Ask questions to facilitate every step in the sales process

Make it easy to exchange information with your customers.

By Dave Kahle

A study published a few years ago identified the top five behavioral characteristics of the superstar sales people.  Number two on the list was this:  They ask better questions.  Amazing.  Of all the possibilities for ways that the superstars differ from average sales people, who would have guessed that they excel at this fundamental communication skill.  Everyone can ask questions, but they ask better questions.

This competency is composed of two fundamental parts:  1) Preparing better sales questions, and 2) Implementing them with excellence.  In Best Practice #34, I discussed the first part of this:  Preparing better sales questions.  This Best Practice speaks to the second part – excellent implementation.

In the hands of a superstar sales person, a better sales question is clearly the most powerful sales tool at his disposal.  He/she uses it to show interest in the customer, to facilitate relationships and rapport, to uncover opportunities, to uncover hidden motivations and agendas, to gain feedback on solutions offered, to unveil concerns, and gain agreement on the next step and close the sale.

From the very beginning, the first “Hello,” to the very end, “How satisfied are you with your purchase,” questions are the infrastructure upon which the sales process proceeds.

To begin to move toward excellence in this best practice, focus on these issues:

1.  Create an atmosphere that is conducive to the honest and comfortable exchange of information.

2.  Ask your questions in the correct sequence.  Think through the questions you want to ask, and arrange them in the sequence that makes it easiest to answer, and provides you the information you need.

3.  Respond to your customers’ answers positively.  Every answer provided by a customer should be immediately rewarded with a positive response from you.  This indicates that you are listening and focusing on the customer.

This competency of asking better questions is so important that you should spend the rest of your career becoming better at it.  As the study indicated, it is one of the most fundamental of all skills that separate the best from the rest.

As you become a master of this most powerful selling tool, you’ll naturally experience the rewards of better customer relationships, greater knowledge of the customer’s situation, greater confidence and competence on your part.

You’ll be on your way to becoming a superstar sales person.  If you want to become a superstar sales person, do what the best do.  And this is one of the key best practices of the best sales people.

To learn more about this best practice, consider my book, Question Your Way to Sales Success.  If you prefer an online experience, check out these two lessons on The Sales Resource Center:  Pod#4, and Pod #5 “Mastering Your Most Powerful Sales Tool.”

Make a Smart CRM Decision

Make a Smart CRM Decision

Every day our sales organization answers the same question from people looking to select CRM software. “How are you different from all the other CRM software providers?” It’s a fair question in a highly competitive market where CRM is looked at as a commodity. What they are hoping for is that we will “wow” them with a rousing feature or two that the other guys do not have or that we will be less expensive, but this mentality of selecting CRM software based on features, cosmetic appearance and price is wreaking havoc among the small to mid-size business community. Here is why.

CRM software is not simply an appliance that you plug in the wall that magically improves your marketing and delivers more sales. It requires much more than this. CRM is just a tool. It doesn’t run your business, people do. Chances are if you are a small to mid-size business, hiring experienced people that can embrace CRM and use it to improve your business performance is a challenge.

Did you know that 73% of small to mid-size businesses that implement a CRM solution fail to realize any measurable results? They could argue that the CRM software they selected was too hard to use and did not work as advertised. Or they can come to the realization that like many other small to mid-size businesses they simply do not have the internal processes in place or the resources to create powerful marketing campaigns, implement a structured sales process, or provide best in class customer service. Here is the really bad part. The majority of CRM solution providers that sell to small and mid-size businesses cannot help you, because they do not have the resources either! So you are left with a piece of software that is not properly implemented, is barely utilized, and if you need customer service well send an e-mail. Welcome to the 73% percent club.

This is what separates Commence CRM from the myriad of low cost CRM solution providers that offer little more than a basic one-size-fits-all piece of software. Their systems are not flexible enough to meet unique business requirements; Commence CRM is. They do not offer best practices or professional services with personalized training, mentoring, and assistance to ensure that you get the maximum value from their solution. We do and that is why our customers are successful while others fail.

At Commence, we don’t just sell CRM software. We are your business partner. For more than two decades we have helped customers improve how they market, sell, and provide service to their customers. Combining our top rated software with  experienced staff and a set of best practices ensures the successful implementation and use of our CRM software. This is our success formula and why we are different from other CRM solution providers.

Come talk with us and experience the difference. Learn more at commence.com.

Commence Making a Difference for Small to Mid-Size Companies

Looking for that perfect CRM solution that offers more functionality than traditional out-of-the-box products, but without the cost and complexity of enterprise-level solutions?

Commence CRM is that solution.

For more than two decades, Commence Corporation has been providing powerful flexible business software to small and mid-size companies. Commence CRM is that middle market product that extends  the traditional contact management, sales, and marketing functionality offered by a 100 different CRM solutions providers with a customer service ticketing system, an internet based customer portal, integration of your web site with Commence CRM and a project management application. In addition to this enhanced functionality that is traditionally only found in high level products costing much more, Commence CRM incorporates a higher degree of customizability, workflow processes and data security than found in comparatively priced products. It is this second level of functionality and support that many customers do not realize they need until they discover it’s not available in the solution they had selected.

There is no need to worry however because we have become experts in migrating data from other CRM systems and we can get you operational with a better solution in no time.

See commence.com to learn more. Ask for a free trial or speak with one our product experts. You will be glad you did.

