Sales Management

Testimonials lead to Referrals and MORE business!

Your customers like and appreciate your services more than you think!

How do we know? Because we routinely talk with our client's customers in 'testimonial calls' and the results are usually gratifying and surprising.

However, most of the business and sales people we work with really do not appreciate the true value of the products and services their company provides.

If you think about it, it makes sense. When your customers contact you its usually because something isn't working as promised or they need something. In each case they are thinking about themselves, not you and your business.

We all know that the single best way to win a new customer is to be referred or recommended by an existing customer but what is the best way to get referrals?

There are three broad approaches:

  1. Wait for your customer to refer you

  2. Ask directly for a referral

  3. Use a testimonial gathering process and be offered referrals

The first approach, known as the HOPE strategy, looks problematic for most businesses. Even if your best customers would happily refer you, they probably won't think to do so and if they do, they probably do not appreciate what a good referral would be for your business.

In the second approach (the ASK strategy) most people will either wait until the customer has expressed satisfaction or they assume benefits have been received and ask directly

"it looks like this is working well for you, do you know anyone else that would appreciate our services?".

The persuasive principles in play are LIKING (Customer thinks, 'I like you so I'll give you what you ask for') and/or RECIPROCITY - 'You've given me something(good service, for example) and I should give you something in return'. This approach certainly works but most people are not comfortable asking.

The third approach is more subtle, much more effective and is the main focus of this article. This technique uses priming or 'presuasion'** to invoke the more powerful persuasive principle of CONSISTENCY so that a customer will become, as a matter of identity, someone who routinely gives you things including referrals.

It starts with testimonial gathering. Rather than fish for complements yourself, it works better if you use a third party (like us) to ask on your behalf. You introduce us to your best customers, we call them and gently guide them to say nice things about your service. The recorded phone calls are typically 10-15 minutes in duration and we average one testimonial per minute of call.

So, if we call five of your best customers, you will likely receive about fifty testimonials you can use for your website and marketing materials

But it gets better.

Towards the end of the call we ask two questions:

"Have you ever referred <my client> to others in your network?"  

and

"Would you be willing to refer them?".

Your customer is now thinking about the best referral possibilities just after they have praised your service - this is ideal.

There are several other advantages to this type of testimonial gathering;

  1. Your sales people get to hear the recording of your customers describing the true value of your services. Sales people often have a mistaken opinion about the true value of their market offering and consequently use the wrong language and voice tone in their sales conversations.

  2. Your operations and customer service staff also hear the true value of your services - a motivating and pleasant change from being routinely beaten up!

  3. Your best customers are primed to be even stronger supporters of your business.

  4. Mystery buyers browsing your website will be powerfully persuaded by reference examples in their own language - the language of the buyer.

Does it sound too good too be true? Ask us about this service and we'll refund our fee if you are not delighted with the results.

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*In this article we use the word 'customer' to denote either 'customer' or 'client'

**Presuasion - a term coined by the psychologist Robert Cialdini and the title of his

latest book.

Photo credit: http://therealestatetrainer.com

The Coaching Habit - Seven Questions to Manage Sales People (Book Review)

A few years ago I received a call from one of my sales managers to tell me that our best sales person had just resigned. I was new to the company and the sales person didn't report directly to me, none-the-less this news was like a punch to the stomach. It hurt. I knew he was leaving because of the company's actions and that losing him was going to impact our overall sales performance.

Sales Leaders do you know what's troubling your sales people right now?

Which ones are motivated? How committed are they to their sales objectives? Will they stay with you? What would help them perform better?

Like to find out ...?

Then read and apply the lessons in

The Coaching Habit

.A brilliant, beguilingly simple book by Australian turned Canadian author Michael Bungay Stanier. This book gives you tools to understand an otherwise opaque and unpredictable entity - the mind of a sales person - and it will help you get (much) more from your people. I love this book.

The book is structured around seven 'type questions' for coaching and is supported by the latest neuroscience on habit management.

Here is a brief peek at the seven questions....

