Increasing Sales

Selling Differently

By Cathy Jackson, Sales Coach, Sales Champions

You may already be thinking about the outlook for your sales this year. If you’ve been reading the paper or watching the news, one thing is for sure. This year will be at least as tight as last year, maybe tighter when it comes to your customer’s technology budgets. So, what’s your plan? What will you do differently this year to grow your business and compete more effectively for limited dollars available to purchase your products and services?

One strategy is to sell higher. Deep cuts in spending budgets may have forced more buying decisions to the executive office of your customers. But selling to senior-level executives can be intimidating to a lot of sales people. That’s why now is the ideal time to turn your attention to this two-part feature about a critical matter that is only recently being addressed– emotional barriers that slow you down and constrain your ability to take action. It’s the psychology behind catapulting your sales this year.

In this first of two special features on this fascinating topic, I’ll give you the background and paint the picture. Then in the second part of the article, you’ll discover how you can put this valuable insight to work and make this selling season the best you’ve ever had, and more importantly, put your sales career on a powerful trajectory.

Your Pipeline is Your Sales Lifeline
Your company no doubt invests in marketing programs, product development, and training your sales organization about your products and services. But, what have you done to assess and address barriers that may be limiting your sales team’s ability to initiate contact with the high-level decision-makers who increasingly sign off on deals for a wide range of technology? Maybe you don’t even know such barriers exist – but the latest research has shown that these barriers do exist and in some cases are crippling sales organizations without them recognizing the problem or understanding why… believe me when I tell you, your sales organization is not exempt!

Here’s the bottom line: prospecting is the oxygen, it’s the life of your business that feeds a steady flow of future buyers into your sales pipeline. Companies where emphasis is placed on consistent prospecting by the sales organization are growing at a faster rate than those who don’t. But most organizations simply do not have the pipeline to support the growth they expect (or could achieve) and are surprised when the numbers come up short. Simply putting an emphasis on it (a.k.a. “turning up the heat on the sales team”) is not enough, especially since the go-go days are over and there isn’t room for slack in our business practices anymore. Research on this phenomenon is now being taken seriously.

Thirty years ago two behavioral scientists, George W. Dudley and Shannon L.Goodson, set out to discover why some sales professionals excel in prospecting while others plateau. They studied the behavior of sales people in a variety of industries. They wanted to explain an observation, as scientists do, and the question was this: If after hundreds of books written, sales training courses, and gurus all espousing the “secrets of success,” then why were sales professionals still not succeeding in their chosen career? This research yielded an internationally best-selling book, “The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance®“.

After reviewing the statistics, George and Shannon discovered the primary difference between top-performing sales professionals and those whose productivity was mediocre. What they found was not new– certainly not “rocket science”—but it was finally scientifically proven. The indisputable formula for sales success seems obvious, but elusive: the greater the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent basis the greater the performance. That’s it! Top-performing sales professionals have more sales because they have more decision-makers to sell to. Sounds overly simplistic, doesn’t it? But in fact, it’s not, because the human psyche gets in the way of taking action to correct something this basic and even prevents us from seeing it.

Emotional Barriers Get in the Way of Every Sales Professional
Most sales professionals know they need more prospects – people who can make buying decisions. But the research shows even good sales people don’t, won’t, or can’t prospect with the right people sufficiently to achieve top performance. Nearly all salespeople are in denial about this proven situation. But if you sell to technology buyers (or if you manage a sales team or any sales channel that is supposed to be doing this) a shortage of real prospects – the executives who make the decisions—is almost surely having a negative impact on your sales. Do you know how much or why? Probably not. Though many theories (and excuses) are often offered by sales people to justify their performance, research has revealed the truth.

When the fear of self-promotion attaches itself to people in the sales profession, it imposes an artificially low ceiling on prospecting activity and this limits the bottom line, even for sales people who think they are doing great. It goes on in the background, sometimes without us really tuning in. It’s an emotional short-circuit in an otherwise motivated and goal-directed person. Importantly, we are not just talking about the slackers. Emotional barriers are the cause of more than 80% of new sales professionals leaving the profession within their first year and 40% of tenured sales professionals to leave – even while they are achieving their sales targets. The emotional burden often becomes heavier than the financial rewards.

Being behavioral scientists, of course, the researchers dug deeper to see what caused this emotional interference in talented and knowledgeable salespeople. This involved collecting thousands of data points and conducting years of study of different people in many selling situations. The outcome? They identified and categorized twelve types of emotional barriers. Each type is characterized by human responses that limit almost every salesperson’s ability to prospect. And the good news is, after an assessment, salespeople could be made aware of their specific areas for improvement, and countermeasures applied to the non-productive behaviors. In other words, there is effective treatment to reduce emotional barriers – sales call reluctance – that keep even talented, top-performing professionals from reaching their full potential.

