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How to Develop Competitive Sales Skills

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Feb 9, 2017 4:22:00 PM

Developing competitive sales skills focuses on being prepared to perform under pressure, in any type of situation or environment.

Sales professionals who have competitive sales skills are the ones who think of sales in the same way professional athletes think of their jobs: with confidence about their own abilities and fear of their equally skilled competitors who may be better at using their abilities.

Confidence, born from focus, attention and ongoing skill development is the chief ingredient for success, no matter what industry you are in.

So, whether you’re training yourself, or your team, it can be challenging to determine specific areas of development that are important to focus on.

 That’s why, in addition to the insights shared by Steve Bookbinder in the video above, there are 4 important lessons that you must also focus on in order to gain a competitive advantage and own your success.

Approach big challenges differently than you do day-to-day challenges

Thinking about the future tends to cause our brains to minimize the obstacles we'll face and instead focus on desired outcomes. We look at goals differently based on whether they are a short-term or long-term goals. For instance, 3-months ago when you booked a trip home to see your family, you were focused on abstract ideas like “quality time with my family and friends” or “downtime.” But I would imagine when it came time to actually leave for your trip, you were more concerned about your immediate needs like: "what should I pack" or “how am I getting to the airport?” It is only when goals get closer and more immediate that people start to think about them more concretely. So, focus on making small, incremental lifestyle changes that may feel less glamorous, but will have a much greater chance of creating real change in your life.

Always be realistic about your starting point when facing a big challenge.

There is no advantage in exaggerating your abilities or skills; it’s more productive when you acknowledge areas in need of development and then set out to improve upon those areas in order to achieve your goals. Asking the right questions will help lead you down the right path. But that requires being honest with yourself, and not coming up with an unrealistic plan that you’re overwhelmed by, instead aim to take stop steps each day. And remember, play within your own abilities, and recognize constraints of your product, your company, and the marketplace.

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Focus on identifying everything that can go wrong, rather than blindly trusting optimism.

While it is good to remain positive and confident that you will prevail, that is not the fuel that will help you prepare fully and give you the confidence you will need to overcome your biggest fears. Fear makes most people stop. But we can use our fear and feeling of being uncomfortable to propel us forward. Consider holding yourself accountable by involving a friend, co-worker, or partner to hold your feet to the fire. When we have support as well as keep pushing ourselves forward by stepping out of our comfort-zone, those are times that test our abilities and help us grow and gain a better understanding of our own work styles.

Don’t stop until you reach your goal.

The competitive sales professional will stop at nothing. They are driven, focused, and persistent.

Whatever you’re selling, you’ve got competition. Somebody besides you is selling to your clients and customers on a regular basis.  Assume that it’s a zero sum game, which means that if someone is getting “more”, then someone else is getting “less.” While we can’t control all of the factors involved in making a sale, we can certainly take all the right steps to properly prepare.

In a competitive situation like a playoff game or a race, every player wants to win at the start of the game --- the consistent winner isn’t the person who wants it bad enough at the starting line; it’s the person who was willing to prepare on all of the days leading up to the big game day!

Conclusion

Competitive salespeople beat their competitors as well as their own best records from previous years by focusing on all four of these lessons.

To develop your skills as a sales professional, you must work towards understanding yourself and equally as important, you need to understand your competition.

The best competitive sellers are willing to do whatever it takes and they ask themselves:

  • What are my competitors doing that I should be doing? Or shouldn’t be doing?
  • How many prospecting calls will they make?
  • How will they prepare for their sales meetings? Oh and by the way, these are sales meeting that are with the same type of people you want to meet with.
  • How will they handle objections?
  • How will they answer the tough question: “how are you different from your competitors?” How will they make their offering sound compelling and ROI+?
  • What are they doing to prepare for a successful year that includes beating you at your game?

Unless you consider these questions — even if the answers scare you — you will not as likely prevail like a competitive salesperson. So gather your confidence, skills, and go out there and conquer the sales world!

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Topics: training, sales tips, sales training, goal setting, how to be your own coach, Investing in Sales Training, salespeople, high performing salespeople, sales tools, competitive selling, how to, confident, confidence

4 Steps to Take When Closing Your Next Deal

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Feb 2, 2017 6:30:00 PM

Closing a deal is the ultimate reward for all of the research, preparation, and follow up that goes into building new relationships and maintaining a high level of client satisfaction.

Every now and then, it’s important to remind yourself to go back to the basics of selling to ensure that you’re not simply closing a deal, but instead, opening a new relationship that has future growth potential.

So, when the time is right and you’re ready to close your next deal, remember these four tips: 

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(SLA) Service Level Agreement

SLA stands for Service Level Agreement; in other words this is the document that outlines the timing and delivery of the products and/or services you will provide. This is a critical point in the sale because this is where all expectations need to be set and understood by both sides.

When you close a deal, it’s not enough simply to get the sale. You want to be able to leverage the sale in the future. To do this, you need to confirm with the customer that he or she feels your level of service is superior and that you did more than simply meet the minimum requirement. So, when formulating your close, review what the minimum deal is and then determine what else you can add. Be sure that you have added in enough elements to your deal to get that agreement.  

TRY THIS:

Review a sale you are closing now or have just closed. Decide what you can add (product, service, conditions terms, etc.) to enhance the service level without increasing cost to you.

