Stand and deliver

Pipeline – Stand And Defend0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Lately I have had a chance to sit in on a number of “opportunity reviews”, and it is interesting how the format and tools have changed, the plot and the theme have not changed much beyond the costumes, props, and players.

Real or Fantasy

What was striking is that for the most part, these “events”, fall in to one of two groups, they are either objective, fact based exercise, leading to a realistic view of their opportunities, with the conviction one gets when one is fully engaged and working the opportunity.  The rest, they are much more subjective based, open to how people feel about what happened, with or without input from the buyer(s).  This has allowed the former group to act and speak about their pipeline with conviction backed by results, the subjective group, spends more time rationalizing the outcome than driving it.

It would be easy, and unfair, to blame sales people for this, but in many ways, it is the fault of their managers, and others in the organization that are paid to enable sales.  First, when it comes to opportunities, it should be less about reviewing, and more about moving them forward to a win.  Even after all the advancements in tools and other aids, many managers, especially those new to the role, look at these gathering from the wrong angle.  Above I referred to these rituals as an “event”, when they need to be ongoing process, reviewing the specific actions of the buyer, and planning and taking the next appropriate steps; do that and your pipeline and the opportunities in them, will fare better than if you’re just performing a CYA routine.

Of late, what has helped those with the subjective approach has been the rise in statistics they can present to support their cause; again, when you’re looking for cover, stats are great.  On the other hand, when you are looking to win deals, you want to evaluate things much more objectively, you want to examine the facts as presented by the interactions with the buyer(s), this ensures you are focused on things that lead you to quota, and maximize your most precious resource, time.

Statistics

A new wrinkle is now available to the subjective group, one they feel lends a bit of weight and validity to what they are doing, namely statistics.  Thanks to the sales tools and technology, there are more stats than ever available, and sales managers being the creative lot they are, are using them to shore up the state of opportunities in their pipelines.  Stats are good, but much more malleable than facts.  I’d much rather work with sales people who can present probabilities based on actions taken by the prospect, and all the people involved in the decision, than on comparing a current deal to statistics gathered in past leads.

Stand and deliverWhile it is true that there are many similarities between deal of the same product to generally similar companies, when you get close enough to read the numbers, they all unfold in their own way, even within broad parameters.  Each deal is different enough, that looking at stats derived from a collection of varied deals over time, to figure out how things may turn out in a current deal, does little to help you close that current deal.  On the other hand, if you look at opportunities based on actual things the prospect has said and done; your ability to speak to specific elements of the decision you need them to make.  How well you know the why, how, and what of their decision, based on what they say, and more importantly do, will have a greater impact on your success, than doing regression on a series of unrelated deals.

Execution – Everything else is just talk

The more you can stand and defend a deal based on actual things in the deal than subjective elements, the more likely you are to make right plan, take the right actions, and win based on the merits of each deal, than a regression model of the last 100 deals; especially since those have been won, and this one is still up for grabs.

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Man in Square

Push and Pull In Sales0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Picture an weighty, rectangular object, placed in the middle square of nine squares; your task is to move the object to another square on the grid, a square other than the one you found it in. Ignoring the tools and resources you may want to utilize, there only three things that are going to happen;

  • You’re going to lift it (in this case maybe a crane, so will move to the next)
  • You’re going to push it
  • You’re going to pull it

Now let’s apply that to a prospect, the square they are in represents their current state, and the square they end up in, represents their state, where they are, after a purchase decision. With about a third of all opportunities going into B2B pipelines ending in no decision, the reality is that about a third of the time the square they end up in is the one they started in.

Man in SquareA key influence as to whether you will need to push, is the prospect’s current state. A small percentage will be easy to push, because they know they want to leave the square they are in, and know which square they want to move to, and why; all they need from you is a little push. I was talking to someone selling specialized ERP, and he was saying that this is only 5% of his market at any given time, small. But the vast majority of the market, has no reason to leave their familiar square, and given that they are busy improving their square, they don’t see the grass as being greener in the other square, and are too busy to care. To move these prospects, you’re going to have to “pull”.

