The Crucial Selling Skill That Nobody Talks About

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 @ 20:10 PM

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Image Copyright 123RF Stock Photo

Earlier this week I received an unsolicited email from the founder of a company who introduced himself and asked me to try his new tool for speakers.  By itself, this was not unusual because I receive 20-25 unsolicited emails per day. They want to optimize my website, sell me SEO services, provide me with online marketing tools, sell me the latest SaaS program, provide a guest article for my Blog, buy advertising on my Blog, sell me leads, book appointments for us with prospects, or show me the latest sales enablement tools.  Unlike most, this particular email was actually formatted and the sender signed his complete name, title and company.  But let's talk about the biggest, most surprising thing about this sender that brings us to the topic of today's article.

Just three days later I received a follow up email from the same sender and the subject line read, "Good By from [company name withheld].  The body of the message began with, "I was looking forward to helping you but I haven't received a response to any of my emails...so I will be removing you from my contact list."

I couldn't care less because the tool looked lame and if he thought that he was going to hurt my feelings with his threat to remove my name he is as stupid as he is impatient.  And patience is what I want to talk about today.

"Patience is the most important selling skill that nobody ever talks about.  You can visualize patience on a pendulum where on one side there is an excess of patience and on the other, tremendous impatience."

When there is an excess of patience it always results in the salesperson accepting an endless number of stalls and put-offs, thereby lengthening the sales cycle, and shrinking the win rate.

When there is an excess of impatience, as we observed with the email sender, there will be a disproportionate number of prospects who become turned off, pissed off, or off-ended.

In a perfect selling world, salespeople must be able to walk the fine line between patience and impatience.  They must be able to challenge and push back on stalls and put-offs, but do so with kindness and professionalism so as not to cause a prospect to feel pressure.

We can't call the skill Patience because that implies having too much patience.  But the correct balance of patience is the key to pipeline velocity, shorter sales cycles and higher win rates.  I call this the ability to Manage Patience.

And the best news?  In the coming months we will add Manages Patience to Objective Management Group's (OMG) already feature-rich, acutely accurate and predictive Sales Candidate Assessments.  You can subscribe, get a free trial, or request samples here.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales excellence, sales effectiveness, long sales cycle, win rates, managing patience

Bigger Sales Pipelines - The Dangerous Truth

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 @ 16:04 PM

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I usually get notified when new sales studies are published and I'm asked to link to those reports from my Blog.

Last week I was invited to download the 2016 InsideSales.com Business Growth Index Report.  I read through it today and while I wasn't terribly surprised by anything, there were a few findings that are quite interesting, showing that some companies aren't making very good decisions, and these decisions could be representative of your company too.

The report showed that overall, pipelines are larger and that would generally be viewed as a positive. But it was no surprise that sales cycles are longer and win rates are lower.  The quality of leads was responsible for all three -  the larger pipelines, longer sales cycles and lower win rates.  In other words, companies were either raising the bar - they wanted better leads - or lowering the bar - they wanted more leads.  

It appears that in the case of better leads, better was defined as bigger companies with bigger opportunities, which increases the total value of the pipeline. Greater competition, a longer sales cycle and lower win rate are the obvious outcomes of that strategy.  

In the case of more leads, the number of opportunities in the pipeline increases.  Of course, more is the opposite of better and longer sales cycles and lower win rates are an obvious outcome of that strategy too.

My question is, do more opportunities, despite the lower win rates and longer sales cycle, translate to better revenue growth?  

The reality is that pipelines should not simply get bigger!  If we know the annual revenue goal, closing percentage and average deal size for every salesperson, then we know exactly how many opportunities must be in each stage of the pipeline at any moment in time.  When we know that, it's all about effective targeting and scoring.  Last week I spent a half day helping a company nail their scoring mechanism.  If you get that right, you'll know not only whether an opportunity qualifies to be in the pipeline, but whether it should be pursued, assigned resources, and quoted.  When companies choose to simply put more in, it's usually because they already have too many of the wrong opportunities in the pipeline.

There were some findings around technology usage.  It showed that in 20% of the cases, the competitive edge could be attributed to technology with the biggest three examples being CRM, Sales Intelligence and Sales Presentation tools.  But even with CRM showing the most widespread usage, only 45% attributed their competitive edge to CRM.

Speaking of CRM, it seems that the data for this analysis came from CRM, so I assume they were mining Salesforce.com data from multiple companies and industries.  With so many executives complaining that their salespeople hate using Salesforce.com, and with sales managers having to hound their salespeople to keep the data current, it raises questions about the accuracy of the length of the sales cycle.  Many salespeople delay entering data until an opportunity is well underway, while others delay entering their follow-up and follow-through, including when they have closed the sale!  These issues cause sales cycles to be represented as both artificially short and long!  We could give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that it evens out...

The authors grouped findings by company size -  smaller than and larger than $1 billion; but only 11% of the respondents were from the larger companies.  Another thing that might have skewed their findings is that 60% of the respondents were from software and business services companies.  While those industries are certainly hot right now, the lack of balance hides what might really be taking place.  If pipelines are bigger, sales cycles longer and win rates lower, what do you suppose those three metrics look like in the not-so-hot industries?

