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Category : Sales

The single biggest objection your customer has…and how to overcome it.

In our work, we don’t notice risk—the risks involved in buying our product, using it, relying on it, and so forth—because we’re so close to it. We know what we do and sell, and the (hopefully low) likelihood of something going wrong.

But to a customer, especially a new customer, risk is front and center:

  • What if making a change is worse than not making a change?
  • What if it doesn’t work as advertised (or at all)?
  • What if you can’t deliver on time (or at all)?
  • What if you go out of business?
  • What if you discontinue this product or service?
  • What if we can’t recoup the costs of investing with you?
  • What if my costs go up?
  • What if something goes so wrong with your product or service that I lose my job?

When you first introduce your products and services to new prospects, never forget that you’re introducing risk at the same time. Even a similar product means a change, and people generally don’t like change—even when it’s ultimately for the better.

What’s the best way to mitigate this risk in your customers’ minds? There are several strategies you should consider:

  • Admit that your product or service is not for everyone, while defining who your product or service is Honesty is rare, refreshing, and reassuring.
  • Don’t say things like, “What do I have to do to earn your business?” This reeks of desperation and turns most people off. We salespeople know that sales don’t close all by themselves, but no one likes feeling sold to.
  • Develop a list of frequently asked questions and answers and go through them before you’re asked. Encourage prospective customers to ask all the questions they want.
  • Offer a strong guarantee. (This reverses the risk so that it’s on you, not on your customer.)
  • Prove your case using data, customer testimonials, and repeat business.
  • Offer a small trial size. Consumer marketers have been doing this successfully for 100+ years.
  • Spell out your process so the customer knows what to expect at every stage.
  • Tell the customer he or she can say no at any time, with no hard feelings—and mean it.

All successful salespeople are actually in the business of professional reassurance. When you encounter resistance in the selling process, you can be sure that fear is at the root of it. In selling your product or service, your real job—the one that determines whether you succeed or fail—is to allay your prospect’s fears.

The single most important part of selling (that you’re probably overlooking)

You’ve probably heard—and followed—a lot of sales advice over the years. And you’ve probably learned, maybe the hard way, that some of it is better than others.

But there’s one important component to selling that’s frequently overlooked entirely. It may even be the single most important part of a successful sales process. And it all boils down to one word.

Trust.

If a customer doesn’t trust you (and, in turn, the product or service you’re selling), he or she won’t buy it. It’s just that simple. Similarly, even after a sale, if trust is broken and never re-established, you have lost that customer forever.

What does this mean, exactly?

Have you ever sat through a pitch or presentation where a speaker from your company is describing one of your company’s products in a way that makes it sound just about perfect? You know the product has faults and problems, but there is no mention of these. You almost start to think, “Gee, I don’t recognize that product; I wonder which company makes it?”

If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is. And customers know this, even if they don’t tell you in so many words that they think you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. They just won’t buy from you.

So, am I saying you should tell the customer that your product is not perfect, and the reasons why? That maybe it’s not right for them at all? That you should go so far as to actively discourage the sale in some cases?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Hear me out: Customers already know that your product isn’t perfect (because nothing is), and that it’s not for everyone (because nothing is). Why pretend otherwise?

Tell the customer up front who the product is and is not for. What problems it solves and/or results it can deliver—and what it can’t do. You’ll instantly establish credibility because few if any of your competitors will be this straightforward.

Ironically, when you’re open about what something can’t do, people are far more likely to believe your statements about what it can do. And that’s how you build trust and credibility.

When a customer asks you in an initial conversation why they should buy your product, here’s how I suggest you answer:

“I’m not sure you should. We don’t know enough yet about your business to say that our product is the best for you. In fact, if you’re looking for the lowest price or basic specs, we’re almost certainly not right for you. That’s what we’re here to find out. Having said that, we’re very good at solving etch uniformity problems [you can prove this, right?], and our cost of ownership is generally the lowest. Knowing that, how would you like to proceed?”

In almost every case, the customer will want to proceed, which means you can now have a real conversation like you’re real people working together. A true partnership, in other words, instead of a warily adversarial, possibly one-time transaction.

And even if they don’t want to proceed right now, they will always remember that you treated them with respect and candor. Which means that if they ever do need the sort of thing you provide, who do you think they’ll call first?

Transparent honesty is so rare in today’s world that it’s like gold. Once you establish a real baseline of trust with your customer, and demonstrate that you can help solve their problems, they will be in your corner for life.

