1 Closing Secret Every Sales Professional Should Know

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Receiving an email that stated “Please find attached agreement requiring your signature” was the highlight of my week earlier in the month. When you receive a similar message you know that you have met your goal.

Before that happy moment arrives, you may be faced with a last step that you didn’t see coming. This step above all of your previous steps of success in the buying cycle requires patience, a key ‘closing secret’ that every professional sales person should be prepared for.

One thing that keeps a sales professional charged and recharged is the adrenaline rush of opening up a new piece of business. This not only protects your future and your organization but it heals the bumps and bruises that you have received along the path of the buying cycle. These bumps and bruises may stem from the customer and can also come from within as you are pressed to meet ‘your number’. Sound familiar?

The closing secret before the actual dotted line is signed is patience. Just before the ‘big decision’ is made, your decision maker (purchasing manager, claims manager, QA Manger, etc.) regardless of their given industry is at their most vulnerable point. Their antenna is up and they may test you one more time before they place their final approval.

You may ask ‘why’, you have meet and exceeded their expectations. Your question is fair and reasonable. Let’s take a look at their decision dynamics.

A Real Example

Out of the blue, I received an email from a key prospect that we have been working with since July 2012. We have tested, presented, met, they have visited our office, etc. in fact they have more of my business cards than I do. Their ‘last minute’ request was to ask if we could customize training into smaller sections and write the content that would address the issues in three separate departments. My first thought was really? Are you kidding me? I have answered that, and demonstrated that capability on many occasions.

Patience is a virtue, or so they say.

None the less my answer was “sure”, and they requested one final demonstration to address their full buying committee in less than 48 hours. My first thought was has the incumbent flanked me, or perhaps is there a decision maker that I had not met, or unaware of? All legitimate questions, but no changes that surfaced. The delay came from one decision maker that simply wanted to be reassured before they cast their vote.

Rather than press the issue, it was time to demonstrate patience and stay the course.

At the end of our final demonstration we discovered that the delay came from one decision maker that felt vulnerable and simply wanted to be reassured before they cast their vote.

This was a great experience that served as a great reminder. At the end of a buying cycle and just before the decision is made your prospects are at their most vulnerable point. Asking for additional information or unusual requests is a strong buying signal. This may be test or it may be a legitimate request. It doesn’t matter; your patience is required.

There are 3 ‘take a ways’ to 1 closing secret that every sales professional that I would like to pass along to you:

  1. Adaptability – are you willing to adapt to last minute requests?
  2. Timing – with the above step in your back pocket, what is your response time in creating a working solution?
  3. Consistency – does your final working solution match the solution that you have been proposing all along?

The next morning, we received an email from the committee chair person stating “Please find the attached agreement for your signature”.

Ah, sweet success! Our patience paid off using the above three steps and it will for you as well.

Have you had a similar experience? Share it in the comments below.

5 Easy Steps to Connect with Your Decision Makers

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I hope your day is going well and you are enjoying your success. I just took a seat in the Albuquerque airport in a quiet area with a Starbucks vanilla latte. It’s time for a small celebration.

Directional Achievement just completed an initial sales call after three months and several email exchanges with our prospect’s decision makers from engineering, finance and purchasing.

Sound familiar?

Working through the clutter, we were able to leverage relationships with two of our leading customers in an industry similar to our prospect’s. As often is the case, this added additional credibility with our prospect’s management team.

It was critical that we make a strong connection with each decision maker and begin our meeting from a position of strength and mutual respect.

There were five easy steps that lead to the success of our initial appointment and will work for you as well.

1. Clarify in the beginning of the discussion by asking ‘how much time do we have?’
2. Ask for permission to take notes.
3. Revisit the key ‘trigger points’ that you made during your email exchange.
4. Use your lead-in questions to dig deeper into their requirements and expectations.
5. Ask for their input on the ‘next steps’ in the buying process.

Fortunately we completed our meetings with a greater understanding of their requirements, expectations, and how offing can help them meet their objectives.

I wanted to pass these 5 Easy Steps along to you. I am confident that you can use these to connect and create a high level of success on your next sales appointment.

My short celebration is coming to a close. They are boarding our flight and my vanilla latte was perfect for the occasion.

I look forward to our next discussion.

