I don’t consider myself old, but I am starting to waver on that belief after reading this Selling Power article. I started selling back in the days before cell phones and Internet, when the fax machine was viewed as such a timesaver. Frightening by today’s standards.
The article identifies 4 selling skills you need in today’s socially-connected world. Here are the first 3:
Those 3 are critical and hopefully most salespeople are aware of these needed skills. However, the 4th point is most interesting:
4. Social Engaging
This is the newest skill for sellers. Consequently, it holds the biggest competitive advantage for sellers who master it quickly. There are two types of social-engagement actions:
Commenting on someone else’s post
Initiating a post
I agree with the Social Engaging activity – the majority of sales that I encounter are relationship-based. The transactional sales have moved to more automated channels. The relationship sale is difficult to initiate by phone or email. But an online conversation…that is a back door to initiate the relationship. I also appreciate the thought-leader aspect of it. If you are able to provide some value-add to the conversation, you instantly frame the relationship in a favorable (for the salesperson) light.
I had a laugh regarding a web inquiry one of my customers received recently. The inquiry was the first one the company had received “in 8 months.” When the salesperson emailed the contact to set up a call, the contact said he was a victim of identity theft and had not submitted the inquiry.
I receive many email approaches each day which often leads to studying each one’s strategy. Here is the opening line from one I received today:
WANT TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS?
Lazy. Insulting. Those are the first two words that come to mind when I read that opening. I suspect the author’s belief is that everyone will agree to the opening question so it will be effective.
The opening approach needs to warrant the reader’s attention, but don’t do it in an insulting manner. The question has a subtle intimation that the person doesn’t know how to do it…but you do. That is a bad position in which to place yourself on the first approach to a cold prospect.
Eyesonsales.com has a short article that lays out 14 steps in making successful cold calls. With the lengthening of the sales cycle in regards to the economy, it is important to make sure that your salespeople stay on top of their pipelines. This article has 14 points that can be used as a refresher for your experienced salespeople or as a starting point for your new salespeople.
Have a dedicated time each day to prospect.
Know the reason for calling before you call: customer benefits, not product features.
Leave short voice mail messages.
Assume your voice mail messages will never be returned.
Always call one level higher in an organization than you believe is necessary.
Be confident and competent.
Phone calls placed before 8:30 AM are the most likely to be answered by the person you’re trying to reach.
Respect the gate-keeper by treating them in the same manner you would treat the prospect.
Prospecting calls on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons will have the worst results.
Prospecting on “semi-holidays” and inclement weather days will get a higher response.
Make it your goal to earn the right, privilege, and honor to talk to the person again.
Believe in what you’re selling and the benefits that the prospect will receive from your products/services.
Believe in yourself and your professionalism.
Anytime is a good time to make a call; don’t wait for the “perfect” time.
Salespeopel are always looking for better ways to find new prospects. You don’t have to look far to find articles giving advice about this subject. Some common examples: trying to make phone calls and undoubtedly leaving voice mails are futile, call at different times of the day or develop an email marketing campaign to push traffic to your website.
Eyes on Sales has a very good article that gives tips on how to use email for prospecting. However, it doesn’t just write off making calls, as some do, but reinforces the fact that a salesperson needs to use both. Here is a quote from the article by author Craig James:
What should we not do with our sales emails? First and foremost, we should never use email as a way to avoid picking up the phone! Many salespeople, in particular, those who dread cold calling, hide behind email. Never let email be a substitute for speaking with prospects.
Here are Craig’s tips or best practices about how to use emails as part of your prospecting regimen that you may want to incorporate:
Don’t write a novel. Keep your emails short, but not too short.
Don’t use big words. You may want to impress your prospects with your extensive vocabulary of three-and four-syllable words.
Don’t send emails too frequently. It annoys people and makes your emails more likely to be summarily deleted.
Do have a compelling subject line. “Checking in” won’t get too many prospects excited. On the other hand, a subject line that asks, “Want to know what your competitors are up to?” would surely get me to open an email. It’s intriguing.
