Don here. I write this weekly sales blog for those “road warrior” salespeople who engage in face-to-face selling, focusing on the fundamentals of personal selling. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to govern how we live and do business, these fundamentals are the basis for reimagining the selling process. I will occasionally include a post dealing specifically with professional selling in this time of uncertainty. Usually, however, I’ll rely on you to understand and apply the fundamental selling process to your specific business. If you have a particular question, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
While most of the country is staying home and industries are trying to figure out the future, great salespeople are practicing empathy. To be sure we are all concerned about the future. Great salespeople are helping their A-list customers survive and plan to thrive again.
Great salespeople know that empathy is the ability “to walk in your customer’s shoes.” To engage the customer where they are right now. We are “people people”. We strive to understand our customers first then present our value proposition. COVID-19 pandemic is the “elephant in the room.” So don’t ignore it. Begin each sales call with a discussion about the pandemic. How does it affect your customer personally and professionally? Then move on to discuss your value proposition. Great salespeople have the ability to let their humanity lead them in asking good questions to connect on a personal level. They understand customers won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care….
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Prospecting for new business is important to success in selling. Great salespeople know there are several skills involved in prospecting: getting the attention of the prospect, checking the level of interest or need and setting the first meeting.
When Are Salespeople Prospecting for New Business?
The short answer is: “all the time.” The best source of new business is by getting referrals from your best customers. A referral can be to a colleague in a different business or within the customer’s own company. Great salespeople keep their antennae up for potential opportunities. When casual conversation at a social event strikes an interest, the great salesperson says something like: “I’m interested in knowing more about this. But now is not the time. Might I call you to schedule a time to meet?” Read something interesting in a trade magazine, on-line, or in the paper? Make the call to see who the best person is to talk with about the opportunity. Great salespeople keep the prospecting pipeline filled….
We great salespeople in outside sales typically fill workdays meeting with customers and prospects. The Corona virus pandemic has radically changed that. To stop the pandemic we need to eliminate face-to-face contact.
So what’s a great salesperson to do. My father who was a “traveling salesman” always said: “Son if they have a recession you don’t have to participate.” What he meant was that all of the economy wasn’t affected the same. With this pandemic, it might be more complicated but I think the philosophy is still valid. There are opportunities to be had.
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Asking good questions and actively listen to the answers is the key to controlling every sales situation. Great salespeople are aware how they ask good questions is as important as the questions themselves.
Selling Is Not An Inquisition
Remember you are not there to interrogate the prospect. The goal is to develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. How you ask good questions determines the quality of the answer. When you act like the “bad cop” interrogating a suspect you may get the information you seek. But you are not likely to get an order or a long-term relationship….
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Asking good questions and actively listen to the answers is the key to controlling every sales situation. Great salespeople are very good communicators. They use this skill to connect with prospects and customers, gain their respect and understand opportunities to win business.
Asking Good Questions Is Fundamental
Great salespeople ask good questions throughout the sales process. During the prospecting phase asking good questions eliminates those prospects who are not good candidates. In the rapport phase salespeople ask questions to build a relationship with the buyer. Asking good questions finds out the urgent problems and the implication of those problems. By continuing to ask good questions the salesperson confirms what they have learned during the sales process. Listening to the answers will tell the great salesperson what next question to ask on the way to closing the deal.
Listening Is The Key to Sales Success
I have often heard it said: “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak.” Great salespeople are very good at active listening. They ask open-ended questions designed to keep the prospect talking. These questions keep the prospect talking and the salesperson listening. Open-ended questions typically begin with “what,” “when,” “where,” “how,” “what if” and sometimes “why.” The skillful salesperson crafts open-ended questions to keep the prospect talking on topic:
- What would cause you to change your fire extinguisher service company?
- When you achieve 85% productivity, what would that look like for your division?
- Where is there a problem in your delivery system?
- What if there was a way to reduce inventory costs?
- Why do you think your advertising isn’t effective?
- How would you evaluate a sales trainer for your team?
- Great salespeople have lists of open-ended questions to use at each step in the sales process.
Reversing Questions Keep Control Of The Conversation
Crafty buyers will often respond by asking questions themselves. What’s a salesperson to do? If it is appropriate to answer the question at this time do it. But if you are still digging for more information you need to get control of the conversation again. Great salespeople are skilled at using the “reversing” technique. This is simply answering a question with a question. It is something we do naturally every day. A colleague asks: “How are you today?” You respond: “Fine. How are you?” See how easy this is to get the other person back into the speaking mode. Maybe a buyer asks: “Are you able to deliver on Tuesday?” To reverse a seller might say: “Why is it important to have Tuesday delivery?” Of course having been in active listening mode a great salesperson might be ready to close asking: “If we deliver on Tuesday, would you place the order with me?”
