Sales Calls

It Ain’t Showbiz.


If I asked most Drift readers what they do for a living, they’d offer up a job title like chief revenue officer, account executive or regional director. If pushed for a more concrete job description, eventually most would say they sell advertising, technology or services to marketers and agencies.

But I don’t think that’s what you do at all. At best, selling describes an outcome, a result of other actions you take every day… at least, if you’re doing it well. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of observation and introspection to get there, but I think I’ve nailed what great sellers do: they engineer experiences. The mediocre ones? They’re the ones who get all caught up in the performance they’re giving, the lines they recite, and the slides they flip through.

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A sales call isn’t a golf shot or a piano sonata. But so many of us prepare and act as if it is. We drill ourselves on our lines, memorize key points, practice the voice-over for the 37 slides we’ll show, test the demo to make sure it purrs like a kitten. We believe that if we only perform well enough and hit all of our high notes, the power of our words will impress and persuade.

Only it doesn’t work that way.

Now, reframe the sales call as a shared experience. You and the customer are both living in that moment together, and now it’s your job to engineer that experience… you’re no longer the funniest guy at the party, but rather the host who’s creating an awesome environment for his guests. What will you do differently?

You’ll attend. As in, the root verb in attention. Ironically, attending is also the same as being present. Get it?

You’ll know something about your guests. There are no strangers. You can always know enough to make the other person feel interesting.

You’ll draw people out and make connections. Use what you know to bring the other person into the experience. This is the opposite of bludgeoning them with your own story.

You’ll have a plan and watch the clock. Great hosts pay attention to time and pace. They know when things are starting to drag, when people start to disconnect.

You’ll rewrite the plan when you need to. If things are petering out and nobody’s connecting, change the plan. It’s your plan; you get to do that.

Sales is not performance art. It’s about creating a fertile space where trust, emotion and opportunity can grow. Too many of us become tone deaf from listening to the sound of our own performances. Let it go. Be interested. Engineer a great shared experience and watch how everything changes.

Including you.

Originally posted in 2014, but still well short of the expiration date.


Into the Void… Boldly.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the big empty space at the beginning of many sales calls and business ‘relationships.’  It’s the Bermuda triangle of connection and progress; a black hole where the bright star of an insight or an idea might have shone. It didn’t have to be this way.

Across scores of seller interviews I conduct in preparing workshops each year, I hear a consistent litany of frustrations and complaints:

Is your team asking the hard questions that would better qualify opportunities and decision makers? For the customer, there’s no upside in communicating a negative decision. Sellers have to work for the real answers. That work can begin with an Upstream Group sales workshop. It’s easier and more cost effective than you might imagine. And the consult is free. Reach out now to talk it over.

The buyer puts us in a box with a bunch of other companies…

They don’t really listen to us…

It’s all about the numbers…

They’re not seeing the big picture…

We don’t really get a chance to compete…

But blaming the buyer, your marketing team, fate, God or anyone else makes no sense. You’ve got the power to fix this yourself. You see, there’s a fleeting moment at the outset of the sales discussion that you’re not filling with anything meaningful and urgent. Call it the “agenda vacuum.” Sometimes the vacuum is there because the rep just didn’t do the work, choosing instead to walk in with a canned presentation and ‘see what’s up.’ Other times the rep chooses passivity and caution: “Be polite and find out what the buyer wants to talk about.” Or the agenda is something incredibly lame like…

I want to really understand your objectives for the year…

I just wanted to introduce you to our company….

Let me update you on… whatever.

If you don’t put something urgent and provocative in front of the buyer in the first 90 seconds of your call, your buyer will step into the vacuum and fill it themselves. They’ll fill it with rote questions, flawed categorization, indifference, false objections, a recitation of numerical parameters or something worse. I’ll leave you with a tip to help you fill the void. Make this the first sentence of your next sales meeting:

We’ve looked at your business, and there’s one big issue we don’t think you recognize. And if it’s not addressed, you’ll be missing a huge opportunity.

Do the work. Think. Plan. Fill the vacuum.

These ideas were originally posted here in January 2013.


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.


The Sale You Save.


Among 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.

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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 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.

This Drift was originally posted in 2014.  And our sellers still aren’t closing. We’re now booking workshops for second quarter 2019.  If you you think I can help you or your team, visit our site or reach out to me directly.


Closer.


The reason your sales calls aren’t turning into sales may have nothing to do with preparation, content, fit or numbers. They might just be too big. Repeat after me:

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

It’s counterintuitive, but very true. Many of us grew up doing classroom presentations, went on to practice doing the company pitch in front of our peers at sales conferences, and probably dream of someday doing our own TED Talk. So it’s understandable that we crave the spotlight that goes with a crowd. But in reality those presentations are not moving the ball down the field. And they never will.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

When you get a group of 3, 4, 5 or more people together in a conference room, the politics get bigger and the opportunities get smaller. People don’t share in large rooms. They are less curious, more guarded, less honest. People don’t surface real objections in a crowd. They may listen to you, but they don’t work with you. Collaboration never gets started. Everyone is polite (well, except those jerk-offs checking email on their phones of course) but no one is truly engaged.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

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In workshops with digital sellers, I preach the value of the intimate, collaborative, one-on-one or one-on-two meeting. With the right decision maker of course. You’d be better off having five small meetings on the phone with key customers than ten big lunch-and-learns. In small meeting about the right things, customers lean in, they share, they object, they tell you the truth…and they collaborate. It doesn’t just happen of course…you’ve still got to earn the opportunity and execute it well. If you go in and turn on the lawn sprinkler of PowerPoint and company bullshit, you’ll still get a bad outcome in a small meeting. But if you prepare and plan and focus on doing good things for the client’s business, your meeting will stand out like a candle in the darkness.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

Marketing departments, stop cranking out newer and slicker versions of “the company story.” Nobody wants to hear them. Start helping your sellers tell the customer’s story and the heroic role your company can play in it. Sales managers, stop confusing activity with progress. Counting the number of rooms filled with warm bodies is a fool’s errand. Sellers, focus on really deserving the meeting with the CMO or Product Manager or Group VP and you will get more of them.

And for God sake, keep ‘em small. Intimacy is the new power.

This post was first distributed in May 2016.  Rumor has it that there are still too many big meetings taking place.