Do offer value. Too many of the emails we receive are self-serving.
Do provoke curiosity, wonder, or concern. Most business people are either looking for ways to take advantage of opportunities, or to avoid problems.
Do use numbers. If you can quantify the scope of a problem or opportunity, people can more easily get their hands around it and will be more inclined to take action.
This video from Selling Power discusses a unique look at the traditional sales funnel. The author in the video states that the sales funnel has to be thrown out and redesigned based on the prospect’s process. The 4 minute video is an excellent discussion on this topic:
I received an unsolicited email this morning from a niche job board that is really lame. The remarkable offer:
I spoke with my Manager specifically about your company. I asked him to help me put together a cost effective trial package that would need to give you a good feel for how effective our service can be.
I was able to create a private promotion that my Manager has authorized until the end of February.
Since this is a private special, it is not available online. If you want to take advantage of it, you must call me.
And of course the offer appears to be a 70% discount. Please. The fact that “Manager” is capitalized is entertaining in itself. However, the entire prospecting message screams “delete me.”
I always appreciate prospecting approaches that are real, honest and straight-forward. Approaches like this one have far too much of a used car sales approach to be considered valuable.
UPDATE: I just received the exact same email for one of our other sites. Perhaps this sales rep and Manager are quite the proficient team. Either that or it is spam.
There is an effect we have noticed when recruiting salespeople from larger companies that seems to be consistent across markets. Some salespeople, maybe many, lose their edge when it comes to prospecting when they land a large customer. I see this effect happening in larger companies, for some reason, more than smaller companies.
I bring this up because I read an employment ad for a large company that we used to work with in a previous life. This company has an unbelievably strong customer service orientation. I mean that in a negative way. Their “hunter” salespeople believe they can service their way to a sale. This approach is reinforced by a team of customer service people assigned to every account.
Recently, this company has seen it’s long-standing market share evaporate under pressure from an aggressive, sales-oriented competitor. The competitor is taking this company out in their strongest regions.
The main thrust behind the competitor’s success is the sales team’s inability to close new customers in a competitive situation. This company has a well-established name that has allowed it to hide the gross inadequacies that have solidified within their sales department. In essence, the long-tenured sales team’s skills have been dulled by success.
I’ve seen this phenomenon in other large companies also. I don’t have any market research to prove this effect – my thesis is purely anecdotal. The salespeople become complacent with their existing customers and compensation and ratchet down the prospecting. Once an aggressive competitor emerges, the salespeople are almost helpless to react.
Be wary when talking to sales candidates from these companies. Ask them about recent customers they have closed and look for complacency in their business development.
Salesopedia.com offers an excellent article titled Top Salespeople Win at the Numbers Game. The article is a bit of a promo for a specific selling system, but the author provides a list of questions that all sales managers should retain.
In the last 6 months:
1. What is the average number of prospects that you attempted to call (dials per week?)
2. What percentage of those dials resulted in contact with a decision maker (not voice mail or a gatekeeper)?
3. Out of all the dialing you did in #1, what percentage resulted in talking to the person who could sign a contract, issue a purchase order, or cut a check? This number is crucial: This is the number of genuine prospects you contacted.
4. What percentage of those decision-maker contacts resulted in an appointment? This number is important for two reasons: 1) You need to know how many contacts it takes to secure an appointment, and 2) You need to gauge, measure, and refine your High Probability Prospecting offers.
5. What percentage of your appointments resulted in a sale?
6. What is the average number of sales appointments, per prospect, does it take for you to close a sale? Over the past 6 months, exactly how many appointments did you make, and keep?
7. What is your closing average per prospect? What is your closing average per appointment?
Much of successful selling is truly a numbers game. Skill increases productivity, but motivation drives success. Some days simply come down to connecting with prospects whether the salesperson feels like it or not. As a manager, that is the point where you may have to provide some “external motivation” to ensure that your team is putting forth the effort to maintain the metrics defined in the aforementioned questions.
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 Inc.com 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.