Effective Questioning – Are You Listening?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 04-08-2011

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I think many sales people would agree with me when I say loyalty is on a steady decline in our marketplace.  I blame it on the current economic conditions primarily.  I hear it day in and day out from sales people about their once loyal customers hammering them on price.  Businesses, in a sour economy especially, always seem to pick on their office supplies to cut costs first.  However, we also know that an account won on price is also lost on price.

So with price being such a big deal how do we avoid it when prospecting for new business?  We don’t.  We just side step it in the beginning. The first skill you must master is effective questioning.  When you finally get that face time with your prospect you ask questions about their current ordering process, the delivery schedule, delivery preferences, shopping/ordering preferences, item subs, toner needs, etc., you get the idea.  When a prospect says something like, “They always leave my deliveries at the front desk and I have to get someone else to take them to my supply closet..” that is a sign of dissatisfaction and should be written down in your notes.  However, you should follow up that statement with something like. “Isn’t that inconvenient?” or “do you really have time for that?” or “have you ever hurt your back doing that kind of stuff?”  You want to identify with your prospects problems, highlight and expand on the problems it creates because you are going to provide a solution, BUT NOT NOW!  You must question effectively NOW and provide your solution later.  You absolutely must resist the urge to enter ‘sales mode’ and solve the problem now.  You are on a fact finding mission  and besides you may find other areas of opportunity during your interview.

Seek out problems and potential areas for improvement first and offer value when you return.  Get a commitment and do not forget to ask for the order!  So many times we offer all the solutions and value but forget to ask for the business.  This, of course, is just a small part of effective questioning and prospecting.  Effective listening is vital to the success of this skill set and I urge you to practice these skills every day.  Role-playing is especially effective when working on these skills.  Each sales meeting should have a dedicated time set aside for role-playing in the group setting.  How often do you practice with your team?

The last word: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.”– Henry Ford

Ask and Ye Shall Receive!

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 30-07-2010

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I am still amazed that one of the biggest issues with sales reps is the fact they still don’t ask for the prospects usage/favorites/top 10 or 20 items list when prospecting.  I asked a rep one day why she hasn’t been able to quote a prospect on any products after calling on them multiple times.  The answer I got was “I’ve given them our flyer and catalogs”.  I asked, “Did you ask for their favorites list?” obviously the answer was no.  I would wager that the flyer or catalog she left the prospect went straight to the circular file without a second thought.  One of my loyal customers tells me that when my competition calls they always ask for a favorites list or a usage report.  ALWAYS! 

You will never get to first base if you don’t step up to the plate.  Asking for a list is just as important as asking who the decision maker is.  Why waste time handing out expensive catalogs when you don’t know what your customer is buying!?  It isn’t rocket science but you have to at least make an effort.  The next step in the “Asking” process is to ASK for the order.  You’ve gotten past the introduction, you have their list and given them your quote.  Do you really think they are going to order from you if you don’t have the guts to ask for the order?  I remember a call I made many years ago and the price I quoted for the product was higher than what the prospect was paying.  He told me up front that my price was higher than his current supplier.  This prospect had inferred earlier that his current supplier was slow to deliver.  I didn’t have anything to lose at this point so I told him that  it was worth a few dollars more to know that he would always get his order the next day, even if I had to deliver it myself.  So, could I have his business and the order?  After a long look from him he said yes.  Some time later in our business relationship he told me that the only reason I got his business that first time was because I wasn’t afraid to admit my price was higher and still ask for the business.

Point is folks, you will not get the information you need and you certainly won’t get the business if you don’t ask!  Conversation is a two-way street and you have to engage people in conversation.  You do that by asking open-ended questions.  In case you don’t know what that is, an open-ended question is one that requires a reply other than a yes or no answer.  Engage your customer in conversation and ask for their list.  This is a critical part of your selling process.  Without it, you fail.  Never give up and never give in, the business is out there if you will simply ask for it!  Good luck!

