Tag Archives: sales improvement

The Sales Detective – Closing the Sale

“What do you see as the next step?”

By Bob Davis

Closing the sale is critical for those of us for whom selling is our noble career choice. Many of us have been taught the “ABC” method of closing (always be closing). Often, this gets executed in a trial close that seems manipulative to our customers. Some examples (and the fantasy response I would like to give):

Car Salesperson: “What can I do to get you into this car today?”
Customer: “Open the door!”

Insurance Salesperson: “If I could show you a way to protect your loved one’s future and give you increased financial security, would you be interested?”
Customer: “No! I don’t much care for my family and my goal is to go bankrupt this year—can you help with those?”

In the fantasy interchanges above, we have exaggerated (not by much) the manipulative nature of many closing techniques. Of course we all know that a truly consultative selling approach engages the customer in very different process that doesn’t require the manipulative closes like the above. A discourse on Consultative Selling is a three-day affair when I teach sales classes as a professional sales trainer. Rather than cover all of that in this blog, let’s take a look at a quick tip on closing that I discovered by accident.

I was working with a software company that was considering having me and my company design and deliver a large segment of their Global Sales Meeting. After several meetings with sales operations and others, I was brought in to the office of the sales VP. Much work had been done prior to this meeting and I knew more work would be needed to close the deal. Getting involvement from this VP was critical as he “owned” the Global Sales Meeting and its budget. After 45 minutes of productive discussion, I sensed the meeting was ready to end and asked the VP, “What do you see as the next step?” His eyes brightened, he leaned forward and he said, “That was a great closing question!” We defined specific steps and dates that would lead me to a contract and a twelve-year, very productive relationship with this gentleman.

“What do you see as the next step?” was not a deliberate and planned question. I was an “unconscious competent” – someone who is doing things right but is not consciously aware of it. My VP Sales buddy made me a “conscious competent” – someone who is doing things right and is consciously aware of it. Since that epiphany, I make sure that on every call I ask the customer at the end, “What do you see as the next step?” What amazed me when I first started doing this was:

  • Virtually every customer had a next step or multiple steps that defined my sales process to closing
  • The most amazing discovery was that the customer would often go further in their next step description than I might have proposed
  • Those who would not state a next step, were signaling me they were not a qualified customer OR I was talking to the wrong customer OR I had done a lousy job of selling

I now see that simple question as a way to co-create the closing process with the customer.

The Sales Detective lesson:

On every customer contact, ask, “What do you see as the next step?”

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Today’s Specials – Focus – Monday, December 20, 2010

Today at The Sales Cafe, we are at a total loss–a loss of focus. Time is winding down for this whole holiday season and we’ve been feeling it. No amount of coffee seems to help or put us back on track. In fact, there is very little track to ride as so many people are either starting their vacations or winding down, watching the best ads of 2010 instead of updating contacts and events of the past quarter on SalesForcedotcom.

Today’s Specials focus on, well, Focus. Focus, people. If not today, then save this list for January 3, 2011.

1. Focus: A new book on simplicity in the age of distractions. Excellent ebook/course on focus. It’s as simple as that. Choose a free version or pay for the premium version. Now, if we weren’t so distracted, we would finish reading it.

2. Focus.com. This is a community and network of world class business and technology experts. Ask a question, get the answer in eight focus areas, such as sales, marketing, information technology, finance, customer service or HR. It may add to your procrastination options, but you’ll be smarter in the end.

3. How to Focus. When all else fails, go back to the basics and what you learned in school. That’s right, this link was written for students, but we are all students of life and if that’s what it takes to focus on work, so be it.

Finally, today’s holiday video is viral in the truest sense. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it and share it with friends. That’s the meaning of viral.

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Is a 90% failure rate in sales OK with you?

By Peter Krammer

Would you improve the odds in sales if you could? How much of an improvement in your prospect-to-close ratio would you be happy with?

When you sell for a living, failure – or rejection (choose your word, it doesn’t matter) – is the norm. One prospect in ten will eventually buy from you, possibly far less. That is a 90% failure rate – or rejection rate if that feels more comfortable. Your first boss told you this was normal during your first interview. Perhaps today you tell it to others without really questioning its validity.

