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Five Key Points to Know About Prospecting

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One of the cold, hard facts about the sales profession is that you can't sell to everyone. Any successful sales person knows there will always be somebody who, for whatever reason, either cannot or will not buy. That's why prospecting is absolutely vital. In fact, it's the number one activity you need to do daily — and do well — to achieve long-term success as a sales professional.

Prospecting outranks every other skill and every other business habit, simply because you can’t sell unless you have people to sell to. That's a fact that remains true no matter how successful you become and no matter how many sales records you break. And yet prospecting remains one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling. That's why I’m sharing five key points to know about this must-have business habit:

1. It’s a daily part of the job.

One of the biggest mistakes about prospecting? Focusing on it only when business is slow. If you're in sales, prospecting is not something you do on a part-time basis. Prospecting isyour business. Just as new sales targets are a certainty in your organization, you need to continuously find more people to sell to. That's not something you can do on an occasional basis. You have to treat prospecting as an activity that’s as vital to you as getting paid. Because without it (and in less time than you think), that pay might stop. It's that simple. The stakes are that high.

2. It’s an investment towards your future.

Another common issue is prospecting aggressively only when you need an extra boost in your sales performance figures during a particular quarter. The real truth about prospecting is right there in the word itself; it's borrowed from the Latin word prospectus or "distant view." Prospecting is an activity that serves far more than short-term goals. Think of it as an investment that helps you shape your future and pays dividends not just in the next sales quarter, but in years ahead as well. By constantly finding and developing new leads, you ensure that you’ll always have an audience for your product or service — no matter what kind of market you're faced with.

3. It requires persistence and dedication.

There are plenty of skilled sales professionals out there who know how to close, to navigate past objections, are adept negotiators, and are great at networking. And sadly, all of those skills will never be applied fully unless those same sales people each possess the discipline to get to their desk every day and make those prospecting calls. It's not enough to just be good at prospecting; you have to be good at being persistentabout it, too.

4. Aim high.

During the sales-training and coaching sessions I conduct, I'm often asked how much prospecting is needed to maintain a healthy pace that meets sales targets. A lot of people are surprised by my answer: take your sales target and triple it. You read that right. Your prospecting activities need to exceed by three times the sales you are expected to produce. If that sounds like it entails a lot of work, well, that's because it does. And there's no getting around it. Sales professionals, on average, close one in three qualified leads that are available to them. This means that if your target for next year is $100,000 in sales, you need to find a way to manage a funnel of potential sales of at least $300,000 in value. Any prospecting sum smaller than that and you will more than likely be the victim of a very sobering statistic: the rate of missed sales quotas. The best way to avoid winding up on the wrong end of that statistic is to make sure your sales funnel is big enough. In this case, size definitely matters. For the exact formulas you need to succeed, check out Chapter 3 — Math and Madness — in my book, Non-Stop Sales Boom.

5. Use your time wisely.

Prospecting is a daily commitment. But how much time should you devote to it? It's a point of contention among a lot of sales experts. It really depends on whether you track your closing ratio on your calls. If you don't measure this, plan to be on the phone prospecting every day for at least two hours. That will yield between 25 to 40 calls, out of which you should be able to secure one qualified appointment per day. If, on the other hand, you do measure your closing ratio, make as many calls as you need to so you hit your sales targets. Keep in mind that three qualified leads will yield you one sale.

Prospecting might often feel like a chore. However, the more you invest in the key points above, the more success you’ll see in return. And, the more motivation you’ll have to make this vital business habit a part of your everyday to-do list.   

Get Tough with Pipeline Coaching for Higher Success Rates

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Sports can teach us many valuable skills that can be applied to our sales organizations. A professional baseball pitcher, for example, will tell us we need to be aware of what’s happening on the field; that it takes a critical eye to watch all the bases as well as the hitter in front of us.

Similarly in sales, professionals need to think beyond the accounts they’re responsible for and to be objective about every aspect of their pipeline. In short, they have to be aware and ensure all their bases are covered. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Far too often sellers make the mistake of trusting their unchecked assumptions, and they’re blinded by what might actually be happening on an account.

