Turning Blah Blah Blah Into Bling

Sales activity today appears to place far more emphasis on scrambling to get a deal with that next new client than it does on nurturing existing customers. Frankly, that puzzles me. It doesn’t matter what industry you serve, retention of your existing customer base should always be your number one priority.Money

When I think about a seller’s role, it is to develop and cultivate new sales opportunities while continuing to mine for new gold within existing accounts.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have strategically decided that some of your sales people will focus on the hunting and other will focus on the nurturing. But whether you are hunting new business or selling deeper into existing accounts, you have to keep in mind that your message matters.

Lose the Pitch

One of the more egregious mistakes often made is pitching a customer with a message that clearly shows that you have no idea that they are, in fact, a customer. Last week, I received such a sales pitch from a CRM provider pitching me on a new service. For 3 years, I have been their customer, but it was clear that this sales rep didn’t know it.

Other pitches come in the form of unsolicited sales spam that are poorly written, generic and focused on the seller not the buyer. For an Oscar winning example of the worst piece of spam ever, click here and be amazed.

In various forms, thousands of sales messages are being sent to potential prospects each day. How much thought is being put into the core content of those messages? In my opinion, not much thought at all.

Blah Blah Blah

That is exactly what your prospects and probably your customers are saying to themselves as they read your pitch. It doesn’t matter if it is print, phone calls, email, LinkedIn InMails, newsletters, Tweets or Facebook posts, you have to be asking yourself – from the perspective of the prospect or customer – does your message convey that you know something about them and the troubles they face? If the goal is to increase leads and secure more sales meetings, you lose every chance of making that happen if you are not viewed as a credible resource worthy of having a buying conversation.

Time is tight and competition is fierce in most industries. Why waste effort sending out messages that land in the trash bin rather than as a meeting on the prospects calendar? The problem is that activity is being confused with sales effectiveness, which only creates a perception that what is being done will lead to sales results.

If you want the bling, you have to do away with the blah blah blah. Your customers and your prospects will thank you!

Telling Isn’t Selling

Businessman sleeping at the presentationAt lunch with a colleague last week, we chatted about how the sales people at his client account operate. Not surprisingly, it is standard practice during a sales meeting to walk prospects through 44-slides of yada, yada, yada that begins with extensive detail about the long, successful history of the company. Mind you, this is a company that is well known. The history lesson is unnecessary! Even when it becomes obvious during a presentation that the decision maker is bored out of their mind, the sales rep will simply keep plugging along. After all, they have been trained to “tell” not sell.

  • Let me tell you about our history.
  • Let me tell you about the awards we’ve won.
  • Let me tell you about the features of our products.
  • Let me tell you how we can solve your problem.
  • Let me tell you about our pricing model.
  • Let me tell you why other customers love us.
  • Let me tell you how we are better than the competition.

It isn’t that these things are unimportant. Well, maybe the awards and history, but the fact is that this information is no doubt already listed on the corporate website. Prospects don’t need sales people to tell them what they already know.

What kills me is that even in companies that have trained their sales people in a solution selling program, their sales people still show up in buyer’s offices and tell. Sure, they may ask a few questions about the prospects business but then they roll right into the pitch they’ve been taught to deliver. Seems strange, right? Even those sales people trained to sell solutions still talk AT prospects not WITH them. Why?

Because…

  • More time is invested in training sales people about the features of products.
  • An investment in training great sales skills is viewed as a one time event and not a process that is continually reinforced.
  • It is easier than learning about the prospects business, industry and challenges.

Instead of using meeting time to tell, imagine your roles are reversed and YOU are the customer. As the customer, what is important to you? What business initiatives are you expected to execute upon? What will happen if you don’t? Are you struggling to out pace the competition? What is happening in your industry that will impact your business today and tomorrow? The point is that unless you think like your prospect, you’ve done some digging or ask the right questions, it is going to be tough to know what is really important to them.

