Because many salespeople tend to be Type A personalities they are fast-paced and like to talk. One way to improve the effectiveness of your sales calls is to listen more and talk less.
Some very simple advice we give to salespeople is to follow these very important and effective listening tips during sales conversations:
- Avoid the tendency to interrupt.
- Stay silent after asking a question.
- Watch the other person(s) to “read” their body language and emotion.
It may sound ridiculous, but many salespeople ask a lot of great questions and then fail to fully listen to their customer’s answers. Remember how important it is to actually wait for an answer and really listen! You can’t effectively build customer relationships and establish rapport without good listening skills.
You should always strive to customize each sales message in order to communicate the key selling features alongside the benefits that they provide with the value that this customer will receive.
Feature + Benefit + Value = A successful sales message.
One very important tactic we advise is to always use the WIIFM Principle (What’s In It For Me). Tailor your sales message to respond to the WIIFM principle for each and every customer. Some examples of WIIFM Principle questions include:
- Will this product or service save money for the customer by reducing costs or decreasing expenses?
- Can your product or service provide opportunities for your customer to make money by increasing sales or profits?
- Can your product or service save time or improve productivity for the customer?
Do you know what is most important to your customer?
The WIIFM Principle helps you build your sales message around what is important to each customer. Be sure to avoid the common mistakes that many sellers make when presenting their sales message, such as talking too much, using jargon, and presenting in feature language, rather than describing benefits.
Every sales professional should be prepared with a powerful collection of questions. Powerful questions help you gather information, qualify opportunities, and establish commitment.
Top Ten Powerful Sales Questions
- What are your expectations for our meeting today?
- Has anything changed since we last talked?
- What is the most important priority with this?
- What concerns do you have?
- What challenges have you had with suppliers in the past?
- What is your timeline for this decision?
- What do you see as a next step in the process?
- Who else is involved in the process and decision-making?
- What other items should we discuss?
- What questions do you have for me?
Notice that these questions fall into three categories; information (fact-finding), opportunity (pain/gain) and commitment (next steps). It helps to understand these three categories so that you make a point to plan to ask all three types of questions. Plan your questions before sales calls and be careful not to ask too many information questions!
Remember how important it is to actually wait for an answer and really listen! Asking powerful questions and really listening to your customer will help you build the relationship, establish rapport, and move the sales process forward.
If you have only a few minutes of undivided attention of a prospect or a new decision maker at your existing account, do you know what you will say?
All sales professionals should be ready to give a succinct and impactful elevator speech that responds to this important question:
What can you do for this customer and why should she or he listen to you and ultimately buy from you?
Identify only two or three things that communicate the value that your company and your products/services provide, as well as your organizational and personal credibility and credentials.
Practice! Because it takes only about a minute to say, many salespeople don’t even bother practicing an elevator speech. The difficulty lies in keeping it short. Salespeople often have difficulty coming up with a succinct description of their value statements and credibility statements. We recommend this easy 5-10 minute practice exercise:
- Identify a specific customer or type of prospect that you are likely to run into this week.
- Write down the value you provide that this customer or prospect appreciates most.
- Write down your credentials or credibility that this customer or prospect appreciates most.
- Use the record feature on your phone to record a 1 minute elevator speech.
- Listen to yourself and identify areas for improvement, then re-record.
STAR’s Essential Selling Skills on Elevator Speeches provides additional tips on preparing and delivering concise and compelling elevator speeches for different sales situations. The Essential Selling Skills 12-part series includes practical exercises, planning forms, and quizzes.
What techniques do you use to build good customer relationships? An effective relationship-building technique that is overlooked by many salespeople is what we call expressing commonalities.
Expressing commonalities is a wonderful technique because it works to both build and strengthen relationships and rapport.
Expressing commonalities normally takes place in the opening stage of a sales call and helps warm up the conversation. When used genuinely the commonality you share establishes trust and helps build or strengthen the relationship with the other person.
What might you have in common with this person or with their organization? Commonalities can often be found when you think about goals, background, network, or interests.
Common goals can refer to personal goals or company goals. For example, both companies believe in environmentally friendly business practices.
Common Background refers to what do you and the other person have in common in terms of your personal background – where you grew up, where you went to school, prior jobs.
Common network refers to someone that this person knows. This may be a referral, a colleague, someone in the same industry.
Common Interests refers to things like sports, hobbies, or travel.
Successful sales professionals are skilled at building and strengthening customer relationships in a positive and professional manner. STAR’s online training module Essential Selling Skills 4 – The Opening Stage and Relationship Building teaches how to improve your relationship building skills and how to make more purposeful sales calls. The Essential Selling Skills 12-part series includes practical exercises, planning forms, and quizzes.
Salespeople vary tremendously in both their confidence and ability to implement price increases. Below are some guidelines to help you prepare and deliver the rationale for a price increase.
Pre-Call Planning Guidelines for Price Increases:
- Make sure you understand the relevant market information about the price increase. Use this to justify the price increase.
- List the two or three strongest reasons that you will cite to a particular customer. Be factual and be concise. You don’t want to overload the customer with too much information.
- Know your pricing history with this customer. How long has passed since the last price increase? The customer may not realize that their price has not increased for quite a while.
- Can other people assist you? Two examples: 1) Role-play with a colleague or manager. This allows you to receive feedback, fine-tune what you will say, and ensure that you are presenting yourself with confidence. 2) Determine if a joint sales call would be appropriate. This would be done selectively, such as with certain key accounts.
Sales Call Guidelines for Price Increases:
- Present the rationale for the price increase. As cited above, be concise. It is better to give the two or three strongest reasons for the increase rather than give too many reasons.
- Communicate with confidence. Avoid words and phrases that weaken your message. It isn’t just what you say, but how you say it. If the customer perceives a lack of confidence, they will take advantage.
- Cite the value that you have provided to this customer such as superior product breadth and 24/7 customer service. Remind the customer about any problems that you solved for them. For example, an emergency delivery you personally took care of last year.
- When encountering resistance, ask questions to understand fully. Don’t concede too soon. Don’t concede on price as your first action. If you have to make a concession, make it on a non-price issue. For example, “I can’t reduce the price but we can extend your warranty for an extra 90 days.”
Contact us if you are interested in discussing a customized sales workshop for your team that includes a module on price management guidelines. One-on-one sales coaching is also a great way for individual salespeople to improve their skills at successfullly implementing price increases.