Creating a Powerful Sales Plan

Sales Plan

By Dave Kahle

Field sales people have a unique aspect to their jobs – they have the ability to decide what to do every moment of every day.  The need to make this decision – where to go, who to see, who to call, what to do – distinguishes the sales profession from most others.

I’ve often thought that the quality of this decision, more than any other single thing, dictates the quality of the sales person’s results.  Consistently make effective decisions, and your results will improve.  Make thoughtless, habitual or reactive decisions, and your results will be sub-par.

One of the ways to ensure that you make good decisions about your selling time is to create a comprehensive sales plan.

What’s a sales plan?  A written, thoughtful set of decisions about the most effective things you can do.  A sales plan should be the result of some good thinking, wherein you analyze and prioritize a number of different aspects of your job.

A good sales plan addresses different time durations and different aspects of your job.

Annual planning retreat

Every sales person should discipline himself/herself to an annual planning retreat.  Set a day or two aside, every year, to engage in some serious planning.  Turn off the phone, shut down the email, and immerse yourself into deep thought about the coming year.  Begin by specifying a series of annual sales goals.  What, specifically, do you want to accomplish this year in your job?  I recommend no more than five specific sales goals.  Typically, one of these goals describes the total volume of sales dollars you want to create; another may describe the number of new customers you want to acquire; yet another may relate to the number of high potential customers with whom you want to increase your business.  Regardless of what your goals are, an annual, written, specific set of goals is the beginning of a sales plan.

Next, give some thought, and express that thought on paper, as to your basic strategy to accomplish those goals.  If you are going to acquire 20 new customers, for example, exactly what are you going to do in order to accomplish that annual goal?

Classify all your accounts by their potential.  Rank them in order, identify the highest potential, and then plan to spend more time with the highest potential.

Re-organize your filing system; throw out the obsolete hard copies and delete the unnecessary electronic files.

To do this well, you will need to devote a full day or two.  This annual exercise is the first part of a good sales plan.

Monthly plan

Next, you should develop a more detailed plan every month.  Produce a one or two page document which contains your specific commitments to the most effective actions.  Once again, you are required to analyze and prioritize your efforts in regards to a number of issues.

First, your monthly objectives:  What do you want to accomplish relative to the annual goals that you set?  If you said you wanted to sell $2,000,000 worth of your goods this year, how much do you have to sell this month?  Each of your annual goals should have a monthly component.

Next, you should address your prospects and customers.  In order of priority, in which prospects and customers should you invest your time?  That priority often takes the form of a methodical and objective ranking into categories – typically A, B, and C – based on potential.  The sales plan then describes your plan for coverage of the A’s and B’s.

You should address the CTM opportunities, regardless of where they occur.  CTM stands for Closest to the Money.  Analyze and prioritize your efforts related to those opportunities within your territory that are closest to the money.  What are you going to do to bring each of them to fruition?  Specify each, the dollar amount of the opportunity, and what your actions should be.

Your company may have certain key product or product lines that it wants to emphasize.  If so, you’ll need to analyze and prioritize your efforts in regards to those product lines.  What will you do this month to increase sales of those product lines?  What specific actions will you take, in which specific accounts?

Finally, what will you do this month to improve yourself?  What classes or seminars will you attend?  What books will you read?  To which CDs will you listen?

Note that all of this addresses not every action you will take, but rather the most effective actions.  You can note these things on a page or two.

Don’t think that you can keep all this in your head, and skip the discipline of writing it down.  Writing each specific action and strategy down, whether it’s on a yellow pad or a computer document, forces precise thinking.  The written word also commits you to a degree much deeper than if you keep the idea locked in your head.

After you have completed this monthly sales plan, it’s time to schedule your time.  Lay out a plan for each day for the next 30 days.  Where will you plan to be, and who will you plan to see?  Reflect first your priorities from your monthly plan.  Then fill in the non-priority calls.

You and I both know that your days will rarely go according to plan.  However, without a plan, you will have totally given up the ability to control and manage your time.

By having a plan you have something to fall back on, something to refer to, some benchmark by which to measure the constant and urgent demands on your time. So, there is an annual component to your sales plan, as well as a monthly discipline.  But you are not finished yet.

Weekly plans

You need to reorganize and recommit to your monthly time and territory plan each week.  Adjust your plan based on what actually happened the previous week.  For example, if you didn’t get to see an A account that you had planned on seeing, can you see them this week instead?  Make your adjustments each week.  Each week, at the end of the week, spend some time planning and preparing for the upcoming week.

Daily plans

Finally, you need to plan each sales call.  What do you want to accomplish in each call?  What do you need to prepare in order to accomplish it?  Again, you’ll be more focused and more committed if you write down a specific outcome that you would like to achieve in each sales call.  Keep in mind that sales is a process, consisting of a series of steps that the buyer and seller take to come to a good decision.  Your planned outcomes should be narrow and specific.  Something like:  “Acquire the information I need in order to structure a proposal,” instead of “Sell this account.”

The creation of a sales plan, as you can see, is not a simple, one time event.  Rather it is a discipline that involves a commitment of time and thoughtfulness at specific intervals in the year.

It is also not just an administrative requirement, but a powerful tool that enables a professional sales person to consistently make good decisions about the most important question he/she faces:  Where to go and what to do?

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We have a number of resources to help you do this.  Consider our Kahle Way® Selling System, and read the book, 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People. If you are a member of The Sales Resource Center ™, consider Cluster CL-88: Planning, or Pod-38: Strategic Planning for Sales People.