Larry Lewis

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

Voice mail adventure

Last month you gave us some suggestions on how to deal with receptionists and secretaries when cold calling. What should we do when sent to voice mail?

In today’s world, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get a hold of prospects via the telephone. I recently heard a statistic that, today, only one out of every eight calls reaches the intended party. In fact, only one out of every three calls reaches anybody at all. The rest go to voice mail.

So, when you get sent to voice mail what do you do? Should you leave a message or shouldn’t you? First of all, you should listen to their voice mail message, because it will often provide you with useful information. But I recommend that you not leave a message unless you’re sure that, when the person returns your call, you will be there to receive it.

Most people won’t return a salesperson’s call even when the salesperson is selling something they need. Therefore, the only way you will get prospects to return your calls is to tell them something that hooks their curiosity without disclosing that you are trying to sell them something. If they call you and end up speaking to your receptionist or your own voice mail system, they will discover your call was probably a sales call and will screen any future calls you make to them.

If you leave a message, be as brief as possible. The message that has always worked for me is simply to leave my first name and phone number. People will typically return the call simply out of curiosity or the hope that I am a prospect for them.

Another way around voice mail is to call the wrong department within an organization, act confused and ask to be transferred to the person you are really interested in contacting. Many people in larger corporations will screen calls from the outside, but take calls from the inside. I have found that the sales department will always take your call (although they often don’t know how to operate their phone systems). Accounts receivable is often a good bet as well.


In today’s thriving economy, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to hire good sales people. Is there anything I can ask in the interview to ensure the person I hire will last?

The best advice is this : Don’t blue-sky the job. When it comes to hiring sales people, it’s definitely a buyer’s market. This often puts you in the position of feeling like you have to sell the candidate on taking the job. During job interviews, we usually spend more time trying to convince applicants to work for us than finding out their true sales grit. Don’t do this.

Not only do I not want you to blue-sky the job, I want you to run a negative interview. Let applicants know how tough it’s going to be. Ask how they plan to start working their territories. Only those who talk about making cold calls will actually do them.

Ask three more tough questions behind every answer you get. By putting the pressure on the sales candidates in the interview process, you can determine if they will roll over or assert themselves when face to face with a prospect.

When challenging candidates, take note of whether they stay in control or let you dictate the process. Good sales people will have an agenda and take you through a qualifying process similar to what they would do with a prospect,while at the same time making you feel as if you your agenda is being met.

Finally, before you offer them a position, have them take a sales candidate screening test or evaluation so that you can uncover their hidden weaknesses.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm, and host of “Today’s Selling Solution,” heard daily in Pittsburgh at 12:43 p.m. on 1410 KQV AM radio. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com for a screening test recommendation or complimentary copy of “Top 25 Questions to Ask in a Sales Interview.” He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Lamenting loyalty

It seems relationships no longer matter when it comes to selling. There is simply no loyalty anymore. How do we keep customers in this age of increased competition and price cutting?

The days of the glad-handing, back slapping sales person are over, but that doesn’t mean relationships no longer matter. Despite the advent of fax machines, e-mail and voice mail, people still buy from people. In fact, our modern conveniences have disconnected us from our prospects for so long that most prospects are stroke-deprived.

In other words, most prospects are starved for attention and will hand their business to the sales person who really makes the effort to understand their problems.

This is especially true when it comes to existing customers. Most of the time, customers change vendors for the same reasons people get divorced — because their expectations aren’t being met and they don’t feel that their old vendor really cares about them anymore. Still, it’s a risk for customers to shift their allegiance to a new vendor, even when they are dissatisfied. As the saying goes, the devil they know may be better than the devil they don’t know.

After all, they left your competition to come to you because your competition wasn’t living up to their expectations. Obviously, you haven’t quite lived up to their expectations either, or they wouldn’t be looking.

Managing expectations is the secret to strategic account management and client retention. Too often, a sales person will paint a picture that is rosier than reality to get the sale. When these lofty expectations aren’t met, the customer becomes dissatisfied and eventually comes to feel that the company doesn’t care about him or her.

You can prevent this through clear, up-front agreements about what is expected of one another, periodic meetings to seek out potential problems before they occur, and an escalation policy to prevent molehills from turning into mountains.

