How to take your qualifying to the next level with THE WHY ONION

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There has been more written about properly qualifying sales opportunities than just about any other topic. More than the three other critical sales skills (prospecting, positioning and negotiating) put together. But that’s ok because it is so very important. 

Through the years there have been many very helpful systems developed to help guide you in asking all the right questions. Examples include:

   BANT      - Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline

   CHAMP   - Challenges, Authority, Money and Prioritization

   ANUM     - Authority, Need, Urgency, Money

   MEDDIC  - Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion)

All of these are very good, and it’s worth spending time with your buyers understanding each of the areas highlighted in these acronyms. However, there is one critical oversight I see in each of these systems. 

They often assume that B2B BUYING DECISIONS ARE PURELY RATIONAL.

While it’s true that every business does in fact AIM to make very well considered, rational and defensible decisions, the emotional component in decision making cannot be ignored. Of course no one truly runs their business on their gut alone, but the gut is still there. Emotion is very much involved in every business decision, and especially where money and prestige are concerned. 

The thing to remember is that business decisions are made by HUMAN BEINGS, and are IMPERFECT PROCESSES where all the facts and every possibility can NEVER BE FULLY EXAMINED. These are people accustomed to making personal decisions with a combination of rational logic and human emotion. If this were not the case Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche would be failing entities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business decisions are a lot more like car purchases than many sales systems want to admit.

We must remember the human dynamic. Tucked within the rational business decision are people concerned about their own world; how they are perceived; and any personal risks involved in these complex group decisions. We must remember that there is always an emotional element to every purchase decision, even those made in a purely business context. 

I like to call this the WHY ONION

It’s something that is revealed through the entire selling process and takes real time, sensitivity and trust to peel each layer. And it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Doing so will create greater customer intimacy and trust that will set you apart from your competitors, and will help you know that the buyer is really serious and motivated to make a change. It will also help you craft a better right solution that satisfies the logical AND emotional buying considerations each buying constituent brings to the process.

Let’s deconstruct the onion a bit, so it’s easy to understand. 

The outer layer is usually a set of decisions and/or assumptions the buyer has already made about what they want. For example, let’s say you sell cloud based accounting software and the buyer has invited you in because they have come to believe that their next system needs to be cloud based. Tucked inside of that layer are multiple assumptions about that decision. It would be helpful to understand those. For example, asking how they came to that decision and what advantages they see in cloud based products may be helpful to understand. It also may highlight assumptions that could be challenged in a helpful way that clarifies some critical areas for your buyer. There are also a few layers about capabilities desired and solution priorities. Good salespeople spend a considerable amount of time here, and well they should, but risk losing out to competitive sales teams who go deeper.

The next layers have to do with their business goals, vision and expectations. What’s the bigger picture? What are they looking to accomplish that they can’t accomplish today? How does this align with stated strategic goals? How will the world be different? How will the business be impacted? Can that be quantified? Why is it important? And HOW important is it relative to other priorities? Very successful salespeople can get to this layer quite often and learn a lot that their competitors never get to. 

But the best salespeople go even deeper.

The inner core of the ONION is composed of the personal and emotional dynamics. It tends to be more individualized.  So while the above questions should ideally be asked of multiple people influencing the buying decision, its critical that these questions are asked of EVERY person involved, if possible. The individual answers will vary more than the practical, business answers. These questions have more to do with how their own corner of the world will be impacted. How will they be perceived? How are they perceived now? How will they personally benefit? How will their life be better? How will their career advance or improve? 

And as important, if not more important, than these personal vision questions are the personal risk questions. What could go wrong in this decision? How would that impact you? How would that reflect on you? What keeps you awake at night?

It’s often these personal risks that sway a deal to a competitor or bring it to a screeching halt.

The thing about the onion is you are never done peeling it. And it takes time! Real commitment to understanding. Gaining the trust of your buyer to get to the inner core takes time and care, so don’t expect to get it all in one meeting. Being armed with these questions and having them at the ready for each individual call or meeting is a winning strategy. And one that helps insure that your solution is answering both WHY’s

The PRACTICAL WHY and the EMOTIONAL WHY.

Are sales professionals better off being Optimists or Realists?

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Is the glass half full or half empty?

“Both!", says the realist.

And so it goes...

Many believe that a glass half full is the best way to look at the world, and I usually agree. But sales is difficult, and I think the answer is a bit more nuanced. Which of these three attitudes; optimism, pessimism, or realism serves us best in our sales career?

Good question!

Some would say optimism. After all, how do you embark upon a career full of pressure and uncertainty, where a significant portion of your income is based on the results you are able to generate, if you are not an optimist? This career demands the best of us. It demands our most hopeful, faithful self. How do you face objection, failure and occasional derision if you’re not an optimist? Simply put, you don’t.

But others would say realism. Understanding your clients well and your real chances of delivering a product or service they would value requires a willingness to be realistic and rational about your chances, how much time you should invest, what obstacles need to be overcome, and so forth. Being overly optimistic creates opportunity for missing key details, or subtle hints your buyer may be giving you. To say it another way, too much optimism can lead to “happy ears”; that symptom of hearing only the encouraging things and none of the warning signs. Realism prevents this missing key queue that guide adjustments in your approach and use of time, the only resource you can really control.