1. What's on your mind? [The Kick start Question]

What's on your mind? <silence>. No prompting, no teaching no instructions. Just a simple question and wait for an answer. When you get an answer, no comment or advice, just ask the next question:

2. And what else? [The AWE Question]

The awe question allows your coachee to think more deeply and create options that can be prioritised with:

3. What's the real challenge for you here? (And what else?) [The Focus Question]

What is the real challenge for you? This focus question combined with the awe question will provide answers to questions posed at the beginning of this article. Now you know what is troubling them...but ...you don't need to do anything. Lets help our coachee learn to solve her own problems

4. What do you want? [The Foundation Question]

The foundation question and the lazy question(below) gets your coachee doing their own problem solving. Your role is to listen carefully and prompt for more.

5. How can I help? [The Lazy Question]

This is not an offer of help, its just asking how could I help - they must think about it. You may make a gentle suggestion but as far as possible let the solution grow from them.

6. What are you saying no to? [The Strategic Question]

Often when we are overwhelmed and unsure the best path its because we fail to consider this strategic question.

7. What was most useful for you? [The Learning Question]

Your have just taken someone through a mind opening exercise, helped them layout solution options and prioritise the best next step. The learning question allows them to appreciate the process, replay it in their minds and solidify their learning.

What a remarkable series of questions! Buy yourself a copy, if you have people reporting to you this book will repay itself immediately.

_________________________________________

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Feb 29, 2016

by 

Michael Bungay Stanier

The Lost Art of Cold Calling [Book Review]

Book Review:

The Lost Art of Cold Calling

- by  Matt Wanty, 2017

Perhaps no topic in the sales blogo-sphere inspires more religious zeal than the topic of cold calling.

"Cold calling is dead!", "Social media is king!"-  shout the LinkedIn headlines.

Then along comes a short book that quietly and humorously shows that cold calling is far from dead in 2017. In fact it is more effective than ever, as our customers drown in email and social media 'cadences',

The lost art of a conversation on the phone is still a critically important sales skill.

Matt Wanty claims that the ability to "open a door with a cold call is

“The single greatest feat a sales person can accomplish”

It's the grand slam in the World Series, a Royal Flush at the Poker Championships ..."

and I agree with him.

"Cold calling is control, I decide to call you when I want to call you".

Here is the reason that cold calling is totally relevant in 2017; The true value of your products and services  cannot be explained in an email, marketing flyer or a voicemail. If it could, then your company doesn't need sales people. The true value of your products and services can only be explained with a conversation!

. That means that new business can only come from:

  • A referral - good if you can get enough of those

  • A chance meeting, for example at a network event - also great but a limited source for many companies

  • Cold calling

I was going to summarise some of the excellent techniques from the book but its simpler to just recommend you buy* and read it - its a short read that will easily pay for itself!

You will learn

  • How to select the most appropriate people to call

  • How to avoid irritating that person as you attempt to connect

  • How to effectively mix email and voicemail with telephone calling

  • How to persist

  • What to say when you manage to get through

For a comprehensive prospecting training course that includes all of Matt's techniques and more, please have a look at our

Story Prospecting Online Course course.

*There is no commercial arrangement between Growth in Focus and the author or publisher.

Sales Competitions - Do they Work? Really?

When I joined a certain North American company as hemisphere head of sales (don't check my LinkedIn! ) they had just announced the President's club winners. The largest deal of the year was made in Anonymesia.

I wanted to understand that deal and interviewed the main players and the customer. There's no doubt that our Anonymesia country manager was the deal architect and main sales person. She was a personal friend of the customer CEO and she made the deal.

So who went to President's club?

The rookie sales guy ....and ....the country manager's boss who was not even based in country! Two people that contributed almost nothing to the deal of the year. That president's club decision triggered a collapse of the entire workforce in Anonymesia including the loss of a great country manager.

Let's play a different movie ...

My first job out of university was as field engineer with the oilfield services multi-national, Schlumberger.

Our training cohort assembled in Singapore in bright new coveralls for fire-fighting and first aid training; three Indonesians, two Australians, two Americans, two French, two Egyptians, one Japanese, one Lebanese, one Venezuelan, one Malaysian one Thai and one Palestinian on a forged Tunisian passport (another story) We were to be trained to operate electronic survey instruments which are lowered deep in oil wells to measure rock and fluid properties.