Pulling here adds up to enticing them to see you as being able to deliver and exceed everything they set out to do in their square, but better; the only catch being that to do they need to be in a different square. You can try to push these buyers, but they do not react the same way as the willing 5%. These prospects have “to be led to”, and you have to do the leading. If you can lead in a way that they will follow, you can move them.

Getting them to follow involves many things, but two are a must:

  • Your vision for their future state has to exceed their vision (from their perspective)
  • It has to appear that you (more accurately your expertise), is the only path

Clearly these two go hand in hand, excelling at one, while not fully leveraging the other will not do; and both require that you demonstrate and reinforce your status as a subject matter expert.

The more and better they recognize and accept your SME status, the more effective you will be. Here we are not talking about your product expertise, but your expertise in helping prospects get the most out of their square. When you show them something they missed; something they had not considered or missed, that would have had an unanticipated outcome, a negative vis-à-vis their objectives, they will follow you. This could be unanticipated risk, something that impacts their cost structure or funding that in turn eats into margin; something that completely alters their supply chain in a way they hadn’t envisioned; or other factors like time. As with most successful sales approaches, it is not about product, need, or pain, but about changing the buyer’s state. BTW, addressing a single pain, no matter how well, generally just stabilizes the buyer in their current square, but will not get them to follow you, just puts them back on their current path, pain free.

All of these and many more, will allow you to create a reason for them to follow you, and as a result for you to pull them forward to another square.

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Stop (640x427)

Pitch – Please!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Despite the talk, the training, the tools, and everything else sales people have been exposed to and have access to, it is still interesting (disappointing) how fast most sellers, even those who hit quota, will resort to product in a sale. They may want to pretend that they are not, they may want to dress things up, but in the end what they deliver is a Pitch. While many will argue that as long as it gets the job done, except it is that view that leads to inconsistencies in results, rather than predictable outcomes that result from professional selling, rather than professional order taking.

One reason many resort to pitching is their failure to understand the business drivers behind the purchase the buyer is undertaking. This is especially prevalent with many one trick pony companies, where each product, and thereby each sale, is just one singular component in “the stack”. This allows reps to fall into the trap of knowing their slice best, and not having to worry about the big picture. To be clear, this laziness is present and abundant in other sales teams as well, it is just most prevalent with products that address one particular need.

Stop (640x427)The problem is that economic buyers do not set out to buy things. They usually set out to achieve things, at times these can be simple things that do not require a lot of process, like “I need to buy toner”. But with “solutions”, or more involved purchases, buyers are more often driven by a result they are trying to achieve. They often don’t care how that result is achieved as long as it is legal and cost effective. Which is why pitching product, or features, or even ROI’s lead to longer sales.

The ‘pitch” is usually centered on “how, and how well, we do what we do”, just think of your average “elevator pitch”. Some evolve to what makes “the how we do that” by adding what makes their process unique, hence the Unique Selling Proposition, but it is still about what we do and how, not necessarily why that is good for the buyer, just that it is unique from the others doing a similar thing. Still little about the outcomes, and “what’s in it for the buyer”. This leaves the buyer to figure out how well the pitch aligns with their objective.

Some smart marketers figured out that if they change the label to Value Proposition, from selling Proposition, they could catch more fly with that honey. But still a pitch.

To truly be unique, you should define your value vis-à-vis objectives the buyer is trying to achieve, results they are looking to deliver to their business. To do that you have to think more like they do, less like the day to day user of the product, and more like the ultimate beneficiary of the output of your product. To do that, you need to look at the world through their perspective rather than the product or sales perspective. I seriously doubt your buyers are reading the latest sales book, sales guide, or someone’s thesis on resurrecting some secret black art. They are more likely reading business books related to running their business, and the latest in that thinking. For every one of my posts you read, you should read a post written not for sales people, but your buyer, read an engineering blog, consume a journal from the professional association of your buyer. Read anything that allows you to have a conversation with your buyer about their world, not yours. That conversation will take further than the best value prop or USP. It’ll help you avoid driving your buyer to think “pitch – please”.

