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Sales Tips: Always, Sometimes or Never

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Mar 5, 2018 10:44:17 AM

Sales Tips: Always, Sometimes or Never in Selling

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

In high school I was fortunate to have an outstanding Geometry teacher as a sophomore. On some quiz or test questions Mr. Fisher would list statements and students had to provide the answer of always, sometimes or never that they felt applied. It caused us to consider all options.

Always or Never in SellingOne of the most fascinating things about selling is how different sales can be.

Because selling is so unstructured in most companies, the terms “always” and “never” seldom apply.

I had a situation with a student years ago that helped me realize an “always” in sales. Chris was worried about a $960K opportunity he was working on. He approached me on Tuesday and told me the CIO would be making a decision on Friday. An internal “coach” had shared with him that $850K had been budgeted and suggested that Chris “sharpen his pencil.”

Over lunch with Chris and his manager I asked if he was “Column A.” He felt he was in as he had initiated the opportunity and Column B, a large player in the space had gotten in much later. Chris’ manager had already said they could meet the $850K price and be even more aggressive if necessary.

I suggested that Chris call the CIO, leave the price where it was and ask if he could bring his manager in for a meeting on Friday. I told him that if he got the meeting I was pretty sure he was Column A because I didn’t feel a CIO would schedule the meeting if Chris wasn’t going to get the business. Chris informed me awhile later that the meeting was set.

On Monday Chris called. He had gotten a $960K order on Friday. Amazing in that they were willing to go to $850K or lower. 

After we hung up I realized if Chris had not been Column A any number he gave would have been used to get a better price from the other vendor. The lesson learned:

A seller should always negotiate as though they are the vendor of choice.

This also means that if you are pressured for better pricing you can respond by asking if you are the vendor of choice and that price is the last obstacle. If the buyer says no you can acknowledge they need to finalize their decision and that if you are the vendor of choice you could try to agree to terms. If you are Column A they’ll come back to you. 

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: Use Diagnostic Questions to Differentiate

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Feb 27, 2018 11:54:27 AM

Sales Tips: Use Diagnostic Questions to Differentiate

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

In my first sales job there were regional specialists that provided information about competitive offerings. When competing with a specific vendor, sellers could call and ask about “knock-offs” which were areas where the analyst shared perceived weaknesses of competitors and strengths of our offerings.

Looking back, some of the worst calls happened after these conversations with the regional staff.

Differentiating with BuyersThere were several issues:

  1. The specialists had biased opinions about our offerings.
  2. There were times sellers sold against offerings and forgot to first sell their own
  3. Even if there were clear advantages, they were only important if they were relevant to the buyer.
  4. Compounding the previous point, sellers usually were in “tell mode” when trying to impose their opinions on buyers.

To provide a simple B2C example, assume a car buyer is considering a Cadillac and a BMW. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the BMW should have a higher percentage resale value at the end of 3 years. Many car salespeople would point that out by telling buyers about resale.

As in most selling situations, questions are a better option:

      The Cadillac is a fine car, but how would you feel if you bought it and 3 years later when you went to trade it in found it had lost 45% of its value?

The question is important because the buyer could respond that he or she plans to drive the car until the lug nuts fall. That response means it was a mistake to raise the resale issue.

  • The response the seller was hoping for was: It would be a nightmare if the trade-in value was that low.
  • This allows the seller to respond: According to JD Powers after 3 years the 540 should retain 74.6% of its value. How important is resale value to you?

If the buyer agrees resale is important it becomes a differentiator to the buyer. 

PRO TIP: Ask diagnostic questions to establish needs for differentiators BEFORE offering them to buyers.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: 3 Ways to Handle Objections

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Feb 19, 2018 1:34:04 PM

Sales Tips: 3 Ways to Minimize Objections

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

Since 2002, CustomerCentric Selling® has redefined selling as:

Asking questions to help buyers understand how to use offerings to achieve goals or solve problems.

How to Handle ObjectionsThere is a major difference in buyer experience when people are empowered rather than sold. Selling is generally perceived as convincing, persuading and overcoming objections. Some people believe handling each objection gets sellers closer to winning the business. Most would also assert that selling begins when buyers say no. These attitudes make selling seem like arm wrestling contests between buyers and sellers.

I’d like to offer some observations:

  • Not all objections can be addressed.
  • People can and do buy when they aren’t 100% happy with all aspects of offerings.
  • If and when objections arise, sellers may need to ask clarifying questions. If sellers don't fully understand objections they can go in the wrong direction and unwittingly unearth additional objections.
  • If an objection is about a feature you don’t have, consider asking: Why is this feature important to you?

