Who wrote the book on sales? It may need to be rewritten.
Over the past 13 years, I have worked with more than 15,000 sellers. I have learned that there are a number of “urban sales assumptions” that guide many of their activities. These have been handed down through the years by more senior sellers and establish the “way sales should be done.” What if what we’ve learned about sales is not as right as we think? What if there were more logical and practical practices that should be considered? After all, who wrote that book on sales, and where exactly is that book? It certainly isn’t in any college curriculum in the United States. Among your colleagues, who has a degree in sales (not marketing, just sales)?
Assumption: Closing is the most important aspect of the sales process.
Reality: Opening is the more difficult task. How can we possibly close effectively unless we’ve opened effectively? Only by knowing how to open effectively can we move through the sales process.
Assumption: Sellers must control the sales process, i.e., the buyer.
Reality: It makes more sense to cede control to the buyer. Accept that the buyer will do what he or she will do. Don’t fight it; just ask the right questions, listen and then ask more questions.
Assumption: Sales must be done face-to-face.
Reality: The telephone may be the most effective and efficient way to sell—whether to follow up, set appointments, contact dormant accounts, etc.
Assumption: Salespeople must be able to “read” body language.
Reality: The attempt to interpret body language may take us further from understanding the true needs of the buyer. Would we rather think we’re right or know we’re wrong about what is driving the buyer? Reading body language should always trigger a question, not a jump to a conclusion.
Assumption: Sales is all about the numbers. The more calls and appointments, the more sales.
Reality: It is not the number of sales calls, but the quality of the sales calls. It makes more sense to make fewer calls while prepared than to make many sales calls while unprepared.
Assumption: We should never give up in making a sale.
Reality: It may be better to move on. Effective time management demands that we know when a buyer doesn’t need what we are selling.
Getting To “I’m Not Interested”
Traditional sales training devotes a disproportionate amount of time and energy talking about what motivates a buyer, buyers’ personality types and/or a buyer’s brain and what happens therein. What if we were to focus our training efforts on:
- Only those things that are totally controllable by the seller and leave the buyer out of it?
- Weekly sales meetings that include role-playing, preferably videotaped?
- Having managers ride with sellers and not say a word? Let the seller do the call. Debrief after.
- Managers polling each seller’s top 20 buyers to determine satisfaction and identify areas of seller improvement?
- Recording the inside/counter seller’s side of phone calls for review by the seller and manager?
Training should not be focused exclusively on sales results, but on how quickly a seller can determine the buyer’s need. This is what I call “getting to I’m not interested.'” This declaration can come from either the buyer or the seller and allows the seller to exercise good time management. Good time management is a function of being able to understand the right questions to ask before the sales call (the plan) and then being able to ask those questions (executing the plan).
Asking the right questions and good time management are totally dependent upon each other. It is no surprise, then, that these are the two most difficult skills for outside sellers to master.
Opening a Cold Call
The cold call presents the most hostile selling environment—walking into a double-wide or an office, not knowing anyone and understanding that a competitor has the account. Typically, sellers enter without a plan, just wanting to introduce themselves or drop off information. They were “driving around and thought they would stop in.” Even worse is a cold call where no one is there to see the seller. These are very bad situations, indeed. A protocol can turn this scenario into a professional sales call.
A protocol is a set of prepared questions (but not a script) that enables the seller to determine the buyer’s needs as quickly as possible. Another way to put it is to say that these questions are designed to enable the seller to get to “I’m not interested” as quickly as possible. The questions are about the buyer and the buyer’s needs. There is no sharing of product or company knowledge at this point of the call. The protocol allows the seller to exercise good time management. Should I stay or should I go? The decision to move on is made on a call-by-call basis. Try this exercise:
- Gather your outside sellers and tell them they are making a cold call. They have the opportunity to learn the ten most important things about that potential buyer by the end of the call. Have them list these things.
- This list will fall into two categories, generic and industry-specific. Generic things include size of budget or the decision-making process, while industry-specific things include height of racking, cold-storage requirements, etc. The more industry-specific issues, the better.
- Turn these issues into open-ended questions using “what,” “why” or “how.”
- Now, put the questions in sequence as to how they will be asked. Don’t worry about the answers, just the questions.
- When in front of the buyer, the seller has the option of using the questions as designed or to react to what is being said by the buyer.
- If you want to take this to a higher level, consider e-mailing or faxing these questions in advance of the cold call.
- The result is what I call an “Igniter Protocol,” guaranteed to get things rolling.
Managing time is incredibly difficult for an outside seller, mainly because it’s the only thing we can’t make more of. Like an empty seat on an airplane, once it’s gone, it’s gone—it cannot be replaced. We need to begin to discriminate between our accounts—we need to “fish where the fish are”—and spend units of time to our greatest advantage.
Time management is typically trained as an exercise in geography. Territories are broken into quadrants and sellers work in those areas depending upon the day of the week. The result is usually a “route.” Although this might work perfectly well in the vending machine business, it may not put us in position to meet our clients’ needs.
How would our business change if we:
- Ask every buyer how often they want the seller to visit their site/office?
- Focus in-person visits on those accounts that generate the most revenue?
- Use the telephone to “visit” those accounts that yield the least amount of revenue?
- Use the telephone to determine whether in-person visits make sense. Ask “how much sense would it make for us to get together to talk about your situation?”
- View what we do as account management? The territory doesn’t buy. Only accounts buy.
By looking at selling from a different perspective, we can help sellers improve the skill set required to sell at the highest level.
|Meet the Author
David Rubinstein is a sales trainer and founder of the Sell Like Hell Sales System, located in San Anselmo, California, or on the Web at www.selllikehell.com.