I’ve never been a subscriber to the idea that there is any one concept that is the “most important” when it comes to sales, because the profession is far too complex to be boiled down to a single thing.
But if we held a contest to find the most important concept in sales, I’d have to say momentum is a solid candidate for the top prize.
Why momentum, you ask?
Because no matter what prospecting, marketing or selling activity you do, no matter what goals you have for each activity, and no matter what criteria you use to measure the activity, if you take action to increase momentum simultaneously, your results will improve as momentum increases.
For example, how can you increase the momentum of cold-calling? First, we should settle on a definition of “momentum.”
Merriam-Webster offers this definition: strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.
Clearly I’m not talking about force and motion, because those apply to physical objects. So let’s shorten the definition and make it specific to our subject:
Sales Momentum: strength gained by a series of events
Now imagine you’re in the middle of a round of cold calls and are about to dial “Joe Jones” – one of the many names on your list. Knowing the many possible outcomes of that dial – busy signal, gatekeeper, auto-attendant, bad record, voice mail, Joe left the company, Joe said no, Joe told you to never call him again, etc. – what can you do differently to increase the “cold-calling strength gained by a series of events”?
One possibility is to change the way you react when Joe says no to your offer. For instance, if your reaction is to attempt to convince Joe that he should have said yes instead, perhaps you could change your response to a polite: “Okay, goodbye” (followed by silence as you wait for Joe to hang up the phone).
What might happen if you made that change with every prospect who said no to your offers?
- More prospects would simply hang up the phone, resulting in fewer prospects getting mad and telling you to never call again.
- You would waste less time failing to convince people who have no desire to meet with you, thus increasing the number of dials you make during each cold-calling session, thus increasing the likelihood of finding someone who actually wants to meet right now.
- You would slowly teach your prospects that you’re the type of salesperson who respects their decisions, thus decreasing their apprehension at listening to future offers when you call again.
Those are but three possible increases in momentum as the result of changing one thing in relation to one possible outcome of each dial. Imagine the results of thinking through every possible outcome and increasing the momentum of each!
Momentum may not be the “most important concept in sales,” but it is one concept that can have a positive impact on every aspect of the sales profession, which is why I believe it to be such a strong candidate for the top prize.
All selling activities can be improved simply by creating a sales system you can replicate for each. These systems don’t need to be complex at all. Just be certain each activity is organized with a minimum of three steps – before-activity action(s), during-activity action(s) and after-activity action(s). Then follow those steps each time you conduct that prospecting, marketing or selling activity.
As you implement the process, you will notice areas where you can improve. Document those areas as you go along. Add new steps. Remove old steps. Change existing steps.
For instance, one of my marketing efforts is to write articles and get them published in newspapers and journals. I constantly strive to build relationships with publishers, so I will have the opportunity to get my material published. When one of them invites me to write, something, my major steps in that system are:
- Call prospects who are appropriate for an interview and request 20 minutes of their time to interview them about the article I’m writing.
- Meet with prospects who want to be interviewed and conduct interviews for the article.
- At the end of each formal interview, conduct a casual interview designed to learn whether the has any major problems at this time (the fires which he/she must put out TODAY).
- When “fires” are uncovered, offer to introduce the prospect to professionals who may be able to help put them out.
- Make introductions if desired.
- Get prospect’s contact information (phone, URL, email, etc.) to be included in the article as a reference.
- Write article and incorporate prospects’ comments and quotes where they will improve the article.
- Send quotes to prospects to get approval.
- Send article to publisher when finished.
- Send copies of newspaper, journal, etc., to prospects who agreed to interviews and include some suggestion for a next step (such as getting coffee, attending a presentation I’m giving or joining me at a small connection dinner).
- Send copies of article to prospects who did not agree to interviews.
- Follow up on all introductions to see how things worked out.
For every activity, I list my major steps (before, during and after). Then, I think through ways to integrate those steps. For instance, when I’m writing an article, if I go to a networking function and happen to bump into an executive who would be an appropriate interview for the article, I make it a point to ask for the interview. So one step in my networking during phase would be “Ask for article interviews if you meet someone who fits.”
At a minimum, your marketing plan should be planned out to this level. However, I also suggest you prepare for each individual step, and then think through the yes/no response options.
For step 1 above, I’ll prepare my request (the “script” if you want to call it that) for when the prospect actually answers the phone, and I’ll prepare one that can be left either with a gatekeeper or on voice mail. I’ll also prepare for both the “Yes” and “No” responses. For a “Yes” response, I’ll ask the prospect whether he/she can commit to a 20-minute, uninterrupted interview. For a “No” response, I’ll simply say, “Okay, goodbye,” and wait for the prospect to hang up the phone. (I already know I’ll be sending a copy of the article to the person later, so there’s no need to mention it here.)