To your success,
Andy

Your Most Valued Asset as a Sales Professional?

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The question often asked is “What are the most valuable assets of a sales professional?”

Today during a morning training session, the question was posed a little differently as “What is ‘the’ greatest asset of a sales professional?”

I think this question was answered today when one of our sales representatives phoned me with the news that he had opened a new customer after a lengthy buying cycle. After the congratulations were given, I called the customer to say thanks for her trust in our organization and the opportunity to assist her team in reaching and exceeding their 2013 sales expectations.

Just before hanging up, I asked her what were the factors that influenced her decision?

After a short pause she stated that, after weighing all of the options, her team’s decision went in our favor based on our representative conveying a genuine ‘desire to help’. She further stated that his manner clearly demonstrated that partnering with our organization wasn’t about his future commissions or pleasing his boss (me), or growing his company, it was about a desire to help her team and organization. There it is, it is simple as that.

I thanked her for her time and wished her and her staff a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Let me ask you….

How do you recognize this type of sales professional? Does your toughest competitor practice this approach? Do you or members of your team use this approach? How can you benefit from this story to enhance your success in 2013?

Lets take a look at seven influencing characteristics that define the ‘desire to help’ approach:

  1. Taking the time to identify their prospects requirements and expectations.
  2. Effective questioning to identify the types of problems they are trying to solve.
  3. Giving serious thought to matching the strength of their offering with the above feedback, and presenting it effectively.
  4. Timely follow up.
  5. Conveying a message of ‘commitment’ to the prospect and their desires – not merely showing an ‘interest’.
  6. Understanding how develop relationships with others within their prospects organization.
  7. Staying close to the situation as priorities shift throughout the buying process (and they did).

After my conversation with our new customer, my next call was to our Rep., asking what was his mo-Jo in making this happen? Sure, I read the reports in our CRM but I wanted to hear of his experience first hand. I recorded the above seven characteristics on a Chick-file-A napkin as fast as I could, in order to pass them along to you!

So there you have it. You can take a ‘desire to help’ approach in identifying needs, solving a set of problems and turn your prospects concerns into a smile. Simply because you care!

To your success,
Andy

Heading into the Home Stretch

As we head into the home stretch of 2012, I would like to thank you, my valued customer for a terrific year. Everything that we have accomplished this year is due to you and your support.

With this in mind, there are five thoughts that I would like to pass along for your consideration:

  1. Fuel your momentum with your customers: You have ten more days to reach out to your customers. Take a moment to do so, even if it is a card thanking them for their business. Better yet create a usage report, send to them and ask for an opportunity to view the results with them before the end of the year. Ask them for a special project or a result that they would like to accomplish beginning in Q1 2013. This fuels your momentum going into the new year.
  2. Fuel your momentum with your prospects: Dig deeper to see what they are trying to accomplish in 2013, mention that you may have a few solutions for them to think about and ask for an appointment for early January.
  3. Avoid the temptation to pack it in for the year: Your competitor may be choosing this route- but not you. I learned this lesson from a strong leader while in the work comp arena in 1998. December is a typical slow month for that industry. with a strong focus on each day in December we had our best month of year.
  4. It only takes one: Over the years, I have seen how one customer that has been won, changed entire companies – for the good. Why can’t that one company, that one difference maker be your prospect? Call me and let’s discuss a few ideas that I have seen produce these special results.
  5. A Great Attitude Surpasses a Great Product: Your customer is buying you. People are moved by positive confident people over a great product or service. Make your customers laugh. It easy for a buyer, decision maker, etc. say no to a product or organization, but tough to say no to a positive experience with you, a positive professional sales professional.

Thank you for making 2012 a terrific of growth and service! As you head into the home stretch, take a moment to thank your customers for contributing to your success in 2012, you will feel better for doing so, and they will as well.

To your success,
Andy

We Made The Short List

How often have you heard the statement “We Made The Short List”?

What does it really mean? More often than not it is another way of saying we fell short.

This morning I was with a customer in Orlando. Their CEO pulled out the stops just prior to Thanksgiving to congratulate his team for what looks to be a record year as they head into December.

While the celebration was in place, I noticed a call on my phone from a number that I did not recognize. The caller left a voice mail. Within 30 minutes the same number appeared – this time I took the call.