No doubt about it, we salespeople spend a lot of our time grinding it out. Day in and day out, we throw ourselves at lists and leads, wherever they come from, hoping to get lucky. Some salespeople and sales managers call them suspects, and some fools even call them prospects. Do you think that the name on the card you collected at a networking event is really a potential customer? Until a real conversation begins, neither you nor the customer has a clue to whether they are a “suspect.”

Have you ever been to Las Vegas and heard a gambler say to the dealer, “Hey Tio, give me a break, I have kids to feed at home!” while jumping in for the next hand? Well, partner, many days that’s you. Only in this case, it’s real because very likely, you do have kids to feed at home and your boss will fire you if your bets don’t pay off.

If you really sell for a living, your work starts when a potential customer has identified a need for change brought on by dysfunctional processes, obsolete technology, and a host of other issues – some known, some unknown. If you have the customer’s trust and can help them discover the causes of their problems and the effects of solutions you offer, you’re on your way toward making a sale. That is, except when the customer doesn’t return calls, disappears for no apparent reason, inexplicably changes “the game,” or surprisingly buys from a competitor they hadn’t mentioned before. We’re not talking rejection here, we’re talking failure.

You can conservatively cut your failure rate in half just by changing how you work. This could lift your spirits, keep you from burning out or worse, keep the kids at home fed, and keep you employed (meaning your sales would increase).

Dirty Little Secrets by Sharon Drew Morgan is an explosive, and possibly even controversial, book that makes a clear and compelling case for why you need to change and how to get started. This isn’t a method book; change isn’t easy and you need to use your head. The author guides you on a journey to understanding the buyer’s world, their point of view, the people that influence them daily, and your role in that world. And you do have an important role to play. Morgan has broken the code on getting into the conversation much earlier in the “shopping process” than we salespeople are normally allowed to these days. This is done without asking you to become a political and strategic genius, a game manipulator, or a constant hero.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the book endorsed by Larry Wilson, the man who started the counselor selling movement 45 years ago that the author so sharply criticizes.

Want to know more? Are you ready to toss much of that rejection aside as somebody else’s problem? If so, buy this book for yourself this Christmas, and leave the gambling table to others.

You don’t really need to suffer in order to succeed at sales.

Today’s Specials – Sales Innovation – Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hearts in The Sales Cafe are all aflutter today, what with the release of the Bruce Springsteen Asbury Park Boardwalk Private Concert Video. Bruce is in fine form, hanging at the carousel in AP, NJ, playing songs to promote the release of the 2-CD “The Promise” and it’s been on the monitor all day here. It’s 30 minutes of rock ‘n roll and we like it. (Disclaimer:  Some of us here at The Sales Cafe are from New Jersey.)

In honor of “The Boss,” an innovator in music and marketing, Today’s Specials take a look at sales innovation. What does it take to be a sales innovator? Who’s innovative and how can we be more creative, unusual and even provocative in our quest for sales?

1. Innovation That’s ‘Born to Run.’ Here, Business Week contributors G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón argue “the promise” of innovation using Springsteen lyrics and song title examples. A little fanboy-ish, yes, but we love it anyway. What Would Bruce Do? they ask, and then describe how corporate leaders can emulate his resilience through triumph and failure.

2. Using an Outside-In Approach Transforms Business. We are huge proponents of taking an Outside-In approach to sales. Here’s a small example of how thinking outside(-in) the box can help an organization innovate in ways they never dreamed of.

3. The Technical Innovation Guaranteed to Double Your Sales Results. Sales guru S. Anthony Innarino offers a simple but revolutionary innovation and advice that really can change your life.

4. Have a Very Purple Holiday. Okay, so this last entry is more marketing than sales, but it’s timely and innovative and I’m sure those wise guys at Marketo have set up measures and means to track this campaign–integrated through email, the Web site and Twitter–down to every closed sale.

