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

Specific Words are So Crucial to a Sales Conversation

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 @ 07:08 AM

passport control officer

I just returned from a speaking engagement in Athens and had to stop at passport control several times during this trip. They always ask, "What kind of business?" and over the years I've used them all: consulting, speaking, training, business adviser, author, coaching, etc.  I've learned that if I want to be interrogated, "speaker" would be the answer of choice.  If I simply want to answer a few questions, "consultant" will do the trick.  But to elicit the desired yawn from the officers, I only need to say "attend a conference."  Words make a huge difference and if you like scripts, you'll be disappointed.  But a well-chosen word or phrase at just the right time can be the difference between a resistant prospect and an intrigued one.  Do you pay enough attention to the things you do and say as well as how you say them just before a prospect becomes resistant or more engaged?  Well, you should!

Selling is about having a conversation.  Not just any conversation, but one where a prospect recognizes that you are different from everyone else.  You ask better questions.  You aren't afraid of difficult topics.  You can gently push back and challenge.  You know your stuff as evidenced by the questions you're asking.  Make no mistake.  It's a conversation, not 50 questions.  And it's a good conversation, with you encouraging your prospect to share their opportunities, issues and feelings until you've identified something compelling, something that will create urgency, something that would cause them to not only spend their money, but spend it with you. 

When we train sales organizations, there may be only 6 times in the entire sales process when we want salespeople to use specific words or phrases, but they occur at times when the use of less desirable words simply won't obtain the desired result:

  1. The positioning statement and examples you provide to a cold prospect to get them engaged,
  2. Quantifying and justifying questions,
  3. The powerful price-busting question that gets your prospect to buy from you even when your competition has lower prices,
  4. The powerful timeline question that shortens your sales cycle,
  5. The navigation question that short circuits the decision making process, and
  6. The comfortable close where it isn't obvious to your prospect that you are closing them.

On your next sales call, pay more attention to what engages, encourages and comforts your prospects, along with what causes them to clam up, become resistant and lose interest.  That can be very effective self-training.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, sales consulting, closing tips, sales scripts, the power of words

Why Do Salespeople Forget What They Learn?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 @ 11:08 AM

sellingandgolfI was on the golf course 3 times in the past 7 days.  That's 3 more times than I played in the last 2 years combined!  As you might expect, I was very inconsistent and the resulting score was not surprising.  I was never a good golfer, taking it up just 8 years ago when I turned 50.  However, during the first 3 years, I took weekly lessons, went to the driving range each day, and played quite often in an attempt to become good enough to enjoy it.

Perhaps you can relate to this, not necessarily with golf, but perhaps with something else you may have taken up.

I think there is some commonality with selling, as well as a discrepency.

Some salespeople are fortunate enough to get trained and/or coached.  Maybe it's an all-day seminar, not really training as much as exposure to some different thinking or approach.  We don't expect anything to change from a single day, so why should you?  I went to a short game golf school for a day.  It was awesome while I was there, but 4 years later, I can't do any of the things I learned there.  Comprehensive sales training (8-16 months) leads us to expect dramatic change and a significant increase in sales.

Years later, why would you expect salespeople to have remembered, mastered, and continued to use what they learned?  The fact is that without consistent reinforcement and practice, most salespeople will revert back to what is most comfortable and easy for them.  That's  telling, showing, demonstrating, proposing, quoting and following-up.  They gradually get away from questioning, quantifying, justifying, building value, building a case, qualifying and closing.  They revert to rushing and taking shortcuts.

This is similar to forgetting the essence of the golf swing.  My posture was wrong, my backswing was horrible, my follow-through lacked extension, my feet were moving.  I was in such a hurry to hit it great that I hit it awful.  And salespeople are in such a hurry to close the business that they neglect to sell first!

Training is not an event or a one-year commitment.  It's a never-ending process of gradual improvement with the goal of developing mastery.  Unfortunately, for most companies, it's a much shorter term than that and then they believe that sales improvement has been achieved.

Here are links to a few other articles that I have posted about the similarities between selling and golf:

Putting for Eagle - Going for the Unlikely Close 

Teaching Sales in School is Like Learning to Golf on the Wii

Hit More Fairways and Close More Sales  

Sales Effectiveness by Borrowing From Best Ball Golf Tournaments





Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales improvement, sales enablement, sales effectiveness

Top 6 Reasons Decision Makers Fail to Attend Your Meetings

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 @ 21:07 PM

selling to a large groupMy mind doesn't work the same as most people.  I always seem to find a sales analogy buried somewhere.  Frank, who writes the Sales Archaeologist Blog, has that ability too.

