This post contains a set of 17 easy-to-execute tactics that you can easily add to your bag of tricks. Any one of these tactics can easily double your sales revenue. But if you implement a bunch of them at once -- Wow! -- you'll achieve record sales quarter after quarter.
NOTE: This post was based upon conversations with the following sales gurus:
If you're calling on the wrong people, you're spending time on "opportunities" that never had a chance. If your leads are higher quality, you're less likely to be calling on the wrong people. Therefore, your sales activities will generate more sales in the same period of time.
A high quality lead, by definition, is one that's highly likely to become a customer. Your challenge is therefore to come up with a specific definition of what constitutes a high quality lead for your offering, and then get the marketing organizations focused on finding more of them.
A marketing group cannot possibly create a useful profile of a high quality lead without the active participation of the sales group. The sales team must therefore provide them with regular, direct inputs who's interested and who's buying, along with all the specific details (like job title, industry, typical organizational structure, etc.),
Once the initial profile is agreed-upon, the Marketing group must commit to generating, and nurturing, leads that correspond to that profile. To do so, they should be given online tools that allow them to mine social networks and business databases to find individuals that are likely to be interested, inside companies that have the money to buy the offering.
Even if you're calling on high qualities leads, a certain percentage of them won't be potential prospects, usually because they don't really have a need for your offering, or they do have a need, but no money to buy. Eliminating these "opportunities" from your sales cycle, means that you'll spend more time with real ones.
Realign your thinking so that your initial conversations with a sales leads are not for the purpose of selling, but rather to identify which leads are most likely to become customers -- and which are least likely. Then you make sure that only the most likely prospects are put into your pipeline, so that you seldom, if ever, waste time on false prospects.
The key issue is always value. First, the "prospect" must have the budget to buy, or at least some budget dollars that could be spent, if the need is great enough. Second, the prospect must have that need, and the need must have a financial impact that's overwhelming larger than the cost of your offering. Anything less, and you'll never be a priority.
The initial conversation with a sales lead must be peppered with questions can disqualify the prospect as a potential customer. For example: a question like "how would you handle this problem if you didn't have a solution like ours?" might elicit a response like "we'd probably struggle along for a few more years" in which case the prospect may not be serious about buying.
Your sales message is how you communicate about your offering at the very beginning of the sales cycle. It is a clean and clear summary of why somebody would be interested in buying from you and your firm. Unfortunately, many sales professionals tend to blather on about features and functions which are largely meaningless to the customer.
Here's a simple six step process to write a sales message that will actually help you sell:
- STEP #1: Get into the customer's shoes. Look at what your offering provides from the viewpoint of a typical customer. How does he see the problem that your offering solves?
- STEP #2: Start with the phrase: "Our customers hire us to--" and then write down what your offering does for the customer. That's your first sentence.
- STEP #3: Start with the phrase: "What's unique about our approach is--" and then write down something that's different than your competition.
- STEP #4: Go through the two sentences and examine every word and phrase for jargon and biz-blab. To do this you: "what does this mean, really"? If your mind comes up with a simpler phrase, use that one.
- STEP #5: Examine the remaining words to see if you can make the nouns and verbs more emotional and add a concrete example.
- STEP #6: Shorten and smooth.
- Emphasize what you can do that your competitors can't.
- Says something personal about you as a sales professional.
- Make what the prospect wants at the core of the message.
- Provide some sort of verifiable fact that buttresses your enthusiasm.
- Eliminate the cookie cutter stuff, like "best customer service."
The business world changes rapidly. A company that three weeks ago looked like a hot prospect might be a dead loser today. And a lead that was hot yesterday may be dead today. When your pipeline is clogged with bad leads, it's very hard to stay focused on the good ones. Your forecasts are likely to be off, too, because it's all too easy to pretend that some of the garbage in your pipeline might turn out to be golden.
However, if you're serious about being successful in sales, you can't afford to let yourself be fooled by wishful thinking. Selling is the one place in business where, at least privately and to yourself, it's essential to look reality square in the face and adapt to what's really going on. Keeping bad leads (or leads that are probably bad) in your pipeline is letting yourself fall prey to fantasy.
So here's what you do. Go though your entire list of leads and opportunities and, based upon what you know and can learn with some research, prioritize your opportunities, based upon likelihood to buy and ability to pay quickly.
Then set up an ambitious schedule of working through the steps of your sales process, and follow it. You'll find that shedding all that baggage and BS will give you a sense of freedom and focus.