Just like the baseball pitcher who plays without watching the field around him, when things aren’t done the right way mistakes happen, business gets lost, and time is wasted on deals that aren’t ready to close. That’s why in a sales organization, detailed pipeline coaching should be held at the start of every month. The best way to do this? Have salespeople sit down with someone in your organization who’s capable of looking objectively at employees’ work and can challenge some of the assumptions they might be making about their accounts. Typically this coach would be a manager, a VP, a sales coach, or a trusted third party.

Detailed pipeline coaching is where tough questions are asked. Sure, it can be painful, but it’s the only way salespeople can attain an objective view on everything they need to do to be successful. In other words, they can determine how much is reallyexpected to close and how they’re going to get it closed.

Be objective

Smoke out those false assumptions by asking questions that search for facts rather than feelings. For every account, here are key questions that need to be included:

  • What’s stopping you from closing this now?
  • Why are you so confident it will close?
    • What’s your proof?
  • What was the last conversation with them like?
  • Who else are they considering?
  • Has the buyer agreed to your next steps? When are they due?
  • What other contacts can you make inside the account to secure this sale now?

 

Search for proof

Be on the lookout for answers that reveal thinking based on feelings and assumptions rather than facts. A solid pipeline requires proof that you know exactly what’s happening based on direct conversations with the client. You will not close business based on assumptions.

Deeper questioning is required when you receive answers that lead with the following phrases:

  •  “I heard that….
  • “Perhaps the buyer….
  • “I think…”
  • “I’m pretty sure that….”
  • “I feel that...”
  • “I get a sense that….”
  • “I just know”

Question further

Once you’ve challenged basic assumptions, dig deeper and start asking probing questions about the facts supporting an account. It’s time for more rigorous examination when you hear any of the following about deals slated to close within a month:

  • Account is described as still being at below 70% probability of close
  • More than 14 days have gone past without meaningful contact with the seller
  • There is only one buyer contact listed in the account file
  • Contact information is incomplete
  • A lack of clear financial information attached to the sale.

These kinds of answers suggest that the seller is missing important information about an account or that the pipeline has not been updated with accurate information. Either the seller has to work harder to get answers and fill in the facts, or perhaps the deal is not as real as it was thought to be — and must be pushed further into the year or eliminated from the pipeline completely.

When you’ve completed the coaching, you will undoubtedly have a smaller pipeline. But it will be a real pipeline based on facts rather than assumptions. You and your sales professional will also have a plan of attack for each deal. And you’ll know exactly what it’ll take to get the deals closed — or moved closer to a decision. Now the rest of the month can be spent executing your plan!

Plan Ahead to Smoothly Navigate Pricing Objections

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"That price is too high."

“Why is this so expensive?”

“I have a better offer. You’re going to have to lower your price.”

The dreaded pricing objection. We've all had to deal with it at some point in our careers. Regardless of what form it takes, it can be one of the most frustrating challenges sales professionals have to face.

As part of a series of articles, we'll be taking an in-depth look at what you can do to overcome this most difficult of client objections. We start today by tackling the question of how to prevent the pricing objection before your clients bring it up!

Address it from the start

If price always seems to become an issue for you, one of the most effective strategies is to preempt the question by dealing with it up front.

Don't be afraid to talk about price. Train yourself to bring it up first and put it on the table as early as possible in the sales dialogue. Try telling your prospective client something like:

“I want to be up front that our product won’t be the cheapest available. You will always find someone who is less expensive than us, and you will always find someone who is more expensive than us. We are always competitive. Knowing that we are not the cheapest, does it make sense for us to go ahead?"

When you ask this question, one of two things will happen:

  1. The buying cycle will end immediately because the client only wants the cheapest product and you don't have it. Don’t be alarmed. This is good news. There's no point wasting your valuable time with someone who has no intention of buying.

Or

  1. The client will say, "No problem, we're not making our decision on the basis of price alone." This will effectively eliminate the client's ability to raise this objection later on, and allow you to move forward with a high degree of certainty that price will not become an issue.

 

Give a ballpark figure ahead of time

Another way to reduce the number of times you hear "your price is too high" is by literally telling your customers your price (or an estimate of your price) before you give it to them in writing. This will allow you to deal with any potential pricing concerns in person, before your client receives a formal proposal.

NOTE: The estimate I give is always about 20 percent higher than I think the real highest price will be. This helps ensure I have a little breathing room later on.

