Posts Tagged ‘selling’

“Cold” Calling and Getting Results

July 9, 2009

Recently I was reflecting on three occasions in my life when I began new jobs, and had no customers and no prospects. What did I do? Cold call! My process was simple. Send mail, follow up with a phone call. Based on what I learned in that phone call I had: 1) a “hot” prospect, willing to talk to me now, 2) a future prospect to follow up with later, or 3) not a prospect, which I took off my list. Using this simple method, I had profitable territories within 18 months in each case.

Today’s economy is like starting from scratch—no prospects, no customers. The good news is that most of us still have some customers, so that we are not really starting from zero. We also have many new tools to get our message out based on the Internet. But suppose we “pretend” that we are starting over from zero. Here are four books that I recommend, and from which I have learned by “going back to the basics.”

42 Rules of Cold Calling Executives by Mari Anne Vanella, SuperStar Press, Cupertino, CA 95014: The title of this new book says it all. Most of the “rules” are common sense, and you have done them before. “They worked so well, you quit doing them,” as my mentor, Ron Willingham has said. My favorite two rules are “Rule 21: Just Pick Up the Phone,” and “Rule 10: Ask Good Questions.”

That brings me to the next book, Socratic Selling: How to Ask the Questions that Get the Sale, by Kevin Daley, Irwin Professional Publishing, Chicago. First released in 1996, this book is as timely now as then. Recently Jim Giuliano published a blog, “The Biggest Complaint about Sales People.” Can you guess? It is “Salespeople who don’t listen enough and talk too much.” (Click here for the full post.) This little book is full of great ideas on how to listen by going beneath the first answer to find out what the customer’s problem really is.

How to Become a Rainmaker: The Rules for Getting and Keeping Customers and Clients by Jeffrey J. Fox, Hyperion, New York. There are many great ideas in this book, but the one I like the best is to “dollarize” the customer’s problem and your solutions. I call it “monetizing” the issue. When people understand the cost of NOT solving the problem, it is easier to sell a solution.

The Inner Game of Selling: Mastering the Hidden Forces that Determine Your Success, by Ron Willingham, Free Press, New York. Success in building a business or a sales territory is more about who you are than what you know. Willingham takes us through all the ways we sabotage our own success, and shows us how to be the successful person we are born to become.

When times are tough, we should also associate with people of like mind, who will encourage us, and whom we can encourage. Well, having said all this, I have to get back to closing the prospect gap by cold calling.

Posted by J. Mark Walker


What is an “Open-Ended Question?”

April 13, 2009

The title above is an example of an open-ended question — it cannot be answered “yes, no or maybe.” Open-ended questions are structured to draw information from people. They usually begin with who, what, when, how, and sometimes, why. Other phrases such as, “Please tell me about…” or “Help me understand…” are also useful ways to draw out information. They are statement, not questions. Example: “How does the process work?” becomes “Please tell me about the process you are using.” The second version will probably get you more information, and you may eventually want to ask the “how” question in addition.

Checking up on yourself: The next time you make joint calls with your manager or with a colleague, ask him or her to count the number of closed ended questions you ask, and to jot them down if that’s not too obvious to your client or prospect. You will probably be surprised at how often you ask questions that can get you “yes, no, maybe” answers.

Converting questions to open-ended: You can often rephrase a closed question using one of the helper words listed above and make it open-ended. Example: “Were you satisfied with the results?” could become “What did you think of the results?” or “How satisfied were you with the results?” or “What were the results?”

There is nothing wrong with asking closed questions when appropriate. Often you just need a “yes, no, maybe” response. When you ask, “Did you install the new system?” you find out which direction to take your conversation based on the “yes” or “no” response, for example.

Be careful asking why. When we teach open-ended questions to our Integrity Selling® students, we recommend they use the word “why” carefully. People can be inadvertently put on the defensive when they are asked “why.” “Why do you do that?” might be perceived as a challenge. “Tell be about the reasons for doing it like that,” might be better received.

Our best advice: Think about the problems you can solve for your prospects. Then generate a list of five to 20 questions from which you can choose to conduct an initial interview, which will tell you whether they have one or more of those problems. Then go over the questions and convert as many as possible to “open-ended.” You will uncover more opportunity this way, or find out that you do not really have a prospect.

Posted by J. Mark Walker

Becoming Intentional in Your Selling

March 26, 2009

There is a characteristic of top performers in selling and serving others. I recently learned a term that describes it – “intentionality.” This characteristic is often missing from selling efforts.

A few months ago I was invited to be a panelist in a discussion on leadership. Our speaker at this session was Betty L. Siegel, Ph.D., the recently retired president of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. Among the topics she discussed was the concept of intentionality, which is a cornerstone principle in her book, Becoming an Invitational Leader, co-authored with William W.
Purkey, Ed.D.

Listening to Dr. Siegel that day, and hearing my fellow panelists respond to questions from the audience, caused me to begin to think about the whole concept of being “intentional” about life and work. What is this whole idea of living or working “intentionally?” As Dr. Siegel pointed out that day, intentionality is not the same as intentions. “It is our ability to have intentions in the first place.”

There is an underlying factor in becoming intentional – that is ultimate purpose or chief aim. Hundreds of books stress the absolute necessity of an individual as well as an enterprise having a clearly defined, written and effectively communicated purpose or aim. Intentionality is what brings that aim or purpose into reality, and engages others in action with the future in mind. It is my opinion that many businesses suffer from a lack of intentionality. Their leaders are not clearly moving the enterprise toward its purpose.

As I reflected on this idea of intentionality, it seemed that there were some significant peaks and valleys along my own life journey. Thinking about these fluctuations, I had a BLIGOI (a Blinding Glimpse of Insight!) When my chief aim was meaningful for me, the factor that caused the peaks was BELIEF! I had a passionate belief in my product or service and believed in the value that I brought to my clientele. Where there were valleys, the belief was weak.