The Mirroring Effect
I sold software solutions for almost twenty years, and did very well by every measure in every organization I served. I was always a top performer. I even climbed to the position of VP of Sales and Marketing for the software company I worked for most recently. I took my job very seriously, and while I was considered one of the best salespeople and managers around, throughout my sales management career, I continuously looked for the newest and latest sales skills training to improve my own and my sales teams’ performance.

In the nineties, I embraced relationship and consultative sales methods that were all the rage at the time. I trained my sales reps and incorporated this selling style into the organization. Maybe you’ve taken some of these courses, too, and relationship selling is good stuff. But what I found was this. Since many of my sales staff came from former users of the software or were technical people transplanted into sales jobs, focusing on relationships was easier for them to embrace than prospecting for new opportunities. Although, the relationship method and other sales training helped my sales team, I was exposing them to my own sales call reluctance without even realizing it.

Believe it or not, some of the reluctance to make a sales call (prospecting) is a learned behavior. It’s learned from people that you are exposed to who have never fully recognized, understood, or dealt with their personal fears. Even leaders of successful organizations can instill the attitude. You may remember Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment Corporation. He is a brilliant engineer and his company’s mission was to lead the world in designing the fastest and most well-engineered computers. Digital Equipment’s sales people were called “sales engineers” and for many years they were salaried employees. Mr. Olsen’s leadership influenced the sales culture and because technology was a hot new market for two decades, most of the time the sales engineers were order takers not order makers. This is what I believe has been going on in the high-tech markets over the last few years. Budgets were relatively fat. Computers and technology were being installed and networks built out. But now we have a very different story and sales managers and company presidents are scratching their heads as sales are going flat, pipelines are drying up, and everyone is looking for a recharge.

Where’s the Energy in Your Sales Organization Going?
You may have a well-trained, articulate sales team or reseller channel that can demonstrate your products convincingly. You might be fortunate to have the latest sales automation system, the most efficient sales process, the most innovative products, and a brilliant marketing plan. But guess what? None of that matters when the people in your organization responsible for finding new business opportunities aren’t emotionally able to consistently engage enough potential customers. Again, you may say, “Not my sales team – they are on top of it, they are constantly prospecting, they are true sales pros.” That’s the problem. There is widespread denial. Our industry is blind to its weakness and little has been done to address and correct it.

I have been doing sales training and coaching with a number of technology organizations over the past few years. I have heard comments like:

  • “I don’t prospect, it’s a waste of my time. We have telemarketers that call prospective buyers and then I only follow up with those who are qualified.”
  • “I don’t want my salespeople making prospecting calls. I rather they use their time advancing and closing sales.”
  • “We work hard to generate leads for our sales department. I don’t feel our sales team is following up on leads that our marketing department gives them.”
  • “I don’t want my customers to think that I am trying to sell something to them. I want them to see me as a consultant helping to solve their problems.”
  • “I’m really an account manager and support my clients with my technical experience and product knowledge. I don’t have to prospect.”
  • “I need help with time management. I don’t have enough time to prospect.”
  • “I don’t know how many contacts I make a week with prospective buyers. Besides it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality of the calls I make.”
  • “I would sell more if I had more time to prospect.”
  • “I would sell more if we had better marketing materials.”Do any of these comments sound familiar? There are endless excuses why sales professionals don’t prospect. Why? Because there must be enough motivational energy available to sustain prospecting activity. And when this energy is short-circuited (often unknowingly) it gets diverted to coping with prospecting, which leads to rationalization. The prospecting energy is redirected to non-productive behavior and activities.Overcoming Emotional Barriers: Don’t Miss Part Two!
    So here we are. Having presented this concept to lots of sales professionals and managers, I can imagine your reaction. You may not accept the research or want to deal with the implications. Most salespeople and some managers (many of whom are ex-sales reps) are uneasy dealing with their emotions and discount the research as irrelevant to their own situation. However, I’ve found that most salespeople and sales managers who are genuinely looking to achieve the highest levels of performance are convinced when they open their minds and take an objective look at the evidence. George Dudley and Shannon Goodson continue their research into emotional aspects of selling and continue to produce scientific studies from many different industries to confirm their findings. More importantly, those sales professionals who apply their remedies will attest to the positive results.

