Sales managers are not always present in small businesses, so we are often asked what…
To win more business, you need more opportunities, and if you decide to take control of that, you need to improve your ability to secure more selling meetings with qualified prospects and earn more wins when you do. You’ll need to sharpen how you are perceived to gain your prospect’s confidence and engagement quickly. You’ll need to be open to hearing no, and learn how to question why. Using voicemail, email, text, and Linkedin should be thought out and coordinated. Lastly, your best results for both more meetings and improving your closing percentage will be committing to a referral mentality and system.
Schedule More Sales Meetings
Mindset: Customer vs. Prospect
When I’m honest with myself, I can tell when I’m trying too hard to have someone listen to me or respond to my messages. I’m tossing out too many benefits and lists of pain and adding more testimonials and “proof” of my company’s value. I’m treating the contact as a prospect. Conversely, when I communicate with clients, I’m in partner mode. I”m on the team, and they are counting on me to advise on my area of expertise to support their objectives. Buyers do not want to be treated as prospects, they don’t see themselves this way. They are business people with problems that need to be solved. Who do you think they are more attracted to, someone trying hard to earn a seat or someone who communicates as if they already have a seat? Yep, they want to partner. How you communicate is demonstrating if they will see you as a potential partner or someone they place an order with.
We sell in a world where buyers are more educated than ever before. They have a sense of what we offer, and their not looking to be sold. If they’re going to spend any time with you, they’ll be looking for help in making a decision. They’ll make plenty of decisions to solve their problems, starting with the decision to meet with you, so show them why with your partner’s mindset.
Conversations First and Sales Meetings will Follow
Partners converse with their partners, they don’t pitch them. As with any personal or business relationship, a conversation is based on a common interest and consists of questions, ideas, and insights relevant to solving the business problem. One difference between business and personal conversations is feelings are usually left out of business conversations, especially early in a relationship.
How well you understand someone’s problems, the insights you can share, and the more thought-provoking your questions will demonstrate what type of partner/advisor you will be. The client might be able to buy from another company, but they can only get what you offer if they buy from you. How well you converse will give them the desire to meet with you, more than your pitch.
Mirror Your Contacts Conversation Style
Some people love to share lots of information, and others hold back. Some people keep things brief, others always say, Hi, Rene, while some never put my name at the beginning of a message. Some are direct, and some are ultra-polite. When you are fortunate to have a prospect engage in a conversation, DON’T have them follow your style, you should follow theirs for a while.
If they continue to respond and converse, you are on track. If they stop, one reason is that you forced them into your style.
Make a Solid Appointment to Increase Your Sales Meetings
Some salespeople I work with have a higher-than-normal no-show or cancellation rate with their appointments. They are hard-working, honest salespeople seemingly doing the right things, yet people are still no-showing them. Their problems might be in the phrasing they use, not confirming appointments, or not setting specific times to meet, but the root problem lies in how valuable they believe it is for a prospect to meet with them.
The average salesperson has been taught to pitch the benefits of their products and services to entice a prospect to meet with them.
“Our widget will increase your productivity by 20%.”
“I want to explain how our _________ will make _________ much easier for you.”
“I just need 20 minutes of your time to show you_________________.”
All the focus is on convincing someone to meet so they can be convinced to buy something. The meeting or appointment only becomes of value if the prospect decides to move forward and buy something.
A service-minded salesperson will ensure every appointment will be of value to a prospect whether they buy or not.
“If you would like to meet, I will help assess your current needs regarding purchasing a __________, educate you so you will be more informed in making a buying decision, and assess if our company might be able to be a solution for you, we are not the right fit for everyone.”
This statement communicates your intention to add value to the time being spent. Every day business people need to adjust their priorities. The goal of a salesperson is to keep their appointment valuable enough to remain on the priority list.
When you make appointments, quit trying to sell or convince people to meet with you. Find people who are interested in receiving the value you have to bring. Be confident that the time a prospect will spend with you will be of value if they buy or not, and more people will want to keep their appointments with you.