We have a lot of sales reps who seem to have great people skills, but they aren’t closers. How do I change this?

If there is one universal truth in sales, it is this: Time kills deals. The longer it takes to close a sale, the greater the likelihood that something will get in the way to prevent that deal from ever closing. Therefore, you absolutely have to reduce the selling cycle.

You evidently have two parts to your problem. When it comes to closing, you’ve got the technical side —how do you do it — and you’ve got the conceptual side, which relates to why people still won’t do it even when they know what to do.

On the conceptual side, I have found that only decision makers can get other people to make decisions. People who have trouble making decisions themselves will empathize with the prospect who wants to “think it over.” In the end, they often lose the deal.

To change this, you’re going to have to change the way your sales reps make their own personal buying decisions so that they don’t inhibit their ability to close sales in a business context. They also need to become comfortable hearing “no.”

On the technical side, you need to change your strategy for reaching mutual agreements with your prospects. The old tactical closes, such as the “assumptive” or “Ben Franklin” closes, no longer work. People don’t want to be sold. The minute a sales person attempts to “close” a sale, the prospect begins to feel controlled and manipulated, causing him or her to resist.

The secret to effective closing is to establish clear, up-front, mutual agreements at various checkpoints in the sales process, where a determination is made to either proceed or stop. Immediately prior to submitting the proposal or making a presentation, the prospect must agree to decide yes or no when the presentation is concluded. Both parties agree in advance that the prospect will make a decision. As a result, there are no surprises and, by knowing in advance that it’s OK to say no, no pressure.

With this agreement in place, halfway through the presentation, the sales person should stop and take the prospect’s temperature. It goes like this: “Mr. Prospect, based on what you’ve seen and heard so far, where are you on a scale of one of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning that you are ready to buy?” If the answer is a 6 or better, ask him what he needs to get to 10, then proceed along those lines. (If it’s a 6 or less, back up and ascertain what he is uncomfortable with.) Once he has reached 9 or 10, the close is very straightforward. Simply ask, “What would you like me to do now?” and allow the prospect to close himself.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send him your comments and questions via fax at (724)933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

How to manage managing

I recently added to my management duties the role of sales manager. However, I am not really sure what I should be doing. Can you help?

You aren’t alone. Most sales managers have no idea what their role really is. As sales manager, your primary responsibilities are (1) coaching; (2) motivating; and (3) holding your sales people accountable. Done right, you probably won’t find another job more maddening or demanding.

The process of coaching sales people consists of an ongoing dialog that includes, but isn’t limited to, pre-call strategizing and post-call debriefing with each sales person. Under ideal conditions, this should take place daily. This means helping your reps discover what they could do to improve, without being overly critical.

Motivating sales people is an ongoing process in which, on those days when a sales person isn’t able to “self start,” you step in and provide an external dose of motivation. Unfortunately, those days are far more common than anyone realizes, and you can only be effective when you are aware of what will uniquely motivate each sales person.

Start by helping your sales people get in touch with the dreams they have probably long forsaken. For you to be truly motivating, your reps’ personal goals must be derived from their dreams. If you take the time to get to know the people who work for you a little better, you not only will know how to motivate them, but they will be more responsive to your coaching.

If you really want to generate sales growth within your organization, this is an easy, yet powerful place to begin.

From there, you must help your reps realize that their goals can be achieved and help them construct a plan that will enable them to reach their goals. This should consist of activities and behavior which, if performed consistently, will manifest results you’re seeking. Once constructed, it’s your job to hold your sales people accountable to their plan.

Holding sales people accountable is perhaps the most feared part of sales management. It requires clear, mutual expectations for each sales person’s required activity on a daily basis.

Instead of holding your reps accountable for a certain sales volume on a monthly or quarterly basis, however, hold them accountable for the behavior they need to perform on a daily basis to achieve these results. When a sales person fails to perform the required behavior, meet with them, express disappointment and remind them that the performance was not acceptable.

Next, make it clear that the sales person must meet those expectations in the next period and impose a penalty for failure to perform as required in the future.

I personally believe you should use a “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. The most important part of this is following through. This is the part most managers fear, because it requires confrontation.

