Oddities That Make Strong Salespeople-Noncompliance

I’ve been assessing salespeople since 2001 which, as you can imagine, has provided some unique experiences.  These experiences have revealed some odd factors that seem to be supportive of sales success.  The oddity is that there seems to be a yin and a yang to abilities…a give and a take.  Here are just a few:

Fearlessness vs. Compliance
This oddity might be the most common.  There is a component to successful selling that involves a fearlessness to adroitly ask difficult questions to qualify prospects.  Many (most) people are uncomfortable asking these questions.

For instance, it is “impolite to discuss money” is one of our social mores.  However, you will not get far in your sales career if you are incapable of accurately qualifying the prospect’s budget.  This ability requires a fearless attitude.

The other side of this coin is compliance which is oddly infrequent among most salespeople.  Sales leaders need a certain level of compliance to maintain some semblance of order within a freewheeling sales department.  Good luck.

My experience has found that most salespeople are noncompliant and I think there is a specific reason.  Compliant styles like to plan a predictive sales call.  They like to almost script the call with expected questions and well-constructed answers…then the call happens.  The compliant salesperson begins the call/meeting based on their anticipated script and the prospect makes a 90 degree turn and the script blows up.  Low compliance, high fearlessness is an advantage to sales success as they are freer to move with the prospect no matter which direction they go.

I’ve encountered other oddities along my assessment travels – I will share those in the near future.

Positive Prospects Are Trouble

Prospects have many moves they learn at prospects’ school, but one of the most lethal is the positive move.  The positive move is when the prospect appears to be eager to purchase your solution, especially early in the sales process.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always “blue birds” that fly in to a salesperson.  Blue birds are minimal qualifying, quick-closing deals that close so fast that they may not even make it onto the forecast.  They are extremely rare…but salespeople are always entranced by them.  Prospects seem to be aware of these blue birds and will sometimes use a mechanism that mimics a blue bird.

The prospect becomes overly positive.  I believe they have a clear motive for doing it.  When prospects go positive, salespeople tend to dial down (or turn off) their qualifying skills.  The salesperson stops asking qualifying questions about money, timing, decision process, etc.  They shorten the meeting and quickly add the prospect to the forecast as a quick close.  It is at this point that the “prospect” can quickly disappear in to the ether, never to be heard from again.

When prospects go positive, the salesperson has to go more positive.  They need to ask questions about what it will take to get a purchase order today.  Also, what is the ideal installation/delivery/solution date?  Notice how this approach takes the prospect further positive…if they are not a blue bird, they will start moving in a negative direction.  This movement is the key.  Now the salesperson can start requalifying the opportunity.  And they need to approach it as a fresh start, new opportunity…that may or may not make it to the forecast based on what the salesperson learns as they start requalifying.

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.

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.

Selling Experience

I have been swamped in sourcing activities recently and have decided to push some random thoughts up to the blog.  Here they are:

-Selling for modern-day monopolies (like utilities) is far different than selling in the highly competitive, cost conscious marketplace.  Sales candidates with these backgrounds must be screened for their ability to qualify money.  I have found that skill set lacking in these candidates.

-Why are candidates turning into stalkers?  I realize the job market is still incredibly tight, but I have come across many candidates who simply overdo it.  Sense of timing is an aptitude we assess and I am convinced it is more important now then ever.

-First impressions cannot be overstated.  I try to coach clients to let an interview run its entire course before coming to conclusions.  Still, you can tell this is simply difficult for all of us.

-Slick sells, but earthy makes better salespeople.  Some slick salespeople say the right things, have the right look, present the right topics and can’t sell anything but themselves landing on your payroll.  The longer I do this, the more I am impressed by earthy, sincere salespeople.  The recent shift to relationship-intensive sales has made these salespeople more valuable.