Today’s holiday clip comes from the classic movie, A Christmas Story. We triple dog dare you not to agree that this is one of the top ten scenes of any movie, any time.

Sales Success: Learn to Listen like a Jazz Musician

You’re on your way to an important meeting. Let’s say it’s with a prospect your company has been pursuing for two years and the COO has agreed to meet with you. You know she’s got a trough of problems – that’s what your sales team has found out so far, at least.Listen like a jazz musician

You’ve got an hour-long drive. You call your mate to check in. Your eastern regional sales manager calls because two of his salespeople just won big deals. You get stuck in lunchtime traffic at the bridge. You check your Blackberry (c’mon, admit you do). You turn on the news and none of it is good. You switch to a music station. As usual, none of that stuff is good either. You arrive at your destination, wait for fifteen minutes in the lobby, check your Blackberry three more times, and then finally go to your meeting. Sound familiar? Is it any wonder that listening skills are at a premium in the 21st century?

This post isn’t about “listening skills” – nodding at the prospective customer while she answers your questions, repeating what she says and using her name, so that you’ve indicated that you’ve heard her (and hoping you did). It isn’t about quieting the noise in your head either. You didn’t really need to check your Blackberry six times in the last hour, did you? And, it isn’t about a technique to try and reconstruct that most important morsel of information your prospect has just told you, that you’ve just missed while your brain has been multi-tasking. You know, the one tidbit that means the difference between a $200K sale and a $2M sale. You’re a senior sales executive – a trained professional! You know this stuff by now.

Let me turn you onto a little tip, something that you may not know unless you happen to play jazz, blues or some other type of improvisational music. This tip will perhaps help you quiet your brain and get the bigger deal that solves all of your prospect’s problems.

Think of a great jazz show you’ve attended. If you haven’t been to one, then go, they’re good for you. Then, come back and read this again.

What distinguishes a great jazz performance from a good one is the listening skill, not the playing skill of each musician. In this day and age, any musician you hear on stage is highly skilled at playing their instrument, but many of the musicians you hear are lousy listeners. The great stuff that’s making you bob your head and dance in your seat is the interplay between the musicians – the subtle adjusting, reacting, leading, and inventing that goes on chorus after chorus. (For all you non-musicians, a chorus is each time the song goes around.) Each solo you hear is a product of both individual invention and supportive collaboration.

All of this fantastic interplay is grounded in intuition. This intuition isn’t something these musicians were born with. Their intuition was developed by paying attention, in other words listening, to what’s going on around them; absorbing the mood of the piece, moving to the rhythm, and inventing counter-melodies to something the bass player or singer might be doing at that moment. We jazz musicians call this improvisation, but really it is an intuitive management of the situation combined with an invention – original or not – that suits it.

One additional point: When you find yourself bored or yawning during one of these shows, it most likely isn’t that you don’t like jazz, or that you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before. It’s because the musicians on stage aren’t there. They’re playing licks that they’ve played a thousand times in the same way and even though you may not have heard those notes in that particular way, the notes lack energy and creativity. These licks are not born of the moment, they are standard issue notes grounded in past years of meticulous practice and current situational distraction. It’s the soloist’s stock marketing material. No wonder you’re bored, who isn’t?

So what does this have to do with a sales call? The short answer is everything. As you know by now, anything can and does happen during these calls. Whatever you’ve heard before, or heard from your team is only information. What goes on during a sales call is all possibility. There is a rhythm and a mood to each one of these situations that calls for intuitive management and invention, energy and creativity.

To play like a jazz soloist, you need to listen like a jazz musician. Don’t rely on your licks, your marketing material, and your pre-planned competitive differentiation strategy. If you’re good at that stuff, you’ll get the $200K deal. When you’re on, you need to forget that stuff, and forget the jibber-jabber on your Blackberry as well. Key into the people in the room. Listen, absorb, react, and observe, and then step out and “take a solo” that’s driven by your intuition. That’s the difference between a good and great performance.

Peter Krammer is Managing Partner of ELA Consulting Group, co-author of Let Your Music Soar with Corky Siegel, and a jazz guitarist.