New business development is the lifeblood of every company. Prospecting needs to be a regular behavior if growth is to occur. However, there are some techniques that shouldn't be used, others that should.
I've recently received three telephone calls that are great illustrations of what not to do. Here's the gist of what they said. My replies are in quotes.
"Hi, may I speak to the person responsible for purchasing office products? (Speaking.) Oh, listen my name is Bob and we’re having a contest to see who will be the first to sell 500 cases of premium paper this month. Would you please help me out by buying one or two cases today?" (Sorry, but I don't need any paper right now.) He hung up. Why would I buy paper that I don't need? Why would I care about his internal sales contest when I don't even know him?
"Hi, Sharon, are you the owner? (Yes, I am; and, you are…?) Great, listen it'll only take me 30 seconds to tell you what we do, then I'll close with a bad joke and let you go. Sound fair?" (No, I don't care for bad jokes.) He hung up. While I'm all for injecting humor into conversation, it has to be appropriate. And, launching into a canned speech without identifying yourself will always turn the prospect off immediately.
"Good morning, ma'am, are you the owner? (Yes, I am.) I'm calling from "x" publication representing "x" and several of our members have recommended that we contact you regarding purchasing an ad in our upcoming issue." Without pausing he continued for 2 minutes to tell me all about how fabulous the publication was, glossy, full of important facts, schedules, etc. Unfortunately, I tuned out immediately and then became frustrated when my repeated attempts to cut in were ignored. While it may feel great to finally get a 'live one' on the line, launching into lengthy one-sided dialogue doesn’t generate a two-way conversation.
So, what should you do? Here are some pointers:
1) Remember, your goal is to get an appointment, generate interest
2) Always respect the prospect's time (Is this a bad time?)
3) Ask for permission to continue speaking (Mind if I take 30 seconds to explain why I'm calling?)
4) Ask them questions based on the top 3 or 4 ways your product/service has helped others (Those we help have experienced "x"; have found themselves in "x" situation; are concerned about "x")
5) If they nibble, keep asking. If they don't, move on. Either way, you kept them in charge of the conversation by granting them authority to decide. It's about them, not you.
6) Practice! Sound conversational. They must believe you care more about their business than a potential sale.
7) Realize it's only a phone call.
8) Never push or focus on your features and benefits, this is not the time for that.
9) Accept the fact that you’ll encounter rejection. If they hang up on you, congratulate yourself. You choose never to work with people that would treat you that way and it only took you 30 seconds to figure it out, that's great!
Keep moving. Each call is great practice, makes you better and brings you one step closer to an appointment with an ideal prospect.
And that “I” is each Individual member that makes up the team and is responsible, to some degree, for its success or failure. This is why hiring the right people to begin with is job one.
The definition of a team is a group of individuals related by complementary skills who are united together by a common cause. That common cause is what unifies the team to withstand the stress of battle.
The key to whether any team is successful lies in the attitude, commitment and engagement of each of its individual members. The level at which these elements are present results in either a successful, unsuccessful or dysfunctional team. In spite of themselves, some dysfunctional teams have success, however, it’s short-term and can’t be sustained.
So, what might a successful team look like? One example is a team of doctors and nurses working in an emergency room. Each member brings their individual experiences and expertise to the team; each are responsible for different procedures and functions; each are required to perform at their best in every emergency; individually they each contribute and commit to doing whatever is necessary to ensure the health and well-being of their patients.
In other words, individually, they must perform at 100%, 100% of the time. Anything less is not an option, ever. When they feel a little off, they gut it up and push onward because each individual is committed to the team and their cause, heal the patient! They hold each other accountable. Individuals related by complementary skills, united together by a common goal, and committed to accomplishing the goal = success.
Here’s a figurative example of how attitude and lack of commitment could result in failure. Just imagine if airline pilots decided that operating at 97% of their ability was good enough. The likely result would be 3% of all flights ending in peril. With 4,000+ domestic flights per day in the USA, 3% equates to 120+ flights per day being unsafe. Using an average of 50 passengers per flight, 6,000+ passengers each day would be risking their lives.
For a more realistic example of how attitude, level of engagement and lack of commitment might rear their ugly heads let’s look at the sales profession. There are many days when all a salesperson hears is ‘no’. It’s difficult to dust yourself off, put on your game face and carry on at those times. But carrying on and performing is a must. The lifeblood of any company is the revenue generated by the sales team; without revenues there’s no business. The company relies on each member of the sales team to contribute, each and every day, no matter how many no’s they’ve heard.
