Online Sales

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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

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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Silent Selling.

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Michael OverbeckQuiet down now.  Don’t speak, just for a little bit.  Let the moment marinate.

Most of us in sales are running over-programmed sales calls in which every pause, every quiet second, is something to be filled and patched over like so many cracks in a leaky boat.  We believe that there is just so much to say and explain that to waste even a second means perhaps missing the one point or feature that might create the magic moment.  But it’s a fool’s errand:  the magic moments were there all along….we just talked over them.

Those empty seconds of silence are actually filled with anticipation, consideration, curiosity.  They are the wellsprings of customer collaboration and commitment to the idea.  But as the seller you have to do more than just listen.  You have to program these white space moments into your sales calls.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

In the sales workshops I conduct for media and technology sellers, the problems to be solved are always remarkably similar:  the seller has far too much information and detail to share; the buyer is far too jaded, distracted and evasive;  the marketplace is confusing and filled with far too many competitors; the time together is brief and fleeting.

Too many managers – and sales trainers – give the shallow admonition to “do your homework” and “listen more than you talk.”  But that means little to the seller.  What she really needs is a plan…a plan to provoke and manage those quiet moments of consideration and commitment.  That’s what I try to provide, and there are just five parts to the plan.

  1. First, show the customer a slide that tells them a few things you’ve learned about their business, their situation, their needs, their competitors. Ask them what they think is most important on this slide and what else you might have missed.   Then shut up and listen fully.
  2. Next, show them a slide or page that clearly (and briefly) outlines the problem you hope to solve for them. Ask them how much this issue means to them and what else is critical to talk about.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  3. Before talking about your solution, show them a page that makes a handful of promises about the standards and practices your company will employ in solving the problem for them. Ask if these are important considerations and what else they value.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  4. Now talk about your potential solutions. Stop the conversation at several points and invite some silence by asking “How do you feel about this? … What would you do here?” At each point, shut up and listen fully.
  5. Finally, ask the customer for a commitment: If we can deliver this will you approve $X budget for it?  This may be the most important silence of all.  Shut up and let your customer fill the void.

This is what programming the silence looks like.  At each step in the process you are provoking a thoughtful response from the customer.  The opposite of talking isn’t just listening.  It’s being in the moment.  And it works.

Want to know more, or to teach your team this approach?  Just let us know.

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Are You In?

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Are you inTo the casual observer, sales looks to be all about power.

It may look like a bunch of confident, charismatic sellers in command of their material and in charge of the room. The successful seller is the one who can talk a blue streak and who is at ease in any crowd.

But looks can be deceiving.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

Many of the greatest sellers I’ve been privileged to work with are not the ‘life of the party’ types.  Many would probably be classified as introverts.  What these sellers have discovered – perhaps by default – is the power of vulnerability.  They’re willing to own their opinions and feelings, take risks and commit to the moment.

They are present in a way that many of their competitors are not.   They’re OK with moments of silence and even the occasional awkward pause.  It’s in that moment that something unusual can happen:  something authentic, something meaningful, something real.

A significant number of the people I meet in sales are ambivalent about being in sales.   They call themselves account executives, business development people and strategists, and they seem to really gravitate to the word “partner.”  One reason for this “sales avoidance” mindset is that these introverts have never made peace with the popular notion of what it means to sell.

Now they don’t have to.  And neither do you.

Start taking risks.  Share a little more than you feel comfortable sharing.  Take a position in your discussions with customers.  Tell them what you think and then ask them what they think about the position you’ve taken.  Be curious.  Don’t fill up the quiet moments.  Be generous. Let things happen.

This is how you get to an authentic place with your customers.  You have to get in…all in.

If you’re in sales but feel like you’re playing a role much of the time, you are not only cheating your customers, you’re cheating yourself.  This can be a life filled with really terrific moments, but only for those who are truly open to them.

So be open.  Be vulnerable. Be real.

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5 Slides.

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5 SlidesI’ve been working with clients on a new strategy for engaging clients on sales calls and navigating them through complex programs and offerings.  From introduction to agreement in 5 slides.

If you’re like many digital publishers, ad tech companies or other sales organizations, you’re probably a little intrigued by the idea.  You’ve probably seen first-hand the emotional and human cost of a PowerPoint culture run amok.  Your marketing and product people labor over the perfect company narrative, generating dozens of detailed slides containing heavy images and intricate builds and animations.  Your sales people feel the pressure to show all these slides to customers who not-so-surreptitiously check their phones and look at their watches.  Wasted opportunity follows wasted opportunity. And the worst thing happens:  nothing.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

So here’s the radical idea:  run the entire sales call with 5 simple slides.