Recently, at a picnic with my family, I took note of all the guests and couldn't help but see the similarities between the picnic and selling to a group.

Representing the competition were the ants - ready and willing to take anything away from us that they could.

A bird was flying overhead ready to crap all over us.  This reminded me of the prospect who has a strong relationship with the incumbent vendor.  They sit there and wait for the perfect moment to make you look bad.

The Yellow Jackets couldn't stay away either.  No, like the folks from Purchasing, they don't like it when you have a get-together without them and they'll find a way to sting you if you don't play the game by their rules.

Butterflies were fluttering about and they reminded me of the interested observers who join gatherings like this, but have no influence and attend to justify their existence.

Who wasn't there?  

As with most group sales calls, the real decision-makers weren't there.  These are the executives who task others to gather information, but don't usually appear in the meetings.  Bears didn't appear at our picnic either because they don't work out of the location we visited.  They were up north and completely out of sight. 

So what are the takeaways from this silly analogy?

Prior to a meeting with a group, it is always crucial to learn the roles and responsibilities of each attendee.  If the people you need to have in the meeting haven't chosen to attend, several things could have occurred:

  • You did not uncover a compelling reason for them to buy, so it wasn't important enough for the right people to be there;
  • You didn't differentiate yourself enough for decision-makers to take you seriously;
  • You didn't uncover the timeline and they aren't close to being ready;
  • You didn't have the right people in your first meeting and their job was to protect their boss;
  • They have no intention of doing business with you, so they didn't want to waste the decision-maker's time;
  • They were simply picking your brain, learning about your capabilities, and teasing a proposal out of you so that they could get a better deal from the company they wanted to buy from.
Of course there are more possibilities, but you get the picture.  Many salespeople try to push forward even when the right people aren't scheduled to attend, but it's generally a formula for failure.  Follow the sales process the right way, from the beginning, meeting all of your intended milestones.  If you can't reach the next stage because a milestone could not be met, stop the sales process.  People want what they can't have, but if you give them what they want, despite not meeting the milestones, you won't have any leverage later in the sales process when you really need it.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, sales tips, buyer focused selling, selling to groups

How Much Sales Development Can Leadership Do In-House?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 16, 2013 @ 23:07 PM

mowingYou can mow your own lawn, plant your own shrubs, paint your own house, repair your own car, and clean your own house.  You can do your own accounting, write your own agreements, and generate your own payroll too.  But you probably don't do most of these things.  Professionals do a much better job and save you a tremendous amount of time.

From time to time, clients want to handle some of the services we provide in-house.  "Why can't we do the sales process ourselves?"  They can, but a few questions come to mind.  If they didn't have an effective, efficient, optimized, formal, structured sales process for the last 20 years, where would this expertise suddenly come from to create this process tomorrow?  What if they get it wrong?

"Daily huddles sound simple enough.  Why can't we do that on our own?"  They can, but there is also the matter of getting the salespeople to participate, embrace the huddles and find them useful and important.  Much of that is dependent upon getting the metrics and the huddle format right.

"We have people who can provide sales training and we expect them to do it."  Most companies with in-house trainers often don't realize that while their trainers' expertise is training, the subleties and nuances of selling, and the sales weaknesses that must be overcome, require skills and experience that in-house trainers usually lack.

Beyond these obvious challenges exists a 600 pound gorilla.  The reason that any of these examples would be implemented at a company is usually to improve the sales culture, generate additional revenue and improve sales effectiveness.  Salespeople usually resist efforts to change things up.  When you combine resistant salespeople with homegrown solutions and don't get it correct the first time (right out of the gate and I mean nail it), you'll have an even bigger problem on your hands.  You won't get a second chance to tweak and get it right.  You get one chance to state your case, introduce the changes and get salespeople to embrace them.  If you don't know what you're doing, can't back it up with science, or fail to make a case and impress your salespeople, you're dead in the water, in a worse place than where you started, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Don't risk it.  Leave sales force evaluations, sales process, recruiting process, selection criteria, sales and sales management training, CRM selection, sales management coaching, and sales culture change to the experts.  You'll be glad you did.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales management, sales leadership, sales strategy

Top 3 Reasons Why Salespeople Fail at Consultative Selling?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 08, 2013 @ 11:07 AM

egoI have been teaching and writing for years that buyer-focused selling (a consultative approach to sales) is the best approach for differentiating, adding and being the value, maintaining and increasing margins and winning a larger percentage of opportunities.  These days, I am just one of many who are spreading this message.  And even if we get through to only one leader at a time, we will eventually get most companies selling in a way that brings consistent results.

