Archive for the ‘Prospecting’ Category

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Leadership in a Matrix Environment

March 30, 2011

As a professional speaker, the toughest crowd is the one filled with folks who talk for a living.

Salespeople understand how to tell stories; they understand that the customers’ story is where it all starts. Then, on to proposing and closing…and whoever tells the best story, wins. Delivering a product or service in a complex sales process is never the work of just one individual. Resources must be engaged, in order to respond to the RFP, or address particulars of technology, service level agreements (SLAs), etc. Many times these required resources have no direct reporting responsibility. In other words, the challenge facing sales executives is how to create leadership, without real authority. Creating a keynote on leadership can be challenging, especially for a bunch of sales pros. But, who wants the easy route, anyway?

Some believe that it is easy to inspire good behavior when you have the power and authority to influence bonuses, paychecks, and annual reviews. However, relying solely on a title, or the ability to hire and fire, is not about true leadership. Managing the day-to-day actions of a team of employees is a separate task from leadership in a matrix environment. Handling your reports is about direction; leading others without authority is about inspiration.

In a recent presentation to international sales executives at HP at HP Sales University, the topic of “acceleration” came up. In complex sales, there is no real way to accelerate the IT decisions or cap-ex (capital expenditure) investment that major corporations will make. However, it is possible to accelerate the role of the leader, fostering greater trust in a matrix environment.

Inspiring team members (even virtual team members) begins with recognition. Identifying and connecting with others means understanding a person’s unique contributions. Sure, it’s easy to see that the engineer or security specialist brings their own particular talents to the customer engagement; but what’s beyond the skill set? How can you recognize the unique contributions of the individuals on your team? More importantly, how can you demonstrate your ability to value (and leverage) those contributions?

Recognition really starts with “Why?” We all do our thing from 9-5, to collect our paychecks. But not all paychecks are created equally (even if the numbers are exactly the same). Consider: Why do you do what you do? Just to make money? OK, maybe so…but what does that money allow you to do? What are you able to do for yourself, your family, your church, your parents…because of what you do? Understand your “Why”, and then understand the “Why” of your team members. Get engaged in their story, and they will get engaged in yours.

Leadership is about influence.

It starts with recognition of others, as the first step towards trust. True leaders are able to be clear and transparent with their teams. By understanding the capabilities and the needs of the members of your team, you understand how to create an environment where individuals are not just recognized, but valued. Everyone, at every level, wants to make a contribution that is recognized, and valued. Prove that value to others, and you are telling the story that everyone wants to hear. Through trust and recognition, you earn the right to lead — not just in a matrix environment, but in any environment.

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Dealing with “No, I’m Not Interested”

February 7, 2011

Often our perceptions are what keep us from hearing “YES” from the customer.

Instead of selling to people, consider that it is your job to teach them how to buy. (Of course, the way to buy is “profitably for your business”. I think it’s important to advocate for the customer, but not at the expense of the company that signs your paycheck). What information, if known by your customer, would change indifference to action?

“No, not interested” is the stepchild of “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”.

What do you need to teach the customer, to change their perspective? How can you teach a customer what they need to know, so that you can overcome your biggest competition (that would be “Don’t Know” and “Don’t Care”). Fight disinterest with knowledge, and teach your customer how to buy what they need. Teaching customers how to buy is the service that changes the game.

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Fixing Alec Baldwin

September 17, 2010

While “Always be closing” makes for some interesting drama, it’s a recipe for disaster in this economy. Real sales strategies don’t come from Hollywood –  so, how about a plan that you can actually use?

Every sales person, every Alec Baldwin fan, maybe everybody who can read and write, knows the slogan, “Always be closing”. That was the message from his character, Blake, in the classic movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”.  As much as I enjoy Alec Baldwin as a performer, “Always be Closing” is a recipe for disaster in the current economy. I’m seeing a lot of individuals “go for the close” (and fail) when what they really need to know is: how to go for the sale.  While Web 2.0 tools have opened up new ways of communicating and marketing to customers, there’s still a need to get face to face to close a deal.    If that scenario is something you deal with on a daily basis, then read on, MacDuff.

Here’s a little secret that is the one common characteristic of every successful sales engagement, and every successful sales person. The one most important characteristic of sales success isn’t the killer close, or mental toughness, or a strong forceful personality, or…or whatever.

The best salesperson is ALWAYS the one who is in front of a customer who wants to buy what they are selling. Think about it. Finding a customer that’s buying is the secret ingredient. It’s not some slick closing strategy or verbal kung-fu that forces a sale. If you have the talents of a monkey, and a customer that wants to buy what you’ve got, you are going to close a deal… and be able to pick up objects with your feet. Impressive! Qualifying an opportunity has never been more important. And, opportunities are scarce! So, how do you do when it comes to qualifying opportunities?

Based on my experience, the number one thing you can do to help grow your business -especially if your business is the “business of YOU”: learn how to “always be QUALIFYING”, and the transaction will take care of itself.

