CHOOSE YOUR HOT PROSPECTS CAREFULLY

The longer I am involved in sales the more I come to believe that one of the most important skills is time management.  Yes, boring old time management.  Not the “gift of the gab”, not being a “people person”, time management.

It’s coming up again this week.  Both for me, my clients, and my colleagues.  I have noticed we are all faced with a similar challenge: preparing for key sales meetings on important pipeline opportunities.  And I notice we are all spending a lot of time preparing.

In fact in some cases we are spending so much time that nearly everything else has stopped!

I think as sales people, sales managers or entrepreneurs we need to think about this carefully for a moment.  Nearly everything else has stopped!  This is serious business.  All the other projects (and opportunities) we could work on are receiving almost no attention.

I have written several times about the importance of preparation for sales meetings.  I believe this to be totally valid.  If you do not prepare, you will not win (or only by blind luck).  But here’s the flipside: good preparation takes a lot of time.

So be very careful which opportunities you choose to pursue.  Make sure they really fit for you and company.  You will spend a lot of time preparing for sales meetings and you will inevitably forgo other projects and opportunities.  Make a wise selection and don’t fall into the trap of trying to take on everything that comes your way.

Too many “hot prospects” will quickly burn all your time.

THE REAL SELLING STARTS WITH THE FIRST “NO”

“The real selling starts with the first ‘No'”

Somebody repeated this old sales cliche to me last week.  It’s stuck in my brain because it is one of those examples of “old school selling” that just seems to have stuck around even though it seems completely wrong to me.  It’s the sales equivalent of an “old wives tale”.

If you analyze this statement logically, you pretty quickly see that it’s wrong.  “The real selling starts with the first ‘No'” This statement implies that you want your prospect to object to your offerings.  Your goal is somehow to get as many “no’s” as you can, then you can start selling for real.

My experience is quite the opposite.  Sure, there are ways to handle objections when they arise but I certainly don’t want them.  The real selling starts on day one when you figure out the basic value proposition of your company or offering.  It continues as you research and understand your customers’ industries and businesses.

When you are prospecting, or sitting in a meeting with a prospect, you ask questions based on having a deep understanding of their industry, company and individual situation.  In this scenario you don’t get many “No’s”.  The prospect respects you for doing your homework and responds to your questions. You unearth opportunities for you to work together to fix problems or generate improvements.

Selling starts day one.  Do your homework, ask questions, develop solutions and you will generate sales – not “No’s”.

SALES IS A NUMBERS GAME

Sales is a profession rife with cliches.

One of the most popular is “sales is a numbers game” The dangerous part about this expression is how it gets used: “we don’t need to be smart [about our prospecting]…it’s just a numbers game”

This is where I disagree.  Sure prospecting is a numbers game but the “numbers” in question, how many meetings you get or how many sales you make, are strongly determined not only by the number of calls you make but also by the quality of what you have to say.

Executives all over the world are bombarded by sales people with badly crafted pitches. They absolutely don’t have time to respond to these badly thought out propositions.  If you want to get a meeting, or sell a product directly, you need to spend the time to come up with a truly strong value proposition.

You need to do your homework on the prospect’s company and the prospect themselves so you can hit one of their hot buttons with your voice mail (let’s be realistic here, we get voice mail 70% of the time or more)  For more on crafting quality voicemails see this previous post based on a great piece by Jill Konrath.

So I agree that “sales is a numbers game” but it’s up to you to decide if you want your numbers (a.k.a. chances of success) to be 1 in 10 or 1 in 1,000.

PROSPECTING PATIENCE

Last week was a good week.  It was one of those weeks when leads popped up all at once on several prospecting efforts.

My first feeling was “Why can’t every week be like this?”

But every week in selling is not like this because some components of the sales process are sequential.

When launching a new prospecting campaign there is inevitably a delay until leads start to come in.  It is during this delay that people in the sales team and management start to get uncomfortable.  People often start questioning the whole campaign.  Often I will hear “we must be doing something wrong” or “maybe we need to rework our message” or “this maybe our sales people are not the right people”.

But once the first few big sales are made everyone changes their tune to one of praising the very same sales team they previously doubted.

Sales people and managers need to be patient.  Everyone is under pressure to bring in revenue but panicking during the inevitable sales cycle will not improve results, in fact it will do quite the opposite.  Constant reworking of your message, or changing the target list, or changing the sales team will greatly lengthen the sales cycle — not reduce it.

So for success in prospecting — be patient.

WE NEED A ROCK STAR

Why do so many companies feel they need to hire “rock star” sales people?

I hear this quite often when companies are hiring sales people.  What does it really mean?  The description the companies give usually goes like this:

• Must have made, or exceeded quota, for the last five years
• Must have a great Rolodex of contacts in [our niche]
• Must be high-energy
• Must be a team player
• Must be comfortable with large amounts of cold calling
…plus several other characteristics…

It seems like the company is hoping that this sales “rock star” (a.k.a. “sales god”) will walk through the door and solve all their problems in one single “bolt of lightening”.  To me, this seems like an abdication of responsibility.

Why should a company need a “rock star” when they understand how sales works in their business?  If they understand their sales process, could they not just hire an “ordinary sales person” (or even “an ordinary person”) and train them to do the job really well?

Shouldn’t a company take the responsibility to nurture relationships into leads in their own market niche?  Why should the sales person have to bring a “golden Rolodex”?  Shouldn’t the company be building that over its years of existence?