    Many sales people and managers after hearing about and looking into this research say they know someone who they believe suffers from sales-call reluctance. But rarely do they admit to these behaviors themselves, and almost all sales managers say it doesn’t affect their top performers. It’s human nature. But, what about you?

If you are willing to open your mind to the possibility that something may be holding you or your sales team back – keeping you from achieving top performance – then you will want to read the second part of this special feature in the Part Two. I’ll give you the specifics about the twelve kinds of emotional barriers proven to limit the performance of almost all sales people to some extent, and suggest how you can begin to apply this new knowledge to boost the performance of your sales organization this year.


Top 3 Fatal Sales Mistakes: What Not to Do to Succeed in Sales!

By Colleen Francis, President and Founder, Engage Selling Solutions

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a series of particularly heinous sales techniques – all of which were aimed at getting through a gatekeeper to a decision maker, and all of which ended disastrously for the sales reps involved.

I firmly believe that, to improve our skills and the relationships we have with our prospects and clients, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. In that spirit, I decided to recount and dissect these painful experiences, in the hope of sharing with you where these sales people went so wrong – and what they could’ve done instead!

One word of warning: while I’ve chosen not to use any names in order to protect the potentially innocent companies who may be employing these sales reps (and may not be aware of the “techniques” they are using), the stories you’re about to read are, unfortunately, all true. Viewer discretion is definitely advised…

1: The Case of the Anonymous Acquaintance
First, a couple of weeks ago, I received a magazine article in the mail that detailed the benefits to sales people of taking a public speaking course. On second look, I saw that the article was actually an advertorial, complete with a registration form for the course at the end.

Attached to the piece was a post-it with a handwritten note which read: “Colleen, I thought you would find this interesting.” It was signed with an illegible initial – maybe a J? Maybe an I? – I couldn’t be sure. I had no idea who had sent me this “highly informative article,” but because of the handwritten note, I assumed I must know them. I looked at the envelope it had come in, and, sure enough, found no return address and an automated bulk mail stamp – sure signs of unsolicited mail.

I’d never heard of the company offering the seminar, nor anyone they were associated with. Clearly, they were trying to hide behind their anonymity because they knew, that I knew, that they did not know me.

Why is this crossing the line?
Because by trying to pretend that they know and have a relationship with me even though they don’t, they are lying. To me, an approach that is based on a lie is the worst kind of mistake – and the absolute worst first impression – that any sales professional can make.

This lie is being used in the hope that I’ll feel guilty enough about not remembering who they are that I will call the company to find out, at which point they can try to sell me on their seminar. Will I be in the mood to be sold anything once I figure out their game? Will I ever buy anything from this company, or recommend them to my colleagues and associates? Am I likely to respond warmly to any follow-up call that might happen to come along?

The answer is NO! So if you’ve ever been tempted to try to lure new customers with a lie, first ask yourself this: if the customer or prospect finds out what I’m really up to, will they be mad, or will I be embarrassed? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then find yourself a different tactic – fast!

How not to cross the line
The idea of staying in touch with your customers and prospects by sending them an occasional article or other information is a good one. But if you use this technique, make sure the following rules of thumb are applied consistently, and without exception:

  1. The article is relevant to the prospect.
  2. The article is simply that – an article, not just a glorified advertisement for your product.
  3. The prospect knows you and you clearly sign your name so they can see it is from you.
  4. You identify who you are on the envelope.
  5. You make a follow-up call after they’ve received it.

2: The Case of the Schoolyard Bully
While on vacation in March, I received a frantic call from my office. My assistant was panicked because she’d gotten a call from a man who insisted that he had a meeting set up with me for that day, and that it was “critical” that he talk to me. He also told her that he “had talked to me directly,” that this was “a follow-up meeting,” that I had “promised to talk to him” – and even that he had “time sensitive information” he had to get to me.

When she finally got me on the phone, explained the situation and told me what company he was calling from, I realized it was all a ruse. I had never talked to that rep or his company before. I did know enough about what they did, however, to realize that what they sold was not relevant to my business and I was not, nor ever would be, interested in the service they offered.

In other words, this rep hadn’t even spoken to me before, let alone scheduled a “follow-up” meeting. He also didn’t offer anything that would be so “critical” to my business that I’d be glad to interrupt my vacation to talk to him.

Why is this crossing the line?
Once more: he lied. As far as I was concerned, that spelled the end of any business relationship he and I might ever have had.

To make matters worse, in order to get though to me (the “decision maker”), he tried to instigate panic in my assistant (the “gatekeeper”) by confusing her into thinking she and I had made a mistake, and I would have to be disturbed.