As I think about this now, there is a process that underlies all this:

Chief Aim > Belief in Product or Service > Intenionality in the Marketplace = The Sale

During the period of my greatest success, my chief aim was strong and meaningful for me, I held a strong belief that my products were superior, even unique, and that belief communicated itself in my attitude of intentionality where ever I went. Success followed. If I doubted, or held a wavering belief, I lost my sense of intentionality, and had a difficult time making sales and achieving my chief aim.

So here is what I have concluded. The rock for success is, of course, a “definite chief aim,” as Napoleon Hill calls it in his classic book Think and Grow Rich. You can call it “life purpose, ““vision, “or “spaghetti,” as long as it gives you a reason for being. So these three factors, Chief Aim, Belief in Product and Intentionality are all related. One follows the other in sequence, yet each stands independently.

Once you know your purpose or chief aim, you will see that there are dozens or hundreds of ways to achieve it. For a sales or service professional there are millions of viable and useful products and services that must be sold to the customer or client base. People will have to work through this on their own perhaps, but I have sold tangible and intangible products and done well in most of them. Whenever I have had difficulty it was because of a low level of belief in the value the particular products to the customer. I could not “sell myself on what I was selling.”

One more thought. Some people have a chief aim that is very lofty and sophisticated. Others may have one that is more basic. It just has to be yours – vital to you. Then sell yourself on what you are selling! If you can’t, in Integrity Selling for the 21st Century, Ron Willingham advises us to, “Have the courage to face the truth,” and make a change. Sometimes the change is in you, not your job, by the way.

Then become Intentional in your marketplace!

By J. Mark Walker

Building a Trusting Workplace #2

February 25, 2009

This is the second of four blogs on Overcoming Commoditization with Your People.  Click here for the original post.

In the context of teaching your people to “out-behave” your competitors, I believe it is important to build an organization in which your people trust each other to do the right things for the customers and the company.  Tthe first key culture factor is clearly communicated values and mission.

The second key culture factor is having the right people on your team, or in your organization.  If you are not starting from scratch, then you have to begin building your team where you are.  This means that when you communicate and reinforce by your own behavior the values and mission of your enterprise, then you must give your people the tools they need to demonstrate that they are the right folks to be on the team.  (Here are some ideas about coaching people.) The Gallup Organization research shows that in most organizations, as much as 15% of employees are “actively disengaged.”  This means that they are sabotaging your efforts to build loyal customers.  These folks need to be given the opportunity to become “actively engaged,” or invited to succeed elsewhere — and quickly.  Our experience shows that a well-designed learning or training process to focus attention on the internal and external customer should enable disengaged employees to reengage within 5 to 7 weeks.  (The key is the way the training process presents the material and positively reinforces the learning.) 

If you are just building your team, or adding to an existing organization, then add people with care.  The old adage, “Haste makes waste,” certainly applies here.  Properly designed assessments can help you choose the best people.  Other than basic abilities to perform the functions of the job, the most important attribute for success in selling and serving are beliefs, attitudes  and skills, in that order.   In addition to looking at the skill sets of people, look for instruments that enable you to evaluate the attitudes and beliefs of your applicants.  One of our assessment tools, for example, help companies design “behavioral interviews” around the success factors for  people in that job.  They way they have behaved in the past is an excellent indicator of how they will behave when working with you.

One more thought:  if you are agonizing over dismissing an employee, who is obviously not the right person for your team, you may need to go ahead and kindly dismiss the person.  My experience is that they will be relieved, the rest of your people will be relieved, and you will be relieved.  At best they are unproductive.  At worst, they are sabotaging your business.

J. Mark Walker

Sales Training is Like Viagra?

February 4, 2009

I once observed a panel of sales executives who answered the question, “What are the characteristics of a good sales training program.” As the discussion warmed up, one of the panelists, a Senior Vice President for a large financial service company, said, “Sales training is a lot like Viagra – it is over-prescribed and only lasts about two hours!”

He got a good laugh because there is a lot of truth to his statement. We could call this the “Viagra training syndrome.” Later in the discussion he made the point that there are external factors like competition, product design, and market place changes that should influence training for sales people. Then he made a point that is often overlooked: there are internal factors which include individual morale and skill, as well as the direct involvement of the senior sales executives as leaders in the training initiative.
That brings me to the question, “How do we avoid the Viagra training syndrome?” Here is what I think.
1. As our panelist pointed out, you can only know if training is successful if you define what success is before you start. For example:
     a. Increased sales are not necessarily such a measure. I have a client whose manufacturing plant is maxed out. He wants better customers, who want value and with whom they can align as partners, not just people looking for the lowest price. That may mean smaller gross sales, but greater margins and happier customers.
     b. More repeat business could be such a measure. It is significantly easier and more profitable to sell to a satisfied customer than to find a new customer.

2. Much of what is labeled as “sales training” is a one to three day motivational speech. Everybody has a good time, but 30 days later nothing in their behavior changes.

3. Sales training should not be just an event. It is a process that includes:
     a. Values-based content that seeks to uncover customer needs, not manipulate people into buying.
     b. A cordial learning environment that builds trust as people learn from each other as well as from the content of the program.
     c. A sales system, so sales people understand where they are in the selling process. This helps them know whether they have a genuine prospect.
     d. Accountability over a period of time such as six to eight weeks for application of the principles taught. This avoids the “two hour” part of the syndrome, and leads to lasting behavior change.

If you want sales training to result in long term sales person behavior change, and achieve specific business goals, consider these ideas to avoid the “Viagra training syndrome.”

Posted by: J. Mark Walker, VP of Client Development (Southeast), Integrity Solutions, LLC