This will be a continuing series on advancing your skills in the unique world of corporate sales.  My goal is to equip you with some of the basic concepts that you can focus on in order to grow your success in this complex environment.

The Golden Rule:  Treat Corporate Customers As You Want to Be Treated

I was on a conference call this morning that was hosted by a corporate partner of our company.  The call involved a group of our internal employees being led through a presentation by a partner company.  Sounds great right?  I was going nuts!  Why?  Our own employees were ignoring the basic rules of etiquette.  Here are a couple for starters.

  1. Hit the mute button!  Conference calls are just like group meetings at the home office.  Would you bring your dog to a meeting?  Would you let your cellphone go off right in the middle of someone’s speech?  Would you answer a call on your personal or business phone line in front of everyone else? I hope not.  Please hit your mute button, put the the dog outside and turn off the ringer on your cellphone.
  2. Focus!  It never ceases to amaze me how we let ourselves become distracted.  Conference calls and webinars seem to be a breeding ground for bad behavior.  We look at e-mail, text our friends, cruise the web and generally ignore what is going on with the call/meeting.  What always happens at the end?  Someone always asks questions about many of the items that were already clearly covered in the presentation!  Try setting everything else aside, cracking open your folio and taking some notes instead.

Is this an opportunity to shame all of us who ignore these basic rules?  Yes!  Here’s the bottom line about this kind of behavior.  “It irritates your customers, your client partners and your fellow employees!”  Worse yet it sends a message to everyone involved that you have something better to be doing and/or “I really don’t care.”

I know this isn’t what any of us intend to convey.  So consider the people on the other side of the phone, webinar or conference table.  What messages are we sending when we we ignore the basic rules of etiquette?  Is that really how we want others to view ourselves or our company?

Happy Selling!

More on Cold Calling – Yuck?

In my last post on this topic in the Fall of last year, I talked about re-training myself to go about lead generation in new ways.  As you may recall, I fessed up to the fact that cold calling is not one of my favorite pastimes.  I also mentioned that I was going to try a new program by aligning myself with my local area Chamber of Commerce.

I must tell you that I’m getting a little excited about the results.  My first event with the local chamber of commerce was their “Business Expo” hosted at a local Marriott.  I had no idea what to expect so I set up quite a booth for the event and invested in a digital camera as a booth “give-away” as well as hundreds of Halloween bags filled with promotional products.  I met a whole bunch of local business owners and followed up with e-mails throughout the following week.  I received a few positive responses but I think the biggest benefit was that I established myself with the “chamber” community.

I decided to take another leap of faith and invest any spare time I could find in between projects to send out a customized e-mail to each member of the chamber of commerce to introduce myself and my services.  I did my best to gear the e-mail towards the client by re-writing it several times to focus on their needs.  I used the tried and true “What’s in it for Me?” concept.  Have you heard of this before?  No?  Here we go.  Imagine that every prospect or customer is quietly sitting across from you or your e-mail with a sign hung around their neck pointing directly at you that says “What in it for Me?”  Instead of telling them why you’re so great, try to gear your introduction to things that matter to them (personal service, custom artwork and design, etc.).  For me, I also added my commitment to our community through the charities that I’m involved in and support.

This also means that at least once a day for an hour or so, I cross reference the chamber database, enter the contact data into my contact system and send a customize a e-mail to each member.  I do my best to add a little something in there about why we might be a good fit.  I’ve been able to send out about 400 since mid December.  And I’m getting requests for meetings at the rate of about one per week.  So far, I’d say this is working the best for me of all the methods I’ve tried so far.

So is it time for you to join your local chamber?  I think it really depends on your product or service.  Maybe the chamber is not your best choice but I would definitely invest the time to find lead sources that are a decent fit for you.  One suggestion I found interesting was from a representative of the library in our town.  It turns out that they have invested in tons of business to business directories and listings and are more than happy to help you dive into their databases and most of these are completely free!

So the bottom line here is to find a lead source (chamber of commerce, library, etc.) and invest at least an hour a day in reaching out to these folks with an e-mail tailored to their needs and let the selling begin!

Go Get Em!

