Sell Me This Pen. The Interview Question All Sales People Should Expect.

picture-of-quill-pen-ink-pot

Sell me this pen.  Pitch me as you would a prospect.  How would you sell our product if I was a buyer? Sound familiar? These questions, and more like them, are asked in most sales interviews. But should they be? If you’re the candidate being interviewed should you take the bait and answer? Or is there another way to respond that better showcases your critical thinking skills?

This question poses significant risk to the candidate.  Sure, you may have a perfect reply and wow the interviewer, however, there’s also a chance this question is a trap. Answer it and you could be perceived incorrectly.  Don’t answer it and you risk rubbing the interviewer the wrong way.  The problem with this question is that it doesn’t provide you, the candidate, with enough information to form an intelligent response.  You know nothing about the pen, and even less about the buyer.  Many companies sell pens, payroll, financial services, insurance, consumer products, accounting services, etc., but not all their buyers are attracted to that company for the same reason.  Every buyer is on his or her own journey.  Without understanding the motivations and behaviors of a specific buyer, your best response provides nothing but entertainment value for the interviewer. So how can you reply in a way that demonstrates intelligence and thoughtfulness rather than appearing aloof?

If you’re the candidate being interviewed I propose a different reaction to this question.  Instead of answering I would look at the person interviewing me and say, “Before I can sell you anything I need to understand your needs as a buyer. What’s important to you and why? Have you made purchases like this before? What happened?”. Turn the “sell me the pen” question into a dialogue to learn about your buyer.

Taking the bait and trying to sell the pen is risky.  Is it a Bic pen?  A Cross? A Mont Blanc? Or is it a new digital smart pen? A buyer who needs a pen to write down a quick grocery list has different buying needs than a buyer who attends a Board meeting and needs to record in detail everything that takes place in that meeting.  One buyer may need something simple, quick, cheap.  Another buyer may need something more sophisticated and advanced. Do you know what kind of pen it is?  Do you know the buyer?

For those conducting the interview I’d suggest asking a different question.  I understand the insight you’re attempting to gain by asking this question.  I’ve built many sales teams from the ground up and never asked this question.  Instead, I ask the candidate to tell me how they would educate themselves on the product we sell and the buyers who purchase it. Asking this question provides insight into the candidates critical thinking skills versus pure stage performance.  In some cases you may be selling a commodity where critical thinking skills are less important.  However, if that’s your belief I’d challenge it. Commodities can only go so far. At some point you will need a value differentiator to grow your business, and that differentiator won’t be found or identified by a performer.  It will be identified by someone whose interactions with your buyers are thoughtful and curious.

As buyers become more educated, knowledgeable, and aware of other options, an employers goal should be to fill their business with thinkers, while a modern sales professional should be focused on working for a company that demonstrates its commitment to understanding the customer and aligning value to the need.  Strong critical thinking skills will be essential as we continue our progress to a knowledge based society.

So will you take the bait and answer the question?

Newsflash: There is no one-size-fits-all sales methodology

The-Ring-Lord-of-the-Rings-jrr-Tolkien

Newsflash: There’s not one sales approach that works in every selling situation. While some may believe “there is one ring that rules them all”, I would suggest that believing this ignores your buyers behaviors.

There are numerous sales methodologies in the marketplace today that have real value.  Many sales leaders pick a specific approach because it “feels” right, or natural relative to their specific style and tendencies.  However, the sales methodology you select for your company, and your team, should reflect your buyer’s journey first and foremost.  If you haven’t taken the time to study, ask, and understand what motivates your buyer to buy, you’re missing big opportunities.

Not every sale is a one call close.  Not every sale has an 18 month cycle time.  Nor is every buying decision made by one person.  By studying your buyers you will identify what drives them, makes them tick, causes them to take action.

You can force a sale for sure, but it’s likely you won’t find a return customer.  Given the cost of acquiring new customers it would seem almost too obvious that sales leaders and their marketing counterparts would be striving to better understand their buyers.  Once you’ve identified the various steps or phases your buyers’ go through on their way to the cash register you can then begin to align a sales process to the buying process.  Always work outside-in.  Begin with your customer and create the process he or she will warm to.

I’m often asked which sales methodology I subscribe to.  The simplicity of my response may sound arrogant but hear me out.  The methodology I subscribe to is my own.  My own, because I’ve invested my time and money reading, testing, educating, retesting, and selling.  Because of this experience I am comfortable and confident in deploying a custom-made sales methodology to each individual sales organization based upon their buyer’s journey.  I take the time to learn the buyers behaviors first and then create a process that aligns to those behaviors…outside-in.

There is no one ring that rules them all.  It’s up to you to make the investment to expand your knowledge and apply it to gather learnings.  If you know when your buyer begins her journey to satisfy a need, you’ll know how to prospect her in a way that is non-threatening and value added.  If you know how many steps your buyer goes through before making a purchase decision you’ll know how to establish a contact strategy that touches him at the right time, with the right message, and the right tone.

Forget the one-size fits all, and take ownership of your buyers journey.  Once you do that your sales results will produce remarkable outcomes.

Sales Enablement: A Sales Leaders Secret Weapon.

SalesEnablement

Every sales leader looks for an edge. They may have a dozen different levers they can pull in their attempt to improve results.  Some may provide a quick result, while others take time to build momentum.  The key is finding the right mix of short and long term actions that enable their team to sell more, in a shorter period of time. Introducing sales enablement can become the sales leaders secret weapon to achieve their goals today, tomorrow, and the next day.

