What’s Your Question? – Sales eXchange 2150

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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Most would agree that questions are the most powerful weapon; a seller has at their disposal. Yet it is interesting to see how many will either not use them at all, or to their full advantage. As with any weapon, practice is key, not just on the battlefield, but off the field as well, the better you become at the technique the better the outcome for both you and your buyer.

But day after day you see sellers come to play with either the wrong questions, dull questions or just plain stupid questions.

Some questions are so self-serving they leave buyers just depressed and so reluctant to answer, because they know that the “correct”, not the right, answer will just extend a bad selling experience. A couple of weeks ago I had someone trying to sell me a piece of technology that would “just rock my sales”. After a few set up statements, he highlighted the areas that he was claiming his app would help, and then he used one of my most hated forms of question: “Wouldn’t you agree that blah blah blah would be a good thing?” In this case knowing what the prospect was thinking about the presentation. It is a no win situation for the buyer, and everyone knows it. Yes it would be good to know that, but if I pick that obvious answer it does not mean that your app can do it, or more importantly that I want, like or am remotely interested in your app; but if I provide the “correct” answer, I am committing to play the stupid game – or – trap. So I decided to take the less painful route and said no. Which highlights another misuse of questions, no follow up to the “no”; they are all set for the “yes”, because it is the logical answer, but throw in a “no” at the right (wrong) time, and watch the void, in their eyes, sales and pipeline.

This is sadder (funnier) than we think, all it takes is a little practice to know how you will handle any of the potential responses to your question. After all, as sales people we are usually in the advantageous position of asking the first question in most selling situation (if you are not asking the first question 99% of the time, then you are an order taker not a sales person); given that, you should figure out in advance what the answers potentially may be, and then plot a course for each one, except the one where the prospect disqualifies themselves, then just work on replacing them.

People answer the question they are asked, extrapolating that to mean things you “need” them to be can be a mugs game. Avoid this in two simple ways. First make sure that ask a number of validating follow through questions, get to the root of the issues, and don’t just linger at the surface. Second, come at the issue from a number of different angles, things can be interpreted differently by different people based on their views and experiences. By exploring the issue from a few different viewpoints will ensure an understanding, and that you are really working with someone in a position to buy. It may take time and effort up front, but it beats getting one right answer but no sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Are You Selling Like A Child?10

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Child with PC asking

Maybe You Should!

When you get to be my age you end up spending a lot of time with adults, full of expectations, bound by ritual, shackled by their habits, blinded by their opinions, limited by their knowledge. So it was refreshing to spend some time with some so five to seven year olds last week. Beyond their energy level, I came to see why kids are the best sales people on the planet.

Once I adjusted for the noise level and energy I began to notice their sales skills come to the fore. First I noticed is that they have little or no inhibitions. They will try anything without stopping to figure out “why not”, they are just happy to have the experience. How many times have you coached a “professional sales rep”, asked them to do something they knew needed to be done to move the sale forward or close it, only to have recite a laundry list of why they can’t do that? Keep in mind that what they are being asked to do is not illegal, immoral, or unethical. In many cases these are the very things their colleagues are executing day in and day out to win deals, and exceed goal. Yet the reps in question will tell you why they can’t or won’t, and sadly, often the reasons are the same no matter the activity, a closed mind that limits only their success. While these kids are willing to try anything, especially when their friends are doing it and having fun in the act. In fact you are more likely to tell them not to do things, and they respond by asking “Why?” every sales person secret weapon word.

I was answering a prospect’s e-mail on my handset, and right a barrage of question, “who you writing, what are you writing, why, why them, what for, what are you gonna get out of it, why now, what are they gonna get out of it, what if you didn’t write them, do you have to answer everything they asked, will you buy me an ice cream with the money you make?”

And a million other questions. Brilliant, so energizing, because it made me have to think, just like questions make your prospect think, it challenges them to look beyond the race that is their day, to thinking about specific things. The questions they asked made me think about what and how I answered the e-mail. Credit for getting the next step I wanted should got to the kids.