Although it may make you uncomfortable, it’s necessary. It also sends a powerful message to the whole staff that you no longer accept mediocrity.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

A higher calling

I have heard that I should call at the top of an organization and avoid the purchasing department. However, my counterparts tell me that if purchasing finds out, they will block me from getting business in the future. What should I do?

While attending a conference of CEOs, I was reminded of the importance of calling high in an organization. Salespeople are paid for two things: talking to strangers and gaining commitments. Everything else falls into the category of customer service.

Who makes the decisions in an organization? Executives do. The ability to make decisions is the one thing that differentiates executives from everyone else. Middle-level managers are often paralyzed into indecision by fear of making the wrong decision. Executives aren’t. So why don’t salespeople call at this level?

The first impediment to calling high is a salesperson’s self-concept. A salesperson will only call as high in an organization as he or she feels comfortable. Too many don’t call on the CEO because they don’t believe in their product or service or in themselves. They don’t feel worthy of — and therefore comfortable — calling on the CEO. Trust me, if Jack Welch of GE gave up his position to sell janitorial supplies, he would not call on the purchasing agent. He would call on the CEO, because he feels he belongs at that level.

That doesn’t mean every CEO makes the decisions for every product or service his company buys. More than likely, the CEO delegates that to someone. However, when you start at the top and are delegated to someone, you have the power and clout of the chief executive’s office behind you.

Salespeople need to learn to talk another language — the language of executives, which revolves around concepts such as ROI, incremental revenue and aggregate cost reductions. Executives don’t care about features and benefits — they care about capturing market share, reducing operating costs and improving their return on investment.

What about purchasing agents? Forget it. Purchasing agents have one purpose — to drive a better bargain. They rarely look at the big picture. If you start at the top, with the appropriate issues being addressed, purchasing agents are relegated to the role of clerks who simply document the deals.

Granted, it’s rare for a purchasing agent to stand in the way of a deal that will genuinely make an impact on the organization. However, if you start with a purchasing agent, that agent often morphs into a German shepherd guarding the gates, only letting you pass if you hand over a juicy bone in the form of a healthy discount.

Show me a salesperson who calls on purchasing agents and I’ll show you one who sells on price. Which begs the question — what if purchasing objects to you going around them?

I credit my dad, one of the best salespeople I know, for this important lesson: It’s sometimes easier to beg for forgiveness than to get permission in the first place. If you have done your job well, most real decision-makers will appreciate your guts as well as the value you have brought to them.

They may even try to hire you.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or e-mail Lewis at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724)933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Someone to watch over me

Employee use of electronic mail and the Internet is increasing at an extraordinary pace.

According to one source, U.S. workers currently send more than one billion e-mail messages every day. One can only guess just how many of those messages are professional and how many are personal.

That’s because the majority of companies don’t monitor their employees’ electronic communications use. Negative connotations of Big Brother and a hesitancy to promote an atmosphere of mistrust hold many back. But several legitimate reasons exist for you to consider monitoring your workers’ e-mail and Internet usage.

Companies have a real need to maintain their professional reputation and image. They have a right to oversee employee productivity and workplace efficiency. They have an obligation to prevent and discourage sexual and other illegal workplace harassment. You can even be held accountable for failing to prevent an employee from cyberstalking — threatening, harassing or annoying someone through multiple e-mails.

Companies may choose to monitor employee e-mail and Internet use to prevent possible defamation liability or employee disclosure of trade secrets and other confidential information. They may even do it to avoid copyright and other intellectual property infringement liability from employees illegally downloading software and other resources.

There are many reasons you may want to keep an eye on what goes out of your workers’ computers, but can you? To date, federal and state laws regarding the right of private employers to monitor employee use of e-mail and the Internet remains undeveloped.

What the law says

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) is a federal statute that regulates the ability of both government and private employers to monitor the oral, wire or electronic communications of their employees. The ECPA imposes liability on any person who intentionally intercepts, uses or discloses any electronic, wire or oral communications.

The ECPA does provide two exceptions under which employers may avoid liability under the statute:

1. A consent exception, in which the employee consents to being monitored after being informed of the company’s intention to monitor; and

2. A business extension exception, such as monitoring done in the ordinary course of business for quality control purposes. It’s still unclear, however, whether monitoring employee e-mail falls under either of these ECPA exceptions.