On-Boarding Process

Sales continue even after the close.  As the seller, you are the “face” of the sale to the customer. So, the customer will always look to you to explain and validate every step of the implementation even after the close. Therefore, meet with your internal team and carefully review who does what, when, why and how. Then, repeat the process with the customer explaining who on your team will be taking over the implementation on your side. Be sure to always point out the value of each person taking charge of the steps in the implementation. This builds rapport and helps pave the way for future sales.

TRY THIS:

Think of a current sale and review your on-boarding process for the account once you close the deal. Use a tool like the following to think through all the steps in on-boarding. This will help you be ready to both explain the process to the customer and to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Future Opportunities

A single sale for a single deal may have a finite point. However, the superior seller knows that each successful sale leads to another... and another…. You can leverage past success into future success by ensuring that the job you do with the first sale is not only adequate but superior, beyond expectations – in effect, stellar. This way, you develop equity within the account and draw upon that equity to pursue one successful sale after another.

TRY THIS:

Review a current or upcoming sale. Review the terms of the offering. Find something that will help the sale exceed expectations – something you or your company will do, a “deal sweetener,” etc…

Strategizing the Right Time to Ask for Additional Business

 A major goal of the consultative seller is to position him or herself as the “conduit” of a range of products and services that address multiple functions within the account. This process is called “evergreening.” To successfully evergreen an account, you have to be extremely observant to what you see and hear and what you can deduce to identify opportunities all the time. Then, when you spot an opportunity, you move on to that one if your present sale is going well. This way, the present sale “evergreens” into additional business.  Account selling is not linear.

TRY THIS:

Review all your active accounts. For each, think of additional opportunities and note how you think you can transition from your present deal to the future opportunity even before you close the first one. Use a tool like the one below for your analysis.

Conclusion

Before closing your next deal, take these four things into consideration and utilize them to your advantage by ensuring that you: set expecations up front, properly on-board new clients by clearly outlining how your product or service will be implemented, understand what a future opportunity might look like, and strategize the timing of asking your client for additional business.

How to ask for the deal without sounding too

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated.

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Topics: sales, training, tips, managing, manager, client, cold calling, building client relationships, strategy, deal, service level agreement, client on-boarding

3 Tips to Help Managers Coach Sellers More Effectively

Posted by Digital Media Training on Jan 13, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Managing a sales team can be challenging.

Sales managers are responsible for a range of diverse tasks, including managing a sales pipeline, coaching their team, forecasting, hiring new sales representatives, strategic planning, and sales administration.

Additionally, managers are held accountable for hitting sales quotas and responsible for a target list of accounts. Not to mention dealing with a variety of independent and strong willed salespeople who establish their own process with little to no daily contact with their managers.

With all of this in mind, we want to help make your job easier, so here are three things to focus your seller’s attention on:

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Tracking

Every year, salespeople are presented with new challenges. The challenge of selling in a more competitive marketplace, hitting a higher quota or goal, and all the while gaining more responsibilities.

As a manager, your job is to enable your seller’s success through coaching and support.

The first step is helping your sellers identify what metrics they should be tracking.

For example, each rep should know how many:

  • Open opportunities are in their pipeline
  • Closed opportunities (both won and lost)
  • Average deal size
  • Average sales cycle length

Once you’ve determined the key performance indicators important to you and your team, then you can create a dashboard that tracks and measures progress against these metrics.

Your dashboard can be as simple as using the CRM you already have in place, or creating a separate spreadsheet to track everything outside of the CRM. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s a platform your team can easily and consistently update.

When you have an understanding and baseline of your performance, it’s much easier to reverse engineer what it will take to hit your new quota or goals.

The First Conversation

The first meeting or the first conversation with a prospect is a crucial point in the sales process. It can either make or break the deal, which is why it’s vital to your sales team’s success.

You need to help your sellers strategize the first meeting in terms of:

  • Have you done your research? What do you know about the company/industry/person your meeting with?
  • What’s the goal of the meeting? (from their perspective and from ours)
  • What is this prospect trying to accomplish?
  • What do we need to learn? (Budget, timing, authority, etc.) What questions to ask?
  • Does our solution fit their needs?
  • What’s our next steps?

When you encourage your sellers to prepare for and consider in advance what the first meeting will look like, your reps will increase their confidence and ability to start the right conversation that leads to having a great first meeting.

Is it Worth It?

As a manager, you need to help your sellers prioritize their time and understand the difference between opportunities worth pursuing vs. dead end leads. To do this, analyze and refine your qualifying criteria.

Qualifying is one of the most important conversations a salesperson can have with their prospect. This is where you learn whether the prospect is a good fit for your solution and if it makes sense to move forward together, or go your separate ways.

HubSpot has put together this comprehensive guide that will take you step-by-step through the fundamentals of qualification, five different frameworks you can use, how disqualification works, and conversational tip-offs to listen for.

As you work with your salespeople, help them establish a measurement mindset in order to track their progress, emphasize the importance of the first meeting, and finally, work with your team to assess and refine your qualifying questions and criteria in order to maximize time spent with the right opportunities.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 
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Topics: sales, training, sales tips, managing, sales coaching

3 Ways to Polish Your Sales Performance with an End-of-the-Year Evaluation

Posted by Digital Media Training on Dec 29, 2016 2:45:00 PM

The end of a year can conjure up positive connotations of new goals and resolutions, but it can also trigger lots of deep introspection and regret.