The caller was the CEO of a small industrial company, located in the Midwest, that I had met a few months ago on a return flight from Dallas. After a short exchange, he cut to the chase and told me why he was calling.

We need help…

The CEO stated that he has a unique product offering, supported by a great staff. However, his challenge is that the sales team is winning less than 20% of the jobs that are quoted. This is down from the industry norm of 30-40%.

What is working?

With that piece of information in mind, I asked him what ‘is’ working for the sales team? He stated, that they are able to find new opportunities, and are even given the opportunity to compete through the quoting process. They present their offering around the customer’s expectations … and then the wheels fall off. They are told that they ‘made the short list’ but are not being chosen for the final evaluation phase.

What changes need to be made?

The next question is always predictable… “What changes do we need to make?” In the majority of the cases, a few minor adjustments need to be made. Based on the information shared, I made the following suggestions.

6 simple suggestions that will work for you:

  1. Did you fully understand their requirements and expectations in the beginning?
  2. Did these change during the buying cycle?
  3. Why are they willing to change?
  4. What are their specific challenges?
  5. Has the incumbent attempted, or been given the opportunity to ‘fix their own mistake’?
  6. Once you were able to define the above criteria, did you introduce anything new, too much new (front of the curve stuff)?

Next steps

After an hour on the phone going into great detail. My final question was “what will your next steps be? What is your plan going forward? By the statements made I was left with the impression that he is willing to make the above course corrections and so we agreed to speak in mid-January to see check his teams progress.

The big challenge with any sales opportunity is to avoid beating yourself by not qualifying thoroughly and identify their true needs on the front end of the buying cycle.

If this scenario sounds familiar, shoot me an email … I would be interested in listening to what you have to say.

To your sales success,
Andy

9 Magic Guidelines For Pulling Away Or Pushing Through No-Man’s Land

The difference between sales success and failure often lies in your persistence and willingness to persevere.

However in a long buying cycle there are times when decisions are not being made on our time table. All of the high hopes on the front end are now in flux.

This is why persistence and perseverance are important for the sales professional. However the middle of the cycle, or ‘no mans land’ often creates doubt and questions. Do you make mid-course corrections, or do you simply stay the course? Do you reduce your time and financial investment and place your valuable time on another prospect?

Stay the course and your sales efforts could lead to success. Exit from ‘no mans land’ and it could lead to failure. The hard part is deciding which direction to take.

Consider this real experience….

Bob sells on a national level for a large medical services supplier. One of his larger prospects has invited him to participate in their RFP process due to his understanding of the industry, his service offering and his ability to build trust throughout the propects organization.

Bob is competing with an incumbent that also matches his attributes and his organization, plus they have tenure with the true decision makers. The purchasing decision will be made by leaders from various levels and positions in the organization. Namely, the coach (CEO), financial buyer (CFO & team), user buyer (operations), technical buyer (clinical team).

Bob and his team has successfully made it through the initial and follow up presentations, plus a series of one on one meetings with members of the buying committee. Each of these strategic steps were critical in being granted a 3 month pilot with three offices across the U.S.

The pilot in each of the offices started out at various levels of enthusiasm which is common in their industry – change and loyalty are often our greatest ally or obstacle. At the end of the second month the committee felt that further testing was in order.

Bob has some concerns with the overall acceptance at office level, however in speaking with the buying team he is receiving positive feedback. That said, the test has been extended yet again which will now cover a five month span.

Bob is in the uncertain middle, or better known as ‘no mans land’. What should Bob do? Stay the course or pull away? What would you do?

Whether Bob stays he course or pulls away, there are 9 guidelines that can help him navigate through ‘no mans land’:

  1. Have the committees priorities shifted? Are you aware, and have you adapted to their new priorities?
  2. Is there anything conflicting going on internally between the committee members?
  3. Did you connect with each of the committee members in the beginning?
  4. Did you connect with the influencers in the pilot offices in the beginning?
  5. Did they define their requirements and expectations, and how progress will be measured?
  6. Is skepticism and pushback beginning to decline at all levels?
  7. Have critical deadlines and objectives been met?
  8. Is the team overall motivated to press forward?
  9. Is it more cost-effective to continue that to pay the cost in withdrawing?

