2 Habits That Undermine Salespeople

Supposition – something that is supposed; assumption; hypothesis

Think of supposition, in sales parlance, as being synonymous with stereotyping.  This is a dangerous approach to sale in that once you start making assumptions, you start derailing your qualifying skills.  In most prospect situations, once you stop truly qualifying you are headed towards prospects that are welded on your forecast 90 days out.  Eternally.

Proposition – the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done

I suspect you are thinking of value proposition which makes sense.  I read an interesting post that turned that term upside down.  The author suggested selling to the customer’s value expectations rather than your value proposition.  I agree.  They went on to postulate that this approach leads to listening rather than proposing.

Supposition, in partner with proposition, leads to sloppy qualifying.  Salespeople with these two habits tend to assume what is needed by the prospect without asking the right questions.  This mental supposition then leads to them proposing what they feel is the best solution for the supposed problem.  Circular and twisted logic all in one fell swoop!

The two better habits for salespeople in any sale is investigation and observation.  Investigation – ask the right questions to get to the truth.  Observation – simply put, listen…and watch body language, tonality, eye movement, etc.  Salespeople with these habits are far more efficient qualifiers and typically are far more productive.

If you need help finding these types of salespeople, we can help.

Cultural Qualifying

I ran into an old coworker, whom I consider a good friend, at a coffee shop this Friday morning.  He is the VP of Sales with 75 or so direct reports.  His company is international with a majority of their revenue occurring in Asia.

He was telling me about sales training he held for the entire sales team.  The focus was on negotiating and, more specifically, how to ask the right questions to qualify the opportunity.  The Asian sales reps balked at some of the questions based solely on their approach to qualifying.  Let’s just say they prefer to take a more passive, unquestioning approach which leads to prayer rug forecasts and lower revenue.

Obviously there are some cultural issues when it comes to qualifying.  Anyone who has been to Japan knows that there are certain formalities you have to follow to honor your counterparts.  However, I would argue that the qualifying issue is an individual issue.  At the risk of sounding overly simple, sales is a difficult profession that requires a skill set that is uncommon to the majority of the population.

The training that my friend provided was not provocative, excessive nor “risky.”  It was simply communication made clear by a sound questioning strategy.  This approach is the essence of qualifying.  It spans cultures.  It leads to the important point that if you are attempting to hire stronger salespeople, you must incorporate an assessment to get an x-ray of the salesperson’s abilities.  Do they have the right mix of talent and motivation to ask the difficult questions required for successful selling?

If you are looking for a solution, we can help.

Silence Kills Deals?

My mouth is still agape after reading this article in the MSP Business Journal – How to close a sales more effectively.

The first howler:

Anyone involved in sales knows silence can kill deals. If you present your best recommendations to a prospect and stop talking, he might say, “That’s food for thought. Let me think about it. I’ll get back to you.”

What?  No, not true.  The problem the vast majority of salespeople have is the inability to use silence.  A pregnant pause is a powerful tool that helps bring forth information.  It is important to remember that the person asking the questions is actually the person controlling the conversation.

The second howler:

They are all closed-end questions. When faced with a “yes or no” choice, the uncomfortable answer is “no.” Read the questions, answer “no” and see how you feel. It’s likely a negative answer requires justification and you can’t immediately think of reasons.

These suggestions come from the financial world which is predominantly based on selling to “consumers.”  Maybe things are different there, but in the B2B world open-ended questions are necessity.  It has been my experience that prospects are comfortable and adept at saying no.  My experience has been that close-ended questions quickly move you to the “think it over” response from the prospect.

The author clearly has a different approach to selling and perhaps it works well for him.  My take is that these tips would lead to atrocious results in the B2B world.

If you want to close more effectively, invest all, and I mean all, of your time in developing your qualifying skills.  At the end of the day, qualified deals close themselves.

Interrogating A Prospect

Questions are the backbone of qualifying any sales opportunity.  Yet, many salespeople seem to flounder with this approach and I believe it comes from over coaching/training.  Ask this series of questions, use this linguistic trick, turn the tables on them…improper use of these “moves” stands out to every prospect.

To that point, here is an excellent excerpt from a recent Eye on Sales article:

We’ve all been taught the difference between closed-end and open-ended questions. We’ve been given instructions on when to use which type question.  Some trainers have given us formulas; others have given us specific questions to ask.

It’s these detailed guidelines that seem to get many sellers in trouble–that gets their questions to resemble Gestapo tactics rather than a discussion with a prospect.

So how do you use questions without intimidating or badgering?

The answer is actually quite simple—don’t interrogate your prospects.  Instead, of trying to figure out whether to ask an open-end or closed-end question here or which specific question to ask now, just ask the natural questions you’d ask your friends if you were trying to understand their problems.