One other thing about their questions is that they didn’t give a rat’ what about being politically correct, they just wanted the facts, they were not rude, nasty, or anything negative, just not hung up on all the adult things sales people tend to get hung up on.

They are also great closers, the best man. They know what they want, laser focus, and totally consumed by figuring out what they want and how to get it. Can you say persistent? I remember my oldest son approaching me when he was around seven, trying to get cookies for his brother and he.

“Dad, can Ez and I have a cookie? One or Two”

I had to give him permission for two, how many did your prospect give you?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Should Lead With Price – Sales eXchange 2072

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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If sales were presented as a play, the typical flow would seem to be: segment, identify, qualify, engage, discovery, gain commitment, negotiate and close. Somewhere towards the latter part of “gain commitment” and “negotiate”, the issue of price becomes central to the plot, in fact with some sellers “negotiate” is really just a code word for “price haggling”.  This would explain why so many sales these days are won or lost on price, especially when “discovery” is rushed or executed in a cookie-cutter way.

The plan (I guess), is build value (place your methodology here, ours is good too), and align to price. The frustration for many is that they may not know the relative role of price till late in the game, especially when there is a low cost provider in the mix.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could learn if price will be the breaking factor much earlier in the play?

That’s the catch 22 of selling I guess, if you don’t build value you can’t justify or rationalize the price; on the other hand, you could spend time and energy building value and be defeated by price. What’s a seller to do?

Well, why not lead with price?

Counter-intuitive, maybe? Risky? Could be, but most things worth archiving involve a level of risk.  The opportunity and skill is in managing the risk and finding the balance where calculated risk consistently rewards the risk taker.

This is not to say that your meetings should start:

“Hi I am George, with ACME Solutions, the price is $42,000, plus 20% annual maintenance fee, ready to go?”

But there may be merit to putting price front and centre much earlier in the process. There is an element of this accepted, if not always executed, by many sellers in the form of exploring budget; in terms of its existence, availability, control and commitment.   But budget is different than price, how many times have you been able to check all the tick marks around budget but still lose on price?

But what if we did introduce process earlier?  The reality in many instances, the price is based on some formula, be it unit based or other elements, and sellers have a sense of what a deal is worth early in the play.  Before you protest the last statement in an effort to seem above the fray, go look at yours or any other forecast.  So why not put it on the table, and make it a way of introducing, driving and accelerating the value discussion.  After all, if they object to the price at that point you can get to the heart of the matter by asking them what they base their remarks on.  It is a great way to go to the real value discussion.  As both price and value are relative, you can find out what they see as value in their reaction to the price.

You can then use all the tools and techniques you would normally use to build value, but this time it can be much more collaborative.  The key is not think of it as defending the price, but as a mutual and collaborative value definition.  In the course of executing it, you can uncover objectives, separate needs from wants and a range of other things that make for a successful sale.  All without the suspense of the traditional ending.

As with most things in sales, we can stick to the same old, or so called fresh techniques that are the same old in new packaging.  Or you can try something that will not only differentiate you, the way you sell, and most importantly the outcome.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Impact Questions – Sales eXchange 1870

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Impact Question

Back in the 80′s or maybe even earlier, the purveyors of Consultative Selling, put a lot of emphasis on Open Ended Questions, for all the right reasons. It took some effort and focus to get sales people to adopt this style of interaction, especially after years of pitching and doing things the traditional (old) way.

Many sales people had difficulty being comfortable and effective in the vast openness provided by this style of questions. It was difficult to fight the urge to regress to their previous comfort zones, many sellers had to be continuously managed to adopt the new more effective question based selling.

One practice was to paint closed ended questions as being inferior, substandard, in those days, even communist in nature; may sound extreme, but in reality, closed ended question were uniformly vilified.  In fact the pendulum swung so far that closed ended question were just plain bad.  Today, in many workshops, you still hear people demonizing closed ended questions.

