Say the Words.

by Doug Weaver on April 9, 2014 at 12:25PM

Say the WordsFor the sales teams I work with, the list of symptoms is remarkably consistent:  long, unstable sales cycles; buyers going radio silent after receiving proposals; small deal sizes; low close rates; too many small ‘tests’ that lead nowhere; lack of pipeline visibility ; weak forecasting.

Sound familiar?  The symptoms are so consistent because they all stem from the same disease.  Your sellers aren’t closing.  This may sound simplistic, and your senior sellers might even take exception with my diagnosis, but look a little closer and you’ll see that I’ve actually got it right.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

Closing isn’t a cliché, nor is it just a general attitude or posture on a sales call.  It’s a very specific event within the discussion; a direct question that either does or doesn’t get asked.  But rather than guess about whether your sellers are closing or taking their word for it, take this simple test.

  1. When you ask your team members about their upcoming sales calls, do they often use words like education and evangelism?
  2. Do they talk about seeing how the customer feels about the program or opportunity?
  3. Is the program or package in question usually attached directly to an urgent business problem?
  4. Does it have a specific expiration date attached to it?
  5. Is there a specific dollar figure attached to your recommendation? (Instead of just a range of options and levels.)

If your answers tended toward yes, yes, no, no and no, then you’ve got a closing problem.  Your seller is choosing (consciously or otherwise) a comfortable, non-confrontational conclusion to the meeting.  They’re telling the customer to please consider it or lamely offering to touch base again soon to see what you guys want to do.  They’re saying anything and everything besides asking the question that will improve all your business metrics.  Will you buy this from us?

Here’s an exercise you can do with your team that will start to immediately improve the situation.  As your sellers prepare to go on their next sales calls, ask Exactly what are we asking this customer to do?  and What’s the specific price tag or estimate you’re going to give them?   Now sit down across from your seller and role play:  have them ask you for the order in the exact words they would use with the client.  Is this going to be an uncomfortable moment?  Absolutely.  But if they can’t say the words to you, they damn sure can’t say them to the customer.

Comfortable, inconclusive meetings are a luxury you can no longer afford.  Ask your sellers the hard questions today so they can start asking your buyers hard questions tomorrow.  And be sure to let me know how it goes.

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  1. Mark McLaughlin April 9, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I’ve worked across the desk from so many great sales people over the years. The very best built trust and focused on long term value creation. They had a subtle quality about closing where you never really saw it overtly. But, that is for other areas of advice from Doug.

    Closing hard works.

    The very best big budget closers in the media business grew up in national broadcast television sales. They can look you in the eye and tell you that you need to spend $20 million and you need to decide tonight. They are so good at this that guys like me need world class buyers in the room with us to save us from the intense desire to just say yes.

    At Yahoo! I got to work with many sales people as teammates. The best hard closer for very big budgets I ever teamed up with is Hal Trencher. No surprise, Hal came to Yahoo! from CBS Sports.

    Hal once closed a $7 million proposal for streaming video content and this was during the dial-up era! No lie.

  2. Ari Rosenberg April 9, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Bookmarking this DRIFT should be a requirement for every media sales organization, and it should be read every morning by every sales person — period.

  3. Dan Hurwitz April 9, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I agree with all of this… Allow me to add 2 cents:

    Our industry is filled with sellers who chase the sale at the very end of the buying process. This is the part where planners and buyers have their specific and very tactical need completely identified and are looking for vendors who can deliver it at the best price with the lowest risk (“will you do a performance deal for me? I’m looking to buy guaranteed results and have no accountability”). And there’s certainly no closing.

    Sellers push hard to get meetings, often with the gift of food. Getting a meeting becomes a KPI. When they get there, they almost always have a bag of goodies or some other gift. The playing field is so lopsided at this point; The buyers might as well be kings and queens sitting in their thrones while the plebeian seller begs for an RFP. Speaking of RFP’s… Every meeting is about getting on the list. When they get one, it becomes a win. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sales comp plan that pays out on RFP’s.

    After we submit our best proposal, we simply wait to be selected and are under 100% at the mercy of the buyer. We email relentlessly to ask if we’re on the plan. Is this selling?

    Oh, and don’t let me forget the “Here’s the IO. Can you also pay for an expensive research study and pay for my costs for the…?” And, like a fool the seller often say yes even though those costs are not baked into the deal’s profit margins. Just beg the sales manager. That’ll do it!!!

    …and so it goes. I’m embarrassed to call this selling.

    What if we focused on starting our sales approach much earlier in the buying process- at the brand. What if we did a bunch of research prior to our call, formed a point of view of how we can be valuable and shared this “homework” with the marketer. At that point we pick up where Doug starts in this piece and will eventually make our way to the planner/buyer, but under a much different playing field.

    Then there’s the other perspective… in an industry filled with mediocrity, it’s quite easy for your sales team to be best!

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