Some of you may be familiar with Stu Heinecke, a Hall-of-fame-nominated marketer and Wall Street Journal cartoonist, see example above. Last year I had the opportunity to speak with Stu while he was working on his book “How to Get a Meeting with Anyone”. More recently I joined Stu, for extended conversation on not just on how to get a meeting with right prospect, how to position and extend initial engagement. This was part of a podcast series Stu has been producing. Have a listen, and more importantly, let us know your thoughts.
Sellers often have a distorted view of what is really important to buyers, leaving buyers to repeatedly ask WTF? Get your mind out of the gutter, the question is Why That Feature? Not what you’d be asking when the deal goes sideways, as it will if you are unable to nail the buyer’s WTF.
One thing that many executives and owners tell me regularly is that they are frustrated by some sales people’s inability to relate to the buyer’s perspective of things. As importantly, the incapability of sellers to have a fluid and malleable enough understanding of the products they sell to make it fit the buyer’s requirements, not just those of the selling organizations.
They feel that sellers come in and present features that may seem cool and useful to people in their own marketing group, or features someone in product development thought made sense. While some features may seem cool and useful to a developer, the same may not resonate with real world users. While secondary research may suggest a demand for a feature to the marketing group, it may not be top of mind for all buyers.
At times the disconnect is simply that buyers, especially executives are looking for specific outcomes, and don’t look at the product through functionality. One executive noted “I could care less how it does it, if it’s legal, and gets me what I want, that’s just fine!”
Sellers need to be able to relate aspects of the product to the buyer’s reality, and while there may be similarities in those realities, each buyer is just that different. Mat be it is only in terms of where they are in the buying cycle or as broad as market strategy. While everyone says that they are beyond feature/benefit in their sales approach, buyers tell me different. Sellers are still trying to bend the buyer to their feature, rather than highlighting how that feature gets the buyer to where they want to be.
Of course to do that, sellers need to be aware of what buyers are trying to achieve. And this is not more of something per minute, or faster processing, or social integration. It is more about something that starts with why, and ends with outcomes and impacts. The means are usually secondary.
Presentations where the seller filled with buzzwords still abound, as does communication from marketing. There is almost an expectation that the buyer will paint the same picture in response to single trigger word, as the seller or their marketing group did. Expecting buyers to come around to our view and our definitions just leads to more and harder work, a lot harder than changing the narrative to that of the buyer.
The same is true for unnecessary upgrades or changes in features that were working just fine. Change and new are not always better, especially if it change that was not driven by users/buyers. Users/paying customers don’t always see the same need for change as the developer. If it does not positively impact the buyer’s journey or ability to drive objectives, it is not a great feature or upgrade. These also lead buyer to ask Why That Feature, this not so much why do I need that (why do I wanna pay for that), but what was so bad about it that you had to change it.
Learn to speak with the buyer, not at the buyer, and avoid forcing them to ask WTF?
A question I regularly ask when working with a group of reps on prospecting, is “who do you call on?” or “who do you want to call on?” The answer I get is “the decision maker”. Now I have used a lot of different directories and databases, and they all give a title, not role in decision. But let’s say they did, the real question is what happens when you speak to that decision maker. Unfortunately often this opportunity does not go as well as hoped, for the sales person, and the decision maker.
It has been shown in a number of studies that many decision makers are disappointed with many of their meetings with sales people, often seeing it as a waste of their time. Reps come in unprepared in so many ways. Despite all the information out there, all the research sales people supposedly do in advance of their meetings, they seem to bring little knowledge or real valuable or actionable insight to these meetings.
While there are more, I will look at two that if addressed and improved will dramatically improve your success. First is the focus of all the research and information reps do going into the meeting. When I ask, I still get the same old same old. It is all very product and sales centric. Mercifully you hear less and less of “what keeps you awake at night?” But while the words have changed, the posture and the way it rubs the executive has not. The reality is that much of what many sales people “probe for”, are things many senior executives and decision makers have delegated to others in the organization.