I participated in a great event recently hosted by The Graphic Artists Guild here in Los Angeles.  I work with Three Steps Ahead here and assist them with sales and account management.  Three Steps Ahead took the lead in setting up the “Guild” event which was attended by fifty artists and designers in the greater LA area.  I was engaged in a conversation with one attendee that seems to be a common concern for artists, designers and graphic arts professionals – What should I be looking for in a salesperson to help me grow my business?

First, look for a professional.  Sorry to tell you but you cannot hire just anyone who has sold cellphones for Cingular or newspapers for the LA times.  Selling one thing does not mean one can sell everything.  Specifically, we’re talking here about the sale of “intangibles.”  Artists create vision, brand, identity and vibe.  These are not concrete things that a client can touch, feel and compare.  Intangibles require salespeople who have sold products or services in the past where they are used to a more complex sales cycle that requires a lot of listening, consultation and multiple sales calls.

Second, you are going to have to set ground rules.  Sorry to say, but you are going to have to manage your salesperson.  Start by getting your own house in order by opening the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook and get your sales agreements/contracts set up.  No more doing deals on the back of a napkin or via a series of e-mails.  Next, set time aside with your salesperson to establish “rules of engagement.”  I’d suggest that all artists and designers begin by allowing their sales representatives to do only qualification calls to start.  This means that all they are to do is make/receive calls or web inquiries and qualify the client for their general project scope, budget, project time-frame and their “fit” as a client.  We’re talking the basic Who? What? When? and Why?

Third, sit down with your sales representative and go through each lead and discuss what transpired.  If it fits your basic criteria, get ready to participate on a conference call or initial meeting with the sales rep and the client.  By doing this you are educating your sales person in real-time and letting them know what works for you and what doesn’t.  You’d be amazed how much better the opportunities offered by your rep will be once they have seen and heard your process half a dozen times.

Does this sound like a bit much for you?  Think again.  This is a partnership.  The time you invest up front in educating your sales representative will pay off in better and more qualified leads.  Just like design, sales is a collaborative effort and the more time you spend discussing each deal with your rep, the better their work will be in return.

Happy Selling!

Two Old Dogs Up to New Tricks

Two Old Dogs Up to New Tricks

Back to Basics

Since we last talked, I’ve embarked on a personal experiment to see if I can breath new life into my cold calling routine.  To be clear, I’m not one of those salespeople who loves this part of the job.  It’s because of this fact that I’ve driven myself to find new ways to do this work as it is vital to growing my business.

Before I get started, I thought it would be fun to share all the ways I’ve tried to avoid cold calling in the past.  I’ve tried to use the internet to drive leads, and that has proved lackluster at best.  For me, trying to use the internet proved to be a cop out.  I thought a mass mailing would work but that delivered very little response.  Again, trying to keep my prospects at arms length proved fruitless.  I stepped it up a bit by cold calling a list of manufacturers I Google’d in my area.  By simply asking who was in charge of the products/services I sell, I was able to target the mailers.  This proved a bit more successful .  My most successful response so far has occurred when I took that same list of folks and personally delivered a package to their receptionist with their name on it.  I then called a day or two later to follow up.  The response was not overwhelming but I did get a few e-mail queries back, a couple phone calls and two invitations to sit down and have a chat.

Lessons Learned

For me, I found that the more effort I made to personalize the contact the better.  This is not easy work and requires a lot of prep time but I’m convinced that this investment will pay off.  This has also encouraged me to reach out to others to find out what else is working to generate leads.  One recommendation was to take the personalization effort to the next level by creating virtual samples of my products and e-mailing them to my prospects.  Early indications are that that will be a hit too.  I got my first big meeting with a local aerospace company who asked me to bid on a project for them. The other tip was to join the local Chamber of Commerce.  Turns out I’ll be hosting a booth of my own at their upcoming Business Expo.  I’ll let you know how that pans out as I reach out and shake hands with all those expo attendees.

Happy Selling!

It’s Time for a 180

Have you ever run into a sales professional who seems so unaffected by their success and so comfortable in their skin that you wonder how they got there?  They seem unaffected by the stresses their customers put on them.  Their approach to the management teams they report to shines with confidence and a sense of partnership.  Their professional lives seem so fluid and serene.  Are they on drugs?  In therapy?  Let’s get real here, sales is supposed to be all about stress, caffeine and nervous energy right?