He knew we’d never spoken, and that we did not have a meeting scheduled. He was simply hoping that I would feel so guilty about the possibility that I’d made a mistake that I would be willing to cancel whatever else I was doing to take his call. He was probably also hoping that same unwarranted guilt would make me feel I “owed him” enough to listen to his pitch.

Whenever you use a tactic that requires making someone else feel bad simply to get what you want, you’re crossing the line not only between appropriate and inappropriate sales techniques, but also between being a smart or stupid sales person – and, to my mind, between being a decent human being and a schoolyard bully.

Just ask yourself: if your prospect found out what you were doing, would they want to have a relationship with you?

How not to cross the line
Assistants can be used effectively to secure appointments and get decision makers on your side. However, you should never attempt to manipulate them or their relationship with your prospect. If you do get a gatekeeper on the phone, try the following, and see how much farther it will take you:

  1. Show them respect at all times.
  2. Treat them like the decision maker, and try your opening lines or lead-in questions with them. They may be able to point you towards other decision makers in the company who could be important to your sale.
  3. Ask them when is the best time to reach the decision maker.
  4. Ask if they can schedule 15 minutes of time with the decision maker for you.
  5. Always thank them for their help.

3: The Case of the “Close, Personal Friend”
Finally, just a few days ago, a sales person called our office claiming to be a “close, personal friend” of mine. My assistant asked if I knew her, and while I didn’t think so, I decided to have her put her through to me anyway.

A couple of minutes into her pitch, I interrupted the rep and asked, “excuse me, do I know you?” She answered: “Not now, but if we do business together, I guarantee we will become good friends.”

Needless to say, we didn’t do business together, and we aren’t likely to at any point in the foreseeable future.

Why is this crossing the line?
Say it with me now: because she lied! Even worse, it was a really stupid lie!

Did the rep really not think that, as soon as she had me on the phone, I’d realize she wasn’t the “close, personal friend” she was claiming to be? Either she was hoping I would think her “idea” was clever, or that I was so stupid I can’t remember who my friends are. Any sales tactic that makes the prospect feel like you must think he or she is an idiot simply can’t end well.

Before you try any technique like this one, please ask yourself: if the prospect finds out what I’m doing, will they want to be my friend? Or will I be happy with the consequences of earning a bad reputation, and a lost opportunity?

How not to cross the line
Every time you call a decision maker, have a compelling reason to speak to them, and make sure your opening line or leading question is tuned to their needs, and offers them value. Then they will want to take your calls, without your having to lie to get them on the phone.

If you want to develop commonality with your prospects without resorting to trickery, try the following simple – and honest! – approach:

  • Use a REAL reference from someone you both know.
  • Tell them a third party story about a customer you’ve helped who is in their industry, and/or who is in their same position (Director, VP, etc).
  • Offer a piece of information that shows you know something about their business or industry that you can help them with. One of my clients who sells to the medical research industry, for example, leads with “your research into XYZ disease caught my attention…”

When it comes to being honest and being branded a liar, the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t, isn’t so much a “fine line” as it is a gaping chasm. Fall in, and you may never be able to find your way out.

6 Business Trends Every Salesperson Must Know

By Daniel Burrus, Technology Forecaster and Business Strategist

Every industry and profession goes through changes, and the sales profession is no different. Just because a certain sales technique or mindset worked in the past doesn’t mean it’ll work today. To be a top performing salesperson, today and in the future, you need to continually adapt to both market and social conditions.

With that in mind, there are six new business trends taking place – all of which affect salespeople in every industry. Understand what the trends are and how to maximize them so you can reap the rewards of a successful sales career.

Trend #1: Your Past Success Will Increasingly Hold You Back (Past Success Is the Enemy)
People who are in sales long-term tend to be successful. Realize, though, that success is your worst enemy. When you’re at the top and doing well, you’re really just trying to keep up and meet demand. Having so many sales knocking at your door lulls you into a false sense of security. As such, you’re not looking at enough future opportunities because you’re too busy reaping the rewards of the current opportunities. You’re not sowing the seeds of future success, and that’s setting you up for a fall. An old saying goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” In today’s world we need to rework that statement to be: “If it works, it’s obsolete.” For example, if you just bought the latest laptop, is the next newer and better version already in existence and about to be released to the public? You bet! Remember that rapid obsolescence isn’t just about products. It’s about how we do our business too.

