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Overcoming Sales Call Reluctance®

            What’s the number one killer of sales years and sales careers?  Hint:  it’s not price or the economy.  It’s not even competition or unwilling customers and prospects.  It is, believe it or not, simply the unwillingness of the sales professional to go and sell.

            Researchers George Dudley and Shannon Goodson report that “as many as 80% of all salespeople who fail within their first year do so because of insufficient prospecting activity.”[1]

            Oversimplified?  Consider these:

            1.  Sales is a numbers game – If you contact enough prospects or suspects, you’re bound to get results and learn from your mistakes.  Of course, the more you can pre-qualify your target list of potential contacts, the greater your chances of success.

            2.  A better mousetrap, by itself, doesn’t win sales – The activities of contacting prospects, asking good questions, presenting solutions and asking for the decision do win sales.  Success is often based on how frequently you reach out to people who are willing and able to buy from you.

            3.  Referrals have to start somewhere - The top sales professionals, those who seem to live almost exclusively from current customers and referrals, had to initiate those contacts to start the process.  They paid their dues along the way.  


The hidden enemy

            The fear of self-promotion is a condition in which even highly competent people receive far less in position, compensation and recognition than they feel they deserve.  Doing the best job doesn’t always get the best rewards.  Those rewards tend to go to people who promote themselves, what they’ve done and what they can do.

            Who are some of the top self-promoters of our day?  When you look across all professions, those most famous in the public eye aren’t necessarily the best at what they do.  LeBron James, Lady Gaga and Conan O'Brien are all very capable people.  There are also, arguably, others in their respective professions who are more skilled and earn far less in both name familiarity and compensation for their efforts.  Gaga's willingness to dress as no one else on the planet draws attention to her, not necessarily to her skills or talents.

            This fear of self-promotion manifests itself in professional selling as sales call reluctance®.  It appears in several types and works in varying degrees of damage to the sales professional’s results.


The symptoms

            Sally is a steady, but never stellar, sales performer.  She has a proposal she’ll be presenting in two days to a new prospect.  She has worked over the proposal a dozen times and is checking it again for any typographical errors.  Next she’ll review her presentation of the proposal and write her key points on note cards for further practice and rehearsal.  All of this is done during the sales day, the only time of day when she can contact new prospects.  This tendency of always getting ready and rarely getting it done is a symptom of the form of call reluctance known as over-preparation. 

            Ryan works hard to project the right image to his customers and prospects.  He always looks good and professional, as do his materials and his vehicle.  Today, as he goes out to prospect for the afternoon, he’ll stop and have his car washed inside and out to maintain that image.  This is done at the expense of his prospecting activity, a tendency of sale call reluctance known as hyper-pro.

            The nature and pricing of Judy’s product requires that she make her first contact with the CEO of her target prospects.  She’s uneasy with the idea, so she creatively works her way through organizations by starting with purchasing agents, human resource managers and anyone else who will speak with her.  She builds rapport with these people easily, yet somehow she fails to get in front of the owner or boss.  Unfortunately, except in rare instances, only that person at the top can decide to buy what she sells. Judy has a tendency toward social self-consciousness, another form of sales call reluctance, marked by an unwillingness to contact people in higher socio-economic levels and positions of authority.

            Jack knows that his financial products sell best by educating his prospective buyers through free seminars.  He watches the sales numbers of his peers climb as they present seminar after seminar.  Despite the evidence, he continues to contact one prospect at a time to present his products one-on-one.  His tendency to shy away from group presentations is the form of call reluctance known as stage fright.


How to identify Sales Call Reluctance®

            Fortunately, there are several specific steps you can take to address sales call reluctance® in yourself and/or your sales team.  Use these tips first to find where call reluctance may be hurting you most:

  1. Look closely at activities for trends and tendencies – It’s fairly simple to see an overall lack of activity.  That could indicate any of several forms of call reluctance.  Check for specifics such as follow up on referrals.  Lack in this area may reveal referral aversion, the avoidance of asking for and following through on referral opportunities.  Some will often try to mask this condition by vigorously defending the position with statements such as, “Referrals don’t work in my business/with my customers/in this industry.”
  2. Observe during the sales call – What happened when it was time to ask for the business?  Did you or your team member shy away?  Did you as sales manager have to close the sale?   Avoidance of asking for the order is common, known in sales call reluctance as the yielder tendency.
  3. Check telephone prospecting activity – If “dialing for dollars” is important to you or your sales representatives, check on the frequency and quantity of calling.  When you find low levels here, the telephobia tendency of sales call reluctance is likely at work and will sabotage even the top professional with the most proven approach.
  4. Use a sales preference assessment – A validated instrument can quantify specific challenges and suggest appropriate steps to address sales call reluctance issues.  It also provides a proof source to show members of your sales team, in an objective way, a comprehensive picture of those areas of improvement. 


Overcoming the enemy

            Once you’ve identified and assessed the problem, you’re ready to take the appropriate steps to reduce and eliminate some of the sales call reluctance present in yourself or your sales team.  The steps you take depend on the specific areas requiring the most attention.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Over-preparation – One client using this instrument had a simple method to address this.  He simply chased the sales representative in question out of the office after a certain hour of the morning.  That prevented the seemingly endless preparation, which was taking the place of prospecting and selling activities.
  2. Stage fright – Another client has made participation in Toastmasters International a requirement for members of his sales force.  Practice in speaking to a group whose purpose is to help the speaker improve has helped even the most fearful become competent enough to look forward to group presentation opportunities.  Overcoming this fear has, in many cases, led to breakthroughs in other areas of sales call reluctance.
  3. Yielder – Role playing, albeit one of the sales professional’s least favorite activities, is often indicated as practice in asking the prospect or customer to buy.  This practice can make it easier to repeat the behaviors when the real-world opportunities come.
  4. Hyper-pro – Often the simple knowledge that this tendency hurts one’s chances to increase sales results is enough in and of itself.  In many cases, this is a good example where the understanding of the problem comprises more than half of the solution.  The sales professional can take simple and immediate steps to minimize or eliminate the activities which take away from solid prospecting and selling opportunities.

            You should also be aware that sales managers can and do suffer from sales call reluctance®, which can do additional harm to the sales team.  Look for these and other areas of sales call reluctance constantly to address and eliminate these obstacles to your sales success.