Well it's not what you might think!  Win rates went down in both tech and non-tech, but they dropped by 100% more in the tech segment.  Wow!  See, that's how some would report this finding - by dramatizing it - when the reality is that win rates dropped by 2.1% in non-tech and 4.7% in tech.  Also surprising is that the increase in the number of new opportunities was 10.8% in tech but 18.3% in non-tech.  To my thinking, it's the rest of the world catching up with the tech and finally getting with the program!

All of these findings are nice to know, but in your company, it comes down to two things.  Let's assume that your deals are not lost because of quality; and your deals are not won because of price.  After all, there can be only one lowest price and one best quality.  That means everyone else has to sell value.  In value selling, differentiation takes place in the field (or on the phone) and that means your ability to differentiate is reliant on:

  • Consistent and effective consultative approach,
  • Effective milestone-centric, customer-focused sales process, and
  • Consistent and effective coaching from sales managers - on their deals and personal growth.

 In my experience, this is generally not what is taking place in most companies.

You can improve the sales process and sales coaching by attending my annual Sales Leadership Intensive - May 17 and 18.  It's two days of the absolute best training on how to effectively coach salespeople and much, much more.  Use this link with embedded discount code to save 30%! [Update - Sold Out]

You can find out if your salespeople are truly selling value and to what degree they are using a consultative approach with a sales force evaluation.  For most companies, the information learned and action steps identified make this a no-brainer.

And you can simply hire better salespeople, but using the most accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment there is.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, salesforce.com, long sales cycle, sales win rates, building the sales pipeline, insidesales.com

It's Coming Sooner Than You Think - 5 Keys to Prepare Your Sales Force for the Recession

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Mar 10, 2016 @ 06:03 AM

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You remember the last recession - the great recession - right?  I remember that in November of 2008, the business stopped coming in as if someone had turned off the faucet.  Bam!  We lost a third of our revenue overnight - and we were prepared for it!  I predicted the last recession as early as September of 2006 with this article and in the summer of 2008 with this article.

In my business, I can see two trends ahead of others and I began seeing both of those factors begin to kick in last month.  Do you know what  they are?

The first is sales candidates.  For about two years, there has been a very significant shortage of great candidates.  But that began to change last month, when in the areas where it has been most difficult to find good sales candidates and sales management candidates, we are now beginning to see more of them express their interest.  Why?  Things are not looking all that rosy where they are working and they are out ahead of the curve looking to make a change.

The second is spending freezes.  We are starting to see the larger companies put all unnecessary spending on hold - they are hoarding cash again - and when that happens, the economy stops growing, begins to shrink and bam - we are in a recession.

I sure hope I'm wrong, but the signs tell me I'm right.  So what does this mean for you?  These are the top 5 things you must do right now:

  1. You had better sell your ass off while you can because we just might have another 2-3 year dry spell.  It's not a coincidence that by the time the 2008 election took place, we were deep into it.  And what's coming up at the end of 2016?  Right.  And with the way the election is shaping up, our choices might not be the ones that we had envisioned.  If things continue the way they are heading, the choice will be the guy who is bad for business or the guy who is bad at being presidential.  (Just an observation, not a political stance!)
  2. You must be better at differentiating, selling consultatively, selling value, qualifying and closing than ever before.  On the line are the opportunities sitting in your pipeline today.  If you fail to get them closed because you skipped a step or two, or you accepted a put-off, you might not get that business closed until 2019!
  3. Prospect like never before.  Get every possible new opportunity into your pipeline while prospects are still willing to meet with you, talk with you and share with you.  Then see #2.  The window won't be open for very long.
  4. Salespeople who do OK when things are good, tend not to do so well when things take a turn for the worse.  If you have any salespeople that suck when it comes to getting people to spend money when they don't want to, then now is the time to get them trained.  Do not put this off.  Training for reasons like these is not  a nice to have, it can mean the difference between killing it in a recession and being killed.
  5. Coaching!!  Sales leaders must become masters at coaching - now - because the one thing that can make a difference is constant, effective, non-stop, coaching.  Impact every opportunity.  Grow every salesperson.  The timing is perfect as my top-rated annual Sales Leadership Intensive is coming up in May.  Attend this comprehensive two-day coaching extravaganza and you should be able to coach your salespeople through a recession.

Get ready because here it comes!

Topics: sales pipeline, Closing Sales, sales effectiveness, long sales cycle, sales win rates, recession of 2016

How Dramatically Has Selling Changed?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 @ 06:02 AM

dramatic-change

Image Copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

Yesterday, I was listening to a radio promotion when they said, "Take a selfie with a standie and then, using your smartphone or tablet, upload it to Facebook, or tweet your image using hashtag [something I can't remember]."

Now, pretend it's 1995, and reread the quotation.  Twenty years ago, would you have recognized any of the words other than "take", "and", "then", "using", "your", "or" and "to?"  In 1995, selfie, standie, smartphone, tablet, tweet, hashtag, upload, and Facebook would have had you believing that you were listening to a foreign language.  That's just one example of how dramatically some things have changed in the past 20 years.