STAR welcomes Carlos Madriz to our team of senior sales consultants and trainers. He is an experienced sales performance consultant and sales training facilitator. Prior to working as a sales trainer, coach and consultant he worked over 10 years in field sales, sales management, and operations with a Fortune 25 corporation.
Carlos is fluent in Spanish and English and has helped to customize training programs for a more effective facilitation and implementation. His major goal is to help “make the connection” that training and behavioral change must go hand-in-hand to get better results and training return on investment. His motto: “How can it be done, better, faster, more effective?”
Do you need sales training or coaching in Spanish? Contact us to schedule a time to talk with our Senior Bilingual Instructor. Spanish Sales Trainer (English Bio) and Spanish Sales Trainer (Spanish Bio).
Do you have sales managers in Spanish speaking countries who could use some help training their sales team? Our Sales Meeting Kits are online products designed to help a sales manager teach important sales skills, such as pre-call planning, questioning skills, and handling objections. Learn more at Sales Meeting Kits in Spanish.
Presenting information sounds like the easiest thing for a salesperson to do well, yet many sellers make mistakes such as 1) information overload; and 2) citing features instead of benefits. Follow the guidelines listed below on benefit-based selling when presenting information to your customers:
- The most successful sales professionals highlight benefits. Average sellers primarily use feature language and don’t communicate the benefits to the customer.
- Benefits are not always obvious to the customer. It isn’t a benefit unless the customer understands the WIIFM (the “me” in What’s In It For Me refers to the customer). A benefit is a clear statement about how your company and product/service can help the customer.
- Each customer is different, especially for those decision criteria that are most important to them. As such, you need to highlight different benefits for different customers. See below for some examples. This is why you must ask questions first.
Depending on what is most important for each customer, express the appropriate benefits. In addition, don’t forget that different benefits often vary for different decision makers. Common types of benefits include:
- Save money
- Make money
- Save time (including productivity)
- Security (“peace of mind”)
To make effective “benefit statements” use connector phrases or clauses to highlight the cause-and-effect relationship between features and benefits. Listed below are some good connector phrases to use.
“...because...” “...this means that you...” “...this allows you to...”
“...by using (this product/service) you will be able to...”
And here is the simplest sales tip of all time! Include the word “you” or “your” when describing benefits (or WIIFMs) to the customer.
“This service will allow you to …” and “You save time and reduce your costs.”
For more tips on benefits-based selling visit our Essential Selling Skills Online Series. This twelve part series contains over 6 hours of online training with Module 11 focusing on Presenting Information as Benefits.
Any pre-call planning procedure needs to be realistic. Because sales professionals are so busy, if your planning form or procedure is too long, then no one will use it. Pre Call Planning needs to capture the most critical things that need to be done before every sales call.
Avoid these two extremes when planning for a sales call:
Wing it - don't bother planning at all. Winging it at a sales call is clearly no plan at all and a really bad idea. Surprisingly, this is often what happens for some salespeople.
Over-Plan everything you are going to say and do. The other extreme is when you over-plan for a sales call. You can't plan everything that you'll say, or anticipate everything that a customer might do. You risk sounding robotic and turning off your customer. A sales professional needs to be spontaneous and flexible.
We advise our customers to focus on three critical actions when planning for every sales call, which helps to keep it manageable while still ensuring that the most important things are addressed.
One STAR client has had a lot of success improving the Pre-Call Planning skills of their sales team by using STAR’s Pre-Call Planning Sales Meeting Kit.
“I want to compliment you on putting together a very high quality product! We just completed the Pre-call planning kit. The Sales Meeting Kits are well designed, easy to prepare for, easy to lead, and all of the feedback I’ve gotten about the material is that it’s relevant and useful. I am doing one kit per month in our sales meeting, and two hours’ worth of material is just about the right amount of content.”
~ manager who recently used the Pre-Call Planning Sales Meeting Kit
How often have you found yourself expending far too much time and energy on a prospect or customer when the sales opportunity may not even be worth it?
An effective sales strategy requires that each sales person analyze what makes a great customer in a given market. The way to do this is to start out by making two lists. One list should contain several of your Most Desirable Customers. The second list should contain several of your Least Desirable Customers. On each list, consider each customer on that list one at a time. What criteria make this customer a “most desirable” or “least desirable” customer? You goal should be to end up with a list of (at least) 5 criteria for your Most Desirable Customers and 5 criteria for your Least Desirable Customers.
A Most Desirable Customer Criteria might include things like:
1. long term customer with our company
2. buys broad range of our products
3. buys on value before price
4. customer’s market is growing = growth potential for us
5. has good credit and pays on time
A Least Desirable Customer Criteria might include things like:
1. often buys on price
2. has no loyalty to us and often shops around
3. currently buying two product lines from us, buys more from competition
4. often makes unreasonable demands on pricing, delivery, terms
5. doesn’t always pay on time
Your lists may or may not be like the ones above. Your criteria should reflect what is important in your market. Analyze every new sales opportunity against your criteria. The better the prospect, the greater the priority and effort. Win the ones worth winning!
Newer salespeople are often uncomfortable with the idea of appearing too pushy. This natural inclination is a good one. Salespeople should strive to become consultative problem solvers, not pushy closers. Think about your last good and bad experiences with a salesperson. The bad salesperson probably talked too much, didn’t listen to your needs, and pushed you toward a solution that they thought you should choose. The good salesperson asked questions to learn about your needs and really listened. They offered you a solution that matched your needs.
When we work with new salespeople they are like sponges, really soaking up everything new. They are excited for their new job, but they also universally express some apprehension. They do not want to be perceived as a pushy "closer”. We use a selling skills inventory questionnaire for our sales workshops that identifies a person’s natural selling style as well as their aptitude in the various stages of selling. The new salespeople typically score on the lower end of the spectrum for the agreeing to action stage. They don’t want to ask for the sale, so we spend a considerable amount of time discussing the Agreeing to Action Selling Stage to remove the negative stereotypes.
Asking for the next action does not mean you have adopted the role of the high pressure salesman. There are plenty of examples of how a salesperson can ask the customer for an appropriate next action without being too pushy. For example, "What if we agreed to set up local inventory for you? Would you be willing to then sign a long term contract with us?"