Earning What You’re Worth?, Dudley and Goodson, 1986, 1992, Behavioral Sciences Research Press


Sales Lessons from Rome

            Our first overseas family vacation started with a visit to Rome. Lori had toured Europe with her college choir more than 20 years earlier. Otherwise, this was our first time to experience firsthand the many treasures of Italy’s capital.

            To say that this city is rich with tradition and lessons would be a gross understatement. Nonetheless, I found many sales lessons among the ancient and modern, artistic and everyday elements of this splendid city.

            1. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – This familiar expression comes from one of the letters of Saint Augustine. In it he tells how his mother once asked Saint Ambrose: "At Rome they fast on Saturday, but not at Milan; which practice ought to be observed?"  Saint Ambrose replied: "When I am at Milan, I do as they do at Milan; but when I go to Rome, I do as Rome does!"

            In selling, doing as the Romans do means that you honor the customs and values of your prospect. You don’t have to adopt them as your own nor do you have to change your life forever. You simply appreciate them for what they are and take note of the potential value of a different perspective or approach to a challenge. In other words, allow for more than one right answer.

            Doing as the Romans do also means doing as the top sales professionals do. Through the years, I have benefited greatly when I have deferred to the expertise of a veteran’s approach to sales and business. Speak and author Brian Tracy recommends the 100-call method, contacting 100 prospects in as short a time as possible to propel your business faster and more effectively than you can by doing anything else. By following that single piece of advice many years ago, I made more mistakes sooner and learned more than I ever would have by going about my selling at a slower pace. It made a huge difference in my results and continues to have a positive impact on my business to this day.

            2. Don’t be an “ugly American” – As we prepared for our trip, our travel agent gently but firmly encouraged us to dress and carry ourselves in a way that would not label us as Americans during our visit. She warned us of Americans who travel abroad expecting host countries to cater to their comfortable and familiar way of life, complaining when they encounter even the slightest variation from their perception of the way things should be. We were so successful in following her advice that on several occasions, based on our dress, appearance and demeanor, we were initially mistaken for locals.

            Not being an ugly American in selling means that you handle yourself with poise and grace in each and every situation. Consider the environment you’re about to enter and check your preconceived notions at the door. Regardless of how odd something appears, afford it the same level of respect that you would your most treasured values. Remember that things are seldom as they appear and that in these situations we tend to learn our greatest lessons. Be humble and conscious enough to carry yourself well in such opportunities. Once you become more familiar with a particular issue or approach, having asked questions to understand more fully, only then do you earn the right to offer alternative methods to address certain issues.

            This is why the best leaders and sales managers, as they start a new assignment, take time to study what has been done and how it has been accomplished. As leaders, they allow things to take place as they observe and note the advantages and disadvantages of handling them in a certain way. The manner with which they make improvements while respecting and building on the strengths of the organization goes a long way toward how they are perceived and the loyalty and enthusiasm they engender on their team.

            When you find yourself in a new situation or organization, allow for the possibility that this person or organization knows some of what it’s doing, regardless of how far it varies from the methods and approaches most familiar to you. When you are in selling for any period of time, you’re bound to run across individuals or teams needing your help badly. Take the time and energy to find what they’re doing right and build on that. Even if an overhaul is indicated, go about it with kid gloves. Show that you appreciate the effort that has gotten them to this point.

            3. Take a tour or two– We purchased two guided tours of Rome, one focused on art and another on the ancient. In each case, we walked, listened, observed and learned about the traditions and the accomplishments of those who lived and worked there.

            Taking a tour in selling can be both literal and figurative. In many situations, you can ask your prospect to take you on a tour of the facility, helping you to observe, listen and understand more about the work done there. Figuratively, you can take the tour for greater understanding by getting initial information in advance and asking questions to build on what you’ve already learned. Whether you’re a novice or an expert in your prospect’s business or situation, there’s always more you can learn that will help you create some improvement and add value.

            Taking the tour also means that you consider learning a lifelong activity. Read, study and learn from experts the best practices and principles of your discipline. Become the best student you know and invest in your continuing education, regardless of credit hours or advanced degrees. Those at the top of their game are there, at least in part, because they believe they still have things to learn. Carry that same attitude with you wherever you go and be open to new information that you can use or share.

            4. Learn the basic terms and use them –Brian Tracy also taught me if you know how to say please, thank you and excuse me in the language of whatever country you visit, you can get or do just about anything. We found this to be true in Rome, where people seemed to appreciate our effort to use bits and pieces of their language, though we’re far from fluent in the native tongue.

            Learning the basic terms and using them in selling means that you understand the key terms and measures of an industry and become fluent in how they are used. While you may not know everything before your first meeting, your mention of a critical industry measure or operational term shows that you’ve done some work and learned at least a bit about the prospect’s business and industry. You have the opportunity to allow your prospect to be the expert while you ask pertinent questions that cut to the core of what he or she is trying to accomplish.

            5. Be silent – One sees the Sistine Chapel, home of the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo, at the end of the Vatican Museum tour. Anticipation builds and visitors enter the Chapel with the request that they remain silent out of respect for this place of worship. The opportunity to stand or sit quietly is rewarded as one is surrounded by the beautiful illustrations of one of the masters.

            Being silent in selling means that you make what your prospect has to say the single most important part of any conversation. This means that you remain silent while the prospect answers your questions, while he or she questions or objects and immediately after you’ve asked for the order. The beauty of this silence is the message you convey, that the prospect, not your product or service, is the most important ingredient of any sales conversation.

            I once accompanied a veteran sales professional as he presented a proposal to a prospect. When the prospect made it clear that there would be no sale on what my friend had offered, the prospect began to describe his situation and his efforts to make improvements. In the course of that conversation, my friend interrupted twice, valuing more what he had to say than what his prospect was saying. While silence in that situation would not have changed the outcome of this particular sales call, it would certainly have added to the relationship and enhanced the possibility of gaining agreement in the near future.

            6. Look up – There’s a very good chance that visitors indoors in Rome can lift their eyes to the ceiling and discover anything from colorfully detailed paintings to ornate sculpture. Decorated ceilings are the norm in Rome’s churches and museums, so much so that we found ourselves a bit dizzy from time to time after long gazes above us.