If the answers to the majority of these questions are ‘yes’, then it makes smart business sense to push through ‘no mans land’. As a next step, identify any course corrections that need to take place regarding the committee and office staff. Anything worth doing requires strategic resilience for the final half if your test.

If the majority of the answers are no, then cut your losses and move on.

Let me know your thoughts on this below.

All the best,
Andy

Overcoming the “Sleeping With The Enemy” Challenge

For those of you that recall seeing the 1991 movie Sleeping With The Enemy starring Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin, you may well remember the theme and plot of this action thriller.

We often hear a familiar theme played out in our world of professional selling. In this context, the theme often describes an ideal prospect (the sleeper) that you are in pursuit of, but you are facing an entrenched incumbent (the enemy). As in most cases the incumbent has well established trust-based relationships running both horizontally and vertically within your prospects organization. To add to the challenge, the prospect protects the incumbent that he has grown comfortable with.

Something you can count on….

With well established prospect and incumbent relationships, two factors are often are in play:

  1. The pricing may be out of line. This may be intentionally low due to flying under the radar, or high simply because enough people are turning their heads.
  2. New, fresh ideas are few and far between. Why bother?…they are protected and have been for years.

Accepting the challenge….

Now that you have chosen to overcome and accept the challenge, it is time to create a solid strategy using the proven steps below.

Your goal is to find and schedule an initial appointment with a valid decision maker that is open to listening to new ideas.

  1. Find the contact(s) with influence and the authority to create change. This may be a senior manager – perhaps the CEO, or others in the ‘C suite’ that is leading from the front, and open to new ideas. Another option could be in the form of a manager that is open for change, assertive and has a high degree of influence within the organization. Your challenge may be at the executive level. All the more reason to implement the next step.
  2. Peer to peer referral. Once you have found the right contact(s) use certain customers to leverage your credibility on a peer to peer basis. Let your contacts leverage their influence to establish your credibility.
  3. Social Media. The case may be that you do not have a customer at the appropriate level to use the above option. In that case your social media tools such as LinkedIn are invaluable in using your existing contacts to provide the needed leverage.

Once the appointment is obtained, the buying cycle can take on a life of its own. You have survived this long and know what the next steps are to achieve the level of success that you are capable of.

You are to be congratulated! Many retreat and use multiple excuses not to take on a sales challenge such at this. While you may not be Julia Roberts, sometimes all you need is a word of encouragement and a change in perspective to succeed in Overcoming The Sleeping With The Enemy Challenge.

To your success,
Andy

Survey Question #7 Could Your Pipeline Support You if You Lost a Substantial Customer?

You know the drill…

In attending a planning meeting this morning with one of our customers, the topic of 2013 sales forecasting was our top priority. As in typical fashion the first screen shot was that of the organizations customer listing. This is always an interesting piece if information since it reflects the present and future of the entire organization. Pure and simple, no customers, no organization – you know the drill.

The next slide was forecasted growth with each customer. The next step was to compare this figure to that of the 2013 number.

The room was filled with excitement in that there is only a 7% shortfall between forecasted growth and that if the 2013 sales target.

Check the numbers….

In looking at their Top 10 customer listing, the Top 5 comprises 60% of their total customer base. More specifically their first customer has 20%, their second 18% and so on.

The ultimate question…

During this portion of the discussion the question from the CEO was posed to the sales leader ‘can our existing pipeline support us should we lose a substantial customer’? The response was ‘of course’.

Looking back 6 months…

Allow me to be totally transparent. Six months ago my customer did not have a pipeline. In fact they were confused between a prospect list and a pipeline. So how did they reach this level of confidence?