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right rich

You Can Be Right And Rich0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I am not sure where it originated, but we have all heard the question/expression: “Do you want to be right – or do you want to be rich?” A question many managers have asked, and fewer reps have answered. While there is no right or wrong answer, most managers tell me they prefer to hear ‘rich’ more so than ‘right’, you decide. There is a variation I deal with daily when working with sales people and how many, not all, but many approach the process.

While most professions seem to welcome the opportunity to be introduced to different methodologies, thought process, etc., it seems to be different. Again, many, not all, let’s go with the crowd favourite: 80/20, so about 80% of reps, actively resist training, development and improvement. Given that less than 60% of reps seem to make quota, you would think there may be a different view.

It seems that as soon as they hear that training is coming, many hear “they don’t think I know what I am doing, so they are bringing someone in to change things, worse, change me.” Whereas the outlook should be, I am good at what I do, this is an opportunity to do even better. What is even more profound is that the 20%, those who are consistently rocking it, have the opposite outlook, and frankly attitude, while participating in training and development; they bring curiosity, and embrace the new techniques and quickly assimilate them into their success.

It seems that many are looking for validation of what they are doing, and how they are doing it, while ignoring new elements they could benefit from. I have spoken to many peers who see a similar reaction, reps spending time and energy defending something that is not under attack, leaving one to wonder what’s going on. It seems many see it as an opportunity for a pissing contest than a way to make improvement to how they sell, and let’s face it, by extension make more sales and commissions.

Unfortunately, it is a contest with few winners. It’s not like we have a choice but to constantly improve how we sell. Next fiscal year will bring an increased quota, more competition, enhanced customer expectations and demands; the one thing you will not see an increase in is time. Whatever you delivered this year, you will need to deliver more next year, in no more time than this year. And while this may be as obvious as day, it seems to be lacking in the day to day, week to week planning of many reps.

I understand the realities of change, but at the core, what we sell is change, no matter the product or service. When you talk to most sellers the thing that frustrates them most is prospects who are close to change, guard and defend things as they are now. They are then approached by sales people, most of whom (80%), are doing things the same way as the other, and the very same way they did last year and the years before.

right richIf the name of the game is change, so if you want to “demo” anything, demo your ability to change to make improvements and win. But if your approach is no different this than last or two years ago, what are you communicating to your prospect beyond the words? “well he is saying some new shit, but he is selling the same way.” The incongruity is too big to miss. Can they help conclude that “They’re selling as they always have, the same must hold through for their product, I am safe to go with the same decision I made last time.”

On the other hand, if you approached things differently, you may get a different result. This is not to say that you need to make wholesale changes every time, but you need to change enough to lead a conversation you can both benefit from.

By not being defensive, and open to adding to, augmenting, enhancing and changing how you sell, you may find that you can be both right and rich.

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businessman on the beach

The “Dog Days” Of Sales0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

There is no denying that summer brings a different rhythm, energy and cadence to sales. Vacations, kids out of school, longer sunnier days are but a few contributing factors. Unfortunately, this just feeds in to tribal notions about selling the summer; no doubt helped by prospects and customers using “summer” to hold sellers at bay and fend off making decisions.

No, It Can’t Wait

While on the surface some of the reasoning presented by prospects (and often accepted at face value by some reps), may sound reasonable, they are not. When looked at in the cold light of time and quota, one can never take their eye off the prize, or assume that time somehow ticks away differently on the summer. A simple litmus test next time a prospect brings up summer, is to explore how tolerant their company is of seasonal short falls or slackness in effort.

