Online Sales

Closing Cases, Solving Crimes.

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.

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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.

The Opposite of Selling.

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.

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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.

Objection! Objection!

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.

Silent Selling.

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.

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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.

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

Are You In?

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.

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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.