Sales Training

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.

Seven Ways to Win Tenders by Thinking like a Military Commander

Imagine how easy selling would be if you knew exactly what was happening with your future customer, if you could read your customer's mind?

A long time ago I was a new account executive for a large international conglomerate and responsible for selling mobile network equipment to an Australian telecommunications company. Our product range was vast but our insight into the customer's situation was limited as we were not incumbent in their network.

We were invited to tender for a mobile network sub-system.

I didn't know much about that technology, so downloaded the 150 slide PowerPoint pack. Behold! It appeared that we were quite credible and had significant success delivering this technology to other companies around the world.

Our senior management was keen to bid even though we had little idea about our customer's specific situation, how they perceived our technology or how they viewed the market.

It was an expensive tender response requiring several man-months of effort by technical experts in Europe, Asia and Australia. Post submission, international experts were flown in for presentations and everyone was hopeful for success in what would be a several tens of million dollar deal.

After a couple of weeks we were told that we made the short list and there followed a barrage of clarification requests. Good news!

And then nothing ....

Then, more nothing ...

Calls to the procurement were met with a polite

"We are still in the evaluation phase"

Our management was getting nervous.

"Maybe we should drop the price?"

 my boss suggested.

"But, we have no way of knowing whether price is an issue, we're prevented from talking with the customer"

 I said

"Well it can't hurt ..." 

was the reply.

We dropped our price twice by more than a million dollars.

No response.

Four months later, we received a one paragraph message informing us that our bid was unsuccessful.

After the tender communication blackout period, I met with the customer's lead technical representative to find out what had happened.

I learnt that our two competitors were the customer's main equipment supplier of other sub-systems (Let's call them A) and a niche company (B) that was the incumbent supplier of the sub-system being tendered.

Incumbent, B, was not well regarded and there was a clear intent to replace them. Our solution was considered the best overall fit by the customer's scoring system taking all factors into consideration and systems integration rather than price was the key scoring factor.

So why didn't we win?

Well, after the tender submission, Competitor A engaged in a negotiation far wider than the tender scope and the customer saw an opportunity for significant savings in other parts of their network. Eventually those negotiations broke down.

By that time, however, Incumbent B's contract was expiring and there was insufficient time to proceed with any supplier other than B. So the least preferred supplier won the deal. 

This a sales failure story. It was my responsibility to know what was going on and in this deal I was mostly clueless. I didn't even know that the customer had a high opinion of our technology.

Like a General in war you normally don't have the full picture in a sales engagement, if you could, the job would be easy, none-the-less ...

It's the sales person's responsibility to know what is going on!

How to see through the fog and plot your way to victory with better visibility?

Let's think like a General.

1. Reconnaissance

Only foolhardy commanders charge into battle without knowing the lay of the land and the distribution of the enemy's troops. Reconnaissance means carefully mapping the customer's organisation and the personal and business goals of the buying committee, well before the tender. You can do this with networking events, demonstration events, teaching opportunities, technology trials even charitable events.

Even more effective is a pre-battle skirmish

2. Skirmish

A skirmish is a minor engagement before the main battle that allows a commander to gauge the quality of the enemy troops and their fighting style. In sales, a skirmish is selling a small thing before you sell the big thing.

If we had sold a one million dollar item twelve months before the tens of million dollar tender, we would have learnt who the main players were, the customer's decision making style, their politics and their procurement and contracting process. This technique is so effective that it is worth building into your sales process.

3. Propaganda

Otherwise known as marketing, propaganda is an attempt position your solution via advertising and other means, well ahead if the battle. A powerful form of propaganda is a well-crafted oral story that self-propagates through the customer organisation. These stories often go under the acronym of FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt but hope, vision and success stories are more powerful. You can read one of one of my favourite propaganda stories here

4. Espionage

Alright, I'm on shaky moral ground but this has to be mentioned. When you are selling to large organisations there is always someone that will say more than they should. I've noticed, for example, that smoker's seem to know more about a customer organisation than non-smokers. Why? Because they stand outside the customer's office and chat with the customer's smokers, there is a secret brotherhood there.

The customer 'coach' that you read about in sales text books is really a double agent and other vendors in adjacent technologies have sister spy networks. I won't say more.

5. Night vision scopes and drones

These are the questioning, listening and observation skills that help you to figure out what is really going on in each customer engagement.

Think of your questions like rifle shots

"Are you the decision maker?"