I believe most objections are raised when calling on lower levels that are more product-focused than Key Players. I’d also like to share my view that product pitches where sellers do most of the talking will likely evoke objections.

It’s a matter of control.

When being subjected to pitches, sellers dominate “conversations.” Buyers may feel they need to throw out objections to slow down their bombardment of features that may be irrelevant to them. 

To minimize objections, I offer the following three (3) suggestions:

  1. Start opportunities at Key Player levels (the people sellers need to call on to sell, fund and implement offerings.
  2. Before offering any features, ask diagnostic questions to determine which are relevant to buyers.
  3. Ask a final question to empower the buyer: If you had (summarize the capabilities agreed to), could you (achieve the desired outcome)?

Objections compromise the ultimate outcomes of sales calls. By applying these suggestions, you should be able to better minimize those objections. Save the infographic below for handy reference when in doubt:

Infographic_3 Ways to Minimize Objections

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: How to Improve Selling Experiences and Avoid Wasting Time

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Feb 12, 2018 5:52:50 PM

Sales Tips: Improve Selling Experiences and Avoid Wasting Time

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

There has rightfully been great emphasis on buyer experiences over the last two decades. That said: 

Many “buying activities” waste time for both buyers and sellers.

Avoid Wasting Selling Time and ResourcesIt seems there are many product evaluations in which low to mid level staff research offerings via the Internet and social networking, establish their requirements and before inviting salespeople to get involved.

Upon being contacted, there are several things sellers should learn from the start:

  • Have desired business outcomes of executives within the organization been identified?
  • Have detailed conversations with Key Players to understand their needs taken place?
  • Has an estimated cost vs. benefit shown payback that can justify the cost of the offering?
  • Has budget been earmarked?
  • Will access be granted for calls on Key Player stakeholders?

When you take a hard look, product evaluations are ongoing in many instances. It makes little sense to spend significant amounts of time evaluating offerings unless or until the questions above have been addressed. 

I believe these “buyers” are concerned that sellers will manipulate or influence their requirements and therefore get sellers involved fairly late in their evaluations.

Rather than go along for the ride, competent sellers can do everyone involved (and some that have not yet been involved) a favor by shifting product evaluations to business decisions. 

Blindly going along with buyer-driven product evaluations will often end with “no decision” outcomes that mean buyers and vendors wasted resources without realizing any benefits, a losing proposition for everyone involved.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: Are You Delivering Noise or Your Message?

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Feb 5, 2018 11:53:42 AM

Sales Tips: Are You Delivering Noise or Your Message?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

A great deal of thought and effort goes into helping sellers understand what to say in different situations with prospects and buyers. That said, I thought it would be helpful to offer advice about words and phrases you may want to avoid using in selling situations.

Silence Over NoiseKick the Crutch
Most of us have what I call “crutch words” used to give us time to think about how to respond to buyers. One particularly distracting phrase is “you know” (usually pronounced as yunno). Other variations on a theme would be “ums, ahs,” etc. Silence is a far better alternative to allow sellers time to decide how to respond. 

Words can undermine a seller’s power.

Most buyers want to work with sellers that can command company resources if they are needed to address issues. Sellers using words such as: might, perhaps, possibly, probably and maybe sound indecisive.

There are words that merely serve as fillers or noise that dilute your message:

  • Obviously – If something is obvious it isn’t necessary to point it out. If a seller states something is obvious and a buyer that doesn’t know what was stated can be offended.
  • Words such as basically, candidly, clearly add volume but no content to conversations.
  • I hope it isn’t necessary to explain why trust me, honestly, and the absolutely dreadful let me be honest with you (the inference being a seller has been lying his or her socks off).
  • Ambiguous words – integrated, cutting edge, seamless, efficient, synergistic, robust, elegant, automatically, state of the art and dynamic. They add little or nothing to conversations.

“Solution”
I’d also like to suggest that sellers realize that the only person that can deem an offering a “solution” is the buyer. Beyond that, buyers must own achieving the desired business outcome. Phrases like “I/we/our system will increase your top line” disempower buyers. The fact is sellers offer capabilities to enable buyers to achieve the desired business outcomes and they should take ownership.

Buyers have and will continue to buy from sellers that use these words and phrases. That said, sellers can offer meaningful content or noise. Sellers that reduce noise can deliver more compelling messages. 

