Archive for May, 2009

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?


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 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!