Staying on Message

Endless Referrals: Who Do I Talk to Next…*

By Bob Burg, President, Burg Communications, Inc.

No question about it; your company provides the best software around. So, what’s the problem? Only that without an ongoing and ever-increasing number of quality prospects, you’ll eventually run out of prospects. That thought can be downright discouraging, can’t it? Then again, that doesn’t have to happen . . . ever!

Prospecting Hats
One major reason many salespeople are intimidated by the prospecting process is because they feel they must put on their “prospecting hats” before they step out the door. As though they must continually knock on doors or spend hours “dialing for dollars” on that “seemingly 50-pound object of intimidation” known as the telephone.

Perhaps you attend trade shows, social events or even business mixers where you can meet new prospects. Then, of course, once the conversation takes place, you must ask pointed, personal questions in order to discover needs. What this typically accomplishes, more than anything else, is to make a prospect nervous and defensive and you the same. Instead, let prospecting happen naturally, and in such a way that the prospect enjoys the conversation as much as, if not more, then you do.

How? Ask questions. But not just any questions. Ask Feel-Good Questions. Feel-Good Questions are simply questions designed to put your prospect at ease, to make him or her feel good about themselves, about the conversation, and most importantly, about you! These are questions that will not come off as invasive, or “prospecting” in nature.

Feel-Good Questions, by their very nature, will make your prospect feel good; about themselves, about the conversation, and about you. That is key because the fact is – and please internalize this:

“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

Asking Feel-Good Questions is the first step to accomplishing that goal.

So what are some of these Feel-Good Questions? Again, keep in mind that they have no purpose other than to elicit good feelings toward you from the other person. In other words, you won’t ask this person about problems with current software. And, you won’t ask questions meant to discover any other pains, either in their life or business.

Ask Questions
The first question is, “How did you get started in the ‘widget’ business?” I call this the “Movie-of-the-Week” question because most people love the opportunity to “tell their story” to someone. This, in a world where most people don’t care enough to want to know their story. Be sure and actively listen, and be interested in what they are saying.

A good second question is simply, “What do you enjoy most about what you do?” Again, you are giving them something very positive to associate with you and your conversation. This is much better then asking the alternative question, “So, what do you just hate most about what you do . . . not to mention the wretched life you are so obviously living?” (Yep – jus’ kidding . . . kind of).

You’ve begun to establish a nice rapport with your new prospect. You are focusing on him or her, as opposed to you and your awesome products, as most salespeople do. This person is starting to feel good about you and has enjoyed answering your first two Feel-Good Questions. Now it’s time for the “One key question,” and here it is:

“Gary, how can I know if someone I speaking with would be a good prospect for you?” What have you accomplished by asking that question? Two things; First, you’ve continued to establish yourself as being different from all others they meet who are in business, who only seem to want to know, “How can you help me.” People might not come right out and say that, but isn’t that what they imply when they hand the person 10 business cards, telling them to “keep one for yourself and give the rest to your closest friends.”? Instead, you are letting them know that your interest is in helping them. And that is always acceptable to a person (so long as you are, and are perceived, sincere).

Secondly, since you are asking for help in identifying their prospects, she will gladly supply you with an answer. And the fact is, nothing builds trust and credibility with a prospect than actually referring business to them whenever possible.

Of course, if they are not in sales, per se, your question might be more along the lines of “How can I know if someone I’m speaking with could be of benefit to you?” (in other words, you’re focusing on them. The exact words are not as important as the intent, and that you communicate that intent in a way that shows that person you desire to “add increase” to their life).

Your conversation has ended and you never even brought up your excellent products. Good, since your relationship with this new prospect may not be far enough along for him or her to be receptive to it (at other times it’s VERY advisable to bring it up, but that is after the “Know you, like you, trust you” relationship has been established).

That’s fine. Hopefully, you’ve asked for and received your prospect’s business card. Notice I did not say, “Hopefully, you’ve ‘given’ your prospect your business card.” Why not offer him yours? Because he doesn’t need it or want it right now (unless he directly asks for it – then, of course, you’ll give it to him), and since you have his, you are in the position to follow up correctly and systematically.