Well I am here to tell you that there are no such things as bad questions. There are very few if any absolutes in sales.  It’s more accurate to look at how appropriate a question is for a given circumstance.  If you look at questions as tools of the trade, there is no such thing as one tool fits all; there may be tools that are appropriate to various tasks, others may be useful less often
Which is why I am here to say that the much maligned closed ended question does have a place in B2B selling in 2013; hell I’ll go further to say it has a place in Sales 2.0 and/or Social Selling.  It is about the situation, what is the desired outcome, and what the next step needs to be from both parties perspectives.

Given the above there are regular occurrences in sales where closed ended question makes perfect sense. So I am on a mission to reintroduce this tool to your sales tool kit. A few years ago Timberlake made it his goal to being Sexy Back, so I am advocating the same for closed ended questions (although I am certain they will never be sexy, but the positive results delivered may be).

I am calling the updated version Impact Questions, a marketing friend told me that one needs to rebrand for re-launch; change the name and you change focus from potential negative connotations.

Let’s face it, there are times when you do want to focus things, narrow down the possibilities. Often you want close things off so you can move the process forward, or to realize that there is no forward to move to with a prospect and it may be time to move to the next opportunity.

During a cold call, oops, prospecting call, (need to be politically correct), open ended questions can take you off track; a question that works well in a sales call can be negative during a prospecting call.  There are other times when you do want a clear one or the other, a yes or a no.  It comes down to how the response serves the purpose.  What is the impact of the answer, and how that answer impacts the outcome.  For example, when I ask someone I called the first time if they “have ever worked with a third party trainer like Renbor?”, either answer serves to move the process forward, and could prove to be a benefit for both.  Rather than using a series of open ended questions to arrive at the same point, a simple impact question focuses bith the prospect and I on the same critical turning point.

So know where you are trying to go, know how you can help a prospect or a customer, then ask the Impact Question, and deal with the impact, not whether it is open ended, closed ended, or some other ended, work to achieve positive impact for the buyer and yourself.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Qualifying for Budget or Out Of A Sale?77

Many people involved in sales seem to be fixated with budget; they want to qualify for it way to early in the process.  I know it is important, but you maybe disqualifying perfectly good buyers for the wrong reason.

Your job in sales is to well, sell, which means identifying requirements or gaps in the prospect’s current situation.  But most, about 75% of potential buyers, don’t know, realize or admit they have requirements or gaps, remember – status quo is your biggest hurdle.  So if they don’t perceive a need, they don’t see a need to allocate budget.  This does not mean that they don’t in fact could benefit from your product, but they have lived with the pain long enough, or on the positive side they didn’t realize they could achieve their goals by taking advantage of your offering.  Ask this type of person about budget too early, and you will end up disqualifying a perfectly good buyer.

If you are talking to the right people in the right way, budget is very much an issue that can be (at times easily) overcome.  Consider these examples, have you ever walked into an electronics store looking to buy a flat screen, you know what you had in mind, you encountered a clerk who “qualified you”?  They asked a bunch of questions, including budget, and then showed you two or three products that fit what you described.  Contrast that with the time I walked into an electronics store, with a specific flat screen in mind, shopped it on line in advance so I had a budget in mind, but I encountered a different sales person.  She asked me why I was buying the TV, had I had a flat screen before?  What type of things would I be watching?  She then continued to ask if I what kind of DVD player I had, telling me about Blue Ray, asked if stream from the web, and of course since I told her I watch music DVD’s, what was I using to maximize the sonic experience.  When all was said and done, I had exceeded my flat screen budget by $250, or 20%; in addition I became the proud owner of an unbudgeted Blue ray player, decided to give my inadequate home theater system to the kids, how else was I going to make room for the new one.

You can say I was an impulse buyer, I would argue that I was maximizing my investment in my enhanced flat screen.  Either way there is no arguing that rather than qualifying me for budget, she qualified me for what I was trying to achieve and how to best maximize that over the life of my new Smart TV.

Corporate buyers are no different, the higher you go in the organization, the truer this is.  Executives are able to create budget, able to shift funds around, and make a buy based on a host of factors beyond budget.  I have many clients who did not have budget for training when I cold called them, but after we engaged, and I demonstrated how their investment in what I do will deliver results and returns that will exceed their investment, and justify an unbudgeted expenditure.

