the responses that his questions should have elicited.  Too bad.  The sofas started at $6,500!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, retail sales, asking questions, sales 101, listening skills

The Myth of Sales Habits and Competencies

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 @ 08:02 AM

egoI get a kick out of the feedback we get from some veteran salespeople and sales managers after their first training sessions.

We hear things like:

  • It reinforced the importance of...
  • It reminded me to always...
  • It provided more clarity on....
  • I realized I had away from the habit of...

Here is what I think.

The training could not have reinforced the importance of anything because if they had already acknowledged that something was important, why weren't they doing it?

The training could not have reminded them to always do anything because if they had forgotten to always do something then they probably did not really know to do it in the first place.

The training may very well have provided more clarity on multiple topics but more clarity comes from not having much clarity or understanding to begin with.

Now my favorite.

If they realized that they had gotten out of the habit of doing anything, then did they really ever have a habit?  When something is a habit, one always does it and nothing would prevent it from getting done.  So it is far more likely that there was never, ever anything even close to resembling a habit.

So why do some veterans feel the need to provide feedback in this manner?

Could it be their egos?  Could it be that they are simply too embarrassed to admit that the material was either new to them, or they had rarely, if ever, used or implemented strategies and tactics like these before?

For instance, they have surely heard the importance of asking questions before.  But just as surely, they haven't been tought exactly how, when and where to ask in a simple, effective, non-threatening manner. They haven't been shown how long to continue the questioning, how to continue it, exactly what they are seeking to learn, when to stop, how to summarize, and how to turn the resulting urgency into a commitment to spend more money to do business with them.

Ego.  They simply can't admit that they didn't know.

Read Frank Belzer's related post on ego from earlier today....

Topics: sales competencies, Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, sales ego, listening skills, questioning skills

Subscribe via Email

View All 1,700 Articles

About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016 and this one for 2017. Read more about Dave.

Email Dave

View Dave Kurlan's LinkedIn profile View Dave Kurlan's profile

Subscribe 

Receive new articles via email
Subscribe
 to the Blog on your Kindle 

 

Audio Book
Top 30 on Kindle
Top 100 on Amazon

Most Recent Articles

Awards

Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame Inductee

Leaading Sales Consultants 2018

Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2017 - Article/Post - Gold
 Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2017 - Assessment Tool - Gold

 2016 Top Sales & Marketing Individual Blog - Bronze

Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2015 -  Bronze - Thought Leader

2016 Top Sales & Marketing Podcast - Gold

2016 Top Sales & Marketing Webinar - Gold

Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2015 - Bronze - eBook/White Paper

2018 Top 50 Sales & Marketing Blogs Widget

Dave Kurlan Top 50 Sales Influencer 2015

Sales Pro Insider Blog

Top 50 most innovative sales bloggers

Top100Strategic

Top100SalesInfluencersOnTwitter



Hubspot Top 25 Blogs

 

Free Tools

Sales Process Grader

Sales Candidate Assessment Free Trial

Sales Ghost Calculator

Sales Force Grader

Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator

FREE Recruiting Process Grader