In sales, if you’ve already hit your target or are about to - why should evaluating the past be necessary? If you know you’re going to miss the mark on this year, quarter, or month - why would you want to relive your failures?

While it might be easier to jump ahead and see the year coming to an end as a new start, it’s equally important to look back with a sharp eye on the last few months.

Taking objective inventory of how you got where you are today and how you’ll try to replicate, improve upon, or completely refocus in the future is critical to making the next year even better.

Pay close attention to these three things during your end-of-the-year evaluation to help polish and improve your sales performance next year.

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Your Numbers

Regardless of whether the revenue goal is on track or not, there are a multitude of numbers/metrics you should be taking into consideration when evaluating your performance.

We sometimes think that if we make a change it will be evident almost instantaneously in our numbers, but sales is like a new workout regimen or a healthy diet - it takes time to see results. It also takes time to see set-backs.

Try this:

Pick two months to analyze. The first should be your worst month and the second should be your best.

How many first appointments did you have in each month? How many outreach emails did you send? How many phone calls did you make? How many proposals did you submit?

Look at those numbers in the months at hand or two leading up to each one.

What differences are apparent? Do you see a certain trend in previous months that affected your worst and best month?

Based on these numbers, determine what you would need to change in your processes or strategy to improve them.

Your Sales Stories

Sometimes we focus too much on anecdotes from our own experience. These make rare exceptions seem like the rule and they can ultimately impair us in future situations, but they are extremely valuable.

All sales usually seem unique, but there are many patterns that can be discerned when looking at the bigger picture. Looking at the larger story of your interaction with a lead (whether they closed or not) can provide you with valuable insight into what you led to them closing or walking away.

Try this:

Identify two particular sales - one that you thought wasn’t going to happen, but did and one that you were sure was going to close, but didn’t.

Do they have anything in common? What differentiated them? Look for what was in your control, but also recognize what was out of your hands. What can you learn to do differently next time?

Keep in mind that some things will always be out of your control, but it’s always important to debrief to strategy how you can better handle the situation in the future if it were to arise again.

Your Feedback

How many customer service surveys have you avoided taking? How about those regarding your performance?

Feedback is extremely valuable in providing otherwise missed insights and providing a base for improvement.

It can be daunting getting feedback since it can sometimes be looked at like criticism, but knowing how others perceive your actions will help you have a more objective view of yourself.

Try this:

Ask for feedback from your clients, manager, and moving forward - your prospects.

For those who bought from you, ask them what in your actions or presentation helped them make their decision.

For those who said “no” to your offer - ask them for candid feedback.  Their decision might have to do with your offering or it might be personal. Either way, knowing what it was that lost you the business will give you power for the future. You’ll be able to switch up your pitch and adjust your approach for the next prospect.

When it comes to your manager, set up a 30-minute meeting to see what feedback and insight they can provide. If you bring the numbers you should have analyzed by now, this can guide the meeting and help you both set a plan for the upcoming quarter.

Key Takeaway

It’s not always pleasant looking at ourselves with a critical eye. However, towards the end of the year, it’s necessary to take inventory of how we did and learn for the future.

Analyzing your numbers, stories, and getting feedback are the best ways to quickly determine what will make a difference in the coming year.

Take Client Relationships to the Next Level - Start Here

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and has been updated.

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Topics: sales, sales coaching, sales performance review, sales performance, sales evaluation

What’s the Cost of NOT Training Your Salespeople?

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Dec 15, 2016 2:05:00 PM

Well, let’s just say it’s costing you a lot more by NOT training your sales team.

You’ve probably all seen the endless statistics and reports about employee disengagement, unemployment rates, and the seemingly unrectifiable skills gap. Maybe you yourself are feeling disengaged or seeing too much turnover and not enough qualified individuals to fill open positions.  

Well, if you or your company have been putting off professional development and training for far too long, then it’s time for a change. Because realizing the importance of educating, coaching, and training employees and then actually implementing effective programs is the only way to achieve long term company success.

So why does your company need sales training? Consider asking these questions:

  1. If we raise the seller’s goals, do we expect them to hit their goals without improving skills, strategies, or tactics?
  1. If we haven’t hit the goals that our competitors have reached, what does that say about our previous forms of training?
  1. If your company invested in training last year but didn’t achieve the intended results, did anyone reinforce that training or was the expectation that the effect of training would be like a tattoo on each seller’s brain?
  1. If last year’s skills are the best we can hope for, what will that cost us this year?

While some sellers and managers may view sales training as “optional” or as a “luxury,” that thinking is short sighted and unrealistic. Simply “checking the box” on training won’t cut it anymore. If it actually worked, then everyone would do it that way.

Professional football teams would take the week off before a big game and then just sort of warm up before each game. Actors and actresses on Broadway would meet a few weeks before the show so the director could hand them the script and say “obviously you’re a professional, so you know how to perform the script. No need for rehearsal, see you opening night…”

But this doesn’t happen. And there’s a reason professionals make a habit of practicing and fine-tuning their skills.

When people are training all the time, they develop a "muscle memory" and get really good at processing information.  They become accustomed to finding something that resonates and then they are able to apply it to their daily activities. But when people rarely attend training, their skills fade and they struggle process and apply the training information.