The last word: “There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” -Denis Waitley

Five Selling Skills for a Down Economy

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training, The Competition) by Don on 22-06-2010

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Greetings!  First off, let me apologize for my absence these past few months.  Work has been hectic, frustrating, sometimes rewarding and always challenging. 

Our big box competitors have turned up the heat on the independent dealers trying to capture new business in this down economy.  The result has been margin depletion’s and buyers are using multiple vendors in an effort to get the best price on every product they procure.  Service seems less important to many buyers and price is the driving force behind where and from whom customers make their purchases.  I’ve been spending more time out in the field with reps making cold calls and spending time with long time customers.  I’m finding that the long-time customer/buyer that has been loyal to you is now being directed, and sometimes forced, by management to base their buying decision solely on price.  Even when the loyal buyer wants to continue to buy from you their managers are holding them accountable for finding and procuring the cheapest price.  Don’t take the loyal customer for granted.  They are being pressured to buy on price, not service.

Getting in the office to see new prospects is even more difficult.  Cutbacks in personnel is causing employees to do the jobs of two, three and even four people.  Tensions are high in many offices and a cold-calling sales rep walking into the office is not welcomed.  Here are my suggestions for selling in 2010 and beyond. 

Pre-Call Permission- Don’t walk in unannounced off the street.  Spend a day in the office and make your prospecting calls and ask permission to stop by the prospects office at a convenient time to leave your information.  This breaks the ice when you walk in and gives you a name to ask for in the prospects office.  You can gather more information while you’re there.  Be brief and respectful and make an appointment for your next call after you determine the decision makers identity.

Patient Persistence – It is a rare thing to open a new account on the first or second call.  Where it used to take five calls on average to open a new account it now takes eight or ten calls or more.   Nearly 80% of reps quit after the fourth call.  Persistence pays dividends in the form of new business but it is the persistence that wins the business.  Don’t be a quitter, be the winner! 

Network the Customer – It is increasingly important that you network within your customers office.  When you call on your customer(s), greet and introduce yourself to everyone in the office.  From the front office to the warehouse be on a first name basis with everyone.  Not only will you gain more sales but you will create a rock solid relationship with the people that will give you insight into their business and keep you in-the-know when your competitors come knocking at the door.  The cost? Minimal.  The result? Priceless!

Survey your customer – Easy to use products such as Constant Contact make it simple and affordable to survey your customers.  Your customers are a wealth of information.  Information you need to know to be more successful.  They can tell you about changing buying habits, preferences, and other valuable information.  Keep your survey limited to ten or fifteen questions (to keep your survey brief) and be certain to include a comments field on every question.  This is very important because not all questions are so cut and dry “yes or no”.  We all love to share our opinion and you will be surprised at the depth  of information you will get with this simple add-on.  I can bet some of the replies you receive will surprise you!

Know your customer- If you can’t tell me in one minute what your customers business is, then you are going to fail.  Be specific, such as if your customer is a law firm don’t just tell me they are lawyers.  What kind of lawyers are they? Civil, litigation, divorce, children’s, criminal, traffic, insurance, what kind of practice is their firm?  Why?  Because each of these have common items and also unique items based on their type of practice.  Same thing for a doctor’s office or and accounting firm.  This depth of knowledge will tell you what kinds of products they use or may provide a solution to a problem they have.  For example we recently visited an accounting firm that used open file storage and I noticed that many of their files were beyond their capacity and falling out of the file folders.  Although they used box bottom files they used a crude form of end-tab filing that didn’t perform.  So I suggested a Smead End Tab Expanding File Pocket.  I volunteered a  few samples for them to try.  As a result they loved the product and it was a considerable upsell from their previous failing folders.  Be observant, ask questions and provide solutions.  Stop being an order taker and be an order maker!

There’s my nickels worth and I hope you get at least one good take-away point.  How about you?  What has changed in your market and what works for you?