Professional salespeople are consultative problem solvers. When they stop worrying about appearing to be too pushy, and focus on recommending actions and next steps that address the customer’s issues, they will be more successful.Additional reading on the topic of Selling Skills is available on our blog. Visit our Essential Selling Skills Online Training series to learn more about our online on-demand sales training programs.
Imagine the value you can provide to your existing and prospective customers if you know the answers to these questions:
•Who are your customer’s major customers?
•Who are their main competitors?
Average sellers don’t ask these types of questions. Set yourself apart and probe deeper! Find out about your customer’s customers and competitors.Go ahead and ask your customer:
Your customers are no different than you. You want to sell more and differentiate your company from your competition. Your customers want to do the same thing, They know they need to if they want to survive, thrive, and grow their business.
- Who do you sell to?
- What are your target markets?
- Who do you compete with?
- Which competitor is toughest for you to compete against?
Think about it. If you can position your company and your products or services as a way to help a customer to sell more or to do something better than their competitors, this can help you win the sale. Get to know your customers and prospective customers by learning about their business so you can effectively communicate the very specific value solution that you can provide on their terms.So, ask yourself how well do you really know your customers? If you don't already know who your customer's main customers and competitors are you need to go ahead and ask these important questions. Before going on a sales call to a prospective customer, do you homework and try to learn in advance as much as you can about who their customers and competitors are. Understand your existing and prospective customers better and you’re guaranteed to have more sales success.
Are you currently working on transitioning from a service to a sales culture? Although any industry can struggle with this challenge, we tend to hear more from banks, credit unions and other financial institution on this topic.When transitioning from a service culture to a selling culture, many banks often express a concern that the transition to selling will hurt their reputation as a provider of service excellence. It is not uncommon for us to hear how important it is to manage the transition successfully from a service to a sales culture in a way that retains service excellence as the common foundation.
Many banks are justifiably proud of their commitment to providing outstanding service to their customers. Notably, smaller and mid-size banks have found that service excellence is a great way to differentiate themselves from larger banks.
When these same banks decide that they need to develop a sales culture, a question that often arises is: "Will a sales culture hurt our reputation as a service provider?”
When done correctly, the transition to a sales culture will not diminish your ability to provide excellent service. Four key principles should help you to transition from a service to a sales culture that embraces service as a core value.
- Adopt a Needs Based Selling approach at every level. Very early on you should try to overcome the resistance of many employees to conventional selling. Employees who excel at service don’t necessarily think of themselves as salespeople. They are likely to resist a transition to a sales culture because they mistakenly believe that they will be asked to start using high-pressure sales techniques.
You can overcome this resistance by implementing a Needs Based Selling (NBS) approach. NBS means that your employees will identify and then meet/exceed the needs of each customer. NBS is distinctly different from conventional selling, which focuses instead on saying or doing anything in order to make a sale. Needs Based Selling relies on customer-focused skills such as asking great questions, listening, and communicating clearly.
- Communicate the link between service, selling, and customer satisfaction/retention. You cannot succeed at Needs Based Selling if you don’t provide outstanding service to your customers. Imagine if you transitioned to a sales culture but no longer provided excellent service. You would lose more customers than you won, which is clearly a bad outcome.
Communicate clearly to your employees that service excellence will continue to be a core value of your bank or financial institution. All levels of management, ranging from top executives to assistant branch managers, need to consistently communicate, reinforce and reward employees for providing outstanding service.
- Use your own role models to build buy-in and success from within. Although many bank employees aren’t initially comfortable with selling, you will probably have a few people who excel at it naturally. Think about some creative and constructive ways to use these people as role models, such as asking them to assist in the sales training effort, helping conduct role play activities, or serving as a mentor for other employees.
- Coaching must be done often, early, and throughout the transition period. This is the most important action to take when transitioning to a sales culture, yet unfortunately many banks and organizations fail to do so. Each employee will have different reactions and challenges when asked to transition from a service role to a new role that includes sales responsibility. The immediate manager is the best person to resolve any issues. In particular, coach early (for example, immediately after any sales training workshops are conducted) and coach often (for example, the manager should look for daily or weekly opportunities to reward good selling behavior).
Don’t overlook the importance of walking the talk. Managers can and must lead by example. For this reason, all managers must be skilled and comfortable at Needs Based Selling.
The transition from a service culture to a sales culture can be painstaking and many banks struggle to achieve a true sales culture. However difficult the challenge, the rewards can be found in terms of increased customer satisfaction and increased sales per employee.
- Adopt a Needs Based Selling approach at every level. Very early on you should try to overcome the resistance of many employees to conventional selling. Employees who excel at service don’t necessarily think of themselves as salespeople. They are likely to resist a transition to a sales culture because they mistakenly believe that they will be asked to start using high-pressure sales techniques.
Sales training works well but is not necessarily the only solution, or the best solution, for all sales professionals. Here are three other ways that you can improve your selling skills.
1. Find a great coach or two. When I first started my sales career in business-to-business sales after graduating from college, I was fortunate enough to work for a sales manager who coached and encouraged me on how to improve and develop my selling skills. The key word is "fortunate” because not every sales manager is skilled at coaching or knows how to coach effectively.
A great coach strikes a balance between telling you how to sell and asking you questions so that you can think about the best way to handle various sales challenges. For example, suppose that you are new to sales and are having trouble responding to common objections such as "I’m happy with my current provider.” If your manager tells you how he/she would respond to this, you’ve learned one way to respond to the objection, but not necessarily the best method for you. It is better if your manager asks you thought-provoking questions such as "What other ways could you have responded?” This will help you learn several ways to handle objections, and even better, it well help you think more independently and strategically as a salesperson.
Many sales professionals choose to hire a professional sales coach. No matter how experienced you are in your profession, you should always have at least one good coach to help you navigate your path to achieving your goals.
2. Take Advantage of Internet Resources. The internet offers a vast universe of resources. Hone in on what will work best for your professional and skill level and you’ll find tremendous resources to connect and stay abreast in your industry, as well as among competition and customers.
LinkedIn is not just about professionals connecting and finding jobs. One very important feature is the LinkedIn Discussion Group. Look for a discussion group related to your industry to learn about your competition, customers, and prospects. You can even start your own discussion group if there isn’t one that fits the bill.