            Looking up in selling means that you remain conscious of things going on around you. If you’re so busy with your presentation that you fail to notice your prospect’s lack of attention or look of concern, you may have already lost him or her. Once again, this requires a thorough knowledge of what you sell, because you must be able to integrate that understanding into a singular focus on the prospect and how he or she can benefit from your offering. Keep your eyes and ears open, make eye contact with your prospect on a regular basis and be sure to remain aware of circumstances and events happening around you.

            7. Watch where you’re walking – In walking Rome’s streets and paths built centuries earlier, we noticed the uneven surfaces typical of such places. We even joked about how we spent a great deal of our time tripping around the city as we would catch a toe or heel of a shoe on a stone and have to regain our balance before we could continue walking.

            Watching where you’re walking in selling means that you exercise caution in your questions to a prospect or customer. This is a prime principle set forth in SPIN Selling®: don’t ask questions that could lead you to dead ends in your sales effort. All it takes is one errant question to trip you up and stop your progress. Such a mistake forces you to risk losing more than the sale. By asking questions that take you off the track, your credibility suffers and you can damage the very relationship you may be trying to build or enhance. Prepare your questions to build toward a solution you can provide. Make every question count in your favor.

            8. Be visual – Rome is a visually stunning city. The contrast of the ancient and modern, the scale of buildings and other structures and the breathtaking beauty and detail of art in its many forms create a continuous feast for the eyes. It can be so rich that you may feel the need for a visual break now and then from all the stimulation you get.

            Being visual in selling means that you take advantage of your prospect’s eyes by illustrating the benefits of your product or service. If you’re fascinated by the workings of your product, that’s wonderful and it likely adds to your enthusiasm. Make sure your visuals focus less on the workings and more on the benefits. Ask yourself this question: “How can my presentation illustrate the value my prospect will receive by using my product or service?” Make your prospect the star of your visual show, helping each one see himself or herself enjoying the outcomes of buying and using what you offer.

            In today’s world of computerized presentations, you can differentiate yourself by using your own homemade visuals. One of our colleagues carries a sheet of white plastic that sticks to a wall, allowing him to diagram and “chalk talk” the value of what he offers. This sheet remains with the prospect, who now has an “original” rather than a canned slide show.

            9. Slow down – Do you pack your vacation or holiday full of activities and find yourself at times literally running from one attraction or activity to another? We tend to do just that. We learned on this visit that, while Rome is a bustling, 21stcentury city, we were able to enjoy some of its greatest treasures by a slower pace, an occasional lingering and a still moment to absorb its history.

            Slowing down in selling involves taking the time to listen to and digest what your prospect or customer tells you. Whether it’s an explanation of a production problem or an objection about the timing of the buying decision, listen as if it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it and allow a few seconds of silence before you respond. Fast replies can come across as defensive or contrived, while the short period of “dead air” followed by a restating of the problem or objection coupled with a confident response can effectively convey that you’ve received the message in full. A rush to respond may also betray a greater interest in the current transaction than in the long-term relationship.

            9. Enjoy yourself – While this seems redundant as a vacation lesson, I found myself tightening and tensing occasionally as we moved through unfamiliar territory. Once we became a bit more familiar with the lay of the land, it was easier to relax and enjoy.

            Enjoying yourself in selling means that you appreciate the trip that is the sales process and enjoy the view along the way. Value the budding relationship, reflect on the opportunities and soak up the lessons that come with setbacks. Sales is very much a journey and the sooner you realize that your happiness comes en route rather than only at the destination, the more fulfilling you will feel in your profession of selling. Appreciate the privilege of helping others, the ability to be compensated for your chosen level of performance and the freedoms that selling affords you when you do it well.

            10. Put three coins in the fountain – At the Fontana di Trevi, legend says that if you toss a coin into the fountain over your shoulder, you will one day return to the eternal city. Since we had three days to discover only a fraction of what Rome has to offer, we would all enjoy an encore.

             Tossing a coin into the fountain in selling means that you make sure to plant the seeds now for your continued relationship with this prospect or customer. This includes scheduling your next appointment before you leave, suggesting some further improvements that you can discuss once you get the current order or work under way and requesting that your prospect be thinking about others who can benefit from your product or service.

            Visit Rome for all its beauty and many pleasures. If you can’t make it to Rome, do as the Romans do and apply these lessons to improve your sales results.


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #7: Beware the Seven Deadly Sins Against Honesty in Sales


Throughout this series of articles on how you can be a top-ranked power seller in this new economy, I've concentrated on a range of activities that you can put into place right away to reach more customers and prospects and generate chart-topping sales. So far, I've talked a lot about the thing you need to do, but in this final piece in the series, let's talk about what you need to avoid doing, so that you can be successful at winning the hearts and the loyalty of your customers.

As I discuss in my new book, Honesty Sells, the healthy relationships you forge with all customers need to be based on open, honest communication. Achieving this requires that you commit to learning more effective way of doing business with people. Don't kid yourself: without this commitment, your efforts are going to fall short. You need to avoid the dangerous assumptions and lies that so many unsuspecting sales people tell to themselves, all the while thinking that they're doing themselves a favor…until it's too late.

The assumptions and lies I'm talking about here are the seven deadly sins against honesty in sales. Beware of each of these. Learn what you can do to avoid committing any of these sins…and how you can repent in a hurry.

Sin #1. Assuming that clients will think you're being honest with them.

Even if you have a mantle full of awards at home that say "The Most Honest Sales Person, Ever," you have to constantly prove your honesty and trustworthiness to people you meet. Sadly, it is a human characteristic that people tend to remember and talk more often about the negative experiences they've had than they do about the positive ones. Consider a bad experience you might have had in the past with a dishonest sales person. Maybe it was the last time you bought a new car, TV, or even a pair of shoes. That experience, if left unchecked, could shape your perception of everyone who sells cars, TVs or shoes—no matter how unfair that kind of judgment would be. As a sales professional, the onus is on you to demonstrate through words and actions that you're the real deal on honesty.

Sin #2. Treating prospecting as something you'll outgrow eventually.