After a week in Singapore there was one month familiarisation on an oil rig, before three months intensive training. During the familiarisation, I got a picture from experienced engineers of what that training would be like:

“Its hell! You have an exam every week and if you fail, they kick you out. You hardly get any sleep and there is a 24 hour exam at the end”.

When we got to the training centre, a few kilometres south of Medan in Sumatra, the regime was indeed, tough. Long days of theory and practical tasks through the week and all day Saturday to study for a weekly exam. Sundays were free but we were mostly exhausted from unfamiliar labour.

Within a couple of weeks, both Egyptians and one of the Indonesians were fired for failing tests.

Their failure was not through lack of intelligence, trainees were selected from the top of their universities. No, the weekly competitive 'scoreboard' showed the obvious reason; good English speakers at the top, poor English speakers at the bottom.

The failures were affecting group morale and the schedule was too intense. We got together and hatched a plan.

A deal was offered to the training school manager; we guaranteed a 100% pass rate in return for testing on Friday evenings to allow a full weekend for relaxation. The training centre manager was sceptical, this was unheard of in 33 previous schools, he was convinced we would fail, but he agreed.

We changed our study routine to include intensive tutoring for the non-English speakers and we studied in mixed-nationality groups.

The results were instantaneous, a dramatic improvement at the bottom of the list. Our weekends were spent exploring North Sumatra, touring the volcanic island in Lake Toba on motorcycles, crossing Sumatra to the west coast surf beaches, climbing an active volcano and lazing on the beach on the East coast.

By graduation day we were a tight knit team of friends with the highest pass rate in the history of the training centre.

So, Sales Leaders, before you create internal sales competitions you may like to consider:

Is the competition fair? 

Does everyone in your team even speak the language? It’s common that only a small proportion of sales teams can speak 'sales'. Furthermore, I’ve yet to see a sales team with equal territories, so what is the basis for competition?

Can your objectives be achieved another way? 

Maybe your team can achieve your objective on their own terms? Are you willing to listen to what they want?

You are not the only leader.

It is likely that you have team members that can also lead, are you willing to give them an opportunity to show what they can do?.

_______________________________

Here are some photos from that happy time. Apologies for the poor image quality.

Top photos - At the Medan Training Centre ITC34, Nabil and Heru

Lower Photos - First month oil rig familiarisation, offshore Sulawesi

The Author operating state of the art technology, circa 1985

Our happy band of brothers weekend touring - Lake Toba, Padang, Volcanoes and Beaches, 

Francois, Katsuaki, Jeswant, Jim, Nabil, Peter, Phil, Jose.

Ask! And you shall receive

One of the most important lessons in sales...

Here we look at one of the training videos from our

Story Prospecting online training course

This video is about asking for the business.

You're reaching out to someone you don’t know and you doing it because you want something. You want to do business with that person

How are you doing it?

Are you asking directly for it? Or are you giving something first?

That's what this video is about.

We’re calling a potential client because of the problems that we can solve for them and at some point in our call we need to explicitly or implicitly ask for something.  [Pointing to Framework Image] This is the zone where we need to ask.

But do we ask or give?

Let’s start by thinking about your company’s brand awareness and with the differentiation of your products and services.

When I was selling for big corporations like Siemens and Nokia I had high brand awareness. When I picked up the phone to call a client I’d say “This is Mike Adams and I'm calling from Siemens”. I had instant brand credibility. (Unfortunately I often didn't have a highly differentiated product so it wasn't such an easy selling environment.)

[Points to graph] If you have a highly differentiated unique product and a very high brand awareness, you don't need sales people.  You just need marketing and your customers come to you.

So normally we're in a situation where one or other of these [Pointing to graph] is not working so well - we need to move up to the easy corner of the graph.

It's very difficult if we have low brand awareness - they've never heard of us - and we have poor offering differentiation.

When I started in our consulting business I went from working for a large corporations with high brand awareness to no brand awareness at all. In fact, when we first started we also had poor product differentiation. We were pitching general sales training and that's a poorly differentiated offering. 