Slide 1:  The Phrase Cloud.  This is a technique I’ve been teaching over the last 4-5 years.  Research the client’s business online and put up 5-10 phrases (headlines, blurbs, quotes) that relate to important business and marketing issues they may have in mind.  Your PC doesn’t have to be perfect or even mostly correct.  It just needs to be a credible effort at some homework. Let the client read the slide while you sit quietly.  Then ask them what they found most interesting and valuable.

Slide 2: The Challenge.  Write out a brief statement that answers the question “Why are we here today?”  This is the moment where you clearly call out the unsolved problem you are prepared to tackle for the customer.  Ask them how important they think this issue is and what other detail they’d like to offer.  Listen to what they tell you.

Slide 3: Process and Values.  On this slide are several statements and headlines that detail the process and values your company will employ as you work for the customer.  You’re establishing how it will be to work together before you tell them what they should buy from you.

Slide 4: The Solution Placemat.  This is a simple schematic that visually depicts the elements of your proposed solution.  Screen shots of products, phrases and numbers representing audiences and scope, visuals illustrating thematic ideas.  (If the client’s feedback on slides 1 and 2 changed things, you can simply cross out or add elements to this page.)  This allows the rep to conversationally talk through the different parts of the recommendation without a lengthy trail of slides. (And if something needs immediate elaboration, you can take a detour for an additional slide or trip to the site.)

Slide 5:  The Close.    On this slide the rep notes the initial price estimate and specific ask of the client.  “If we can execute this program and help you solve problem X, will you recommend/budget/green-light $X over the next X months?”  (Tip:  Many sellers are scared to death of such a direct question, but it’s the only way to truly qualify the opportunity — and the decision maker — and shorten the sales cycle.)  Be sure to include both a number and a verb on this slide.

If you’re thinking “but what about my company introduction?” don’t bother.  Your sales people will define themselves and your company much more effectively by getting down to business and solving problems collaboratively with your customers.  These 5 slides may be just the vehicle to let them do so.

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Fixing Fractions.

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Swinging_strikeoutI regularly quiz my customers on fractions.  Specifically I want to know about ‘the win rate.’

Your sales organization answers dozens – if not hundreds – of RFPs every year.  You turn on the proposal machine, engage your creative and/or marketing people, and generally draw down company resources and good will in order to do battle with a fixed set of competitors.

And for what?   If you’re like others in our industry, the answer is 17 percent.  Go to market a hundred times and you’ll win 17 deals.  Be twice as good as everybody else, you’ll win 34.   So if you are awesome… you still lose two of every three times your organization competes.  If you’re OK with this – and you think your organization can live with these fractions – then stop reading now and get back to your day.  If not, read on.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. The AppNexus Publisher Suite helps maximize monetization for Publishers today with tomorrow’s technology through integrated, intelligent, and open ad serving and programmatic selling solutions.

There are two ways to fix the broken fraction that is your win rate.  You can continue to try to make the top of the fraction — the numerator –- bigger.  “Let’s not be satisfied winning 34 percent of the deals!  We won’t settle for anything less than 40 percent!”  Good luck with that.  Buyers today are armed with tons of information before they ever engage with you.  And it costs them less than nothing to invite way too many companies into the competition for their business.  A buyer sending out an RFP in 2016 doesn’t even have to buy a stamp:  ‘Control/V’ puts the RFP in to your inbox.

The other way to fix your fraction is to make the denominator– the bottom number – smaller.  Simply being more selective about where, when and on what basis you are going to compete can have an outsize impact on your win rate.  Ask yourself these questions:  how many deals did we pursue last year that we now wish we’d never gone after?  What did those customers or deals have in common?  Had we screened and qualified them better, how many could we have walked away from with zero financial impact on our bottom line? What rules can we write to fix our denominator, which is almost certainly much bigger than it needs to be?

Sellers and sales leaders may reject this thinking for one of two reasons.  First there’s the belief that it’s really a volume game and the more you compete for, the more you win.  In my experience, that’s a load of crap.  Chasing flawed business just taxes your organization while adding nothing to the top line.  Then there’s the irrational fear among sellers that they’ll be somehow blackballed by buyers if they don’t dutifully submit best efforts on every single RFP.  Like most behaviors rooted in fear, this one simply doesn’t stand up either.

Swinging at every pitch does not raise your batting average.  Quite the contrary.  Bring some sanity and judgement to your process and start qualifying prospects.  The P&L you save may be your own.

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