Blogs and free online training are prolific and available in every topic and skill level! For example, our Essential Selling Skills online training is designed for newer salespeople and our Key Account Management online training is designed for more senior sales professionals who call on larger, more complex accounts. Both sessions are free and since they are pre-recorded can be "attended” at any time and location.
3. Utilize deliberate planning and self-critique to gain from your on-the-job selling experience. Top performers in every field are known for their constant search for excellence. They are top performers because they continuously set goals and work hard to develop their skills and capabilities. They use deliberate planning and methodic practice to excel at what they do.
It is no different for top sales professionals. Use each and every sales call as a way to improve your skills. When a sales call is over, ask yourself questions such as these: What went well? What could I have done differently? Take notes to help commit the analysis to action.
Then, apply your learnings and observations to upcoming sales calls. Purposely keep using what worked well until it becomes a natural habit. If something didn’t go well on a particular sales call and you feel that you could have done something differently, then consciously try a different approach when you encounter that same type of sales situation.
Don’t overlook the opportunity to improve your pre-call planning. What works best for you when preparing for a sales call? For example, have you set a clear and measurable sales call objective? What action do you want the customer to take? Have you anticipated likely objections and prepared an effective response?
We realize that you cannot, and should not, plan every word of an entire sales call but don’t use this as a reason to not do any planning. Find what works best for you and then apply your own planning process to future sales calls.
If you had to list the top 5 sales mistakes you have made what would be on your list?
As sales professionals and sales managers, most of us can easily rattle off a list of the critical skills and sales competencies that help us to win business for our company. But are we clear on what the most common critical sales mistakes are so we can avoid making them over and over again?
We asked a group of experienced sales professionals recently, "What are the most common mistakes salespeople make that cost them the sale?” This led to some interesting and diverse opinions. After much discussion, we compiled the list below of the five most common mistakes that salespeople make that cause them to lose the sale.1. Talking too much. This is the classic mistake. All salespeople know that they shouldn’t talk too much but some salespeople can’t help themselves. This mistake results in a lot of negative outcomes. Customers lose interest. You run out of time on the sales call and fail to learn important information much about the customer’s needs and concerns.2. Selling to the Wrong Customers. Some salespeople don’t screen the prospective customers and sales opportunities in their territories. This means that they spend too much selling time on poor opportunities. This mistake is doubly bad. First, there is only a finite amount of selling time. If you spend it on poor sales opportunities, it leaves you less time to pursue more profitable customers. Second, if you end up winning a sale to the wrong type of customer, you will usually regret it. Customers who are misfits usually require a lot of handholding and want lower prices because they don’t value what you can provide.3. Poor Time Management. Average sellers make repeated time management mistakes such as calling too frequently on the wrong accounts and not prioritizing their sales tasks and activities. Successful sales professionals, by contrast learn to efficiently utilize the time available for high gain sales activities and take maximum advantage of the finite amount of face-to-face selling time.4. Conceding Too Much. The most common mistake made by average negotiators is to concede too much, too soon. When a customer asks for a price concession, an average sales negotiator will immediately make a concession. The danger in conceding quickly is that the other side will usually then ask for more. Plan what concessions you might be willing to make and make them slowly and thoughtfully so that they are fully appreciated for what they are. For more details on common negotiation mistakes, read The Three Most Common Mistakes Make in Sales Negotiations.5.Failure to follow up. When I was promoted to my first sales management position many years ago, I noticed that this mistake was one of the biggest differences between my top sales professionals and the average sellers on my sales team. My worst salesperson consistently failed to follow up on promises/commitments. Nothing infuriates customers more than failure of the salesperson to follow up.
In the past year alone we’ve seen about a twofold increase in the number of one-on-one telephone coaching assignments we’ve done for our clients. In an effort to make the coaching with sales professionals and sales managers as practical and skill-based as possible, we discovered how valuable short role play exercises can be over the telephone. It’s no surprise, we’ve always used role play exercises in our workshops, but haven’t always used it as frequently in our coaching engagements.
It is easy to see how telephone role plays can be a very practical way to help new salespeople. In addition it works great for experienced salespeople when practice is needed for a new product launch, dealing with a price increase or some other challenging situation. Telephone coaching with role playing includes the benefits of one-on-one attention with skill practice and feedback in a unintimidating learning environment.
Advantages of Telephone Role Plays1. Experiential learning: A telephone role play allows you to learn by doing, which is almost always the best way to learn or improve a skill.
2. Efficient: Telephone role plays don’t take long to do and review. Select a short realistic segment of an upcoming sales call and then sell as you would during the real sales call. The entire process – set up, role play, and feedback – can usually be finished in 15 minutes or less.
3. Realistic: Let’s face it, we all do a lot of selling over the telephone! Many salespeople sell almost exclusively over the telephone. Even those salespeople who make many face-to-face sales calls each day, still spend a large percentage of their time selling over the phone as well. You can make this a very realistic practice opportunity.
Telephone Role Play and FeedbackIt is important to select a role play partner carefully. Ideally, the person knows your industry and can act realistically as a customer. A sales peer or manager is typically the ideal role play partner.
Choose your role play partner wisely. The person needs to be trusted to give candid and fair feedback. Avoid picking someone who is at either of these two extremes – someone who criticizes you 100% of the time is not helpful but you also don’t want someone who only offers you praise. This person should be told that it is okay and desirable to give you both positive and negative feedback.
Prior to doing the role play itself, the salesperson should provide some background information to the other person so that he/she can act appropriately as the customer. To simulate real life, the person acting as the customer should purposely add some information that the salesperson isn’t aware of. For example, insert a typical objection during the sales conversation.
The role play itself should only take a few minutes, after which the customer then gives feedback to the salesperson. When giving feedback an important tip is to Always provide an example to support your suggestion. "You might want to ask some more open=ended questions, such as ‘What do you value most in a supplier?’” This feedback is so much more helpful than a simple "You should ask more open-ended questions.”
Finally, if time allows, do a quick re-do so that the salesperson can try to implement some of the suggestions. Having the opportunity to fine-tune and make adjustments feels good to the person practicing something difficult, and more importantly, repetition is important part of the learning process.Sales Managers interested in helping their salespeople improve pre-call planning skills visit the Sales Meeting Kits: Pre-Call Planning page.