Are You Qualified to Drink This?
Questions are a great way to approach an opportunity, because of what is implied behind the curiosity. (And I’m not talking about questions like, “If I can drop the price by 2%, will you buy TODAY?!?”) The questions I’m talking about are the kinds that yield results – a series of “yes” answers that helps you to clearly define the customers needs. Your concern, your caring, your experience, your product knowledge all are conveyed …indirectly. It’s a style shift, and it can be subtle, but the results are huge. The message behind the message is that you are genuinely concerned about the customer’s concerns – and, quite frankly, the mutual fit for your agendas. You go from “telling and selling” to helping your customer to solve a problem. As you help to identify their needs, you tailor your services and solutions for what they want, not just what you can do. The best person to articulate customer needs is always the customer. If there’s no need, there’s no sale.

Of course, there are many more aspects of qualification. What’s the budget? How did you hear about me/my company/my gorilla-like reflexes, etc.? Have you ever seen/used/owned equipment like this before? What is the salary for this position? Etc. etc. All important questions, and all must be asked as part of the needs identification and implementation phase.

You still have to ask for the business. But closing is just the final step in the qualifying process. First, make sure that you’ve got a qualified customer that’s come forward with some real clear needs, and you are almost home. With all due respect to Alec Baldwin, remember to “always be qualifying”… unless, of course, all you want to end up with is a set of steak knives.

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You’ve Made Contact: Now What?

August 27, 2010

New to the game of networking?  MBAs often find themselves holding a stack of business cards but still feeling empty-handed. Sound familiar? Here are some ideas on what to do with a networking contact to get the results you need. Specifically, I’d like to share some strategies I’ve used to create emails that get answers. Networking to the next level requires some clear strategy – especially in this economy.

“Time to Talk?”

That’s the subject of your next email, the one you’ve been wanting to send to your newest VIP contact. “Time to Talk?” is open-ended and non-threatening. It could mean, “Do you have time to talk?” Or, “Is there a time when we could talk?” or even, “Look, it’s time to talk!” The response to that question is, under any interpretation:

“Talk about what?”

Question and response. Hmmm…. you just started a dialogue. The objective of your email is to generate interest, and ultimately, a response. I assume you have something you would like to know about? If you are seeking a new opportunity, you need to approach this message with a clear idea in mind. The objective is to secure a conversation to discuss your idea, and that’s why you need a “time to talk”.

Mrs. Elvis Costello - click on image for more info

“I know a little bit, about a lot of things, but I don’t know enough about you.” -Diana Krall

An initial networking contact is a quest for information. So many folks misinterpret Steven Covey, and begin with the end in mind…instead of seeking first to understand, than to be understood. If your opener is, “So, do you want to buy some of my stuff? Are you the decision-maker? [or even worse] Do you have a job? Do you know someone who has a job?” Yikes, Gunga Din. It’s probably not “time to talk”. My magic will not work for you.

Ask a question before its time, and you will get the wrong answer. It takes time to earn the right to advance, and a time to talk is step 1. Have you proven that this company is a good customer, or somewhere that you want to work? Do you know that your contact is the sole decision maker? Even if your answer is “yes”, you still need to confirm that theory. And you need to know that there is interest in you discussing your personal value proposition before you share it. Come to your contact with a demonstrated knowledge of their business or situation, and ask them to confirm/deny or elaborate on a specific idea or theory.

Confirm/Deny/Elaborate

After a brief one sentence introduction about where you met or how you were referred, you want to identify why you are writing. As you define your purpose (seeking information about a particular topic) ask you contact to confirm/deny/or elaborate on your theme – it must be a specific concept that could help his/her business, or a specific question about the processes within the company. (email me if you want some specific ideas) Your topic should demonstrate a specific knowledge of the company, but require clarification from your contact. After all, you have to have something of value for your contact to confirm/deny/elaborate on. Clear details on a specific question will create trust, and establish you as someone who does their homework. Suggest a time to talk, and offer a specific time when you will follow-up. Stick to your plan and follow up when you say you will – if they haven’t contacted you first.

Demonstrate a knowledge of your subject and request confirmation in a brief (less than 20 minute!) conversation. Stay on topic, gather the information you need, and take that next step.

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“Please Just Send Me Some Information…”

June 22, 2010

Have you ever heard that one before?  When you’re talking with a prospect, and you just know that what they need isn’t information – it’s an exit strategy from your conversation?

For me, when I’m not interested or if a service isn’t appropriate, I say so and I also say why.  I sell for a living, and I always appreciate honesty, so I try my best to provide it when I’m in the customer’s seat.  I have found that people like to know where they stand; polite honesty is what I seek and what I try to give.

Still, if you are running into this objection more than you’d like, you may be getting the brush off.  Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at your approach.

“Sell Your Cleverness and Purchase Bewilderment” – Rumi

So, is “more information” just another way of saying, “I’m not interested”?  You have to trust your instincts. If it feels like a blow off, it probably is. My question would be: Where does their interest go away? Is there a point in your story or your value proposition that is a turning point (or turn off, I guess you could say)?

The obstacle probably appears before they ask for the information. There are a lot of choices for products and services, but there should be a strong reason to invest (if it’s the right prospect and the right product).   But how do you know if it’s the right prospect and the right product?  After all, it could be that everything’s right…except you.

