Prospecting Trends for the Sales Force

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 @ 23:07 PM

inmail

Three salespeople left voice-mail messages for me today.  They were all cold calls, they were all bad, and they were all following up on brochures they dropped off last week.  Nothing out of the ordinary here, as one of the callers wanted to know when our copier leases expire, one wanted to know when our commercial real estate lease expires and two wanted to introduce themselves as our new reps.

There are several reasons why they were so bad:  

  • They sounded bad on the phone - not like someone with whom you would choose to speak;
  • They were reading scripts - the first tip-off that you wouldn't want to speak with them;
  • They talked about what they wanted for outcomes from their calls instead of about what I might have been interested.  

I have always had a problem with the concept of dialing for expiration dates (think commercial insurance, commercial real estate and copiers) and following up behind brochure drops (think office supplies, hotels and copiers).  Distributing literature is not selling!

I also received 4 InMails through LinkedIn.  I responded to all of the InMails, but ignored the voice-mails.  

The voice-mails were easy to ignore - they were bad and the salespeople told me just enough to know that I didn't want to call them back.  The InMails were about me, I didn't get a chance to hear how bad they were and I was interested in what they had to say.

Salespeople should not use LinkedIn InMails to replace phone calls, as much as they shouldn't be ignoring the power of that social media tool either.  Sending well-written InMails to carefully-targeted prospects might help salespeople stand out and have a better chance of getting a response and/or meeting.  These days I get so few cold calls that anyone who is even borderline effective will stand out in good way.  In the end, these salespeople - both the callers and the writers - are being proactive, so at least they're actually doing something to drive new business!

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, business development, prospecting, Social Media, inbound leads, hunting, cold call

Are Your Salespeople Still Cold Calling? The Ugly Truth

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 08:01 AM

cold callCold calling.  It sounds so...20th Century.

Some industries still break-in their salespeople by putting them on the phone and having them dial - more than one hundred times a day - and attempt to schedule appointments.  You still receive calls like this from new, and sometimes not so new salespeople selling insurance, investments, copiers, office supplies, commercial real estate and long distance phone services.

Today, more salespeople are using the Social Network to find opportunities.  Whether it's incoming leads from Blogs, researching and requesting introductions on LinkedIn, or simply finding the target audience from a Google search, salespeople are using these tools to connect more and more often.

Of course, one thing that will never change is word of mouth.  Referrals and introductions from happy customers and clients will always be the finest method for generating new business.

Given all of the options, which salespeople are smartest?  Is it those that are cold calling, those who are getting introductions or those that are using the Social Network?  The answer depends on how you decide to measure what being smart means.  

If smart is measured by the easiest method, with less work, and no human contact, then those using the social network are as smart as they come.  

If smart is measured by following the path that most often leads to success, then those who ask their customers for introductions and get them are even smarter.  

If smart means making sure that no matter what else happens during the course of the month, the salesperson adds the required number of new opportunities to their pipeline, then those who are cold calling are the smartest salespeople on the planet.

Cold calling isn't enjoyable (for those salespeople who are truthful about it). Cold calling isn't effective except for the most brilliant of callers.  Cold calling isn't efficient anymore.  One thing that cold calling will always be is controllable and manageable.  

You can't control the number of inbound leads your salespeople will get.  Of course, if you are generating more leads than necessary to keep the pipeline full of quality opportunities my argument doesn't work.  But most companies aren't accomplishing that - yet.  

You can't control the number of introductions you will receive from your clients and customers.  

You can't control the number of introductions your social network will make on your behalf, even if you are asking for them.  

You can control the number of cold calls your salespeople make.  Even if the numbers are as ugly as this:

Attempts - 100
Connects -   10
Meeting Scheduled - 1
 

At least you can control that.

I don't think cold calling should still be the default approach for new business development.  However, if a salesperson needs to add 20 new opportunities to their pipeline each month, and the other methods deliver only 7, then cold calling becomes a necessary method to secure the remaining 13 opportunities required.

Cold calling is slowly but surely declining in use but some salespeople have discarded it before its time.

