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

Win or Loose, It’s Your Choice

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 21-04-2009

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I was reading an article in Selling Power Magazine  the other day that reminded me of an important fact.  Your personal success is completely dependent upon your decision to succeed.  That’s right, success is a decision you make and a promise you have to follow through on.  It’s easy to blame the economy for everything but the fact is there are people out there being successful every day! 

no-whining-sign

If you are not prospecting for new business I can assure you that your competition is.  The vultures are out there hunting for every scrap of business they can harvest and your customer(s) is their target.  Now is the time when the strength of your customer relationships will bear fruit.  Right now price is king and you must proactively help your customer cut costs by making product substitution suggestions and by finding creative ways to help their business weather the storm.  If you loose a customer find out why.  Don’t be embarassed or shy about it, just ask!  And for goodness sake don’t walk into your customer’s office and say, “I just stopped by to see how you are doing.”  If you don’t have a purpose to be there don’t go!  Respect your customer/client’s time by demonstrating value everytime you walk through their door.  Stop thinking of yourself as a sales rep and see yourself as a consultant. 

When was the last time you redifined your goals?  You can think big with long term goals but your short term goals have to be realistic or disappointment will ruin your attitude.  Make that extra call every day.  Just one more call every day can mean 1000 new calls a year!  But your success or failure totally depends on you.  Win or loose, it’s your choice.  If you choose to be positive a whole new world of possibilities will open up before you!

 

The last word: “The height of your accomplishments will equal the depth of your convictions.”William Scolavino

Are You An Order Taker or an Order Maker?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 11-03-2009

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It’s been two weeks since you last visited the customer whose office you are about to enter.  If I were to ask you, “Why are you here?” you will most likely answer “because I’m here and it’s been two weeks.”  Huh?  So you’re telling me you really have no purpose being there except to perhaps get an order?  Most likely it’s because you’re comfortable seeing this person(s) and you have developed a habit of merely visiting every two weeks, or however often you normally just “drop by”.

That is just pitiful.  You have just squandered your most valuable asset – time.  Your Sales Time is the portion of your week when you interact with your customers and prospects.  There are no do-overs in selling time!  Selling time only accounts for about 25% of your work week.  The rest of this time is spent traveling, preparing reports, researching and preparing for the end results of your work week.  How you invest your time is one of the most important decisions that a sales person makes.

Who do you see and what should you do?  Don’t let your good customer relationship be a crutch for the excuse of just visiting in the hopes of getting an order.  Only a medicore saleperson will use this rationale for this behavior.  The purpose of every sales call is to show value and a reason for being there.  Your selling time is valuable and your customers time should be respected. Think about why you are voing to see your customer and ask yourself questions like:

Is this the best use of my time?

Should I be seeing these people this frequently?

What specifically will I present to this customer to justify my time and theirs and will it demonstrate value and build trust?

Who should I see, what should I do?

I had a sales rep once who used to visit some customers every week and others every two weeks.  When I asked him why, he said it was because he was in the area and he was sure that was what they wanted.  For the next several weeks I made him ask every customer how often they wanted him to physically come to their office and much to his surprise the answer was once every four to six weeks.  With all these newly identified free time what is a rep to do!? 

Order makers will actively use all their selling skills and product knowledge to seek out new product placements and increase customer awareness of products and services.  They will identify new business potential, vertical market penetration and continue to increase their knowledge and skills to best serve their customers and prospects.  Make a wise decision as to how you will invest your sales time and quit being an order taker and become and Order Maker!

The last word: “There is a very real relationship, both quantitatively and qualitatively, between what you contribute and what you get out of this world.” -Oscar Hammerstein

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

The Purpose Driven Sales Rep

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 12-08-2008

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Recently I was participating in an interesting discussion about purpose. The definition of purpose is to be determined, or resolved to accomplish. Purpose involves making a commitment, which is the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action. A sales person in any industry cannot and will not succeed without a clearly defined ‘purpose’. Purpose is the driving force behind your success and will be the foundation of your goals. Purpose is used as the synonym of goal and objective. If you lack any of these in your sales plan then you are doomed to failure.It is easy to say your goal is to ‘make a lot of money’. That, my friend, is a foolish goal. It is foolish because it is empty and without a plan of how you will accomplish that. Sure we all want to make a lot of money but that is only the end result. It does not tell me or you how you will make that happen. One sale won’t get you there and neither will one client. You must clearly define your daily, weekly and monthly goals. Your goals should reach farther than that but for now you should start with your daily and weekly sales activities. But before you get to the goal making part of your sales plan what is your purpose? Is it to provide a service or product to your clients in such a manner as to meet or exceed their expectations? Or is it to provide a comfortable home and a lifestyle that suits your needs and the needs of your family? Perhaps it is a combination of these or something more.

Without purpose you can’t define your goals. Without goals you cannot fulfill your purpose and without commitment you will not meet any of these objectives. So let’s assume you have a purpose and you have written down your goals. You should read your goals every day without fail! In order to meet your goals have you identified your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have sufficient product or technical knowledge to sell your product? Have you defined your prospecting goals as to how many calls it will take to open an adequate amount of new business to keep your sales funnel primed?

I have discussed prospecting several times. Effective prospecting is a blend of selling and marketing. The best prospectors are the best sales people and 60% of the highest sales producers say the phone is ESSENTIAL to their prospecting efforts. Effective prospecting is the life blood of your overall success. Purpose, goals, commitment are all pieces of your sales plan. Your purpose is the glue that binds all these essentials together into a cohesive plan. Plan your work and work your plan and you will achieve success in all your endeavors!

The last word: “For an athlete to function properly, he must be intent. There has to be a definite purpose and goal if you are to progress. If you are not intent about what you are doing, you aren’t able to resist the temptation to do something else that might be more fun at the moment.” — John Wooden