Executives want, no need, to make a difference, show them how you can do that and you will find a person motivated to make things happen.  Show them that you primary interest is their ability to spend, and even those with budget will self-disqualify.  It’s about engagement and investment – not budget.  Go ahead, qualify someone for a better competitor.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Sales Association #Webinar31

“Leveraging Value from Engaging the Buyer to Closing the Sale” – A Sales Association Webinar
Tuesday, October 30 – 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CST / Noon MST / 11 a.m. PST (1 hour in length)

On Tuesday October 30, I have the privilege to deliver a webinar for The Sales Association – I will be talking to specific steps sellers can take to delivering and leveraging value throughout the sale.

Almost every conversation about selling starts or ends with the concept of value. At the same time, there are as many different understandings and definitions of value as there are sellers and buyers. Without a clear and actionable definition of value, many conversations between buyers and sellers are less than effective, and do not help create a buy.

Starting with a clear definition of value, participants will learn the five-step process to leveraging value throughout the sale, from the initial engagement to winning the client.

Steps include:

  • Identifying and validating buyer’s objectives
  • Understanding why buyers really buy
  • Why Buyers buy and don’t buy from you and your company
  • Converting the above to Impact Questions for quality conversations
  • A structured follow-through approach to maximize impact and progress

Participants will learn how to use this process to create alignment with the buyer, their objectives and buying process.

Click Her to Register Now!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Playing Sales Hide and Seek – Sales eXchange 16899

All the pundits tell us that in “today’s economy”, buyers are just too busy to deal with anything unless they deem it to be critical to their success.  This is why many sellers have difficulty getting through, they fail to penetrate the “prove value to me” wall erected by prospects, and in effect they fail the BS test.  So if one does get through, it should not only be recognized, but should at the very least begin a real exchange about the buyers objectives and how the seller is in a position to advance or help the prospect achieve them.  But as it turns out, this is not always the case.

It seems that in many instances, buyers and sellers enter a game of “Sales Hide and Seek”, rather than a real business discussion, taking an ambiguous and unproductive approach rather than a direct discussion of the issues and potential answers.  Both parties are guilty, and both pay the price by extending the sales cycle, costing time, money and opportunity.  The buyer takes longer to implement the solution, at times the wrong solution, taking longer to realize the benefits delivered.  Sellers extend their cycle and limit their opportunity to sell and engage with more buyers or other real buyers.  Even as the buyer becomes a customer, they are impacted by the company spending more money and resources to selling than to R&D and product improvement which directly impacts the customer base.

Sellers are told to go for relationships rather than dealing directly with issues, trying too hard to be genteel, rather than provoking, and getting to the root of the issue.  Winning the buyer’s respect and trust by willing to deal with tough situations, not hiding from them.  Rather than missing repeated opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, their expertise and ability to make a difference especially in though areas.  Sellers talk about “finding the pain”, but only go for superficial pain which leads the buyer to hide their intent, as they lose confidence in the buyer due to their inability to deal with the buyer’s real challenges.  Circling issues, only focusing on “pain” they can see and think they can solve.  With this soft approach, rather than being provocative and relevant, makes these sellers look like kids playing hide and seek.

The buyers are no better, one can argue worse.  They give up an hour of their valuable “crazy busy time”, only to make it unproductive for them, their companies, and the seller.   They clam up when asked direct questions, as though the seller was the opposition, rather than a professional investing time and resources to help the buyer reach their objectives. Again one can’t blame them if they figure out early that they are meeting with a light weight sellers.  But I have attended a number of sales calls where the rep had prepared well, asked the right questions, going to the root of the buyers objectives and barriers to reaching them, only to be met with an evasive buyer, incomplete in their answers, not sharing key data, or access to those who have answers.  Again, looking more like a game of hide and seek rather than a process for improvement.