If this sales person is so successful over so many years, is the company so great at what it does that this “rock star” is going to want to join?  Does the company really dominate its market or have the next iPod as a product?

Is your company really in the position to pay “mega bucks” to Bruce Springsteen or Bono (and would Bruce or Bono even want to come to work for you at any price) or do you need to hire some “ordinary people” and turn them into great sales people?

GO TO YOUR NEXT SALES MEETING EMPTY HANDED

I am “huge” on preparing for sales meetings but I am “tiny” on preparing slides for sales meetings.

Quote of the week from a sales manager friend:

“Our best sales people really don’t take anything to a sales meeting – they just have a conversation with the prospect”

Amen!

Your goal in a sales meeting is to listen.  Not to present.  You don’t need slides or stacks of brochures to listen.  Ask questions and listen.  Sure, take some blank paper on which to write notes, so you remember the prospect’s answers to your questions.

Do take time to prepare for the meeting.  Spend this time on researching the prospect’s company and the prospect themselves from as many angles as possible (relative to the importance of the prospect).  Develop key questions based on your research aimed at further understanding the prospect’s goals, challenges and constraints.  Write these questions down on your piece of paper so you remember to ask them when you are actually in the meeting (it’s easy to forget a question, or two, while in a live sales meeting).

So next time you go to a sales meeting don’t spend hours preparing your Powerpoint slides, spend hours understanding your prospect and developing your questions.  Put your questions in your pocket and leave your hands free for a pen to write down the prospects answers.

WHAT’S SO UNCOOL ABOUT FARMERS?

The companies I talk to are always looking for sales “hunters”.  It’s almost a sure thing that if a sales candidate says they are a “farmer” then they are out.  But why are farmers so uncool?

Hosting Brain Carroll’s webinar reminded me of the importance of lead nurturing.  It’s clear from Brian’s research that companies that stay-in-touch with target buyers greatly increase their revenue (one piece of data: leads that are not ready to buy today are 77% of all leads coming in to your company.)  But lead nurturing is another way of saying farming.  So companies that utilize only hunting techniques will do far worse than companies that farm.

If we want our sales outcomes in the future dramatically improve, perhaps we need to think of our human history in agriculture.  Once upon a time there was only hunting – no farming.  Many companies still run their lead generation efforts like early man, foraging in the forest for wild berries and boar.

Here’s a very brief history of agriculture I found on a Rice University website. The beginning seems to have many parallels to how sales and marketing works in many companies:

Before agriculture, people lived by hunting wild animals and gathering edible plants. When the herds were plentiful and the plants flourishing, life was good. But, when the herds migrated elsewhere, people had to follow them and often discover a whole new set of plants to supplement their diet.

This “feast or famine” lifestyle had its definite drawbacks including starvation.

Eventually, people decided that life would be a lot easier if they always had the animals with them and if edible plants or their produce were always available.

So are farmers so uncool?

PROPOSAL TIME WASTING

I had the opportunity to be a buyer of some B2B services last month.  The seller in this case is beggingus to waste a lot of his time.

He keeps contacting me and the other decision-makers asking to send us a proposal but there’s one major problem – he did not get us interested in his product in the first place!

It’s odd to me that so many sales people (and business owners) want to send out proposals.  Proposals take time to write (even with templates or proposal generators).  We are all extremely short on time.  As a sales manager and business owner, I don’t care how many proposals you “have out”.  I care about how many deals (and dollars) you close.

From what I have seen too many salespeople beg clients to receive a proposal from them when they have not sold the decision-makers on their proposition.

In the situation, I encountered the sales person conducted a very mediocre sales presentation that was very light on probing questions and way too heavy on him being a “talking head”.  The decision-making team would never had said “yes” if the seller had asked “are you interested?” but he did not ask, he said, “I would love to send you a proposal”.

Well, what do we lose as buyers by allowing him to send us a proposal?  We don’t have to spend any time on writing the proposal and hey there might be some useful information in there (maybe we could use some of it in a discussion with his competitors)!

Your objective is to sell everyone in the decision-making process.  You can use documents to help sell these people but you should aim to “co-author” these documents with the decision-makers not guess what they want and write up your guess in a proposal.

If you guess what people want, you will usually be wrong.  They will not call you back and you won’t get a deal.  Your proposal will have gone to Neverland.

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: 8 SUCCESS FACTORS FOR LEAD GENERATION

What are the three keys to generating leads in today’s economy? Where should companies and individuals focus their time to keep a constant flow of qualified leads in their sales pipeline? How do you win new customers, accelerate growth and improve your return on investment through targeted prospects?

If these are questions you ask about your business, you will want to tune in to a free webinar I am hosting on lead generation featuring Brian Carroll at 6.30PM Eastern on November 29.

In this webinar “Eight Critical Success Factors in Developing High Volume, High Quality Lead Generation Programs” you will learn new ways to improve new business development and revenue programs including how to:

• Align sales and marketing efforts to optimize the number of leads
• Avoid lulls in the sales cycle
• Develop universal lead definition and an ideal customer profile
• Build, maintain, and, grow your database
• Multimodal lead nurturing
• Ready yourself for what’s next – new and promising tactics

Brian is a recognized leader in lead generation and author of the popular new book, Lead Generation For The Complex Sale. His acclaimed blog, Start with a Lead, was recently named Best B-to-B Marketing Blog of 2006 by MarketingSherpa readers.

This event is being sponsored by MENG (the Marketing Executives Networking Group) and by Onstream.