A seller who makes excuses or hopes another member will go over budget and cover their lack of performance is doomed to fail. The team that regularly picks up that seller’s slack and covers for them is dysfunctional at the management level.
Conversely, a seller who is determined to give 100% to ensure the team reaches their monthly, quarterly and annual goals is destined for a lucrative career. And, if the other individual members are equally committed, the team can be unstoppable. I’ve had the privilege of building and managing three such teams and it was exhilarating to play a part in those record-breaking moments.
Have you ever thought of the team you’re on as being your team? Well, it is. Every time you walk in the door to report for work, you send a signal to the other team members that you are committed, will give 100%, and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. No excuses, no finger pointing, no bellyaching. When you make the conscious decision to stay on your current team, you owe it to them to perform. They rely on you and have the right to expect your best efforts once you’ve decided to show up. Each of you must commit to success and hold one another accountable while simultaneously ensuring everyone has the materials, support and training they need to excel.
Be proactive, recognize the contributions of others and thank them, brainstorm ideas and suggestions to strengthen the team, share your findings. If your team doesn’t have a specific mission or purpose that unites them, offer to help create one. Be positive and re-commit yourself, you’ll be rewarded for doing so.
Finally, sadly, we know that many are not happy in their current roles. My advice: readjust your attitude, re-commit yourself to your team, or find a team you can commit to. You are responsible for the peace of mind, fulfillment and happiness that lead to the success you desire and deserve. Individually, we are each capable of doing great things. Here’s to the success of your team based on your contributions!
Sharon Day is President of Sales Activation Group, specializing in strategic, deliberate revenue growth.
Many salespeople I meet with amaze me with the attitude that their company should be doing enough marketing to generate leads for them. Wake up! As a seller, it's your responsibility to generate leads for your company - leads that turn into clients. If you aren't generating leads every day, you will likely be out of a job or out of business within 6 months. Don't kid yourself. Attrition affects every industry. Production and materials costs are rising across the board. Revenues must increase to offset those costs. The sales team must generate leads.
While every company needs to establish its brand and market its products/services, every seller needs to establish themselves and their credibility to existing and potential customers. Prospects and clients may know and trust your company, but they'll only do business with you when they trust the salesperson.
You establish trust with prospects and clients through the questions you ask and the level of understanding you demonstrate. You deepen that trust when you develop solutions to solve their identified problems. Your job is to position your products/services as the best resource and solution. You may have to come up with a creative idea to help them. If the scope of your capabilities won't solve their issue, you may need to bring in an alliance partner on the project. Establish alliance partnerships. In other words, utilize every resource you can find to ensure you become known as a trusted solution provider who places the client's interests and needs first.
Take responsibility for your success. Identify your ideal client. Network to generate interest and curiosity. Ask for referrals. Prospect continuously - everywhere you go. Set daily and weekly goals for each of these activities and track your progress.
Do the behaviors required and start generating leads.
If you’re like the vast majority of business owners or sales managers, there have been countless times when you’ve doubted what you see after reviewing your pending business reports. I’ve come to find that there are three primary reasons why sales people misrepresent these numbers so often.
1 They are forever hopeful
2 They are too trusting
3 They are fooled by positive prospects
It’s so easy for many in sales to get ahead of themselves and jump to conclusions when a prospect gives a positive response. That’s because sellers tend to be biased by what they hope to hear; and, many have been trained to listen for positive clues so they can respond with a correlating feature/benefit statement.
Features/benefits selling became popular in the 1980s and no longer works. Stop using this technique as it actually can backfire on you in a big way. If you babble on about your many features and their benefits and the prospect has no need for them, they will tune you out and you will turn them off, possibly forever.
When most sellers hear a positive response, they reply by asking something along the lines of: “Why don’t we get together to talk about it?” or, “Would you like me to put together a proposal for you?” Stop this as well! Instead, ask them why they are interested, why they are positive, what their exposure to your company/product has been, etc. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up spending (and wasting) time with several suspects disguised as prospects who never end up doing business with you.
Sprinkle doses of skepticism and curiosity into every conversation. That’s the only way you’ll get a clear picture of what the prospect really needs and wants and when they’ll purchase. Without that information, it’s impossible to predict the timing and likelihood of the sale closing so the business shouldn’t be included on a pending report. Just because a prospect is positive doesn’t mean they’ll purchase from you.