Meeting New Prospect
First though, if you are at a public gathering where you met this new prospect (Chamber of Commerce function, charity event, social gathering) make sure to introduce him or her to others who you already know or have met. Give each person a nice introduction, describe what each does for a living, and suggest how they can each know how to know who would be a good prospect for the other. Do all this without ever mentioning your products or business. You are now positioning yourself in their minds as a true “center of influence.” People are very receptive to meeting with, and receiving business advice from, centers of influence.

Whether meeting new people in a one-on-one situation during any day and for whatever reason, or meeting people at small or large gatherings, following the above will help you to very quickly build your names list with high-quality people, and in a way that is fun for both you and your prospect. You’ll never again have to feel the “discomfort” in the pit of your stomach, knowing that you have to nervously and clumsily approach someone who you don’t want to approach, and whom you can just sense, does not want to be approached.

*This article was previously published in the September 2006 issue of Software Sales Journal.

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Try to Impress Your Prospect: Lose the Sale

By Paul McCord, President, McCord Training

Knowledge should be one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox.

Knowing how to use specialized industry vocabularies should also be one of our basic and power tools.

In reality, for many of us, knowledge and specialized lingo are powerful—in costing us business.

Naturally a great many new salespeople are tempted to try to impress prospects and clients by demonstrating their product knowledge and slinging their newly learned industry vocabulary around. They tend to oversell, answer questions no prospect has ever had, dazzle with words the prospect and client may not be familiar with. They talk about the fine points of their product or service; discuss how their service or product will impact ROI; how best to onboard new employees or products or services; how their product or service creates a new paradigm to address the prospect’s issues or needs; and the list goes on.

Impact ROI? I see, you mean whether or not it makes me more money than it costs. Onboarding new employees or products or services? I get it, you mean purchasing and integrating a new product or service or hiring and orienting a new employee. Creating a new paradigm to address issues or needs? You mean a different way of dealing with the problem, right?

You can say ROI, onboarding, or paradigm, or you could just talk to your prospect. Some say that if you want credibility with your prospects and clients you have to speak their language. I don’t have a problem with that in the least—if you’re actually speaking your prospect’s language. But how many prospects actually talk about onboarding a new product or service or creating a new paradigm to address an issue or problem? And there’s certainly something to be said about just talking to the prospect in plain English.

And very often new sellers butcher their newly acquired vocabulary and confound and frustrate their prospects with their enthusiastic demonstration of their knowledge of the minutiae of their product or service. Many lose more sales than they capture because of their lack of discipline and their need to impress.

Unfortunately I’ve noticed over the past three years that this desire to impress isn’t confined to new sellers. I consistently run across experienced sellers who should know better that are making the same rookie mistakes. The only real difference between these experienced sellers and new salespeople is experienced sellers tend to have a better grasp of the industry lingo.

In the current tough selling environment even experienced sellers are falling into the trap of trying to oversell and to impress with their knowledge and ‘deep’ understanding of the prospect’s issues. We tend to pull out all the stops and often end up losing our discipline and the prospect’s attention. We try to force the sale.

Rather than creating new clients, we end up alienating them.

Whether you’re a relatively new seller bursting with enthusiasm and wanting to impress your prospects or an experienced seller feeling the pressure to produce, you need to step back and relax. Giving in to the pressure to oversell and force the sale is self defeating. Address your prospect’s needs and leave the unnecessary demonstration of knowledge and the impressive vocabulary at the office.

mproving Your Speaking Skills: The Common Sense Factor

By Stephen D. Boyd, Ph. D., CSP

Have you ever been appalled at watching a sales presentation in which the presenter was chewing gum? It happens, as do other gaffes that you’d think common sense would eliminate. This article gives you tips and reminders on making common sense work for you in your presentations, from the obvious to more delicate matters you might not have considered.

Alan Alda, in his autobiography “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed,” tells the story of speaking to the Illinois State Legislature. He was asked to say a few words and did not consider the fact that many in his audience did not support his position on the Equal Rights Amendment. Even the consultant he was working with told him absolutely not to talk about the ERA.

He got carried away and did not read his audience well; he got off his topic and on to the ERA. His listeners began heckling him so much that the consultant crawled on her hands and knees to a place behind the podium, pulled on his pant leg to get his attention, and said, “Let’s get out of here!” He was not using common sense; his passion for his topic blinded him to the reality of the speaking situation.