- answer, yes (This is wild shot in the dark and a MISS - you probably learnt nothing and wasted ammunition)

"Could you explain how this sort of decision is normally made in your company?" -

Detailed customer response (HIT, we scored reliable information)

There is an entire library of these information seeking questions that every sales person needs to master. Our Story Meeting online training course is great place to start learning these questions.

6. Surveillance

Social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook provide us with far more information about our customer organisations that I could have dreamed of at the time of my tender story. These  networks are like listening devices planted throughout customer's offices, all you need to do is tune in!

7. Interrogate Captured Customers

I'm not suggesting that you sneak out and kidnap key customer representatives (that's illegal, by the way), however if you know how to pull it off, your customer will willingly volunteer all the information you need about their critical needs, preferred buying patterns, how they view your competitors and what they really think of your company.

It's performed, usually as a consulting service, in the form of a face-to-face survey called an

Industry Perspective Audit

, or similar. These surveys can be extremely informative but they must be carried out by a skilled practitioner well before a tender so you can act on the results.

Sales people, to win competitive tenders,you need to think like a military commander and figure out what is really going on in your future customer's organisation. That is your job!

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.

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

Five steps to Landing the Deal

A few years ago I read Propellerhead, Antony Woodward’s highly amusing account of learning to fly. The book starts with Antony’s friend Richard returning to England from Africa with a pilot’s license and instant sex appeal! The magical effect of a pilot’s license on conversations with the fairer sex fuelled Antony’s motivation to learn to fly.

Richard and Antony could only afford part shares in a flimsy microlight but they found a third partner with inexpensive hanger space and low cost instruction in country Norfolk where they would escape to from London for weekends flying.

Unfortunately, Antony proved to be a singularly unskilled pilot. While his friends quickly acquired their microlight certifications, Antony struggled with all aspects of piloting but especially landing. He had absorbed the theory, practised with instructors but when it was his turn to land it all went horribly wrong.

The epiphany for Antony was the realisation that 'the plane lands itself”!

All Antony needed to do was put the aircraft on the right landing path and the plane lands itself. Antony had an erroneous belief that there was a complex action that he needed to perform at the moment of touch down.

And so it is with sales.

There is a widely held, erroneous belief that there are secret tricks to ‘close the deal’.

Yes,there is a secret but it’s not in the landing, it’s in understanding and managing the landing flight path.

Flight Path Step 1 – Buyer Commitment to Change

Every sale involves change for the buyer. If the buyer doesn’t feel the need for change then, not surprisingly, nothing happens! Depending on what you sell, more than half of stagnant deals in your pipeline can be attributed to failing at this first hurdle.

Questions to ask:

“So what are you planning to do about <this issue>?”

Asking potential customer’s about their plans for solving their own business challenges is illuminating, it signals intent. Few sales people ask this question. You can lock in that intent with another question:

“Would you say there is an important need to change < Situation >?”

Rather than you say there is a need to change, you want them to say they will change. Then the psychological law of ‘consistency’ comes into play. People want to be consistent with their own pronouncements.

Flight Path Step 2 – Commitment to Change Now!

The larger and more significant the deal, the more important it is for there to be a compelling event. In general, we humans don’t like to change and we won’t unless we are compelled somehow.

These questions can tease this out:

“Where does this project fit in your priorities?”

“What is it costing you to continue like this?”

“What will happen if you don’t make this change?”

Cost of delay, Success and Future Success (promised land) stories can persuasively move a future customer to take action now.  All of these stories should be in your sales team Story Library.

Flight Path Step 3 – Commitment to your Solution Type

For every business challenge there is normally a range of solution possibilities. You may propose productivity software (for example) but your customer could also choose to outsource or hire low cost labour to solve her productivity problem.

Gaining commitment to your solution type requires a good understanding of your competition and the relative benefits of different solution types. Many sales people think far too narrowly about who their competitors may be.

Having understood the competitive landscape, your job now is to get the customer to commit to benefits of your solution type and disavow the failings of competitive solutions.

“Would you say that <insert your advantage> is a critical requirement?”

“So you are seeking to avoid <competitor’s weakness>?”

Again we are employing the psychological law of consistency to get the customer to announce intentions in favour of your solution type.

Flight Path Step 4 – Commitment to You

The customer is now committed to your solution type but why buy from you and not a similar competitor?