Benefits of Sales Coaching and Training

Okay, so now that we’ve covered a few key considerations and reasons why you should invest in sales training, let’s look at some of the benefits:

Improved Performance

Employee education and training is designed to give your people the proficiency and tools they need to learn new skills and refresh old ones. It’s key in every industry to stay on top of new trends, timesaving technologies, and how to stay competitive. Providing training will make sure the entire team is fully competent and can help you set clear expectations with regards to new goals. Whether the company’s output is struggling or already doing a stellar job, training will only help to increase its performance further and deliver a great return on investment.

Higher Engagement

It’s no secret that unhappy, disengaged, and uninspired employees can eventually become less productive. Ensuring employee happiness with appropriate benefits and perks is only one part of the formula. Keeping them truly engaged by cultivating their specific skills further, as well as, providing education in the areas where they aim to improve, will increase their interest in their work and new projects.

Higher Retention Rates

Re-engaging employees through training and further education will improve their overall job performance and satisfaction. They’ll be less likely to let their eyes wander for other career opportunities since they’ve increased their skill level and hopefully intend to conquer new challenges. Investing in your company’s employees helps to show them their value, potential expertise, and the company’s focus on maintaining a long-term relationship with them. Having higher retention rates will decrease the huge costs often involved in employee turnover. Making the small additional effort to train your current employees will save your company the headache of later trying to replace them.

Cohesive Onboarding

If your company has been expanding and adding to its staff then you’re probably already familiar with the difficult task of getting new members up to speed. If not done properly, you may later experience many unforeseen problems and confusion. Thinking ahead and providing onboarding training to your newest employees will help eliminate future turbulence due to unclear expectations and potentially unfamiliar methods. It will also convey the company’s desire to engage with and improve upon the skills new workers bring to the table.

Elimination of the Skills Gap

Some companies are having trouble finding the right people to fill open positions. Closing the skills gap is something that your company can do with training. Whether there’s a current employee who has shown incredible potential and just needs some more knowledge to transition into the open position, or a prospective hire that’s promising if it wasn’t for their minor lack in a certain area, why shouldn’t you just train them? It’s unrealistic to believe that if you’ve already been waiting for months, that if you just wait a little bit longer, the perfect, ideal, absolutely spectacular candidate will come along. That’s not to say you should lower your standards, but accepting that you will most likely have to teach anyone coming into the role a thing or two, why should you contribute to the growth of the skills gap if you could just rectify the situation and start training?

Reduction of Skill Fade

Do you remember everything you’ve ever learned? Of course not. Even the most dedicated and skilled employees will eventually start losing grasp of things they learned decades, years, months, weeks, or even days before. Having regular training sessions or better yet - ongoing training - will help reduce the previously inescapable skill fade-out phenomenon. Reinforcing previously learned material will ensure employees are always current with their knowledge and continue to increase their performance.

What it comes down to is that sales organizations must redefine what training and learning means to them. Success in sales means being prepared, nimble, and continuously developing the right skills that will have a positive impact on the entire business.

What is your company’s biggest excuse for not training their employees? Is it too expensive to train them? Or is it a bigger expense if you DON’T train them?

The 12 Days of Selling - Free DMTraining eBook Offer

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Topics: sales, tips, sales training, managing, digital media training

Why Typical Sales Reports Don’t Work & What Report to Use Instead

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Nov 17, 2016 4:40:00 PM

What’s the purpose of a sales activity report anyway?

Generally speaking, sales activity reports are meant to guide managers in tracking and understanding the productivity and progress of their sales team.

These reports enable managers to visualize how much time salespeople are spending on different sales activities, if they are meeting their productivity goals, and whether their efforts are translating into real sales.

But when your sales reps put together their report, are they really telling you an accurate story? If they are using a typical sales activity report, then don’t count on it and here’s why.

There are 3 reasons to avoid traditional activity reports and why you need to replace it with the 1 report that will truly paint a realistic sales picture.

sales activity report for managers

Motivation to Mislead

If I am a salesperson and I know that every week my boss is going to read my activity report, then I will end up writing a biased report for reasons that are intentional and unintentional.  Managers should consider this before asking their teams to submit activity reports. 

Intentional: Obviously, I would prefer that my boss concluded from my report that they should continue paying me and maybe even consider giving me a raise.  To the degree that I can persuade with a report, I will attempt to do so.  Often, I will use the quantity of activity as proof of how busy I am - and therefore doing my job!

Unintentional: If you believe that certain activities are valuable to your sales success (or you think your boss believes in those activities), then your weekly activity report to your boss will likely be biased by highlighting those activities.  Even if those activities can’t be linked to closing sales they will be described in a way that exaggerates their contribution to overall sales success.  Common activities like “following up” will be made to look like critical strategies instead of what it really is: calling people /sending emails to unengaged prospects who remained unengaged despite the activity of the salesperson.

Both forms of bias create a positive sounding but misleading picture of activity. And worse, all the activity is described as if happening in a vacuum; not influenced by current and forecasted sales. 

As a manager, I want to see my people choose activities that are specifically informed by the latest developments in their sales pipeline. 

Activity Reports Only Answer: Was There Activity? 

Even the most underperforming sales rep can usually boast of at least a little activity – usually exaggerating how long each “necessary” step took them to accomplish.  Most salespeople however, regardless of how badly they miss their goals, can make themselves very busy and their activity reports can mask real opportunities to improve. 

