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 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

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

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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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