Use Voicemail To Market Your Email Strategically
Should you leave a voicemail or hang up when calling someone who does not know you? I have seen both work, but with caller ID, hanging up becomes more evident to the prospect and can work against you. It also demonstrates a lack of respect for your time. If your time is only valued at making calls to someone and hanging up, well…what do you think? Not too valuable. On the other hand, if you leave a lengthy sales pitch hoping they will listen to every detail and call up for an order, you’re counting on them being desperate.
The other thing working against you is how well people listen to messages they don’t know, or more importantly, how well they listen with interest to hear your intention and confidence. Use your voicemail to “market your email”. This is a great way to improve how many people read what you want them to. To make this work, you need to know what you’ll be sending them, and as always, if you have information, insights, or questions relevant to their issues or goals, the more likely they will listen.
Hi John – It’s Rene with ABC Company. Richard Smith in distribution mentioned you are trying to solve ________. I’m sending over an email with some questions and ideas. I hope they help. Let me know if you’d like to converse about them. Have a good day.
To make this message work, you would have had to do some homework with Richard to learn that John has a problem you can help solve. Cold calling is a numbers game; strategic calling is a partner practice.
Sell More by Hearing ”No” Early
One of the salespeople I work with shared that she was struggling with a prospect. The prospect was polite, but aside from agreeing to continue the sales process, she was not sending any clear buying signals. She seemed a little distant. The sales rep was smart enough to ask, “Do I have a chance of selling you this system?” The prospect honestly answered, “No, my best friend sells for the competition.”
Of course, she didn’t want to hear a no, but continuing along the “sales process” would have been worse, wasting time in a losing cause. She was able to thank the prospect and get to work with people that she did have a chance of selling.
If you want to sell more business in less time, be willing to hear no earlier rather than later. If your pipeline is small or you’ve not closed a deal lately, you might start pressing and miss the clues the prospect is giving. You’ll be focused on what you need to say to change their mind instead of listening to the no.
Sometimes doing what seems contrary is the exact thing we need to do. Don’t be afraid of hearing no, and especially be willing to hear it earlier than later. You might need to hear a no from a current prospect to help you hit your sales target.
Scheduling Sales Appointments is Not Selling a Solution
A buyer’s purchasing journey is made up of a series of decisions. Selling is helping your buyer make the decisions related to your offer. When you approach a buyer to meet with you, they will make these three decisions at a minimum:
Should they read or listen to your outreach?
Should they respond to any questions or requests?
Should they meet to converse with you?
They are not close to deciding whether to buy anything, so keep that conversation for later.
Of course, we have to provide some context that proves we understand their problem and could help in solving it, but we don’t want to overwhelm them with information in hopes of convincing them we “are” the solution.
Your tip here is to focus your messaging and energy on helping the buyer with the abovementioned decisions. Here is a tip on where to put your creativity to work.
Should they read or listen to your messages?
Make your intro or subject line relevant to them so they will want to read or listen.
Should they respond to any questions or requests?
Be confident but not pushy with your questions because they evaluate if they want to risk responding. They are also evaluating how you present information, if not more about the information being presented.
Should they meet to converse with you?
Based on their needs, how well you converse, and if you present a good enough reason to invest time with you, it will help you hear a yes to your meeting request.
Managing Persistent Sales Follow-up
Richard Saling on LinkedIn asked this great question. “When does persistence cross the line to diminishing returns? We all hear about the importance of persistence. That old saying, “Persistence pays off,” but how much is too much where you become an annoyance?”
You are an annoyance when the other individual is not interested in hearing from you at that time. The best way to minimize being an annoyance is to remain on their someone of interest list.
This is accomplished by:
- Being very clear about how they want to buy by knowing their decision process.
- Quit fitting them into your timetable and work yourself into theirs.
- Include them in how they want to be worked with by asking them.
- Be willing to hear an early no–ask questions (not closing ??) but questions that allow them to tell you whether they are interested in continuing the process.
- Be clear about dates, times, and the purpose of any follow-up call.