Once when I was in a Director of Sales role a seller and their manager returned from an appointment with a disgruntled client very excited about how they were going to get a large renewal order. After asking them a few questions it became obvious that they had both fallen into the trap of being fooled by the prospect’s welcoming nature and positive responses. They were both certain that within the next week an order would come in because the prospect claimed he would work with us again. Yet, they had nothing in writing, no firm start date, no answers as to what the prospect would purchase, only a great feeling from their positive meeting. Needless to say they weren’t permitted to include the account on their pending report and the order never materialized. Shocking! The prospect was simply re-connecting with them yet nowhere near ready to proceed. Lesson learned.
So, here are some general rules of thumb for deciphering pending reports and getting a truer handle on upcoming business. While these may seem a bit harsh to some managers, the only way you’ll be able to accurately project future business is when you get your team on board with being more realistic. Managers are responsible for and drive the accuracy of their team’s projections.
1) If an account has been listed on the report for more than five consecutive weeks, remove them.
2) A red flag and sure sign that business isn’t real is when the projected start date changes. If you allow the account to remain on the report, discount its likelihood of closing by 50%.
3) Say a seller lists several accounts in the same industry, all at 50% likelihood and to start in the same month. That’s a signal the seller is in the process of a mass marketing campaign and they’re counting on/hoping that one will materialize. Remove half the accounts and give the remaining no more than 10% likelihood.
4) Have management vet all amounts that constitute large sales. Craft a list of questions you’ll ask the seller to ascertain whether their claim is real. If you have doubts, trust your instincts not the seller’s justification.
5) If the business is truly pending, the seller will be able to state the specific next steps for that account.
6) Beware of all business that’s listed as pending 3+ months into the future. Even with a signature, too many things can happen in the next 90 days for any business to guarantee today exactly what they’ll purchase in the future.
7) If there’s no client signature, there’s no greater than 50% likelihood of closing.
Managers, always remember that if your sellers leave an appointment without a signature, there’s no order and your team is still in the game of chasing down a decision. That game will last exactly as long as you allow it to.
Take charge of your business by developing a strategy to increase the accuracy of your projections, then teach and hold the team accountable to its use. Otherwise, their hope will spring eternal and you’ll be riding on a wing and a prayer.
This is important. Your client roster speaks to your character and principles and will either support or undermine your vision for your company. Being clear about this helps you stay true to what you value so you’re not swayed by dollar signs.
When we have a solid definition of our ideal prospects and clients and understand why they’re ideal, it keeps us focused and on track in everything we do from networking to servicing and how we allocate our time, money and resources. Here are some tips and questions you might ask to determine/verify which prospects are the best fit for your business.
Be clear about what you bring to the table. What niche are you serving? What expertise do you offer? Why is this important to the market? What are your prospects struggling with that you can solve? You have to know this before you can identify your ideal customers.
Are you employee-focused or customer-focused? Think long and hard about this question. If you adopt the mentality that the customer is always right, discern whether you may be creating undue internal tensions trying to constantly please some of them. If you adopt the mentality that you’ll be employee-focused and hire those who best fit the role and work to keep them engaged in their work and your company, might your customers naturally be well taken care of?
What customers would be wrong to work with? Occasionally I’ll encounter a business owner who is rude and hangs up on me. I decided long ago that I would not work with that type of person and I congratulate myself for finding out quickly that I can remove them from my list. If you’re desperate for business you might be tempted to work with anyone who will purchase – be careful to remain true to what you value and the right business will come.
In which markets do you wish to work? How might this expand and when? What industries/clients might open up as opportunities when you do expand? What internal changes will you have to make/invest in to expand your offerings? Can you afford to do so? If not now, when? Might you form a strategic alliance with an existing entity that offers synergies with your product/service? The last thing you want to do is expand into another market and not be prepared to execute.
What are your ideal target’s annual revenues/income parameters? Should they be currently investing a certain amount of money on the products/services you provide? What other parameters are important to you?
Remember, you want to be able to succinctly state, preferably in one sentence, who it is you wish to work with and why. Be clear. Make sure your prospects and those with whom you network understand and can form a clear picture in their mind. Then you’ll be on the right track to get quality introductions and recommendations.