The activity report, which managers really want, is not an activity report at all. 

As a manager, I’m less concerned if my salespeople are busy and more concerned with making sure they are focused on the right sales coming in and delivering exceptional customer service. But what activities truly result in closing the right number of deals and maintaining customer satisfaction?

You could list every reasonable selling activity like prospecting, meeting preparation, customer service, you name it. The only activities managers really care about are the activities that will move the needle on sales for that week.

While understanding the gory details of various opportunities that didn’t progress through the sales process is important, that’s not the purpose of an activity report.

If your sellers are eager to give you a blow by blow account of their deals that didn’t close, then make sure you have that on your agenda for your next one-on-one coaching session. You can help each rep analyze their findings and then make recommendations for adjustments.

Activity Reports Glorify Activity

Glorifying activity just for the sake of it only confirms what underperforming reps think: as long as I show activity, I’m doing my job.

I beg to differ. While trying really hard is appreciated, it’s not effectively doing the job at hand. The job is selling, building relationships, adding value to the life of your buyer, and so much more.

As a manager, I’m interested in seeing the result of activity report. In other words, managers want to see what new sales are moving forward, are any existing clients up for renewal, and how much more will they be investing?

In fact, by looking at that report, I can more accurately determine what activities are necessary to optimize performance and scale results.

So, that brings us to the one report you need. But what would a “results-of-activity” report look like?

The Result-of-Activity Report

This reports identifies the activities that specifically contribute to sales in both the short term and long term. So, let’s take a look at the 4 kinds of activities that managers should want their salespeople to report on.

First Appointments

The first activity that managers should know about are First Appointments, that is:

  • New sales conversations with new leads
  • Restarted opportunities that were stalled
  • Existing account renewals
  • Account penetration sales

No matter how many types of activities a salesperson wants to describe in a conventional activity report, questions about first appointments get to the heart of the matter. And managers want to answer these questions:

  • How many new business conversations were scheduled?
  • How many were conducted?
  • Based on my (the sales rep’s) goals and YTD sales ratios, what is my target number of First Appointments?
  • Compared to last week, did I create more or fewer First Appointments?

As a manager, nothing makes me surer of future sales than First Appointments made this week. Why? Because First Appointments close at the end of your sales cycle. Therefore, if no First Appointments were conducted this week then we can’t forecast or expect to close any sales in the corresponding week at the end of the sales cycle.  

From a sales coaching and diagnostic stand point, do you know who needs more first appointments? Successful salespeople that just closed a deal as well as salespeople in a slump who need to make something happen. Only if a salesperson can continue to make First Appointments every week are they practicing effective time management principles. Because the definition of time management for salespeople is their ability to keep making first appointments even when they are busy.

Qualifying

The second activity that managers should know about is qualifying, and here’s what to consider:

  • What type of activity and how much effort went toward moving recent First Appointments forward and keeping them as viable prospects?
  • How many first sales conversations as well as ongoing sales conversations resulted in a scheduled next step?

These considerations reveal critical insight about a salesperson’s ability to engage, qualify, and strategize solutions with prospects.

The importance of activities within this category is the fact that some of these prospects will refill the other prospects that fall off or fall back. When you have a constant flow of leads, you can avoid the ups and downs of selling.

Questioning sellers about this category of activity will help managers identify if their reps are spending too much time, or too little time, working with prospects at this stage. Good things take time, so remember that time spent developing prospects is time well spent.

Expected Decisions

The third activity that managers should know about has to do with expected decisions.

The questions managers want salespeople to answer each week are:

  • How many total decisions are we now expecting?
  • What was the number of decisions expected last week? Has that number changed?
  • Are we waiting for the same decisions that we were waiting for last week?

As a manager, you need to know how many prospects have advanced to the decision point where we now know we can expect a yes or no decision within the next one to eight weeks. This will depends on your normal sales cycle and could be more or less than eight weeks.

Getting to this point in the sales cycle can be challenging. If sales reps are having trouble reaching this stage, then perhaps it’s time to rethink and reframe their activity. It can be as simple as making sure they are aligned with your qualifying criteria and how to identify the right decision maker, or it might take a more in-depth assessment of their selling skills and techniques.

Changes: Last Week vs. This Week

The fourth activity that salespeople should report on may be the only one a busy manager really needs to understand: What has changed since last week?

Managers want to know:

  • How many closes (contracts) are expected in the next 1-8 weeks?
  • What was that number last week? Has the number changed?
  • Are we waiting for the same number of contracts from the same prospects?

Every contract is either closer or further from closing or aging out. Either way, these pending opportunities need to be replaced before we lose them. We either lose a prospect because the deal closes, or because they don’t move forward with the deal.

For this reason, salespeople need to re-evaluate their list of prospects every week with an eye toward replacing those that are aging out with newly developed deals from this week’s activities.

Conclusion

The goal in sales is to produce. Since sales come from prospects, the real goal becomes building a path to the goal with the right prospects.  It’s this path and not the underlying activity that matters most to managers.  They know the longer a sale or prospect goes beyond the normal sales cycle, then the less likely they are to advance to the next sales stage. The best reports help the manager quickly determine how they can help their salespeople build a stronger path.

Traditional activity reports are like a good novel: entertaining reading about something the author just made up. So I encourage you to start getting real and keep track of the four key activities mentioned above to truly understand the performance of your sales team and how to help them improve.