One of the challenges with a consultative approach is that while it is easier to close the sale, it is far more difficult to implement than the traditional, transactional approach that today makes it so much harder to get the sale closed.  The question is why?

There are three reasons:

  1. In the previous paragraph, I wrote that the consultative approach is difficult for some salespeople to implement.  I didn't write that it is difficult to learn.  The primary reason that salespeople are able to learn it, yet be unable to implement it, is because of their ego.  Consultative selling requires that salespeople ask a lot of questions - good, tough, timely questions.  They might even know the answers to some of the questions they need to ask.  Some salespeople worry that by asking all of these questions, they will appear dumb.  The reality is that the better they listen, the more questions they ask, and the better the questions are, the smarter they will appear.  In essence, it is dumb of them to worry that they will appear stupid!
  2. In #1 above, I mentioned listening skills.  When salespeople can't wait to talk, present and demo, they don't listen very well.  And when they aren't listening, the next question often won't be so obvious and therefore, isn't ever asked.  If you want your salespeople to ask good, tough, timely questions, they must develop their listening skills even more than their questioning skills!
  3. Unfortunately, more than half (54%) of all salespeople have the hidden weakness of Need for Approval.  They need people to like them and in some cases, love them.  One of the symptoms of Need for Approval is that people with this weakness are unable to ask good, tough, timely questions because they are afraid that if they do, it will upset their prospect and jeopardize their chances of getting the business.  Need for Approval takes quite some time to overcome and, that's only when sales managers know how to recognize it and help their salespeople overcome it.  The only thing more detrimental to sales success than Need for Approval is #1, their ego.
So, now we've come full circle and returned to the ego.  Salespeople will always be able to learn sales processes, sales methodologies, sales strategies and sales tactics.  Getting them to agree, embrace, implement, and master them are a completely different story.  In the end, it requires more than most sales managers are capable of providing.  Getting salespeople to set aside their egos, develop their listening skills, and overcome their Need for Approval, all in the context of an effective sales process and methodology, requires expert guidance.  As they say in the commercials that show extreme sports and sometimes extreme stupidity, "Don't try this at home."
I just completed three very time-consuming projects that have prevented me from accepting personal clients for quite some time.  If you believe your sales force could or should be performing significantly better than they are, and want to chat about that, send me an email.  The first three (who appear to be good fits) will get my attention.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, buyer focused selling, sales assessments, sales expertise, why salespeople fail, top 3 reasons

The Waffle Cone and the Mass Production of Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 02, 2013 @ 05:07 AM

waffle coneDo you remember when freshly made waffle cones became popular?  Back then, you could smell the waffle cones from outside of a gourmet ice cream shop and the smell alone would be enough to get you in.  Originally, it was quite novel, with only a few shops making those soft, tasty, and very aromatic cones which could hold SO MUCH MORE ice cream than traditional cones.

And then they screwed it up.  It became too labor intensive, time-consuming and costly for most shops to continue the practice of making fresh waffle cones.  And today, while you find waffle cones at nearly every ice cream shop, they are mass-produced, much smaller, and have the taste and texture of regular sugar cones.  Despite the mass-produced nature of today's waffle cones, the shops still charge anywhere from .75 to $1.50 extra for the waffle cone.  For me, today's waffle cones are a constant disappointment because they always fail to meet my expectations.

What does this have to do with selling?

Think about salespeople as a version of the waffle cone.  In some companies, they are made fresh, and in other companies, especially bigger companies, they are mass-produced.

There are many ways of looking at this:

  • The company that hires kids directly out of college could be producing fresh salespeople, but if they are like a financial services firm, they are mass-producing dozens of them to wind up with a handful that all look, sound and act the same way.  Salespeople in a box. 
  • The company that puts a lot of effort into recruiting special salespeople, that have the talent, expertise and experience could be producing fresh salespeople.  They may not be right out of school, but they put the time and effort into selecting the right salespeople so that they have that special appeal - the equivalent of the smell and texture of the freshly made waffle cone. 
  • The sales manager, who invests time into coaching, mentoring and teaching the business to one salesperson at a time, is investing the time and effort into developing special salespeople. 
  • The sales manager, who hires salespeople and teaches them how to demo a product or do web presentations, creates the effect that these salespeople come right out of a box - they're all exactly the same. 
  • Salespeople with scripts?  From a box. 
  • Salespeople who sell consultatively?  If they're good at it, they are freshly made. 
  • Salespeople who customize their demos based on customer needs and requirements?  Freshly made. 
  • Salespeople who provide the same demo for everyone?  From a box.
Can you add some analogies of your own that compare waffle cones and sales?
Any company can mass-produce a bunch of people who all recite the same things, follow the same script and demo their products the same way.  It's mass-production at its finest and these salespeople fail to differentiate, fail to make an impression and fail to provide value.  In the end, the only way for them to make sales is to compete on price.  As salespeople go, these always fail to meet my expectations.
On the other hand, it really does take time and special handling to develop great salespeople.  And like freshly made waffle cones, the results are worth the effort.  

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales process, sales training, sales tips, buyer focused selling

Top 10 Reasons Why Salespeople Let Price Drive the Sale

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, May 10, 2013 @ 06:05 AM

valueSelling value.  

What comes so easily to the top 6% and some of the top 26% is so very difficult for others.

Most salespeople have little capability to effectively build value.  Talking about what your company does better or differently or  telling a prospect what your value proposition is does not build value.  Instead, value comes from 3 things:
  1. Uncovering the compelling reason(s) to buy and buy from you,
  2. Understanding the impact, ripple effect and cost of those compelling reasons, and
  3. Positioning yourself and company as the clear choice to help with numbers one and two.  Then the salesperson becomes the added value.

Here are a few random thoughts accumulated through the combined efforts of evaluating more than 650,000 salespeople and training tens of thousands of others.  In no particular order:

  • The moment a salesperson attempts to be competitive on price, any value he or she may have built is forgotten and can no longer be leveraged.  All the focus is on price.
  • Compromising or negotiating on price sets a precedent.  All future discussions about pricing will be based on this compromise.
  • If a salesperson does successfully build or create value, or position himself/herself as the added value, they must not allow price to be one of the decision-making criteria.
  • 53% of all salespeople are too uncomfortable with the subject to have a conversation about money.  How important is it that your salespeople have a conversation about money?
  • 33% of all salespeople think that just $500 is a lot of money.  How much money are your salespeople supposed to be asking for?
  • 40% of all salespeople don't determine whether their prospect is able to spend what they are about to propose.
  • 64% of all salespeople make their own major purchases in a way that will not support the sales outcomes they must achieve.
  • 86% of all salespeople believe what their prospects tell them, even when the prospect is bluffing about needing a lower/better price or that the decision will be based on price.
  • 52% of all salespeople become emotional as soon as they hear that their price may be too high.
  • 47% of all salespeople believe that if they hold their ground on price, regardless of how they do it, their prospect won't like them anymore.
All of these statistics come from Objective Management Group.  What does it all mean?  Not only don't most salespeople know how to build value, but even when they do, they quickly undermine it with their self-limting beliefs, inappropriate behaviors, outdated experiences, and desire to have a competitive price.  It's as if coming in with the right pricing will make them a hero.  Unfortunately, it makes them just like everyone else and there isn't much value in that.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, selling on price, objective management group, selling value

Sales Management Best Practices - Are Top Salespeople Challengers?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:04 PM

describe the imageI am asked quite often about the Challenger Sales model.  I've written about it twice, something that might lead you to believe I like it, but that's not entirely true.  Read this article and be sure to read the comments - a disagreement between me and the editor of the study.  Make sure you read this article too, written when the study appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

I am certainly not the only one scratching my head about why The Challenger Sale is getting so much attention.  There's nothing new here (for 24 years I have been writing about the blueprint to the sales DNA they just recently described, building into our assessments and delivering training on it) and while some of the Challenger approach is fundamentally correct, it can be very misleading too.

Sales has changed dramatically in the past 5 years and among the many things that are significantly different is this:  You must be able to differentiate yourself and your company and actually be the added value.  You can do that by asking the right questions, at the right time, for the right reason.  It's all about listening.  Consultative Selling, while being a question-centric approach, is driven by listening and nearly everyone who writes about it misses that point.  Another point that is often missed is that when Consultative Selling is properly executed, you can't help but develop a relationship.  Another point that is often missed is that if you are effective with Consultative Selling, you will, in essence, also be using Solution Selling.  Why am I bringing all of that up?  One of the premises of the Challenger Sale is that Relationship Selling and Solution Selling are dead.  As they say in Monty Python, it's Not Dead Yet.  