I know, it sounds simplistic, but it is crucial to successful qualifying.  I have seen far too many salespeople use questions and questioning tactics in a clumsy, impersonal way.  When you experience this approach, the salesperson seems to be pulling tools out of a toolbox and using them with little to no rapport.  This approach is embarrassing to witness as it does put the prospect into the interrogation chair.

Much of selling comes down to one simple approach – having a conversation.  Forget about the toolbox, tricks and techniques for a minute and start a conversation with a purpose to learn what you need to learn to qualify them.  The most effective salespeople are the ones who can maintain this conversational approach while still acquiring the information they need.

3 Ways The Brain Handles Info

This article is from Eye on Sales with some key points about how our brains handle information (emphasis mine):

It all goes back to how your brain is wired to work. Despite how advanced our technology has become, the brain inside your head is brilliantly primitive.

There are really only three ways that our brain handles any information that it receives:

If it’s boring or expected, the brain ignores it.

If it’s too complex, the brain dramatically summarizes it.

If it’s threatening, the brain makes you fight or run.

So what you’re saying doesn’t really matter.

Especially if the brain in the person listening to you is feeling threatened or fatigued or flat-out bored. You lose.

So how do you change this? How do you say what needs to be said in a way that gets the right people to listen without their brain killing your sales speak a few millisecond after it leaves your lips?

(It’s certainly not easy. And it probably feels awkward at first.)

But here are a few ideas to help you manage brain parts and conquer better;

  1. Ask more questions than you make statements.
  2. Don’t pretend to be somebody that you’re not.
  3. If things “don’t make sense”, say so.
  4. Talk about the “elephant in the room” first.
  5. Look between the lines for personal issues.
  6. Care on the inside.

In terms of successful selling, you cannot overstate the importance of the first bullet listed above.

The Money Trap

-Discounting is a hot topic in sales especially in this prolonged, down economy.  However, discounting is never the best choice regardless of the situation.  Here is a good Eye on Sales article speaking to that point.

Here is a good suggestion:

The first question I ask anyone who thinks they need to lower their price to close a sale is if they know at least 3 needs the customer has and if they have been able to measure the real value of those needs with the customer.

Exactly.  The author is speaking to qualifying which is the core of all successful selling.  This is why it is of the utmost importance to see a sales candidate’s qualifying ability in your interview process.  Do not provide all of the information to the candidate – hold some back to see if they ask for it.  Do not make the initial interview too easy – provide a little resistance.  These types of techniques give you a glimpse into the candidate’s qualifying which you can’t get from a resume.  If they cannot qualify, they cannot handle money/pricing issues.

If the candidate or salesperson is adamant about discounting, they get caught in a trap:

It’s easy to cut your price. Anybody can do it. But what I guarantee when you cut your price for the first time, you’ll do it again and again. I’ve yet to meet a salesperson who has reduced their price only once.

Always qualify candidates for qualifying to avoid this trap.

Funnel Or Sieve?

This Selling Power article title made me laugh – Are You Using a Funnel or a Sieve?  I laughed because my son is a hockey goalie so the word “sieve” carries a special horror.  That horror is compounded by the fact that we just returned from a hockey tournament in Winnipeg where I expected to hear some rowdy crowds and perhaps a sieve chant towards my son.

My fears were unfounded as the Canadians were extremely pleasant.

Hockey colloquialisms aside, this article makes many excellent points before turning into an advertisement.  This entire graph is valuable:

It’s an issue that makes sense from a cost standpoint as well. Karam says it costs about one-sixth the amount of money to nurture a lead that has fallen out of the funnel than it does to find a brand new one. Most sales managers know this but are so quarter-driven that funnel leakage tends to hold a low priority on their to-do lists. And until recently, that’s worked just fine. Prior to the recession, sales teams could “focus on the hot stuff and they’d make their numbers. Well, now there’s not enough hot stuff,” says Karam. In light of all this, he adds, “there’s been a lot of attention recently on recovering leakage and re-mining or re-farming leads.”

Finding qualified leads is an expensive process which is why I focus extensively on qualifying ability.  When you are hiring salespeople, there is no greater urgency then to discover the candidate’s qualifying ability.  It is the backbone of successful selling.

I couldn’t agree more with the statement that most sales managers are aware of “funnel leakage” due to their quarterly revenue responsibilities.  I would go further and say a percentage of the forecast error is funnel leakage and the other is blue-sky forecasting.  Many a rep has been known to submit an inflated forecast in the hope of keeping their job for another quarter.  I suspect the salesperson is simply buying time with the hope that they will close a large deal during that bonus time.  It rarely happens.

