Online Sales

The On-ramp and the Off-ramp.


As sometimes happens in our sales workshops, someone in the group tossed out a brilliant metaphor the other day. If I could remember who said it I’d give him or her the credit.  (If it was you, please go ahead and raise your hand to claim it – you deserve the notoriety!) With a little embellishment and polish from me, here it is.

A sales call or meeting is like a drive on the highway. The two most critical moments – the only ones that matter, really – are the on-ramp and the off-ramp. Survive these and the rest of the trip will take care of itself.

If you want your team to be terrific, make them specific. Speaking directly to customer needs is good business, and all it takes is a plan and some discipline. A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Let me explain. The opening of your meeting – the on-ramp – is when you create a strong environment, set the agenda and truly engage and involve your customer. (Or… not.) Like the act of merging onto a busy highway, this moment demands that you be alert and decisive. You must speed up and create momentum while very intentionally finding your spot. At the very moment when this kind of decisive action is called for, too many sellers dawdle and meander through the opening of the call, wasting time and squandering trust with meaningless small talk.

Then there’s the end of the call – the off-ramp. This is the part of your journey that calls for careful braking… the part where you slow it all way down. This is the moment in the sales call where the thoughtful seller picks up most of the good information – where she truly qualifies both the buyer and the opportunity; where she identifies hidden decision makers and learns how she might get the deal done. But it’s at this exact moment when slow, deliberate and careful are warranted that many sellers speed up and rush through the close. As a result, they don’t ask for the sale and never get the chance to ask any of the important questions that follow – questions that could open up possibilities and close business.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Have a plan and practice it.

To hit your on-ramp at just the right speed, do some research and create one slide with a few headlines about your customer. Show the customer that slide and – before you say or do anything else – get them talking about it. You will immediately frame your meeting squarely around client needs while also immediately bringing them into a collaborative conversation.

For the off-ramp, write out and practice the question you’ll ask at the end of the meeting; a question that contains a verb (e.g. budget… approve… recommend…), a number (the amount you’re asking for) and a date (to activate the program, a start date, for the next commitment to be made). Role-playing the questions that follow (Tell me about how that decision will be made… Setting aside the outcome, is this something you’d personally like to see happen? … What other budgets might contribute to something like this?) is one of the very best ways a manager can support his sellers.

Open your calls quickly and decisively. Close them slowly and thoughtfully. And watch your numbers improve.


Things We Say Instead of Selling.


In the dozens of sales workshops I lead every year I can’t help but get hung up on the words. Specifically, all of the non-sales language that erstwhile sellers get stuck on. While they might never actually come out and say Please don’t buy anything from me today, these anti-selling clichés may be the next best thing.

We just hope you’ll keep us top of mind. This is the perfect ending to a sales meeting with no purpose and no agenda. Like Brigadoon or Shangri-La, Top of mind is a beautiful but non-existent place. Buyers today are stretched thin: if you don’t have an urgent sales agenda, they sure won’t either.

This is just an introductory callYou’ve just told me that you can do me absolutely no good in the important half hour you’re about to subtract from my life. You’re either immediately useful to me or you’re irrelevant. And you’ve just chosen irrelevance.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Can we talk about next steps? This is what we say when we don’t want to directly ask the customer to buy from us or commit to anything. In spite of what may have been a very good and persuasive call, this is the kind of question that lays on the table like a dead fish and tells the client you’re not all that sure about, or committed to, your product.

Let’s touch base in the next few weeks. There’s just so much wrong here. It’s the verbal equivalent of awkwardly backing out of the room. You’re telling the customer I know you’re not interested and I’m going to save embarrassment for both of us.

Let me send you more information. Great plan!  If we’re not talking about me buying something from you today then perhaps your ninja writing skills will do the trick. Because we all know how much customers love to pour over documentation and product description.

Today’s buyers have more ways to keep us away than ever before. If you’ve been lucky enough or diligent enough (or if your product is good enough) to have earned an in-person meeting or a scheduled phone appointment, it probably means you’ve got some kind of shot. Why waste it with lazy, ineffective language that lets the air out of the room?