Be ready with alternatives

When you're ready to talk price, have several options prepared beforehand to handle your client's response, whatever it may be. This will enable you to retain some control and momentum regardless of whether their reaction is positive or negative.

If the client reacts negatively through body language — such as flinching, shrugging, rolling their eyes, or falling off their chair onto the floor — you can say:

“I sense I’ve missed the mark. What were you expecting to invest?”

Or

“You don’t seem comfortable with that price. Have you found something lower?”

Notice that both of these questions have two distinct parts. First, you acknowledge that the client appears to be uncomfortable. This will help build trust and get them on your side. Second, you ask a direct question. You can use this formula every time you are faced with an objection.

If the client verbally tells you that your price is too high, your first move is to take a breath and remain quiet for a full three seconds. Then ask them, "I guess you're looking only for the cheapest price?"

They will either say yes or no. If they say no, you can ask, "Really? What else is there?"

If they answer yes, you can say, "Okay, knowing that we will not be the lowest price, does that mean we will never get the chance to do business together?"

Utilize the key word for managing objections

When it comes to handling sales objections, "never" is the most powerful word in the English language.

Most people hate it. Very few are willing to commit to it. As a result, the vast majority of prospects will respond to it by saying, "Well, no… Not never!"

In that case, your job is to simply ask, "Really? Why?" The client will then either tell you what it will take to do business with them or ask you for something that you can't provide. Either way, this puts the control back in your hands by letting you choose between making the sale or turning down the deal and walking away.

If a client is dead set on getting the lowest price and you know you can't offer it, then you may as well end the conversation right now and get to work on deals that have a better likelihood of closing. Spending time trying to sell to someone who is never going to buy from you is a bad decision — and a costly mistake.

Create and fine tune your best responses

The final step is to sit down (on your own or with your team) and brainstorm your best possible answers to every potential objection.

Practice your responses out loud until you've mastered them. Make them your own. Then review your work each quarter to make sure that everyone on your team knows which responses are working best.

Overall, if you can reduce the number of objections you receive, you will sell more. Period.

Feel free to visit our website, where you can find more articles on the best ways to handle pricing objections. https://www.engageselling.com/

Spring Clean Your Sales Approach

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There’s a canal I like to run beside in the city of Ottawa that’s cleaned out twice a year. Before the winter season, the water’s drained and the litter removed so it’s smooth for ice skating. Once the spring thaw hits, the canal is flooded and more debris floats to the surface to be taken out ahead of boating weather. This cleaning process is what allows the canal to be fully enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. It’s also similar to how we run our businesses.

We all need to regularly spring clean our sales approach in order to function at our best. This means completing an inventory of how we interact with prospects and customers and getting rid of the strategies and selling tools that just aren’t working. After all, a key element of sales success is about accurately meeting the needs of our audience, which is hard to do if you’re surrounded by the clutter of outdated methods.

Here’s a Top 10 list of the most common sales issues I see when coaching and consulting clients. By spring cleaning your approach, you can avoid making mistakes that stand in the way of closing new deals and retaining great clients.

1. Continually selling to no-potential buyers

Many salespeople fall into this trap. They hold onto a long list of poor-quality leads in their pipeline simply because they believe there’s safety to be gained with padded numbers. But bad leads will always be bad leads and will only suck time and resources out of your day. Either you qualify them in your pipeline, or you spring clean and send that list of bad leads to the garbage bin.

2. Sounding like a skipping record with old testimonials and references

Your testimonials must be current, compelling and credible! Prospects want to know if your products and services work in today’s marketplace — not the one from five or 10 years ago. This point applies similarly to references. You can’t reinforce your “social proof” in the eyes of prospects if your references can’t be reached, are retired, or simply shouldn’t be references at all. Case in point for that last item? Years ago I was with a company that sold software to Enron (very legally.) They were a great customer to work with at that time. Obviously, however, I couldn’t use them as a reference today!

So, the moral of the story? Find new references from your current clients. And do it regularly.

3. Appearing too ‘scripted” on calls

Be objective. Are you using “salesy” sounding language in your script? Do you resemble a radio ad or a telemarketer? Are you talking more than listening on your first call to a prospect? If you answered “yes” to any one of these three questions, you need to spring clean your approach and start over. By all means practice and know what to say to potential buyers, but make sure it becomes internalized so you can then focus on personalizing the dialogue for each prospect.

