Tag Archives: sales_process

Sales Lesson #1: Don’t “Get” Your Customers to Do Anything!

Every so often, an article with a title like How to Get Any Customer to Take Action Immediately, burbles into my newsfeed. There are infinite variants. No matter what you want your customers and prospects to do, you can count on finding a putative method for making it happen. But for all the how-to’s devoted to getting customers to do things, it’s easy to forget that the goal, of course, is helping them succeed, and not twisting their arms – figuratively or otherwise.

If you ask top producing sales reps – those who truly serve customers – how they get their customers to buy, they’d probably be confused by the question. Instead, they’d reveal that they don’t get their customers to do anything. What produces their excellent results is their ability to guide their customers, and ultimately help them achieve good outcomes. Guiding versus Getting: these are fundamentally different approaches, with little in common. Guiding assumes prospects can be trusted, Getting assumes they cannot. Guiding sees prospects as partners, Getting sees them as objects. Guiding views prospects as capable decision makers, Getting views them as inept. Guiding relies on inquiry and collaboration, Getting relies on telling and insistence. In countless interviews I’ve held with successful sales professionals, I’ve learned they embrace Guiding in every customer interaction, and eschew Getting.

“How to get your prospect to [fill in the blank]!” What regularly emerges are manipulative high-pressure sales tactics that break customer rapport and erode trust. Instead of improving sales outcomes and buying experiences, the resulting behaviors and activities undermine them.

The top producers I’ve worked with have figured out a better way, and honed their skills accordingly. They begin with a natural curiosity, and connect it to a sincere desire to understand customer problems, limitations, issues, concerns, performance gaps, and strategic challenges. They uncover the intensity of motivation to change the situation, and learn the mechanisms their customers have developed for investing in solutions. And if customers lack the mechanisms, top producers guide them to create a path forward. From there, they harness the power of the customer’s will to change. The energy might be low, or altogether absent, which is why reps, often goaded by their managers, turn to Getting. My question to them: how’s that working for you? . . .

The best salespeople know that attempting to force customer action can become a distraction. It can also backfire. As one rep, Denise, explained it to me, “I don’t push the monthly specials the way management wants me to. They don’t work, and it’s not the way my customers buy . . . When I talk on the phone, there’s no sales urgency to my voice.” The year I interviewed her, she was her company’s top producer out of over 50 reps. Though her immediate boss wasn’t clear about the reasons for her success, her statement provides much of the answer: Denise guides her customers. She doesn’t get them to do anything.

Are Salespeople Too Nice?

I’m about to reveal some perspectives that upend commonly-held ideas. Perspectives that not everyone will want to accept. If you’re OK with that, read on.

First, great salespeople are not commission-driven automatons, happily impervious to the emotional pain that comes with rejection and disappointment. Second, some highly successful salespeople aren’t fawning customer-centric servants. Contrary to popular lore, salespeople go about their jobs every day conducting a tangle of different actions that are uneven and idiosyncratic, just like other professionals.

Every so often, a particular behavior gets pulled out of this stew, destined for the chopping block. Last week, Jill Konrath called out gratitude, a de facto sales standard, by suggesting salespeople abandon a banal opening nice-ity: “Thanks so much for meeting with me today, Terry. I really appreciate your time.” As she explained it, “You sound like a hopeful wannabe,” adding, “Nice people are the worst offenders.” (Are You an Unintentional Sales Wuss?).

Her recommendation? Say, “’Good to meet with you, Terry. As I said when we set this up, I’ve got some ideas that can help you out with [fill in the business reason].’” I like it. Peacock-proud. Confident. And, not a shred of obsequiousness. “Thanks”, nowhere in sight. Not here, anyway.

But that opening might carry too much swagger for some. Graham Hill commented on my January 5th blog, objecting to my recommendation that salespeople require quid pro quo when working with prospects. He wrote, “. . . all of the power ultimately lies with the buyer. If the salesman resorts to the kind of self-serving ‘tricks’ you describe and they don’t have a unique, winning solution the buyer absolutely must have, he should remind the salesman whose money is being spent and who controls the purse strings. It really is as simple as that.” Translation: salespeople are subordinate, period.