Failure

Here is a great Nike commercial via the JustSell.com website:  http://www.justsell.com/michael-jordan-on-failure/

The point of the commercial walks right over to the sales world.  Michael Jordan’s closing statement from the commercial:

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Here is what sales managers need to understand, some times you need to let a salesperson fail.  Now, I’m not talking about a large, important prospect, but rather a prospect that you may know is not going to close or is misaligned in some other way.  I’ve come across many sales managers who want to consistently step in and help a struggling salesperson.  This ends up becoming a crutch for the underperforming salesperson and he/she will not have the opportunity to develop their skill to the fullest.

At times, it is best to provide the coaching lesson to the salesperson and then to step back and let them apply the lesson.  Guess what?  Often times they are going to fail in their initial attempts.  This is ok as sometimes they need to have those failures to learn the lesson.

Emotional Decision Making

This excerpt is from the Herman Trend Alert and it highlights a very important fact for all salespeople (emphasis mine):

"Loyalty will focus more on emotions than on rational, incentive-based initiatives." According to behavioral economists, economic decision-making is 70 percent emotional and 30 percent rational. Thus, the loyalty programs that touch us emotionally will work the best; those that focus on the emotional side of the decision making process will create connected, passionate, and engaged customers. Expect to see more emotional appeals that involve our families, relationships, those in need, etc.

I’m going to breeze right past the “behavioral economists” title (sounds like a great description for a salesperson) and hit that decision-making statement.  It is true.  We shorten it up to stating that people make decisions emotionally and they justify them later intellectually.

This is an important truth in selling.  This being the case, intellectual data dumps like feature/benefits will be less effective than probing for pain in the prospect’s world.  Too often I see salespeople in the field go intellectual, especially in tech-related sales, which neutralizes, or even inhibits, their sales effectiveness.

Sales Dumb

This is from the JustSell.com crew – it is a description of things salespeople do to upset prospects.  I found it quite comprehensive:

They (Ed.-prospects) don’t like it when…

  • we’re pushy
  • we call too much
  • we’re “just checking in”
  • we’re unprepared
  • we’re disrespectful of their time
  • we keep calling if they say they’re not interested
  • we don’t respond fast enough
  • we appear not to understand them, their industry, their situations, and their challenges
  • we don’t work in their interest
  • we don’t listen
  • we don’t know about our own products/ services
  • we’re rude, arrogant, or inattentive
  • we’re vague or unclear
  • they’re made to feel like they’re interrupting us
  • we seem like we’re “just trying to sell them something”

Q Is For Qualifying Questions

I come across this often – a company wants to hire a superstar salesperson and the hiring manager’s first instinct is to find a loquacious talker.  Perhaps you have seen this approach too?  Clearly no readers of the Hire Sense would administer this approach in their hiring.

Right?

Ok, maybe not.  The point is that smooth talkers are not categorically the best salespeople.  I am appreciative of good communicators, but being good at talking is the lesser part of communication.  Being an active listener is more important.  This fact is often overlooked in sales hiring.

The reason this ability is important is that is supports the foundation of successful selling – qualifying.  Salesopedia.com is featuring an article this week by Kelley Robertson that addresses this point (my bold):

The most common mistake sales people make is to immediately launch into a product presentation or “pitch” when they first meet their prospect. They extol the virtues of what they sell and tell the prospective buyer how good, fast, reliable, inexpensive or easy to use their product is. They talk, talk, and talk hoping they’ll convince the buyer that their product or service is of value.

The problem with this approach is that the “pitch” seldom addresses the issues or concerns of the buyer. Because their needs have not been addressed, there is no compelling reason for them to consider using your machines or to change vendors. If you really want to give prospects a reason to buy from you, you need to give them a reason. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ask a few well thought-out questions to uncover what is important to the prospect.

Exactly right.  One of the more overlooked aspects of a sales interview is to pay attention to a candidate’s questions, both the content and the sequence.  I try to write all of them down in an interview to review them afterwards.  The candidate’s questions in the interview provides a glimpse into their qualifying ability without asking the candidate about it.  It is most important that you, the hiring manager, observe this ability closely both on a phone screen and during a face-to-face interview.