Reevaluate what your salespeople are doing, how they are doing it, and make sure that the emphasis is on the result, not the method.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, business development, prospecting, cold calling, in bound leads, introductions

Top 11 Reasons Why Salespeople Fail to Close Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 @ 12:09 PM

stop sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I coached a salesperson who thought he had call reluctance - but I didn't agree.  He was pushing through, making calls - although not as many as he should.  He has some need for approval - but since he needs approval from his boss he needs to make the calls in order to get it.  He needs some approval from his prospects but can't earn that unless he gets prospects on the phone and impresses them. So he actually has reason to pick up the phone and make calls.

I wondered whether he loved selling - enough.

I wondered whether he was committed - fully and unconditionally.

I wondered whether it was something else entirely...

The reason I'm bringing this up is that in most companies, when certain stages of the sales process are not being exectued as they should, executives often don't know why.  That's one of the many reasons why we evaluate Sales Forces - to identify root causes of the known (and unknown) problems.  The second reason is that problems are often misidentified.  For example, half of the calls and emails we receive each day ask us to conduct workshops/coaching/training/seminars on closing skills, even though closing skills are almost never the reason why salespeople fail to close sales.  With sales and salespeople, you need to work backwards from what you know, and ask many "could it be?" questions to identify the real problem and more importantly, the reason for the problem.

For instance, problems with closing (delays, put-offs, losses to the competition, pricing, etc.) happen for any or all of the following reasons:

  1. not a qualified opportunity
  2. salesperson did not present an ideal solution
  3. lack of urgency
  4. salesperson did not create/build value
  5. no compelling reasons to buy
  6. lack of posturing
  7. timeline misunderstood
  8. not selling to the correct person
  9. salespeople lack opportunities so they continue to work the lousy ones too
  10. salesperson presented too early in the process and then went into chase mode
  11. prospect never agreed to spend the money required
Even if you identify which of the reasons are responsible for the closing problem or challenge, you must go through that same process and identify 10 more possible causes for each reason - and go through that process repeatedly until you have identified the root problem.  The root problem will probably have nothing to do with selling skills!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, closing, prospecting, cold calls, presenting, sales assessments

Most Salespeople Suck at Selling - Is it Worse Than Ever?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 @ 06:08 AM

vacuumLast year I wrote this short article on the difficulty that salespeople have getting their voice mail messages returned.  In May, this article addressed the subject in a different way. Two years ago I posted a related and very powerful and popular post about Lance Armstrong and how he uses metrics.  Last month, a member of a LinkedIn group, Sales Management Executives, posted this question:

"What is your approach to get people to call you back after you have left 2 or 3 messages?"

In the past month, there have been 47 comments, one of the most popular topics I've seen there.  Some of the replies have been on target but most are embarrassing to read.  These are sales management executives and this is a "what salespeople must learn to do in their 1st week in sales" topic.  Most salespeople do not have the skills to consistently get new prospects to the phone!

Yesterday I met with a national sales manager from India and we reviewed the sales candidate assessment he would be using to recruit a national sales force there.  We were talking about skill sets and I pointed out that it might not be realistic for him to expect the candidates in India to have well developed consultative skills.  He asked why and I explained that even here in the US, it's not realistic to see it.  Companies and their sales forces are able to talk about the concept, they say they are doing it, but the data suggests they are not.  Objective Management Group's data from 100,000 salespeople assessed most recently, shows that on average, salespeople possess only 22% of the attributes of consultative sellers.  They aren't doing it.  When I observe salespeople who are supposedly selling consultatively, they ask one or two questions before jumping into a presentation.  If performed correctly, a salesperson who is selling consultatively should spend the first 60-90 minutes of a sales call asking questions to completely understand the issues, problems, impact, cost, and compelling reasons to invest in a solution.  Most salespeople are only asking for 30 minutes time and since it's what they are most comfortable doing, they want to make sure they have enough time to present something.

So most salespeople aren't reaching prospects, aren't selling consultatively and, as you could tell from last week's post about qualified presentations, they aren't qualifying either.