Each of these views promotes different behavioral ideals for salespeople. “Walk in proudly” versus “tail-between-the-legs supplication.” Neither works well in the extreme, or in isolation. Good etiquette and empathy are increasingly rare social skills, and they differentiate salespeople from their competitors. It’s a stretch to think that by expressing sincere thanks to a prospect, a salesperson would suffer a tactical disadvantage. On the other hand, salespeople who aren’t assertive and self-serving don’t become top-producers, they become doormats, to use sales vernacular.

Can salespeople be too nice? I don’t think so. But absent from any context, formulating an opinion about what is the “right” sales mindset is impossible. Don’t even try. Buyers and sellers engage with one another within a complex jumble of power that’s constantly asymmetrical, and forever shifting. That reality alone makes it hard to proclaim that bravado and assertiveness trumps courtesy and humility—or vice versa.

In-your-face proud, or humble. Top producers will figure out how to best combine these and other attitudes. Their words and actions will be anything but even. And that works just fine.

Six Marketing Gifts I’d Like to Return

Two weeks past Christmas, and people are still returning that thoughtful gift from Aunt Betty that, well, just wasn’t quite right. “Rampant returns plague e-retailers,” The Wall Street Journal reported in late December, 2013. Not everyone was moping. UPS had already forecast a 15% jump in SGB, or Stuff Going Back. Ka-ching!

According to a recent MarketTools study, 62% of returned items were clothing and shoes, followed by toys and games at 16%, and consumer electronics at 14%. The Christmas Sweater became a cliché well before Jimmy Fallon’s now-famous giveaway schtick.

This year, thanks to the convenience of gift cards and still-popular paper checks, I will not be among the consumers in line at the service desk. But I have a pile of marketing stuff I’d like to return. I realize that might not be easy. I don’t know where to send some of these items, but I thought I’d give it a try:

Item: holiday e-cards
Reason for return: perfunctory and insincere; no better than spam.

Item: storytelling
Reason for return: Mea culpa! I had this on my gift list, but I found out that while salespeople are clamoring for stories, prospective customers aren’t. They want much more.

Item: Klout scores
Reason for return: Again, mea culpa. Even though Jay Baer wrote “companies desperately want this kind of data point,” I have recently been deluged with other things to worry about.

Item: Twitter
Reason for return: Extremely dangerous; no instructions or user safeguards; I’m worried that someone I care about could end up being the next Justine Sacco.

Item: TrueTwit validation service
Reason for return: Too much hassle. I just like to ‘follow’ interesting people without an email ricocheting back, asking me to complete yet another form.

Item: Robo marketing calls.
Reason for return: Sent to me in error – never requested in the first place.

To be candid, I really, really wanted a couple of these items, but once I took off the wrapping paper and got them out of the box, they just never lived up to my expectations. And a few truly worked perfectly fine, but I just got impatient dealing with the instructions. I admit—it’s not completely the vendor’s fault!

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but if someone—anyone—could take these gifts back, that would be great. But first, please wait until I’ve tweeted this blog.

Five New Year’s Resolutions NOT to Make

The New Year’s date rolls easily off the tongue. Always Oh-one, Oh-one, it’s one of a small group of dates with binary symmetry. And unlike the Jewish New Year, you don’t need to look at a calendar to confirm when it arrives. New Year’s give us an opportunity to begin anew with a clean sheet of white paper, or a new note on the iPhone simply titled Resolutions, juxtaposed to the year.

By listing our resolutions, we take a vital first step to expunge all those bad habits that dragged us down in 2013. Wasting precious time on Twitter. Skipping out on the gym. Tiptoeing around social selling when everyone else was jumping in with both hands and feet. What else—anything?

If you feel disconcerted about having a too-short list, check your news feeds, because resolution suggestions are pouring in. Pick the most valuable ones, and stop when your list gets to around one hundred items. With so many possibilities, separating the wheat from the chaff can be difficult, but here are some resolutions worth skipping:

1. Stop talking, start listening. But if your client interactions are limited to smiling and note taking, you’re not holding a conversation.