For step 2, I’ll prepare my list of article-related questions, so I can achieve my objective within the 20 minutes.
And so on for all steps.
At this point, I’m pretty much ready to launch the article-writing marketing plan – jumping in with both feet. What I will not do, however, is attempt to analyze every possible outcome of every possible situation, because then I’d never get started.
Sales resistance is NOT a natural part of the buy-sell process, but rather a direct result of the salesperson’s behavior. To eliminate sales resistance, you must change your behavior so you do nothing to create it.
A key aspect of Honest Selling is the focus on avoiding behaviors that create sales resistance. In most cases, these actions are manipulative. However, in some cases, perfectly ethical behavior creates sales resistance, because too many salespeople do it that way.
Following are six things (in no particular order) that cause sales resistance. My advice is to avoid them at all costs.
Talking About Benefits Too Early
There’s actually nothing wrong with talking to a prospect about the benefits of your services. After all, you’re there to deliver results so that your client can realize some benefit of having you involved. The only real problem is that most salespeople exaggerate the benefits they can deliver, which causes prospects to distrust any mention of benefits at all. So, if you talk about benefits during prospecting calls or very early in your sales meetings (before you’ve built a relationship), you’ll activate your prospect’s learned behavior and create immediate sales resistance.
So, before talking about benefits, you should discuss the features of your services instead. Features are facts, such as guarantees, specialties, billing practices (fixed-fee, hourly, etc.), industry experience, proven results, and so forth. Discussing features never creates sales resistance.
Listing benefits in your marketing material does not create sales resistance either, because it’s not a face-to-face situation. So, talk benefits only when you market, late in the sales process or when asked a direct question – and talk features all the other times.
And NEVER exaggerate anything!
Talking About Yourself Too Much
This has less to do with creating sales resistance and more to do with creating bad relationships. You see, virtually all humans love to talk about themselves – this includes your prospects. So, give them what they love. Ask tons of questions, and you’ll not only create a stronger relationship, you’ll find out what you need to know to do business.
Besides, one of the primary fears all decision-makers have is that you’ll talk about things they don’t understand. If your prospects are doing all the talking, you won’t have a chance to activate this fear.
You’ve just told your prospect how much the engagement will cost, and he says, “Wow. That’s a lot of money.”
You’ll create immediate sales resistance by spending the next five minutes telling the prospect all the reasons “It isn’t really that much.”
Never disrespect your prospect by discounting his opinion, because to him his opinion is perfectly valid, if only for the fact that he owns it. Instead, agree and negotiate. For instance, you might reply, “You’re right. It is a lot of money. Were you prepared to spend that, or not?” If the prospect says, “No,” ask him what he was prepared to spend, or ask him if he wants to remove some of the objectives of the engagement, so that you can reduce the fee.
If his budget is hard and fast, he’ll probably tell you his budget and work with you to change the engagement, so you can meet that budget. After all, you are the only salesperson who isn’t creating sales resistance by telling him he’s wrong, so he trusts you and is willing to work toward a compromise.
Bottom line, though, if he can’t afford you, then you’re wasting your time. So, you’re better off ending the meeting on a positive note and leaving. That way, the prospect will still want to call you for another engagement later (when he has more room in his budget).
This is one of my personal pet peeves, and, among other things, it involves the following traditional sales tactics:
- Aggressive body posture – sitting forward, upright and on the edge of your chair – creates sales resistance. If you’re focusing on the relationship, you should be confident and professional, but relaxed and sitting in your chair normally.
- Being too damned perky is the kiss of death. There isn’t a human on the planet that really believes you’re that upbeat, so simply speak in your natural tone. And, I’m afraid that if your natural tone is perky as hell, you’ll be better off toning that down a bit too (sorry).
- Building rapport. I’m not talking about building relationships, but rather the “Oh, you fish … I fish too” stuff that so many people try to do and every prospect sees right through.
Begging For Business
I have a colleague who for years has used, “Listen, Joe. I really want this business, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make this work.” It costs him TONS of time, but he suffers from confirmation bias (he remembers only the times it seemed to work and forgets all the misses), so he keeps right on using it. Unbeknownst to him, I coached one of his teammates out of this behavior and she broke every sales record on their team. Because it was a confidential relationship, I’m not allowed to tell him I helped her. I wish I could, because then maybe that would be proof enough he should try something else.