Let's take selling.  How dramatically has that changed in 20 years?

There are some obvious changes that most people in sales will recognize, like:

  • Salespeople are no longer sources of product knowledge or pricing, both of which are readily available online.
  • Salespeople enter the sales cycle only to find their prospects much further along in their buying cycle.
  • Salespeople utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, email marketing, blogging, and the web for knowledge and to connect with prospects, before they speak for the first time.
  • Personal online networks, like Facebook, Google+, and LInkedIn are exponentially larger than the physical networks of twenty years ago.
  • Salespeople with transactional products and services, like tickets, travel, commodities and most retail items have found themselves being replaced by online sales.
  • Many salespeople who once worked in a territory or vertical, now find themselves doing the exact same thing by phone.
  • Video conferences and phone calls are replacing face-to-face visits.
  • Inbound, Lead-Gen, and Appointment Setting Teams are recent additions to Inside Sales.
  • Value Propositions and Added Value have given way to salespeople who must now be the value.
  • A vast array of productivity tools, especially those that sync between devices, make selling not only more efficient, but more fun.
  • National and global competitors are making it more difficult to win the business.
  • Demos can be easily conducted online.
  • There are vast amounts of free, online resources that individuals can use to improve themselves.

And then there are the changes which are not as obvious, like:

So my question is, are these changes good or bad?  Have you made any or all of these changes?  If you have ignored any of the changes, was it due to ignorance, discomfort, or arrogance?

What is the next change that will rock your world?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, close more sales, twitter, linkedin, selling value, long sales cycle, sales win rates, google plus

Baseball, Sales Cycles, and the Quest for Shorter

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 @ 10:09 AM

waiting time

I was listening to a conversation on Sports Radio about the desire to shorten baseball games in 2015.  They've been talking about doing this for years, so one might ask, "What's different this time?"  

When I was a kid growing up in the 60's, a baseball game was expected to last no more than 2 hours.  Today, a Red Sox - Yankees game might last 4 hours - or more!  I LOVE baseball, but even I can't spend 4 hours watching a baseball game on television.  It's way too long.  It's boring.  And that's why baseball is losing so much of its young audience to American football and basketball.  

Not a day goes by when we aren't talking with someone about their sales cycle and how long it has become.  The quest to shorten the sales cycle is similar to the desire to shorten baseball games.  The conversation is never-ending and the solutions are so very simple.

In baseball, they could insist that the batter not step out of the batter's box.  They could insist that pitchers not take more than 12 seconds between pitches.  They could limit the number of pitching changes in an inning and, for that matter, the game.  They could reduce the number of warm-up pitches between innings, but then the sponsors would complain and they can't upset the sponsors!  The time between innings is currently dictated by TV and Radio, so they aren't about to change that...  They could limit the number of throws a pitcher can make to 1st base in an inning.  They could eliminate throwing the ball around the infield after a strikeout.  There are so many things they could do to shorten the game, but they never change anything.

In selling, there are even more options for shortening the sales cycle.  They include:

Customizing and optimizing the sales process - Most companies believe they have already done this well, but if the hundreds of processes shown to me are representative of what most companies think are completed processes, they have been severely misguided!

Elimination of unqualified demos, presentations, proposals or quotes - Most salespeople can't wait to demo and send proposals, but they are usually unqualified and that begins chase mode.

Spending MORE time listening and asking questions early in the first meeting or call - Most salespeople speed up and try to move through this stage as quickly as possible, but that only extends the sales process.  Slowing down accelerates it.

Uncovering their compelling reason to buy and/or move their business to you - Most salespeople are fortunate to uncover issues and needs, but rarely, if ever, uncover compelling reasons to buy.

Creating urgency - Urgency comes from compelling reasons and most salespeople don't know how to uncover them.

Being the value - Most salespeople are only able to talk about their value proposition, but they don't know how to be the value.

Nailing down the money they will spend - Most proposals and quotes are for amounts that prospects have no intention of spending.

Getting them to agree to spend a little more to do business with you - Most salespeople end up attempting to compete on price.

Getting to and staying with the decision maker - Most salespeople get no further than those tasked with doing research or buyers.

Being more memorable - Most salespeople blend in and don't stand out.

Differentiating more effectively - Most salespeople compare features/benefits, but not much more.

Building a case - The sales cycle must build on itself, but most salespeople don't know how.

Relationships - People still buy from people they like and most salespeople could do a much better job leveraging their relationships.

Positioning - Most salespeople don't effectively uncover who their viable competitors are and properly position themselves with and against those competitors.

Change the timeline - Most salespeople extend the timeline when they ask when a decision might be made.  They need to shorten the timeline by asking when the prospect would like their problem solved.

Should we shorten baseball games?  What would you do?

Can you shorten your sales cycle?  How would you do it?  Start by using this free tool to see how effective your existing process is! 

Image Copyright: bswei / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, shorten sales cycle, long sales cycle, long baseball games

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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, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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