Eventually we worked out that we needed to be more differentiated and we started offering free tickets to companies that had sales teams to come to our Story workshops. That served two purposes; people came along and suddenly we were not an unknown brand - they spent a whole day with us. Our brand awareness increased but also our differentiation increased because they got to see our products and services and understand how we were different and unique.  So, giving away a ticket was a way to get ourselves up that path.  [Points to graph]

Just step back a minute and think about prospecting. We are reaching out to people we don't know [Points to diagram]. There is an alternative to reaching out, as in a sales effort, and that is with marketing we can try to draw a prospect company towards us.

We normally do a combination of marketing and sales. Good sales people really do understand marketing and they get involved in marketing. The big advantage for sales people doing targeted marketing is  that it increases their brand awareness and their product differentiation and it takes a difficult prospecting call and makes it that little bit easier. 

Thinking further about the outreach that you could have in terms of marketing. Can you associate with a well-known brand?  Can you partner with a better known brand or a better known product or service? Maybe you can be the agent for a better known product or service?  That's another way to increase your brand awareness.

If you have a variety of products and services, then lead with your most differentiated service. That should be obvious but we didn't do it when we started it our consulting business. It wasn't until we really differentiated some services and we were able to lead with those differentiated services that we could bring in the other services. 

As you become a brand, once you're understood and known it’s much easier to introduce less differentiated services. 

Now to the main point of the video - asking and giving.

If we think of a continuum, where all the way over here [Points to line on graph] is what I call the big ask -  I'm going to ring someone up and ask them directly to buy on the phone, for example. That’s very difficult and you would need a highly differentiated very good offer.

But I could ring them up with a small ask such as 10 minutes on the phone at another time or a 20 minute meeting.  Those would be small asks.  

But it's also worth thinking about a small ‘give’ or a big ‘give’. 

With our Story Workshops, we gave away tickets which was was a fairly big ‘give’ but it got us a lot of business. It was a way in.  So think about giving something which, by the way, is still asking because the customer has to send somebody which costs them time.  There's always something that the customer has to give you when you give them something but it can be a very good way to overcome the problem of unknown brand and poor differentiation from the customer’s perspective. 

So what we are doing by giving something away, in the case of our Story Workshops is moving up the brand awareness line here [points at graph] and increasing our offering differentiation at the same time. 

There are two psychological principles at work. 

The first is called reciprocity.

That's is when I give something.  If I give you something, you feel obligated to give back. In some cultures that's a very powerful thing. When you go to countries and they are commonly giving gifts you can be pretty sure that reciprocity is playing a big part in that culture. It can be highly uncomfortable for people in these cultures to not be able to give back.  They feel obligated.

And that's the reason, by the way, that there's lots of free downloads on the internet - download my free eBook etc. They're getting your email address (a small ask) but they're also creating an obligation so that they can ask for something a little bit further down the track. The classic Internet marketing trick is give once, give twice, give three times and then ask for something.

However, Sales people have known for a long time that more powerful than reciprocity is the persuasive principle of commitment to consistency.

This happens when your future customer gives you something.

When they give you something it's a wonderful thing because when they give you something they identify with the fact that they are someone who gives you something.  So if you were to ask for something else, the chance is high that they will give again.

Your chance of getting something from someone who has already given you something is much higher than with someone who has never given you anything.

And that's why getting a small thing such as a meeting, such as time on the phone, such as information, such as complete this survey … means that they're much more likely to give you bigger thing in the future and that's actually how big deals are done. Big deals are not done all in one go. They're a progression of small give and take.  You ask, they give, you ask for more, they give more, you ask for even more…. and that's the principle of commitment to consistency - their internal consistency – and it's a wonderful thing.

Here's the critical message from this video;

You need to ask!

You absolutely have to find a way to get to the next step.  It's no good having a conversation with your future customer and not getting them to give you something.  You can get them to give you something by giving them something, or you can directly ask. In my opinion both are ‘asking’. But you need to ask.

This is a very important sales lesson.

Magicians, Marines and Medics - Understanding Sales Roles

A long time ago, when working on oil rigs, I was told there are two types of welder; the type that can weld all day on a pipeline and the type that can perform intricate repairs.

“Don’t ever mix ‘em up!” I was admonished.

We’ve been told forever, there are two types of sales people, hunters and farmers. The problem with this classification is there are two types of hunter and you had better not mix them up!

