If you could only teach one component of the sales process, what would it be?
I am writing a book on my own proprietary sales process. I would like to get some supporting insights from top sales people from around the world. Best answers may be used as supporting quotations in my book (with permission of course!).
As an account manager with a large carrier for the past 13 years, I have found that opportunity qualification is the most important part of the sales process.
By the time I am done with qualification, I will know who or what my hurdles will be, either internally or externally. What the buying criteria are and who is making the final decision. Most large deals are done by committee and these folks need to be sold on the solution as well but ultimately it will come down to one person. Also, a value proposition needs to be developed and will become part of the presentation once the data gathering is complete. Asking open ended questions and staying away from yes or no as much as possible is key...they really do want to tell you about themselves and their needs.
A good rep is someone who will listen and not talk their way out of a sale. Once data gathering (qualification) is finished, one should know if this is just a science project and/or they need multiple bids to satisfy Procurement. Sometimes a vendor/solution has been engaged and a verbal commitment made and the other RFP respondents waste time and valuable resources responding. Generally, do not devote a lot of time if a vendor has been chosen (your inside source will let you know) but if the current vendor has done a poor job of qualification, spend the time on the opportunity, you have a real shot at supplanting an embedded competitor.
All this said, it does take years of experience to read body language, recognize the questions they are trying to dance around and why, decide which of the drivers are being addressed and take the time to develop strong and trusting relationships via face to face meetings with a client. One can not build a strategic relationship via video or the phone. If a strategic sales position does not come with a travel budget it will under preform or outright fail. This is a complex process and only some key points outlined but I hope it helps.
Here is one for another chapter:
One of the most unrecognized threats to successful selling is leadership. A strong representative will pay exponential dividends working under an experienced manager with a backbone who will stand by his/her team both within the company and in front of the customer, if warranted. I have had one manager out of eight (same company) who took the time to mentor me and help me become a better seller, just one. A weak leader kills morale, inhibits creative thinking and leads to an under-performing module or a rotating sales door.
There have been times when I have gone out of my way to keep my manager away from my client because I was told not to bring them back to my contacts office, recently this person was promoted to a Directorship. I can only assume this is how some companies fire under-preforming managers.
CLOSING! It is a lost art form in today's society of "be my friend" mentality. The fact is that people today are not the hard sellers that once drove the economic boom.
Its not hard to smile at a client, it is not even particularly hard to find common ground to build report. Its not difficult to recite a presentation. It IS difficult to overcome objections and get a client to sign on the dotted line.
Hi Dave, I personally believe that prospecting is always overlooked in sales training. Most people think that Star Sales people should know how to prospect and don't put that much attention to it. However my research has found that many businesses (owners, entrepreneurs and managers/ sales reps) don't spend enough time on prospecting activity. As a society we always think of prospecting in terms of cold calling. Prospecting is so much more than that. It's the activity you do before you start generating leads. In fact, it's the only activity you really need to put your focus on as a business.
Let me give you an example: Take 2 sales people, one is the worst sales person in the company and the other one is the best with the highest closing rate. Both working the same market and have the same product to sell.
The first (or worst) sales person does one thing very well, he prospects a lot. His conversion rate is only 1 out of 10. The best sales person doesn't prospect a lot but his conversion rate is 5 out of 10.
Lets say Sales Person 1 talks to 100 customers per week and Sales Person 2 only talks to 10 customers per week. SP1 will sell to 10 customers whereas SP2 will only sell to 5. I realize that this is very simplified but this is what happens in a lot of companies nowadays. Prospecting is completely neglected and although their sales reps may be great in generating revenue and closing, if they don't prospect enough the business will suffer eventually. Fears we have (from overcoming objections, asking for the sale, asking for referrals, not pushing enough for the sale are all part of the reason why we do not prospect enough. Take away the fear, you automatically take away the lack of prospecting and a business will flourish. Everything else can be taught in due course such as pitching, asking the right closing questions, asking for budget etc.