And you can bank on that.

The Medium Is Not the Message

Marshall McLuhan coined the term “the medium is the message” in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

While McLuhan was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, too many high-tech marketers seem to have taken his statement as gospel.

There is a widespread focus on how many Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn messages, and so forth are being generated, and how many “hits” or “likes” these dispatches get.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with using these media to get your message out, there is a whole lot wrong with spending valuable time generating busywork and noise rather than actual sales.

If you don’t know your actual social media ROI—how many dollars you’re earning per dollar of spend—you’re just spinning your wheels.

Rather than being just another commoditized voice trying to scream over the roar of everyone else on social media, spend some time crafting a better message:

  • Why should customers buy from you?
  • What problems (preferably big, expensive problems) do you solve?
  • What results will customers get from you that they can’t get from your competitors?
  • What proof do you offer in support of your claims?
  • How do you reduce—or eliminate—customers’ risk when they buy from you?
  • What kind of ROI can your customers expect?

Having a clear, compelling message is especially important given that the high-tech audience you’re trying to reach is well-educated, sophisticated, and skeptical. They don’t want hype. They want results.

Whether you’re speaking with a customer technologist who will use your product, or a customer executive who will sign the purchase order for it, you need a clear, differentiated message that gets attention, creates curiosity, and starts a conversation that leads to a sale.

The bottom line? Spend more time and energy on figuring out why customers should buy your products and pay your prices. If you run that message consistently through your marketing and social media posts, your voice will carry above the crowd—regardless of the medium.

Dos and Don’ts for Effective Sales Training

Even the most interesting and relevant sales training material can fall flat if it’s not delivered well. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep your employees engaged, attentive, and learning:

DO

  • Know what you’re talking about. One of the best ways to prepare is to write a one-page summary, as if you’re writing an advertisement. The one-page limit forces you to prioritize what you’re going to say, be concise, and organize your most important points in a logical order—and envisioning it as an ad discourages you from being boring.
  • Get organized. Lay out your presentation on index cards (real or virtual), then arrange them by priority with the most important information up front.
  • Introduce yourself and briefly describe what you’re going to talk about, and why the audience should care. Always be thinking of your training from the audience’s perspective—what’s in it for them?
  • Start a fire. Get their attention by saying something counterintuitive or unconventional. Here are some examples:
    • “A 1% price increase can equal a 10% increase in net profit. Here’s how.”
    • “Cheap people don’t make good value sellers. Here’s why.”
    • “Professional buyers are amateur actors. Here’s the evidence.”
  • Talk about the most important stuff first. That way, if your presentation is interrupted before you’re finished—or if attention eventually flags, as can happen with even the best presentations—you’ve gotten your key points in.
  • Talk about no more than six subjects every hour. This recommendation is based on new research from the University of Washington. If you’re talking about a product, for example, you could divide the talk into the following six subjects:
    • The reasons why you developed the product
    • The unique advantages the product delivers to customers
    • The customers who are most likely to need the product, and why
    • The price you’re asking and why that price makes sense, relative to the results customers get in return
    • Any problems with the product and why it might not be the best solution for certain customers (see below)
    • Examples of customers who have purchased the product and how well it’s performing for them
  • Talk about fewer, but better, ideas.
  • Talk to the audience, not to the slide.
  • Talk about your flaws and problems openly and honestly. I’ve attended some sales training events where the trainer tries to give the impression that the product is perfect, only to find out later that the product is so flawed that no one buys it. We all know that no product is right for all customers (except perhaps a life preserver on a sinking ship), and salespeople get suspicious when some marketing windbag drones on and on about how perfect a product is. Talk openly about problems, and you’ll build credibility.
  • Break it up. In terms of scheduling, I suggest three to four 90-minute sessions per day with 30-minute breaks in between. The world doesn’t stop for salespeople in training. They need time to do their work and respond to customers, so don’t make your training an 8 AM to 9 PM forced march. If you do, people will tune out (or simply leave).
  • Ask for feedback and answer questions truthfully. Remember—you’re all on the same team, so give people the information they need to do their jobs well.