And of course, no one answers that pessimism is the best strategy! 

I don’t subscribe to a negative outlook, but maybe we should take a closer look at the virtues of a little bit of pessimism. If the right kind of negativity can be applied judiciously we have the ability to go beyond realism and see things hidden under the surface. By asking ourselves “what am I missing here?” or “what could go wrong?” or “what might my competitor be doing to give themselves an unfair advantage?”, we use a negative perspective to shine a brighter light on what could be working against us, and bring in more realism as a result. 

When we have a healthy dose of skepticism we balance optimism more toward realism. 

In my experience, while every sales professional is unique, it seems to me that excessive optimism is often the greater hindrance to success. As in all things, balance is the key. 

Use optimism when you are setting your goals and vision for the future. Use optimism when you are making that cold call, or walking into that critical vision. Visualize the best outcome and have it set in your mind as a target you wish to achieve. Then use that optimism to energize and guide your best actions.

THEN….

...introduce a bit of pessimism/realism:

    “What have I not thought of?"

    "Is there any preparation I haven’t done yet to better prepare myself for this call or meeting?"

    "Is there something my client is trying to say to me that I haven’t heard completely?"

Wouldn’t it be good to get this out in the open? Wouldn’t a dose of reality allow me to address what’s really happening, and IMPROVE my results? 

Couldn’t realism potentially vastly improve my relationship with my client and set me apart from my competition?

In my experience it does. 

Go ahead, if you tend to be a very optimistic soul try introducing a little bit of healthy skepticism to bring you closer to a balanced sense of realism. If you do, I suspect you will see the picture a bit clearer and take better, more effective, actions as a result.

Happy Selling!

Steve McCullough

www.mcculloughgroup.net/blog

3 and 1/2 Steps to Goal Setting for Sales Professionals

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Goal Setting. Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals, but surprisingly it can be very easy to foul up or worse, get off track in the pursuit. 

This week’s blog is going to be short and sweet and walk you through a goal setting process that keeps your eyes on the right things, and gives you greater chances of hitting your goals. It works for me and I hope it works for you just as well.

Here we go…

Step 1 - Assess Your Current Situation

The first thing you need to know before you set ANY GOALS is WHERE YOU ARE TODAY. If you’re a commercial pilot you can’t get from NY to LA if you don’t know you’re in NY to begin with. Imagine thinking you were in Seattle. You’d fly south and end up in Atlanta, not LA. But why start here? Some people would say you should set your goal first, then look around to see where you are. 

Bad idea! 

 

Goals must be SMART - ‘specific, reasonable, attainable, realistic and time-bound’. For them to be reasonable and attainable you have to really be honest about where you are today before you think about what your new goal is going to be. And because they need to have a reasonable timeframe in order to be properly time-bound, knowing where you are to begin with helps you set a reasonable and attainable goal. 

To demonstrate, let’s go back to the commercial flight analogy. Let’s say you’re in NY. You know that, obviously, and don’t even have to think about it. Waking up with concrete and tall buildings every day tells you so. Now suppose it’s Thursday and you want to go some somewhere warm for the weekend. You would never say Tahiti. Why? Not because Tahiti isn’t a warm and wonderful place. It’s because you’re in NY and Tahiti just isn’t a reasonable weekend destination. The timeframes don’t work.

The reality is we do this kind of mental exercise all the time, and don’t even think about the fact that we start with Assessing our Current Situation. That’s because oftentimes our current situation is so obvious we don’t even think about it consciously. But in our careers it’s easy to fail to stop, look around and be honest with ourselves about our current situation. Especially when we are setting goals that stretch us.

So a little work is in order. Perhaps we want to look at our pay stub and look at what we’ve made year to date. Or maybe the last three years of W-2s and see our average income over a longer period of time. Perhaps we want to assess where we stand in the company stack rankings for sales, or what our current pipeline looks like. Each of these is a good way of critically looking at our current state so we can decide a Reasonable and Attainable goal, and there are plenty others. Do this first.

Step 2 - Set a SMART goal.

This has has been talked about so many times I won’t go into it too deeply here. For me each of the five words are important, obviously, but Specific, Measurable and Time-bound are the ones most often missed or shortchanged. Take your time here and make sure your goal is precise and exact. No goals like “make more money” or “grow my pipeline”. That may be a worthwhile objective but because it isn’t Specific we can’t actually call it a goal. 

And if it’s Specific it ought to be Measurable as a result. But be careful. Don’t choose a goal that’s difficult to measure. The best goals are the ones where the measurable aspect is obvious. You don’t need to spend a weekend working through complex formulas to figure out whether you’ve hit your goal. Whether you hit your goal or not should be obvious and easy to figure out, not a mystery to unravel. 

