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Archive for January, 2008

Qualifying Is In The Questions

Successful selling is far more than being a smooth talker.  It requires the ability to listen attentively and move within the conversation.  This principle is discussed in a commentary titled Build Sales Relationships: Consultative Questioning.

The opening recollection of the author’s first sales position is excellent:

I marched into orientation, ready to close like a champion. That’s when my real learning began. My manager opened training with a startling insight:
“Want to be successful in sales? Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.” His approach contradicted everything I read: He stressed dialogue instead of dominance and questioning in place of presenting. And he always customized his approach based on what the other party shared. In his world, sales was not a game of breaking down a prospect’s barriers. It was a means to identify a solution and determine whether forging a partnership had value to either party.

Consultative selling is a buzzword you hear often in today’s sales world.  I’m not sure what that term encapsulates, but the approach is sound.  Good questions are the backbone of good qualifying.  The ability to listen to the prospect’s answers is the second phase that leads to success.

Listen. Let your prospects open up. Identify what they value in a solution and a business relationship. Listen for what isn’t being said and probe. Your prospects won’t always share the most accurate or pertinent information. Their narrative will naturally be compromised by a lack of exposure to a problem, a discomfort with revealing specifics or even personal biases and agendas. That’s why patience and guidance are so key: the more your prospects talk, the sharper the picture that emerges.

Pre-canned presentations are a thing of the past.  It is uncomfortable to watch a salesperson prematurely click into presentation mode.  When this happens,  you can watch the prospect’s eyes glaze over right in front of you.

Listening to the prospect allows the salesperson to move within the discussion.  The author’s point is an important one – typically, prospects do not start the discussion by saying, “Thank goodness you are here.  What dollar amount should I write on the check and when can you start?”  In fact, they are usually coy about the real problem, depth of a problem or even that they have a problem.

The ability to dig out this information through questions is the key differentiation between average salespeople and superstars.  Keep this fact in mind when you are hiring salespeople.  Their questions will reveal much about their abilities.

Deal-Killing CEOs offers an article I could have penned – The CEO as Salesperson.  I can relate to this sales call:

After initial introductions, the CEO took over the meeting and, ignoring the agenda, began a detailed demo and discussion of the product. He set about to demonstrate the superiority of the product and his own knowledge of the industry. He argued with the prospect, dismissed their questions and points of view, and then couldn’t understand why they didn’t buy immediately. It took the regional manager nine months to recover and get the sale.

My experience with the CEO in a sales call most often followed a similar form with even worse outcomes (lost the prospect all together).  I know there are good sales CEO’s out there and my experience is limited, but I still would be hesitant to bring the CEO on a qualifying call.

The author does provide a checklist for the call and the right tact for the CEO to take (my editing):

The key to effective use of the CEO lies in the discipline of call planning. This can be time-consuming and the CEO might need to be educated about it, but the payoff is huge.

Consider the previous example in which the CEO did the demo; in reality, sales staff can and should perform this role.  A higher-value and more appropriate role for that CEO would have been to sell vision, strategy, ideas and relationship, not specific features and functions.

Finally, an over-reliance upon the CEO to close prospects becomes problematic for one very simple perception:

According to one financial services representative, “The
client exec told me that if the CEO had to go on every sales call, we must be poorly run or desperate for business, and that made him nervous. Even a small
company’s CEO shouldn’t be going on every sales call.”

Cold Calls Or Connections

We have been debating the merits of cold calling recently here at Select Metrix.  My take is that it is an archaic approach that appears active but produces little.  I don’t recall the other argument since mine was so persuasive (that ought to get Lee going).

Here is another take on cold calling from one of the blogs:

First, no more cold calls! They don’t give enough of a return, and we typically have the wrong people doing them (the new hires). Instead, let’s try Six Degrees of Separation for business. If the world is truly “connected,” — and it is — why make cold calls when we can find connections to people who can deliver business to us? Instead of calling strangers, let’s spend that time targeting two areas: One, who do we know who we’ve done a good job for? Chances are they are connected to people who would also buy from us. Two, who do we want to do business with? We know someone right now (within six degrees) who can introduce us to potential customers.

By using this strategy, we can shorten the sales cycle. The benefits are many but two stand out: One, your sales team sells with a higher level of esteem. Two, you become much more efficient in your sales effort and increase new business regardless of market conditions.

Prospecting Perspective

I haven’t seen this quote before, but it comes from the daily newsletter:

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

Babe Ruth (1895-1948)
American baseball player

So much of sales success comes down to perspective and attitude.  The Babe’s approach would be a good starting point for prospecting, especially if you are facing many “no’s” from prospects.

The Wrong Stuff

Are you aware of all of the interview questions being asked behind close doors at your company?  There are many hiring managers who are unaware of what constitutes a good interview questions.

Most managers know enough to avoid questions regarding marital status, religion and ethnicity, but how about the oddball questions?

Don’t ask, don’t tell from MarketWatch discusses some of the odd questions that occur during an interview.

“Why aren’t you married yet?” “Would you join a church to get a job?” Those are just two examples of questions job seekers said hiring managers asked them in a job interview, according to a new survey of more than 3,000 job seekers and 1,000 hiring managers worldwide by Development Dimensions International and Monster, the career-resource arm of Monster Worldwide.

Others included “Are you happy in your relationship?” “Who is your favorite Beatle?” and “What is your perception of the painting in our lobby?”