2. Dial down the passion. I’m not sure how this ever became a recommendation for anyone, but I’ve read it more than once. I’ll go with Emerson, who said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

3. Conform to a sales process. Would you expect to hear any sales manager say, “Even though you lost the deal, you adhered tenaciously to each of our eleven selling steps. Attaboy!” As Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman wrote in Dismantling the Sales Machine, “The key is to give [salespeople] considerable discretion regarding their activities while guiding them through—and holding them accountable for—specific milestones on the way to a sale.”

4. Stop selling! Instead, try a more useful variant, “Stop selling the wrong way.”

5. Know everything you can about your prospects. Don’t attempt—unless you crave the tedious challenge of endless, indiscriminate fact-finding. Instead, resolve to figure out what you must learn about prospects.

Five resolutions to cross off your list. If you still feel you don’t have enough resolutions, wait a day. We’ll never run out of ways to improve.

So You Want a Career in Sales? How Fast Can You Type?

Originally published 2/19/10

Ryan24: I heard that Roger’s on a Sales Improvement Plan. He missed his quota last 3 quarters.
SLee: Seriously? He trained me when I was hired!
Ryan24: Selling’s changed. Roger didn’t. He still meets with customers F2F!
SLee: Can’t think of the last time I did that . . .
Ryan24: Same . . . 1 more bad qtr and he’s gone.
Ryan24: Hey—I made Club! U?
SLee: Yep. Can’t wait! Could use a week away from a keyboard.

Does this fictitious text message exchange seem far fetched? Josiane Feigon’s blog Sales Productivity Sounds provides a glimpse into the future. Numero uno on her list: “replace your talk time with keyboard time.” In 1990, my sales VP said, “Salespeople can’t sell when they’re in the office!” Today, a sales manager could just as likely growl, “get back in the office and sell something!” But in a detached, asynchronous world, could companies be losing valuable selling skills? Maybe . . .

More important, do millenials Ryan24 and SLee need the face-to-face selling skills that on-the-way-out-the-door Roger honed when he started on the bricks, or are there other competencies that are equally critical? Is face-to-face selling going the way of the rolodex—still there, but largely replaced by technology? Could Ryan24 and SLee be emblematic of a new generation of technology-enabled salespeople who never set foot in a prospect’s factory, warehouse, laboratory, or office—and perfectly content not doing so? I’ll address the first question in this blog, and tackle the others in the next.

Social media proponents argue that social selling tools better connect us with customers and prospects. Possibly. But, absent social skills and process, do tools such as Twitter and Facebook just take us down an expensive and unproductive road? (See Dick Lee’s recent article Are We Gulping Social Media Kool Aid?)

Axel Schultze’s recent blog, Your Sales Process is Old and it Sucks brought out some interesting thoughts, including this one from Brett Keirstead of Jobs2Web, “I think many people are using ‘web 2.0’ as an excuse for being lazy. Sending e-mails, surfing LinkedIn for contacts, tweeting, blogging, etc. are nice complements to core selling principles but are too often confused with ‘selling.’ Show me a rep today that can follow a disciplined, traditional sales process, engage prospects in all channels (web 2.0 or otherwise), understands how to ask good probing questions, knows how to present online, over the phone and in-person, and handles objections smoothly, and that would be a successful balanced rep.” Well put.

But could Ryan24 and DLee be interpersonal idiots and still bust their sales quotas? I’m not betting on it. A series of videos produced by Steve Kloyda illustrates how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Titled “The Biggest Mistakes Salespeople Make,” each video spotlights a slice of an actual sales conversation gone awry, and offers a sales lesson that transcends the medium of voice-to-voice communication. Phone. Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Whatever. View any of them. In any order. Let me know what you think. (Caution: if you watch without squirming, check your pulse.)

1. Salespeople fail to listen. :31

2. Salespeople fail to ask for the business :33

3. Salespeople fail to build rapport 1:52

4. Salespeople fail to work through the gatekeeper :47

5. Salespeople fail to ask the right questions 1:12

6. Salespeople ask “how ya doin?” :35

7. Salespeople fail to articulate the value they create 1:03

8. Salespeople fail to have a clear opening statement 1:11

9. Salespeople fail to work through objections :32

Ryan24 and SLee, next time you communicate online, send Roger a text message to get his insight before he heads out for his next gig!