- Always bring value or new information when you make contact, it will keep you on their interesting list.
- Avoid saying, ” Just checking in.” If that’s all you have, you need to think harder, review your notes, find some new information, and stay “interesting.”
If you are doing these well and the prospect is honest about their interest, I always assume delays are a shift in their priorities. They are never denials until I confirm it. I might leave a VM or email like this:
“Joe – you must be swamped, or new priorities have piled on you since we last spoke. How would you like me to follow up with you? Do you still want to proceed with the process we are engaged in? I can be patient if needed. Let me know how to serve.”
If they don’t respond, I return them to a marketing approach. The current decision process we were on has stopped, and I am working on starting a new one in the future. Resist the temptation to continue the momentum you had; it’s lost. It’s better to start over with new energy and needs by the buyer in the future.
Many salespeople try to keep a dead sales process alive for too long and instead need to shift back to marketing (creating interest). If you don’t, it will impact your sales motivation negatively.
Check out my article on No One Sale Matters to put yourself in the right frame of mind to ask these questions.
Win More Business
Sales Discovery and Client Business Objectives
A shortcoming in many salespeople is not inquiring enough to understand core business objectives because they are uncomfortable asking business questions or don’t know how. We all know sales discovery meetings can be tricky. Let me explain what I mean and offer you tips to help.
Business objectives are usually tied to performance and profit. Asking a business owner about their performance or profit objectives can be sensitive. It is uncomfortable because most of us are taught not to talk about people’s money, and asking a business owner about their company’s performance could be considered personal. If this is holding you back, you need to get past it.
How to increase your comfort level and better understand the company’s objectives.
Approach the meeting with a partnership perspective: People form partnerships for mutual benefit and gain. A partner brings something to the business table that helps the business grow. It might be a skill, resource, expertise, or ability. Business partners fully understand the business objectives, so they can best apply their contribution to building the business. For a salesperson to become a partner, they must:
- Stop selling (pushing your products) and start learning about the customer’s business
- Understand the value or contribution you bring to the business
- Be confident and bold in making recommendations that help the business
- Be willing to back away when a contribution to help the business cannot be made
How to learn more about business objectives?
Ask business questions:
- What has been a key factor in your success?
- What’s making business more difficult today?
- If there was one impact a new ___________ system could make on your business, what might that be? In what ways is your current ___________ system hindering you in reaching performance or profit goals?
- Are you anticipating this year to be a growth year? What needs to happen this year to reach your goals? Is everything in place to make that happen, or is there more to implement?
Don’t settle for surface answers: Some people are not used to answering a salesperson with core business objectives. Simply ask another question to help them get to the core. Here are some examples.
Ask One More Question
Wouldn’t you like to know what the most important sales question is to ask? When I started consulting, I met with Harvey Meier (www.harveymeier.com), a 30-year veteran of management consulting, and asked him, “If you were to give me one tip to help me in consulting, what would it be?” He responded, “Ask one more question.” He explained when you are ready to begin sharing a solution with your prospect, stop and ask another question. It has been one of the best business and selling tips I have received.
Dig a little deeper once you find out what someone’s problems or goals are. You can ask questions like, “How will fixing your problem impact the company?” or “What will achieving your goals allow the company to do in the future it’s not doing today?” Don’t rush to “sell”; learn about your customers and their needs. Buying is an emotional process, so help your buyer get in touch with their emotional need and then present your solutions.
Practicing this skill is easy; you can do it during any conversation. When you are ready to say something, don’t. Ask another question. Practice learning more about others rather than sharing more about yourself. The more you understand a customer’s problems, the easier it is to present a solution that relates to your customer’s issues and objectives. Your extra question could become the most important sales question for that situation.
What’s Behind Price and Budget Reasons for Not Buying
When someone says they don’t have the budget or your price is too high while giving you a sense they are done with the conversation, they say the cost to purchase outweighs the value THEY understand. This does not mean you have not shared what you believe is value. It means they are not equating enough value from their perspective to buy.