So, allow us to introduce three sales personas that will help you think more effectively about managing and developing sales teams.

Magicians

These are the new business developers who can open up a new geography, crack the first market with a new product or bring in unexpected mega deals. Every sales person likes to think they are one but true sales magicians are rare, exceedingly rare.

Also called rainmakers, magicians work without a sales process because they have to create one for each new sales problem.

Magicians may carry a business card titled “Business Development” but it could also say Founder, General Manager, Business Manager, Principal Consultant, Product Specialist or Market Strategist.

Magicians are extraordinarily curious and creative in the process of moulding and sculpting their own organisation and a future client organisation into two shapes that match each other.

The Magician’s work may sometimes look like good fortune but if you make the mistake of thinking that and of allowing others to take credit for their success, then be ready to find another magician.

After Magicians weave their magic, sales and business managers can create a sales process and send in Marines to systematically expand from the beachhead.

Marines

Marines work a territory and follow a well-understood sales process. Through training or by character, Marines are well suited to a type of dirty work that most do not enjoy; such as contacting people they don’t know, being rejected on occasion and handling the pressure of meeting financial targets each quarter. Great Marines are also rare but not as rare as Magicians.

We need not concern ourselves about whether they are ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ Marines, there are plenty of drone pilot Marines these days but they all follow a process and they all count their wins.

Marines are disciplined, focused and appreciate that the harder they work the more business they write, so they play the numbers game. Magicians do not work this way, indeed, casual observation of a magician may lead you to describe them as lazy.

Which leaves …

Medics

Medics care about the long term health of their client patients. These are the account managers and customer care specialists that ensure a healthy outcome for the company’s customers.

Software as a Service companies, call this role Customer Success Manager, and these have become the most important sales people in that industry. Medics carefully grow a nascent customer from zero and quickly patch up any haemorrhages.

Medics are concerned about  maintaining a long term healthy customer relationship. They are highly qualified in their technology area and held in high regard by the customers they support.

Let’s use this terminology and thinking to shed light on some otherwise difficult to understand sales situations.

Start Up and Fast Growing Companies

We are often asked about the best type of sales people for start-up and fast growing young companies. Hiring the wrong type of sales person at an early stage can be catastrophic for a new company.

Early stage business development usually requires Magicians, if the company founders don’t have that skill, they need to find one and pay well. After the market entry has been cracked, start-ups need a sales consultant (or sales manager) to design a process for the Marines. As a rule, neither Magicians nor Marines are well suited to designing a sales process.

The typical sales role sequence as a business grows look like this

And another way to visualise this is by considering the market adoption cycle

                                          S

ales roles required as a market develops

Mixed Roles

What if you need one person to be a combination of Magician, Marine and Medic?

That question just about answers itself doesn’t it?

Of course people are somewhat adaptable. You could get medic work from a magician but that would be a waste of talent. A Marine can be more customer focused but neither the Medic nor the Marine is likely to succeed at the Magician’s role.

For each of your sales positions you should be clear about whether the role is primarily Magician, Marine or Medic and look for candidates that fit those skill sets.

Personality or Skill?

It might seem that we are describing personality types but these are skill sets that exhibit certain behaviours and that is an important distinction. A recurring error in sales recruitment is to recruit based on personality type. Research shows only a weak causal relationship between personality type and sales success, so we strongly recommend that you test for relevant skills.

Almost every sales candidate will try to present themselves as a Magician. If you need a Magician you better have a process for testing whether they have those skills. If you need a Marine or a Medic, don’t hire a Magician and similarly, test for Marine and Medic skills.

Conclusion

The next time you read or hear

'sales'

advice ask yourself; 

      "What type of sales role is this advice relevant for?

Few sales 'tip' articles will make the distinction but generic sales advice is generally useless unless it distinguishes between the Magician, Marine and Medic roles.

Next Article

In my last article I posed the question "How do you keep good sales people?". Next article I will answer that question using the insight of Magicians, Marines and Medics.

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Picture Credits - images adapted from

http://www.123rf.com

http://www.deviantart.com

http://www.clker.com

Sales Skill Training in Pictures

Pretty much every sales team we work with has a ranked performance chart that looks like the one above.