Like many of you, I’ve explored numerous social media sites and found some useful sales resources. One of the better discussion groups that I’ve found is through a LinkedIn network of sales professionals, sales managers, and sales training providers. One topic in our discussion group seemed to attract the most attention and a wide range of opinions, namely: How valuable are cold calls?
I’d like to use today’s blog to share my thoughts on this question, as well as some diverse points-of-view that were expressed from other salespeople and managers.
There were many passionate responses in the discussion group regarding the value of cold calls. Most of the respondents fell into three categories:
Category 1: Cold calling is absolutely essential to sales success. Every sales professional must excel at cold calling and should spend much of his/her time making cold calls.
Many salespeople sell products and services for which cold calls are still a good way to generate new business. If you would place yourself in this category, I would make one suggestion. There is a big difference between making a lot of cold calls and doing it well. There are sales techniques that can improve your success rate when making cold calls. In addition, you’ll want to expand your capabilities in all areas of sales prospecting and business development (link).
Category 2: My salespeople dislike cold calls but we still spend substantial time doing it. Why? Because it is the method we’ve always used to generate new business.
Many salespeople fall into this category. They don’t enjoy cold calling but they do it anyway. You can make cold calling more enjoyable, and successful, by utilizing the skills mentioned above. In addition, there are other methods besides cold calling that you can add to your sales tool kit.
Category 3: Cold calling is the least effective way to generate new business. As such, you should spend time on other methods of generating new business.
For those readers who know me, you will not be surprised to learn that I fall into the third category. Many statistics support the low success rate of cold calls. Yet, a large number of salespeople continue to spend too much time on this low payoff activity.
Please don’t misunderstand me. When I say that "cold calling is least effective,” I’m not saying that a sales professional should not spend time prospecting for new business. I believe that other methods besides cold calling are more effective at winning new business.
Every sales professional needs to excel at prospecting and business development. However, cold calls are simply one method to do so. We’ve posted many related blog topics: referrals, cross selling, and other prospecting topics.
We’d love to hear your opinion on cold calls and whether or not you agree with me.
Working with new salespeople is inspirational. New sales hires are enthusiastic and have a strong desire to learn new skills that will make them succeed. They know that they have to learn as much as possible, through training and hands-on experience in order to become top performing salespeople. It is also interesting to note that across the board, no matter what the industry, it seems that new salespeople struggle with some of the same challenges.
We get asked the same three questions from new salespeople, no matter what industry they work in:
- What is the most important piece of advice you have for a new salesperson?
- What is the most important skill I need to develop as a new salesperson?
- What is the most difficult challenge I will face as a new salesperson?
What is the most important piece of advice you have for a new salesperson?
Above all, remember to stay customer focused. Many salespeople focus too much on talking about their own company and products rather than learning about the customer’s business and needs. Imagine instead if you used your sales calls to gather information such as: What is most important to this particular customer? What does the customer value the most in a supplier? What challenges does the customer face in their business?
Many mistakes made by average sellers can be avoided if you focus on the customer and how your product/service can benefit the customer’s organization.
What is the most important skill I need to develop as a new salesperson?
Listening Skills are essential to understanding your customer’s needs. How can you understand and meet your customer’s needs if you don’t listen?
Sales professionals must excel at many skills and competencies. For example: managing key accounts, planning and conducting sales negotiations, handling objections, asking questions, prospecting for new business, closing, and so on. Compared to the other skills and competencies, the skill of listening may sound basic. Most salespeople mistakenly believe that they are already good at listening. But, listening to customers may seem like common sense but it is not common practice. There is a lot of truth in the saying "…we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
What is the most difficult challenge I will face as a new salesperson?
New salespeople don’t realize how busy the sales profession requires them to be. Consequently, poor time management is the biggest challenge for new sellers. Your most finite resource as a sales professional is time. Invest it wisely. Wasted time reduces the amount of face-to-face sales time, and the less time that you spend on actual selling, the less successful you will be.
Avoid these examples of common mistakes that newer salespeople make regarding time management:
- Calling too frequently on small customers who have little upside potential – avoid making this mistake with pre-call planning routines that will help you prioritize.
- Not spending enough time prospecting for new business
- Getting overloaded in time wasters such as paperwork, email, and meetings
Mastering the basics of the essential stages of selling will allow for competence and success throughout the stages of the selling cycle. It doesn’t really matter what you are selling because nearly every sale follows this sales process.
Answer a few important questions to assess your skill and understanding of the stages in the sales cycle.
How do you rate your skill at the following?
Planning and asking high gain questions Building rapport with new and existing customers Speaking in benefit language with customers Presenting your value proposition Rooting out objections Following up with prospects and customers
How did you rate? Successful salespeople excel in all six Stages of Selling, beginning with Planning and ending with Follow Up. The four stages in between are Opening, Exploring, Presenting Information and Agreeing to Action which involve your time spent with the customer, either in person or on the phone.Collectively, think of these six selling stages as links in a chain. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Strive to become proficient at each Stage.Planning Opening Exploring Presenting Information Agreeing to Action Following UpVisit STAR’s workshops pages to learn more about our Essential Selling Skills Workshop designed for newer salespeople. The workshop can be full customized in terms of duration, content, and materials. If you are looking for self-study options, visit our online training page where you can purchase the Essential Selling Skills Series. Session 1 is free, so give it a test drive.
All salespeople agree that "differentiation” is crucial. Otherwise, you haven’t provided the customer with a compelling reason to select you.
In STAR’s Key Account Management and Sales Negotiation Skills workshops, we’ve observed that many salespeople and managers don’t fully utilize differentiation to their maximum advantage. For example, they cite differentiators that aren’t important to the customer.
How can you improve your ability to differentiate yourself from competition? STAR has found that the concept of "sustainable competitive advantage” helps tremendously.
Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) occurs when you have the ability to outperform your competitors because you have a standout attribute or attributes, ensuring leadership in your market. Your Sustainable Competitive Advantage should ideally meet four criteria:
Harvard Business School Professor, Michael Porter, authored the SCA concept in 1985. More recent authors on competitive advantage expand on the theory by emphasizing the challenges that many SCA attributes may be transient. For example, if a competitor copies something that currently is unique to you, you have to improve and evolve over time as well. Innovation and agility are very important attributes and help you stay ahead in the game.