Often this commitment is personal and the psychological principle of “liking” comes into play. All things being equal people will do business with people they know and like. The most natural way to invoke ‘liking’ is to find your future customer likeable. The persuasive law of reciprocity says that if someone likes us we will like them back. Engaging in rapport building with two-way personal stories also increases likeability.

Again the psychological law of consistency applies. If you have persistently asked for and received small commitments from your future customer, you become someone your customer gives things to. To be consistent, she should also be inclined to give you the final deal.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that the sales person need only apply persuasion techniques to win business. By this stage of discussion a solid financial business case should also have been created. Ideally co-created with the customer buying team.

Flight Path Step 5 – Commitment to Pay

Finally we are at closing the deal. At this stage there is often an emotional disagreement over price or terms and conditions. Be aware this is just a normal desire by the buyer to reduce the risk of making a mistake - your buyer's natural fear of a crash landing!

Your future customer is asking herself Will I be fired?, Will it work as advertised?, Am I paying too much?

Your task as the seller is to reassure the buyer that she is on a safe landing path, If you have locked in the first four commitments, it will be ok, reiterate those commitments and retell the ‘promised land’ story.

Happy Landings!

______________________________________

Notes

For details on psychological laws and principles of persuasion in sales, see Robert Cialdini’s,

Influence The, Psychology of Persuasion

, Harper Collins 1984, in which six basic forms of influence are described

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

The art of persuasion. Mindjacking with metaphors.

The art of persuasion. Mindjacking with metaphors.

Change is at the heart of sales. Our best prospects are companies that need to change, whether to grow, be more efficient or to avoid trouble. When a company needs to change then the minds of the people involved in the change program also need to change. As sales people we want to influence that mind shift to the mutual benefit of the customer and our company.

We use questions to understand the mind of the customer but at some point it will be necessary to change or expand the customer’s view and that requires teaching or rhetoric, or both. This post is about a specific persuasion device, the metaphor.

For guidance on persuasion we should look to the masters; politicians, film makers, authors, comedians, artists and advertisers. Through stories, images and evocative language, master persuaders hijack our attention, taking our minds hostage with a metaphoric knife to the neck reshaping our thoughts to suit their purpose.

Here are some examples you may know

“I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC”, Apple Ad

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6921Kut9tdU

“Ideas that stick”, 3M Post-it notes Ad

“Let’s say the foot is your company and the banana skin is a change in interest rates”, Continental Bank Ad

A hospital bed is a parked taxi, with the meter running”, Groucho Marx

As sales and marketing people we may not be in the same league as these masters, but we can learn from them. Here is a favourite business example from my experience.

Many years ago when I was selling software systems to the oil and gas industry, we marketed two database systems; a geoscientist's project database for interpretation work and a master database for raw data and final interpretation data.  Unfortunately, the two databases were somewhat incompatible, had different user interfaces and our main competitor sold a single database that served as both a master and project.

Our customers could not understand why we didn't have just one database and we were constantly defending two database architecture. Even internally it was a contentious issue.

Then one day, our marketing manager put up the image below and the debate and arguments stopped.  

I believe this image was a competitive turning point. Its simple image metaphor eloquently explains why two databases made sense and how they could have similar characteristics but different functionalities and purposes.

The beauty of this metaphor is its transportability. Imagine, that after seeing it, your customer contact attends an internal meeting and the discussion turns to your master/project databases. Your contact introduces the metaphor and the mid-air refuelling image effortlessly and magically does its work on the buying committee.

Marshall Thurber calls metaphors “stories on steroids” because compelling metaphors can have near miraculous persuasive power.

But how are compelling metaphors created? And what is a good topic for metaphors? The first step is to notice and appreciate their power in everyday conversation and discourse. James Geary in his Tedx (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cU56SWXHFw)  talk on metaphors claims that we average six metaphors per minute in normal conversation. Have you noticed?

As you start to notice, you will observe that many are overused clichés (which should be avoided like the plague ;-)). You will also note that metaphors which persuade tend to have an element of surprise. George Orwell (1946) said “never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”.

Think about what your customer does not appreciate about his business that your products or services would solve and see if you can come up with an image which can expand your customer’s point of view. You can use images and ideas from nature, popular culture, business, science fiction, historical stories and fairy tales. It doesn't matter, as long as the chosen metaphor will resonate with your target. Brainstorming metaphors works well in a multi-disciplinary workshop with sales, service and marketing.

Happy mindjacking!