Closed-Ended Questions Offer Clarity
Closed-ended questions (like one immediately above) are a tool great salespeople use to confirm they heard what the prospect said. Suppose you are confirming a meeting. You might ask: “Is Tuesday at 10 am still a good time to meet?” A simple “yes” from the prospect is all you really need. Active listening involves getting answers and giving feedback on what you heard. Great salespeople summarize a conversation then ask closed-ended questions like: “Is that correct?” or “Are we in agreement?” Notice, closed-ended questions typically begin with a verb.
Questions Nurture Customer Relationships
The goal of every sales pursuit is to develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship between you and the buyer. Asking good questions nurtures the relationship. My mentor Jim Wilson puts it this way:
“Don’t be afraid to ask your customers how you are doing. You may find out some very valuable information—like why they keep using your services or products, or that they are unhappy with something that you need to fix ASAP. Here are a few questions to ask good customers:
- How did your company originally select us as a supplier? (This reinforces their decision.)
- What do you like best about dealing with us? (What to keep doing.)
- If you could change anything to improve our relationship, what would it be? (Fix the problems immediately!)
- How can our company increase marketshare? (Good customers are eager to help and like to be asked for advice.)
- How does our company stack up against the competition? (You need to know this.)
- What other products or services should we provide? (Create a pre-sold condition.)
- If you were the CEO of our company, how would you go about holding on to good customers like yourself? (They’ll tell you.)”
Great salespeople know open-ended questions are the workhorses of active listening.
Asking Good Questions Keeps The Sales Conversation Moving
Your goal is to get the order. At some point in a presentation you will ask for feedback. When the customer gives a “soft” answer be prepared to ask for an explanation. When you hear non-committal words like, “perhaps”, “sounds good so far”, “we’re leaning toward using you”, etc., it is imperative to ask good follow-up questions. Great salespeople ask the buyer what they mean by the comment. Listen for what is needed to convince them to buy.
What You Can Do Right Now To Be Asking Good Questions
- Commit to listening more that talking
- For each sales conversation prepare a list of open-ended questions
- Practice “Reversing” to keep the buyer talking
- Listen for key words in the buyer’s answers to setup your next question
To say the Corona virus has caused disruption in sales is an understatement. In a very short time how we do business has been radically changed, at least in the short term. What is a great salesperson to do?
Great salespeople can be a calming force during trying times. Yes this pandemic will certainly cause lost revenue, companies will go out of business, disposable income will decrease, asset values will fall, and all other sorts of unfortunate events. But salespeople are the best communicators. We need to be a rational influence at this time.
Take Care Of Your Customers
When dealing with a disruption in sales, our first priority is to take care of our customers. Some businesses are shutting down because of the pandemic. Others are increasing production to meet specialized needs to fight the pandemic. And for some others it is business as usual. The role of the great salesperson today is to be in close communication with their customers. Determine what you need to do to react to their changing needs.
- Shutting down production? Don’t deliver raw materials.
- Ramping up production? Can you meet the increased demand?
- Workforce residing at the factory? What is needed to house and feed them?
- Employees working from home? How can you facilitate this new paradigm?
- Retirement homes on lock down? What can you do to insure safe delivery of supplies?
- Medical services in greater demand? Are you offering unique ways to meet the demand?
Great salespeople are in contact with their customers to help them through this trying time.
Look For New Opportunities
When there is disruption in sales new opportunities present themselves. Some of your targeted prospects will become dissatisfied with their current vendors. New markets will arise for traditional products or derivatives of your current products and services. Whatever you do, do with integrity. Don’t be like the guys who bought 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to sell at grossly inflated price. Do find ways to be helpful to the community you live in. Great salespeople always look for opportunities. During this pandemic you might find them in unexpected places.
Learn A New Skill
I’m from the traditional school of face-to-face selling. For the next months that method will be limited. I’ll need to learn how to use communication tools like Zoom or WebEX to communicate with customers. My email communication skills will need a tune up. And I will rely more on the mobile phone for understanding and satisfying the needs of my customers. What new skill will you learn?
We Can All Learn From Each Other
Email me: email@example.com with how you are being successful during this pandemic. Or comment on this blog post. I promise I’ll respond and share insights in a future post.
What You Can Do Right Now Dealing With Disruption In Sales
- Be a calming influence.
- Be an asset to your current customers.
- Be aware of new opportunities.
- Be learning new skills.
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Self-confidence or ego strength is an important attitude for being a successful salesperson. Being self-confident in your dealing with prospects and customers gains respect. And we all know people buy from those they like and respect.
Ego Strength Builds Self-Confidence
Ego strength helps great salespeople deal with the stresses of selling. And don’t we know dealing with prospects and customers is stressful! Being confident salespeople allows us to make the best decisions for the prospect and create a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship. My mentor Jim Wilson puts it this way:
“We are taught at an early age that it is good to be popular, to be liked. The desire to be liked, when over-used, can become a need for approval, which is deadly in sales. Some salespeople work harder to get the prospect to like them than they do to get the order! If you look for approval, you may not confront difficult situations. Don’t let this happen to you.”