And of course it has to be Time-bound. If you’re going to increase your income you need to know how much and by WHEN. This part is essential to put real restraints around achieving your goal or not. If you say you want to make $200,000 but don’t say when, then reaching that goal “someday” is going to take the heat off and reduce the internal drive and urgency that stretch goals provide. Go ahead, put a stake in the ground as to when you want that $200k. 

And now to Step 3 - Act on your Goal

It takes action to make anything happen. And the higher your goal is, the more sacrifice, strife and massive action will be required. Einstein said it best, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”. The best way to hit high goals is to commit yourself to more powerful action. It’s likely you may have to stop doing some things and start doing some new things, or more of the right things. You simply cannot get to the next level with today’s action plan. 

So in a nutshell, the 3 steps are Assess, Imagine, Act.

Seems simple, right? It is. 

However, I purposely left out the secret sauce. The one thing that’s missing in the Assess, Plan and Act process that if you leave it out, can doom you to failure. And it’s easy to get tripped up, especially if you are a sales professional.

The missing step is to DEFINE YOUR PLAN.

Now on the surface this sounds obvious, but there’s a key ingredient in your plan that will shift your focus, and results as well.  

LEADING INDICATORS!

In other words, you plan should include specific targets for the key actions you need to do in order to hit your goal. Perhaps it’s a certain number of cold calls per day. Perhaps it’s a certain amount of time spent on Social Media expanding your influence and delivering industry insights to your connections. Or maybe networking activity, or a certain number of calls to try to revive old deals.

Whatever your plan is, be sure to define MEASURABLE LEADING INDICATORS that are NOT outcomes, but rather COMMITTED ACTIONS you have 100% control over!!! In other words, you may not be able to control what happens on those cold calls, but you can control whether you make them or not. 

You see, one of the biggest challenges in staying focused and committed to a goal is OUTCOME ANXIETY. We’ve all felt it. “I sure hope this meeting goes well!” “I hope I close this strategic account” “I hope I can get a commitment to a follow up action by my client”.

I’m here to tell you, outcome anxiety is real and it is hugely detrimental to sales.

As a personal example, I’m a golfer and whenever I worry “boy I hope this doesn’t go in that sand trap”, guess what happens? It goes in the sand trap. Our brains are like that. Whatever we focus on, even if it’s negative, that’s what tends to happen. In sales our clients pick up on this anxiety and it damages trust, connection and enthusiasm for our products. 

But the most dangerous aspect of outcome anxiety is that it may cause you to abandon your goals altogether. Invariably there will be stretches of time when no results are showing up to indicate we are moving closer to our goal. And without another measure to feel “on track” it can be tempting to abandon the goal altogether as unachievable or not worthwhile. It’s easy to give up in these dry periods when we just need to push a little longer, in faith.

So, once you’ve done this critical step of defining your leading indicators, commit yourself to focusing only on them, not your results. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every quarter. Every year! Of course you will look at your results from time to time, and may even adjust your leading indicators if you picked the wrong ones out of the gate. But spend 10 times more energy measuring your progress against your leading indicators and I promise, the results will take care of themselves. 

 

Is it time to rethink sales process?

For many years sales leaders, consultants and professionals have all extolled the virtues of having a well defined sales process. I’ve been one of them for many years. But my thinking has begun to shift and I’m asking myself if we should even talk about sales process anymore.

But let me back up a bit first.

It’s been said many times, by many experts, that buyer behavior is changing in fundamental ways. And it’s true! Armed with more information, insight and ability to connect with peers, our buyers are more empowered than ever. Some have even determined that the buyer will go through 57% (or more!) of their decision process BEFORE ever engaging with a salesperson. (How do they measure this, I don’t know.)

There’s also a growing cynicism about salespeople, commerce, business, marketing and even the idea of what is fact and what is fabricated. 

The problem with sales process is it increasing feels like something we DO TO our buyers, not WITH THEM or FOR THEM. In this new environment one has to wonder if this is impacting some of the cynicism about the sales profession. As a buyer (yes, occasionally I do spend money) it sometimes feels like the primary agenda is what the salesperson wants, not what I want. Do you ever feel that way? 

And I can’t help but wonder if this is an artifact of too much focus on the sales process, and the goals of the salesperson/team/division/company, instead of the goals of the buyer.

To put it another way, does the emerging and deeply empowered buyer really want to be treated this way? Do they want to be the subject of a process? Do I? Do you?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still believe individuals and businesses need to have sales, revenue and profitability goals, but in today’s world they need to be closely tied to the buyers’ needs. (See my blog entitled “Mission Responsible” where I argued for a buyer-first goal system.) And if you go there, perhaps you should go all the way and adopt a buyer-first selling process.

The good news is we don’t have to create this out of whole cloth. Our marketing brethren have been defining the "Buyer Journey" for years and have developed a very mature model we can use as a basis for a buyer-first process. In its simplest form the Buyer Journey has four distinct phases that a company or individual goes through in order to make a purchase. They are…

Status Quo - the buyer is not aware that they have a problem or has not thought about a new goal or objective worth pursuing. 