4. Not creating a buying vision

Effective sales conversations need to emphasize the results your buyer is looking for. Make sure these discussions utilize real-life success stories, case studies and business-use situations that create a vision for your customer of how your solution will be implemented successfully in their company. And, as mentioned in Number 2, spring clean the older materials and replace them with current examples.

5. Choosing only one marketing channel to reach customers

To get attention and be memorable in the eyes of prospects and clients, you need to implement an omni-media approach. As I discussed in Nonstop Sales Boom, you should spring clean your old methods and aim to be ubiquitous. From websites to social media, from paper-based marketing to face-to-face meetings, invest time in ensuring your message is loud and clear across a number of platforms. Each marketing channel is capable of contributing something unique to the buying experience of your customers.

6. Using cold calls as your primary lead source

You should shake your head about this one! Last year, only 3 percent of all sales were closed from cold calls. The other 97 percent? Those came from a range of sources, including client referrals, web inquiries, whitepaper/trial downloads, and live chat conversations. Spring clean your cold-call approach as your top lead generator. There are field-tested alternatives out there (including the ones I’ve mentioned) that will yield much better returns in less time.

7. Caving when your client wants a lower price

Trash this approach! Instead, emphasize the value of what you offer to your customer and provide options rather than discounts. Also, position yourself uniquely in the market so you have less direct competition.

8. Depending on your client for referrals

Asking clients, “Who do you know?” in order to score referrals should be scrapped immediately. That question almost always yields disappointing results because it’s not specific enough and puts the onus on the customer to do all the work. That’s why the most common answer you’ll hear is: “No one comes to mind right now, but let me think about it and get back to you.” Guess what? You’ll almost never hear from them again. Instead, try this approach:

“I would like to meet Randy Smith at the XYZ Company. Can you help me with an introduction?”

Or:

“I’d love to meet your VP of Sales. Can you help me with an introduction?”

And here’s one more winning approach:

“I’m going to be calling Randy Smith at the XYZ Company this week. Can I tell him we’re doing great business together?”

9. Ignoring your leads

In my experience, I’ve found the vast majority of sales leads aren’t ready to close until there have been as many as seven follow-ups. If you regularly make fewer attempts to touch base with potential buyers, spring clean this approach. Instead, increase follow-ups by investing in the ubiquitous, omni-media approach mentioned in Number 5. Keep track of every attempt with CRM software or at least a spreadsheet. Skip relying on just sticky notes or Outlook!  

10. Being unfocused

A few years ago, some salespeople could manage to eek out a living while being lazy — just sitting by the phone and waiting to take orders. In today’s economy, however, the only way to succeed is by being disciplined in how you work. It’s time to toss out those days without any scheduling and replace them with structured business hours in which prospect development and client contact are top priorities. Fill those empty blocks on your calendar with activities to build up your prospecting pipeline.

If you’ve been using any of the Top 10 poor selling strategies above, the chances are good your results are suffering. In today’s economy, what was five years ago no longer works. Sure, this message is a dose of tough love, but it’s necessary.

Make a decision right now to spring clean the methods that aren’t working for you. You can’t afford to be trapped any longer by a pile of business habits that prevent prospects from becoming customers — and new customers from becoming repeat ones! Look objectively at how you work and choose three things you can change right now. Down the road, when you measure your results, you’ll find you’ve generated a rather tidy new profit! 

Sharpen Your Goals to Boost Success

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Everybody has sales goals.

Some are set by our companies and some we set ourselves. For many sales reps, it wouldn't be January without either a new sales quota or a new personal objective for the year ahead. If I had to guess, I'd be willing to bet that we all want to achieve more this year, right? But how many of us have actually created a detailed plan that will help us realize our goals?

Despite the importance both we and the companies we work for place on achieving objectives, it never ceases to amaze me how many sales people fall short each year. It doesn’t have to be that way! Let’s discuss how to develop the essential behaviors needed to achieve your goals not only this month or year, but consistently and for the rest of your career.