Save this handy infographic below for reference when you're not sure whether you're using "noisy" words with your buyer conversations:

Infographic: Words and Phrases to Avoid with Buyers

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: How to Create High Level Demand

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Jan 28, 2018 6:23:22 PM

Sales Tips: How to Create Demand for Your Offerings at Executive Levels

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

I was involved in a lengthy meeting this week that was primarily about creating demand in light of the fact that visitors to my client’s website are lower level staff whose primary interest is learning about products/offerings.

Presenting Value and Payback with Executive Level BuyersThe fact is these people can’t buy and they have little or no idea of what potential payback or value offerings they’re interested in can provide. 

That caused me to realize that for the vast majority of Key Players there is no demand for offerings. Marketing and Sales organizations have to back into creating demand for people that rightfully have little or no interest in their offerings.

The stark reality is that Key Players have latent needs for business outcomes they can’t achieve (goals) or for business problems (pains) they don’t know how to address.

The key to creating high level demand is to identify desired business outcomes that can be achieved through the use of offerings.

Getting away from an overarching focus on offerings is difficult to do, but companies that can target specific titles with high probability business problems or goals will enjoy several advantages: 

  • They can start buying cycles with Key Players that can fund unbudgeted initiatives.
  • They can give sellers an excellent chance to start opportunities as Column A (preferred vendor).
  • They are likely to close larger transactions because these buyers aren’t budget-constrained.
  • They should have shorter sales cycles.
  • They should have higher win rates.

KEY: Products can create demand for lower levels. Potential value creates executive level interest.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: 2 Overlooked Issues with Milestones

Posted by CustomerCentric Selling® on Jan 21, 2018 7:23:05 PM

Sales Tips: 2 Overlooked Issues with Milestones

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

Overstating PipelinesMost organizations have spent the time needed to define pipeline milestones. Sophisticated companies have defined multiple sets of milestones that reflect the different types of transactions that sellers must execute.

Two (2) things stand out in my mind that many companies haven’t addressed:

  1. Milestone achievements are based upon seller opinions. I hope you would agree that when grading opportunities, sellers that are less than YTD against quota will be much less stringent than those at or above quota. When forecasting, sellers with thin pipelines are far more interested in overstating where they are on opportunities than they are in attempting to predict what revenue will close.

If some milestones could be graded based upon buyer actions, then senior management could have more confidence in the pipeline.

  1. Companies hire salespeople with a wide variety of experience and skills. The challenge is there is no attempt to map and teach sellers the skills to achieve each milestone. Sellers want to succeed. When they fall short of achieving their numbers, the problems are either: 
  • Won’t - which is an attitude problem that managers must help them overcome.
  • Can’t - in that they don’t have the requisite skills.

For virtually all other positions, employers try to find new hires that have or can be taught the requisite skills to be successful. It’s a shame the same thing can’t be done when recruiting to fill sales positions.

👉 Absent a tactical sales process, sales is a sink or swim proposition.

San Francisco Sales Workshops

Sales Tips: 2 Factors That Determine the Length of Buying Cycles

Posted by Jill Perez on Jan 19, 2018 11:59:47 AM

Sales Tips: 2 Factors That Determine the Length of Buying Cycles

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

Many sales organizations rightfully focus on their pipelines. In my experience, transactions that are likely to close happen relatively quickly while those that drag along seem to fall under their own weight and ultimately wind up in “no decisions.”

Buying Cycles Fast or SlowThere are two factors that go a long way toward determining the length of sales/buying cycles:

  1. The point of entry. I find A Players often start at or near decision maker levels. The good news is these buyers will quickly determine if it makes sense to get subordinates involved in evaluating offerings. If not, it’s likely to be one call and done. As we say, bad news early is actually good news.

Better to lose quickly than slowly.

As you can imagine, doing bottom-up sales will mean:

-talking to levels of buyers that can say no but can’t say yes
-long sales cycles
-low win rates

  1. How much potential value can be established. Sellers are generally in a rush to complete sales cycles. If and when strong business cases are built, buyers have a sense of urgency. In such cases rather than needed to be pulled, they push to get to a buying decisions because they realize every day that goes buy there is potential value not being realized.

It Works
I have a client that has been able to shorten their average sales cycle from 4 to 3 months. While that may not seem significant, a closer look shows that it allows sellers to complete 4 sales cycles per year rather than 3. This is the equivalent of having 16-month selling years and it means that A, B or C player sellers should close 33% more revenue in a year.