Your role as a salesperson is to uncover where a buyer can find value to justify your offer. It’s not about expecting them to believe everything you say is valuable in your offer and count that as a gain; it is for you to have them discover, share, and confirm what they value in your offer.
Explore the following to see if value opportunities have been missed:
- Confirm which personal and organizational pain they know your solutions can address.
- Confirm they have shared key organization objectives and goals that your solution could address or might be working against your solution.
- If they do not know all the organization’s pain, ask them to interview others.
- They are not sharing the cost (time, hard, and soft) of change in their organization with you. Ask questions about how others will receive the change, what would need to happen, time commitments, meetings, etc.
Make more discoveries if needed so you can come back with ways your solution will add value. If all goes well, they will see it as you do, and the price gap will decrease.
Referrals – Alter What You Ask For
The referrals that most of us receive are organic. Someone who has done business with us recommended us “after” the referred asked them who they knew. They’re shopping and interested; when they call, it’s nice. In most cases, these referrals happen through a bit of luck. Someone crosses the path of one of our customers and asks them for a reference. If we keep providing great service and have a good product, we’ll keep getting these, but you’re a salesperson; how can you increase your introductions and referrals?
Of course, we can ask our customers if they know someone struggling with the issues we solved for them, but my experience has been that someone rarely comes to mind. They are trying to think of someone who has said, “Do you know someone……?” and no one has. When this happens, switch to a different ask.
Describe the type of contact and business you are looking for, remind them of the issues you solve for them, and then include the qualities and characteristics they have enjoyed about working with you and your company—things like honesty, transparent, responsive, patient, and respectful of your time, as examples. Then ask, can you think of one or two people who might be affected by similar issues we solved for you that wouldn’t mind learning about us so they have knowledge or a resource that can help? They don’t need to have a need today; I’ll treat them professionally like I did you. I’m looking for an introduction to meet someone to explore their situation. If they don’t have a need now, no worries; that happens daily. Do one or two people come to mind?
You are switching from asking who might be ready to buy to who they know who might enjoy knowing or working with someone like yourself. You might need to reassure them you’re not asking if they know someone who has an immediate need but rather someone who would want to know about you in case they need it in the future.
The point is to make it easy for your happy customer or client to introduce you to others. A warm introduction opens the door to a warm conversation that eventually leads to someone needing your product or service.
Bonus Tip: When given a name, ask your customer if they wouldn’t mind calling or sending them an introduction email before you contact them.
Sales Discovery Questions: Partner vs. Sales Approach
Understanding your prospect’s business objectives will lead to a partnership relationship. This starts with a service-oriented mindset that leads to asking valuable Sales Discovery Questions.
Most, if not all, business buying decisions are tied to a business objective which is usually tied to increasing profit. If your product or service cannot be tied to making the business better in your buyer’s eyes, it won’t matter if you offer a time machine at 50% off.
So why don’t more salespeople take the time to learn what the business objectives are? I believe the answer lies in their discomfort or not understanding how. Talk to your manager about this, but here is a little help.
Here’s what I witnessed during a shadow call with a rep. The prospect wanted us to show her a reason to be interested. She didn’t have a determined need and was not currently shopping for a new phone system but was willing to learn. The salesperson was good at asking questions about what they liked or disliked about their system, but there was not much emotion in her responses. I sensed we needed to learn more about her business, so I asked, “What has been a key factor in your 50-year success, and how have you remained competitive against the big box stores?” This got her juices flowing about the evil big box stores, and she said, “More personalized customer service.”She shared a bit more, but the most important factor was “customer service.”
She then explained how she spent some big dollars upgrading store infrastructures. She was excited about her new investment and shared how it would pay off over time (20 years, based on her calculations).
What Just Happened?
We stopped trying to have her tell us what she wanted in a phone system (which she was unsure about) and let her tell us what she wanted in her business (which she was very sure about). Remember, all buying decisions are based on meeting business objectives. We also learned she is willing to invest in the business if they pencil out.