DON’T

  • Pack slides with dense text. Stick to just one main idea per slide. Dense text practically forces eyes to glaze over and attention to wander.
  • Say “I only have a couple more slides” when your time is up. Plan and practice your presentation to ensure you can complete it easily within the allotted time, with a few minutes left over for questions.
  • Get too technical. Nobody wants to hear you droning on about your new “hex-head screw” or something similar. Focus on big ideas and concepts.
  • Name-drop anecdotal quotes or information. The fact that one customer recently told you that your product was interesting is light years away from having multiple customers actually buying the product at a profitable price.

Sales training is often considered an afterthought, or a “should” to complete before you turn your new salespeople loose. Don’t make this mistake, which is maybe the biggest “don’t” of all. Good training pays for itself many times over in job satisfaction, retention, effectiveness and—let’s not forget—more sales. Put some time and effort into doing it well.

15 Revealing Sales Interview Questions

As hiring managers, we conduct interviews for two basic reasons:

  • To determine if a candidate can deliver the results we need, provide new ideas and better ways of doing things, fit in with our organization’s culture and people, and potentially be promoted in the future.
  • To share information with the candidate that enables the person to make an informed decision about whether or not to join our company, should an offer be extended.

I firmly believe that a lot of employee underperformance and turnover could be prevented by better interviewing. Too often, the wrong people come aboard because the interviewer has both failed to ask the right questions and failed to share relevant information that could discourage candidates from joining the company. Today, we’ll look at the first part of the equation.

Almost every interviewer will ask questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And almost every candidate will have well-rehearsed answers to these questions—which means you’re not gathering any valuable information.

As an interviewer, you need to find out if the person you’re interviewing is really any good, or merely the beneficiary of a strong company, market, or product. You need to know how the candidate thinks, what the candidate does, and the underlying rationale behind his or her actions.

The following questions should help you obtain that information:

  1. How do you sell? Specifically, what do you say and do when customers call you for a quote or proposal, or you target and engage with customers who aren’t familiar with your company or products? Give me some examples.
  2. What is unique about the products and services you’ve marketed and sold? Why do customers buy them? How are they unique relative to what your competitors offer? Is there is a “good enough” product or process already in place for most of your customers? If so, how do you get customers to change and adopt your products?
  3. How do you choose which customers to target and engage with in the first place? What criteria do you use? How would you rank those criteria? Give me some examples of how you’ve done this.
  4. What problems do you have when selling? What stops you from selling more products faster? Rank the problems you have, and explain why you ranked them that way. Give examples and tell me about the results you achieved.
  5. How do you ensure that the revenue you’re responsible for delivering is profitable? How profitable are your customers in terms of gross margin? How do you measure profitability? What other costs do you and your company incur in selling to your customers? Give examples.
  6. Regarding selling, what have you changed your mind about during the last year or so, and why did you change it? What do you feel strongly about and why? What ideas do you have for improving results in your field? Have you implemented any of them, and if so, how did you do it and what were the results?
  7. What do you do on a regular basis to improve your skills and performance? Who and what do you read and listen to?
  8. How do you sell services? Please describe the steps involved. What do you say to prospects to get their attention regarding your services?
  9. What risks do customers perceive in buying your products or from your company? How do you address those risks with them?
  10. What return on investment can a typical customer expect from your products, and how is that ROI better than what your competitors offer?
  11. When and how do you talk about price with customers? How do you defend your prices when customers tell you your prices are too high?
  12. How do you add value to your organization? Relative to what you’re paid, how much money does your employer earn in return and where does that money/return come from?
  13. How do you spend your time in a typical week? How much time do you spend selling and supporting customers vs. internal company activities? How do balance your time between servicing your existing customers and pursuing new ones?
  14. How do you help and support other salespeople in your company? What questions do they come to you with, and how do you answer those questions? Give me an example.
  15. What do you measure your performance relative to? How have you outperformed “the market”? In other words, have you grown your business/territory faster than your industry and competitors have grown? If so, by how much?

Next time, I’ll give you my thoughts on the information you should share with candidates—and how you should share that information.

Building a Successful Sales Team: The Three Sales Roles

Once you’ve decided what you want your sales team to accomplish, the next step is to build your team. In order to do this, you need to determine what sales roles need to be filled to meet your objectives.

To my mind, sales roles fall into one of three general categories: Creating, Building and Maintaining:

Creating is about generating business from scratch and/or capturing business where very little exists. This is the hardest job in sales—it requires the creativity of an artist, the passion of an evangelist, and nerves of steel. It’s even harder when your product is new or unknown to customers. And it’s not for the faint of heart because creators typically function on their own, sometimes with very little assistance from their employers.