Instead they are focused on their objectives 12 – 18 months forward, they are consumed by those outcomes, and their impact on their company, be that profits, market share, Wall Street reaction, and more. It is not about “the” enterprise software, but the impact as they view it. Talk about that and they will engage, and exchange information with you, but with all due deference, the SPIN stuff makes their head spin. Show them that you can help them achieve their objectives, and you’re on.
The second common obstacle is the general demeanour of many reps. There is a difference between respecting someone and their position, and putting them on a pedestal. This needs to be a conversation of peers; not equals, but peers. Why would I open up to someone whose words, gestures and posture suggest that they have not faced the type of scenarios and objectives I deal with every day? Many sales people, especially the relationship types or the social types, are reluctant to ask the direct and difficult questions that not only demonstrates that you understand the day to day world of the person you are with, much less help them resolve the gaps that stand between them and their objectives. You can talk probing, but doing it right, is another story. Executives I have spoken to tell straight out that they don’t have time to educate reps on the types of things they are trying to achieve or resolve. “I can tell from the questions they ask, and the way they ask them if they really get, are faking it, or just scared shitless because they know they are in over their heads when it comes to my world and day to day”.
The reason some reps never get the appointment is not because the executive or decision maker is not open to input, but they want that from a peer, who understands what they are dealing with, and can demonstrate that they have fought the battle and won. Not with a glossy case study but how they conduct themselves. In short, Decision makers want to deal with decisive people, people who can lead them to success, not just follow hoping for relationship.
I recently saw an ad for a sales program, and that big bold letters enticing me to buy read: “How To Get Ahead Of Your Buyer”. While I get where they were coming from, or more accurately who they were trying to appeal to, but there was just something wrong with the way it was phrased.
I think one of the biggest challenges sales people have is not to get ahead of the buyer, it seems to me that getting ahead of the buyer is the same as “leaving the buyer behind”, a dangerous notion and more dangerous practice.
One of the key things we help sales teams accomplish with the EDGE framework is alignment with the buyer. Executing the sale in a way that keeps you engaged and in step with the buyer, leads to a number of pluses, not to mention more sales.
Alignment is key, it helps you focus and cover objectives, which then allows you to offer practical means of helping the client achieve those objectives. The idea of getting ahead of the buyer has an old school ring of pain and needs based selling.
When you rush ahead of the buyer, because you are familiar with the scenario, you’ve seen and heard it before, you tend to want to “close” too early, usually relying on old school “closing techniques”. In some ways I thought we were past this, but this ad and a recent discussion in a LinkedIn group suggest that we are not. That discussion was based on the question “What’s the best, most effective question you’ve ever asked a client?” Apparently some sales people still ask what keeps the prospect awake at night. With thinking like that, and leaving the buyer behind, sellers move to close too early in the process, you may feel you are done your discovery, but the buyer is still defining and refining their requirements. Moving to close at this stage will at worst make the buyer feel pressured, scare them to compare to others, and at best, slow down the deal, requiring a longer sales cycle, the use of more resources, and less time to spend on other opportunities.
When this happens, and other companies enter the fray, price will not only become an issue, but a central issue. What was your deal to win, now becomes your deal to buy, and there is never money in that.
The flip-side of getting ahead, is falling behind, the relationship approach, “whatever makes you happy, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” The net effect of this again is that the buyer learns whet they require, after all you are there with all the facts and didees, and when they are ready to buy, they do so from the guy asking for the order, not the one waiting.
Work with the buyer, lead the buyer, based on their objectives, your expertise as a subject matter expert, but don’t get ahead, or fall behind, manage the alignment.
I got a note from one of the pundits in my inbox telling me things I should do for sales success in the New Year. You may expect these type of things mid-way through December till maybe January 10th, but after that it is just an indicator that they don’t really understand B2B sales at all, and the customers they get as a result, they deserve.