Ownership

In talking with and interviewing these salespeople over the years, I sense a common thread in their approaches.  It’s called “ownership”.  They have replaced the often abused excuses of “It’s the market.”, “The product isn’t good enough” and “If we only had more support staff I could get more done” with a completely new dialogue.  You’ll hear these comments from these new professionals.  “I’m trying new markets and employing new models to open new markets.”  “I’ve gone back to basics to learn more about my product(s) to see what aspects I might be missing” and “I run this business as if it is my own.  I’ll do my best with what I have.”  In their minds, the relationship they have with the sales process has spun around from one where everyone else is at fault to one where they own the entire process – they are responsible – they take ownership.

Process, process, process

Perhaps the most surprising thing I find out about very successful sales professionals is their adherence to a process.  For those in the corporate sales arena you have been through Miller-Heiman, SPIN, Target Account Selling or some form of internal sales process orientation.  For those outside the corporate ranks, you may find it harder to find guidance in how to improve the way you approach your business.

I was reminded recently about some wonderful cassette tapes (yes cassette tapes) that I was required to listen to by one of my first professional sales managers.  Bob Fuire was one of the best I’ve known and was especially good at building the careers of young salespeople.  One of the disciplines he instituted was that we all were required to listen to a selection of motivational, self improvement and sales training programs by some of the giants in this arena.  Of course, at the time, none of us had any idea who these people were.  Each of us reviewed tape series by the likes of Wayne Dyer, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Dale Carnegie.  Each of us was required to do a “book report” at our weekly sales meetings.  Sounds parochial right?  Well, it was something I took seriously and I’ve never forgotten.

I Google’d the website recently to see if the purveyor of these programs – Nightingale/Conant – was still in existence.  I was happy to find they were still going strong and they now carried many new voices in this field as well as all of the “old dogs” that I remember so fondly.

Some Homework

Take a moment to visit www.nightingale.com and browse their selection.  I’d guide you to explore two paths in your process.  Consider programs centered on self improvement as well as sales skill development.  As salespeople we must build a solid personal foundation as we grow our professional skills.  I’d suggest beginning with anything from Wayne Dyer and Brian Tracy.  Both are great voices whose messages continue to inspire and educate.  Give them a try.  There’s nothing stopping you from success except yourself.

Happy Selling!

Understanding Your Customer

One of the biggest challenges facing sales professionals these days is the vast amounts of client data that needs to be collected, organized and understood.  My own journey with this process began when I started selling software systems into the corporate  information technology marketplace.  There were two giant challenges for me to overcome.  First, was the fact that the software I was selling was extremely complex and was meant to address multiple operating environments.  Second, was that the clients I was selling into had extremely complex computing environments as well.  With all of this complexity I found myself focusing more on the technical aspects of the client than on listening to their needs.  Sound familiar?  Needless to say I had very little understanding of what their challenges were, what their buying cycles were or anything about them that would help develop the all important personal relationships I needed.

Perhaps the challenges I’ve suggested fit your business.  Does what you sell involve a complicated sales process (mortgages, software, original artworks, etc.)?  Does your client need to fit a certain mold in order for your transaction to work out (qualification process, needs assessment, etc.)?  I’m guessing that most of your sales processes are equally as complicated so I’m going to share the processes I created in order to overcome this complexity, smooth out the sales process and deliver those complex deals faster.

Out of Desperation

In these early days of my career I spent countless hours after everyone had gone home plowing through my client files and all of the notes I had taken trying to find a way to organize all of this noise into something I could understand.  The other challenge was that I was managing several hundred accounts at the time, so I needed to create something that I could pick up days or weeks later and start the conversation with the client where it left off.  What I developed was a focused questionnaire that I would use with each client.  It began more as a technical Q&A so I could discern whether the client was a “fit” for my products.  As I used it more I found it helpful to add more questions about the client’s business, budgets and buying cycles.  The cool part of this process was that by being able to relax about all of the data I needed to collect with the client (in order to qualify them) I was free to develop a conversation with the client, to develop a relationship with them which is a key ingredient to building business relationships and sales.

Has the Discovery Process Really Changed That Much?

