Online Sales

Great Meeting!

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A sure fire way to induce a room full of sellers to make that confused Scooby Doo face is to tell them you want them to stop having great meetings.

Huh?

Years ago one of my bosses had a bellyful of great meetings.  When he asked about the outcome of various customer meetings and sales calls, every rep seemed to come back with the same evaluation.

Great meeting! 

He finally couldn’t take it anymore and came out with one for the ages:  “Stop telling me you had a great meeting!  Tell me what happened!  Great meetings are the comfort of the weak seller!”

Promotional Message:  If you’re a qualified CRO or manager from a company that sells digital media and advertising services, request your invitation today for the Seller Forum on June 7th There are just ten seats left for a day that will transform the way you manage and the way you see the market, the competition and the consumer.  Rethink. Reframe. Refresh with a room full of your peers.  Only at Seller Forum.

While not known for subtlety, he had a point.  Far too often, these great meetings were great because neither side really committed to anything beyond general positivity and hope that things might work out some day.  No one was disappointed because no one really asked for anything.  The rep described his offerings while the client described her goals.  Everything was friendly and congratulatory.  There was much positive head nodding about things like alignment and complimentary strategies.  There was a nod toward speaking again at some future juncture when a budget or objectives will have arrived.  Hugs were exchanged at the elevator.

Great meeting.  Then….nothing.

What my boss understood many years ago in an era of four-color bleed pages and 15% commissions is just as true – and even more urgent – today.  All these great meetings are hurting us three ways.  First, nothing actually gets sold.  Second, we’ve needlessly extended an already long and meandering sales cycle.  And finally, we’ve injected an element of false hope into the pipeline where it doesn’t belong.  Hope is a wonderful human quality but a really shitty sales strategy.

Instead of having great meetings, reps should go in with urgent, specific business problems they can help solve.  They should have a specific course of action to recommend and be able to say just what that course of action would cost the customer.  And they should ask very specifically for the action they want the customer to take.

You may not get a hug at the elevator, but you’ll start having real conversations, better forecasting, account progress and better sales.

Now that’s great.

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Write this Down: Part One

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When I conduct a sales workshop (of which I do about 40 in a given year) I have a verbal tic that participants notice right away.  As we move through the structured materials and focused discussions of our day, I’m constantly telling them to “write this down.”  I do this because I’ll recall an idea or strategy midstream that I know is going to prove helpful later on.

So I’ve decided to write some of them down myself.  Enjoy.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.  Most of us treat our customers’ business and advertising problems like so many disposable razor blades.  Get just a little specific about their situation and watch the nature of your meetings and your relationships change for the better.  It’s better to be specific and wrong than accurate and meaningless.

Sell pain relievers, not vitamins.  Most of us tell clients about things that are generally good for them. This will extend your reach…this will help your brand.  Those who zero in specifically on an important short term pain point are more likely to create urgency and walk away with a sale.

Complexity is your enemy. Clients thrive on direction and clarity. Most sellers drown them in options and detail. Just get to the point.  Start with zero slides and build from there. And tell your customer what you think they should do.  If you’re not there to recommend action, why are you there?

Promotional Message:  If you’re a qualified CRO or manager from a company that sells digital media and advertising services, request your invitation today for the Seller Forum on June 7th.  There are just ten seats left for a day that will transform the way you manage and the way you see the market, the competition and the consumer.  Rethink. Reframe. Refresh with a room full of your peers.  Only at Seller Forum.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” TED Talk and his book “Start with Why” are game changers.  Don’t go more than two slides or 3 minutes into any meeting before explaining “Why We’re Here Today.”  And have a really good answer.

Be the party host, not the entertainment.  Sales is not performance art.  Most of us are way too wrapped up in what we’re going to say and how we’re going to perform.  Instead, pretend you are the host of the meeting and task yourself with creating a real conversation and making sure everyone is heard and comfortable.  Transformative.

Clients will always build something bigger with you than they’ll buy from you.  We tax our companies and our teams by making them build thousands of polished presentations and demos every year.  And they fall flat.  Instead, show your customer the plans, the blue print, the storyboard.  Keep it rough and invite them to draw, cut, add.  If they help build it, they’ll also own it.

You never get more than you ask for.  And most sellers, unfortunately, don’t ask for anything.  They imply. They talk about the next meeting, or going back to the office and putting together a proposal.  But ask for the order?  Close?  Not so much.  And the opportunity – to qualify, to clarify, to keep selling – is lost.

Watch for future posts in which I’ll continue to build on this list.

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Closing Cases, Solving Crimes.

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Watch any police procedural and you’ll hear the grizzled veteran detectives talk about ‘closing cases.’  To add a retro visual, you’ll even see them erase victim names or case numbers from a huge blackboard in the station house.  But as you learn, closing cases is not the same as solving crimes.