The simple objective of sales enablement in any business is to maximize each interaction a sales person has with every prospect with the goal of winning the business. Said differently, it’s all about improving my team’s win ratios.  The major components of sales enablement include:

  1. Recruiting and On-Boarding
  2. Sales Training
  3. Team Development
  4. Conduit between Sales and Marketing

As a sales leader who has championed the introduction of sales enablement in a number of different companies I have experienced the following results:

  1. Improvements in selecting the right candidates – up to a 90% success rate in the first year.
  2. Significant decrease in ramp time – from 9 – 12 month ramp, down to 90 – 120 days fully producing sales representatives.
  3. More effective sales presentations leading to better outcomes – introducing sales training that focuses on providing a balance between knowledge and the application of that knowledge has created a 15 – 30% increase in close rates.
  4. A strong brand ambassador for the company – a better trained sales representative is more likely to project a sense of strength and confidence that likewise fosters confidence with the buyer.
  5. Great collaboration within the Sales team.  Sharing best practices that can be collected and put into a sales playbook creates energy, excitement, confidence and momentum for any sales team.
  6. Great collaboration between the Sales and Marketing teams. When Sales knows what Marketing is doing, and Marketing understands the outcomes of those efforts from a Sales viewpoint, alignment is created between the two.  Collaboration tears down walls and fosters a culture of learning, or testing.  When Marketing and Sales work together the business wins more than the revenue they created collectively.

I would love any stories you have on your sales enablement successes.  I’d also be interested to hear from the skeptics as well. There is a growing body of work on sales enablement that I’d be happy to share with those who are interested.

3 Ways To Be Remarkable And Win In Sales

Remarkable

So you want to make the sale.  You want the plaque, the commission check, the trip, the recognition…you want it all.  Great sales people know that winning a sale doesn’t happen by shear force of will.  Sure you need to be persistent, tenacious, focused and disciplined.  No doubt.  But there are 3 things that will make your sales presentations stand out and create a remarkable experience for your buyer.  These things that make you remarkable are the exact things that put you in a position to win. While you may think these are basic, I can assure you that I continue to be amazed at just how often these 3 things get overlooked, drowning out any chance of the sales person appearing remarkable.

  1. Be early.  Urban sprawl has created a great excuse for showing up late to a sales appointment.  I’ve worked in every major city in the United States over the past 20 years.  Whether its Atlanta, Philly, NYC, Boston, LA, Seattle, Phoenix or Dallas, traffic is the perfect excuse for being late.  But it shouldn’t be.  Plan your day to anticipate traffic. If you’re on time, you’re late.  I’ve been on ride-alongs with sales people where we’ve been late to an appointment because of traffic and it throws off the entire cadence of the call right out of the gate.  Get there early and it will give you time to focus on the buyer rather than focusing on finding a parking space because you’re already 20 minutes late.
  2. Be prepared.  This is a big one.  This speaks to everything from knowing some details about who you are meeting with all the way to having any materials you will be handing out ready, organized and crisp.  Do you know if you’re connected to the buyer?  Did you check them out on LinkedIn?  If what you’re selling requires an online demo?  Have you tested it? Will it work over cellular or will you need a WiFi connection?  If the latter does the buyer know you’ll need this when you arrive or is the plan to surprise them when you ask for the office password to log in?  Do you have an agenda for what you plan to cover?  Have you shared it with the buyer in advance? The better prepared you are, the smoother the conversation will go. And, in the event you are late due to some cataclysmic event, you’ll be better able to flex and adjust seamlessly with the buyer.
  3. Use the buyers name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on sales calls where the sales person never uses the buyers name after shaking their hand.  It could be a 30 minute call or 3 hour call.  How can something so basic continue to be such a common miss amongst sales people?  Isn’t that one of the first things we’re all taught?  Smile, have a firm handshake and use the buyers name.  Here’s a quick test. Next time you’re with your family or friends pay attention to the conversation.  Listen for how often names are used.  It’s actually quite often.  Using someones name throughout a conversation builds a bond. It’s a sign of respect as much as it is a sign of caring.

Focus on doing these 3 things on every sales appointment and observe the change in your buyers behavior.

How Pressure Affects Performance

Pressure

I work better under pressure.  Courage is grace under pressure.  When you work under pressure you trade perfection.  Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Perhaps somewhere along the way you’ve heard someone say one of these things, or maybe you’ve been the one saying it.  Regardless, pressure takes many forms, and delivers an equally different number of outcomes.  But harnessed properly, pressure can create a winning edge in business.  I had a former boss that said, “it’s my job to back the bus up as close to the edge of the cliff as possible without going over”.  That’s pressure.

Pressure develops our ability to adapt.  Under pressure we may be tempted to look for the path of least resistance yet it’s most likely that the situation created by this pressure has already eliminated all the paths without resistance.  All that’s left are the paths that present resistance ,including conflict, confusion, and discomfort.  The better equipped we are to effectively deal with the confluence of these challenges the better we are able to succeed.

While human nature leads us to avoid pressure I would submit that seeking pressure improves performance.  Diamonds are made under enormous pressure; without it they are just rocks; carbon deposits.  But with pressure they turn into beautiful gems of great, and often times, enormous value.  Top performing athletes are molded under pressure moments.  Peyton Manning holds the record for the most 4th quarter comeback wins with 44.  By definition, comeback, means pressure.  You’re behind.  You’re losing.  That’s pressure!

Look for opportunities to experience pressure.  Volunteer for a project at work.  Offer to bat clean-up on your baseball team.  Commit to losing a certain amount of weight in a specific period of time.  Tell others that you plan to get a certification or license of some sort by the end of the year.  All of these create moments of pressure. Only in times of pressure will you be able to see what you’re truly made of.  Remember how diamonds are made, and even further how that process creates the hardest, natural-made material known to man.