Trend #2: Technology-Driven Change Will Dramatically Accelerate (Rapid Change Is Your Best Friend)
It’s human nature to protect and defend the status quo. However, you have to understand that technology is changing the future, your customers’ behavior and your company’s reality. That means if you don’t change, you’ll soon be out of a job. As a salesperson, you need to embrace change and make it your best friend rather than fight it and hold tight to the way things were. So how do you make rapid change your best friend? You spend some time thinking about where the changes that are impacting you and your customers are going.

Remember that change causes uncertainty in customers’ minds. You can bring certainty to your customers when you are confident in where change is going. You can lead your customers through the change, causing them to view you as more than just a salesperson, but as a solutions provider and trusted advisor.

Trend #3: Time Is Increasing in Value (Time Is the Currency of the 21st Century)
Increasingly time is becoming more and more important to people. Why? We have an aging demographic in the United States, with 78 million Baby Boomers. And time gets more valuable as you get older because you have less of it. Additionally, the world has become more complex with much more for people to do with their time. Today, we have iPods, cell phones, the Internet and a host of other technologies that didn’t exist when the Baby Boomers were babies. There’s so much more going on and we’re connected in so many more ways, that everyone is increasingly strapped for time. With that in mind, the last thing you want to do in sales is seem like you’re taking someone’s time. Instead, you want to be giving them time. You want your customers to feel that talking to you is actually saving them time. Think about all the time wasters your customers might experience: Long wait times for service, long hold times on the phone, long delivery times for products…the list is virtually endless. Such time wasters hurt your sales and profits. Therefore, make sure you have the processes in place that will keep customers from wasting time. When you can prove that you’re a time saver, people will choose you over the competition every time.

Trend #4: We Are Shifting from the Information Age to the Communication Age (Communicating Is More Valuable than Informing)
Many salespeople rely on such marketing tools as a company website, flyers and sales letters. But all these things are static, meaning they are merely informing people. You hope your sales messages will entice the prospect to call, but it’s still a one-way interface. A better way is to have your sales messages create action. One way to do that is to engage prospects with your sales and marketing efforts. For example, you could have a contest that encourages people to go to your site and enter. So instead of just saying that you want people to buy your snack product, for instance, you can tell customers that they can go online and create or vote for the next new flavor. Now you get them involved in your product. The key is to generate communication, engagement and involvement through your sales and marketing efforts. If you call someone and just talk to them and aren’t creating dynamic dialog, then you’re really just giving information. You want to give people consultative advice. You want to listen and speak, and create dialog. Only then do you truly capture your prospects’ interest and convert them into paying clients.

Trend #5: Solutions to Present Problems Become Obsolete Faster (be Pre-Active to Future Known Events)
Almost every salesperson has been told to be proactive, which means to be taking positive action. How do you know if a certain action is positive? You wait and see. That sounds like a crapshoot with bad odds. Therefore, you need to be pre-active to future known events. To determine pre-known events, you need to look at your customer segment and identify what types of events you are certain they will be experiencing soon. You then focus your actions on what ‘will be’ happening rather than on what ‘is’ happening. Being pre-active also means that you change the way people think. For example, if you put out a new product or service and hope it catches on, you’ll quickly learn that it can take a long time because you’re not actively changing the way people think about how the product can be used or how it might change their life. Therefore, constantly educate your customers on the value you and your products and/or services offer, so they begin to rethink the results they can achieve and the value you provide.

Trend #6: The Value You Bring Today Is Forgotten Faster (Sell the Future Benefit of What You Do)
Most salespeople sell the current benefits of what they do. But your customers already know the current benefit you offer. One of the reasons customers leave you for a competitor is that you haven’t cemented the future benefit you can bring them. Your goal as a salesperson should be to establish a long-term, problem-solving relationship with customers rather than a short-term transaction. Your most profitable customer is a repeat customer. Therefore, you want customers to see the benefit you can give them over time, not just in the present. You want to show how the products and services you offer are going to be evolving with their needs. In other words, you want to sell the evolution of your products or services. Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t know their future benefit. Therefore, you need to sit down with your fellow salespeople and create a list of future benefits that you have for your customers. Also, talk to the people developing the products and services and get an idea of where they’re taking them. Realize that you’re more likely to deliver future benefits if you think of them ahead of time. As a side benefit, this kind of dialog will also help internal communications within the company.

More Sales in Your Future
Successful salespeople know that in order to stay on top, they need to keep abreast of trends and changes in their industry. Only then can they stand out and be a true solutions provider for their prospects and customers. Therefore, the more you understand and adapt to today’s current business trends, the better your sales will be – today and in the future..