A "decision-maker" is a person who either owns the problem (or part of the problem) that your offering solves or owns the budget (or part of the budget) that will pay for it.
Before you get involved in an opportunity, research the job titles and backgrounds of people who have bought your offering (or similar offerings) in the past. Limit your lead qualification activities (i.e. cold calling, email marketing) to individuals with a similar profile.
Because these are the people who make the decisions, they're worth the extra effort it takes to try to reach them directly. If you find that you can only get access to a gatekeeper, move to the next lead.
Here's why this works. You have a limited amount of time to sell each day, don't waste it calling upon people who don't have the authority to purchase. While it is possible to use a lower-level individual to get contact with a decision-maker, cultivating such individuals can take more time and effort than getting directly in touch with the people that you really need to speak with.
For one thing, there's a certain amount of overhead connected with pursuing a deal that's the same whether the buyer is big or small. For example, the mechanics of tracking them through the pipeline takes just as much time, regardless of the customer size.
What's worse, experience proves that it can take MORE time to make a small sale to a small customer than it does to make a big sale to a big customer. For example, big firms usually have some kind of formal budget process that lets people know if they have money to spend. Smaller firms, not so much. That means you may have to spend extra time to determine whether or not the smaller prospect actually has the money to buy.
Ideally, what What you're looking for is a company that is sufficiently large that it definitely has the kind of money required to purchase your offering, without causing any strain whatsoever on their finances. Therefore, before you even make a call to a company, use the Internet to research the company and confirm that they are large enough, and financial solvent enough, to purchase your offering.
Consider: you have a limited amount of time to sell each day, it's better to pursue a handful of big deals than chasing a hundred small ones.
When you first make an appointment to speak with a customer, agree to whatever time is convenient for the prospect. Then, once the appointment is in the prospect's calendar, request that the appointment be moved to match what's convenient for you.
Here's why this works. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a prospect will not mind changing the appointment date around, once the prospect has already decided to meet with you. Scheduling, then rescheduling, allows you to better schedule your travel time, preparation time, and meeting time, so that you spend less time on each prospect, but with the same positive impact.
BTW, if you keep your calendar (and prospect list) SOLELY on your computer or smartphone, you're eventually going to get burned. Those devices are wonderful, but they 1) run out of battery power, 2) crash unexpectedly, 3) get stolen, 4) get broken, 5) lose files, 6) won't connect to the network, 7) require complicated commands, and 8) strain your eyeballs.
Smart sales professionals keep a paper record of when they're having important meetings. Consider; if you've got your sales activities recorded on paper, the only excuse you've got for not contacting a prospect is if your dog eats the piece of paper, which rarely happens.
Just to be clear, a "referral" is when an existing customer or colleague suggests to a prospect that he or she speak with you. (That's very different from a "reference", which is a customer who will say nice things about you when contacted by a prospect.)
Here's how to get great referrals in a nutshell. When you've confirmed that a customer is delighted with you and your offering (i.e. AFTER the customer has gotten the offering), ask that customer to contact somebody who might also need your service.
Referrals increase your sales because, bhen you come into a sales situation with a referral, the potential prospect knows somebody who has recommended from you. You have therefore been "vetted" as a trustworthy person and worthy of their time. Because the customer trusts you, it's easier to get the information you need to qualify the lead. As a result, you end up spending less time on false opportunities and more time on opportunities that could really lead to a sale.
Remember: only ask for referrals from delighted customers; asking when you close (or worse, when you don't) is a good way to get dead-end referrals. Why should somebody put his own career and reputation on the line, if they aren't 100 percent sure you can deliver?
There are only a limited number of hours in the day, so it's vital that you use each minute effectively.
For example, if your sales job requires you to schedule regular face-to-face meetings, the best way to manage your schedule is to figure out the optimum number of sales calls or meetings that you can make during a day and the craft your schedule accordingly. (For instance: if you find that your typical sales call takes half a day, schedule meetings at 8:30am and 1:30pm.)
This ensures that you spend time with as many prospects as possible and allows you to handle more prospects in the same amount of elapsed time, without lessening the amount of time spent with each prospect. By contrast, if your meetings with prospects typically take four hours, if you schedule a meeting at 11am, that will be the only meeting you'll have that day.
Similarly, don't waste prime sales call time (i.e. "working hours") fussing with your CRM system, doing research, answering emails and so forth. Instead, spend that time getting in touch with, and meeting with, real live prospects.