San Francisco Sales Workshops

Sales Tips: 3 Keys to Diagnosing the Current Situation

Posted by Jill Perez on Jan 9, 2018 11:13:34 AM

Sales Tips: 3 Keys to Diagnosing a Buyer's Current Situation

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

Sales Tips for Diagnosing Buyer's Current SituationIt seems everyone is in a hurry these days unless they’re retired. When people ask for one word that describes how superior vs. mediocre people sell I give a one-word answer: Patience. By that I mean they know you must first understand a buyer’s needs before having any product discussions.

Key #1: One of the ways to slow sellers down is to have them realize there is no selling to be done until a buyer shares a business goal (or a problem) they’re willing to spend money to achieve. If sellers entered every call with a menu of potential goals for each title, I believe there would be a significant improvement in the outcomes. 

Key #2: A very unfortunate thing can occur after executives share goals. Some salespeople believe it gives them permission to launch into product pitches because buyers have expressed interest. Once again, patience is required.

A Players realize buyers they call on don’t fully understand why they can’t achieve their desired outcomes.

Discussing Current Situation with BuyersIf buyers knew, they’d fix things rather than take time to talk with salespeople! 

A top-performing seller will ask a series of diagnostic questions to help buyers realize what may be “broken” in their current approach (without a seller’s offering). I refer to selling as a “hurt and rescue” exercise. When a buyer and seller are in agreement as to what areas are preventing desired outcomes to be achieved, wonderful things happen. It means the seller has established credibility and competence and that the buyer is more ready for the “rescue.”

Key #3: At this point, based upon how buyers answered diagnostic questions sellers should only discuss capabilities relevant to achieving the desired goal. This ultimately allows sellers to empower buyers rather than sell them. The question becomes: If you had the capabilities we discussed, could you (achieve your goal?)

The seller that does the best diagnosis is most likely to win the business.

Remember: People buy from sellers that are sincere, competent and empower them.

INFOGRAPHIC: 3 keys to diagnose buyer's current situation

San Francisco Sales Workshops

Sales Tips: A 2018 Resolution for Sellers

Posted by Jill Perez on Jan 2, 2018 2:29:02 PM

Sales Tips: A Resolution for 2018 and Beyond

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

2018 is here, a time for making resolutions that you may or may not keep. I’d like to suggest trying what may be a different approach to finding new opportunities.

The best leading indicator of future performance is the quality and quantity of opportunities in a seller’s pipeline. 

charts-calculator.pngStarting 2018, the condition of each seller’s pipeline reflects how they finished the year. If it was a sprint to end 2017 there’s work to do. Regardless of where you stand I’d like to offer an approach that can allow you to shorten sales cycles and increase win rates moving forward.

Most sales organizations have an increasing reliance on inbound leads. If you’re selling complex or expensive offerings, these leads are likely to:

  • Provide entry points below Key Player levels
  • Put you in contact with people interested in products that don’t have budget
  • Have you contact people concurrently evaluating several vendors in a given space
  • Have you contact people unaware of business results that can be impacted
  • Yield a high percentage of “no decisions” and low close rates
  • Represent quantity more than quality

It takes courage and initiative but there is a way to start opportunities with Key Players that enables sellers to establish themselves as “Column A” from the start with buyers who can find budgets for new initiatives. Key Players don’t have time to visit websites and evaluate vendors. For that reason many are unaware of value and payback offerings can provide. 

key-player-senior-executives-meeting.pngThese buyers have latent needs, not for offerings (an erroneous assumption many sellers make), but rather for achieving desired business outcomes. I recently used an approach Michael Higgins (Selling at the C-Level) provided. He suggested this:

👉 Review a prospect’s annual report to learn the company’s objectives and challenges and select a specific title and outcome that an offering could help them achieve.

Here’s my experience using this approach:

  • I researched a Fortune 500 company and sent a one-page letter via snail mail to their Chairman.
  • Four days later I called.
  • After being heavily screened I was told the admin was busy and I should call that afternoon.
  • 45 minutes later I got a phone call from a senior vice president that had been asked (or told?) to contact me.
  • A buying cycle began with a Key Player.

Superior salespeople sell outcomes rather than offerings. 

These sellers pique senior executive interest by leading with relevant business goals or issues.

Leading with offerings puts sellers out of alignment with Key Player buyers who don’t have the time nor interest to learn about products.

I hope 2018 will be prosperous for you and that you may try this new approach to generate new opportunities. 

Sales Workshops

 

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