In the end, the goal is not to lay blame for the almost counterproductive time wasted by both sellers and buyers, but to encourage both parties to work towards a common goal, if one is plausible and/or possible, rather than playing a time consuming game of hide and seek.  The game has no winner, just adds cost and time to the sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hanging Out with @GlobeSmallBiz: How to develop a Winning Sales strategy45

Hanging Out with @GlobeSmallBiz: How to develop a Winning Sales strategy

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business’ Small Business interview series on Google+ Hangout. As the title suggests, we discussed a number of topics relating to sales, and sales challenges important for small business owners.

This was not only a great use of the technology, but we covered a number of key issues potential pitfalls, and opportunities for small business owners.

Take a look, comment, enjoy, and profit.

httpvh://youtu.be/A3FEyN2B4dE

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

I Support Profiling!41

Hang on, before you get your pipeline in a knot, read on and discover.  We’re talking about client profiling, not racial profiling.  The reality is that all the things (some) people do not like about the type of profiling that takes place at airports, or in upscale shops at suburban malls, do indeed help sellers identify not just buyers, but the right buyers, and as a results buyers who buy faster.   After all, if you could recognize the attributes of a buyer, and recognize them sooner, that would be good.  The only thing better, is recognizing the attributes of a non-buyer so you can save time and resources.

Now unlike the other profiling, you probably can’t afford the type of heavy technology, algorithms and other applications used by some, but then again you don’t need to.  What you do need is the discipline to invest the time to develop a simple profiling process, and the discipline to actually put it into practice.

This goes beyond the simple concept of analyzing your wins so you can hone your perception, and hope only engage with winners.  Too much of a good thing can come back to bite, and without a balance discipline, selective perception can devolve into restricted perception, leaving good opportunities unpursued.   Given the fact that most B2B sellers have less than a 50% close ratio, more like a 25% closing average, it is foolish to ignore your losses.  By understanding why you both win and lose, you can sharpen your success filters, change things that are causing you to lose, and disqualify non-buyers sooner; some would call that a win – win – win.

Profiling can be done in a number of ways, all looking to gain insight based on different factors.  There are those who try to do it based on personality traits, DISC would be an example.  Although if you buy in to the notion that people buy from people they like, does this lead to people selling to people they like, and if so, how do I know if I’m going to like them before I pick up the phone?  Ah, now I get why so many people have call reluctance, they don’t know if they’re going to like the prospect they are about to call.  I digress.

I prefer doing it on a deal basis, this helps me categorize based on buyers objectives, most professionals and people running a business will tend to have objectives, and approached the right way, are interested in things that help them achieve objectives, or avoid things that may hamper their progress, and will act to remove those barriers.  A lack of clear objectives is a sure clue to a less than committed buyer, a longer sales cycle if it happens at all, or usually not a good use of time.

As with most things in sales, it is less about the tools and more about the mindset and the discipline to do it, and do it consistently.  So go ahead, profile, your buyers don’t care as long as it helps them in the end.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Don’t forget to Join us in Houston, October 18 for the Proactive Prospecting Workshop!

School Is In53

A reminder that there is a class this afternoon, 4:00 pm Eastern
 
GAP Selling – Leveraging Process and Execution

GAP Selling – Looks at how to deliver value to buyers across the entire sales cycle.
Almost every sales conversation starts or ends with the concept of value; at the same time there are as many different understandings and definitions of value as there are sellers and buyers.
 
This course delivers clear and actionable definition of value. Starting with that definition of value, participants will learn the five step platform to leveraging that value right through the sale, from the initial engagement to winning the client. The overarching goal of the platform is to focus on the buyer’s objectives, and delivering specific means of helping them achieve those objectives.
 
These include:

  1. Identifying and validating buyer’s objectives
  2. Understanding why buyers really buy 
  3. Why Buyers buy and don’t buy from you and your company 
  4. Converting the above to impact questions and quality conversation 
  5. A structured follow-through approach to maximize impact and progress Participants will learn how to use the above to create alignment with the buyer, their objectives and buying process

Join us at 4:00 pm Eastern today
 
Prerequisite – An open mind to learning and selling better
 
Test – Your weekly Pipeline Review

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