The Manager's Guide to Increasing Sales through Existing Customers

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Topics: sales manager, sales activity, sales reports, sales performance

4 Ways to Create Urgency in the Sales Cycle

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Nov 11, 2016 7:38:24 AM

As a professional salesperson, a common challenge is creating a sense of urgency with your prospects and customers.

Creating a sense of urgency without appearing aggressive or pushy is a learned skill based on conducting good discovery, understanding the needs of the prospect, and asking the right questions of the right people in the sales process.

Basically, it comes down to “training” our prospects to understand that if we plan to work together, then we must have a shared sense of accountability.

Some salespeople might resist the notion of creating urgency by saying it’s too difficult to “train” a prospect to think this way, but the truth is, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re selling. In order to create a mutually beneficial business relationship, you must set expectations at the beginning of the relationship.

We’ve identified 4 simple ways you can start building urgency and accountability into every interaction with a prospect or customer.

Creating urgency in the sales cycle

Guide Your Prospects

Your prospects can’t benefit from your product without acknowledging that they need it — so get them to see the big picture with open-ended questions that demonstrate where their needs are and how you can help solve them.

The challenge for a lot of people is putting a name to what they need. They know their challenges and objections, but they are not at the point where they are able to identify how they should go about solving their issues.

That’s where you, the sales rep, comes in. When you can help your target prospect recognize their needs, you will create urgency and increase the likelihood that they’ll take action.

And remember, your actions will affect how your prospect takes action. So make sure you “train” them to understand that time is crucial in the sales process, and if you see a sale lingering, then you must win some commitment for action like a scheduled next step meeting. Or, if you’re unable to get something set on their calendars, then you must decide whether the sale is really worth it, and if it’s not then you need to determine if it’s time to move on to a more qualified or ready opportunity.

 

Understand the Decision Making Process

Stop asking “Are you in charge of this decision?” Instead, go below the surface level of the conversation and try to ask questions that will lead you to understanding exactly how the decision making process works when considering an investment in your product or service. It’s also important to understand who is involved in the decision making process and what criteria they are specifically looking to fill.

If you can understand how they’ve made a decision about a similar product or service in the past, then odds are that the decision about your product or service will be made in essentially the same way.

So, if you learn that past decisions have always been made by a committee, then try to find a way to make your presentation directly to that committee so you can ensure you deliver the same information to the entire group. And if you find out the individual you're talking to has no idea how the decision was made last time, you are talking to the wrong person and should find a more appropriate person to guide you.

 

Listen More, Sell Less

Establishing trust and rapport with a new prospect or client takes time. It requires proactive communication, delivering valuable information, and most importantly, active listening.

Selling effectively means listening more than you speak.

The less you pitch your product or service, the more you’ll command the attention of your prospects by leading a two-way conversation. Of course, you will ultimately be trying to demonstrate your value, but the key to a successful conversation is simply lending an ear. Making the conversation primarily about them, as opposed to what you’re selling, will keep your prospect engaged — and you may be surprised at the urgency you can create by allowing your prospect to come to their own conclusions, as opposed to overwhelming them with sales speak.

 

Communicate Value

When you communicate value, you’re offering beneficial information that informs your prospects’ decisions and helps them in their daily role. Providing a piece of actionable information will be welcomed and helps you maintain communication while building rapport in the process.

Approaching your communication in this way will help you gradually build urgency for those prospects and customers not quite ready to make a decision yet. You worked hard to plant the seed with your prospect, now make sure it grows. Providing value with persistence is what leads to sales wins.

Do this by consistently keeping your prospects engaged with thoughtful and personalized notes, updates, relevant articles, case studies, eBooks and referrals. It only takes a few minutes of your time, and becoming a valuable resource while staying on their radar will keep your offerings a point of focus.

Try incorporating these simple steps into your everyday sales process, and you will not only create a stronger sense of urgency among your prospects, but help build the right expectations and level or reassurance that will ultimately make the buying journey a success for everyone involved.

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Topics: sales, key sales questions, communication, sales cycle

Why Existing Customers are the Key to Increased Sales

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Nov 2, 2016 2:02:02 PM

Anyone who works in sales can appreciate how difficult it is to secure a new client.

If you think of acquiring a new customer in terms of the effort it takes to build new relationships with new people, prove your capabilities, establish credibility for yourself and your company as well as negotiate new agreements, then you can understand why your existing customers are your biggest assets.

When working with existing customers, the barriers of developing new relationships and proving the ROI of your product or service won’t necessarily apply since you’ve already established trust and have a direct connection with the client.

Prospecting within your current customer base offers many advantages and you can start maximizing your relationships with these 4 tips:Building relationships within exisiting accounts

Mapping the Account

There are usually very strong synergies between the needs of different departments and/or divisions within the same company. However, accessing them does not always come easily.

You have to research the structure of the organization and ask yourself: Is it silo’ed? De-centralized? Centralized? Run autocratically?

How do you figure this out? Well, this calls for a little investigative work. Consider using your current contacts within the company as well as getting help from other outside vendors and allies to piece together a map of the company’s structure.

You may have an organizational chart, which will give you a good starting point, but a company’s structure more often than not resembles a maze. You must figure out how everything is linked together so that you can eventually leverage the success you’ve had in one department or division and apply it to other parts of the organization.