Re-farming leads is a valuable exercise for any sales department in any economy.  Again, the costs associated with new lead development are far greater than re-farming leads.  One question I often ask sales candidates is for them to provide me with an example of when they went back to close a “dead” lead.  This question provides some insight into the candidate’s tenacity, strategy and ability…and it is easy to spot a fabricated story.

Preparation vs. Execution

SellingPower.com’s article – Help for Your Pre-Call Prep – makes a bold statement in the opening sentence:

When you get right down to it, sales are won or lost on preparation.

I would argue that sales are won or lost on execution.  Give me a salesperson who executes flawlessly any day over one who prepares flawlessly.  Again, the context is in terms of where deals are lost.  Be that as it may, the article has an interesting statistic found in one of the later graphs.

At a time when relatively few initial discussions with a client are progressing further into the sales cycle (40 percent of organizations say only 25 – 50 percent of initial discussions progress to a presentation; 30 percent say 51– 75 percent of discussions do so, according to CSO Insights), the issue of pre-call preparation deserves some attention. After all, it’s the quality of your preparation that largely determines whether or not the client agrees to a second meeting.

Ok, I take umbrage with the over-emphasis on pre-call prep.  Salespeople who show up and throw up are the main reason suspects do not move into prospects.  I thought this number was shocking – up to 50% of initial discussions progress to a presentation.  This fact could be that salespeople are better qualifiers in lean economies.  Perhaps they are qualifying suspects more thoroughly to eliminate the tirekickers from their pipeline.

In other words, a lower number moving into the pipeline could be construed as better qualifying.

Persuasion Through Scarcity And Fear Of Loss

I was a psych major in college which seemed to be the perfect preparation for a sales career.  I believe it was.  To this day I am still intrigued by the psychology of selling which could truly be described as persuasion.

That background helps explain why I found this ManageSmarter.com article completely gripping – Mastering the Psychology of Persuasion.  You will have to read the entire article to appreciate the depth of it, but let me pull out a couple of points.

First one of the set-up questions:

• Are left-handed people more prone to some mental illnesses, accidents, or seeking positions of power?

And from later in the article:

And while these questions may at first appear to have clear yes or no answers, in reality, there are no definable correlations to them. All of these questions have exceptions to the rule. “It depends,” is the best practical answer. And yet, all answers you came up with in your head may have value if you’re in the sales and management profession.

Let’s take a look at some of these questions more closely. With regard to left-handed people and power: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama are all lefties. Power hungry? Maybe.

Ok, the left-handed piece hits close to home for me since my wife and son are left-handers.  Yet you see the point – discovering the prospect’s correlation is important for persuading them.

Here are the most recognizable persuasive elements we experience in society:

Habitual patterns. Trigger words or fixed action patterns, automatic behavior patterns, and biases help people organize thoughts and actions.
Consistency and commitment. MacDonald’s hamburgers taste the same from Russia to Denver.
Reciprocation. “I love you. Will you buy my guitar?” The person may be more influenced to buy the guitar as a way to return the gesture of the stated love. Guilt falls under this category.
Likeability. We like people like us. First impressions, and all.
Social proof. Everybody is buying, saying, eating, reading, etc., so I must also.
Authority/power. Law is law and rules are rules.
Scarcity. The more we want something and can’t get it, the more valuable it can appear.
Fear or gain. Research shows fear of loss is stronger than the desire for gain.

The last two are critical to successful selling.  Scarcity is a strong motivator for moving prospects through a qualifying process.  The beauty of it is this – it creates demand in the prospect’s mind in spite of the salesperson.  I have seen some grossly under-developed salespeople thrive based on the perception of scarcity of their solution.

Fear of loss is similar to pain.  The same principle applies here – people move faster to remove pain than to gain pleasure.  The importance of this principle cannot be overstated.  This fact is why features/benefits selling is wasted if the benefit does not remove pain or create the fear of loss.  If your salespeople can combine scarcity with the fear of loss in their qualifying, you will have one highly-developed sales team.

RFI?

Unbelievable. I have been solicited in a disgusting, disturbing manner. Read this (my emphasis):

This request for information (RFI) shall not be construed to be a Request For Proposal (RFP) and no agreement/contract will be entered into with/awarded to any vendor based on responses to this RFI, and it shall in no way be considered as authorization by <company> for vendors to undertake any work.

Nothing in this RFI shall be construed as a commitment to issue a RFP. Response to this RFI will not create any obligation. Neither <company> nor vendors answering this RFI shall be bound by any aspect of their response to this RFI.

RFI? Yes, I live in a cave and am not familiar with such an acronym. Ok, I am being a bit over-the-top, but honestly think about this approach. Why in the world would any salesperson respond to such a request? You are provided the opportunity to present your solution to their problem without any compensation. As sales managers, I hope you do not allow your salespeople to waste time on these RFI’s.