Today, more organizations are facing increasingly more competition, rapidly changing technology, slower market growth, and less product differentiation. This trend requires true professional selling to manage more accounts, build stronger relationships, sell to multiple buyers, and be much more creative when selling. Therefore it becomes much more difficult than it used to be to sell… or does it?
True Professional Selling
I believe that this is the best thing that ever happened to professional sales people. Why? The days of Herb Tarleck. from WKRP are gone. It seems we were ‘pitching’ out wares for a long time, hence the bad reputation of a salesperson, then there was the other extreme when the economy was so good we often turned into order takers.
What needs to happen is we need to change the way that we sell. We need to change it completely. And what we used to think of as a great salesperson is going to look very different today than it used to. We need to learn more skills. The skills we need aren’t sales tricks or schemes, they are just good old fashioned, upfront and honest communication skills. Interestingly, most people don’t really understand what that means. Communication skills are the true difference in sales today but understanding how to communicate is the true skill. To communicate properly and to drive toward a means to an end still involves a process to communicate.
Most sales professionals realize the importance of using a sales process to be effective in sales today. Using a process will help you put the buying decision steps in sequence. And it’s very important to have a sequence. Unfortunately most don’t feel they need a process, just a great ‘personality’ or lots of industry knowledge.
To remove the sales tricks of old still requires a true understanding of communication between two people. We often think of communication as talking, but no its truly listening. Listening is one of the toughest skills to learn, mostly because most people think they are good at it already. They’re not. It is a truly learned skill that can be applied in all aspects of life.
Before any new skills become a natural behavior, it needs to be practiced.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
And I really like that, because unfortunately, one of the negatives that sales organizations run into is try to hire people who have been in sales for a long time so they don’t have to really bother training them. They give them a little training on their product and we send them on their way. Well, bad habits are often what people have picked up, so we don’t understand after six months, nine months, eve a year, why they aren’t hitting their numbers and making their goals. So we fire them or they leave and we start the whole cycle again…
Try this test. Ask any of your salespeople individually, “What’s the purpose of your sales call today?” “What is your goal before you even pick up the phone to call someone?” “If you reach them, what are you trying to get accomplished?” Do they actually have a plan? Hmmm.
There are five things that I truly believe are extremely important when it comes to developing a sales process. So I’d like to illustrate a few of them.
Number one, and always number one, is prospecting. Prospecting is not typically the most enjoyable part of any sales professional’s job. Now some of them will say they really enjoy prospecting and that’s fine. But at the end of the day, I really want them to do prospecting, so what they enjoy is making money.
Prospecting I have down as number one, because not only do we have to be consistently prospecting, which often we misunderstand as just cold calling. Prospecting is number one because prospecting has to be a mix, a variety of different things that we do. For example, cold calling is what we initially think of when we think about prospecting and that’s fine. But that is probably your least effective form of prospecting. Now, do I believe that you shouldn’t do it at all? No, I believe that it should be part of a very well-thought out, very well-tracked program with several different prospecting activities.
Number two, you must prequalify every call. And more than just prequalifying to see if it’s a fit for you and your company, prequalifying is about allowing the person who is a potential prospect to verbalize what they’re looking for, exactly what they want and why. The more you allow that person to have a conversation with you about what they’re looking for, what their challenges are, the reason that they’re having a conversation with you, what success looks like, those kinds of questions are extremely important in setting up the actual physical appointment if in fact you are in a position to go see someone, since so much of our sales today is done on the phone across the country and across the world.
The third step of the process needs to be what I call the interview. Now you’ve done a little interviewing here on your pre-qualification, but now is the time that you go much deeper. You should’ve done a lot of research here before you meet with someone. You need to understand all about their organization, what they do, how they do it, and today, it couldn’t be easier to find that information. And I don’t mean just their website. I mean, google the name of the company. Google the name of the person you’re talking to. Google the CEO. Find out everything that you can, not so you can show off that you found out everything that you can, but so you can build a good series of questions based on what you learned when you go in.
The other things you need to learn when you go in is additionally how important those solutions are to solve and what happens if they don’t solve it. If you could quantify some of those things, that’s very, very important. Additionally, then and only then do you talk about budget, and money, and investment. Often, we don’t talk about money at all until the proposal point which is wrong. But I also don’t believe in talking about it too early, because you have to have a conversation. And you both have to have an understanding. And your prospect has to have a self-realization of the level of problem that they have and what would happen if they solved it. A professional sales person today’s job is to guide them to that process.
We so often walk away with ‘I’ll put a proposal together for you and get no buy-in on the other side.’ They have to have skin in the game. If they want us to go back and do a good job of coming up with ideas for them of how we’re going to solve their problem, they have to be somewhat invested. And if we come up with ideas and they like them, what will happen? It doesn’t have to be a sign on a dotted line. But you have to know what’s going to happen if they like your ideas. If you don’t, why are you doing those?
number four At the end of that meeting when you summarize everything, and you set another meeting for your proposal – if in fact that’s how your business works – when you walk away, all the things that you agreed on, and you summarize them, you send in what I call a Recap email. And that is
Your recap email is much more in-depth than we talked about earlier. A follow up email involves what their issues are, a recap of each of those things, what you discussed – investment or money-wise – and what you both agreed the next step would be if in fact they like your recommendations. That’s imperative to have in there. All it is is a recap of what you both agreed on. And if you do this right, you should almost get your prospect reading that email and saying ‘they get me, they heard me, they listened.’ That’s what we’re looking for.