Try this: Start mapping the structure of your major accounts. You can get started by creating a simple spreadsheet with column headers such as: Name of the department/division you’re targeting, how you know if they have budget authority, and how the department/division is connected to the part of the company where you currently have credibility and presence. Your goal is to learn as much as you can about the decision making process and what players are involved. This way, you can more easily penetrate the other divisions. 

Visualize the Sale

When you have a presence within an account, you are no longer starting from scratch. You can leverage your contacts and your company’s history to generate and accelerate new sales.

Now that you have mapped the account and have a better understanding of the structure, you can be more effective in scoping out sales possibilities by using your contacts and insights to look at each department/division in order to interact with key players to determine (1) if a sale is on the horizon, (2) if it matches your capabilities and strengths, and (3) how you would approach the sale if doing so differently from your previous sale(s) makes sense.

So, look for opportunities, but be ready to adjust your sales strategy based on a firm analysis of what would make the best selling proposition to the new contact.

Try this: Based on your experience within the account, visualize what solutions could apply to the other parts of the organization. For each different department or division, note what you think you might sell, how it aligns with the customer’s needs/situation, and any competitive threat. Once you’ve identified these things, consider how you would uniquely position yourself against the competition.

Go To the Top

When making an initial sale, you usually try to find the most logical person to whom your value proposition makes the most sense and to whom you have the easiest access.

However, once you are within an account, the conditions change.

Rather than starting all over again, calling at a lower level, you now go to the highest level of customer contact who would benefit most from your value proposition and who is in a position to approve your sale and accelerate the sales cycle.

When you do this, you capitalize on your past success and leverage it to gain better traction. The more adept you become at this, the greater your ability will be to sell within the account. But, the starting point is identifying these “top players” and determining their roles in a sale.

Try this: Review everything you know about the account. Then, note who the person at the top would be for your sale, their role in decision-making, and who you can work with (an existing contact) to gain access to the top player.

What will the Sale Be Worth?

Once you go through all the analytical and planning techniques covered above, you should be in a position to make an informed decision about which sale to pursue and with whom. When doing this, follow four criteria: (1)The highest revenue, (2) the greatest profit, (3) the lowest cost of sale (including resource, financial outlays, effort and time), (4) and the sale that best strengthens your overall position in the account.

Try this: Review your potential sales and select the one that best meets the four criteria above.

Remember...

Selling doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. You can increase revenue and sales momentum by staying focused on cultivating current accounts and relationships. Don’t make selling any harder than it has to be, just remember to utilize the assets right in front of you by mapping each of your accounts, visualizing the next sale to the next department/division, identifing the top players and proper decision makers, and finally, consider what the sale is worth in terms of relationship currency, resources, time, and profit.
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Topics: sales prospecting, sales manager, account manager, Penetrating existing customers

Rouse Your Silent Prospects: How to Craft Emails and Voicemails that Get Responses

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Oct 20, 2016 8:05:00 AM

Getting a prospect on the phone or receiving a reply to an email is a common challenge among salespeople. However, it doesn’t have to be.

There is a golden rule for getting a response from a silent prospect: if you want a response, ask a question the prospect can answer.

While this concept may seem elementary, there is an art to crafting emails and voicemails that will elicit a response from a qualified prospect.

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Getting a Response to an Initial Call

If you are trying to set up an initial meeting with the prospect you are calling on, call and email the person. The effect of combining approaches will make your message bit more memorable, and easy to respond to based on individual preference. Some people may prefer email over voicemail and vise versa.

The key is to use the same wording for both messages and send them at the same time. Both the voicemail and email should include your name, phone number, company name, reason you are calling, and your phone number again.

The reason statement should be the shortest possible abbreviation of your lead source.

For example, if you received a referral from Roger Smith, your reason statement should be something like “regarding Roger Smith.” If you acquired the lead from a trade show, the reason statement would be “regarding the trade show.” If you met someone through a networking event, perhaps your reason would be “regarding our meeting last week.”

Shortening the message to a single word seems to work best, according to feedback from participants in my training classes who have tracked their conversion rates.

Another example would be if you are selling your product or service to insurance companies, you might leave a message for Insurance Company A that say “regarding Insurance Company B.” When they call back, and they will, you finish your thought by saying “we’ve done a lot of work with insurance companies like Company B and I thought we should get together to discuss.”

Avoid using emails as an opportunity to type your entire sales pitch or provide your manifesto to strangers. Instead, emails should read like reminder notes you leave for your spouse or roommate. So, the business version of “please don’t forget to pick up milk” might be something like “just confirming our appointment for Tuesday at 2pm.” You may even considering leaving out their name and all niceties such as “hope all is well.”

Just get to the point. Your busy, mobile-reading recipient will appreciate this more since they already have another 99+ emails waiting for them.

Asking Questions Prospects Can Answer

To avoid the brick-wall treatment, there are several steps you can take before you pick up the phone or start writing an email. The first is deciding if the prospect is qualified. If they are able and ready to by now and interested in you and your business solution, then they are qualified.

How do you know how interested they are? Before each meeting ends, see if they will schedule another meeting. If they don’t schedule another conversation within the next three weeks, they are not qualified.

They may be somewhat interested, but interested people don’t buy; people who are looking to address a need and are fascinated and reassured with how your solution can solve their problem are the ones who buy. And that kind of person will want to speak to you again soon if they are seriously considering buying in the near future.