I took a look back at my first versions of the documents I created over 20 years ago and compared them to the ones I continue to use with my clients today and I found that a lot of the process has remained unchanged.  Let’s take a look at the elements of a discovery process and the corresponding discovery document.

  1. At the core, this is all about qualification or alignment.  Does your client meet the basic criteria in order for a deal to take place?  Are budgets in place?  Do they offer the correct environment, architecture, financial characteristics, etc.  The idea here is to qualify them the client into (or out of) your list as efficiently as possible.  In the event that the client is not a fit remember that the most professional thing you can do is acknowledge that as soon as you know.  There is no reason to squander any more of their time (or yours) if there is not a fit.
  2. Once you have qualified the client into your world the next step is obtaining all of the details you’ll need to service them correctly and structure a deal(s) that they will act on.  Develop a brief list of interview questions for your market or product that will give you the data you need to put your project together.
  3. Find out why they would you buy from you in the first place.  I’ll bet you think I’ve gone off the deep end with this question right?  Trust me on this one.  You’ll uncover so much great information from your client if you are brave enough to ask the following questions.
    1. Why would you buy from me?
    2. Why would you buy now?
    3. .  You’ll find out about:
      1. Potential competitors
      2. Why they like you.
      3. Why they don’t like you.
      4. How they’d like to buy from you.
      5. What the disliked about the last challenging purchase they made (and how you can avoid those mistakes).
  4. What is their buying process?
  5. Who is involved in the purchase decision?
  6. When do they see this order/project/proposal being approved?

The Big Secret

So here’s my BIG secret about this whole process.  It’s the foundation for all the sales training I do.  Are you ready?  Here it is…

You actually have a process. Yup.  Pretty basic right?  Think about it for a minute.  How many sales people have you encountered in your travels that simply “wing it.”  They have no plan, no idea about their client’s world and no notes or documentation about anything.  Having a defined sales methodology based on the Discovery Process truly sets you apart from the pack.

In fact, this is one of the first things I recommend that my clients weave into their initial conversations and meetings with new clients as a differentiator – “We have a formal process that we’ve established as a best practice in order to fully understand your needs.”  I can’t tell you how many of my customers have told me that they actually received thank-yous from their clients after meetings they hosted.  I frequently hear “This is the first meeting where I’ve really felt heard” or “You guys are really professional.”  Not only does this work for the client’s benefit but also for you too.  You gain a client that is willing to work with you, take your guidance and allow you to be heard as well.  It’s a win-win for both of you.

Some Homework

Putting together your Discovery Document will require that you invest some quality time and really start thinking about your client and their sales process. Begin by defining questions that help you qualify whether a client is truly the right fit for you.  Start at 30,000 feet here.  This is the big picture perspective on potential clients.

Are we going to get along?  I’m a big believer that you should be working with clients that fit your style.  Find this out quickly.  There is nothing worse than getting involved with a “toxic” client.  Better to spend the time up front to ask the right questions and make sure this relationship can last.

Do our people, products and services match?  This is the basic blocking and tackling on your discovery document.  What pieces need to be in place in order for your relationship with the client to work.  For example, in this day and age if you want to obtain loan approval for a mortgage refinance there are a number of criteria that a customer must meet (long term job, no debt, clean tax returns, etc.) or there is no reason to move forward with the sales process.

What is the buying process.  It never ceases to amaze me how little information salespeople have on how a purchase is actually made by their client.  I think we assume it’s magic.  Let’s get focused with our client on how they move our proposal (quote, invoice, etc.) from verbal approval to payment.  I’ll bet you’ll find out one of two things.

  • They don’t know their own process.
  • They don’t want you to know it.

The key here is to educate the client.  Help them understand that this knowledge helps you run your business and will smooth the communication process between you and your company.  It’s also important to let them know you want to understand their process so you can speak their language.  Know their purchasing systems, what forms they need to complete, who the proposal is reviewed by and how long it takes for the process to compete.  In the end it benefits both parties by eliminating confusion and a ton of extra calls pestering each other about the status of the order.

Through the process of building your discovery document I’ll bet you find that it will smooth your path to sales growth by building that professional bond with your client.

Happy Selling!

BBC Fun – Better Buckle Up!

