Question and Answer #56 – How to get a timely decision?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Sales frustration with trying to get a decision

Q. In a situation where I have made contact with the decision maker, I have provided samples and prices but it needs to go to the prospects’ quality control department. Assuming that I have not been able to pre-schedule an in-person appointment or specific call back date for results, I end up wasting a tremendous amount of time to get one of three answers:

a. No thanks.
b. QC still not done.
c. Yes, I’d like to plan an order.

I repeatedly call back and leave voice mail requests for an answer with no response. Any ideas of how I can be more effective in this scenario? Many sales people simply keep returning physically to the customer to try to get an answer, but I don’t think this is any more effective than phone calls.

A. Let’s look at the situation from the customer’s point of view. He probably has more important things to do than test your product. Your project has become a low on the to-do list item. He’ll get to it when he gets to it.

Why isn’t it any big deal to him? Because you haven’t made it one. In your proposal to him, you haven’t hit any sufficiently sensitive and intense hot buttons to motivate him to push the project out of the mode of standard operating procedures and attach some urgency to it.

Let’s say you’ve shown him that you can save him 3% on one component of his product. Yawn. That’s nice, but you aren’t going to unleash any torrents of energy devoted to pushing your deal through. And, really, from his perspective, does it make any difference if he decides to buy it today, or he decides to buy it next month? Probably not. As a result, your deal continually gets pushed down the ever-growing and changing list of things he has to do.

So, the problem is that your customer isn’t motivated to push your project ahead of other things he has to do. And the reason he isn’t motivated is because you haven’t given him a reason to be motivated.

The place to address this issue is not after you have made the proposal, it is before. Do two things. First, in your information collecting, concentrate on finding the prospect’s hot button. Find some things that the prospect is already passionate about. Then when you make your proposal, show how your product helps him reach those goals and helps him achieve the things about which he is already passionate.

The issue is motivation, and you don’t interject motivation, you discover it. Discover what he’s already motivated about, and link your product to it.

Second, give him some reason to act by a certain date. Maybe you have a special price promotion, or some service that he would value, etc. There should be something the customer gains by acting by some date. So your proposal should be “X” if he orders before some date, and “Y” if he orders after. That gives him a reason to push your project up the to-do list. Then, when you call and get voice mail and leave a message, you can remind him of what is at stake if he makes the decision by that date.

If you are able to put either or both of these pieces into play, you’ll find that most of the frustration with projects that linger forever is eliminated by preventing it on the front end of the sales process.

Good luck.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.

Don’t Start – Then You Can’t Lose

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.

Don't procrastinate... stand at the plate and do something.

The STORY:

Do any of these scenarios seem familiar?

Bill knew he should do some prospecting, but it was getting near the end of the week.  Heck, he thought, most of the people I’d call will be thinking about the weekend.  Might as well put it off until Monday.  Or actually, Tuesday would be better.  On Monday I’m sure there will be a ton of stuff on their desks, and they definitely won’t have time for me.  Yeah, hit them on Tuesday between 10 and 12.  That’s the ticket.  But maybe mid-afternoon would be better.  I’ll have to think about that over the weekend.

Jane, the Sales Manager for a sales force of 24, knew she could increase sales if only everyone followed the same sales strategy.  With this in mind and the blessing of upper management, she had scheduled all of the salespeople to attend a mandatory week-long sales training session.  Once that happens, she decided, then we can really start turning some numbers.  Now all she wondered about was how to make sure that no one wiggled out of the mandatory meeting.  She had, over the past day, decided on the steps to take if someone tried.

Nick, during the past two months, had watched his sales slide into a black hole.  At first he figured it was the competition from across town that was causing it, but now he wondered.  He was spending more time than ever before with prospects and former customers, actually tons of time, and with poor results.  He was losing them all.  “What am I doing wrong?” he wondered.  I chat them up, and they dump me.  All the time I spend with them and nothing happens.

The RESULT:

All three examples above perfectly portray “not starting.”  If you don’t start the sale, you can’t lose the sale.  And losing is defined by 90% of the salespeople as “not getting the sale” or to put it another way, “I got a no.”