After hitting your targets again and again, some find it tempting to start looking at prospecting as something they don't need to do anymore. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard a seasoned sales person say they're too experienced to prospect…or that cold calling is beneath them. That's crazy! Prospecting is the lifeblood of sales. Period. It's how you constantly generate new opportunities and grow your client base. Without having this as a fundamental component of your regular business habits, you could be putting your career at serious risk. Everyone needs to prospect…no matter how successful you are. To be effective at prospecting, you need to have more than a system for attracting qualified buyers. You also need a sales funnel that's three times larger than what you need in sales.

Sin #3. Thinking that a great product will sell itself or that the competition is non-existent.

One of the worst lies that sales people can tell themselves is this: "people need what I'm selling and they have to buy it from me." Truthfully, even if your product is something that people really need—for instance, cars, houses, clothing, insurance or oil—nobody really needs you. Prospects have been successful in the past without you and they will find someone else to do business with if you're gone. These days, money is tight in a lot of markets and companies are watching their budgets with extra care profits. In this environment, your competition can be anyone or anything that causes your buyer to be distracted. Here's how you can avoid this deadly sin. Offer your prospects and clients a great relationship—one that can help make it easier for them to do business. That's what will keep those clients coming back again and again.

Sin #4. Believing in the adage "nothing personal…it's just business."

Big mistake. Successful sales professionals will tell you that in business, everything is personal. People buy from people they like. It's true. In essence, when a client chooses one sales person over another, what they're really saying is that—other things being equal—they like one better than the other. Great sales records are built on likeability. Likeability is personal. Establishing and maintaining great personal rapport is how you build trust between yourself and your clients.

Sin #5. Relying on a "low-hanging fruit" strategy to hit your targets.

Beware this common trap that ensnares many sales people. Encouraged by successive quarters of chart-topping sales, it can be very tempting to hit the cruise-control button, sit back and rely on an existing client list to maintain sales. In fact, the most dangerous period a company faces is the one right after a record-breaking quarter. It's not enough to just keep picking the low-hanging fruit. As everyone has been reminded over the past year, markets go up and down. Therefore, you must keep your sales machinery in top working order at all times.

Sin #6. Treating any prospective sale as if it's a sure thing.

Remember Benjamin Franklin's sage advice—nothing is certain in this world other than death and taxes. In sales, no matter how great a particular prospect may look to you, things can change in a hurry. Even after a contract is signed, a sale can still fall through. I once saw over $60,000 vanish into thin air when a tornado destroyed the headquarters of my prospect…while the contact was still being finalized by the legal team. In sales, the most volatile time is between when your receive a verbal go-ahead from a prospect and when the contract is received. That's when anything can happen. So count your deals only as 100% in your pipeline once you have a signed contract and a purchase order is received.

Sin #7. Adopting an under-promise/over-deliver strategy.

I am not a big fan of the supposedly tried-and-true customer relations strategy of managing expectations and then delivering results that exceed those expectations. It simply sends the wrong message to clients. Think about it. If you make a habit of under-promising and over-delivering, then you have to do this every time you do business with a client. Eventually that person is going to expect it from you. If you are unable to exceed those expectations—even once— then your credibility can be damaged. When dealing with a client, it's better to be specific about what you're going to do and deliver on that promise. Remember that people buy from people they trust. Trust is built by demonstrating consistent behavior over a period of time, and it's that consistency that makes buyers believe in your honesty and integrity as a sales person.

Summing up…

This concludes our series on how to boost sales and thrive in the new economy. As I've emphasized throughout these articles, it's important that you embrace changing economic times as an opportunity to reexamine the way you work, how you communicate with people and identify where there is room for improvement.

To recap:

  1. Focus on existing relationships
  2. Boost your risk-busting communications skills
  3. Obtain testimonials from customers
  4. Be shrewd and creative about who you target
  5. Get management out in the field
  6. Engage your offence
  7. Beware the seven deadly sins against honesty in sales

By implementing these field-tested business habits I have outlined, you will have the tools you need to make it to the top of your sales organization—no matter what kind of economy you're working in. 


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #6: Engage Your Offence


In the new economy that's taking shape around all of us today, confidence and pride haven't gone out of fashion (and thank goodness for that). However, they have to be earned by doing more than just showing up in the market and assuming that your clients will be waiting in the wings, ready to do business with you. You need to equip yourself with a sales strategy that's geared for offence—not just because the stakes are higher, but also because the payoff can be lucrative.

As I pointed out to participants at the Engage Powerhouse Sales Event, a recession is a terrible thing to waste. Truly, there are great opportunities out there for top performing sales people to capitalize on right now. However, you can't seize them if you're hiding from your customers and retreating from the proven, field-tested methods that you should be relying on to bring in sales.

Don't get sucked into the cutback mindset

"How can I succeed when they're cutting back everywhere?" That's a rejoinder I hear an awful lot these days, and too often it's seems to be accompanied by a sense of resignation. While it's true that many organizations today are expecting staff to do more with less, this is not an excuse for letting your sales performance to slip. Not at all. As a regular reader of this newsletter, you know there are things you can do today—even in this tough market—to grow your sales without necessarily spending more money.

The answers have been covered throughout this series of articles so far:

  • by focusing on existing relationships;
  • by boosting your risk-busting communications skills;
  • by obtaining testimonials from customers;
  • by being shrewd and creative about who you target; and
  • by getting management out in the field.

By engaging in all of these field-tested activities, you demonstrate to your clients and prospects that you're motivated and on the move at a time while so many others have retreated (and I'll come back to that point in a moment). Not only do these activities help increase the number of prospects who will return your calls, they also can play a key role in reducing your discounting. It also helps you compress your sales cycles. There's an important added ingredient you need in addition to these activities—one that's shared by top performing sales people in organizations of all sizes—and that's perseverance. Breaking sales records, month after month, year after year, in good times and tough times requires that you be relentless in your pursuit of your goal.

It's up to you to ensure perseverance isn't on the chopping block

It always pays to be persistent, particularly in this economy, because you're bound to pull in a substantial return on your efforts only after most of your competitors have given up. Consider to the findings of ongoing sales research conducted by organizations such as What's Working in Sales Management, The Canadian Professional Sales Association, Sales and Marketing Executives International, CSO Insights and Stanford University. They all share the following similar observations about perseverance in sales. Approximately 40% of clients make buying decisions after sales people have completed 3 to 5 conversations (or meetings). However, by this point, two out of five sales reps have already given up! Another 30% of sales happen after six to nine conversations…and that's after 95% of sales reps have given up. In today's economy, we're seeing that it often takes more conversations than ever (even as high as 15 tries), but that there continues to be a healthy reward in terms of the percentage of prospects who make the decision to buy.