Seasonal Adjustments

businessman on the beachOne benefit that the relaxed pace of summer brings, is people’s propensity to do mid-year reviews and status checks, and then adjust course accordingly. If you have dealt with a specific vertical, or set of buyers, you could be in a position to add to this process. Being that you have had greater exposure to best practices, you are in a position to offer value without talking product or sales. Having seen how different people and organisations approach similar opportunities, you should always be in a position to introduce new lines of thinking or tools that will help them complete their task, or enhance the effort. More on another way this can be handy in a minute.

Given that the cast of players in decisions is increasing, used to be 5.4, now it’s 6.7. Given that some of the players will be on vacation, others may be reluctant to make decisions. But that should not prevent you from going full speed into education and influence mode, using their relax stated to introduce elements into the discussion that will rekindle their enthusiasm, revive their energy to levels when they started their journey.

With the pressure gauge down, you will find it easier step back and refocus on things that precipitated the journey. We have had experiences, where mid-way through the year the focus and energy dips to where the project is abandoned, which explains the almost a third of deals that go to no decision. This is your opportunity to not worry about the ultimate decision, and have them emotionally recommit and reinvest in the project, which is an opportunity to review and learn what has changed, what would they do differently if they were to start over again, or at least based on their journey to date.

You must remember that some of these will in fact get back on track this year, others, while they may see merit again, will slip into next year, better than no sale at all.

Taking advantage of the mood of summer also allows you to explore the dynamics internally, and those that will have to be in place to ensure a decision coming out of Labour Day. How and who makes the decision, who can and has killed projects in the past, and other important facts that are much better exchanged in the Dog Days Of Summer.

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Why You Want Sales To Be A Numbers Game2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

If you follow this blog you know that I do not understand or stand with those who say sales is not a numbers game.  While I agree that the focus should always be about quality over quantity, the reality is that no matter the quality of your prospects, you will need a given (minimum) quantity of quality sales in order to meet, or better yet, exceed quota.  Now, unless you are one of a privileged few, there is no getting away from the fact that your quota is a number!  You’re going to have to deal with, and use numbers to meet or exceed that all important number.

Numbers = Accountability

I find it amusing that many of the pundits who insist that sales is not a numbers game, will drone on for hours about conversion and conversion rate.  They are absolutely right, without those ‘numbers’ (conversion rates) it is not only hard to plan, but know where you are, so you can refine your plan and execute.  This may explain why so many sales people fail to achieve quota.

Knowing your key conversion numbers gives you the power to take charge of your success and be accountable for your results.

Can’t Measure Everything – But You Should Measure Some

Part of the problem is the lack of imagination displayed by many managers, sales leaders and enablement types.  They use numbers as a weapon, and each time they are at a loss to explain why things are the way they are, they add another measure to the mix, leading to their people working the numbers rather than the sale.  The fix is in focusing on key numbers that help one plan an improvement plan that will the rep execute and win sales, not just hot arbitrary and meaningless numbers.

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What to Measure

I find four numbers give you the opportunity to continuously leverage them to improve your sales approach and execution, and by extension your success.

  1. Deal size
  2. Proposal to Close
  3. Discovery to Proposal
  4. Initial meeting (live or virtual) to Discovery

To change any of the above, you will need to develop a strategy for change and improvement.  As you implement the plan, you will be able to measure and review, and make changes based on the results.  Numbers 1 & 4, will require you to change your territory and account planning, while challenging who you prospect and how.  Number 3 & 4, forces you to examine and how well you can engage and help the client articulate how you can help and deliver value, and maintain focus, if not urgency.

These are tip of the iceberg things, the devil is in the detail, and the execution.  We plug these into a proprietary tool that helps our clients develop improvement plans for their reps, based on real world inputs.  This in turn allows them to plan specific improvement plans for individual reps, while still supporting a standard sales process.  And what makes it work are the numbers.