Building is about account development—taking an existing but underserved customer and growing that business. This role requires a high degree of sales ability coupled with strong project management skills. As you may have already discovered, these skills don’t often coexist in the same person!

Maintaining is just what it sounds like—keeping existing business and market share. This role is all about sustaining customer satisfaction and playing defense in the sense of fending off challengers.

Confusing or ignoring these roles is a common mistake, as is slotting a strong salesperson into the wrong role. I’ve seen previously successful creators struggle in maintainer roles, for example. And putting an experienced maintainer into a creator role nearly always ends in failure.

Additionally, even if you get the right person in the right role, it’s a common mistake to assume that previous success in sales ensures future success, especially when you introduce changes to products, pricing, or customers.

Success in sales is highly situation-specific. While previous success can certainly be a proxy for future success, careful interviewing is vital to ensure the new fit you’re considering is a good one in all important aspects.

Are you a good interviewer? Stay turned for my next installment, when I’ll explain how to ask the right questions to ensure you get the right people in the right roles.

Keys To Designing an Effective Sales Organization

Before you can recruit your sales team, set their objectives, and manage their performance, you’ve got to design the right sales organization for what you’re trying to accomplish—keeping in mind your products, company, customers, and resources.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the right objectives for us given our current competitors, customers, people, products, and other resources and challenges (such as compensation, training, travel, etc.)?
  • Why are these the right objectives?
  • What objectives could we achieve with additional investments in people, products, and training?
  • How much additional investment would it require, and when, to achieve slightly better objectives? What about much better objectives?
  • What is the ROI on those additional investments, and how and when would that ROI be realized?
  • Going forward, how much of our business will come from current customers/products, and how much will come from new customers/products?
  • Is it reasonable to expect that our current customers will buy more from us? Why? If so, how much? What will we do if they don’t?
  • Are our products and services well-known and accepted (easy to sell), or are we trying to create demand from scratch (harder to sell)?
  • Do our products solve expensive, widely known customer problems (easy to sell), or do they create a “better future” for customers who claim they don’t have any problems to solve (harder to sell)?
  • How well do the customers we’re targeting know our company, products, and capabilities?
  • Who or what is our main competition? Is it an entrenched competitor, or a well-known process that customers are not interested in changing? Either of these situations may be more difficult to overcome than you think.

These questions are not complicated, but many managers never ask them. This is a huge mistake.

Think of your sales process like an Olympic sport such as diving or gymnastics; there is an inherent degree of difficulty to what you’re trying to do with your sales process. More difficult maneuvers can garner you more points—and, ultimately, more glory—but they are more taxing and time-consuming to hire, train and manage for.

Whether you go easy or go hard is up to you, and there are merits to both approaches, but you need to know at the outset which path you’re on so that you can navigate it correctly.

Sales Management: The oft-overlooked game changer

Really great salespeople often get promoted to sales management positions. Unfortunately, there tends to be a big disconnect between the skillsets required to sell effectively and manage effectively.

Many of the sales managers I’ve encountered tend to act more like check-the-box administrators. Their primary contributions seem to be scheduling useless meetings, holding down compensation, and making sure the CRM system is always up to date.

Whether the cause is lack of know-how, the way they’re being managed and trained, or the way their jobs are defined, this is not sales management.

True sales managers—those who know how to hire, train, lead, motivate, retain and improve the performance of salespeople—can make a tremendous difference to a company’s revenue and profitability.

And based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had, salespeople are absolutely desperate for this sort of strong leadership. They want to work for people who can mentor them, who care about their compensation and career development, who are available to discuss better ways of doing things, and who simply “have their back” when things go south.

I’ve been training high-tech equipment salespeople for over 10 years, but until now, I haven’t coached and trained sales managers. That’s about to change.

In the coming months, I plan to provide a wealth of information and resources on the ways effective sales managers can:

  1. Design the right sales organization for your company, products, and current situation
  2. Identify, recruit, and hire salespeople who are best-fits for what you want to accomplish
  3. Train and coach salespeople to not only sell, but sell your products and your prices to your prospects
  4. Set the right objectives and help your people achieve them consistently
  5. Compensate salespeople to ensure they’re satisfied and that your company is getting the results it wants—a real win-win.
  6. Retain high performers
  7. Identify and develop successors for every position in your organization

Sound good?