Getting a “no” is not losing.  Getting a “no” is success.  Getting a “no” allows you to go out and find a “yes.”

DISCUSSION:

There are hundreds of ways to avoid “starting,” and every one of them will seem perfectly reasonable at the time.

Bill wanted to make sure that his prospecting was done in a way to get the best results.  He was convinced he was approaching it correctly.  Result – no prospecting until next week.  And, does next week ever arrive?

Jane truly believed that once everyone attended the sales training, sales would go up.  Result – no sales were expected in the meantime.  But Jane was doing her job.

Nick felt that he should concentrate on establishing rapport with prospects.  He believed that the more rapport he established, the higher the likelihood of a sale.  Result – since all he was doing was establishing rapport, he never got around to selling.

APPROACH:

Just for the moment consider that you are a baseball player.  You can take batting practice for weeks.  But anything you hit during practice doesn’t count.  The only thing that counts is standing at the plate during a game.  Fortunately for the baseball player, he is eventually forced to stand at the plate and do something.

Unfortunately, salespeople are not forced to “stand at the plate” and do something.  Short of running out of money and not being able to pay bills, salespeople and Sales Managers will have the best reasons in the world to avoid starting.

How do you start more often than not?  By recognizing those behavior patterns that fill up your sales time and do nothing for you.  Write down how many hours you work a month.  Now keep track for a full month of how much time you directly spend with prospects.  Compare the two.  Then decide if you are “starting” or just “practicing.”

THOUGHT:

Start often.  The sooner you get a “no,” the sooner you can get the “yes.”  Start often.

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

To view the latest Sales Tip of the Week please click on the link below:

SALES TIP OF THE WEEK

What do you do when a customer becomes abusive with you?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

The customer is not always right

Q.  How do you recommend I handle profanity from a customer?

Q.  What do you do when a customer becomes abusive with you? Loud, screaming, and personally threatening?

A.  I thought I’d put both of these together because they speak to similar situations.

“The customer is always right” is a nice cliché, but like every cliché, it is only partially true.  Sometimes the customer is wrong, and sometimes he/she is a jerk.  Just because he/she is a customer doesn’t give them the right to be abusive to you, or to anyone, as far as that goes.

First, on the issue of profanity.  I try not to use profanity, and I am uncomfortable around people who do.  The same is true of crude, vulgar or highly sexualized conversation.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not talking about the occasional suggestive joke, or the forwarded email.  I’m talking about crude and vulgar conversation.

My typical reaction to any of these kinds of comments is to:

1.  not join in or respond in kind,

2.  ignore them and move the conversation on as best I could, and

3.  not be judgmental about the customer.  After all, it was me who was uncomfortable, not him.  So, that made it my problem, not his.

I have, on at least two occasions that I can think of, had an encounter with an abusive customer.

Many of you know that at one time in my sales career I sold surgical staplers.  We used to “scrub” surgery, which meant that we were in caps, masks and gowns and part of the sterile team.  That allowed us to be very close to the application of our instruments, and help assure that they were used appropriately.

I was working with a surgeon who was a former college football player (a lineman).  He was a big and intimidating guy.  At some point in the middle of an extremely long and complicated surgery, he misused the stapler.  That caused complications which, at the least, meant that the surgery was going to be quite a bit longer, and, at the most, that the patient’s life would be impacted.

The surgeon blamed me.  Loudly, crudely, and with profanity.  All sense of finesse and good people skills left me, and I replied in kind.  For the next five minutes or so, we screamed at each other, pacing up and down across the table with the patient between us.  In retrospect, I didn’t handle it well.  My natural reactions took over and overwhelmed my good intentions.

After the surgery, by the way, we apologized to each other, made nice, and he became a great customer.

I don’t think that was the model of how to respond to an abusive customer.  Here’s my advice.  If a customer becomes abusive with you, tell him/her that you are uncomfortable with his behavior, and leave.  Almost anything else that you do will either exasperate the situation, or be a detriment to your position and reputation.