Awareness - the buyer has become aware of a problem or has begun thinking about a new goal or objective that may be worth pursuing. 

Consideration - the buyer become convinced that the problem or goal deserves real focus and resource in the near term, and is committed to finding a solution to the problem now. 

Decision - the buyer has determined the method in which they plan to resolve the problem or pursue the goal, and are now considering a short list of companies that can provide the solution.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this. What are the essential questions the buyer is asking themselves at each of these decision stages? Again, keeping it simple, their questions look like this…

Status Quo            Do I have a problem, or new goal I can attain?

Awareness              Is there a meaningful WHY to make a change?

Consideration         HOW should I make the change?

Decision                 WHO should I choose?

So if we take this model how do we apply a selling strategy around it?

My recommendation is that the first thing every seller needs to do is quickly and accurately determine EXACTLY which stage the buyer is in. It’s not hard to see that if the buyer is only in the Awareness stage and you are answering WHO questions, you are going to be completely out of sync and probably won’t get many, or any, subsequent meetings with the buyer(s).

The second thing to do is to match your activities to the stage and HELP THEM answer the fundamental question they are pondering at the time. The good news is we have tools in our arsenal from traditional sales process that can assist us (and our buyer).

Here is what a buyer-first process could look like if you apply this logic:

Stage              Buyer Question      Seller Behavior

Status Quo        DO I?                    Educate/Challenge

Awareness         WHY?                    Qualify/Quantify        

Consideration     HOW?                   Collaborate/Codify Vision   

Decision             WHO?                   Differentiate/Compete

Of course there will be some overlap in this. For instance, one could very well continue to educate throughout the entire sales process. But the goal of the education will shift as the spotlight moves from essential question to next essential question. 

And that’s the thing about the reality of sales. While we try to turn it into an exact science we can measure, deconstruct, accelerate, repair, etc., it is as much art as science. We are dealing with people after all. People who make decisions, even if the decision is not to move forward at all. 

In my experience, when we turn the focus on the buyer good things happen for all. Perhaps it’s time we recognize this for real, and define processes that follow their journey rather than trying to blindly prescribe steps that match our objectives.

Mission Responsible

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“Outstanding people have one thing in common: An absolute sense of mission.”                                                                                                                                              - Zig Ziglar

Why do companies create mission statements? To impress their employees? Customers?Investors? Maybe all of the above?

Of course that’s the cynical way to look at it. Many companies actually create mission statements to define the mark they intend to make in the world. How and where they will do “good work”. How they add value and how that value is born of principals, values and good intentions.

There are plenty of good companies, and good people working for them. 
And GOOD SALESPEOPLE working for them too!

If you are one of the “good ones”, this blog post is for you. 

It’s unfortunate that poor notions about the sales profession continue to persist, even though there are many principled and ethical people involved in this noble profession. Too many see sales as nothing more than coercion and manipulation to the service of self interest. Of course many times this is born of real experience, unfortunately. As they say “a few bad apples…”

But the good ones know that in it’s highest form, sales is the intersection point of vision and value. We bring great benefit to our clients and show them how to have better outcomes and make their corner of the world a better place. We dig deep into their unique challenges and identify where our products and services can make a material difference. We are purveyors of real value in the world. 

Without us, our buyers may not know about the value we can unlock, or may not be able to adequately investigate and navigate the options available to them. And if we cannot unlock value for our clients, we move on. No manipulation or coercion here.

Doesn’t that sounds a lot like MISSION??? Bringing positive outcomes to others? Unlocking latent value? It does to me.

So maybe it’s time for salespeople to craft individual mission statements! And in the process, commit ourselves more fully to our highest good, our highest value in the world, and our sense of purpose, principal and a shared view of mutual success. 

What would happen if your personal mission was aligned to the mission of your company? To the unique value your products or services deliver? What would happen if put our full focus there.

I know. I know. That’s all a nice notion, but how do we align this altruistic idea of mission with real world things like sales targets, quotas and our own individual financial goals? Isn’t there real pressure to perform and hit a number? Didn’t we join our profession - at least in part - to have more control over our financial circumstances, and therefore make more money as a result? Doesn’t desire for material success run counter to true mission?

Not necessarily!

In my humble opinion, it all comes down to your definition of money. This is the key to aligning mission and economic success, and can unlock a more healthy approach to sales targets and sales approach in the process.

If your definition of money is something that just makes you feel good, look good, have nice things, and no more... YOU WILL STRUGGLE with money on one side of the ledger and mission on the other - always in conflict. With this self-oriented view of money you will find these competing ideas at odds with one another, and may be tempted to take the shortcuts that violate your best intentions, and your mission in the process. In fact, you probably will.

If, on the other hand, you define money as the representation and “CURRENCY OF VALUE” - which it is - and see it as the mechanism for how value is exchanged between two parties - how you actually make other people’s lives better - then you will have no problem pursuing a worthwhile mission and personal financial success at the same time. In fact, they will be in lock step.

It’s really quite simple. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

    What is the average ROI of my product or service? 