So what does this kind of perseverance entail in your organization? It could mean that you might have to spend an extra hour in the office making sales calls. Maybe you'll need to add just three more calls to your daily quota. It could also mean that you need to attend more networking events and be in front of more customers. It could also mean that you're on the road a little bit more often, spending one extra day meeting with prospects, developing more partnerships, and finding more suppliers. The biggest investment here is your time and only your willingness to persevere is going to keep you committed to this aggressive new strategy.

The importance of being there

As I suggested earlier in this article, there's another important benefit to engaging an offence-based sales strategy. You're making a powerful statement to your customers about the kind of business you're running or representing. By being a presence in the marketplace—out there spending time and energy with your clients while the competition is retreating—you're going to be seen as an attractive choice compared to others. Remember, economic uncertainty tends to make people cautious and risk-averse. As I mentioned early on in this series of articles, your task as sales professional is to prove to your customers that buying from you is a good choice—one that reduces or even eliminates risk.

People want to be associated with winners, so it's important that you don't create a vacuum into which your customers might make some incorrect assumptions about your business or your sales team. That's the real risk inherent in a retreat-based strategy. Your absence gets noticed and before you know it, people stop calling you simply because they don't know whether you're still around. 

By choosing a strong offence-based sales strategy in this new economy, you're making a decision to stick with proven methods that help you and your organization sell to more people in less time. There's more happening at a deeper level as well. The word offence (beyond the sports metaphor) comes from the Latin word offensa, or "a striking against." What you're really striking against is a mindset that would otherwise trick you into doing exactly what the other 80% of sales people will do in this market—retrench and give up too early well before the real opportunities reveal themselves.

Keep plugging away at your sales calls and at your prospecting efforts, and keep mining your network. The opportunities are there if you're willing to commit for the long haul. As Winston Churchill famously once said in a pivotal speech to his countrymen: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #5 - Get Management Out in the Field


So far in this series of seven articles, we've looked at field-tested activities that you, the sales professional, can embrace today to generate dynamite growth in your sales, even in this new economy. Earlier, I shared with you how you can generate more sales from existing business relationships, and about how you can communicate in a manner that mitigates a prospect's sense of risk. I've also talked about how you can use testimonials to your advantage, as well as customer targeting to get the results you're looking for.

So far, the bulk of my advice has been on what you can do to change things. In today's article, however, I'm going to broaden that scope a little more and share with you another field-tested activity—-but this time, it involves what others (and by that I mean senior managers and executives) in your organization can do to have a positive influence on sales.

My advice is this: get your CEO to sit-in on sales calls. Have your VP of Sales and Marketing join you when making in-office visits to your clients or prospects. Get your sales manager to join in on a meeting when pitching to new prospects. There's a case to be made for all levels of management to become outfielders on your sales team (As I write this, I can almost hear the cheers of "hip-hip-hurray" from my readers everywhere).

Why this matters

If you were to share this advice within your company right now, the very first question that you'd be asked by managers and executives is, of course, why. Why should management be out in the field when they already have professionals like you on hand who are great at what they do? My answer and this is one that I give when conducting sales training to executives and employees of all kinds, is that becoming an outfielder in the sales process is the only way...the only way...that business leaders can get a pulse on what's really going in your marketplace today.

Management guru, Tom Peters, also recognized that this activity is a vital element of what makes an organization successful. In his book, In Search of Excellence, (co-authored with Bob Waterman), he credits management at Hewlett Packard for coining a great euphemism for this approach: Management by Walking Around (or MBWA for short). Pretty much says it all about what this activity entails, doesn't it?

It's worth noting that this book—today, considered a classic—was first published in 1982, when North America was in the throes of a deep, painful economic recession. What Peters and Waterman (and Hewlett Packard) recognized back then—that there was a lot you could learn from the people served by your business—still rings true today. Today, Peters is still fighting the good fight in favour of the MBWA approach. For example, his presentations laud the work of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, noting how "he religiously visits at least 25 stores a week." Clearly it's a lesson that's not lost on the leaders of business today. Just last week, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was in the news after he reportedly showed up unannounced to work on the floor at one of his company's distribution centers.

What's in it for you and for your customers

If these are challenging times in your marketplace, better for management to hear it firsthand from customers than from anyone else in your organization. Sure, it might be tempting for some folks in your accounting department to squabble over why the company is spending more on airfare to fly your managers out to meet with customers. However, the benefits can be substantial.

Maybe there are underlying problems or barriers to sales that need to be diagnosed. By having management out in the field, your organization can get to the root of the matter quickly. Just as important, the mere act of bringing in reinforcements sends a powerful signal to the people with whom you do business. It shows that you're not backing down. Rather, you demonstrate that you're bringing in extra resources, including the big guns from headquarters, to ensure that your customers' needs are met thoroughly.

Moreover, this approach can help your management team decide what kinds of additional training and resources your sales team needs to regroup, reshape and revise its sales process. None of this can happen as quickly or as thoroughly without them first having the opportunity to see what's going on out there.

Out in the field. It's not just where the salespeople and the customers are, it's where the answers are, too.


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #4 - Be Shrewd and Creative about Who You Target


No one could hit a baseball the way hall-of-famer Ted Williams could. He knew there was a lot more to becoming a home-run champ than just swinging hard at every pitch. "To be a good hitter," Williams once said, "you've got to get a good ball to hit." Here's a lesson in there for all of us as sales professionals to apply each time we step up to the plate in business: it pays to be choosy.

Just like Williams poised in the batter's box waiting for his good ball, sales people get their best results when they target their prospects with forethought and empathy. This is an especially important discipline to engage when selling in a down market, because resources are tighter than ever and your time is finite to meet your sales quotas.

Follow the money

In the new economy that is taking shape around us, buyer behavior is changing (a point that I discuss in greater detail in the first article in this series). It's incumbent on you as a sales person to sharpen your sleuthing skills and follow the money. Take time to look at your market and ask yourself how the needs of buyers are changing and how you can best position yourself and your organization to meet those needs.