The crux of your job is to sell; all the rest is just busywork - necessary, perhaps, but secondary to getting the real job done. If possible, offload the electronic paperwork onto a clerical staff. Remember: prospects are only available when they're available. If you're ready to sell and they're not ready to buy, you'll have to wait before you can get your sales process into gear.
Most B2B sales require more than one meeting to close, especially if there is more than one decision-maker. Since you're going to be meeting with multiple people, multiple times, it's crazy to spend a lot of time at each meeting. Therefore, for every customer meeting (face-to-face or telephone), set an appropriate goal for the initial meeting and achieve that, then move the sale forward to the next step.
A side benefit of being brief is that your customers will appreciated it. The biggest fear that most prospects have when they deal with sales professionals is that the sales pro going to monopolize their time. Making meetings brief and to the point lets the prospect know that you're busy, too, and that YOUR time is valuable.
Here's the nub: A brief telephone call, web-conference, or face-to-face conversation consumes less of your time, and allows you to further qualify and prioritize the prospect, so that you spend more energy on the most likely opportunities.
Want a quick and easy way to shorten your meetings? Simple. Stop repeating yourself! Sad to say, many sales pros attempt to make the same point more than once, in the belief that it didn't "stick" the first time. To avoid this, create an agenda for your meeting and for any presentation that you might give. State your main points once, forcefully and with confidence.
An "objection" is a temporary mental barrier that the prospects has put in the way of buying. Most sales professionals hate objections because they (wrongly) believe that they block the sale. But that's not true. If a prospect doesn't surface at least one objection, there's a good chance that the prospect is leading you on. An objection is usually a sign that the prospect is considering a purchase.
Even so, it's a huge mistake to surface objections explicitly (e.g. "I suppose you're wondering why this costs more than the competition."). While some objections are inevitable, you could easily surface an objection that hadn't yet occurred to the prospect. Then you must spend time answering that objection, when you should have left well enough alone.
Instead, build the answers to those objections into the presentation without identifying them explicitly. (e.g. "Our customers show an ROI in three months -- the fastest ROI in our product category.) Most objections are variations of "it costs too much", so building a strong financial case into your sales message defuses most objections anyway. And while prospects almost always have objections, the last thing you want is to provide them with a laundry list, even if you're pretty sure that you've got the answers to everything on that list.
The "close" is, of course, the point when you ask the customer to buy your offering. However, a "close" can also refer to achieving an intermediate step in the buying cycle.
Many sales pros avoid closing, especially after they've invested significant time and effort in an opportunity. They're afraid that all their positive expectations will be disappointed and the they'll learn that the relationship they've built with the prospects is bogus. That's the kind of cowardice that will kill your sales success.
Instead, when you have told your story, check to see whether it's time to close by asking a question that confirms the prospect's interest in buying. (E.g. "Does all of this make sense to you?") Testing before closing makes it more likely that you'll close at the appropriate time, neither too soon nor too late in the sales cycle.
Attempting to close at at the wrong time always means that you'll need to spend extra time selling. If you try to close too soon, you'll create resistance, which must then be overcome. If you delay your close, you may delay it so long that somebody else will close for you...with their offering, not yours.
BTW, many sales training programs teach various kinds of "trick closes." (E.g. "what would I have to do to get you to buy today.") Those hoary old techniques don't work any longer, if they ever did. Avoid them.
Even if you're calling on the right people, if you do or say the wrong things, you'll spend time and money on opportunities that don't pay off. Once a lead is completely qualified as a prospect, then the prospect is going to buy, either from you or your competitor. Therefore, increasing your "conversion rate" for a fully qualified lead is always matter of outselling the competition.
The most frequent reason sales reps are outsold is that they didn't talk to the right people - and the competitor did. In many cases, the failing sales rep failed to research and completely understand the actually process by which the decision would be made, and who would play what role in that decision-making process.
It's common practice for sales reps to communicate with a senior decision-maker at the beginning of the sales cycle, and then revisit that connection at the end of the sales cycle, in order get final approval. However, if your contacts are limited during the middle of the sales cycle, you're probably not going to know what your competitor is doing, and who your competitor is calling upon.
Insist upon being in regular communication with decision-makers, so that there won't belong periods of time where you don't know what's going on, or what's changing inside the customer account. And don't be afraid to ask your contacts who else is calling on them. It's probably not a big secret and (guess what?) your competitor is probably asking them about YOU!
Selling against competitors means constantly differentiating your offering so that it fits the prospect's need better than whatever the competitor is offering. To do this, you must deeply research the prospect's business and the competitor's strengths and weaknesses, versus your own. Remember to be subtle, though. Rubbishing the other guy makes you look bad.