In lieu of clear federal guidelines, some states offer statutes that make the monitoring of e-mail even more difficult. The Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, for example, regulates the monitoring of oral, wire and electronic communications similar to the ECPA, but provides a stricter consent communication consent to monitoring. Similar to the ECPA, case law regarding this statute remains undeveloped.

The right to privacy

Common law in many states recognizes the right of privacy for individuals under certain circumstances. The privacy tort of intrusion upon seclusion maintains that one who intentionally intrudes upon the solitude or seclusion of another is subject to liability for invasion of privacy if the intrusion is deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person.

One federal court applying Pennsylvania law recently held that a discharged employee, terminated for sending inappropriate e-mail messages, did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the communications he sent using the company’s e-mail system, even if the employer promised that e-mail would be considered confidential and not subject to monitoring.

The court ultimately held that the discharged employee could not state a claim for wrongful discharge under Pennsylvania law.

Avoiding liability

Based on the limited case law in this area, how do employers monitor electronic communications without exposing themselves to liability? Start by setting ground rules and making sure your workers understand them. Let employees know up front that their use of company e-mail and Internet systems will be monitored, and put it in writing.

Draft and distribute a well-defined, written electronic communications policy before monitoring begins. That way, any expectation of privacy on the part of employees is eliminated.

The policy should inform employees of several things, including, but not limited to, the absence of any privacy right by employees while using the company’s e-mail and Internet systems, as well as the employer’s ability and right to monitor, intercept, record and review all communications sent by employees over the company’s e-mail and Internet systems.

Taking the time to explain the reasons for monitoring will go a long way in retaining morale. Terrence M. Lewis is an attorney with Pittsburgh-based law firm Thorp Reed & Armstrong LLP.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:37

Good marriage, bad marriage

I recently lost a big account to my competition. My boss says it's my fault because I didn't do enough to ensure the business wasn't at risk. From what I understand, my competitor made an offer they couldn't refuse. It seems there is no longer any customer loyalty. What can I do to ensure this does not happen again?

The best source for new business comes from your current customers. Yet in today's highly competitive world, it seems to be more and more difficult to stave off the competition and keep our customers.

Here are seven habits you should develop to keep and grow the business you have with your current customers.

Habit No. 1: A good client relationship is like a marriage. Make sure your client shares your expectations.

Marriages typically fall apart when expectations are not being met. Similarly, we lose customers because our idea of service doesn't match our customers' expectations, which brings me to the million-dollar question: What degree of service do your clients expect from you?

How do you go about developing this inventory -- determining exactly what your clients expect of you? The answer is simple -- ask them.

Habit No. 2: Your best customer is your competition's best prospect. Treat every customer like a prospect.

Every day you keep a customer, you're one day closer to losing that customer. Do you know what it would take to lose an account? Why did your best customer switch from his previous supplier to you? How will your customers deal with your competitors who call on them?

Ask these questions and be prepared for the worst. Once you know the answers, rehearse your prospect on how to deal with the barrage from the competition.

Resist the temptation to put words in your clients' mouths, as they will always be more committed when it comes from them. If they need a little help, give them ideas on how to handle it but be sure that your client buys in to it.

Habit No. 3: Nobody likes confrontation. Get at the truth, even when it hurts.

Your customers hate to tell you they are unhappy, and you hate to hear it. Nevertheless, your job is to uncover the truth, even when it hurts. How many times have we been less than fully satisfied with a meal at a restaurant, yet when the maitre d' asks, we tell him that everything is fine.

How will you know if your customer has a problem with your company if he or she is afraid to tell you because you refuse to listen or repeatedly explain away the mistake? Make sure the customer knows that it's OK to tell you bad news.

How will you know if your customer has a problem with you? Have a backup -- someone else the customer can go to with complaints. Realize that you are only human, and it's quite possible that one day you could mess up or there could be a misunderstanding. Tell your prospect that, while you aren't planning for that to happen, it could, and that if it ever does and he is upset enough, that you want him to be absolutely comfortable calling your manager.

Habit No. 4: You don't lose customers because of price; you lose them because of stroke deprivation.

Everyone needs to be stroked, and in today's fast-paced, impersonal world, everyone is running around stroke-deprived. The way to keep customers is to ensure that they are getting their fair share of strokes from you. How much do you know about your customer's career aspirations, about his or her personal aspirations? Is what you're doing for your customer's company good for the customer himself?