I don't promote an approach based on either Relationships or Solution Selling, but both must be incorporated into an appropriate 2013 sales approach.  Also worth noting, the approach or methodology is only one part of selling.  Without a sales process and a sales model, no methodology will work very well on its own.

Mike Schultz, a partner at The Rain Group, wrote this article highlighting their own study, What Sales Winners Do Differently, and the areas where their study reaches different conclusions from the Challenger Sale.

Finally, if you want to learn how to drive best practices in sales coaching, sales process, sales accountability and sales motivation through your sales team, sales force and sales organization, you'll want to be in attendance when we present our Spring 2013 Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston, May 14-15.  It's coming up quickly and seating is limited.  If you and/or your sales leadership team would like to attend, please send me an email and I will get back to you.  Event details are here.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, sales leadership, solution selling, sales management training, Relationship Selling, challenger sale

Why Salespeople Won't Abandon the Early Demo and Presentation

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Mar 04, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

changeTwo weeks ago, I wrote this article about how demos and presentations are like snack foods.  One of the comments, by Jason Kanigan, said:

"Traditional selling revolves around the demo/presentation. The result is we end up giving many presentations to unqualified prospects. Hit a lot of rejection. Spin our wheels.  
Move the demo/presentation phase to the END of the process. Only show how you do what you do to fully qualified prospects. Otherwise, you are merely giving a free education to someone who will thank you, but buy from another person who can give it to them at the lowest price. And you'll be sitting there, wondering what the heck happened."

Jason is right, but it's more complicated than that.  He nailed the location/timing of the demo/presentation as well as the likely outcome. But, he didn't explain what must happen instead or why it is failing to happen more than 75% of the time.  To be fair to Jason, I covered what must happen instead in that article, so I'd like to discuss why selling effectively isn't happening more frequently and with more salespeople.

Consider some of the major innovations that have been introduced in the past century:

  • Personal computers replaced typewriters, calculators, journals and even people.
  • Email replaced fax machines and is significantly reducing the demand for mail.
  • The internet is replacing the library as a source for research.
  • Cars replaced horse-drawn carriages.
  • Satellites and cable television have replaced roof-top antennas.
  • Cell phones replaced pay phones and are reducing the demand for home land lines.
  • Indoor plumbing replaced outhouses.
  • Electric lights reduced the demand for candles.
  • Television reduced the demand for and changed the programming on radio.
And to come full circle, smart phones are reducing the demand for personal computers and 3D high-definition home theaters are replacing the television.

People WANT these advances in technology; they wait in line for new products at Apple stores! Conversely, salespeople STILL WANT TO PRESENT.  For most salespeople, the presentation and demo are what they do best, what they have the most confidence in, and how they define selling.  They don't see anything wrong with it in much the same way that a young child doesn't realize that it's wrong to act out in a public indoor gathering.

Until salespeople can be shown just how ineffective it is to demo and present early in the sales process, and until they realize that presenting is not selling, they will not demand or even embrace change.  Until they realize that a sales cycle consisting of nothing more than presenting, explaining, demoing, proposing and chasing is inefficient and ineffective, they will not change.  Until they understand that to differentiate, decommoditize, and build a case for their offering, they will need to sell consutatively and follow a structured sales process they will not change.

I know from first-hand experience how long it takes for this series of events to unfold.  We can get a sales force to recognize the error in their ways, understand the benefits, and buy-in to a new sales process and corresponding methodology on the very first day of training.  However, getting them from buy-in to mastery is another story all together.  Consultative Selling requires a reliance on effective use of advanced listening and questioning and lots of it.  It usually takes 3 months before salespeople can begin to have quality conversations and resist presenting, and another 3 months for them to become comfortable.  It can take 8-12 months before they become consistently effective.  While salespeople typically don't realize just how much work and practice is required on the first day of training, they certainly figure it out by the third month of training.  By then, they not only want to improve, they have tremendous urgency to outsell everyone else on the team.  After all, at this point they finally recognize that what they used to do wasn't really selling.

If you want your sales force to strive for sales excellence, the bottom line is that your salespeople won't drive this transition and neither will a sales manager.  You have to drive it.  You must commit to it and it must be a sustained commitment.  It's not a do-it-yourself project, so you must also be prepared to do it correctly, get help from a results-oriented firm, and lead by example.

Demos and presentations are powerful, but not until you have an interested, motivated, qualified buyer.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, sales enablement, sales effectiveness, sales assessments

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight 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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