I was recently introduced to two shows on BBC America that I encourage anyone involved in sales to check into.  Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Dragon’s Den” are both very insightful British creations that I’ve become addicted to.  Why?  As a self-employed sales professional, these may be the best and cheapest wake-up call you can get without hiring your own pro to put you through the coaching process.

On Dragon’s Den watch as people (just like us) pitch their businesses, products and ideas to a panel of England’s best entrepreneurial minds.  It reminds me of the quarterly business reviews that we’re all asked to do to show our owners/partners/bankers/senior executives our portfolio of business.  It never ceases to amaze me how most of these folks totally miss the basic points of selling and it is a great reminder to me of what we all need to focus on at all times.

  1. Focus on “What’s In It For Them.”
  2. Know your numbers.
  3. Forecast what’s real.
  4. Actively engage and interview prospective clients BEFORE you waste anybodies time.
  5. If you don’t know the answer simply say “I don’t know.  Let me do the homework and get back to you.”

Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” is a quite a bit more confrontational and because of that a real eye opener from a business perspective.  As much as you might feel initial pity for the particular restaurant owner that is being filleted on air, you quickly realize how inattentive these folks have been to the basic needs of their customers.  These episodes constantly remind me to repeat the mantra “It’s not about me.”  By this I mean that we need to set our own ego, desires, expectations and needs aside and replace all this with a customer focused approach.  Invariably I find myself admitting to the same errors as these poor blokes.  We can all learn lessons from their mistakes.  In the end you have to acknowledge these businesses that were brave enough to tackle the hard stuff in order to improve.

Some Homework

Are you brave enough to take this on?  Tune into BBC America yourself and record a few of these program episodes.  Better yet tap into YouTube and see them right now.  Put yourself in the shoes of the people pitching their ideas or having their restaurants being audited.  Ask yourself where you could apply this pressure on your own business and sales efforts.

For Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” pay close attention to the following concepts.

  • Simplification:  Don’t try to tackle more than you are capable of doing.  Focus on what you do best, what products are strongest for you, what services are of best value.  Gordon Ramsey points out in his show the fact that many of his clients offer to much variety (too broad a menu) and they end up doing nothing well.
  • Cleanliness:  In our world this relates to organization.  Sales people are often thinkers, dreamers and people who are best at the spoken  word.  Many of us are not adept at note taking, filing, details or process.  Gordon is emphatic about kitchen orderliness, cleanliness and process.  As sales professionals we can learn a thing or two about organizing our processes and procedures so we can serve up fresh and well planned briefs to our clients.
  • The Dining Experience:  It’s all about the customer.  Watch this carefully as this is a universal concept.  It’s not about your skill as a chef or the culinary school you went to.  In fact it’s not about you at all.  It’s all about the customer’s experience.  Listen to their wishes, needs and desires.  Prepare offers and proposals (menus and dishes) that appeal to their specific palate.

For Dragon’s Den look for these points.

  • Sales:  Have you actually made any sales calls?  Have you interviewed your client base?  In all the work I do, I must tell you that what I find most is that clients tend to be focused on their “widget.”  By this I mean that most businesses start out focusing on their product, their service or the thing they specialize in.  Rarely do I see business owners address their market fist.  Is there a need for my “widget?”  What do potential clients think about my “widget?”  What changes do I need to make to my “widget” to make it more appealing to my market?  In the end, you must go out and interview people about your product or service.  The feedback you receive will inform everything about your business and, in fact, may lead you to completely re-think your direction.
  • Forecasts:  What data do you have to back up your assumptions?  As a sales professional or business owner this part is key.  You need to take off the rose colored glasses and take a stark look at your financial reality.  Forecasts are not guesses.  They aren’t even educated guesses.  Forecasts are based on two things.

Leads or Candidates. These are potential leads based on actual interviews you have had with real people within your market.  Not guesses.  Not statistics.  Not market analysis from someone else.  These are actual measurements taken by you of the people you intend to market to.  These are clearly not people who are in your pipeline yet but are those that have given you significant feedback that has guided you to understand that you can sell to them successfully.

Actual client interactions. These fall into several specific categories.

Pipeline Lead – You’ve called on them and have completed a formal discovery of their needs.