- Valuable Does this customer perceive the value you are offering? If the customer doesn’t perceive any value to them, then that attribute doesn’t provide you with any competitive advantage.
- Rare/Unique Are you offering something rare or unique to this customer? If so, emphasize it and explain how it will benefit the customer
- Difficult to Copy Competitors may try to copy you so highlight those things that are not easy for them to do so. For example, your expertise and experience level.
- Organized to Capture Is your company positioned to deliver on said promises? If the answer is yes, then you are organized, ready and able to exploit the capability you are touting. In other words, are all hands on deck ready to deliver your competitive advantage?
Strive to reach consensus with your sales team on your most critical SCA factors. It is much better to have a smaller list that consists of the 3 to 4 strongest items rather than a longer list. We invite you to watch a short video that summarizes the four elements of STAR’s SCA: Why STAR?
Selling Styles - Varying Your Selling Style
What Do You Think?
A good salesperson asks questions and listens to the customer. Most people would agree, but does that mean that you will succeed with all customers if all you do is ask questions and listen?
A good salesperson knows how to "ask for the order" and is good at closing. Most people would agree, but does that mean that you will succeed with all customers if all you do is close?
A good salesperson knows his or her products and services, and can describe the features and benefits to customers in a persuasive manner. Most people would agree, but does that mean that you will succeed with all customers if all you do is increase your product knowledge?
Should salespeople use the same approach with all customers? No! In our experience the best salespeople vary their "selling style"depending on the other person and the situation. Yes, questioning and listening, asking for the order, and product knowledge are all important. But, what is MORE IMPORTANT is knowing when to use each of these skills and techniques. That is what we mean by selling style flexibility.
There are four distinct selling styles. Each style is characterized by certain behaviors and tendencies. Keep in mind that successful salespeople can and do use all four styles, but they primarily use a combination of the first three styles.
- Collaborative Sellers tend to ask questions, listen actively, brainstorm with the customer, strive for partnerships, and value long-term relationships. They genuinely solicit input and suggestions from the customer. In a phrase, "We are in this together."
- Technical Sellers view themselves as the expert, like to talk about features and benefits, make recommendations, problem solve and are perceived as rational and objective. In a phrase, "Let me tell you about my product or service."
- Closers are good at closing and generating results. They tend to make aggressive offers, like to wheel-and-deal, sometimes try to close too soon, and are satisfied to make an immediate sale even at the expense of a long-term relationship. In a phrase, "What do I have to do to get your business today?"
- Reluctant Sellers are sensitive to signs of rejection or failure and will err on the side of ending a sales call too soon rather than create hostility or risk rejection by the customer. If Closers are at one extreme on the fight-or-flight continuum, Reluctant Sellers are at the other extreme. In a phrase, "Look this over and we'll talk again next time."
Please visit our Selling Skills Workshop page for more details..
Advancing the sale during a meeting with a prospective client can’t really happen without some intelligent and well-planned questions to help you learn about your customer. The best salespeople distinguish themselves through both the quantity and quality of their questions. Quite simply, they ask better questions than average sellers do.
Of course it’s not just about asking numerous questions, but rather successful salespeople choose wisely by asking clever and engaging questions with impact. These skillful questions will help sales professionals to do the following important steps in the sales process:
- To identify all the decision makers and influencers
- To explore for a potential sales opportunity with a customer who is satisfied with his or her current provider/supplier
- To gauge the urgency of the customer’s desire to take action
- To assess which product or service is most appropriate for a particular customer
- To surface any unexpressed objections
"Who else is involved in this decision?” This question helps you to identify all the decision makers and influencers, and also allows you to ask some follow up questions about the decision process that the customer will be following. For example, another good question to ask is "What steps (or process) are needed to get a new product/service approved?”
By contrast, "Who is the decision maker?” is a much weaker question. This latter question comes close to insulting the person that you are speaking with. It sends out the message that this person can’t possibly be the decision maker and you probably won’t learn about other people who have influence over the final buying decision.
"If you could change one thing about your current situation, what would it be?”
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the best salespeople are skilled at asking questions to identify a potential customer’s pain points. However, when speaking with a prospective new customer, the other person may not readily disclose the problems or shortcomings that he or she is encountering with their current provider.
When you speak with a customer who says something like "…we’re satisfied with our current provider or supplier”, what should you do? Average sellers stop asking questions at this point, and tend to either give up by terminating the sales call or transition to talking about their product or service.
In contrast, successful sellers continue to probe and will ask additional questions to test if the customer is truly satisfied with their current situation. The question that we recommend is "If you could change one thing about your current situation, what would it be?” No sales technique works 100% of the time, but this question comes close. Much of the time, customers will reveal something that is actionable. At worst, you’ll simply confirm that the customer is truly satisfied, and you can then move on to a better sales opportunity.
"What have you already done about resolving this problem or issue?”
After identifying your customer’s pain points, transition to asking a follow up question such as "What have you already done about this issue?” The answer will help you to gauge the urgency of the customer to take action.
Here are two examples based on a recent conversation with a prospective STAR client who had found us on the web and called our office for more information. During the initial phone conversation, the customer expressed over the phone that their current sales force needed to improve their ability to prospect for new business.
When asked, "What have you already done about this issue?” the customer replied that they had hired another training provider but that the first few workshops hadn’t gone well.This answer confirmed to us that the customer was serious about taking action, and also provided an opening to ask some relevant follow up questions about why the workshops with the other provider hadn’t worked well.
Suppose that the customer’s answer had been something different such as "Well, we’ve had this problem for awhile but haven’t had the time to work on it”, this indicates that the customer’s urgency or desire to move forward may not be as strong.
"Which of these products (or services) would you prefer?”
You will have more success in closing sales when you can reassure the customer that the best product or service is being provided to them. Whenever possible, offer the customer a choice and ask him or her to tell you which product/service best meets their need.
This works best if you have two or more products/services that fit for a particular customer. For example, after speaking with the prospective new STAR client, we offered the customer this choice: "Based on the background that you provided, it sounds like either our Selling on Value or Sales Prospecting workshop should be your initial workshop. Here is a summary of both workshops. Which one would you prefer?”
The customer’s answer helps you in several ways. First, you can then spend more time talking about that particular product/service rather than talking about all your products/services. Second, whenever you give a customer a choice, it reassures them that you are doing your best to offer something that truly meets their needs.