The last word:  “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, and expect to win!” -Zig Ziglar

Sales Call Recap; What to do After EVERY Sales Call

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 26-02-2009

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I enjoy riding with my sales reps and I do a “Post Call Analysis” after each call to help them improve their techniques.  I have a checklist that I use for this purpose.  This list is also especially useful for reps to use after every prospecting call. 

  • Did you identify the prospect’s communication style?
  • Who controlled the sales call, you or the prospect?
  • Did you LISTEN more than talk? (Extremely important)
  • Did you overwhelm people with product knowledge? (Did you pitch before the itch?[thanks Jeff Gardner])
  • Did you identify all the prospect’s needs?
  • Did you set up an objective for the second sales call, assuming there is one?
  • Did you discuss budget and the decision making process? (if applicable)
  • If this is a first call did you ask for a tour of their facility? (if applicable)
  • Did you take good notes regarding your call and ideas for followup?


Do you perform your own analysis after each call?  Do you have a suggestion to add to this list?  Our current economy presents new challenges in our industry but it also presents many new opportunities that didn’t exist before.  Keep you attitude in check and be well prepared for each call and success will be yours.  If anyone ever tells you that their sales “system” is guaranteed to work 100% of the time, don’t believe them.  It is a lie.  I can promise you one thing that does work 100% of the time every day and that is hard work, smart preparation and a great attitude. 


The last word:   “Man’s rise or fall, success or failure, happiness or unhappiness depends on his attitude… a man’s attitude will create the situation he imagines.” — James Allen

Back to Basics – Cold Calling 101

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 13-05-2008

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Okay people, some of you hate cold calling.  Some even get as far as the prospects door and turn away in fear of rejection.  As humans our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.  Cold calling for customers and prospecting can take on many flavors and qualities that are a unique as you are.  However, in order to build rapport and build relationships you must start with some basic information about your prospect, such as who is the decision maker.  Let’s address cold calling from the beginning with some basic techniques.

First of all, ignore any signs that say No Soliciting.  Those signs are really intended for people who canvass office building selling anything from cheap perfume to luggage.  If you are a legitimate business person making a cold call isn’t as repulsive and intrusive to most businesses.  If they treat you like dirt then I would ask them politely if they treat their own sales people in the same manner.  I don’t mean to be a smartass with that question but I can assure you that if your prospect has a sales staff they expect them to make cold calls too and to at least be treated with some respect.  I’ve been thrown out of offices before for cold calling but that has never stopped me from gaining new business through cold calling.

Secondly, have your literature and business card ready when you enter the door.  Be sincere when you ask for ‘help’.  And please don’t let the first thing that rolls out of your mouth be “How are you today?”!  If you must have an opening greeting let it be “Happy Monday!” Speak your name and ask if the gatekeeper can please help you. Tell her/him that you want to leave some valuable information for the decision maker regarding your product/service and ask for the persons name.  Confirm if that is the only person involved in making the decision on your product and get their title.  Write their name and a short message on the back of your business card and attach it to your literature.  Ask for the decision makers card and find out when the best time to call for a follow-up.  Get the name of the person you are speaking with and be sure to sincerely thank them for their help!  When you thank this person be sure to say their name when you thank them because people live to hear the sound of their name.  Follow-up your initial call within 24 hours.

Never apologize for interrupting their work when you walk in and don’t make excuses.  Deliver your introduction, don’t waste time and above all, smile when you address the gatekeeper.  Be prepared mentally for rejection because it will happen.  Be exceptionally prepared both mentally and with your facts and pitch.  Role playing is still the best way to practice your technique and become polished in your delivery.  I suggest that in every sales meeting you practice role-playing, it’s that important.  Quit complaining because no one wants to buy from a complainer.  When you enter the prospects office don’t grip about the price of gas or the weather.  Be the happiest person on the planet and work hard to earn the sale

Think of cold calling as a game.  One you play to win!  Make it fun, practice, read self improvement books and make someone smile.  And don’t forget to ask for the order!


The last word: “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”– John Rohn