So the two questions are:

  1. Why?
  2. What Can be Done?
The why is simple.  It's not really a complete lack of skills as much as it is a combination of weaknesses that prevents salespeople from doing things they need to do.  As a result they resort to what's comfortable for them, even though what's comfortable is rarely effective.
In order to solve the problem, you must evaluate your sales force, identify which weaknesses are causing the problems, determine on a salesperson by salesperson basis who can be saved, what it is required from a training, development and coaching perspective, what your ROI will be, and provide the 8-12 months of development required to get them doing things consistently and effectively.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, closing, prospecting, cold calls, presenting, sales assessments

Sales 2.0 Tools Have Their Place, But Where is It?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 @ 06:11 AM

I am so fed up with the Sales 2.0 hysteria.

Sales 2.0  - it's about getting found and using the social networking tools to make connections - and that's all good.

But none of it replaces good old fashioned Sales 0.0 or 1.0 and to believe it does is a dangerous thing.

Whether you are performing SEO to help you get found, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Google or Twitter to let people know you are here, or using any one of the array of cool new tools to determine how best to connect, make the connection or continue the dialog, all of these tools are used as a means of getting your new prospect to the phone and/or a face to face meeting.

What you can't do with Sales 2.0 tools is use them to sell.  You can't take short cuts, you can't sell or have a conversation via email and you can't express yourself effectively in print unless you are an award winning novelist; and most prospects don't have the attention span to read that many words.

If by using all of these tools, your salespeople still have an empty or weak pipeline, they must pick up the phone and make calls the way salespeople have been doing for decades. Of course it's more difficult to reach people today, but that is not a reason to stop calling.  If you need to schedule meetings, they surely won't happen by themselves! 

Sales 2.0 tools, just like the face-to-face networking that came before it, are supplements to phone calls, not the other way around.  If you can't control it, you can't depend on it.  If your salespeople must have 12 appointments per month, then they must plan to make calls to schedule 12 appointments per month.  If along the way they happen to receive 4 introductions from customers, clients, their social networking or their local network, then great!  Then they'll only need to make calls to schedule 8 appointments this month.

Sales 2.0 - I love the tools, but they don't replace the basics.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, prospecting, cold calling, social networking, getting appointments

Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow Could be Your Veteran Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 05:09 AM

manilowStewartAdmit it - you're intrigued imagining how I'll connect this post to selling.

Barry Manilow dominated the 70's with hits like "I Write the Songs" and "Copacabana".  Rod Stewart dominated the 70's and 80's with hits like "Tonight's the Night" and "Hot Legs".  But they are far more alike than that.  They are both skinny 65 year-olds with coiffed blond hair and in the last few years received horrible face lifts. Oh yeah, women love them. Could they be the same guy?  Were they separated at birth?

And they both behave like veteran salespeople!  

Instead of continuing to churn out hits in the past decade, both have played it safe.  Rather than risk recording new songs and having a new generation reject their music, they both recorded songs that others had hits with.  Manilow recorded albums of Broadway Hits, Love Songs, and four albums of Greatest Hits covering the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's.  Stewart recorded four volumes of the Great American Songbook as well as the Greatest Rock Classics.  They already had a huge fan base. Rather than attempt to expand it, appeal to a new audience, and sell their original style of music to a younger generation, they simply continued to generate renewal business from their existing customers.

Isn't that just like so many of your veteran salespeople?  There isn't a single complaint that I hear any more often than this one:  "My veteran salespeople are living off of their existing customers and I can't get them to go and find new business."  Just like Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart!

Yesterday I spoke with a client who had questions about a Sales Candidate we assessed.  He wanted to recruit this candidate who had built a nice territory from scratch in the 80's and turned it into a #1 territory. The client wanted to bring this candidate to a new city and recreate that success. But the assessment didn't provide any indication that the candidate would succeed.  The client demanded an explanation.  Why did this superstar assess so poorly?

The answer is very simple.  While he may have been motivated to build that territory 30 years ago when he was a lot younger, he is not motivated to do it again today.  Think about it.  If you're a 30 year veteran of the sales business, would you be motivated to start from scratch in a new territory?  Our assessment simply showed that this candidate no longer had the Desire or Commitment he once had. He lacked Money Motivation and didn't have the required skills. What?  How could the skills have gone away?  They didn't.  He never had them to begin with.  In the 80's he may not have needed the skills.  It was much easier to build relationships and provide a quality product to take business away from competitors. It turns out that this sales candidate has been living off of the client base he developed back in the 80's and hasn't sold any new customers in years. In the current challenging economy, with all of the resistance prospects have for buying, salespeople and change, without skills, he would simply get killed. 

Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart would likely get killed today too.  Their songs wouldn't appeal to today's kids and I would guess that neither are very motivated to change their styles and start from scratch just to risk alienating their existing fan base.  They could be selling for you! 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, prospecting, veteran salespeople, finding new business

The Latest Fiction for the Sales Force - No More Hunters and Farmers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 @ 10:09 AM

Today I received an email from Selling Power promoting their latest webinar, The Hunter/Farmer Paradigm is Dead

In 2007 we had to deal with writers proclaiming that sales and the sales force were dead.  The reality of all of that talk was that the people writing about it weren't close enough to sales to know what they were talking about.  Companies with transactional sales don't need salespeople selling their transactional items, but they do need salespeople persuading companies to choose them in the first place.  Then the transactions can be placed via Internet or an inside sales group. That's about the only scenario where the "dead" proclamation even comes close to being accurate.  

Companies selling complex products, design engineered, custom, capital intensive, and higher priced than competition absolutely need salespeople to find opportunities, develop the need, provide value, qualify the opportunity, present the right solution and close the business.  Companies that are underdogs, those that sell professional services, and those with a story to tell absolutely need salespeople.

And today we have more attention grabbing headlines.  While it is Selling Power that is hosting this promotional webinar, it's actually a sales training company that is conducting it.  They go on to say that, "today's economy demands that you leverage all of your available sales talent by helping your sales reps both farm and hunt productively."

That's fine in theory.  It's optimal.  But the reality is that Objective Management Group has statistics from evaluating 450,000 salespeople and it's just not possible.  Here are the facts:

You want all of your salespeople to find new business but 24% of them will never be able to do that.  All of the training that they can provide won't change those people.  They'll have new words and will learn new skills but they still won't actually do it.

You want all of your salespeople to farm but some of them will never be able to do that either.  22% of them can't be trained.  And 45% of them will not close.  Again, they can train them until they're blue in the face but aside from the new words they'll learn, nothing will change for that group of salespeople.

So in a perfect world, where we can be anything we want to be, athletes aren't wired to be scientists, artists aren't wired to be software programmers, and ballet dancers aren't wired to be weight lifters.  Some salespeople aren't wired to prospect - they should be account managers - and some people aren't wired to close - they should be account managers too!

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, selling, closing, prospecting, Action Selling, Personality Tests, sales evaluations, sales tests, sales assessments, objective management group, selling power

Sales Prospecting on Steroids

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 @ 06:09 AM

With all of the articles written about sales and cold calls being dead (I usually write the counter arguments to that.  How would you find new business if the only thing you could rely on was a lead?) it was a breath of fresh air when Michael Strickland, my guest on this week's edition of Meet the Sales Experts, spoke about prospecting on steroids.  His five tips for sales success in today's economy are:

  1. Review your prospecting strategy - prospecting on steroids - redouble everyone's efforts
  2. Have a signature communication - own a channel - communicate your value proposition
  3. Leverage technology - CRM - to identify and manage opportunities
  4. Have a web presence - make sure people can find you by Googling you
  5. Identify all of the weaknesses in the sales organization - fix them.

Michael, the former banker, turned banking consultant, turned sales consultant, turned Vistage chair also spoke about how executive teams and sales teams spend 97% of their time planning and only 3% of their time doing.  He strongly suggested reversing those percentages.

"Action conquers fear.  Make a strategic decision to grow."  That was his comment when asked about the fear that has paralyzed so many businesses, causing them to wait and see what happens, rather than do something about their slumping sales force and revenue. 

Listen to the showContact Michael Strickland.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, grow sales, sales management, prospecting, cold calling, fear of failure, sales evaluations, steroids, sales tests, michael strickland, identify weaknesses, sales assessments

Will Gifts Get Prospects to Return Calls from your Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 @ 22:02 PM

A fruit basket arrived this morning.  My first reaction was, "who would want to send me a fruit basket?" It turned out that a salesperson sent it, hoping to get me on the phone.  He had already left two voice mail messages and stopped by on one other occasion.