Real sales is about persuasion, and the language of sales is the language of commitment. Practice asking questions that contain verbs like recommend, approve and budget. Then ask even more questions that either advance the sale or tell you why it’s not happening. To do anything less is to cheat your employer, your customer and yourself.


One More Question…


You’ve been with the customer for close to 40 minutes. From your perspective, the meeting has gone well. You got through all your recommended products and background and the customer seemed engaged throughout… she even asked some really great questions. All seems positive and optimistic.

And then you say… So, what do you think our next steps are ?

And then she says… Give us some time to get our direction and budgets aligned. Maybe in the meantime you can write some of this up and send it to me?

And just like that… it all goes away. Once again, you’ve ended up in the friend zone. You’ve had a polite, inoffensive, inconclusive call that will not lead to any kind of business commitment. It didn’t have to be this way.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

What if instead, you’d asked… So, Jen, based on our discussion, will you recommend this program to the client for $800K and a Q1 activation?

She might still have said something like… Well, I don’t know yet. We’re still waiting to see what the budget will look like.

And then you could have said… Can you tell me more about the budgeting process? How are you feeling about it this year? Does the client seem like he’ll be thinking expansively?

Or… If the budgets come in at a reasonable level, can you tell me how the decision to move on this would happen?  Who’d be involved in making that call?

Or… I know there’s more work to be done. How do you feel personally about the idea? Is it something that you think makes sense for the client?

The initial closing question – the one about $800K in Q1 – may sound abrupt to the ears of the average seller. This may be because of Impostor Syndrome — not feeling like you deserve to ask it. Or because your meeting was just a recitation of your company and your products and there was really nothing to ask for.

But it may also be because you misunderstand the real purpose of closing. We don’t ask a firm closing question because we expect the customer to say yes. We ask it because we want to get to all the other questions… the ones that qualify the opportunity… that help us understand the decision process… that identify other decision makers… and that give insights into the opinions and motivations of the person across the desk.

There’s always one more question to ask. The quality and value of your sales calls depends on how they end. That’s why they call it closing.


It’s in the Doing.


The most disempowering lies we tell ourselves every day start with when and if only.

When I get fully up to speed on everything this customer is doing, then I’ll be in a position to really kill it… If only I had a few more years seniority, I’ll bet they’d take my calls… When I get caught up and get past this crazy quarter, I’ll get my shit together… If only I studied harder and learned more, I’d have the confidence to really own that room.

While they sound a little different from one another, the commonality of these lies is how they make your actions – and your ultimate success – conditional on some kind of achievement or emotional change. It’s a transactional way to look at growth: only when I’ve paid enough or done enough to achieve some level of psychic investment can I take the actions that will make my situation better.

But this is crazy. In fact, it’s ass-backward.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

You don’t develop a perfect outlook on fitness that leads you to the gym. You drag your butt out of bed and get on the elliptical and feel better for doing it. The belief and the feelings of confidence and well-being don’t precede the action… they are brought on by the action.

Sales reps don’t do better work because they are more confident. They are more confident because they do better work.

They don’t get in touch with their passion for a company or a project sitting on a mountaintop. Passion is the result of effort. Not its cause.

If you’re a manager, stop trying to manage what’s in the heads of your team members. It doesn’t matter and, in any case, you can’t know it or change it.  Base your conversations not on what your employees are thinking or feeling… focus instead on what they’re doing. My approach to training is centered on specific, discrete actions that sellers must take – building a client POV; identifying and writing out a problem you plan to solve for the client. It’s the doing of this work that makes the seller more valuable to his or her clients, more confident, and more versatile.

One of my long-ago bosses taught me a great lesson. After listening to our team telling one another all of our when and if only lies, he’d stand up and say, Well, it doesn’t sound like anything a good sales call won’t fix. And he was right.

As Spencer Tracy once said, It’s impossible to feel sad and useful at the same time. If you’re a seller, default to action. You will work yourself into the confidence, the passion and the state of mind you’ve so long wished for.


Don’t Speak!


Quiet 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.

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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.

I first posted this idea in 2016. Is it still just as relevant to you and your team? A customized, collaborative sales strategy workshop is easier and more cost-effective than you might think. Visit upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.