The cop who closes cases is mostly concerned about the bureaucracy of getting a case disposed of; tagging it with a plausible outcome and getting it out of active consideration.  It’s Dragnet meets The Dilbert Zone.   In contrast to these uninspired civil servants, we’ll see the real cop in the bunch…the one who isn’t satisfied until she solves the crime and brings the real culprit to justice.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

It’s occurred to me recently that we have a version of this contrast playing out within sales teams in our industry.  There are a lot of erstwhile sellers who are actually just closing cases.  They watch the board, they take notes, they report out what happens.  If they don’t get included on the RFP or the client decides to spend the money with another vendor, they dutifully append the case with the outcome and take it out of circulation.  They will have a half-dozen very good reasons why the sale wasn’t made, and an air-tight rationale for closing it out.

Contrast this with the seller who’s really out to solve the crime.  This seller goes into the investigation with genuine curiosity.  Win or lose, he wants to chase down every lead, interview every witness, eliminate every dead end.  If the case seems to be going cold or the witnesses disappear, he digs deeper and with greater urgency; he finds a way to pry it back open and earning a second or third look from the customer.

Sellers who solve crimes are a rare breed in our station houses.  Maybe it’s because we don’t call out and recognize their particular contributions enough.  Or perhaps we’re just not being clear about the nature of the job that needs to be done.  Is the drive and ability to solve crimes just something you’re born with?  Or can it be taught?  I aim to find out.

We need a new kind of cop in this town.

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The Opposite of Selling.

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the-opposite-of-selling-2The opposite of selling is describing.

Selling means changing the outcome.  It means turning a no to a maybe and a maybe to a yes.  It means earning more favorable terms and protocols on a technology deal and overcoming the competition to have your content marketing program win the recommendation.  Selling is persuasion.  It’s leaving the world a slightly different place that it was a few minutes ago.

This all sounds obvious, but – sadly – it’s not.  A great many sales executives in our industry (and I’d suspect many others) are not actually selling at all.  They are part of the culture of description.  They describe your products to the customers and then describe the customers’ reactions to the boss.  They describe the market conditions or feature shortcomings that prevent the customer from buying.  They describe technology and process in excruciating detail, and they describe their own backgrounds and track records on their ever-growing resumes.  They’re just not selling.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice.  Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

It would be natural for those of us who run companies and sales teams to lament this creeping cultural affliction.  But first we’ve got to stop causing it.

Stop Loading Your Team Down with Stuff to Describe.  Between marketing, product – sometimes even your company’s founders or top brass – your would-be sellers are bombarded with a crushing volume of slides, concepts, diagrams, videos, demos and more.  The message is unmistakable:  Just better describe more of our stuff and everything will be OK!  This happens for a reason. So…

Stop Worshiping Your Own Product.  The “Product-as-Hero” myth is a prevailing one, and companies in our world buy into it with enthusiastic myopia. When they buy, it’s because the product is great.  When they don’t, it’s a sales failure.  Yes, work to make your product and features great.  But immediately recognize that great products don’t always win and you immediately recognize and elevate the importance of a strong sales culture.

Root Out Cultural Ambivalence about Sales.    If the language of sales – closing, pipeline, incremental commitments and more – seems somehow beneath the brilliant engineering and master-of-the-universe business planning of your company, then you’ve got a problem.  If within your sales team itself there are no titles that include the word “sales” you might have an even bigger one.  We need to be as great – and as proud of – sales as we are of our engineering and business plans.  If we are not, they will never have a chance of succeeding.  There’s your new mantra.

Don’t just describe the difference between sales and description.  Sell it inside your own company.

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Objection! Objection!

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Technologies and publishing models change.  But sales objections are forever.  And this post from December 2014 is evergreen.

Objection ObjectionA couple of years ago in this space, I wrote about objections that we hear from buyers. More accurately, the post was about the statements that sound sort of like objections that we hear from non-buyers – those who have no intention of doing business with us, and who frankly just don’t want to face another option or have another conversation. I call these Scarecrow Objections.

This morning I want to add another bit of language to the canon: Objection of Interest. I’ve just started using this term in sales workshops and it’s proving valuable. An Objection of Interest is a (1) legitimate question or issue that’s (2) raised by a customer genuinely interested in a commercial relationship with you and (3) has the authority and means to advance the deal.   An Objection of Interest is like the bridge to a sale: if you can cross this, we can continue down the path together.

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The Scarecrow Objection, on the other hand, is not a bridge at all. It’s a parachute that allows a disinterested or non-qualified buyer to eject from the conversation. They’re not going to volunteer the fact that they’re not really interested: why would they? So they ask us rote questions about minute differences in technology or policy. Or they tell us they need a case study to prove a point. And sometimes they simply put us off with vague promises of later consideration – an RFP which leads nowhere, a buying cycle that never materializes.

My advice is to measure any objection or issue you hear from a potential customer against the 1-2-3 test outlined above. If you think it fails to meet two of the three standards (or if it does not meet the second one alone) then you’re looking at a Scarecrow Objection.   Do not waste time and energy uncovering facts or chasing down details and case studies: those are hours of your life you’ll never get back. Instead, simply qualify the objection: “If we could successfully solve that issue, would you then make the recommendation to fully invest with us?” On rare occasions, you’ll transform a Scarecrow into a legitimate Objection of Interest and create a new opportunity to sell. More often your “buyer” will show her true colors and the conversation will melt into a puddle of non-commitment.  I hope these ideas help you avoid the costly, pointless exercise of debating with a Scarecrow.

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