If only every one in the team was as as skilled as your best sales person! (Green Bar). You could more than double your revenue.

How to increase Sales Skill Level?

You could put them all in a general training class, which they will probably enjoy and receive some benefit (Yellow Boxes)

But it costs you a few days of lost selling time,  not all will benefit and ...they forget fairly quickly without reinforcement ...

Then you lose some people ...and that general training investment return really looks slim.

What about  a program of assessed coached development instead?

Each sales person works first on the most important skill for their role and development level

Each person is motivated by the coaching attention and increased success.You retain your staff and they are more successful. Coloured boxes below represent the impact of different focussed training modules

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2 [Video]

Video Transcript  >>>>

Mike Adams, back with part 2 of sales conversation mind games.

In Part 1, I talked about how a sales person with a bright shining sales idea can use questions, teaching, metaphors and stories to prove the value of that idea to a prospective customer.

Most vendor organisations (and I've worked in quite a few) put tremendous focus  on the bright shining idea – they stockpile them, count them, forecast them, track them on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis .... They make PowerPoint presentations, write blog posts about them …all this effort directed at the bright shining idea.

Unfortunately, your customer can tell that you are 

focused

 mainly only your idea and not on them – it’s a difficult thing to hide.

But what if you were able to meet  - with no sales agenda? With an empty, Zen mind?

That's something good business development people can do. I define business development as creating and proving a new sales process and you just cannot do that while 

focused

 on your products and services - the green square.

It’s interesting, that often non-technical people and outsiders from your business can succeed in business development where insiders fail.

That's because they don’t know about and are not wedded to the green square – they take a curious, imaginative and open attitude in their customer conversations.

A conversation, 

focused

 on the customer’s outcome, is simply not possible with an overt sales agenda. 

But an open agenda, a blank mind, allows the business developer to learn about the customer’s goals, challenges and plans (draws yellow shapes) and importantly to see the white space – the shape of areas that the customer does not appreciate about his business and your area of expertise.

When you have understood and built this mental picture you are in a position to facilitate meetings between your own organisation, the customer 

and relevant third parties to develop solutions that can radically affect your customer’s business.

If you have been in sales for a while, I challenge you to have an agenda-free conversation 

focused

 only on the customer’s outcome and see how that feels and what results.

So in part 1 we looked at the mind of the sales person using effective persuasion techniques such as questions, stories, metaphors and teaching. Now in part 2 we see the mind of the business developer. Both mindsets are critical to growing your business.

I'm Mike Adams. Please post a comment and join our story selling group. You can see the link below.

Thank you

Mike's other posts

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

The Ponytail and why your stories must be true

Have you heard the story about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in zero gravity but the Russians were smarter – they just used pencils!

The story is told to mock profligate government spending and love of complex technology.

Checkout the story leader.png

There is only one problem with the story – it isn’t true! It’s an urban myth.

It turns out that in the early years of space travel both the Americans and the Russians used pencils in space but pencil tips can break and float into sensitive electronic equipment so a solution was needed. A private inventor developed a pen that would work in zero gravity (at a modest cost) and NASA and the Russians purchased the design.

Not such an interesting story.

What happens if you tell a story that isn’t true and you are found out?

Of course your credibility is gone. We teach sales people to use purposeful stories to build rapport and to progress their business opportunities. And credibility is a critically important resource for sales people.

So you need to find true stories …

Christmas day, 1985, I was operating an electronic survey instrument two kilometres deep in an oil well in the rice fields of Java in Indonesia. I was sick from food poisoning, homesick and in the world’s most populous Muslim country there would be no Christmas.

The oil well I was surveying had a leak – a hole in in the steel casing - and I was running an experimental ultra-sonic scanning tool that, theoretically, could measure the thickness of the casing with enough accuracy to locate a hole.

That was the theory but all I got was unintelligible data.

We winched the tool to the surface to see if it could be repaired. On the rig floor, as I was explaining to the company man that my fancy piece of equipment was not working, a rough young man with southern US accent piped up with:

“Y’all looking for a hole? I can run ya a ponytail”

It turns out that a ‘ponytail’ is a length of frayed rope attached to weight and run down hole on a slick line cable. When the frayed rope passes a hole in the casing it catches and a spike on the cable tension indicates the depth of the hole causing the leak.