Failing to focus on numbers in sales, always results in the number on your commission check decline or dwindle; but you don’t care cause sales is not a numbers game, and neither is your mortgage, right?

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girl by phone

Objections – Cause – Effect – Resolution2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Telephone prospecting is hard, in fact so hard that most people spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy trying to avoid it. What they are really trying to avoid is the rejection part of the call, “The Objection”. That’s why alternate means of engagement have such a great appeal for the masses (washed or unwashed, you decide), whatever your view of social selling, there is no direct rejection. Somehow, some sellers can differentiate and compartmentalize rejection from being ignored; they may not blow you off in a direct way, they just pretend you’re not there. The net effect is the same, no engagement, no prospect.

The problem for many would-be tele-prospectors is that they see the objection as being separate from the rest of the call. They love to brag about their company and product early in the call, (mistake), and are surprised when the voice on the other end say, “no interest”. What they fail to understand is that their intro, the start of the talk track (or script for you traditionalists), has a direct impact on the response.

Nothing to do with the school of sales one is from, and everything thing to do with human nature. The good news is that both parties in this drama are human, giving us ways to deal with this in a way that yields results for both. How we start a conversation directly dictates what kind of response we get. For example, if a parent scolds a child for being late, the child will quietly take in the words, but not the message, offering a meek, if any response at all. Alternatively, if the parent took the opportunity to present a life lesson, taking a conversant tone and carefully selected words, the child is much more likely to take in the message, leading to entirely different (better) reaction and response, making them more open and engaged.

girl by phoneSo while you will never be able to avoid objections in telephone prospecting, or being ignored in other forms of prospecting, you can do things to limit the number of potential objections, and keeping objections to predictable and manageable set. You can then practice how to take away those most common objections that result from your well and purposefully crafted introduction.

Remember, the person you’re calling has literally heard all this before, thousands of times. As soon as they hear a voice buzzing on about “leading provider”, “cutting edge solution”, or any set of words immediately followed by “awesome”, the prospect starts desperately search for their fly swatter, and start flinging objections at the buzzing sound emanating from their phone.

The logical conclusion is that to avoid fatal and unpredictable objections, we need to change what we talk about at the top of the call. Namely, things the prospect was likely thinking about before you interrupted their day. If that interruption is in line with what they were focused on, you will still get an objection, after all, you are an interruption, but it is likely to be one of a handful, literally 5, objections. Focus on their objectives and the impacts you have delivered for others with similar objectives, and you will get the predictable response, allowing you to take away that objection in a predictable fashion that will lead to a conversation, which is the first step in engagement.

Once you know the cause, you can resolve it, and change the outcome.

Learn the specifics of handling the most common prospecting objections:

OHH N

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Time questions concept as a group of floating clocks and timepieces shaped as a question mark as a metaphor for deadline or business schedule confusion or corporate appointment information as a 3D illustration.

The Best Sellers Are Cheaters0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

You can slice it six ways from Sunday, the best sales people are the ones who maximize and do most with their time. Success in sales is all about Execution – everything else being just talk, and given that all of us are allocated 24 hours at the stroke of midnight, what and how one choses to execute becomes a critical difference. Execution takes time, a non-renewable resource, finding ways to stretch and bend that time in your favour is critical; and doing that will usually involve cheating. Not cheating like when a company cheats a rep out commissions, or by deceit, but cheat as in:

“to elude or thwart by or as if by outwitting – “cheat death” (Merriam-Webster)
I would suggest the sales equivalent being time – “cheat time”

To begin with, top sellers spend much less time talking, and a great deal more time executing. That does not mean that they get everything right, but since they spend more time doing than, thinking, planning or talking, they are bound to get more things right. More importantly, they will have more mistakes to review and learn from. A big unspoken consequence to waiting for perfection before taking action is you are not making enough mistakes to learn from, and as the end of the month quarter or year draws near, we revert back to doing things they way we always have, the same way that leads to almost half of B2B reps missing quota.