As a sales person your really do need to live in the future, and fulfill in the present. You need to live in the future for two simple (probably more) reasons. First, if you are going to deliver real and lasting value to your customers you need to leave “ahead of them. If you are going to deliver to and drive their objectives, you have to be where those objectives will unfold, and that is almost always in the future. Especially with business leaders, be they leading small or large global companies. If you speak to these folks and you should, (as well as speaking to everyone else in the organization, it is not one über the others), you will notice that their horizon is in the future, based on who they are it could be six, twelve, eighteen months or more in the future. The have delegated the present to others in their organization, in the case of small business, they have relegated it to a different part of their thinking.
So if you are going to align and sell to them today, you need to be thinking and talking to things they thinking about, which means they have been in 2014 for some time, cranking up you preparation now, like the pundit suggest, nay, scream to the buyer, “This guy is no for you”, as my fellow Tull freaks will say he is “Living In The Past”. If you are going to step in to the roll of thought leader for these buyers, you need to recognize that you need to lead from the front.
The other reason you need to live in the future, is driven by the realities of calendars, fiscal years, invoicing and the payable cycles of your buyer. Let’s say you have a three month sales cycle (handshake to close), and you get paid when the first invoice is paid, 30 days is acceptable period for an invoice to be paid, you are going to need four months of run way for a deal to count towards your number this year. Which means anything you start after September 2, will be next year’s number. If it counts and you get paid, when the contract is signed, then that date moves to October 2nd. So if you were going to look at doing things a new way for 2014, you will have need to start that process last September or October, not January 26.
This is not to say that you should not always be adding new elements to your selling, just look at that as an ongoing part of your personal development, not an event tied to the New Year. Yes, I know the pundit needs to sell too, but you don’t have to buy if it will not help you now, or in the “now future”.
I am going to keep this mail as I am certain it is the exact same one she sent last January, with dates changed. I am not sure if I remember because it irritated me last year, or the fact that they used a stock photo used by a million other sites.
In a business that emphasizes relationship as much as sales does, it is sometimes interesting to see the degree to which sales people, and buyers, tend to ignore, overlook and at times avoid some basic components of human interactions, and way to enhance those interactions and the impact of that on business and sales outcomes.
Michael Jordan once said:
“…You have to monitor your fundamentals constantly, because the only thing that changes will be your attention to them”
This statement is as true in sales as it is in basketball. Sometime those fundamentals seem simple and inconsequential, but in the end it is often those little things that make the difference. Remember that your product is often indistinguishable from those of your competitor’s, so the way YOU sell may often be the differentiator that clinches the deal. So let’s focus on two seemingly small things, that when executed consistently and well, after and before meetings with buyers, will win you deals, no matter other factors. And while these may seem small, do them and then judge the results.
After every meeting you should send a note, what most will call a thank you note, but done right it can be so much more.
Few send thank you notes anymore, I know that when I am the prospect, if I get a thank you note, it is so rare, I take notice, and mentally give the sender bonus points, points that may take them ahead of the other vendors. A hand written note, will just blow their mind. But more than a thank you note, it is an opportunity for you to recap what you took away from the meeting, action items everyone agreed to, and most important, what you propose the Next Step to be.
If you and the buyer synch on all of these points, then the note will just cement things in their mind, along with you being the vendor who helped them do that. If you took away different understandings, it is to your advantage to find that out now, and make any course adjustments you need to make. Better to correct things now than go into the next meeting with different ideas; if you can’t correct them, better to find out now than after investing more time and resources.
As well by introducing what you think the next step should be, you get them thinking about it, and again, if they don’t disagree, you are on the right path, but if not, you can deal with it now, not later.
About a business day ahead of the next meeting, send in a n agenda, nothing deep or heavy, three or five points (odd numbered lists are better), AND, what you would propose as the Next Step, if things unfold according to the agenda. As above, if things are on track, you can go in with some sense of confidence that you are on the right path. If not, better to know well in advance of the meeting than at the end when it may be too late to do anything about it. Same goes for the Next Step, if they can’t live with your suggestion they’ll speak up, and while it may not be what you had planned, better again to know early than after the fact.