If you’re a sales executive or sales manager, I’d like you to take a minute to think about whether you’re truly as effective as you could be. If not, what information or training would help you move the needle? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

How Sales Adds Value

In my last blog post, I wrote about how marketing adds value. This week, we’ll discuss how sales adds value—specifically, your salespeople.

As with marketing, the value doesn’t lie in the obvious. Talented salespeople are focused not merely on closing the sale, but on creating—and conveying—a win-win situation for both seller and buyer alike.

Good salespeople: 

  • See themselves as experts, and the companies they represent as valuable business partners for the right customers. They are not mere vendors or suppliers—and they never think of what they are selling as commodities
  • Possess expertise regarding the details of the customer’s business and ways to improve it, as well as the ability to assess what that improvement is worth to the customer
  • See themselves as more than a means to meeting the customer’s wishes and demands. They are able to filter all opportunities through important real-world criteria:
    • Is this business real?
    • Can I win it?
    • Can I win it profitably?
  • Can have an honest conversation with the customer regarding opportunities, budget, and the chances of winning business. By the same token, they are able to correctly read between the lines when the customer’s words don’t accurately reflect what he or she is really thinking
  • Know what good and bad business look like, and stop bad business before it ever gets in the door. (I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much time and money my clients waste trying to win business that’s unwinnable, or winnable only at a loss.)
  • Are able to provide specific, compelling examples of other customers who have benefited, and how they have benefited. This requires the skill of obtaining customer testimonials that the company can use and getting past the typical “we don’t give testimonials” song-and-dance
  • Price customers based on their profitability and potential
  • Can confidently pitch and present to users, purchasing, and senior executives alike
  • Are willing to say, honestly, “we’re not the best option for you” when a customer’s demands are too high, when a budget is too low, or when the fit is simply not a good one. When I’ve used these words, more often than not, the customer’s response has been “ok, what can you do for us?”
  • Talk about money early and often during the sales process so customers don’t arrive at a negotiation and get (or act) surprised by the price—a big waste of everyone’s time and energy.
  • Manage their company’s resources to ensure they are spent on the best, highest-probability, highest-profit opportunities
  • Know the right questions to ask to determine whether the company can solve the customer’s problem, earn or save the customer more money, or provide (in some tangible, valuable way) a better future for the customer
  • Can determine whether an RFQ is a real opportunity, or just an attempt to get a price to use against the preferred provider.

You’ll notice that I didn’t put “ability to close the sale” anywhere in the above list. While that’s obviously important—nothing else matters much without the deal itself—the best salespeople are able to ensure, using the tactics above, that the business is both profitable and feasible.

Too often, salespeople focus on the close to the exclusion of these crucial points—which leads to a lot of time and effort being spent on “opportunities” that drag your business down rather than building it up.

Launching a New Product or Service? Don’t Make This Common (and Costly) Mistake

I’ve seen this time and time again with my clients, regardless of size or industry. Someone has a “hunch” about a new product or service idea, and they rush in with guns blazing. Resources are allocated, lots of time is consumed, and a brand-new product or service is launched.

And then…crickets.

It seems, alas, that nobody is actually interested in purchasing your new product or service (or maybe you get a handful of takers, but far too few to boost your bottom line).

What went wrong? It’s all well and good to get excited about a new way to serve your customers, but it’s important to temper that enthusiasm with some good old-fashioned research.

And by “research” I don’t mean hopping onto Google. You can do that, but actually talking to prospective customers for this new product or service is a far better bet. And not just one or two (you know, the one or two existing customers who sparked this idea in the first place) but a whole bunch of them.

You’ll know you’re on to something if a lot of folks sound just as excited as you are, or maybe even more so. They’ll say things like:

  • “We would pay anything for that.”
  • “When can you have it ready?”
  • “How do we sign up?”

Don’t be fooled by semi-positive responses like these:

  • “Maybe we’ll look into it when it’s up and running.”
  • “I’ll think about it.”
  • “I suppose that might potentially be something we’re interested in.”

The bottom line is that customers (like the rest of us) would like to have all sorts of things – but you only want to spend your time and efforts on things they are actually willing to pay for.

An even better test, which is possible with certain products and services, is to see if people are willing to pay upfront – a deposit, say, or an early-bird price before development is complete. That way, you not only have some indisputable evidence that they are willing to pay for your idea – because they already have – but also some extra cash to help set it in motion.

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