    Does it unlock 3, 4, 5 times or more value to the client then the investment required? 

    Knowing that, how much value do I need to unlock for my clients to hit my own sales goals and associated personal financial targets? What if I focused on that number instead of my sales target?

Now that’s a completely different kind of quota!

I challenge you to really think about this and start quantifying the value you are unlocking for your clients, while knowing that your income and financial well being will take care of itself as a result of doing the math above. 

Then, GO FIND CLIENTS who have the problems you can solve. IDENTIFY their goals and aspirations, and how you can add real value. QUANTIFY that Value! Make it your new PERSONAL QUOTA and please, stop spending time with clients who do NOT have meaningful challenges your product or service can solve. 

Give it some thought. It takes only five to minutes max. Then commit yourself to hitting this new target. 

If you actually take the time to this work, please let me know the results. I love to hear about contentious sales people who make a real difference in the world and who reach their own personal goals in the process.

It’s time for Mission. Mission Responsible!

Getting in Shape: A Treatise on Sales Methodologies and Modalities

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“What Sales Methodology do you subscribe to?”

I was recently asked this question and really struggled to answer it. I think I mumbled something about being focused on the Buyer Journey, but of course that is not a formal methodology. Then I mumbled some more and then changed the subject. As my son would say... 

Major fail!

Kind of embarrassing for someone in my position.

While I have taken teams through SPIN Selling, Solution Selling, Challenger Selling, Customer-Centric Selling, Franklin Covey, Guerrilla Selling and many, many more, I can’t say that one has become “Right” in my mind, with others being “Wrong” or inferior necessarily. My teams and I have seen value in each approach and have learned new ways to think about progressing and closing deals in each methodology.

But the question got me thinking about a better answer to a very good question. What I HAVE EXPERIENCED PERSONALLY and and WHAT DID I REALLY MEAN by being focused on BUYER JOURNEYS? 

It’s clear that there has been an evolution of thought in selling methodologies though the years.

In the "Fuller Brush" days the focus was on product. Get out and show off your product, often door-to-door, and customers will buy. Call this the PRODUCT ERA of selling if you will. Then options proliferated, marketing blossomed, and that approach started to wane in effectiveness. 

A different approach was needed and we got into “consultative” and Solution Selling, where inquiry and understanding a buyer’s business needs was a pre-requisite to being able to sell them something. Call this the SOLUTION ERA. Many teams are still in this stage primarily.

But now we see something new emerging. Recently we have “insight selling" and the Challenger Sale in vogue, where delivering value to the client through deep industry knowledge, while helping them question their assumptions, brings a deeper level of engagement while really separating oneself from the many “merely curious” competitors that are out there. Call this the INSIGHT ERA if you will.

If you agree with this history lesson you are probably thinking “doesn’t this evolution of selling methodologies indicate that some are more evolved, or “superior” to others?”

Well Yes and No.

I have found that thinking about these various approaches as SELLING MODALITIES rather than SELLING METHODOLOGIES is actually a more refined approach, and can be really helpful in mapping to the stage in the BUYER JOURNEY your customer is in. By thinking in terms of modalities you can better MATCH YOUR APPROACH to your buyer's current mindset, rather than using a one-size-fits all approach. 

Let me use a personal example as a way of illustrating. I recently bought an elliptical for my home because it was time to up my game in the Battle of the Bulge! Now let me walk you through the “BUYER JOURNEY” I went through on what appears to be a rather simple purchase decision so you can see what I mean. 

When you break it down, there are actually THREE DISTINCT PHASES of decision making that I went through before buying my elliptical. And these three phases are pretty universal when it comes to making any buying decision. 

To more easily match my journey to selling modalities, and their evolution, I will work backwards…

 

Decision Phase 3 - PRODUCT PHASE

In this final phase in my decision process I had concluded that I wanted an elliptical. It needed to fit easily into the sitting area in our master bedroom. I wanted to spend less than $1,000 and the features I decided most important were adjustable strides (for me and my wife) and a wide variety of pre-programmed routines. At this point I simply needed to find someone selling what I wanted. A simple product sale, no more. The focus was on showing me the various models along with the pros and cons of each. Demos and product reviews please!

But this is not where I started. My whole consideration process had led me to these conclusions but it took some time to gain this clarity. My journey had evolved to this point ONLY AFTER going through the first two phases of my decision process. Which leads to…

 

Decision Phase 2 - SOLUTION PHASE

In this phase I didn’t know what I wanted to buy, only that I wanted to exercise more. I had concluded that exercise was the “solution” I needed most to get healthier but there were lots of options available to me. I could join a gym, run in the neighborhood, take yoga, buy an exercise bike or elliptical, or many other options too numerous to list here. 

I had a very good sense of the problem (I need more exercise to get healthier) but hadn’t really decided the best kind of solution.

As I progressed through this phase I thought a lot about what was important. I wanted exercise that would fit easily into my routine. I wanted full body exercise that was aerobic and needed to be able to exercise even on the cold and snowy days of winter. I also thought that if I could read, listen to music or watch TV while exercising, that would help keep the boredom at bay.