While neither may appear to be all that and more, when you first read them, execute them consistently and it won’t be long before you attribute deals directly to executing these steps.
It's time to get Bricked!
When I ask sales people what their biggest challenge is in getting to speak directly with decision makers they are targeting, and voice mail or gatekeepers are at the top of the list, (while call reluctance should be right there with the other two, they don’t usually volunteer that fact). We have dealt with voice mail in the past, so today we’ll look at “gatekeepers”.
There are typically two people labeled as gatekeepers, for many sales people it is the receptionist who greets them while they are door knocking; for others like me for example, it is the executive assistant or admin working for the executive I am targeting. This will primarily look at the latter.
As with many things in sales success comes down to attitude and the luggage you carry. So let’s start with the label, gatekeeper: very negative; almost creates an ‘us and them’ atmosphere right from the start. Why not call them what they are, the admin or assistant, which opens the situation rather than limiting them. The good news is that as someone who works directly with the decision maker, they are privy to a lot of information, most importantly the priorities, objectives and current focus of the executive in question.
If you can align your message with those, there is a greater likelihood that the assistant will engage with you, as they recognize the issue as one on the executive “must do” list. Notice I said engage, too much time effort, money and energy has been spent of schemes to “go around”, “evade” or “neutralize”, the “gatekeeper”, as though they were an infectious disease or member of a lower cast. I have seen advice that is not only demeaning to the role, but risky to the success of those who choose to ignore, or blow past the assistant.
This advice takes into account only half the role of the assistant, they are there to help the decision maker do their job easier and better. Yes that includes keeping unimportant callers away from the DM, but it equally includes introducing things they come across that help the DM move forward on an issue. They do both well, it is up to you to engage the right side. Let’s face it they do a good job of keeping interruptions away, better than my son, when I told him to tell a telemarketer that I wasn’t at home, he told the caller “dad says to tell you he is not home”.
If you’ve done your research, engage the admin the same way you would if you had the DM on the line. Speak with authority, speak with respect, and speak about specific impacts you have delivered vis-à-vis objectives they have, similar to those your research indicated this DM has. There is no point in playing cat and mouse, because the odds are you’ll end up playing the role of the mouse. Speak to the admin the way you would to anyone in the DM’s inner circle.
At the same time keep the focus on speaking with the DM, if the admin feels you “may” add value they will help you, rather than block you. A couple of things to help, always ask for their name, not in an “I’m going to tell your dad on you” tone, but in a way that humanizes the conversation, begins rapport. The reality is that if you have to call back, they will be the one you will speak to; it will make subsequent calls that much easier, you’ll be able to start warm: “Hi Jean, this is Tibor…..” (I guess if you called, you wouldn’t say Tibor).
But because your goal is to speak to the DM, keep focused on that, when answering the admin’s questions always end with your objective, end whatever response by saying “is he/she available”. Even if they ask what’s the call about, answer in a direct way, again the way you would the DM, but end by adding “is he/she in?” As well, if there is no progress, go for voice mail, but again not in a negative “you’re useless way”, but in creating efficiency way.
By speaking to them in an inclusive way you open a number of possibilities. Depending on your style and the person at the other end of the call, you may do this on the first call or a second call if your message does not get a call back. On the second call you can try one of these two approaches. The more effective of the two is to reintroduce yourself using their name reminding them of you call a few days back. Then ask, “Based on what we talked about, who do you think Mr. Smith would involve or delegate this to?” Remember the admin is in the know, and if what you said is on their priority list, this is not a hard question to answer. If the admin responds “he would have Barbara, the VP of Marketing deal with it.” At that point don’t just get Barbara’s extension, ask to be transferred in, the caller id will show the DM, and they will answer if they are in, and it will the DM’s mail box number if you end up in voice mail. When you connect with Barbara, you know where to take things.