Common Sense is Not Optional
You can obey the laws of the road and still not be a careful driver. For example, looking down the road in front of you to anticipate danger is common sense. Just looking at the rear of the car in front of you and not paying attention to traffic patterns down the road, shows lack of common sense.

Often what makes a presentation – sales or otherwise – successful is not a specific skill, but rather simple common sense. I’ve seen speakers do some very inappropriate things during a speech. These have nothing to do with content or delivery, but affect their credibility and the quality of their presentations.

No Apologies
For example, telling an audience as you start that you did not have much time for preparation is, unfortunately, common. That statement is an insult to the audience. You are saying, “I did not think enough of you to prepare adequately.”

Don’t tell us about your lack of preparation; we’ll find that out soon enough. And if the audience cannot tell, then you’re that much better off.

Unbelievable Goofs
I’ve seen speakers who chew gum as they speak. If you need to freshen your breath, take a mint so you won’t have to remember to get rid of it before you speak. Enough said!

Some speakers are completely unfamiliar with how to handle a simple slide presentation as they speak. Common sense says that if you do not know how to develop and use a PowerPoint slide presentation, then don’t use one.

Here are some suggestions for incorporating the common sense factor to ensure your success when speaking.

Anticipate the Speaking Situation
Visualize the speaking room, the location in relation to where you are, and the audience you anticipate. Doing this will help you make good choices about what time to leave in order to arrive without hurrying. Visualizing your audience can help you make reasonable decisions about dress and the choice of materials to include in your presentation.

Think through the experience of speaking to that specific organization. Doing this has motivated me to look up on the Internet ancillary groups and businesses to provide more background and context for my speech. The more you know about the group, the better your decision-making will be in regard to what you say and when to say it.

Get a Program in Advance
Ask the program chair in advance for a program of the events, which occur around your speech. This allows you to think about ways to connect your speech to something else that is happening in the speaking setting.

For example, knowing a theme or motto for the meeting or conference will help you understand what is important to the group that day and help you incorporate some aspect of the theme. If you see the name of another speaker on the program who stresses some of the same ideas you do, you can call him or her to discuss your approaches to the subject in order not to be repetitive.

Proper Pronunciation
Check pronunciation of proper nouns connected with your speaking situation. Does the group have an acronym connected with some part of their organization? You want to use and pronounce it correctly. Are there any unusual names on the program that you might need to pronounce correctly? Call a person who is in the organization to ask about correct pronunciation.

Many embarrassing moments at the lectern could be avoided if the speaker had used some common sense and asked the local person how to pronounce the name of the person, organization, or town. For example, if you are speaking in Lafayette, Indiana, you’ll say, “I’m so glad to be here in LafayETTE today.” But if you’re speaking in Lafayette, Tennessee, you’ll say, “It’s great to be in LaFAYette today.” Many speakers have nightmare stories about mispronouncing an important name, or, even worse, saying something derogatory about a connection with that very profession.

Be Alert to Your Audience
You might also ask this question, “Are there things about the group that I should know that would not be obvious to me?” Another question that can increase your common sense quotient is, “What advice can you give me to have a great program?”

Accept the notion that not everyone may be as excited about your topic as you are. Watch the group carefully for signs that you may be pushing your topic too hard. Make sure they understand the importance of your topic without pressuring them to accept your position.

Honor the Time You’re Given
Our culture is very sensitive to time. We don’t want to be late for an appointment and we don’t want to overstay a visit or interview. Use that same common sense approach in speaking. Arrive early enough that the person in charge is not at the entrance looking for you.

Find out how long you are to speak and then determine to speak a couple of minutes less than the time mentioned. For speakers to continue on past their designated time may destroy any credibility and goodwill that they may have developed.

Delicate Matters
Take the time to practice your material in front of a friend or colleague. When you finish, ask if there is anything that would be offensive to the audience. Ask that person for advice on how to handle any delicate matter so that you can ensure good judgment about how to cover certain issues or to leave them out altogether. If it is a speech you have delivered several times before, but you are adding new material, practice the new material in front of someone to get feedback on it.

Finally, don’t try to be perfect; this puts too much pressure on you and skews your good judgment under the pressure of the moment. Accept the reality that you will make mistakes and that this is just a part of being human. Common sense is a basic part of successfully relating to your audience, speaking and acting in a way that will not distract from the content of the message you are delivering.