A one dollar piece of frayed rope did a job that my $300,000 worth of electronics could not.  

And I had one more thing to be sick about.

HOME

______________________________

Mike's other posts:

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.

Schlumberger was formed in 1926 after the invention of a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. Today, Schlumberger is a $35 billion revenue company which dominates the oil and gas services business. But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s when Stalin nationalised its assets in Russia.

In the mid-1990s when Russia was opening up to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision on whether to re-enter the market. Then CEO, Euan Baird was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russia re-entry. Ewan’s answer was “$200 million”.

With that answer, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were astonishing. Using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies achieved dramatic production increases while their competitor’s production was falling.

I told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable. The power of  stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey; the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation the story would not have the same power.

More recently, while working to build our sales consulting company, I listened to my business partner, Sue Findlay, tell her story to a prospective customer who had already told us that he was “not buying”. Again, the story’s impact was striking and immediate. The managing director reciprocated with his story and opened up about the sales challenges they were experiencing and we have started to work with them.

The wonderful thing about learning how to use stories in sales is that it is so much easier and more natural than any other conversation method.

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Mike's other posts

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

People with technical expertise are ideally positioned to help prospective customers but often shrink from sales engagements. The technical archetype is cartoon character Dilbert - engineer and supreme anti-salesman with enough misplaced brutal honesty to make any salesperson (or prospective customer) cringe.

By technical in this article, we mean experts in their chosen field but not an expert in sales. Engineers, scientists, service professionals such as service managers, lawyers, accountants, architects and consultants, all may fit the definition.

Many large technology companies use a buddy system for direct sales engagements, pairing a technical expert with a sales person. The sales person's role is to set-up the meetings, manage the customer engagement and commercial matters and the technical sales role is to shut up and only answer the exact question when asked. This approach is expensive and limited. Smaller firms cannot afford it. 

Wouldn't it be better if technical people could sell?

There are six basic reasons why technical people struggle with sales and some of them may surprise you. This article considers each reason and what can be done to improve a technical person’s sales technique.

1. Attitude - Sales is a dirty word

Many people associate sales with underhanded tricks and tactics to lure people to buy - the image of the fast talking used car salesman comes to mind. Technical people may not understand the true role of sales and may not want to be associated with this stereotype. A technical person with a professional customer relationship might be concerned that their relationship will be tarnished by any hint of 'sales' activity. 

These attitudes are based on an incorrect and outdated view of sales. Today's customers are better informed about your products and services due to the wealth of information available on the Internet, but for complex products and services they highly value the advice of a technical expert. A technical person's ability to help a prospective customer buy (we call that sales) is a crucial skill.

2. Fear – Uneasiness with social engagement

If you are more fluent in your area of expertise than in dialogue skills then just starting a sales conversation can be daunting. Fortunately, it is not difficult to learn and practise conversation openings. Behind this reluctance to engage is a fear of rejection. You can only be rejected if you propose or ask for something. 

Learning how to withhold "proposing and asking" until the appropriate time significantly reduces the chance of rejection and increases the chance of a constructive business relationship. An advantage for technical people is that they carry a business card that confers more credibility than sales people which helps in securing a meeting.

3. Empathy - Lack of diagnosis skills

If you are an expert, you may be able to quickly understand a customer's problem and propose a solution. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Imagine walking into your doctor's surgery and from a distance, the doctor exclaims "You're really sick!, you need this medicine" You would feel uneasy that the doctor had not properly examined you. 

The examination is not just for the doctor's benefit, it also serves to assure the patient that there is a proper level of care and that the doctor is proficient. One of the most important benefits of a proper and careful diagnosis is that it confers credibility on the person making the diagnosis. The customer needs assurance that you truly understand his or her situation before you propose anything.

4. Value - Lack of business impact skills

The customer is not purchasing your products and services for their aesthetic beauty or for you to have fun installing them. As a technical expert, it is essential to evaluate and quantify the positive business impacts of your products and services and determine whether those benefits outweigh the costs. 

You need to ask questions that uncover the financial impact of any proposal you might make and you need to make a business case calculation, in your head or in a spreadsheet, to be sure there is value before you propose. This is a skill that most technical people can manage if taught how and when to do it in the conversation flow.