Qualified Lead – Discovery is complete and we’ve defined an opportunity, a budget and a time frame.

Forecast Opportunity – Formal proposal delivered and accepted.  Date for purchase is defined and money is allocated.

Closed Deal - Order is in your hands and the invoice has been sent.  (Some companies require that the invoice be paid in order to qualify as closed).

  • Reality:  “What have you been smoking?”  You see this often in this series where the panel will turn to each other and utter this comment.  My favorite story about this relates to a round table forecast review I was involved in while I was still part of “Corporate America.”  The salesperson was done with their forecast review and clearly was not in control of their territory.  Instead of fessing up to that and telling our panel what they did know about their business, they proceeded to create this complete story about their territory, the direction they thought it was headed in and when they thought things would turn around for them.  After they were done and had left the room, the senior sales executive in attendance turned to the rest of the panel and said “That was certainly fiction with conviction!”  I’ll never forget this.  We all need to remember to take a candid look at our business and beware not to convince ourselves that we’re doing all the right things if we’re not really sure we are.

I hope you enjoy these shows as much as I do.  I’ll bet you’ll find that by inserting yourself into the situations explored by these shows, that you will end up seeing a lot of improvements you can make in your business life.

Happy Selling!

Sales Avoidance

Are You Guilty of Sales Avoidance?

I’ve been reading articles lately about all the things one can do to reduce business expenses in this weak economy.  Everything from saving a .45 cent stamp by paying your bills on-line to re-negotiating your long distance phone rates.  It got me to thinking about my fellow sales professionals who might see this as the perfect excuse to get distracted by these types of activities.

So here’s a personal confession.  I can get distracted with the best of them.  I mean, there are mornings when the last thing I want to do is talk to my customers.  I have a ton of “reasons” all of which sound totally sane as I’m waking up and before my morning latte has kicked in.  I organize my desk, update Quicken, open mail and generally avoid getting engaged with humanity – sales avoidance!  Sound familiar?  It’s called sales avoidance.

The truth is that is that this is a totally human reaction and one that we all need to face up to.  The reality is that as a sales professional there is nothing more important than moving the sales process forward with our clients.  So see your homework assignments (below) and use them on those days when you need to get in contact with your clients but aren’t ready to actually talk to anyone yet (my wife and my Yorkshire Terrier wisely avoid me for the first hour after I wake up).

Some Homework

Try logging into e-mail first.  Jump on those client e-mails and get your juices flowing.  Go after the easy stuff first and work your way up to the more challenging responses.  Next go and empty those voice mail boxes (I have two) and add callbacks to your favorite contact tracking tool (Outlook, Google Calendar, Act!, Salesforce.com, etc.).  Are you feeling a little better now?  Perhaps you are ready now to pick up the phone and set that next meeting, follow up on that purchase order or head out the door and find that next new customer?

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s cool to save a few cents on stamps and long distance but the reality is that as sales professionals we are in charge of the big bucks.  As Tom Cruise’ character points out in the movie Jerry McGuire – “Follow the Money!”  To this I would add “Follow the BIG money.”

Happy Selling!

Want Quick Sales Growth Now?

In this lean economy it is often the little things that make all the difference in the world to your clients.   I have a few simple recommendations to light up your sales success.

Strike While the Iron is Hot!

  • Return that call:  One of the most common client complaints I hear surrounds follow-up.  Sometimes we put our work activities ahead of those pesky calls and e-mails we need to get to.  Big mistake!  Put your clients (sales) first…period.  Empty your voice mail queue and get to those calls on all of those sticky-notes.  As a general rule, return calls within an hour.  In no case should a call be left for more than 24 hours.  In this internet economy, your clients expect immediate feedback.  From a practical perspective, Strike While the Iron is Hot!
  • Jump on those e-mails:  Believe it or not, clients in this day and age expect a response to their e-mails as quickly as any other form of communication.  We have Amazon.com and the web enabled retail community to thank for that.  No problem.  Simply jot a quick note if you don’t have time for a complete response.  Better yet, build a few “boilerplate” response e-mail templates that you can quickly modify and send out quickly.