For example, if you trade insults for insults, you’ll only drive the customer to more aggressive behavior.  It could escalate into something ugly.  If you back down and cower, you’ll be forever seen as weak and spineless.

Maintain your dignity, tell him/her how you feel, and then leave.  I suspect that more times than not, the customer will regret his/her actions, and be more accommodating to you in the future.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”

Question and Answer #55 – My sales are down. What can I do?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q. Every one of my customers is buying less this year than last year. My sales are down. What can I do?

A. You really have two choices. The first, which, unfortunately, is the solution to which most companies and sales people currently subscribe is this: Do nothing differently, complain a lot, and hope that things change. Maybe the government will fix everything.

The second, which is my recommendation, is this: Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful, and better at what you do, and do some things differently.

Begin by analyzing your market to identify where your opportunity lies. Unless you have 80 – 90 percent of the total market in your area, you have opportunity.

Typically, you’ll find that there is market opportunity within your current customers, as well as opportunity in prospects who do not currently buy from you. Collect information about both groups so that you can make good decisions about where your time is best invested. Then, prioritize those prospects and customers based on their potential. Visit www.salestimemanagement.com for lots of resources to help you do this.

Then, strategically develop plans to gain more market share from each of these two sources.

Proactively create the agenda for the conversations between you and your customers. For example, if one of your customers is buying half of their purchases from you and half from someone else, identify specifically what they are buying from your competition, and develop plans to gain that business. Ask yourself, “What would it take for them to buy it from me?”

Don’t settle for the simple answer “lower price.” Think more deeply, uncover deeper motivations in the customer and answer that question, product by product, category by category, for everything they are buying from someone else. Here’s a great question to ask, “What has to change for us to do more business here?”

Listen to their answer, and respond appropriately. Put together specific, persuasive offers to each customer and methodically present them to each customer. Show them, specifically, why they should do more business with you.

You are not done yet. Understand the fundamental sales equation: Relationships = opportunities = projects = money. In other words, the quantity and quality of your relationships equals the quantity and quality of your opportunities, and those opportunities develop into projects (purchasing cycles) and those projects turn into sales.

Dave Kahle's fundamental sales equation

If you want to sell more, you must develop more and bigger projects, which develop from more and bigger opportunities, which emerge from more and higher quality relationships.

If your sales are down, either you aren’t very competent, (in other words, you are not very good at turning relationships into money) or you need to increase the quantity and quality of your relationships.

Work on two parallel paths: If all the key decision makers and influencers in your current accounts don’t know you, then work hard to create those relationships. At the same time, look outside your group of current customers, and create relationships with prospects. In other words, work diligently, methodically and systematically at creating new relationships and thereby, new customers.

I realize that for a percentage of sales people, this sounds pretty basic. If that’s the case with you, there is power in refocusing your efforts on these fundamentals and work at doing each of them better. For you, the issue isn’t doing things differently, it is doing them better.

There is another group of sales people for whom all of this sounds too different and too far outside of your comfort zones and skill set. This is not how you are accustomed to doing your job. Remember where we started, “Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful and better at what you do, and do some things differently.” If this is new and uncomfortable for you, then the next year or so will be one of the most challenging of your life. You’ll need to diligently work at developing these practices.

The world is full of people who will tell you that success in this environment is a matter of “secrets” or simplistic solutions. I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, sales success is the result of years of hard work, constant improvement, and thoughtful and diligent efforts. If you are serious about wanting to change your circumstances, you’ll need to begin to change yourself.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.

Dealing with Your Customers’ Time Constraints

If you can't spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered. - Dave Kahle

By Dave Kahle

My customers don’t have as much time to spend with me as they used to.”  That’s a comment I’m hearing more frequently in my sales seminars.  It’s a growing phenomenon.  Your customers used to be able to spend more time with you.  But lately, it seems as though they are on tighter schedules and are harder to see.  You just can’t spend as much time with them as you’d like, because they’re pressuring you to move on.