If you don’t have two or more products/services, you can still use this technique by offering some other option to the customer. For example, say something like "This product is only available in standard sizes. However, we can customize it for you at an additional charge or teach your production facility how to do this yourself. Which would you prefer?”
"What if we do the following…?”
When the customer is close to making a decision to buy from you but appears hesitant to move forward, there may be an objection that the customer hasn’t expressed. A good two-step process is to ask the question "What if we do the following?” after which you then make a small concession to the customer. Many times, the small concession can become the tipping point to move the decision from a no to a yes. And, if the customer doesn’t say yes, you know that there is an unexpressed objection, which you can then try to identify and resolve.
Here’s an example. You say "What if we do the following? We’ll extend the warranty from 3 to 6 months at no additional charge if you start the implementation by the end of this month.” Notice in this example that you are making a concession ("extend the warranty”) but are asking for something in return from the customer ("implement this by a certain date”). This is crucial. You do NOT want to offer a concession without getting the customer to take some action or next step.
If the customer says no, then you are dealing with an unexpressed objection. Be silent and listen! Many times the customer will tell you why he or she is reluctant to agree to the action that you suggested. If needed, ask a follow up question such as "What is preventing you from moving forward at this time?”Several STAR workshops, notably Essential Selling Skills and Sales Negotiation, teach salespeople how to distinguish themselves through both the quantity and quality of their questions. Sales Managers interested in helping their salespeople improve questioning skills, visit our Sales Meeting Kits: Questioning Skills page.
All the talk about "closing the sale" has gone away. Instead the talk is on building the relationship, asking better questions and offering value that sells itself.
The challenge (not secret) lies in having the perseverance or following through to use a system of methods that work. We will highlight four simple and straightforward methods used by sales professionals that work to build relationships and close more sales.
Method 1 — Highlight the main benefits for a particular customer
For example, one of STAR’s clients sells a service to retail establishments and simply says to prospective customers, "…if you use our service, your traffic will increase.” This same client calls this approach Name That Tune selling for the simple reason that it only takes a few seconds to communicate the main message to the client.
Most sellers would sell more if they followed the same advice. When you state the main benefits for the client, say it clearly and concisely. Pause and let the prospective customer react.
Method 2 — Reassure the customer by citing relevant testimonials and references
This method works well if the prospective customer hasn’t heard of your company or hasn’t used a similar product/service. Testimonials are worth their weight in gold. The key to success is to cite testimonials who are similar to the prospective customer’s business.
For example, it is fairly common for new prospective STAR clients to find us by searching on Google or Yahoo, and then contacting us for more information. When we speak with clients who don’t know us, we will usually say something like "…even though you haven’t heard of us, I’m sure that you’ve heard of some of our clients”. We will then cite relevant clients in the same or similar industry that the prospective new client can relate to.
Method 3 — Offer two or more alternatives to the customer
When you only offer one solution to a customer, the only possible response is to say yes or no. Whenever possible, offer two or more alternatives and ask the customer to choose the one that is best for them. A good way to phrase this is say something like "…based on what you told me about your needs, I think that these two products/services would work well for you. Which would you prefer?”
There are several advantages to offering alternatives to a customer. It doesn’t come across as pushy, lets the customer pick the product/service/option that works best for them, and shows the customer that you are trying to provide something that truly meets their needs.
Method 4 — Offer a guarantee or make a concession
One of our clients believes so strongly in their product that they guarantee it will work for their new customers. If the prospective customer isn’t satisfied with the product, they will offer a replacement product at no charge. We realize that offering a guarantee doesn’t apply to all sales situations, but imagine how powerful that statement can be to help you close more sales. How can the customer say no when the guarantee negates most of the risk to the client?
If you can’t offer a guarantee, you can generate a similar positive effect by offering a concession instead. For example, tell the customer something like "…if you’re willing to try our product/service, we will do the following …” Then, offer to make a concession on something that the customer values but isn’t high cost to you. Some examples: extended warranty; post-sale technical support; customized packaging; consultation or advice from your organization to the client’s organization.
All STAR workshops focus on the need to build a solid foundation based on good relationships. Visit our Sales Workshops page to learn more.
"Customers who buy two or more products or services
from you are much more likely to remain customers."
-Carol Kinsey Gorman
Up-Selling and Cross-Selling
We are seeing an increasing trend with our clients who express a growing need to improve the ability of their entire organization to up-sell and cross-sell more effectively. All industries can benefit from up-selling and cross-selling. If your company is not actively engaged in up-selling and cross-selling, you are probably missing some important opportunities to grow your sales and to build customer loyalty.
In a recent Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Blog, we defined up-selling and cross-selling, provided examples, and outlined the benefits of effective up-selling and cross-selling. In this blog we want to point out how you can measure the effects of your cross-selling and up-selling efforts and discuss who in your organization should be doing the cross-selling and up-selling.
How Can You Measure Success?
Listed below are some of the most common and popular ways to measure how well a cross-selling and up-selling program is working:
- Average sales volume for each customer increases - measured in dollars or units, sales volume is one way to assess if upselling has occurred.
- Sales breadth expands - measured by the number of products or services for each individual.
- Your aggregate cross-selling ratio improves - measured by the number of products or services divided by the number of clients.
- Customer attrition decreases - sometimes higher than normal attrition rates can means that cross-selling and up-selling attempts have been ineffective. High customer attrition can also be due to other factors as well.
Up-Selling and Cross-Selling Should be a Team Effort
Almost every customer has unmet sales opportunities. Consider your current customer base and ask yourself these two questions for each of your key accounts:
- Are there opportunities to up-sell some of the existing products and services that a particular customer buys?
- In addition to the existing products/services, are there opportunities to cross-sell some additional products and services?
We suspect that most, if not all of your current customers have unmet sales opportunities for which you could up-sell and cross-sell additional products and services. As such, every person at your company who interacts with customers should be competent and confident at cross-selling and up-selling. If you limit the cross-selling and up-selling only to your sales force, you are likely to miss some additional sales opportunities. In particular, involve your customer service and technical service personnel.
In fact many STAR clients say that the person in their organization who has the most contact with the customer is the Customer Service Representative (CSR). Customers know and trust the CSR, which means that the CSR is in a unique position to identify and solicit opportunities to sell additional products or services to existing customers. Solicitation of additional business is a critical competency for customer service representatives.