By asking for and scheduling a mutually agreed upon next step appointment, you will eliminate the need to leave a message and you reduce the possibility of being stuck waiting for a call back.

If you have scheduled a follow-up meeting, but you’re still getting the silent treatment, then another factor may be at work that’s out of your control. The prospect may not be ready to buy. Or maybe their review process is taking longer than they expected and now they’re embarrassed it has taken so long to get back to you.

For example, there’s a good chance they had to check with five other people to get a better handle on their budget, resources, and priorities before they can move forward with the sale. It’s also possible they couldn’t reach their internal stakeholders as soon as they anticipated.

What’s that mean? It means you’re not being helpful by leaving a message that basically says: “Hey, just following up. I was wondering if you’ve finished thinking about my solution and if you’ve decided to buy yet?”

Chances are your contact won’t find that particularly useful. Instead, try asking a question that is easy to answer and take a more assumptive approach. Assume your prospect will buy and ask about the step after the next step.

For instance, after you deliver a proposal, wait a week and call to ask about the timing of delivery or implementation. You might say something like: “When would you anticipate launching the product or service?” They have not yet committed to the sale, but they can answer your question. And then when you speak with them next, their answer will help you determine where they are in the buying process. They may even outright tell you where they think they are in the process.

Key Takeaways

  • Short trumps long, for both emails and voicemails.
  • Make it easy to respond. Emails are easier to respond to.
  • Regardless of using voicemail or email, try to pique someone’s interest and curiosity by introducing something new and valuable to encourage a response.
  • Don’t paint prospects into a corner; if they are not ready to buy, don’t expect them to announce a decision just because you called today.
  • Always avoid the pointless, “just following up on the proposal I sent” messages. Instead, focus on simple, easy call-to-actions.
  • Be careful not to overstep boundaries. Asking a prospect you barely know to introduce you to their trusted associate or boss may be too big of a deal. If they don’t answer your request, back up a bit and ask something much smaller and easier for them to take action on.
  • The more they see you as a valuable resource and ally, the more likely they will respond to your emails and voicemails. Understand who you are talking to and what they are interested in so that you can position yourself and your messages accordingly.

So, the next time you’re having trouble getting in touch with a prospect, remember one of the golden rules for getting a response: ask a question the prospect can easily answer and/or share something useful that would provide value.

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Topics: silent prospects, sales questions, sales voicemails, sales emails

4 Sales Strategies to Help Managers Help their Sellers

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Oct 13, 2016 4:51:48 PM

Being a sales manager requires managing a lot of moving parts. When you manage, your role is to strategize, support, and sell the vision to your team. Every now and then, you need to take a step back and reassess where your sellers are focusing their time and effort.

Here are 4 best practice sales strategies for managers looking for ideas and strategies to implement with your team.

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Stories

BEST PRACTICE:  One of the most effective ways to ensure that you are using your questioning skills to uncover complete stories is to keep in mind the total context of a story – beginning, middle, and end. When asking questions, don’t just focus on the here and now. Look into the past, into the beginning, and trace how the story developed from the initial point of contact through today and, potentially, where it might go tomorrow. This will give you a firmer grasp on the logic and history of a customer’s decision. As a manager, it is important to encourage your sellers to question the entire context of a story.

TRY THIS: Think of several accounts that you think have not been explored as effectively as possible by your sellers. Note what questions you wish they had asked.

Patterns

BEST PRACTICESellers’ bad habits are the bane of the manager’s life. The reason those habits form is that sellers always find themselves in the same situations. So, they develop ways to deal with these situations and, over time, start applying these techniques to all situations, regardless of the specifics of each one. This means they stop thinking creatively and stop challenging themselves to do “something different” and become satisfied with the routine reaction so they can move on to the next sale. As a manager, your task is to look at the patterns of each seller and find ways to challenge them to think and act differently.

TRY THIS: Review your sellers and identify those who are in a pattern of passively waiting for a decision and who do nothing to accelerate the close. For each, note the questions you would have them ask to more actively get decisions.

You Make the Call

BEST PRACTICE:  Active involvement in accounts is a critical activity for the manager for several reasons:

  • It enables you (and the company) to “own” the account.
  • It establishes a pipeline for the customer to get back to you to discuss issues and concerns that the customer does not want to discuss with the seller.
  • It helps you monitor and assess likelihood of closure.

TRY THIS: Think of critical accounts where you think you should be more involved in the sales/relationship-building efforts. For each, note ways that you think would work when you make a relationship/thank you call post sale. Then, think of other accounts where you think the seller would benefit by your involvement. For these, note what topic you would introduce on a call you place with the seller’s agreement.

Age Bias

BEST PRACTICE:  An effective manager will periodically review all unclosed accounts in the sellers’ pipeline and determine which ones have been unclosed for the longest time. The effective manager will periodically update the metrics on what constitutes the normal length of time to gain closure on specific types of sales and will use these metrics to measure which sales are trending towards too much time. Using these metrics and activities, the manager can make critical decisions on either coaching the seller to improve closing performance or to move away from particular sales and move on to something more promising.

TRY THIS: Review the accounts in your pipeline against historical accounts that have closed. Determine the normal length of time it takes to close a sale. Then, apply this metric against all existing unclosed sales and see which accounts are trending too long.

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Topics: sales strategies, sales manager, prospect management, pipeline management, steve bookbinder