Poor diagnosis and poor estimation of the customer's business case leads to the very common sales problem of proposing more than what is required to solve the customer's issues. This kills trust. The instant you propose something that is not needed, the customer will think 

"This person is just trying to sell me something"

and your credibility is gone.

5. Ownership - Who owns the problem?

You've carefully diagnosed the customer's situation and can see a positive business case, it’s time to propose a solution, right? Not so fast! You must keep in mind that it is the customer's problems - not yours, much as you would love to solve it. It is not safe to propose a solution before asking the customer what he or she plans to do about their problem. 

"What is your current plan?" is a simple question that uncovers many aspects of a potential sale, including whether or not you are talking with the right person in the customer organisation and whether or not the customer already has a workable solution. 

Giving the customer due respect that they own the problem and they may know how to solve it makes them receptive to your proposal. 

Now, finally you can ask 

"does it make sense to look at some solution options?"

6. Acumen - Fear of commercial matters

Technical people are often worried about financial questions such as "What will it cost?" or "Can I have a discount?”. You may happily leave these matters to a commercial person because if you overcome steps one to five, the main selling work has been done. Just say you don’t have the authority - that’s what the best negotiators do.

Now, congratulate yourself! You won the deal!

We say that because the key to a successful price negotiation is a thorough understanding of the customer's situation, interests and the value they will receive from your proposal. If you would like to also excel at negotiation then treat that as the next learning objective after sales, but the hard work is done.

The one good reason why technical people can sell

Each of these six limitations can be overcome with the right type of training and coaching. Training to cover the "how" of an ethical sales conversation and individual coaching with feedback to displace some poor conversation habits and replace them with more effective dialogue components. It takes considerably less time to train a technical person to sell than to train a sales person to acquire the relevant technical expertise (if that is even possible). 

We provide individual coaching using a structured sales dialogue framework to teach technical people how to have sales conversation. We use video feedback, sales simulations and neuro-linguistic techniques to change ingrained patterns of conversation behaviour.

It is important to appreciate that full-time salespeople often suffer from the same fears, and make the same conversation errors as technical people. No one engages in ‘perfect’ sales conversations because no one can read the customer's mind. However, a small increase in selling skill, coupled with deep technical knowledge is a powerful asset.

Your blog author, an Electrical and Mechanical Engineer with a Masters degree in Business and IT, has spent twenty years selling a wide variety of products and services across multiple industries and fifteen years managing teams of sales and technical sales people. The author has seen first-hand what just a small improvement in sales skill can do for technical people and the companies they work for. 

We encourage the reader to consider the untapped sales potential of technical people in your organisation because your customers will thank you for the better quality engagement with more business.

Is the Sales Pitch Dead?

Is the Sales Pitch Dead?

Is the sales pitch dead? How to sell complex services?

When should you pitch your products and services?  A good answer is “only when and if the customer asks, or never”.  However, if you only pitch when the customer asks it won’t seem like pitching ….so, “never" is the right answer.

How can you sell without pitching? Let’s first define what we mean by “pitching”. You’re pitching if you extoll the virtues of your product and services with the intention of convincing a customer to buy. If you assume (or hope) that your audience wants or needs your products and services - you’re pitching!

We experience pitching every day; on TV, watching YouTube, browsing the web and I think I can safely say that most of us are highly irritated by it. So why irritate your customer?

You’re not pitching when, while introducing your company, for example,  you passionately describe your products and services and what they do for other customers - that is quite ok. Most people like to interact with people that are passionate about their business.

If you learn to consult instead of pitch you’ll find that customers will trust you and become curious about how you might be able to help them. Unfortunately, many salespeople (especially part-time salespeople such as managers and technical people) have learnt their sales technique from movies and TV programs and they automatically pitch.

How can you learn to consult instead of pitching? I recommend looking for a  training program that teaches consultative questioning techniques and offers plenty of opportunity to practise. Like any new skill, it takes time and practice - but your customers will thank you by giving you more business. 

If you like to read you, I recommend “The Secrets of Question-based Selling” by Tom Freese, for more on the concept.

Happy consulting!.