In order to ensure that our clients get maximum bang for their training dollars, we put a great deal of focus and effort on adoption, changing people’s habits. No matter how great a sales methodology you introduce, if you don’t change the habits of the team you are working with, you will not change the way they sell. The book of the last trainer is clearly on display on the shelf of each rep, just absent from the way they execute, because their habits remain the same, they are just applied using a different story.

In this process, we work closely with teams over time, and have come to see specific things recur time and time again across different teams. One being how they value and deal with time, not just their own, but that of the buyer.

Time Question Concept

Using our Activity Calculator, each rep calculates approximately what percentage of their time they have to allocate to high value activities across a period of time, ideally a sales cycle, or if we have to a week or month. (I really prefer sales cycle, but many sales people don’t know how long their sales cycle is, their default answer is “Depends”) Once a rep makes a commitment to how much time they will allocate to critical sales activities, the challenge is to stick to it.

The best sellers cheat time by ensuring that they complete the most important high value activities. Their view is that the most important thing is attaining quota, so they cheat by ensuring those things that drive quota get done before and above all other things. The less successful sellers, cheat themselves by doing everything but what drives their quota. They find it more important to do things their customer support or product people can and are paid to do, eating up valuable time, eating away at their ability to win.

I understand the need to be customer focused, which is exactly why your company hired support teams better equipped to do that than you; they hired you to sell. So stop cheating yourself and your customer, yes, by stepping between them and the right resource you not only risk resolution, but risk losing customers as a result.

So if you’re gonna cheat, do it in a way that helps your customers, company, and you; go out and sell, don’t waste time on things that don’t lead to revenue.

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Win lose draw dice

Let’s Make A Decision!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

We’ve all been there, a real-life version of the popular game show. You’ve done your work, and have arrived at that final fateful stage of the sales.

Three possibilities, three doors:

  1. A positive Decision
  2. A negative Decision
  3. No Decision

While it is clear which door the individual sales person want, the question is how to get that. Much of that will depend on the state of the buyer and their organization at the time of decision. Broadly speaking three sates: 1) Actively looking, those people out there consuming all the content you dangle in front of them as they willingly march down their buying journey. You know all about these folks, 57% of the way… blah blah blah. They know what they want, why, and they are geared to get it. 2) Passively looking, they know they have to make a purchase, but they are not driven by the same urgency as their Active cousins. The things these two groups have in common include that they know they have to make a purchase, one now, the other sometime in the next 12 to 18 months. The other, is that they are both at the point of choosing the product, and will most likely end up with doors number 1 or 2. The other thing to consider is that these two groups make up less than 30% of the over target market.

But if you are only selling to this small group of buyers, an informed and opinionated set of buyers, you are most likely facing a decision based on price, features, or both. The good thing is that while you may not like the decision, at least you’ll get one.

What about the remaining 70%, the Status Quo, the complacent, set in their way, completely oblivious and removed from the market? Unlike Active or passive buyers, these people are not even thinking of playing, never mind deciding. Which is one of the key factors behind the high and rising number of deals that end up behind door number 3, no decision! According to sources some 30% of opportunities going into the top of your funnel will end in no decision. Take out the Active and Passive folks, who will make a decision, even when not in our favour, this means about half of deals initiated with Status Quo buyers go nowhere. Not the best use of time or resources.

While there a host of reason for this, but I think the key is what we are selling these folks. Because most sellers are practiced at selling to Folks who have made the decision to act, and are now down to selecting a product. Status Quo people are much further back down the road, they need to be convinced that a change is necessary. When we are successful at doing that, then they enter the product, or if you like, the solution, selection phase. The reason half don’t make a product decision is we were not successful at showing them why they need to leave the safety and warmth of their current means of doing things. Without that, they don’t need to decide on a product, feature, price or any of the common features of a buyer initiated and driven sale. Active and Passive buyers do most of the lifting, they just need someone to place an order with once they made up their mind.