Here is a story to illustrate what I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I’d first visited the local Nissan dealership and the conversation with the sales person was a disaster. Right up front, I detailed exactly what I wanted. In classic form, he didn’t listen. He took me over to a specific model and started “telling” me why this would be a great car for me. As if he knew, right? Immediately, I say that I’m not interested. Undeterred, he keeps pushing all the features he believes to be awesome. Again, I say, I don’t like the car and there is NO WAY that I would drive it. To which he replies, “What’s not to like, my wife drives this same car.” I couldn’t run away fast enough.

Contrast that with the experience I had at the Infinity dealership right next door. The sales person was courteous, professional and asked about me. He asked about my work, what I was most interested in, any features important to me in a car… you get the picture. Learning that I was a sales rep who supported accounts in Tucson, he knew the drive between Phoenix and Tucson was a 2-hour long stretch of highway with practically nothing out there. He also learned that I’m a music lover. Rather than talking about the vanity mirror, he focused on safety and security by highlighting the roadside assistance program that came included with a car purchase. He had me try out the awesome stereo system. I already loved the car – a G20 – because it was sporty, looked upscale and was a dream to drive. And because this sales person had learned about Barb, he tailored his message to focus on what I cared about. Guess what – car sold. Most pleasant car purchase experience ever!!!!

The irony is that Nissan owns Infinity. What gives? Why a horrible experience with the Nissan rep but a stellar one with the Infinity rep? I asked my Infinity rep and he told me that the company invested many hours of training and constantly stressed (and reinforced) the importance of selling a solution based on the needs of the car buyer. Listening and asking good questions was a huge part of their training programs.

Stop telling your prospects (and customers) what YOU think they want to know, ought to know or should know and begin with the end in mind. If your goal is to win business, then begin by getting into the head and heart of your prospect. Buyers want to you care about them and when you don’t… they simply look elsewhere.

The Road Ahead

In 2006, I began evangelizing what I would eventually call “social selling”. I can promise yousocial-selling1-300x2272 that at that time sales leaders thought I was nuts. They believed that social media might impact marketing’s role and that was about it. These leaders did not understand that what social media (in the collective) really meant was that buyer behavior was changing. Buyers were no longer relying on sales people for information about products and services. They were using the Internet and social networks to start the selling process by doing their own independent homework.

By 2009, it was absolutely crystal clear that sellers – B2B sellers in particular – needed to start taking the changes in buyer behavior a lot more seriously. It is why I felt compelled to write a book on the topic called The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media.

Moving into 2010, LinkedIn was definitely evolving into more than just a job seekers tool. Significant platform changes gave sellers ways to find prospects more quickly and to promote a brand impression of credibility and expertise through rich, dynamic profiles in which presentations, white papers and all manner of great content could be shared. Twitter was becoming more of a force in selling and blogging created new opportunities for sellers to create branded, educational platforms that helped them showcase their industry knowledge and perspectives.

And now we have entered a New Year. Before we look to what I believe lies ahead, let’s take a quick look in the 2013 rear view mirror.

This was a year when mass numbers of trainers, sales experts, marketers, software companies and even Joe the Plumber began pushing something brand new – to them – social selling. This is new, this is radical, you need to get on board, the experts shouted. This will make all your sales problems disappear. Social selling will fill the top of your sales funnel, increase revenue and pipeline, bring more prospects to your doorstep and qualify all your leads.

Heck, if you believe all the experts, social selling will make your breakfast, dress you, handle your outbound phone calls, book your appointments and conduct your sales meetings without you being required to attend. Frankly, you don’t actually need to show up at work anymore, because social selling is going to close those deals without you. Just expect your commission checks in the mail. WOW – sign me up!

Can we PLEASE dial down all the B.S.? It isn’t doing sellers or their leadership any favors.

By all accounts, 50% of sellers missed quota in 2013. This has been a continuing trend for years. In fact, 2013 saw more decline in quota attainment than during 2011, 2010 or 2009…all tougher economic years. Perhaps you could get away with blaming the economy then, but what about in 2013? Not so much.

Does social have a place in selling? YES. Does it work? YES. Does social selling solve every conceivable sales problem beginning with… sellers with abysmal sales skills? No. No. No. Did I say no?