Now go back and re-read that last paragraph and it’s pretty easy to imagine the kind of inquiry required if you were using a SOLUTION SELLING METHODOLOGY to help me gain clarity on the kind of solution I needed. “Tell me a bit about what you’re looking for in an exercise regime, Mr. McCullough…” And if you happened to sell ellipticals you would definitely have a very good prospect on your hands. And helping me come to this conclusion would give you a huge advantage in winning the sale.

But before I got to this phase, there was one phase slightly ahead of all of this…

 

Decision Stage 1 - AWARENESS STAGE

As I reflect back I realize that in this phase I only had a vague sense that I ought to get healthier. I didn’t have a sense of what exactly that meant for me, or even what it might look like. I just knew that I would benefit from more energy, better stamina and better concentration. I also knew that I wanted to live longer and be able to give more of myself to my family, business and community.

I had AWARENESS of the problem/opportunity but hadn’t thought very deeply about what the SOLUTION might look like.

I started with some assumptions about diet and exercise, but they were only that - assumptions. In this phase I was ripe for someone to really challenge me to think deeply about what I was contemplating and how best to achieve it. 

If a nutritionist had approached me in this stage I might have gone in a completely different direction for what to focus on. 

The fact that I decided to focus on an exercise solution is probably more a factor of the information and individuals who came into my life at that time than a real organized thought process. This is where an INSIGHT or CHALLENGER approach can really be highly effective. It’s also where the highest margin opportunities lie for those who get in at this phase with the right approach.

 

And so...

There is good academic evidence that points to the idea that just about all decision making goes through this exact cycle. Sometimes it takes days or weeks, and sometimes it take years.  But it’s usually the same.

So sellers should pay very close attention to their buyers to understand where they are at in this process. If someone had shown me an elliptical in Awareness Stage I would’ve been intrigued but I couldn’t even name the problem accurately so it would have been pretty difficult to separate me from $1,000. 

On the other hand if someone had tried to challenge my assumptions when I was in the PRODUCT PHASE I’m likely to have felt they weren’t listening and didn’t understand that I had already decided on exactly what I wanted to buy.

As a seller I know I’ve been guilty of using a hammer when I needed a screwdriver. Maybe you have too. Both are valuable tools but are suited for entirely different situations. 

Selling in today’s world is much the same. It’s helps to have the tool suited for the job at hand.

Steve

What “RussiaGate” says about selling in today’s world.

Trump & Putin.jpg

I have a lot of Facebook friends. Too many maybe. One thing is clear, there are only two camps when it comes to “RussiaGate” and who did what. 

Camp One “KNOWS EXACTLY” what is going on. They really, really know. Whether they believe it all points to Trump’s team working with the Russians trying to usurp the American electoral process, or a “Deep State” trying to usurp the Trump agenda by leveraging a crooked intelligence community and an activist “liberal media". Camp1 has got it all figured out. There’s no doubt in their mind.

I place myself in Camp Two. I really wish I knew enough to be in Camp One, but I don’t. There is way too much under the radar for me to figure out what is really going on so I have stopped pretending I know, or even think I know. Color me bewildered. Which in a democracy is a really bad thing, but I digress.

All of this got me thinking about similar moments in my own personal sales career, when I found myself firmly in Camp One. Early on there were so many times that I absolutely “KNEW" that the customer was buying from me, and even though I had a good idea of when. Optimism was driving the bus and I was mentally cashing my commission check. Woo hoo, bring it on!

Here’s the thing. Sometimes I was right, but unfortunately more times than not, I was wrong. Have you been there? Have you felt this pain? 

It hurts! 

Here’s the thing you learn after you’ve been through this about 14 million times...

What a client says doesn’t always correlate to reality. 

It’s not that they lie, it’s that the real truth is buried under some very nice words (usually just meant to avoid offense), body language, and many other subtle queues that no one can accurately read 100% of the time. 

After you realize the awful truth about what you’re hearing, you can feel a bit lost. It can feel like you’re flailing about, counting on luck rather than some objective measure to know where to invest your time and energy. What should be a rifle becomes a shotgun. Life is ONLY “a numbers game”. Not fun. I know.

So what do you do? How do you really know so you can invest your time on BUYERS, rather than spreading your focus around and counting on luck and hope? How do you turn in a sales forecast to your manager or Board and not feel like a politician telling the electorate what it wants to hear?

For me the key has been to focus on FINDING REAL BUYERS by setting up filters, hoops if you will, that demonstrate by action not words that you are both on the same page. To use a cliche’, "what you do is more important that what you say”. Top salespeople know this and use it as an advantage and a guide on which deal to focus on and when.

Which leads me to the weakest phrase in selling: “Mr. Client, what do you think our next steps are?”

This is the worst close to a meeting of all time. Please, if you do nothing else after reading my blog, REMOVE THIS PHRASE from your vernacular FOREVER! Eradicate it. Neutralize it. Bomb it with thermonuclear devices!