To illustrate my point, consider the changes that we're seeing in the car industry. Sales figures for most car markers are pretty discouraging right now (although Jaguar, curiously enough, posted an eight percent sale increase for 2008!) Economists point to all kinds of reasons as the cause behind this, but the effect is clear: people are keeping their vehicles longer. There are opportunities here for those who choose to see them. If people are keeping their cars longer, doesn't it stand to reason that they have to take better care of them? It's not a stretch, therefore, to suggest that car owners could be frequenting garages, auto repair and tune-up shops more often. To complete this illustration, a smart organization that targets these customers and caters to their needs will be well-positioned to smack those sales home-runs with a confidence that would make Ted Williams proud.

Spend money on those who are spending with you

This is not the time to be taking a shotgun approach to sales, trying to sell all things to all people. Rather, this is when you should be targeting those who know you best—particularly customers that have a higher propensity to buy from you in good times and bad. Spend money on those who are spending with you. Don't make the mistake that so many companies make during an economic downturn, taking a hatchet to their marketing budget. There's a real opportunity right now for smart companies to step up their advertising and marketing efforts—provided that they are willing to invest the time to target who they are going to reach with their message and then measure the results.

In addition, consider how you can improve up-selling and cross-selling in your current market. Look carefully at who buys your products or services. Let's say you're a sales rep for a food-services company and you notice that your product line is selling briskly among women who are Toronto-based restaurant owners in the 45­-65 age bracket. Maybe that's who you should be targeting. Find out what their needs are, and market aggressively to them, showing how your product meets that need.

Be creative

Success in the new economy is about adapting quickly to change, but these are times that also offer an opportunity for you to become a game changer, too. Creative solutions to age-old problems have a way of finding an audience—no matter what market conditions are like out there. Look with empathy at your customers. Ask yourself, are there barriers that tend to get in their way of doing business...things that frustrate them in their work?

Think about how your sales team or your organization can ease that pain, starting with a simple, bold new idea or approach and give it time to germinate. That's the essence of what Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School describes as disruptive innovation. He notes in a recently published, co-written article: "success comes from figuring out how to satisfy a real customer who needs to get a real job done." Don't underestimate the incredible opportunities that are at hand in this new economy to change the rules of the game—no matter what industry you work in.

Just remember that targeting is about being selective. Focus on the customers who are spending, understand how their habits might be changing and find solutions—especially innovative ones—that can help position you and your organization to remain on top. Which takes me back to my point about Ted Williams. He stressed the importance of waiting for the right pitch before swinging, but he also had a poignant follow-up: "the greatest hitter in the world can't hit bad balls well." Targeting is as much about staying focused on customers as it is about being able to distinguish those really exceptional  clients from the all the rest."


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #3 - Obtain Testimonials from Customers


So far in this series on boosting your sales and thriving in this new economy, we've looked at the importance of leveraging who you know, of considering carefully what you say and how you say it. Let's turn now to what your customers have to say about you, and why it is vitally important that you harness the power of word-of-mouth in sales.

Customer uncertainty during difficult economic times can make any sales person's job harder, especially when pitching to new prospects. In an environment of elevated risk, its human nature that we tend to stick to what we know and what we're sure of…and that certainly applies to customers when facing a choice between buying from you or one of your competitors. As a sales professional, you already know how important it is to first sell the benefits of your product or service so that a prospect or existing customer can make a decision with confidence to buy from you. However, there's still much more you can do to help influence and boost a buyer's confidence, and that's where testimonials come into play.

Testimonials can transform selling benefits

Let's face it, there is a whole lot of fear out there today. Among the many things companies are worried about is whether they're making the right choices when it comes to suppliers. Will you be able to deliver on your promise? Are your fundamentals strong or could you be out of business soon? Are you stretching the truth with the unique benefits you are offering, simply to secure a sale? No matter how polished a sales presenter you might be, those questions are the kinds that your prospects will be asking themselves until they are given a good reason to feel differently.

Whether you're trying to persuade one person or a room full of people, testimonials provide your audience with something tangible and solid: someone else's positive experience, their satisfactory results and their glowing praise. On the face of it, these are opinions, but when they are seen as credible opinions, testimonials have the potential of taking on the similar weight as facts. Here's why. Because they give your prospects something they can measure against their own needs and expectations. Testimonials are especially powerful when they come from a peer or from someone in the same industry as your prospect. It's meaningful when you're able to say: "We've been doing business with your colleague, Phil, in accounting, for over ten years, and here's what he has to say about that experience."

Turn the great things people already say about you into testimonials

As a sales trainer, I often meet people who say: "I know my customers love doing business with me, but I'm not all that great at getting testimonials…what am I doing wrong?" If you want testimonials from your clients, you have to ask them. It's as simple as that.

People generally like to be helpful to other people, but they'll never get that opportunity to give you that all-powerful testimonial if you don't ask first. Keep your ears open for kind words and praise from your customers. Follow-up right away with a phone call or an email, explaining how important testimonials are in your line of work, and then ask: "would it be okay if I included what you said in my collection of client testimonials?"

Another approach is to simply follow-up with a customer who purchased from you recently. This is especially important when speaking to newer clients. As Andy Sernovitz, the author of "Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking" explains, they are the ones who are most excited about having found you. Make the most of that. Also, be sure to ask probing questions, such as: "why did you choose to do business with us over someone else?" Or: "why do you continue to buy from us in these economic times?" A customer who is happy with the products or services they are receiving from you is quite likely to share a few really solid reasons why they keep placing orders.

Review with your sales team the very best feedback your group has received to date and then go down the list of your existing customers to identify the ones who could provide new testimonials. Get on the phone and make those calls. If you can't do it yourself, there are all sorts of companies out there that you can hire to collect those testimonials.

Testimonials work best when you use them often

Proving to others what you already know is true — that's the real power of testimonials. However, you can't extract their full potential unless you use them often. If you're working within a larger organization, it will definitely be worth your time and effort to sit down with those responsible for corporate marketing and identify every opportunity possible to include testimonials on outward-bound corporate communications.

No matter how large or small your company is, make sure every proposal that goes out the door has at least one testimonial on the front page. Every page on your website should feature glowing feedback and recommendations from your customers. You can also collect a group of testimonials and insert one in the signature line of each email you send. Like so many things that characterize the business habits of the top-10% of sales professionals in organizations of all sizes, the key is to be consistent.