Keep a fuzzy file on each of your good customers. Know their likes and dislikes. Do things for them -- little favors, e-mails, send news clippings, take them to lunch, remember important dates in their lives. How often should you give strokes? Every chance you get, as long as you can do it with sincerity. Become a fuzzy source of stroke gratification for your clients

Habit #5: Never seek stroke gratification from your clients; only give it.

Oftentimes, salespeople will look for strokes from clients. Your job is to become a stroke source, not a stroke recipient. Get your needs met elsewhere.

Habit #6: Get an IOU for everything you do.

There is a difference between service and servitude. Your customers won't know you are extending extraordinary service to them unless you let them know you are providing it. The more you give, the more you get. Cheerfully provide terrific service but let your customers know when you've gone to extraordinary measures for them.

Sometimes you'll find yourself in a situation in which the customer has a request you cannot fulfill. Manage those expectations up front

Habit #7: Conduct a Chief Executive Semi-Annual Review (C.E.S.A.R.).

A C.E.S.A.R. program is an important way to help keep and grow your accounts. Twice a year, contact the CEO or the ultimate decision-maker at your account in a meeting, via telephone or in writing to find out where you and your company stand and to uncover other opportunities where you can be of service in the account.

Calling at this level does two things: It keeps you more in tune with what the honest feedback is and it doesn't keep you at the lower levels with which you may be accustomed to dealing, day in and day out, to maintain the account. It gets you in front of the chief executive at least twice a year to have good and meaningful dialogue. Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based firm dedicated to helping companies and individuals improve their sales performance through training and personal development. Send your comments via fax at (724) 933-9224 or visit totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (877) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:03

Marketing Matters

On more than one occasion, I have submitted a proposal to a prospect, only to have him take my proposal to the competition to see if it can beat it? How should I handle this?

Quit doing proposals without an up-front agreement to get the pros-pect's decision when it is delivered. The minute you deliver a proposal to a pros-pect, all your leverage is gone and you find yourself in "chase" mode. At this point, the prospect has all the leverage, and it's very difficult for you to stick to your price.

Only prospects who qualify should get your proposal. To qualify, they must have a problem you can fix. They have to acknowledge that it's their problem and be committed to fixing it. Once they have conveyed their commitment, they must be willing to share their budget with you and be willing to spend the money to fix the problem or incur whatever other sacrifice is necessary.

Finally, prospects must be willing to share their decision-making processes with you and agree to render a decision, one way or another, once you present your solution in a manner consistent with how they make decisions.

Generally, before putting it in writing, I will ask a prospect the following:

"Let's suppose I come back to you with a proposal that presents a solution to each of the problems we've discussed, at a price in the range of $X to $Y. If, after going through my proposal with me, you like what you see, tell me what happens then?"

If I'm not hearing the prospect say he'll buy it, I'm asking the prospect what problem I have failed to uncover that still needs to be addressed, what aspect of his investment he is uncomfortable with, or what aspect of the decision-making process hasn't been uncovered. I will not put in the time to develop a final proposal until I know that a prospect will be willing and able to give me an answer of yes or no at the time the proposal is submitted. Then and only then do they get a proposal.


When in the sales process should I discuss the issue of money?

This question is best answered by asking another question. If a prospect doesn't have the money or isn't willing to spend it on the product or service you are offering, when in the selling cycle would you like to find this out? The answer is obvious.

Most salespeople hold off on the discussion of money until they make a presentation, only to discover that the prospect's budget is insufficient. At this point, they are forced to walk away from the sale or drop their price to fit within the prospect's budget. However, by this time, the salespeople have already committed a lot of time to developing the proposal and are emotionally involved, making it difficult for them to walk away.

However, money should not be discussed until you have helped the prospect discover a compelling personal reason to take action, and the prospect has expressed his or her commitment to doing so. The operative term here is personal. Even within larger companies, you will not succeed in selling your product or service unless someone with influence is going to benefit personally.

Don't get me wrong - you also have to find a reason why it makes sense for the company as a whole. However, unless the decision-maker has a compelling personal reason to buy what you are offering, the deal will not get done.