Instead, realize that the end of a call or meeting should conclude with a decision of some kind. Help your client make that decision. Make it easy. Come armed with the kinds of YESES that you believe would move your client to the next step and then ask directly for commitment. 

It takes a little thought before every meeting, you can’t just wing this. But trust me, it will create acceleration in the deals that have a chance and give you a clear view to the ones that don’t. And you can politely move away from those, or put them on the backburner.

I pray our current political saga will become as clear, but it will be determined by paying attention closely to actions, not words.

Steve

Put that coffee down!

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If the headline caught your attention there are two possible explanations: #1 you are a coffee lover, or #2 you are a huge fan of Glengarry Glen Ross.

I am both, unapologetically.

This morning as I savored my cup-a-joe more than usual I started thinking about my evolution as a coffee drinker and how I got to this moment. Which then led to me thinking about that genius movie about sales, Glengarry Glen Ross, and of course the modern challenges of selling in the Information Age.

Stick with me a bit here...

About three years ago I went from drinking two to three cups of coffee a day to just one or two a week. I won’t plug the product but I replaced coffee with a more healthy drink that has about the same amount of caffeine as a single cup of joe, and a whole lot of other good stuff for my brain and body. Great decision by the way! Always learning. Always moving forward.

But being the coffee lover that I am, I could not get away completely from that wonderful aroma and flavor, so I became an irregular coffee drinker. My wife likes to point out the irregular part, even when I’m not drinking coffee! :-)

Then about a year ago I decided to go to the next level and I forced myself to forgo the heavy cream and gobs of sugar I usually added. I took the plunge into the dark and mysterious land of black coffee. Once I acclimated, a whole new world opened up. Much deeper, more intense and far more enjoyable than the "java milk shakes” of days gone by. Pushed through and found a new level.

Which brings me to this morning. 

I was really enjoying this morning’s cup. I mean REALLY enjoying it! - all the deep aroma and intensity obscured from previous cups - when my thoughts turned one of my favorite movies of all time, Glengarry Glen Ross, and specifically Alec Baldwin’s inspired performance (you know the one!) where he tells the gathered team…

“Put that coffee down! Coffee is for closers!”

The moment stops everyone in their tracks. Cold! Baldwin’s character, Blake, then goes on to recap the month’s sales contest where 1st place is a new Cadillac, 2nd place is a (very sad) set of steak knives and 3rd place is “you’re fired”. 

Ouch! Talk about pressure!

It got me thinking. Real life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? The pressure to perform can be intense, especially in this game we’ve chosen called SALES. There are times all we can think about is will we win, or will we lose? And 2nd place doesn’t even earn a set of steak knives when you’re competing to win a critical deal. These emotions and these fears can eat you up if you’re not careful.

These emotions can be so great in fact, that the fear of losing can be smelled. It can be sensed. (Blake knew this) Your customers know when you have this fear and that is NOT GOOD. It either turns them off completely, or it emboldens them in getting the price and terms for your product if they’ve decided its the best fit. In my career I’ve seen this from three different perspectives: as a buyer, as a salesperson and as a sales leader. It’s not pretty!

So what’s the answer? How do you control this fear so that it doesn’t hurt you? How do you stop caring so much about something that you care so much about?

Well in his own very caustic way Blake provides the answer:  ALWAYS BE CLOSING!

But what does this really mean? There’s been some confusion about this, especially in complex sales cycles that last months or even years. How can you be “closing” when you are on your first (or second or third) client meeting and months away from a final decision?

The key is to focus on your actions, not the result. True in just about any pursuit, by the way. Focus on what you’re trying to achieve NOW and make EVERY INTERACTION ACTIONABLE. Get a decision. A result. A commitment from your buyer that moves the deal forward. Think about where you want the client to progress to and make it your goal for the interaction. 

Set it in your mind. Make it part of your meeting plan. 

In my experience I’ve learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way has about a 20% success rate - which can lead to success - but the right way is easily north of 80%. It’s the difference between Cadillacs and steak knives.

It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Buyers are slippery. They will tell you they need to think about it, or confer with others in their organization. Neither is a real decision or a commitment to move forward. You need to set yourself up to leave the interaction with the firm commitment. With agreement on actions, dates, times, etc.   

Get good at this. Practice. Role play. Analyze every meeting and score yourself on how firm your buyer’s commitments really are. And be a hard judge. 

It will pay off by giving you confidence and removing some of the fear and uncertainty. Sharks are not afraid, unless of course they find that they can no longer move forward and breathe. Be a shark. Don’t let outcome fear impede your success. 

Wake up and smell the coffee! 

It’s for closers!

Steve

"I need more leads!" (no you don't)

Throughout my leadership career as I've studied the best sales closers one interesting observation pops up over and over. It's so repeatable, I no longer give it a second thought.

THE BEST CLOSERS TYPICALLY WORK FEWER OPPORTUNITIES at any given time than their peers.

Why is that? How can they be closing more business when others have "more leads"?

The truth is that they receive no more or no fewer leads than anyone else. So why are they working FEWER opportunities and yet having GREATER SUCCESS?