This is a real Information Age issue.  You know how confused and pressured you feel these days.  Your customers feel the same way.  As pressures brought on by rapid change, growing competition and the need for every organization to become more streamlined and efficient have hit your customers, many of them have reacted by trying to make everyone more productive.  As a result, your customers have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, just like you.  Time, more than money, is the precious commodity of the Information Age.

It’s not that your customers don’t like you, (although they may not) nor that they are not interested in your products and services.  It’s just that they have too much to do, and simply don’t have as much time to spend with you as you’d like.

Implications…

This development is truly ominous because the implications strike to the heart of your ability to perform for your company.  Let’s think for a minute about the value you bring your company.  Why do they employ you?  What do they really need you and other sales people to do?  If you were to boil it down to its most fundamental level, you’d probably say that your company needs you to create relationships and spend face-to-face time with your customers.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  Suppose you were to make a list of all the things you do in the course of a week.  Then look at the list, and ask yourself this question, “How many of those things can be done better or cheaper by someone else within my company?”  If you answer honestly, most items on the list can probably be handled more effectively or efficiently by someone else.

But, the one thing that you do that no one else can do as effectively as you is interact with your customers.  It’s the face-to-face, person-to-person interaction with your customer that is the heart of your job, the core of the value you bring your company.

That’s what makes this challenge ominous.  If you can’t spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered.

Here’s how to attack this challenge…

First, remember to respect your customers’ time constraints.  If you try to overstay your welcome, you’ll only succeed in making him/her more irritated with you.  Do unto him as you would have him do unto you, if you were in his place.  Protect the relationship.

Then, focus on making the time that you do have with him more productive for both of you.  Think of the issue being quality time, not quantity time.  Here are three strategies that will work for you.

1. Focus on the quality of the time you have with your customer.

If you’re not going to have as much time in front of the customer as you’d like, then you must concentrate on making the time that you do have as valuable and productive as possible.  That requires you to spend more time planning and preparing for each sales call.

Gone are the days when you could just “stop in.”  Rather, make sure that you have at least three things prepared for every sales call:

* a specific objective — what do you want to accomplish in this call?

* an outline of how you’re going to accomplish that objective, and

* all the necessary tools you’ll need to do it.

That way, the actual time that you spend with your customers will be more productive.  Your customer will appreciate your organization and your respect of his time, too.

2.  Set an agenda — talk in terms of your customer’s needs.

Begin every sales call with an agenda.  Tell your customer what you want to cover and how you’re going to proceed.  Mention the needs and objectives in which he is interested, and explain how you’re going to address them.  This will relieve him of the worry that you’re going to appropriate his time unnecessarily, and will allow him to focus on you.

For example, at the beginning of your sales call, you could say something like this:

“John I know you’re interested in the cost payback of a possible investment in a new telephone system.  I’d like to share with you some of the numbers that others have used to investigate this kind of purchase.  After we go through these, I’ll address any other questions you may have, and then we’ll talk about the next step in this process.  Does that sound reasonable?”

3.  Always have something of value to discuss.

This a longer-range strategy.  As you consistently hold to this principle, over time you’ll build up a certain expectation in the customer’s mind.  Don’t expect an immediate payback from this strategy, but, nonetheless, stick to it for the long haul.

Think of the time that your customer does spend with you as an investment by the customer.  Put yourself in his shoes, and see the situation from his perspective.  Is he gaining something of value from you in exchange for his investment of time?  You want the answer to that question to be “Yes.”

In order to generate that perception in your customer’s mind, make sure that every time you see him, you have something of value to share or to discuss with him.  That means something in which the customer is interested.  If you have nothing that the customer will think is of value, don’t take his time.  Wait to see him until you do have something.

After a few such calls, your customer will come to respect you and look forward to your calls, knowing that you’re not there just to work some agenda of yours, but rather he’ll come to expect to gain something from your sales calls.

You’ll find it easier to make appointments and get time with your customers when you’ve built in them the expectation that the time spent with you will be well worth the cost of it.