Win lose draw diceSuccess with getting Status Quo buyers rests in being able to engage them on how they do things now, how that aligns with or detracts from their objectives. If we fail to get them to understand that there is another way to achieve those objectives, there is no need for a product decision.

Forget what makes you successful in winning what’s behind doors number 1 & 2, to win what’s behind door number 3, you need to create a reason for them to have to decide, this is about everything but the product. Active and Passive buyers have made the decision to decide on their own, leaving the sellers who service them no opportunity to exercise by sales people who are only selling to these buyers. Frankly a challenge for many inbound types, and others.

Adding to the challenge is that as soon as we go “product” with these buyers, they turn off, for them that is putting the cart way, way ahead of the horse. Your options need to look to their internal processes, and how those are enabling or preventing them from achieving current objectives, or objectives you can get them to adopt. The half of Status Quo buyers who choose not to make a decision, are not rejecting your product, but your inability to persuade based on anything other than product.

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Clouds in shape of question marks

Answers Are Only As Good As The Question0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Communication, which at the core selling/buying is, will always be a mutual exercise, which why monologues work well in theater, but not in delivering revenue or quota. As such, a bit of forethought and focusing on how you’ll choreograph the sales are important. Which is why it is that much more noticeable to all, including buyers, when the effort is just not there in how sellers choose to engage and carry on a sales interview or conversation.

“I may make you feel but I can’t make you think”

Sellers need to put more effort into planning their interactions with prospects than many do. This needs to be on two levels, first the areas or topics they choose focus on, second the kind of questions they ask. Sellers forget that their prospect is talking to a range of people about the purchase they are about to make. If the questions I ask, the areas I choose to explore and drill down on, are no different than the three or four or eight other vendors they are speaking with, then the selection and decision will go back to the same old, usually the lowest common denominator, moderated by price (the lowest price).

Areas of Focus – Too often too many sellers start from the erroneous assumption that their buyer has their act together, know exactly what they want, and all that is left is to pick a product. That is a false premise, and as such leads to longer sales cycles and missed sales. While anecdotally we always knew that buyers are not as together as they sometimes appear, or sellers believe, the data is now in. Some will see this as good news, allowing them as sellers to bring more value to the conversation by helping buyers in ways much more meaningful than features and price. Sellers have the benefit of having worked with many buyers with similar experiences, allowing the perceptive ones to see themselves not as product reps, but conduits to others’ experiences, good and bad. The value they can bring is in helping buyers better understand what they are dealing with, and their best option, not options, in addressing those specifics.

Even if a prospect has advanced past the stage of deciding what they want to do and how, sellers benefit from starting “back” there, before moving to asking questions about how they plan to address things, i.e. product. Retracing a little, will show them as being different, and will also help the seller understand the buyer’s thought process, which may allow for more unique input, and to demonstrate they are different and truly “buyer centric”, by not jumping to product right away.

What we Ask – The kind of question go a long are key. You have to assume that you are the fifth sales person they spoke to that day; how will you make a different impression than the four who went before you?

If you ask the same as them, what will they base their selection on? If you reinforce perceptions rather than challenge them, are you not telling the buyer to base it on price and emotion?  Your questions are not just about the response, they need to get them to think, think beyond where they are now, and where the other sellers have taken them.

If they can answer your question without thinking, you’re in trouble! But many sellers I meet are afraid of asking questions that put the prospect on the spot. Remember the goal here is not to embarrass the prospect, but to help  them really think through the issue before they commit, whether they commit to you or another. I worked with one sales pundit who felt asking the prospect “Why” questions were not cricket as it may stump the buyer. Well if you can “stump” the buyer, it is evidence that they have not thought things through, and you are doing them a favour.

Getting an answer is easy, getting an answer that moves the process forward in a way that helps buyers is not. Which why the answers can only be as good or productive as the questions.

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