More tips on how you can obtain and use testimonials are covered in one of my previous newsletter articles, available here.

The proof you need to sell more

More than any other marketing tool — from advertisements to opinion polls — recommendations from other consumers is still ranked the number-one selling tool, according to a 2007 study by Nielsen Research.

In an economy of all seasons — from sunny to stormy — it remains effective because it provides consumers with something that is valuable to them: proof. It demonstrates that buying from you isn't a risky decision — it's a smart decision, backed by the track record you've earned from those who know best: your customers


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #2 - Boost Your Risk-Busting Communications Skills


In the new economy that is emerging around all of us, one of the key shifts we're seeing is in the area of buyer motivation. Today, from consumers to corporate clients, the people who make the decision to buy have one big question on their minds: "how can you help reduce my risk?"

There are all kind of reasons why people share that preoccupation, but it does not have to be a barrier preventing you from reaching and exceeding your sales targets. So far in this series looking at ways to boost sales and thrive in today's market, we've talked about how leveraging who you know can help mitigate that sense of risk.

Today, let's look at the importance of what you say and how you say it.

For any buyer, being preoccupied by risk is all about coping with uncertainty. They have a range of worries: "what if I buy this and it wastes my time and money rather than solves my problem…what if it doesn't perform the way I expect it to…what if I simply make a bad choice?" As a sales professional, I'm sure you recognize the corrosive danger of those "what-ifs." They're all rooted in a fear of the unknown. You have to make it your #1 job to address those fears head-on, by communicating with your customers clearly and credibly with messages that meet their needs.

Personalize your message

Earlier, I shared with you tips on how you can ask leading questions when speaking with your customers. Today, let's look some more at what you can do to better meet the needs of your customers. Get to the heart of what is going on inside their business as well as in their minds. Sell to that need by being as personalized as possible. Not only does this help you as the salesperson to always be thinking of your customers by name, it also generates better results at the buyer's end—particularly when risk is on their radar.

In one consumer study, a group of buyers were asked to rank the effectiveness of a range of marketing vehicles that were each designed to reduce risk (e.g., money-back guarantees, free samples, word-of-mouth testimonials, and brand-based messages). The research results were summed up nicely by Doug Hall in his 2003 book, Meaningful Marketing. "The data shows that real, first-person experience is orders of magnitude more credible than manufactured marketing methods… Personal experience is the most real and reliable of any method of reducing fear."

The food service industry is in many ways a microcosm of what goes on every day in sales—top performers are well rewarded when they provide more than just a product…they provide an personalized experience. For example, the most successful servers out there know that the best way to earn the most tips is by building a personalized rapport with their customers. The good ones will start by introducing themselves by name to a table of guests. The really good ones will recognize their returning customers and address them by name. Why? Because they have learned what all top-ranked sales professionals know: people like it when they hear or see their name pop up in what you are communicating to them.

To apply this to your line of work, think of all the ways that you communicate with your customers. From face-to-face meetings, to email, to direct marketing material, look for opportunities where you can include the customer's name in your message. Newsletters, estimates and direct-mail pieces are all good places to start. However, you must exercise good judgment! First, find out whether they're more comfortable with being referred to on a first-name basis. Second (and this is really important), don't overuse their name, otherwise you'll sound corny and even more impersonal than a form letter.

Anticipate rather than just react

Risk-busting communications means that you need to do more than just react to buyer hesitation. Don't panic. Stay in control.

Of course, this requires that you think ahead about objections that a customer might have and prepare good responses. When you're talking about your product or service, always communicate the benefits of what you're offering ahead of the features. Just as important, be generously empathetic in acknowledging a customer's objections. That helps to put their mind at ease and demonstrates to them that you genuinely understand the position they are in.

The extra effort you put into your communications pays off. The credibility of your message grows. By demonstrating that your top concern is finding a solution to what matters to them (rather than being just motivated by making your commission), you close the gap between a customer having objections and making the decision to buy.

Choose the right tools and measure relentlessly

As with all investments, the time and effort you put into risk-busting communications is best spent when you also make a point of measuring your results. Your audience you want to reach plays a significant part in determining which tools you should use (e.g., websites, e-newsletters, direct mail, cold calling). No matter the mix that you choose, be sure to include some kind of metric so that you can track your response rate and fine-tune your message when necessary. The results of your efforts will pay for themselves several times over because your messages—particularly those that are fine-tuned to address specific needs that your customers have—will be seen as purposeful, relevant and timely. In other words, they'll sit up and take notice.

As a sales trainer, as I meet professionals and business owners of all kinds across North America, I remind all of them that no matter what title they hold in their organization, they are all sales people. In good times and in bad times, everyone in an organization is responsible for the messages they communicate to their clients. Moreover, it is up to each of us to decide what kind of sales person we want to be.

By investing a little bit of time and forethought, you can emulate the business habits of the top-10% sales performers out there. Be empathetic, be responsive to the needs and objections of your customers, be focused on personalizing your message. With time and persistence, you'll find that you'll have a winning communications formula that can top the sales charts in any market.


7 Ways You Can Boost Sales & Thrive in the New Economy, Part #1 - Focus on Existing Relationships

It's a different market out there today from the one that many of us have known for the last several years. There's no disputing that this new economy presents plenty of challenges, and yet by adopting the right approach, it's also an opportunity for sales professionals to actually thrive...even in a tough market. The secret to success in sales today isn't found by adopting untested techniques, many of which are packaged with fancy sounding names that sizzle with promises, but fall short on delivering results.

As a sales professional and as a business owner, I've weathered all kinds of markets, and I've had the great fortune to learn from others who have also managed to stay at the top of their game. What I have learned is that success in any market (and in any profession...not just sales) is owed in large part to emulating time-honored, field tested business habits and repeating those often enough and consistently enough that they become second-nature to you.

In this first of a series of seven articles examining what you can do to boost your sales and thrive in this new economy that is taking shape around us today, we're going to look at the importance of existing relationships—why they matter and how you can go about leveraging who you know.