Great salespeople have high ego strength. This allows them to control their emotions in challenging situations to come with good solutions to problems. Have the courage to ask good questions, understand the customer and make good decisions….
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Here is a lyric from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific”:
“You gotta have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?”
These few lines explain why great salespeople know goal setting and goal achieving is fundamental to success. I have a simple plan. If you use it I can guarantee you will achieve your dream:
- Decide what you want to achieve Set your goal(s).
- Determine what it will take to reach that goal. Make a plan.
- Dedicate yourself to achieving the goal without distraction. Do the hard work.
Let’s look at each step.
Selling is a numbers game. Great salespeople know the way to achieve the ultimate goal is to set and achieve activity-based goals. They have written goals and intermediate objectives. Activity-based goals are targets set on goal achieving actions the salesperson has control over. Great salespeople track their performance. They know which activities pay off and how many times they need to do them to be successful.
For example: Working backwards from the number of orders desired per month to meet the bookings goal, use the closing ratio to determine the number of prospects to pitch. When the closing ratio is 50% and the number of orders per month is 20 then the great salesperson knows to have 40 prospects in the que at all times. By tracking their activities, they know they need 3 prospect meetings to find a qualified prospect; then they have to average 120 prospect meetings a month. Again tracking the effort it takes to get a prospect meeting, the great salesperson knows they need to dial the phone 10 times to schedule a prospect meeting. So the activity objective which sets up success at all other intermediate goals is consistently dialing the phone 120 times per month.
Make A Plan
General Eisenhower said when asked about the value of battle plan: “In planning for battle I have found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Great salespeople value the planning knowing that once the sales pursuit starts they must be nimble enough to react to the customer’s feedback. In making the plan for aggressive and consistent activity, only focus on those activities you have control over. Here are some the activities which great salespeople do consistently:
- Prospect every day
- Plan each sales conversation
- Ask good questions
- Qualify relentlessly
- Ask for referrals
- Give referrals
- Follow a proven selling process
- Follow up
- Show gratitude
- Learn and practice new skills
Not only do you need a long-term plan for career success but there are activity plans for each day and each sales conversation. While planning is important it should be simple and an effective use of time. Invest the time at the end of each day to review activities and achievements. Plan the next days activities. Each morning begin with optimistic expectation and diligently perform each activity.
The third step is the most difficult in reaching your goal. To focus on doing the goal achieving activities to the exclusion of all else. My mentor, Jim Wilson puts it this way: When you’re working, stay focused!
- Idle conversation with coworkers doesn’t pay the bills.
- Casual Friday doesn’t mean “relax your sales commitment.”
- The day before a holiday can be a great time to generate leads and close business.
- Prospects are everywhere! Let people know what you do.
- Don’t spend too much time with nonqualified prospects. Close the file and move on.
- Increase your activity level during focused selling time.
When I sold for a small manufacturing business my primary goal was to close enough deals so everyone got a paycheck. During one annual review my boss told me many of the employees didn’t think I was very friendly. So I set a goal of spending an hour or two in engineering and manufacturing each week just chatting with the folk there. Initially I thought this was an invasion of selling time but I soon found out there was valuable insight to be gained from these conversations which improved my sales performance.
Sales Time Management
There are only so many hours each week when customers and prospects are available. During that time great salespeople are committed to goal achieving activities. Non-selling activities are saved for when customers are not available. As an outside salesman I tracked my “selling time” each week. I measured the time spent face-to-face with customers and prospects, the time spent in other communication with them like phone calls and emails and travel time to meet with customers and prospects. My goal was for these goal achieving activities to be at least 60% of the work week. I saved planning, reviewing, report writing and communication with my colleagues for non-selling time. Great salespeople monitor how they spend their goal achieving time.
Make Timely Decisions
Great salespeople are decisive. They gather what facts they need to make a decision then move on it. Soon they know whether it was a good or poor decision then make corrections. The reason salespeople fail to achieve goals is they are timid deciders. When you make good decisions your customers will too. It’s all part of being dedicated to success without being distracted.
What You Can Do Right Now About Goal Setting And Achieving
- Set your long-term goal. The one that defines for you whether you are a success.
- Plan the daily activities which will lead to the success of the long-term goal.
- Use your “selling time” wisely.
- Be decisive. Make the plan, do the activity, evaluate the result and do it over and over again every day.
For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that there are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. When you master those and apply them purposely you are successful. Let’s begin with the foundation on which to build a great sales career: yourself. What qualities do great salespeople have?
Three Fundamental Qualities Of A Great Salesperson
Ego strength, ego need and empathy. Great salespeople have healthy egos; either naturally or learned over the years. They are self-assured and confident. Being resilient in the face of rejection, defeat and lost sales yet keep on trying is the fundamental personality trait of great salespeople. Empathy, the ability to understand the customer, is fundamental to success in sales. In addition to these personality traits, great salespeople are driven to succeed. They use knowledge, attitude and behaviors to become the best they can be. Determined to achieve their dreams, great salespeople overcome any obstacles in their way….