This is one more reason why it makes sense to call at or near the top of an organization. At the executive level, there is a greater overlap between what is good for the company and what is good for the executive.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send via fax at (724)933-9112 or e-mail at LTLewistotaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

Those fishbowl leads

I’m attending several trade shows this summer and fall and was wondering if you could advise me on how to maximize the benefit from these shows?

Whenever I walk by booths at trade shows, one of two things invariably happens. Either the attendant walks up to me and silently hands me an expensive brochure, or a loud, “Can I help you” sales person asks if I would at least like to sign up for the free gift they are offering.

Let’s not concentrate for now on the silent person who hands out expensive literature to unqualified suspects. Instead, I want to focus on sales people who get business cards by way of entry into a contest and think they’re doing well at the show.

There are two problems with this. A fishbowl filled with business cards contains no more information — in fact less information — than what you can get from a business directory. The business card was received for the wrong reason, with no qualification to back it up, making the name on the card no more than a cold call — an unqualified suspect.

The second problem crops up after the show, when it comes time to follow up on all the suspects in the fish bowl.

At one trade show, I dropped my card into every fishbowl I could find and gave my card to at least one person in each booth. More than 90 percent of the companies never followed up. The companies that did follow up called to tell me I didn’t win their prize.

They wanted to know if I would be interested in receiving some literature or making an appointment to see them. Others didn’t call, but they sent me a photocopy of a form letter that thanked me for stopping by their booths and requesting the enclosed literature. Their premise and approach were weak, and they certainly didn’t stimulate my interest in their products or services.

The key to working a trade show effectively is to work hard at narrowing the field of suspects to a handful of qualified prospects and then follow up diligently. Here are my four habits for working a trade show:

Adjust your selling style. You want appointments, not necessarily sales. Ad libbing and working your way through the detail of a typical sale doesn’t work in a trade show environment. A trade show is usually a place to get leads and appointments, not make sales. The difference between the trade show style and the outside selling strategy is similar to the difference between an airplane taking off from an aircraft carrier instead of an airport runway.

Don’t talk about yourself or your products and services. Ask qualifying questions. Too many people make presumptions and then provide solutions prematurely. Here are some sample questions:

  • Have you heard of us?

  • What made you stop at our booth?

  • Have you used our product in the past?

  • What was your experience?

  • Do you really need it?

  • Why do you need it?

  • Who are you doing business with now?

  • Why would you switch?

  • Who, in addition to yourself, has a hand in making those kinds of decisions?

  • Does it make sense for us to talk after the show?

  • What is the best way for us to set that up?

Think of yourself as a casting agent, not a beggar or a teacher. Your job is not to educate the prospects who drop by. Your job is to qualify them on whether they fit the client role you are looking to fill and to separate the suspects from prospects.

On the back of the business cards of individuals who are truly prospects, write down four things: (a) What they’re interested in; (b) best time to call; (c) name of secretary or other gatekeeper; and (d) their ratings as prospects (cold, warm or hot).

Follow up immediately. A trade show lead has a shelf life of 24 to 72 hours. Set aside time immediately after the show to call these individuals; don’t write to them. If you can’t reach them by telephone, send a thank you note for dropping by your booth and keep following up. I’d rather have 10 good leads to follow up on than a stack of 100 with no qualification.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. He is host of “Today’s Selling Solution,” heard daily in Pittsburgh at 12:43 p.m. on 1410 KQV AM radio. Fax him your comments and questions at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (724)933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:53

You had to ask

Too often, I give my prospects exactly what they are looking for, yet they still don’t buy. Either my prospects are lying or I am missing their true concerns. How do I uncover a prospect’s true buying motives?

Prospects typically don’t tell you their true concerns up front — either because they don’t fully trust you or they don’t actually know what they’re looking for. It’s your job to guide them through the decision-making process and help them uncover their true buying motives.

The minute amateur sales people hear a customer’s problem, they erroneously assume they understand and immediately start to solve it by demonstrating their know-how and the features and benefits of their product.

The biggest complaint against traditional sales people is that customers feel they’re only there to make the sale and not to really understand the customers’ problems. Don’t assume you know what the customers’ real problems are. The problems that prospects bring you are rarely the real problems.

Most sales people find out what the problems are, but fail to ask why they are a problem. You have to go behind a prospect’s questions to uncover the real problem and his or her true buying motives. The question “Why?” takes you there.