If I were you – and I felt like I was getting a brush off from a good prospect – I would put a great big pile of truth on the table. When I’ve been in situations where I’m getting a lot of pushback, I’ve used a version of this speech and it always breaks the ice.  It takes courage and sincerity to lay these cards on the table, but it has been very effective for me in the past.

If someone says, “Just send me some information”, try this response [with comments in brackets]:

“Yes, of course. [You can’t say “no”, because then you might look sneaky, evasive or even unprofessional!]  But I’ve run into this request a few times before, and it seems to always end with no interest. Quite frankly, I’m starting to think that there’s something I’m leaving out. Maybe you need to know more before you can agree to a meeting, or maybe it’s just not a fit for you right now. Either way, that’s ok. [Always always make it OK to say no –  unless you know how to squeeze people until money comes out 😉  ].

“But, would you help me to know if there’s one particular reason that you need additional information? Maybe [my product or service] is not a fit for you – but I’m interested in getting your opinion, so I don’t keep repeating a pattern that doesn’t seem to be productive. I’m sincerely interested in meeting with you, if for no other reason than to make my approach as professional and effective as possible. Would you be willing to give me 15 minutes of your time, and a little advice, so that I can understand what information is missing – and what you need – so that I can be more effective?”   (Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment…and get ready for a fastball from your prospect.  Summon your courage for what you hear in reply; it may not earn you commission, but you won’t get a sale until you find what’s missing.)

This approach changes the conversation: you are asking for advice, not for sponsorship. You must be sincere in this request (not a bait and switch, where you push them hard for $$), or it won’t work. And the prospect has to be willing to be really straight wtih you (not everyone is). It really does have to be OK for them to say no to the sale, because now you need info (not revenue, that comes after the learning). If an actual prospect can give you some advice, it would really help. With some clear feedback, you would know if “send me information” is sincere, or a smokescreen.

It’s also a good idea to call someone who did decide to buy in to your product or service, and ask them why. Then, use that information as a testimonial to explain to prospects what another customer saw as a key benefit. Step your prospects through that process – the one that ended with a sale – and explain how you would like to begin the same exploration with them.

The antidote for objections is always truth serum.  Get the issue out on the table, and see if the prospect can help you to find what’s missing.  Focus on the customer with a sincere curiosity, and it could give you just the clues you need to close that next opportunity.

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Sales Leaders’ GPS

June 2, 2010

A personal story:

As a young salesperson, I was in a training session at AT&T, getting bombarded with all sorts of “Latest & Greatest”  verbal kung-fu, cleverly disguised as sales strategy.  How was I going to remember all this stuff, in front of a customer?

Cerebral Iguana

My Brain at Work

My lizard brain was on overload!

I was concerned that I might not get everything out on the table, when I was with a prospect. What would I do if I forgot something?! I raised my hand and asked the sales manager, “there’s a lot of detail here…what happens if I leave something out?”  (Ever felt that way?)

He replied with one of the wisest things I have ever heard, and a piece of advice that I use to this day. Beyond the concepts and the process, you have to focus on the customer.

FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER AND YOU WILL NEVER LOSE YOUR WAY.

I keep this technique front of mind for myself personally, and for all who I have the opportunity to coach. Specifically, it means getting the attention off of yourself – you product, your process, and your “concepts” – and asking questions to make sure you are qualifying your prospect, meeting their needs, getting to their goals. At the same time, you will qualify your answers and create your own roadmap to the purchase decision. There’s no substitute for knowing your offer in detail, but knowing the customer trumps all else! By focusing on the customer, you will make sure that you find what you may have forgotten – and arrive at your destination (along with the order)!

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Thoughts on Prospecting

May 15, 2010

The most effective prospecting strategies are the ones that focus on creating a dialogue with the customer; that’s why Web 2.0 is so powerful. For me, the mark of powerful prospecting is when the customer says “Tell me more” – that’s the “opt-in” that you want. Clever prospecting takes the form of an invitation – where you are asked to join or participate with like-minded customers. You can imagine this concept with the old Amex slogan, “Membership has its privileges”…or just look at any social media site…for ideas. Doesn’t matter if you have a product or service; invite your customers – don’t “sell them”. Show how your service has solved problems for other like-minded individuals, demonstrate your value, and create the dialogue you want.

BTW: Who likes “being sold”? But we all want to go where the action is – where the deals are – where the products are useful and practical, etc.

The most effective prospecting strategies start with a story that is specific enough to be engaging, but broad enough that a contact replies (tweet, email. sign-up, or otherwise) with interest. Three magic words to look for:  “Tell me more…”.  That response let’s you know that the dialogue has begun, and Web 2.0 is all about the dialogue.  Where does yours begin?

A great way to engage is using referrals or recommendations, from similar customers, to attract a response. How have others benefited from your offer, and why do you think you could produce similar results, right now, for your next customer? Make your message specific and targeted, based on your current client engagements, and you will create the kind of interest (and prospecting) that leads to a sale.