So, in my own humble opinion, prospecting is the key to successfully drive business forward and sales trainings/ sales workshops should focus more on this.
Think about it, everything else in the sales process is product and needs based. The activity you do before you generate a lead is the one thing that is based on your own emotions, how you handle yourself getting meetings or selling over the phone etc. If you don't do that, you will no longer have a viable business. Self-promotion is the key. Just my 5 cent. (and of course just an opinion based on my own experiences).
The art of having a structured conversation that naturally uncovers hidden opportunities and cost. This can reveal value that makes the "pricing objection" meaningless while establishing the salesperson as an invaluable and trusted resource.
Many salespeople get in front of a prospect and they can't wait to tell their story.
It is much more effective to discover your prospects needs, wants and desires and then you can tailor your message to what they really want.
If you are a car salesman and an individual wants a 4 wheel drive heavy duty truck for their ranch which is located on a dirt road and you as the salesperson are talking to them about the latest sports car, then you have lost them.
If you ask questions and really listen to what they are saying and listen for what they really mean you will make many more sales.
How can you sell if you don't understand marketing and how can you market if you don't understand sales?
Kotter who is studied a lot in marketing states you need to match a product good or service to a customer need or want. How true in sales. Too many people "pitch" their product or service but don't identify needs before they try and sell or close the customer.
If you some key questions and identify needs you can custom your sales discussion with the prospective client each and every time so they feel like they have been listened to and heard and your firm can meet a need in the purchase process.
I think that a sales process starts with the "thing you want to sell".
If one starts with the "ask questions, listen, understand, etc" it suggests you are developing a solution and in most cases it looks like a scam.
You are selling cars and you provide an array of cars and financial terms to fit the customer. In this case you have to listen and understand the customer to suggest the solution that will make the most profit and fit the customer needs.
The need to "listen first" is related to the need to optimize profits in a sales solution.
But if you are selling a phone plan, the ability to expose the product and its features to the customer improve the ability of the customer to choose added value to it's sale experience.
Most sales do not worth variable profit margins without risking looking like a scammer. The ability to promote the value of a product during a sales event is done by exposure, enthusiasm and confidence. Otherwise a product is just a product and not "the product".
Teaching someone how to listen with enthusiasm and confidence is probably good but if that someone is not able to elaborate on the product with the same enthusiasm and confidence, most sales leads will not materialize.
You have made the perfect point. The Sales Process.
If your business still relies on the traditional sales approach of telling the client about your fantastic product or service then you will lose more business than you gain.
The modern buyer does not want to be told and sold.
He or she is a professional and knows what their business needs rather than wants.
You need to SELL your SALES PROCESS. One that exudes confidence in your business and its ability to be able to support the buyer in making the right decision for them.
Your process should be at the forefront of every salespersons lips. This is how we can provide you with the right information and specialist support from the beginning to the end of the sale; from delivery, installation and after sales service, combined with project management, regular discussions to make sure things are on track, and a plan of action to make things work, even when they sometimes don't.
The salesperson should be able to deliver the sale of" the process" in their sleep, and never get to sell anything else. The client gets to choose from beginning to end.
When your client describes you as their preferred supplier, you have reason to be proud.
As a salesperson with significant senior management experience and now working as a sales training consultant, I'd focus on the following skills that sit across all stages of the sales process.
Listening skills coupled with "Speed of Thought" (mental agility). If they listen but can't pick out the nuggets of gold then they'll always have problems and miss the big one.
If I'm allowed two - then number two would be to develop "conversational selling" skills. i.e. the ability to communicate effectively, ask big questions, pick out key nuggets and ultimately pitch, without sounding like a pre-prepared script reader or interrogator.
If I can have three, it would be to learn about business finance - understand how your product/service can help your client on his P&L / Balance Sheet / Cashflow etc. It moves you beyond product and talks about value.
If it is merely one part of the sales process that you're after then ongoing prospecting and pipeline management is the key area that salespeople neglect.
Hope this helps - look forward to reading the book ! Good luck.