I’m one of the first two people to begin using the term social selling in 2009. From the beginning, I never promoted the ridiculous idea that social selling was THE thing that would cure widespread sales problems. Social selling – as I defined it and promoted it (then and now) – was meant to represent the evolution of the buyer’s journey, which by necessity meant that sellers need to evolve their sales approaches right along with the changes in buyer behavior.

1. Buyers were/are leveraging alternative mediums to research and vet possible vendors.

Tired of pitches and sellers who don’t understand their business, they take to the net to do their own homework. In 2013, as much as 80% of buyers are researching business solutions before talking to sales. While buyers may not have all the information they need to make a purchase, they absolutely have enough information to determine which companies make their short list.

2. A social seller learns and integrates new technology (social media) into their overall sales process.

If buyers are shutting out sales people by deleting emails and unsolicited phone calls and doing their initial research online, using social networks provides alternative ways to be seen and demonstrate credibility and expertise, in order to earn the right to have a sales conversation. Using social media/social networks as part of a selling strategy creates opportunities to “proactively” give buyers reasons to talk to sellers.

Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of using social as part of selling, but using technology is a fraction of what great selling is all about. Where does social selling play a role in the sales process? Networking, prospecting, building referral relationships, lead gen, sales research and fostering ongoing customer relationships. But these are tactics and you don’t just sit at your desk all day long pounding away on social media. As Joanne Black would say…pick up the damn phone!

What I see happening in 2014 is…

More of the same dismal sales performance if sales leaders keep allowing themselves to be convinced that quick fixes exist or that technology does the selling. Suck it up! If 50% (or 40%, 30% or 20%) of your sales team didn’t make quota, it will take longer than 30-days and one or two training’s to move the needle in any significant way.

To all the self-proclaimed social selling experts I ask… how exactly does social technology solve any of these problems?

  • Sales people who cannot sell.
  • People who should not be in sales positions at all.
  • Selling like it is 1980. Feature dumps are useless.
  • Using technology to hammer prospects with pitches.
  • Measuring activity for activities sake.

Oh, I could create a much longer list about the problems plaguing sales organizations, but I’d rather have you read colleague, Jonathan Farrington’s excellent post underscoring what he believes went wrong for sellers in 2013. It will give you a lot to think about!

My passionate hope for 2014 is that sales leaders will stop believing the hype pandered by people who profit from promoting the quick fix. One or two training programs – I don’t care how good they are or who delivers them – will NOT resolve the systemic problems that have been building over time. It is time to wake up and face reality. I want to see sales leaders step up and create a bold new vision for what’s possible. And I want to see sales leaders go to the mat to ensure that widespread changes are undertaken, in order to support the new vision. Band aids fix nothing.

The real question is will sales performance in 2014 be any different than in the years gone by? Only time will tell.

Dude, It’s Not Going to Close!

It’s hard to admit defeat. And I find that to be especially true for sales people. In case you are wondering, I’m not immune to this weakness either. All sales people want to believe that they never lose deals and wouldn’t that be nice if it were true. But we have to be vigilant in reminding ourselves that sometimes we miss the mark and won’t win every time.

In countless sales meetings through the years, I would listen to team members give a myriad of reasons why a particular deal wasn’t moving forward to close as reported in the last 6 or more meetings. Even though the rest of us could see the truth, my poor deluded sales rep could not. They just kept hanging on for dear life insisting that “one day” this baby would close. Maybe so, but at what cost?

Research by CSO insights suggests that only 46% of forecasted deals actually result in a sale. Clearly, a reality check is needed. I’m not a forecasting expert, but I am pretty sure that you cannot trust sales people to accurately predict sales pipeline on their own.

Here are 5 reasons why you can’t count on sales people to know the difference between opportunities that could lead to a sale and those that don’t:

  1. They are overly optimistic about everything. This can be especially true if they received an inbound call from someone who appears to be expressing interest in their product or service. Or they think that because someone downloaded a free anything means that they are a potential buyer.
  2. They hear what they want to hear. The buyer is saying our budget has been slashed by 20%, so we are evaluating our business priorities. Sales person hears, “Your product is the best we’ve seen and our budget cuts won’t affect you.” These sales people have no idea what the important business priorities are because they’ve done no homework whatsoever. They just assume that their product will top the list of projects that the customer will invest in.
  3. They are notoriously bad at disqualifying opportunities. They do not ask enough of the tough questions – if they ask any at all – that would get to the heart of whether or not it makes sense to spend more time with this person or company. They need to ask things like: Is there some burning initiative inside the company that is driving this opportunity forward? Has budget been established for the project? Where is the customer in the buying cycle? What is the timeframe for deciding? How many people will be involved in the decision? What are the decision criteria? As my colleague Jason Wesbecher told me in a recent interview, the next best thing to getting a yes is a fast no!
  4. They think getting an appointment to do a “demo” means a deal is in play. Listen, when the Sales VP pushes you off to the Sales Ops guy that doesn’t mean she thinks your product will actually benefit her business. It means she doesn’t know who you are; you haven’t given her any reason to believe that you have something of value to offer her, and she’s busy and just wants to get rid of you.
  5. They think that anyone asking them for a proposal means they have a shot at winning business. Listen, I fall into this trap myself, and I know better. If you have little to no relationship with someone and after a brief chat they want a proposal, I’ve concluded that it might be better to say no. That no can be followed with questions referenced in point #3. Proposals take time to put together and the last thing you want is for someone to use your proposal to negotiate a better deal with a competitor. I know this happens, because it has happened to me!

In the quest to meet our quota and revenue goals, it is tempting to turn a blind eye to the truth. Man up! If you find that you are not closing 50% or more of the deals you really believed were winners, seek out some coaching. Talk to someone objective who can help you look carefully at the opportunities you think have merit. Admitting you made a mistake isn’t a bad thing, but chasing phantom sales deals is!

Want the meeting? Fix your message.

Today’s sales people have a variety of communication channels available to help them reach prospects. Unfortunately, some sellers haven’t gotten the memo that we are long past the days of simply broadcasting a generic pitch.

Technology has given rise to laziness. Sending 100 emails to the wrong people with the wrong message is not an effective prospecting strategy. Leaving random phone messages isn’t either.

A few tips for sellers in how to engage their prospects more effectively to secure meetings:

  • Target the message to the right buyer and focus on what they care about, not what you want to sell.
  • Check your facts. I don’t run an entertainment company, as one sales email suggested and the sales rep should know that.
  • Check the grammar and spelling. Starting the first sentence of the email with “anyways” is not the way to make a positive impression.
  • Don’t use jargon that only people in your company understand.
  • Get the person’s name right.
  • Stop asking people to visit your website to learn more and “get back to me if I can answer any questions”. Lazy and presumes your prospect has the time to do your sales job.
  • Make sure the customer examples used are relevant. One sales pitch to me mentioned that “there is a reason why McKesson and Bain Capital” use our product. Well, that may be, but I run a small business. Using McKesson as a customer example isn’t relevant, so I conclude you know nothing about my business, and that I can’t afford what you sell anyway.

Here’s what a Sales Manager at one of our clients just told me… “I have to say that since you instructed us not to send out generic messages and invites (without personalizing), my meeting acceptance rates and speed has drastically improved.”

Remember…

Poorly written emails and inarticulate voicemail messages are killing your sales opportunities, and you probably don’t even know it. Put these tips into action and see your meeting acceptance rates increase.

 

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Using Technology to Sell: A Sales Mastery Interview with Jonathan London

As I interview sales professionals like Jonathan, it is all with the goal of helping you and your sales team radically increase your sales, improve the profitability of those sales and close those sales far more quickly than you are today, I want you to learn from the best in sales and social media, because selling today requires an entirely different approach and new skills are required!

And no set of skills may be more important than salespeople and organizations being able to leverage technology in ways that drive sales results. I’m a big fan of using technology as part of your sales process BUT technology is not a quick fix nor does it close the deal for you! In my conversation with Jonathan, we talk about how to use technology in the right way at various points in the sales cycle. It’s a good listen!

Let me tell you about Jonathan…improved performance group

Jonathan London founded Improved Performance Group in 1994 after nearly two decades as a sales superstar. His sales success at companies such as Olivetti, NBI, IBM/Rolm, EXEL Systems, WYSE Technologies and Picture Tel earned him numerous honors and accolades, including being the #1 performer in every sales and management position he has ever held.