If you’re dealing with non-decision-makers, they’ll eat this up and abuse you with it forever. And, if you’re talking to the decision-makers (the people who can actually authorize a project), you’ll lose their respect immediately.
Never grovel for business, because you might get what you wish for and then have to work with these people who view you as a total subordinate who can be pushed around.
Because it’s another form of “begging for business,” I also recommend that you never reduce your fees to get the first gig. (Unless, of course, the objectives are reduced as well.)
Most decision-makers can spot a lying salesperson a mile away (although the lying salesperson believes otherwise). If your prospect wants five industry references, and you don’t have them, say so and ask her if that will keep you from getting the engagement.
My favorite story about this was back in the late ’90s. The prospect replied, “I’m sorry, but my boss wants five references.”
So I said, “I guess we just found the reason we can’t do business then, didn’t we?”
Naturally she said, “Yes,” so I recommended a competitor and we ended the phone call. But, two weeks later I secured the largest engagement we had all year, on a referral from this very woman. That’s one of the beautiful things about being honest with people. It creates positive momentum that produces new sales opportunities later.
There is never a need to overcome sales resistance if you don’t create that resistance in the first place. If you want to eliminate sales resistance, treat your prospects the way you’d like to be treated – as peers. You’ll not only get more engagements, you’ll enjoy doing the work more, too.
To become a top salesperson in your field and on your team, you must make a fundamental shift in thinking from:
- “How can I close the sale in front of me?”
- “How can I create a business relationship that will benefit me and my company in the long run?”
Of course, when you’re sitting in front of a prospect with money to spend, it’s sometimes hard to maintain that shift in thinking. So here’s a mental trick you can use to practice the mindset on your next sales appointment.
First, before your meeting visualize yourself having been paid $10,000 to spend an hour helping your “client” figure out what is best for his or her company.
Second, do exactly what you’ve “been paid” to do, or you must give the $10,000 back!
If your solution is the best, you should easily close the sale. If not, by helping the prospect to buy from the company that fits him or her best, you will absolutely earn the relationship, and that will turn into both referrals, and into other chances with this prospect when his or her situation changes.
If you help people achieve their goals, they’ll help you achieve yours!
Very few of us have a one-step sales process, and even fewer buyers have a one-step buying process. As a result, we often experience one or more time lags between conversations with our prospects. For instance, even in a successful sales call – one where you and the prospect decide to do business – you would typically end the meeting, write the proposal or contract, and then submit it for a signature. Or perhaps you come to agreement with the decision-maker, but then must meet with the board of directors or technical team to learn whether there are any showstoppers that cannot be overcome. And of course, there’s always the time lag between the phone call during which you make the first sales appointment and the appointment itself.
So, what questions must you answer before you enter your prospect’s office?
- What have I planned in advance to make the most of these sales transitions?
- What, exactly, am I going to do when I end one conversation, so that the result of the next conversation is better?
- When a sales process ends in a “No thank you,” what will I do after that to generate another sales opportunity at a later date?
- Have I organized my sales transitions?
If your answer to the last question is “Nope,” then at least you have lots of company. I’ve worked with hundreds of salespeople over the years, and most use a fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants process for sales transitions. The good news is, organizing your sales transitions is as easy as one, two, three.
One: Secure Conditional Commitments
Whenever a conversation ends, and you’ve made a mutual commitment, always get a conditional commitment for the next step.
Proposal Example: “I guess my next step is to write this in the form of a proposal. I can have that on your desk in two days. When you get it, if it contains everything we discussed today – meaning all your conditions for a successful project and mine – what will you do?” (Unless you’re happy with the prospect’s answer, do not write the proposal.)
Board Of Directors Example: “I can be here next Tuesday from 9 to 10 a.m. for the presentation to the board. However, assuming that goes well, after that meeting I’ll need to get back together with you for an hour to discuss any suggestions they have or changes that must be made, and to finalize our agreement. Can we set that appointment up now?” (If the prospect isn’t willing to meet with you after your presentation, then don’t do the presentation.)
First Sales Appointment Example: “I’ll see you Friday at 2 p.m. for a one-hour meeting. One last question before I hang up – When we meet, if what I show you meets your conditions [for a successful project], what will you do?” (Again, unless you’re happy with your prospect’s response, cancel the appointment.)
Getting conditional commitments during every transition will dramatically increase your results and eliminate a ton of time you would have otherwise wasted.
Note: Always confirm conditional commitments at the beginning of the next step: “When we spoke on the phone, you agreed that if what I show you met your conditions for a successful project, we’d do business. Has anything changed?” (You never make one-sided commitments. So if something changed, and you are not happy with the change, cancel the meeting and make your exit.)