As a side note, my father, no fan of business clichés, once stopped a management consultant in his tracks (sorry) with;

“but if we drop the ball, and it’s a level playing field, the ball will be where we dropped it and we can just pick it up”.

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.

Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

Danger Minefield

How do you find and recruit a good B2B sales person?

A simple question, without a simple answer.

It’s also a question of high consequence because a poor sales hiring decision can be extremely expensive. Even an excellent sales recruit will take sales cycle time plus 90 days to become effective, assuming that your on-boarding process, training and sales readiness kits are in order.

A poor hire can be a threat to your company’s reputation.

There is another factor at play: your chances of finding a good candidate are not good. Over the last few months, we have been surveying buyers and procurement specialists from tier-one and tier-two telecommunications and resources companies about their experiences with salespeople.

The feedback has been uniformly and disappointingly negative. For example, to the question "

Out of ten salespeople that you meet, how many provide value to you and your business?" We received answers between none and two.

To the question "

…of those ten sales people, how many, in your opinion, created a negative impression and damaged the brand of the companies they represented?” The answers were between two and four. 

Is there a good test for sales people?

A normal sales recruitment process at the companies I've worked with goes something like this: a recruitment company is given a brief and presents a couple of ‘qualified’ candidates for consideration. The recruitment company will have employed a testing process often with a secret sauce recipe such as a favourite psychometric test. Short-listed candidates then face a series of company interviews with the various department managers for ‘culture’ fit assessment. Whichever candidate interviews best, gets the job - after the candidate's proposed references are checked. 

This process puts heavy reliance on information sourced from the candidate (cv, references, psychometric tests results) and the recruiter - a person who may not be an expert in your business (or sales). Furthermore, and importantly, there seldom is a perfect candidate for any role; almost every new hire needs development and training in some aspect of the role, and the process just described does not uncover what those development needs might be.

Testing Sales People – it can be done

At our company, we use three objective tests for salespeople that cannot be gamed or side-lined by fast talking. These tests take a bit of extra effort but are extremely illuminating. 

Test 1.

Sales Conversation Skill

.The fundamental sales skill is mastery of the customer conversation and the best way to test that skill, short of observing  actual customer meetings, is to perform and video record a sales  role play simulation.

The video should be analysed in comparison to a conversation model to see whether the sales person is able to establish credibility, probe for the customer’s ambitions and issues, evaluate the business and personal impact of those ambitions and issues and close to a sensible next step.

This is one of the very few ways of measuring real sales skill; it doesn't take more than an 30 minutes per candidate and almost no company does it. The result is a highly predictive of actual sales skill and a poor result is a red flag because there is no guarantee that you can train for conversation soft skills.

Test 2 - Written Proposal

It is also necessary to test a candidate's written skills. Take the same scenario from the sales role play and ask the candidate, under supervision and without electronic aids, to write a one-page sales proposal. This test will show his or her writing skills and whether or not he or she has been trained in proposal writing.

Test 3 - Knowledge Test.

Finally, you should employ a formal knowledge test. Conduct a survey of your best sales people and determine what industry and generic product and service knowledge is required for the role. Prepare a written test that all candidates perform under your supervision.

The result of this test is a good indication of how quickly candidates will adapt to your sales situations and any gaps they may have in their knowledge. A poor result in this test can be overcome with industry and company induction training but be sure that you retest before putting a new hire in front of customers on their own.

Finally, to reference checks: it is fine to ask a candidate for customer and employer referees but you are making an important decision - and you should be looking for independent referees. It is well worth searching your own and other staff member’s contacts and social media databases to see who knows the candidate. Most business people are happy to take a short reference check phone call. Your conversation should focus on the candidates’ integrity, reliability, coach-ability and work ethic.

Hiring a B2B sales person is a risky proposition but you can reduce that risk and home in on a suitable candidate with a thoughtful selection methodology that favours objective tests.

__________________________

Footnote on psychometric tests

A company I worked for had accumulated several years of psychometric test results covering the majority of their sales force and I thought it would be interesting to see if any aspect of those tests correlated with sales performance. I noted the wide range of psychometric test scores in our sales team and the similarly wide range in sales performance, but unfortunately (for the test) there was no correlation between any psychometric test parameter and sales performance, the correlation factors were close to zero.

It’s not a surprising result. Psychometric tests present information mined from the candidate and rank low in prediction value. If you are considering the use of a psychometric test then ask for evidence of test validation for salespeople from a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Image courtesy OpenStreetMap.org

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!.