Today, Jonathan is an internationally acclaimed expert on emerging trends and training and development strategies in sales, leadership, customer service and organizational transformation. He is a respected speaker, trainer, coach and consultant, and is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Selling and Using Technology to Sell – his newest book.

When you listen to the interview, you’ll learn:

  • Why Jonathan wrote his book – Using Technology to Sell.
  • What the biggest challenges people and organizations face in addressing the use of technology to sell.
  • How technology can enable or disable the productivity of salespeople.
  • How social media fits.
  • Why organizations need to change their approach in response to the amount of information and technology that is available.
  • The biggest mistakes sales organizations make when it comes to technology.

And more…

Enjoy the interview!

The Art of the Cold Call: A Sales Mastery Interview with Daniel Francès

WHAT? I interviewed someone about a cold calling approach? Well, yes, I did!

Anyone who follows me, anyone that has read a comment of mine in a LinkedIn Group or read a post over on our Facebook Fan Page knows that I am quite vocal in my belief that “cold calling” – in its currently accepted form – does not work.

What do I mean by currently accepted form? I mean the Boiler Room mentality of giving salespeople a list of  names and told to “dial for dollars”, in order to meet some mythical, magical quota number that, I guess, tells management that things are alright in the revenue generating department. Oh, if they really knew the truth and that’s a subject for a future interview!

So, Daniel has followed me and he is a member of our Facebook community – thank you, Daniel! When he reached out to me to say that he espoused a better way when it comes to cold calling, I decided that I needed to interview him.

It is a terrific interview and reaffirms my belief that it is the COLD approach – making calls with a selfish, me focused sales agenda – that doesn’t work. Daniel offers up some great advice and shares his own experiences with cold calling – what makes it work and what doesn’t. It’s a interview you’ll want to share with your colleagues and folks in your network.

As I interview sales professionals like Daniel, it is all with the goal of helping you and your sales team radically increase your sales, improve the profitability of those sales and close those sales far more quickly than you are today, I want you to learn from the best in sales and social media, because selling today requires an entirely different approach and new skills are required!

Let me tell you about Daniel…

Daniel Francès, author of The Cold Call Bible and experienced Cold Calling Trainer, was born with sales running through his veins. While other boys daydreamed of becoming firemen or famous soccer players, Daniel knew instinctively from the age of seven that he aspired to sell. Beginning his career in New York, he became first acquainted with the phenomenon of cold calling, and was intrigued and inspired. He immediately internalized this form of marketing as second nature.  After studying, fine tuning and practicing his craft, Daniel became a master of the Cold Call. In 2010, obsessed with training others to master the Cold Call, he established The Cold Call Company dedicated to the art of cold calling. He now custom designs and delivers corporate cold calling training programs and is an adviser on how to gain new business using cold calling.

During my conversation with Daniel, we talked about:

  • Why cold calling still has sales merit these days.
  • How Daniel got started in cold calling and what he learned that you can benefit from knowing.
  • What you’ll discover when you read his book, The Cold Call Bible
  • What it means to be the Ambassador of Cold Calling and why that is important to the profession of sales.

And more…

Enjoy the interview!

How Solid is Your Sales Process?: A Sales Mastery Interview with Jim Keenan

To help you increase your sales, improve the profitability of those sales and close those sales far more quickly than you are today, I want you to learn from the best in sales and social media, because selling today requires an entirely different approach and new skills are required!banner

In my current interview, I talk with Jim Keenan of A Sales Guy Consulting. We talk mostly sales process and why it is so important for companies to do it well. Given the changes in buyer behavior, sales leaders need to spend the time evaluating whether or not their sales process is actually leading to revenue.

About Jim…

He is the founder and partner of A Sales Guy Consulting. A Sales Guy Consulting helps companies grow sales. They are a fun, straight forward consulting company that relishes the challenge of taking companies from point A to point B in as little time as possible.  They get it.  When sales numbers aren’t where you need them to be, call Jim!

During my conversation with Jim, we talked about:

  • How he became an entrepreneur. He began by kicking off a blog.  www.asalesguy.com
  • Sales process (or call it pipeline) and why it is so critical to business to do it well.
  • Sales, sales management and sales leadership.
  • Social media and how that impacts sales.