The way we accomplish this is through reversing. Reversing is the strategy of answering a question with another question so we can uncover the motive for the question. Prospects ask questions for a reason, and why they ask is generally more important than what they ask. It’s our job to uncover it

A question my clients often get asked is, “How big is your company?” Their initial assumption is that bigger is better, so they answer the question accordingly. However, the real underlying question could be any number of things, such as:

  • Can you handle a customer of our size?

  • Will we receive the level of service we desire, or will we be too small an account for you to pay attention to us?

  • The last firm we used had to outsource the handling of part of the work, and we had problems with it, so will you be outsourcing those functions or handling them yourselves?

  • Will you still be in business X years from now if we have a problem with the product we are buying?

    The real question opens up a pathway to the prospects’ true buying motives.

I am often nervous about asking too many questions on a sales call. I hate it when sales representatives ask me 20 questions; I feel like I’m being interrogated. What should I do?

The problem lies in both the type and manner of questions asked. Let’s start with the types. Most sales reps ask an awful lot of situational questions, questions designed to uncover facts that could just as easily be found by looking up the company’s Web site or reading its annual report. So they’re wasting the prospects’ time.

On the other hand, sales people typically don’t ask enough problem or impact questions — questions that explain why a problem is important and the impact on the company and the individual if they fail to solve it. Impact questions help you understand whether your prospects have a compelling reason to buy while making them feel like you genuinely care about their situations.

The other issue relates to how they are asked. Most sales reps fail to soften their questions. It puts prospects on the defensive. A softening statement is a nurturing remark that makes prospects feel like they are being understood — phrases such as, “I understand,” “That makes sense,” “I can appreciate that” and “I’m glad you asked that.” It gives your prospects a stroke and keeps the questioning conversational.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales and sales management training. Send him your comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Taming the talker

I’ve told my sales representative that she talks too much on her sales calls. But she responds with the following question: “How will our prospects know what we can do for them if I don’t tell them?” Am I right or wrong?

You’re right. A prospect who is listening isn’t a prospect. Most sales reps talk far too much on a sales call. My rule of thumb is that the prospect should be talking 70 percent of the time and the sales rep 30 percent. And most of his or her talking should be in the form of questions.

The biggest compliment your reps can pay to prospects is to really listen to what they have to say. Moreover, it helps the reps to understand their true buying motives and shape their product or service to meet their prospects’ needs.

Your sales reps’ worth is determined by the information they uncover in a sales call, not the information they give. Their credibility is determined more by the questions they ask than by their answers. You can’t tell prospects anything without getting them defensive.

The sales reps’ job is to ask questions that will help prospects discover for themselves why they need what your company has to offer.

We have a lot of sales reps who seem to have great people skills, but they aren’t closers. How do I change this?

If there is one universal truth in sales, it is this: “Time kills deals.” The longer it takes to close a sale, the greater the likelihood that something will get in the way to prevent that deal from ever closing. Therefore, you absolutely have to reduce the selling cycle.

You evidently have two parts to your problem. When it comes to closing, you’ve got the technical side, which is how do you do it, and the conceptual side, which relates to why people still won’t do it even when they know what to do.

On the conceptual side, I have found that only decision makers can get other people to make decisions. People who have trouble making decisions themselves will empathize with the prospect who wants to “think it over.” In the end, they often lose the deal.

To change this, you’re going to have to change the way your sales reps make their own personal buying decisions so that they don’t inhibit their ability to close sales in a business context. They also need to become comfortable hearing no.

On the technical side, you need to change your strategy for reaching mutual agreements with your prospects. The old tactical closes like the assumptive or Ben Franklin closes no longer work. People don’t want to be sold. The minute a sales person attempts to “close” a sale, the prospect begins to feel controlled and manipulated, causing him or her to resist.

The secret to effective closing is to establish clear, up-front, mutual agreements at various checkpoints in the sales process where a determination is made to either proceed or stop. Immediately prior to submitting the proposal or making a presentation to the prospect, the prospect must agree to make a decision of yes or no when the presentation is concluded.

Both parties to the transaction agree in advance that the prospect will make a decision. As a result, there are no surprises and, by knowing in advance that it’s okay to say no, no pressure.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

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