Answer: RUTHLESS QUALIFYING

One of my top reps at RMG always said he wanted to "get to no fast". In other words, he wanted to make sure that buying was really something that could potentially occur and if not, extract himself from the opportunity early and let them waste his competitors' time. It's an odd way to say it but it demonstrated his undying commitment to spend time only with real buyers, which I'm convinced was a key to his success.

In my days of "carrying a bag" I seemed to have a smaller pipeline than others and at first it really bothered me, especially when we did pipeline reviews. But in time, my close rate was significantly higher and as my manager consistently saw me at or on top of the leaderboard, he gave me less and less grief.

No one had given me the secret (I wish they had earlier!). But because I was inherently curious, my extensive questioning helped me "accidentally" figure out that some prospects had a real need for my solution and some just had a passing interest and only wanted to learn more, but weren't really ready and motivated to make a change.

Now here's the kicker. They both ACTED JUST AS INTERESTED in learning about my solution!

My top rep, Jason, had come to the same conclusion. He would rather have fewer, highly qualified opportunities so that he could invest more time in each of them than his competitors, who likely chased everything. And this ability to invest more thought, planning and time created intimacy and trust with the buyer that allowed him (and me and all top sellers) to win more consistently.

Lead flow is essential. No doubting that. But having more leads is not the only path to better results. Investing your time wisely is ALWAYS a good choice, and the better you question on the front end, the more time you will have for the prospects truly likely to buy.

 

Going with the flow?

Photo by joshschutz/iStock / Getty Images

Do you ever get tired of your potential buyer always having the upper hand? Do you feel like “the game” is rigged in their favor and that their whim about whether to move forward fast, slow or at all is driving your emotions, results and paycheck?

Guess what, THE GAME IS RIGGED! The Information Age has put massive power in buyers' hands. They have more information and sales cycle control than any any time in history. We’ve all read about the studies that show that 55 - 75% of a buyer’s decision process has been completed before they connect with a salesperson. The problem with those studies is that they’re true. It’s a fact we all have to deal with.

So if you’re trying to put food on your family’s table what do you do?

The first step is to STOP SELLING!

(Whoa, did I just type that???? )

Yes I did!

For most buyers (and even salespeople) SELLING means trying to convince someone to do something they don’t necessarily want to do. It is often associated with a used car mentality steeped in lies, cover-ups and manipulations. (kinda like politics!)

To face the new reality and WIN I advocate a THREE STEP PROCESS that is actually pretty simple once you peel the layers and get the hang of it.

(I used to enjoy river kayaking so pardon the whitewater analogies that follow)

STEP 1) Learn the difference between PONDS, STREAMS, and RIVERS. In other words, learn to quickly separate the wheat for the chaff and work only with motivated buyers. There are a lot of tire kickers out there ...

(just because they got past that first research phase and are contacting you doesn’t mean they are a motivated buyer by the way!)

… but if they don’t know WHY (I mean REALLY know WHY) they are exploring you as a potential solution to a pressing problem or opportunity, you’re likely to find yourself in a smelly, swampy bog UPSIDE DOWN AND GOING NOWHERE.

Get out of those quickly and look for moving water!

STEP 2) Know the difference between a STREAM and a RIVER. If you’re going to paddle down a river there are different strokes for slow water and Class 5 rapids. Assess your buyer and match your activities to where they really are in the buying process. This means knowing the difference between clients who are in the CONSIDERATION phase and those who are in the DECISION stage. They are different buyers with different concerns (even though they often act very similar). You have to really pay attention and ask really good questions to determine who you’re dealing with.

Different strokes for different folks.

STEP 3) Paddle with AUTHORITY. So you’re in moving water and you know what kind of water it is; and you want to go faster and reach the end with more certainty. Here is where the art of becoming one with the river, while guiding your boat (your deal) with certainty over and around the rapids while finding the smoothest water at every bend, comes in. Every accomplished kayaker knows that key is to not be afraid or timid and to always make aggressive strokes. One must find a way to be EQUAL YET RESPECTFUL of the river and the dangers in losing control, while PADDLING WITH PURPOSE.

In sales this means meeting your buyer on a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD and GUIDING THE PROCESS with SPECIFIC INTENT at every step along the journey downstream.

Paddle with purpose!!!

It’s half science and half art, requiring both sides of the brain, which is what makes it so fun and rewarding. Running a river is the same. It should be on-the-edge and almost effortless at the same time.

As selling becomes more challenging with every passing day I remind myself of what my buddy Ron and I would do when we came upon a rough patch of whitewater. We would pull off to the side. Get out of the boat and survey the river below. Plan our approach, get back in and then PADDLE HARD!

Every seller needs to do this from time to time. STOP AND ASSESS.

Are you in too many swamps?

Are you paddling too fast when you’re in a stream, and not fast enough when you’re in a river?

Are you asserting yourself confidently IN THE FLOW, or are you fighting or worse, succumbing to the river’s power?

Make these changes and I ASSURE YOU your results will change.

- Steve