There is a fixed amount of time and resources connected to every sales effort. While it may take more effort to cut a $1 million deal, it's usually not nearly ten times as much as effort as cutting a $100,000 deal.
Therefore, the more money that you can make on each sales opportunity, the more you'll make overall.
Your challenge is therefore to fully develop the customer account during the sales process. This means giving each account your full attention, and spending enough time on it to be able to uncover the full opportunity. Fortunately, this will be easier to do if you're implementing the first three steps, because then you'll be selling to fewer prospects, but with a better chance of making the sale.
Research the prospect thoroughly, prior to your first sales call, and then continue to research and probe during the sales cycle in order to continue to uncover additional ways that your firm can help that customer. Make this a constant element of your sales process.
Remember that you're not trying to pump up the sales price, but to truly be of service to the customer. Your entire attitude, from start to finish, MUST be can result in a proactive collaboration, between you and your customer contacts, to make sure that the (mutually advantageous) deal is as large as possible. That way you're helping them even more.
Here's a huge hint: Always use discounts as sparingly as possible. In the case of standard discounts, that drop in margin is already reflected in the business model. However, extraordinary discounts offered merely to secure the sale, can not only make the current deal smaller, but (if publicized) can result in discounts (and smaller deals) from future customers.
The more time that you spend on an opportunity, the less time you have to spend on other opportunities. There are two types of "time" that are at issue. The first is the elapsed time that it takes to move a prospect from initial contact to closing the deal. The second is the work-hours that you actually spend on that opportunity.
Most sales reps focus on the elapsed time, believing that they can influence the customer to buy more quickly. However, in most cases, the customer already has a time frame in which they intend to buy. Because of this, efforts to "speed the process along" are usually a waste of time. As such, they add to the number of work hours that the rep spends on the account, with no particular payback.
Focus instead on the "work-hours" that you spend on each account. Find ways to make your interactions with each customer more intense and more productive. Schedule multiple meetings on a single visit. Use web-conferencing to reach remote individuals. Don't reduce the amount of service you're providing; just find a way to spend fewer work-hours doing it.
Discover the customer's "compelling event" that will actually trigger the buying process. For example, a prospect might have a certain amount of budget to spend in the current quarter, in which case the "compelling event" would be the end of the quarter - after which the money will disappear. Similarly, a prospect might be waiting for an order from a large customer before making a purchase of additional component.
Once you know the compelling event, then you schedule your activities backwards from that event, so that you spend the right amount of time (neither more nor less) developing the opportunity. If done correctly, you can ensure that every moment that spend with the prospect (soon to be customer) is productive.
During difficult economic times, customers often find it difficult to buy what they need, even when it's crucial to their future success. Because of this, you'll close more deals if you have some extra flexibility when it comes to getting paid.
Work with your CFO or other financial gurus on alternative financing plans, delayed payments, subscription fees, discounts, whatever-- Because the customer might be having cash-flow problems, you want to be able to walk into EVERY sales situation with a bag of tricks that will allow them to make the smart decision and buy from you.
One word of warning: Each time you get in contact with a customer or prospect, use your questioning skills to determine whether or not they really do have the ability to pay you. Once you're relatively certain they're a reasonable risk, use the flexibility of your financial options to determine the payment plan or method that will both make it easy for them to say "YES!" and maximize the likelihood that your firm will actually get paid.
TACTIC #17: Make Tiny Changes To Get Huge Results
The improvements suggested in this post are small, but they can make a HUGE difference when implemented in parallel.
For example, suppose you spend 1 day a week prospecting and 4 days a week selling. Your prospecting results in 10 prospects, of which 2 turn into customers by the end of the week. You spent 1 day of time to secure each customer, and 2 days of time on the other 8 customers who didn't buy. Each of those two customers spend $10,000 each. Your commission is 10%, so you just made $2,000 in that week.
Now suppose you implement the changes above, and still keep to the same basic schedule. Your 1 day a week of prospecting still results in 10 prospects, but they're all highly qualified. Because you're spending less time on each customer, spend 1/2 day each, to close 6 customers, while 2 fall by the wayside. Each of those 6 customers spend an average of $15,000. Your commission is still 10%, so you just made $9,000, which is geometrically more than what you made before -- for the exact same amount of time and effort!
In other words, a few tiny changes in your day-to-day sales routine can snowball to create more sales success than you knew was ever possible!
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