What happens now?
Armed with this knowledge, the rep’s follow-up appointment will be focused on understanding how their current phone system supports customer service and if there are ways a new one can make improvements. He can talk to employees or managers because he is now working to support the owner’s business objective. She now hopes he can find a solution. When you learn what is important to your prospect or customer, you no longer sell your product or service. You are finding ways to help them accomplish their business objective. When this happens, they become very interested in helping you do that. That is what Service-Minded Selling is all about.
Stop Chasing Follow-up and Increase Scheduled Meetings
Have you left a meeting you felt good about when the prospect said, give me a call in a month or two, and you agreed to do just that? What ensues in two months are emails that say, “I’m following up as you asked or Did you want to set a time to talk or l…….” You thought you had a hot prospect ready to buy when they asked for follow-up, but instead, you’re chasing again. Yuk!
You had the chance to keep things real and scheduled, but you let your feel-good emotions keep you from taking care of the details of your job. Here is what must be answered or confirmed when asked to follow up.
- Confirm what the purpose of the follow-up is. Do not let them use you as a reminder pest. Let their task list do that. Agree and commit to what each of you will get done in preparation for your next meeting.
- Confirm they have pain or objectives they want to solve that your offer can remedy. If not, dig harder, set another discovery meeting if needed, find a better contact, or let it go and don’t follow up.
- If they have interest, check if funds are budgeted to fund a purchase as you offer. If not, you might need to switch your strategy to a decision to justify in next year’s budget.
- If they have interest, confirm a desired implementation date or timeline so you both have a date you are working toward.
Even if your next meeting is a touch base, OPEN YOUR CALENDARS and put a date and time down, and YOU send the invite with the subject line describing the purpose and the promises or tasks you each need to complete.
Now you are working on a project toward a purchase with agreed-on tasks, goals, and your next meeting time. Your sales manager will love this.
Sometimes you need to let go: If your prospect is unwilling to commit or confirm your understanding, it could be a sign to put them back on your marketing drip list. You can also search for a buyer with more authority in the organization. If someone is not responding or willing to move things along, they either lack motivation or power. Move on.
When you help customers define their timelines and processes, you serve them. That is part of Service-Minded Selling. Confirming your understanding and gaining agreement on your follow-up demonstrates your listening skills and professionalism.
Selling in a Slow Economy
My clients and I have a motto, “Don’t Be Denied.” What a great time for the cream to rise to the top. When weaker salespeople worry about a slow economy and its adverse effects on their business, Champions rise to the challenge. You have to decide if you are a Champion or not.
I wrote this in 2009 during the home mortgage crash and recession. I’m updating it in 2023 as we have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Market swings are nothing new, and downturns or slow economies are part of doing business if you want to stick around. I have sold through the recession in the 80s, been through the dot.com bust, started a new business in September 2001 (9/11), and seen the same happen. The best salespeople get it done because they know what to do and “Do It.” There is no time to worry about the economy. The economy will take care of itself, and the focus is still the same; find people who want your product and service and prove why they should buy from you.
Here are some reminders to consider for this year:
- There might be fewer deals, so make sure you are focusing on larger businesses.
- On the flip side, you might find more hits on companies smaller as they are nimble and can make decisions with owners working in the business.
- The best companies will be buying, which are the companies that are more fun to work with.
- While we don’t have to worry about the economy, we must understand it. Assess which industries will be impacted less and work on these.
- Work your referral networks diligently. Don’t beg, be a shining positive light, someone they will want to share with others.
- Focus on growing all contacts and marketing yourself to someone new every day.
- Don’t let excellent service go unrewarded. Ask for the referral once you shine with a customer.
- Find your best ambassadors in your office to funnel leads to you.
- Maintain a high-value position with customers.
- Don’t take budgets for granted. Ensure you know what they must spend and how much wiggle room they have before presenting your proposal.
- Don’t spend time listening to other reps whining about the economy.
- Re-work databases from those reps that fall away. There is business to be found that was not allowed to surface.