My best advice is to know your industry and products so thoroughly that, once you ask your client the right questions to bring their needs and desires to the surface, it becomes easy to make the best possible recommendation for those needs. If you follow such an approach, while always keeping the client's best interest in mind, selling is one of the easiest and most fulfilling professions imaginable.
Learning to sell and performance improvement is not an event but a continuous state of mind.
Learning to sell is very much like learning to play the piano, play golf or perform a surgical procedure, you need aptitude, skill, intelligence, professional coaching, mentoring plus a lifetime of practice.
I'm afraid Dave that your attitude to the Sales Profession would not be tolerated in any other Profession. Can you imagine the same question being posed in Medicine, Law, Accountancy or Architecture?.
I hope this points you in the right direction.
In the words of Stephen Covey, author of the 7 habits of highly successful people:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
I have personally worked with over a 1000 sales people.The number one reason sales people fail is the inability to crystallize their goals and find a mentor who epitomizes their vision of success. If 90% of your day is negative then technical abilities are not going to be what see you through the day. Years ago I read a book called "Success is Not An Accident" that helped me realize there was a pattern that every successful sales person followed - success could become predictable. Just a note: When I am talking sales people I am talking about people who make 70% of their income from commission - not a salary. When I talk about sales people, I am talking about hunters not farmers. People who take orders are not sales people in the true sense of the word.
I'm a big believer in "show up, don't throw up." My one piece of advice is to bring a notepad and some pens to a meeting, ask the client about who they are, what they do, and what they're looking for and frame the conversation around the answers.
As Fred Adams mentioned, a lot of people don't know their industry/product/services as well as they should. This results in someone slamming through a "presentation" (death by powerpoint anyone?) and not really taking the time to figure out what the client needs.
Kevin McCarthy mentioned it's important to really dig into what the client is looking for using a structured conversation - this is critical with sales, but be willing to cut loose from the structure though and "go with the flow." An open conversation with a client does more than any baseline presentation can.
Great question Dave, big question. Tough to define just one, but my first thought is - Sales process is more about how your customer evaluates and buys than how you sell. The fact that you sent a quote does not mean 50% probability to close. Every company has a process they follow to evaluate and purchase solutions like yours. That becomes your Google map so you always know where you are at, where to go, and how long it will take to get there. Aligning your process to that map will save you time and pain while increasing your forecast accuracy and close rate.
The one thing to remember is "people buy people first" if the client does not like you or feels intimidated by you, you will NEVER sell to them. If they like you they will trust you and even if you're light on product knowledge or cannot do the paperwork, they will actually help you to get the deal done! All the other stuff comes later, you will never get to objection handling, which is pre closing, unless you have first made your pitch,,,,
A lot of excellent answers... so many stress listening. I totally agree.
My answer is very simple: be honest.
There is nothing more important than this is the sales process. The relationships you develop will only succeed if you are completely honest about the product or service you offer. You may lose some sales with this approach, but even that is a learning experience that you can take to upper management in order to improve the overall company. Honesty develops long-term relationships. These are the very best you can have.
I don't know if this is apocryphal - but it hasn't been mentioned so far...
I was told that the *one* biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful sales people is to ask for the sale.
My own epiphany was around developing a sales "identity": I was kicking against becoming a sales person. Then I had the realisation that we are all in sales: presenters sell ideas to their groups; parents sell good behaviour to their kids; spouses sell their choice of evening to their beloved.
In all of these you take people from where they are to the point of acquiring the new "product": persuasion is OK, coercion is not. The same principles apply.
I think the key skill in the sale process is listening carefully. I have found that customers and prospects, with the right prompting, will tell you exactly what they want, why they need it, and how valuable it is. As a person who sells/advises on insurance and risk, I need to listen carefully to my customers for these important points. Then, if I heard correctly and have product/services which can meet their articulated needs, I can offer, overcome concerns, and make a sale that is a win-win. For me, listening - before speaking - has become the key skill.