Two: Keep The Ball In Your Court
At some point in every process, the prospect will be responsible for doing something, such as signing the proposal I mentioned above. In that case, the proverbial “ball” is in the prospect’s court. If you leave it that way, a prospect will occasionally drop that ball, and then you’re left to decide what to do next, which can be very stressful, because money and relationships are on the line, and you don’t want to make a mistake that upsets your prospect.
To eliminate the stress that occurs when a prospect drops the ball, always prearrange your actions. (“Joe” is your prospect.)
You: “… and my next step is to write this in the form of a proposal. I can have that on your desk in two days. When you get it, if it contains everything we discussed today – meaning all your conditions for a successful project and mine – what will you do?”
Joe: “If it has what we discussed, I’ll sign it and send it to you, so we can get going.”
You: “Great. How long do you think that will take?”
Joe: “Not more than a week.”
You: “Okay. I always like to know in advance what to do in every situation, so how about this? If I don’t hear from you by August 6 [one week and two days from when Joe will get the proposal], I’ll give you a call to see what’s up. Is that okay?”
Joe: “Sure.” [I’ve never had anyone balk at my being thorough.]
Three: Provide Value On The Way Out
Many sales situations will result in finding the reason you should not work with the prospect. In these instances, do your absolute best to find a way to provide value as you make your exit:
- Can you refer a competitor who might be a better fit for Joe and his company?
- Is there an article you can send Joe that will help his brother-in-law (you know, the guy who already has the project sewn up) do a better job?
- Based on what you just learned, can you give Joe a suggestion that will help him save time hunting for the perfect company to help him solve a problem?
Some of the very best referrals I’ve gotten came from people with whom I never actually worked, because I figured out ways to provide value on the way out the door.
Smooth and successful sales transitions are just three steps away.
Assuming you’re an honest person who doesn’t want to learn or use manipulative sales tactics, a mistake you want to avoid is to buy sales training, books or consulting advice that includes those tactics.
Given the fact that advocates of manipulation will use dishonest tactics to sell you their training, the question becomes: How do you spot the manipulation before you write the check?
Good news. It’s actually quite easy, because manipulative sales systems usually includes two to four of the following:
- Reversing techniques so you won’t have to answer your prospects’ questions
- Methods for overcoming prospects’ objections
- Techniques for overcoming buyer’s remorse
- Motivational techniques so you can spend your non-sales time convincing yourself you aren’t really a bad person
Here’s what trainers of manipulative sales systems simply do not get: Manipulation creates suspicion. Manipulation creates objections. Manipulation creates buyer’s remorse. Manipulation is demotivating.
Manipulative sales training is like a self-fulfilling prophecy – it creates the very conflicts the training is designed to help you overcome.
There are three sales models: Qualification, Disqualification and Collaboration. Within each model there are many methods, strategies and tactics that are taught and used, but we’ll save that discussion for later.
This is a summary of the three models. Its purpose is to give you enough insight so that you may choose which model suits you best. That way, when you’re looking for information on sales strategies, tactics, training, coaching, mentoring and so forth, you’ll be able to spot the ones that use your desired model, and ignore the rest.
In the qualification model of selling, your focus is on getting the prospect to do what you want, regardless of what he or she wants. At every phase of the process, you look for (seek to qualify) the trigger that will get the prospect to meet with you, introduce you to the decision-maker or sign on the dotted line. In effect, your entire life is spent finding, or qualifying, triggers that will finally get the buyer to buy: In this sales model:
- You don’t take “No” for an answer. Instead, you work hard to turn every “No” into a “Yes.”
- If you must, you manipulate your way past the people who don’t have the authority to sign on the dotted line. If a gatekeeper, for instance, tells you, “Ms. Jones doesn’t take sales calls,” you might lie in your attempt to get through: “All I know is, I have a voice-mail message telling me to call Ms. Jones about the computers she wants, and time is of the essence.”
- You are willing, ready and practiced at tricking the prospect into doing things she wouldn’t ordinarily do. You might, for instance, use the alternative or assumptive close when trying to set a sales appointment: “I’ll be stopping by your office next week. Is Tuesday or Wednesday better for you?”
- You make light of every objection the prospect raises, work hard to overcome them or do your best to convince him that his objections are unfounded. If your prospect works at a huge company and says, “That’s a lot of money,” you might, for instance, compare your costs to the amount the company spent on something you don’t sell – “Come on. You spend more than that on printer ink each year!” – in the hopes he’ll feel petty and give in.