- Find more efficiencies through technology and resources. You might need to work harder, have more conversations, and keep improving; it will pay off now and down the road when the economy picks up.
- Get creative with the finance packages you can offer. Little tweaks can make or break the deal.
Anyone can have a great year when the economy is growing, but true champions find a way to win when circumstances are less favorable. Don’t Be Denied.
Disconnect and Refocus
Have you walked into a selling situation where the prospects seem entirely sold on another vendor or approach and show little interest in hearing about your solution? Sometimes it might feel as if they are defending their preference as a protection from hearing something new. Let’s say they like apples, and you are selling mangos. Apples might be a good solution for them, but the mangos you represent are better. How can you help your prospect disconnect from their love of apples and be open and begin to focus on mangos?
First, have the right attitude (no one sale matters). Don’t resist their like for apples or defend your mangoes. Be open to learning. If you get defensive, it will end fast.
Second, don’t make assumptions; go deep into discovery. Find out what they like about apples and why they believe they are the right solution. Have them explain how apples will solve their business objectives if they know what they are. Ask quality questions to learn more about company issues, problems, or objectives. You’ll learn what you need without creating a wall between apples and mangos.
Third, resist the urge to say, “mangos do that too, but better,” as you see opportunities to start sharing solutions. Stay in discovery and save it for later. Remember the tip about asking one more question.
Finally, when you have clearly understood their problems, goals, or objectives and how they understand apples will help them, use this type of phrasing as your “disconnect and re-focus.” “You have done a very good job identifying apples as a good solution for you. We don’t sell apples, but many of our customers used to buy apples as their solution until they learned how mangos could exceed their apple expectations. Would you be interested in learning more about why others are choosing mangos to solve your expressed problems and attain your objectives more effectively and efficiently? (Using specifics they share will be best)
If you get a yes – you have just completed your disconnect and re-focus, and it is time to return to your selling process.
One last reminder: What you resist will persist, and conversely, when you don’t resist or defend someone liking apples, you make room for them to listen to what mangos have to offer.
Three Qualifying Sales Questions
In most buying or closing sales conversations, price becomes a focus, or at least it should. We must know what the buyer’s acceptance level is with our price. If acceptance is high or low, ensure you know the answers to the following questions.
- Do they prefer your system, product, service, or design over the competitors?
- Are you the salesperson they prefer to work with?
- Is your company who they prefer to work with?
If the answer to these questions is yes, it becomes a process of helping the buyer justify any additional upfront costs if they have not already. If they answer no to these questions, you must understand where you have fallen short of satisfying them.
You can’t always satisfy all three areas, but you can still win the business. Knowing where you are preferred and where you are not will make it easier to justify your value by focusing on the areas of preference.
A powerful way to begin your discovery process is to inform your buyer that you hope that they can answer yes to the three questions by the time you present your final proposal. Explain that you are more thorough than other vendors, but it is because you want to make sure you make the best recommendation for their company.
Summary: People don’t buy a price; they buy what they want. The price they pay is the value they attach to what they want. If your product or service is the best or close to it, stop lowering the price and help customers pay for what they want.
Miller Heiman has a good sales Article on Price if you would like to learn more about improving your ability to sell value.
Sharpening Your Sales Tools
One of my client’s salespeople called and left me a message. He explained how he had a tough night with personal stuff, and the morning had not gone much better. His day was heading downhill, which included his sales production. He then chose to “sharpen his axe” or, in his case, his mind and sales tools. He pulled off the road, pulled out a book, and read for 20 minutes. He said his day turned entirely, and productivity returned in the afternoon.
Habit #7 of Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is The Principle of Balanced Renewal. It is about renewing yourself spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially/emotionally. The Axe Sharpening story tells of a woodsman who got so busy trying to outproduce a fellow worker he never took time to sharpen his axe all day. The other man took breaks during the day to sharpen his axe and had outproduced the busy woodsman while spending less time chopping.
If you are finding yourself working harder with fewer results, you need to take time to stop selling and renew yourself.