The other way you can take that second call is a bit more adventurous, works less often, but still works. Assuming you have maintained rapport with the admin, just say “Jean, it is Tibor again, we spoke Tuesday, how are you? … I am great thank you; you know the only reason I am calling Mr. Brown is to schedule an appointment, do you have access to his calendar?” (Now you know they do) “Great, how is Wednesday at 8:30 am for him?” About 20% of the time I get a tentative appointment, they usually stick, and when they don’t, the admin works with me to find an alternative. Add to that the fact that the admin has the trust of the DM, so if the admin set the appointment, there must be a good reason. These days you have to leverage every available asset and ally, don’t waste an obvious one.
One final consideration, if everything goes the way you plan and you get a sale, how valuable is having that admin on your side helping navigate the landmines and unknowns in the company. That’s why you always want to thank the admin.
by Tibor Shanto – firstname.lastname@example.org
When I talk to sales people about how they start sales meetings with new potential buyers (first time they meet), most (not all) tell me they “break the ice with some small talk”, then they “get in to it!” We’ll leave the getting into it for another time, what I don’t get is the “small talk” bit, I am not sure that in the current format, as practiced by most sellers is effective, necessary, and at times can be risky to the opportunity.
I am antisocial, (although some have accused me), but spending time talking about the weather, or the useless season the local sports team is having seems counterproductive to the goal of the exercise, helping the buyer move closer to their objectives, and yours. And while the people buy from people crowd may want to pounce on me, wait. You can “break the ice”, and set the mood without having to resort to pointless gibberish.
The buyers are all busy, as I should think you are, you obviously said something that caused them to invest an hour of their time with you, it is up to you to maximize the ROT for both. Getting to the point may not the worst strategy. Some buyers may make you feel that they required “small talk”, but that is more conditioning than anything else, if you deliver value by the end of a successful meeting, they will not complain about not having their time wasted.
I am also not suggesting that you jump right into the deep end, I know that the “void” walking between the reception area and the office or meeting room has to be filled, it is how you fill it that can differentiate you from the others.
As you are doing research ahead of your meeting, look for recent events, announcements, or analyst coverage, not specifically related to your product, but significant for the company and or the person you are meeting. A while back I was meeting with a dairy company that was the first to introduce Omeg3 into a line of product, to accentuate the launch, they introduced a beveled edged carton so it would look different from the other milk cartons on the shelf.
On “the walk” from reception, I asked how the packaging was received, changes they had to make to production, and were they looking to use packaging as a differentiator way with other products. While this had nothing with what we were meeting about, it indicated to the buyer that I came prepared, that I was taking an interest in the entire business, not just the part I can sell to, and I can relate the benefit of my offering to the other responsibilities he had. In return, the information he shared with me about the above, helped me refine and better position my value vis-à-vis his objectives. Small talk, yes, but it beat talking about snow in March or the fact that the Leafs were going to miss the playoffs again.
While we think we are being social with small talk, it can and does often come up being hollow, unimportant, and does not move things forward even one millimetre, in which case, what’s the point. It is also interesting that many people who don’t like the small talk when they are buyers, rely on it when they are sellers.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
By Tibor Shanto – email@example.com
Last Wednesday May 15th, I had the opportunity to be on the Charles Adler show. We look at the potential fallacies in long term predictions, this on the heels of a piece I did for the Globe and Mail Report on Small Business, regarding the need for execution in sales, not long term predications, and the fact that in BC, the elections did produce a majority government, but not by the party everyone was “predicting” would form the government.
Have a short listen, then let us know how you’ve found action and results to be of more value than predictions.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
By Tibor Shanto – firstname.lastname@example.org
In the heat of a sale, it is sometimes easy to confuse a condition to the sale with an objection. The key is to understand what you are really dealing with, and respond accordingly. Done right, it could solidify the sale and the resulting relationship with the buyer.
Take a look, then download the Objection Handling Handbook, and let me know your thought.
What’s in Your Pipeline?