Who is your favorite Beatle?  Ouch, that is bad.  But wait, there is more:

“If you could be a dog, what kind of dog would you be?” and “What would you do if I gave you an elephant?” are two examples of the bizarre questions asked, according to survey respondents.

Bizarre.  This approach does create an image of your company that may not be accurate.

Forty-three percent of job seekers surveyed said “asking questions unrelated to job skills” is among the most annoying of managers’ interview habits. Thirty-eight percent said “asking personal questions” was annoying.

Selling-You Can Always Get Better offers this article – If You Want to Improve, Train Your Brain – regarding the need for salespeople to have a broader skill set in today’s market.  That is a trend we have seen over the past few years and one that is sure to expand.

Ok, I know sports analogies can get tiresome, but I did appreciate the “subtitle” of this one (emphasis mine):

“Selling is like golf: You will never be perfect but you can always get better,” Johnston explains. “Even the pros lose their swing at times, and it is good to get coaching when that happens.”

You can always get better at selling – how true.  We encountered many salespeople who don’t subscribe to that axiom – they do so at their own peril.  Unfortunately, this fact is probably the driving force behind sales trainers who offer never-ending training programs also.

Here is a quote I don’t quite track:

But as times change, sales teams need to adjust to them. One such change that has taken the market by storm in recent years is communicating the value of a company’s products and solutions. So if your team is still focused on pricing, they could use a refresher on modern techniques.

Clearly the price-focused sale is still around and many salespeople take that approach (especially when they are uncomfortable discussion money).  However, selling value has always been the soul of successful selling.  I’m glad to see this value-based selling approach is “taking the market by storm in recent years.”

One truth we have always known is that prospects make a buying decision based on price only when they cannot perceive any significant difference between solutions.  If your salespeople are still attempting to sell on price, it is probably time to make some changes on your team.

Topgrading The Sales Force

That is an excellent turn of phrase from Dave Kurlan’s recent blog post.  He provides an excellent explanation of how hiring processes regress to the stereotypical approach that leads to “safe” hires that don’t produce sales.  I know Kurlan is accurate because we see this regression occur first hand.

Companies often become frustrated with the process itself.  Some would rather hire anybody than wait for the right person to come along.  When they get frustrated they don’t follow the process and won’t listen to expert advice, defaulting instead to their old position of taking somebody they like, who fits the industry profile, rather than the other compromise, taking someone who was recommended by the assessment that they don’t particularly like and may not fit the industry profile.  What’s the difference?  Candidate number one hangs around too long because he fits so well both culturally and industry wise, despite failing to meet expectations.  Candidate number two performs well but doesn’t get the support he needs because the company doesn’t like him and their expectations are too low so he voluntarily leaves.

The latest Topgrading study of 507 managers that hire $100,000+ people revealed that, on average, companies waste $1.5 million and 150+ hours every time a C Player is hired.  Is it really that important to hire somebody when being patient and hiring the right person could save you $1.5 million and the frustration of having to start all over again in several months?

I couldn’t agree more with that summation.  What is interesting in our business is that we are often approached by companies to help them hire stronger salespeople.  Many times we have a discussion about how we do what we do and then the prospect will often disappear.  The unique process and different approach seems to scare them away.

The prospect then continues hiring salespeople who “taking somebody they like, who fits the industry profile.”  Unfortunately for them, they continue to hire mediocrity.

After that approach continues to produce the same marginal results, they contact us again.  This time they are open to our approach and usually become our customer at that point.

A Cover Letter With Odd Confidence

This excerpt is from the cover letter of a salesperson:

Telemarketing There is no better.

willing to work Short Term, Long Term, Temp. Commision, depending on rate of pay.

Currently i am working a sales job, however, i do not like it, although i am very good, great at it I am only making $7 an hour.


The New Newspaper

Newspaper subscriptions are plummeting and have been for some time.  I think it is pretty clear that this trend is going to continue as newspapers struggle to redefine their product.

The future for them appears to be online according to Media Daily News:

WHILE THEIR PRINT EDITIONS CONTINUED to slide, newspapers enjoyed an online audience boom in 2007, according to the Newspaper Association of America, which says the total unique audience for newspaper Web sites increased 9% in the fourth quarter to an average 62.8 million per month, compared to the same period in 2006. The figure from October, when 63.2 million people visited a newspaper Web site, is an all-time record.

Furthermore, the statistics, compiled by Nielsen Online, show that 39% of all active Web users visited newspaper Web sites during the fourth quarter, for an average 44 minutes per month–a slight increase over last year’s fourth-quarter average of 43 minutes, but substantially higher than the 36 minutes in 2004.

Most newspapers have suffered from a common ailment amongst monopolies – they thought they could define the market.  Instead of staying ahead of the market shift, the newspapers appeared to have a hardening of the categories.  The online content shift has been underway for many years and the dailies have been slow to react to it.

One thing is for sure in the Internet age, companies are penalized for moving at glacial speed.

Who Reads Blogs?

Kevin Wheeler has a good article on the ERE website today titled What Makes a Blog Work?  There is excellent information within the article if you are looking to start your own blog (something I strongly encourage).

Here is a juicy tidbit:

A survey published last fall by Forrester’s Charlene Li indicates that “24% of Gen Yers read blogs, which is twice as often as the 12% of Gen Xers (ages 27-40) and three times the 7% of Young Boomers (ages 41-50) that read blogs.”

Those types of stats are always fascinating to me.  After that, Wheeler provides 4 tips that all have merit:

Short and Fun




He expounds on each point with insight.  I recommend you read the entire thing.

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