For similar reasons, technical service personnel are often in a position to cross-sell and up-sell products or services to customers. If a customer is having a problem, and the tech service person interacts in person or over the phone to fix the problem, that is great, but wouldn't it be even better if the technical service person could communicate potential sales opportunities to your sales team?
It is important to clarify that when we say that customer service and technical service personnel should be participating in the up-selling and cross-selling efforts, we aren't suggesting that they take on the sales role. We believe that up-selling and cross-selling should be a team effort. You will see sales growth if your customer service and technical service personnel can improve their ability to identify the up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, and then pass those opportunities to the sales force for further investigation and closure.
Visit our Essential Selling Skills workshop page for more details.
"Customers who buy two or more products or services from you are much more likely to remain customers."
- Carol Kinsey Gorman, Ph.D., author of The Loyalty Factor, Building Trust in Today's Workplace
Many STAR clients and prospects have expressed strong interest in improving the ability of their entire organization, not just their sales force, to up-sell and cross-sell more effectively. This has been a trend that has spanned all the industries that we service (such as banking, financial services, chemical, manufacturing, business services, technology, and others), and has not just been limited to a few selective industries. If you are not actively engaged in up-selling and cross-selling, you may be missing some excellent opportunities to grow your sales and to build customer loyalty.
This blog will examine the what and why of up-selling and cross-selling. Watch for a future blog where we will address some success factors and how to measure the results of your up-selling and cross-selling.
What is Up-Selling?
The term up-selling has different connotations in different industries, but generally is used to refer to selling the customer a higher-end, larger, more profitable, or more expensive product or service. Often, up-selling is simply exposing the customer to products or services that he or she may not have already considered. The driving force behind your "up-sell" recommendation is to do a better job of satisfying the customer's needs.
A STAR example of up-selling would be when a customer requests one of our training workshops for their outside sales force, we will explore if there are any other individuals who assist in their sales process. If the answer is yes, we will make an up-sell recommendation that these additional people should be included in the workshop, which provides several benefits to the client: it is relatively inexpensive to include a few additional people and, more importantly, now the entire team of employees can participate fully in their sales process.
What is Cross-Selling?
The term cross-selling also has different connotations in different industries, but generally is used to refer to selling the customer an additional product or service. Cross-selling allows you to service any additional needs of the client and decreases the need for your client to consider your competitor's products and services. Cross-selling efforts are rewarded because customer retention increases dramatically when a customer purchases more than one product or service.
A STAR example of cross-selling would be if a customer requests our negotiation workshop, we will often advise them about our 1-on-1 negotiation coaching service. The 1-on-1 negotiation coaching allows us to work closely with any individuals who have an important and upcoming negotiation, and provides that person with some in-depth skills and assistance. Another example of cross-selling for STAR would be when a customer requests a negotiation workshop, we might suggest that participants also attend a web seminar to be held several months after the workshop as a way to reinforce the skills learned during the workshop.
Benefits of Up-Selling and Cross-Selling to You AND the Customer
When done in a consultative manner, up-selling and cross-selling benefit the customer because their needs are better met. This is the most important reason to up-sell and cross-sell. Because the customer’s needs are better satisfied, up-selling and cross-selling help to build customer loyalty. As cited in the quotation at the start of this newsletter, customers who buy 2+ products or services are much more likely to remain customers.
Client satisfaction and loyalty help you as well. Customer attrition goes down, and profits will go up. When done well, up-selling and cross-selling will cause your sales to increase. We also suggest that you measure the results of your up-selling and cross-selling efforts (to be covered in next month's newsletter), which allows you to fine-tune and improve your overall cross-selling efforts.
Learn more by visiting our Essential Selling Skills workshop page.
Vary Your Selling Style to Fit Different Customers and SituationsIdentifying your customer's natural style and appropriately adjusting your own selling style in response is the key to building long-term customer relationships. Average salespeople simply rely on their "natural" selling style.
Top performing salespeople know their own style well and know how to adjust in order to build stronger relationships with different customers. The essence of selling style flexibility is knowing when to use each style.
In general, a sales call tends to go well when the style of the salesperson matches the style of the customer. During a typical sales call, a combination of selling styles can be used effectively. The best sales professionals vary their style to fit the customer and sales situation. Flexibility is key!
Four Selling Styles
Collaborative Sellers tend to ask questions, listen actively, brainstorm with the customer, strive for partnerships, and value long-term relationships. They genuinely solicit input and suggestions from the customer. The best collaborative sellers are naturally good at expressing empathy. For many customers, this style works well to build and strengthen relationships.
In a phrase, "We're in this together."
Technical Sellers view themselves as the expert, like to talk about features and benefits, make recommendations, problem solve and are perceived as rational and objective. The best technical sellers sell on value and can quantify their value proposition. Customers who are detail-oriented and who value a knowledgeable salesperson respond well to this style.
In a phrase, "Let me tell you about my product or service."
Closers are good at closing and generating results. They tend to be more assertive and action-oriented, will ask for the order, and may push for an immediate sale even at the expense of a long-term relationship. The most successful closers are also good negotiators. In Essenes: quid pro quo. Certain types of customers, notably higher-level decision-makers, prefer the directness and decisiveness of this style.
Reluctant Sellers are sensitive to signs of rejection or failure and will err on the side of ending a sales call too soon, rather than create hostility or risk rejection by the customer. To be clear, this style should NOT be your primary selling style. However, there are some sales situations where the most productive action is to take a break or reschedule.In a phrase, "Think abut it and we'll talk again next time."
Learn more by visiting our Essential Selling Skills workshop page and our Online Selling Skills Series.
How Do You Describe a Top Sales Performer?
I’ve made some recent business trips to Canada and Ireland, and found it fascinating to hear sales managers and sales professionals from those countries describe their best sales performers. Interestingly, the comments did not differ significantly from what we’ve heard in the U.S. Granted, Canada and Ireland are culturally similar to America, but I have also heard similar comments in prior trips to Asia, Europe, and South America.
Two of the most common recurring descriptions for Top Performing Salespeople:
- Less talking, more listening - The skills of questioning and listening are universally valued by customers, and cited by sales managers as a characteristic of their top performers.
- Results-oriented - The best salespeople want to win, and focus their time and attention on winning the right accounts.