The secret’s in the planning

Our research of sales teams has found that 100 percent of sales people understand why setting goals is important (focus, commitment, dedication, etc.), and know what types of goals they should set (business, family, social, personal.) We’ve also discovered that 80 percent of sales people understand the proper way to structure a goal, such as by using the acronym SMART. But last year, approximately 60 percent of field sales people still failed to achieve their objectives.

Why?

In the overwhelming majority of cases, sales people fail to achieve their goals because they lack a detailed plan. In fact, very few of us understand what we need to do on a daily and weekly basis to achieve our goals.

So where do you begin? Below is a simple, four-step planning tool you can use to build your career, by designing a clearer path towards achieving your goals every month, quarter or year:

1. Identify your outcome in a way you can measure

What, specifically, are your sales and production goals for this year? For example: "I want to close $500,000 in new business and $500,000 in repeat business from existing clients this year."

2. Carve your pathway to success

How do your goals break down into quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals?

Here's an example of a sales quota — and how an average sales person can expect to perform:

  • New business goal: $500,000
  • Average sales size: $20,000
  • Total sales needed to achieve goal: 25

Based on our sales metrics, to accomplish your goals for the year you can assume the following:

  • The average sales person closes 1:3 qualified leads. Therefore to make 25 sales, our sample sales person needs 75 qualified buyers.
  • The average sales person needs to meet three prospects in order to qualify one. So in the above example, our sales person needs to meet 225 prospects.
  • The average sales person needs to make 15 attempts (phone calls, voice mail, e-mail, etc.) to get one meeting. So, our sales person needs to make 3,375 attempts this year.

If this sounds like a frightening number, remember that 3,375 attempts over the course of a year really translates into:

  • 282 attempts per month
  • 71 attempts per week
  • Just 14 attempts per day

Now that's what I call an easy plan to follow!

3. Launch your strategy

To give you a baseline on the amount of time it takes to make these daily calls, I make 25 attempts per day, which takes me two to three hours to complete. Here are some tips to help you complete your daily sales goals:

  • Start today. Half the battle is just showing up!
  • Keep records and make lists. Successful sales people record their progress toward each goal every day, and then list the five most important things they need to do the next day to move that goal even further ahead. This short "To Do" list is 100 percent focused on achieving their goals, because the most successful sales people understand that daily discipline is the key to reaching your goals.

·         Track your attempts, meetings and close ratios consistently, and measure your results. Then adjust your plan based on your real metrics. You may find that you're above or below the averages I've used in this example, but if you don't measure to find out you won't know where to improve.

·         Prospect consistently. Whether you chose to make all your weekly calls in one day or to do a small amount each day doesn't matter. What matters is that you are consistent. Think of yourself as a professional. Misty Copeland would tell you it’s the consistency of her practice time in the dance studio — the hours upon hours of fine-tuning her body’s movements — that leads to her ultimate success.

4. Use radical accountability to drive success

  • The top 10 percent of sales performers have one thing in common: they’re committed to radical accountability. Mark the time you're going to spend attempting to reach customers in your calendar each day or week, and close your office door until you've completed it. While you're at it, turn off your e-mail and don't take in-bound calls. If you work in a cubical, find a closed office in which to do your prospecting. In other words, force yourself to stay focused and avoid distractions. The fewer distractions you have, the faster the work will get done.
  • Tasks that are rewarded are tasks that get done. Find a way to reward yourself after your calls are made each day. My personal reward for completing all daily prospecting calls is a trip to the local Starbucks for my favorite "vente triple shot non-fat mocha!" No calls, no coffee — it's that simple. Guess what gets done first thing each morning?
  • Write your goals down, update them constantly based on your real results, and then make them public and display them close by. Studies show that people who share their goals with others are 70 percent more likely to achieve them. Discuss your goals with those people you respect the most, and you'll work harder to ensure that you don't disappoint them.

What’s the take-away message?

The difference between top sales performers and the rest of the field is clear. Top performers have a plan to achieve their goals, and they act on that plan every day. This year, commit yourself to being a top performer. Design a daily and/or weekly plan, act on it consistently and monitor your results.

It's been said that most people aim at nothing and hit it with surprising accuracy. We all have a goal in mind. Whether you hit it or not will depend on your ability to define and consistently focus on the tasks that lead to your goal. If done right, you’ll be sure to hit your mark. 

 
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