As I write about his attempts to reach me, a few thoughts are running through my mind:

  • I can't recall a salesperson who had ever tried that hard to make an impression;
  • He must not have any other prospects;
  • It's an expensive way to prospect;
  • It does make him memorable;
  • The fruit was good;
  • He's a lousy salesperson but has most of the strengths to support selling;
  • I'd rather have an unskilled salesperson who pulled out all the stops than a skilled salesperson who didn't (can sell vs. will sell - our assessment would identify this);

The problem is that I'm not a prospect for him and sending me fruit doesn't make me a prospect.  If he had already spoken with me and wanted me to remember him, the fruit basket surely would have separated him from the pack.  But just to get me to talk with me for the first time?  If I didn't have time to call him before, a fruit basket won't help me find the time tomorrow.

When your salespeople aren't getting through and aren't getting their calls returned, it's not because they didn't send fruit baskets.  It's because they are ineffective on their calls or they aren't making enough of them.  When they aren't very good at it, look to one of the following areas to improve:

  • Introduction - is it 5 words or less and do they sound like someone you would choose to speak with?
  • Attention - do they get their prospects' attention in the first 10 seconds?
  • Engagement - do they get the prospect engaged in the call after that?
  • Positioning Statement - are they able to articulate the prospect's likely problem in about 12-15 words or less?
  • Example - can they provide two examples of the problems you solve in about 10 words or less for each?
  • Stickiness - are the positioning statement and examples memorable?  Do they have the elements of surprise, emotion, credibility, and a story?  Are they concrete and simple?
  • Dialog - do your salespeople have a discussion around the prospect's issues?
  • Close - when they identify issues do they close for an appointment? 

Remember, fruit baskets are OK for follow up.  They are lousy for getting prospects to the phone.  The best story I ever heard for getting people to the phone was a story I read in a business magazine last year. A company was recruiting engineers and they sent candidates a package containing a cell phone.  When the candidate opened the package, the phone would ring and the candidate would answer. Bingo.  This is a bit more expensive than the fruit basket but I'll bet it would work a lot better.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, Salesforce, prospecting, sales appointments, cold calls, getting calls returned, sales calls, sales assessment test

Who Should Your Sales Force Call On?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 @ 16:01 PM

It's not always obvious.  If your company sells oil drilling rigs to oil companies, then your salespeople know who to call on.  If your company sell luxury cars to wealthy people, you know where to find your prospects. But what if you sell products or services that could be sold to a much broader range of customers or clients?  Who should your salespeople call on then?

Today we conducted an exercise like this at Kurlan & Associates and listed our most recent 50 client companies.  Then we identified potential attributes of those clients that we felt were "good" ones, attributes that could more effectively narrow our focus.

We looked at possible criteria such as:

 

  • Size of the company
  • Title of our client
  • Money spent with our firm
  • Length of the relationship
  • Whether they evangelized internally
  • Whether they evangelized externally
  • Whether they introduced us to new clients
  • The quality of our relationship
  • How happy they were with our firm
When we applied these criteria to the 50 clients we selected, 30 of them met our initial criteria and 14 did not.  Of the 14 that did not, at least half of them failed to meet the criteria because we hadn't worked with them long enough to be introduced to a new client.  Most of the clients were all over the map with regard to their size and how much they spent with us. Some evangelized internally and some externally.  Some did both.  Most were Presidents and CEO's.
 
Then we looked at where these clients came from and we identified the following sources:
 
  • client introduction
  • cold call
  • heard one of us speak at an event
  • web site lead
  • Baseline Selling lead
While all of the sources above were well represented, the majority of the clients came from introductions from other happy clients.
 
Still not having anything conclusive, we had a group discussion and found a single common denominator.  All of the clients we considered "good" (45 of the 50) were fully committed to improving their sales organizations.
 
While that is a nice formula for predicting success with a client, the "committed to improving sales" criteria isn't readily available demographic information.  However, it is a question that can be effectively used for qualifying opportunities.
 
Here's my question for you:  If it benefits you to put your sales force through this exercise, will you be able to identify criteria that makes it easier to target "good" customers?
 
(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan 

 

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Salesforce, Sales Force, targeting prospects, prospecting, sales qualification, sales criteria

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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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