And more…

The sales process, according to Jim, is there for one thing. And that one thing is…to move the sale forward! Most companies are struggling because their process is aligned to what they want and not geared in a way that suits what the buyer wants. That’s a big disconnect! Listen to Jim’s thoughts, tips and suggestions for how to cure the problem.

ENJOY THE INTERVIEW

9 Social Selling Strategies for Sales Leaders

At the Social Sales Strategies Forum last week, one of the speakers referenced a writer who didn’t seem to think much of this whole social selling thing. Although I cannot remember the exact quote shared with us, it was along the lines of…

“Social Selling is hogwash. Nothing is a substitute for human interaction.”

Comments like that frustrate me a little bit. I’m just wondering who ever said that human interaction was kicked to the curb using a social selling approach? Nothing could be farther from the truth. Contrary to what some may believe though, you can “interact” with other human beings online in a meaningful way. Does that mean that I would only converse with someone over LinkedIn email to discuss, negotiate and close a deal? Of course not! That next step in the sales cycle after initial engagement is talking to your prospect real-time.

The real hogwash here is the misinformation being spewed about.  Let’s talk about what social selling really means.

My definition is this…

Social Selling is an evolved sales process that is focused on what buyers want and leverages technology to put a sales rep in front of the right prospect – with the right message – more quickly.

At the end of the day, a Social Selling approach helps sales leaders to address their 3 burning priorities:

  • Get more leads in the pipeline
  • Improve win rates
  • Shrink the sales cycle

To turn your sales organization into a Social Selling machine, you need to do these 9 things:

  1. Accept that buyer behavior has changed. It is indeed vastly different than it was 10+ years ago. Your salespeople must change their sales approach and you must help them learn how to do it.
  2. Create a social selling plan. Engage marketing as part of your process but marketing doesn’t own it for sales. Be careful not to default to LinkedIn training without having thought through the bigger picture.
  3. Establish usage guidelines. People must know what is expected. And don’t assume that they know. You need to make sure that you help your salespeople understand what’s appropriate to say on behalf of your company when they are using social networks as part of their daily work.
  4. Choose the right tools. We encourage most B2B sales reps to start with LinkedIn and InsideView (or whatever data intelligence tool that your company may use). Twitter also plays a role in terms of the research and competitive data you can gather and use, but start small before moving on.
  5. Invest in training. Sales behaviors have to change and salespeople need to understand the technology in the right way. If you use the platforms to do nothing more than spam, you have not only defeated the entire purpose of a social selling approach, but you just put your brand at serious risk.
  6. Participate consistently, often and remember that first impressions matter. Today’s buyer surfs for information before reaching out to have a discussion with sales, so your salespeople need to be visible and easily found. Their online presence needs to rock and say…look no further…you definitely want to have a conversation with me about your business needs.
  7. Focus on the right ROI. No, your LinkedIn profile sitting there all by its lonely self will not bring the deals to your doorstep. I find it surprising that sales managers are not asking about the ROI of the time wasted at unproductive networking events. Or, what about the damage being done to the bottom line when salespeople are being allowed to send out some of the most poorly written sales propaganda I have ever seen to prospects? As a sales leader, are you policing the email communication your people are sending out? You should be!
  8. Eliminate outdated sales approaches – cold calls and cold e-mail. Yes, you need to get on the phone with people but you should do that once you spend even 5 minutes doing a little homework before you do. If you want to speed up deals in the pipeline, learning how to engage a prospect properly the first time will take you a long way.
  9. Be realistic in your expectations. No canned sales tricks will get you there. A little sweat equity needs to go into putting these changes into action. If I meet someone offline at a conference event, it is highly unlikely that we close a deal as a result of just that first meeting. OK then, the same goes for using social media and social networking. You still have to court the process along, but the great news is that you can also move more quickly when you combine offline and online networking to get to your end goals.

Social Selling is about selling more, more often using a new approach and new tools to get you there.

You want to sell more, right?

OK then…time for you and your team to do things differently!

Note: image credit to www.kokasexton.com