Below are some of the questions posed from our initial training session around creating a solid pipeline:

  • What is the difference between a prospect list and a pipeline?
    • A pipeline begins with a group of qualified prospects, and measures their progress through the buying cycle and ends with account management.
  • How do we qualify a prospect?
    • In their case a prospect was qualified when their business objectives were understood, the decision makers were identified, their requirements and expectations were determined, their spend was shared, date range in making a change, the incumbent was identified, and a valid reason for a potential change was defined.
    • Once these factors are determined and a clear understanding is established, then they are placed into your pipeline.
  • What type of stages are important?
    • Many B2B products and services are purchased differently. Some begin with an RFI or RFQ process on the front end, other do not.
    • Some basic stages include identify, qualify, follow up, quote, present, closure. You can identify these as they apply to your specific industry and prospect.
  • How often should we assess and adjust?
    • Monthly, this too differs with the length if the buying cycle, and industry.
    • Delays occur and are part of the process. However, if steady progress is not made then it is is time to revisit the priorities with the decision makers. Perhaps their priorities, or roles have changed.
  • How large should our pipeline be?
    • In this case size does matter, but more importantly is the time that it takes to get a prospect through the process and their buying potential.
    • Not all qualified prospects turn into new customers. My rule of them has been a 10:1 ratio, i.e. if I am looking for 1 customer over a period of time, then I need 10 qualified prospects.

Today my customer is selling with confidence as they head into Q4 and very soon 2013.

You too can experience the same level of incidence and success by creating a healthy vibrant pipeline.

Selling is both a craft and profession. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your pipeline in greater detail, you can reach me here.

To your success,
Andy

Survey Question#6: What Are Your Clear Points of Differentiation?

I just finished a positive meeting with one of our new customers. Their objective is to place a higher priority on new business acquisition for the balance of the year and going into 2013.

As part of their new business acquisition focus I thought that a quick check up on their areas of differentiation might be in order. So, I popped the question ‘what are your clear points of differentiation’? To my surprise every senior member present on the sales team knew their areas of differentiation and stated each area with total ease and confidence.

Lets be frank…this is rare.

So the question becomes what are sales organizations challenged with in the absence of clear points of differentiation?

Lets take a look at a few…

  • Forced to sell on price.
  • Finding their offering caught in the commodity trap.
  • Being viewed as a ‘me too’ company.

The sad part is most companies have a solid offering, but have not taken the time to really understand how they are different and what they really bring to the table. Some may even have identified their points of differentiation, but then the leadership doesn’t encourage their use (that is another story all in itself).

How about you? What are you clear points of differentiation?

Consider these questions as you develop your differentiation strategy:

  1. What are you known for?
  2. What is important to your customer?
  3. What do you do better than any of your competitors?
  4. Go further and identify your our real ‘sweet spot’? This is your best differentiator.
  5. What is the benefit that corresponds with each differentiator?

If you are applying your points of differentiation in building your business platform then congratulations are in order. If you are not quiet there, then lets get started. Give me a call, I am here to help.

To your success,
Andy

Survey Question #4: What Distinguishes Your Organization from Others In Your Industry?

Have you ever had this question posed to you by one of your customers or ‘game changing’ prospects?

If so, what was your response? Were you able to deliver the level of certainty and influence that was needed? More often than not this question is a buying signal. The challenge is being ready to deliver a response that builds trust and credibility.

Quick story…

This past Friday, I met with one of my game changing prospects. It was our third meeting as we are working through the training objectives for their national sales conference.

The meeting began at 3:00 p.m. Everyone was there, their CEO, VP of Sales, and VP of Marketing. Two minutes before the meeting their CFO walks into the room, politely introduced himself, and took a set directly across from me. Immediately my radar went off. My first thought was “this is the guy that is writing the check. He can not say yes, but he can say no”. My second thought was “he is sitting across from me for a reason”.

The meeting opened with a prediction of the upcoming college football games and settled into a short summary leading to where we are in the process. At the first break in conversation Mr. CFO asked “So Andy, what distinguishes your company from other training companies that are available?” Here we go. Time to deliver. Nothing lengthy, just short and straight forward.

My response…

Our group spends the time to understand your expectations, so you can set the right expectation for your sales team, then deliver a specific outcome. (In other words clearly understand what you want to accomplish, and then deliver.)

Whew…

At the end of my response he looked at me and said that makes sense, looked at the CEO and said his price is fair, then got up, excused himself and left the room.

In this case the CFO wasn’t trying to screen my group out, he simply wanted to hear how and why we are different, and how we can help boost his top and bottom line.

Questions…

  1. Do you know what distinguishes your organization?
  2. Can it be delivered in 10-15 seconds?
  3. Does it speak to anyone, regardless of their position or level within your customers organization?

Contact me if you would like to discuss how to create and define the areas that distinguish your organization.

To your success,
Andy