Being successful is about more than applying what you know

Your knowledge and the raw skills you offer matter a lot in your work, but it is a mistake to underestimate the importance of who you know and of how hard you work to cultivate that network. This is true of sales as it is of other professions. Consider the lessons learned in a landmark study conducted in the 1990s, in which researchers studied the habits of star performers among engineers at Bell Laboratories. They found that most engineers in that organization had similar academic credentials and shared an aptitude for problem-solving. However, the top performers were the ones who invested time and effort in building and maintaining relationships that they could rely on when needed in their work.

The lesson here is a universal one: you can differentiate yourself—even when you're matched by others in terms of skills or resources—simply by focusing on your personal relationships and networks. But the lessons don't stop there. It's also important to recognize that when it comes to networking and relationship-building, the ones you have already established are the ones that are the easiest to maintain.

Don't overlook your existing customer base

Start by looking at your current customer sales database. You might be surprised by who you know! All too often, this step is skipped by companies who are hungry for new business. Many will spend a considerable amount of time and money to find new customers, and do so at the expense of the customers with whom they are currently doing business.

Even worse, some try to rationalize this behavior by saying: "well, we lose a good percentage of customers every year anyway." Never accept that kind of reasoning!  Customer losses are, in fact, fully preventable. It costs a business far less to retain an existing customer than it does to find new ones. This is particularly important in today's marketplace, because as I pointed out in an earlier article, companies today are entrenching their existing business relationships, sticking with vendors they trust.

From your customer database, compile a list of who has actively bought from you in the past. If you notice that there is one customer in that list that you haven't heard from in a while, call them and find out why.

Be sure to call your regular customers, too. Even if the purpose of your call is to simply thank them for their business, gestures of appreciation are always noticed. If your client is allowed to accept gifts, consider sending them a gift basket of goodies, or even gift cards from their favorite retailer. Not only does this help to solidify your existing relationships, it send an important message: "you matter to me."

Listen carefully to identify new needs and be a resource

Do your clients have new needs or new requirements? In tough economic times when many organizations are seeing their budgets and staff shrinking, you need to find out what's going on in their world...right now.

Whether you're meeting a customer face-to-face or talking on the phone, be sure to ask leading questions to find out if they're going to need additional things from you. Ask them completely open-ended questions to find out if they're looking at new services, products, solutions, even those that might be outside your scope of work. You can be a valuable resource simply by recommending the work of someone in an affiliated field, or by partnering with that person to offer your customer an all-in-one solution.

The message you are sending is an important one: I'm more than a vendor or a service provider...I'm a resource you can count on. Again, it's all about differentiating yourself from the rest of the market. Being thoughtful and showing empathy for people you do business with doesn't have to cost you a dime and yet it leaves a lasting impression on people because it demonstrates that you're focused on something more than just making your commission.

This takes me to my last point: there is a real danger right now—especially those who are feeling fearful because they've never sold through a downturn before. Never put your needs of earning a commission ahead of your customer's need to solve a problem. When you're in front of a customer and all you're thinking about is "how the heck am I going to get my commission out of this guy," they can smell it just like a Conrad (my pup) smells fear.

Take the initiative and look at your existing relationships. Be persistent. Be a resource. It's hard work, but the effort pays off—not only in terms of commissions, but also in terms of having customers who really enjoy doing business with you. As our good friend Zig Ziglar reminds us all, success come from hard work much like water comes from priming an old-fashioned water pump: "if you will pump long enough, hard enough, and enthusiastically enough, sooner or later the effort will bring forth the reward."


Emotionally Intelligent Sales – 9 Sales Tips for Tough Economic Times

Emotionally Intelligent Sales – 9 Sales Tips for Tough Economic Times

It’s no new news that we are in a difficult business climate that requires making connections and building relationships more important than ever. We buy from people we know, like and trust.

Right know and for the foreseeable future, we are experiencing a business climate where people and organizations are holding on to their wallets. There is a psychological and behavioral contracting effect due to uncertainty about the future.

So marketing and making sales is more important than ever. However, the problem is that the old way of making sales by pressuring potential customers into buying may actually help you lose the sale and have unintended dire consequences.

I will give you a personal example of my attempt to buy a car where the salesperson lost a potential sale by following a prepared script. She focused on her interests and not mine.

I recently visited the local Honda Dealer with my wife and son. I had done quite a bit of research on the new CRV and wanted to test drive the vehicle and get my wife and son’s thoughts about the car. I told the saleswoman that I had no intention to buy a car that day. I had just started looking.

After the salesperson made a copy of my license which already made me a little uneasy, we all got into the car and took a test drive. I asked the salesperson a number of questions about the car and was given answers I knew not to be true. After the test drive, I honestly just wanted to leave. The salesperson insisted that we go back into the dealership and proceeded to try and make a deal. I assertively reiterated that I was not interested in buying a car and we left. Over the next few weeks, my wife and I got several calls from the salesperson. It was such a negative experience that I’m still driving my old Toyota Camry!

We all need to market and create sales especially in this tough economy. However, there is a much better way by asking permission and establishing a relationship first.

Michael Port and Elizabeth Marshall in “The Contrarian Effect” offer nine contrarian principles to help you change your mindsets about sales.

1.  Build relationships and make connections
2.  Respect your customers and honor their wishes.
3.  Target specific groups of individuals and your ideal clients.
4.  Make relevant and timely offers.
5.  Increase your “likeability factor”.
6.  Practice radical transparency.
7.  Establish yourself as a trusted advisor.
8.  Collaborate with strategic partners to leverage your efforts.
9.  Think bigger about who you are and what you offer your clients.

Reframe your belief system so that sales and business development are more about partnership and service than interrupting and bothering customers to buy your stuff. Sales is more about creating mindsets about authenticity, meaning and values, and creating relationships than merely making short-term numbers for personal gain.

Working with a seasoned executive coach trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating leadership and sales assessments such as the BarOn EQi, CPI 260 and Sales Max can help you avert conventional sales wisdom and do the opposite.  It’s more of a coach approach to help sales entrepreneurs ask permission and focus intently on the needs of the customer. You can become a more emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent at making sales, by first listening and paying attention before you and your buyer collaborate to seal the deal.

I’m currently accepting new executive coaching and career coaching clients. I work with both individuals and organizations. I promise to pay attention and listen to your needs. Call 415-546-1252 or send an inquiry e-mail to


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