Do Your Homework

Do the homework for your client.  This often means spelling out your offer in terms that they understand and can use in their own organization.  Speak their language.  Write your proposal assuming that they’ll be doing your selling job for you when your not there.  By doing their work for them you help them put the best foot forward.  Here’s a quick example.  In working with a client recently, I found that their proposals were getting held up.  After interviewing the client and the buyer, it became clear that both were not on the same page.  I found that by creating a proposal that clearly spelled out “WIFM” (What’s In It For Me) from the buyer perspective the proposal aligned with their internal messaging.  For instance, if your client is implementing or adhering to a certain business process be sure you reference that in all of your client materials.  If they are LEEDS compliant, reference that.  If they use PLANETREE as their customer interface solution, make sure your proposals call out your support of that methodology.  If their internal financial structure calls for a twelve month return on investment (ROI) make sure you do the math for them and call out the specific ROI for your proposal.

Some Homework for You

So how do you find out what internal client messages to align with?  You’ve got to ask.  The difference here is that this is not a “sales” call.  This conversation with your client needs to fall into the interview style I’ve discussed before.  Go ahead and schedule your next client visit but be prepared with these questions.

  • “What is the outcome you are looking for from this project?”
  • “Who is the ultimate audience or beneficiary of this proposal?
  • “Tell me about how my proposal needs to meet a certain internal ROI?”
  • “You mentioned _____ (LEEDS, PLANETREE, ISO, etc.) during our meeting.  How do you see my proposal integrating with that?”
  • “Help me understand what I can do to make this proposal meaningful to senior management.”

Try using open ended questions that do not elicit a “yes” or “no” answer from your client.  It’s best to start with questions like:

  • “Tell me about _____.”
  • “Please explain more about ___ to me.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m clear about ____.”

There’s no time like the present so go out and jump on this right away.

Happy Selling!

Are You “Coach-able?”

Start With a Serious Self Audit

One of the best exercises you can do to clear your path towards sales success is to assess where you are getting in your own way.  I’ve found that in my own career and in those of many I consult with, that there is a lot of time spent “in our own heads.”  We have fears about people and situations that we’ve carried from earlier experiences.  It’s time to take a fearless look at those interactions – face them head on and tell them to “bug off!”  I’m certainly not the first one to bring this up but I will tell you right now that there is not a path to sales success without confronting your “stuff.”

Ask Yourself and Others for Feedback

What this boils down to for most of us is that we need to start by being our own best “coach” or by reaching out to a trusted adviser and being “coach-able.”  Strip away your fear of being made to feel wrong.  Get rid of the pit in your stomach that starts when you think you are not good enough.  By taking an honest look at yourself and your fears you can then start to absorb the feedback from yourself and others that will help you improve your sales career.  A simple technique to begin with is to “interview” a few of your clients.  Begin by asking two simple questions.

  • “What do you feel I do well?”
  • “Where do feel I could improve?”

It’s crucial that you listen without a judgmental attitude.  I’d also recommend taking notes.  Nothing shows you care more than actually writing down the guidance you are getting from another person.  When you start to feel confrontational or scared push that aside as if you were mentally swatting away a fly.  When the conversation starts to dwindle with your client simply ask “is there anything else you’d like to add?”  I guarantee you that this will provide you with two surprises.

First, you are way tougher on yourself than those you sell to.  What’s the message you can get from this?  The fear you have about selling to your clients is a lot bigger in your head than it is in theirs.

Second, I’ll bet you thought you were going to get beat up by your client didn’t you?  What you probably got was a few friendly reminders and suggestions.  Did you hear…

  • “Could you be on time to appointments?”
  • “Would you return my calls the same day?”
  • “Can you get my invoices to me faster?”

Here’s Some Homework

That wasn’t so bad was it?  I’ll bet you’ll find that this will be a technique you use on an regular basis with your clients.  What better way can you think of to let them know you are truly interested in their business.  So here’s your homework.  Open up your favorite calender device (Outlook, Google Calendar, your datebook) and schedule one of these interviews in for next week.  Why not send it out as in online invitation to your favorite client.  Feel free to add the questions in the invitation so your client can start to percolate on them before you meet.

Enjoy the interview process and remember to be open and “coach-able.”  You and your clients will begin to see positive results immediately.

Happy Selling!