Qualification selling is a process of avoiding or circumventing any and all roadblocks until you find (or qualify) that which will get the prospect to do what you want him or her to do – buy your product or service. Throughout the process, what the prospect wants or what is best for the prospect never enters the picture, because that is often detrimental to your goal of closing the sale. A common side effect of the qualification model is, therefore, sales resistance. Every time you try to manipulate someone into doing something he or she doesn’t want to do, you’ll create the very sales resistance you must then overcome.
When seeking sales training using the qualification model, look for things such as:
- Overcoming Objections
- Getting Past the Gatekeeper
- Closing Tricks and Techniques
- The Prospect Lies to You / Buyers are Liars
- Reversing (methods to avoid answering questions)
- Manipulation is Okay
One major detriment to the qualification model is that it creates a negative momentum effect, because the prospects you fail to trick into buying are usually happy to tell everyone they know not to buy from you.
Disqualification selling is quite different from qualification selling, in that instead of avoiding the “No” response, you willingly accept either “Yes” or “No” as valid responses from the prospects you meet. Disqualification selling is mostly about efficiency. Instead of trying to avoid reasons the prospect can’t, won’t or shouldn’t buy, you actually look for those reasons, so you can disqualify the sale quickly when the deal-breaker, or showstopper, is identified. Accomplishing this as quickly as possible saves you a ton of time – time you can use to find someone with whom you can have a mutually beneficial business relationship naturally – someone who wants, needs, can afford and is willing to buy your product without manipulation of any kind. In this sales model:
- In the gatekeeper example, if you’re told that Ms. Jones doesn’t take sales calls, you respect the person who has been empowered to make that decision, instead of lying or bullying the gatekeeper to give in. If I were calling, for instance, I might follow up with something like, “In the future, what would you suggest I do to make sure our information is at Ms. Jones fingertips, if increasing sales ever becomes a priority?”
- You never try to trick prospects into anything, because that wastes time with prospects who are never going to buy.
- You never overcome objections or attempt to make the prospect feel petty. If in the prospect’s opinion your price is “a lot of money,” who are you to tell him he’s wrong, or attempt to make him feel petty? Instead of comparing your costs to that of janitorial services, you may seek to learn what he thinks is reasonable and offer services to match that fee. Perhaps offer only products A and B, but not C.
Disqualification selling is about building mutually beneficial relationships between you and your buyers. It’s about conveying a clear and honest message, negotiating reasonable deals, ensuring both people are happy with the decision and maintaining solid relationships over time. And most importantly, it’s about avoiding the time you would waste by attempting and failing to convince people to do things they do not want to do.
When seeking sales training using the disqualification model, look for things such as:
- Go for the No
- Honesty and Ethics
One drawback to the disqualification model of selling is that it creates a zero momentum effect. While you don’t make prospects mad and cause them to tell others not to buy from you, you also fail to give the prospect who does not buy from you any reason to introduce you to the people he or she knows who may want and need what you sell.
The primary problem with the two models above is the misalignment of objectives between buyer and seller. The salesperson is focused on closing the sale (qualification) or learning whether it should close (disqualification), while the buyer is focused on making a smart purchase choice. Even using the disqualification model, that misalignment causes underlying friction that damages the relationship with prospects who don’t buy.
The secret to collaboration selling is to align your objectives with those of the prospect. In this sales model:
- Instead of focusing on your sale, focus on his or her purchase choice.
- You diagnose the situation.
- You disqualify your solution if it is not the best. (If you think it is the best solution, you demonstrate that to the prospect through a collaborative discussion and let him or her decide whether you are right.)
- When your solution is not the best fit, you make the absolute best recommendation you can make, looking at this exclusively from the prospect’s perspective. This includes not only recommending your competitors, but actually introducing the prospect to one or two salespeople you trust at those companies.
When seeking sales training using the collaboration model, look for things such as:
- Avoiding Objections
- Putting Prospect’s Needs First
- Coopetition (cooperative competition)
- Abundance Mentality
- Relationship Selling
- Honesty and Ethics
The beauty of this system is you will close every sale you should, you will close some sales you may have lost and you will always generate positive sales momentum, because when you help prospects make the perfect purchase choice, the competitor may earn the business but you earn the relationship and all the referrals it will generate.
At Honest Selling, we train, coach and mentor people in an end-to-end system of prospecting, marketing and selling using the collaboration model. While we believe the comparison above is accurate, we admit we are biased toward that model. (Hey, we don’t call it “Honest Selling” for nothing!)