Selling with Silence

I enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy or gal.  A highly engaging and thoughtful conversation where both sides are equally sharing their ideas, and feelings is something to value.  Likewise, I also enjoy the comfort of being with people I care about and not feeling like I have to say a word.  I’m comfortable with silence.

Being comfortable with silence is a skill.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, like any skill, silence needs to be practiced in order to be effective.  It requires trust, honesty, and perhaps most importantly confidence.

Sales people by nature are talkers.  In fact, sales people often have a reputation of being slick talkers.  Talk fast enough that you over-power, or blow past the buyer’s objections, tough questions, or key concerns.  However, a fast talking sales person is actually communicating the wrong message.  Buyers get turned off by fast talkers.  They become suspicious.  They become guarded in their responses, and many times they tune out, and walk away.

Great sales professionals understand the power of silence.  The power that comes with feeling confident in your message, your answers, your position, your knowledge.  Knowing when to be silent, versus when to speak, is a critical skill all sales people should develop, assuming they want to improve their win rates.

The buyer asks a question, the sales person responds, and then silence.  You’re almost begging the buyer to challenge you.  Your silence is a display of your confidence and conviction.  It also shows the buyer a level of patience and empathy by giving them time to absorb your response and determine their next step.  You’re putting the control in the buyer’s hands.  And while some may argue that the sales person should maintain control, I’d argue that by granting the buyer some control, the sales person is actually increasing his/her control of the sales and buying process.

Silence can be the ultimate neutralizer.  High stakes negotiators recognize the strategic benefit of using silence.  Yet keep in mind, that using silence as a tactic requires a great deal of preparation.  You need to understand your company, your product, your position, and your buyer.  Drop the ball on any one of those and the value of silence is diminished.

Next time you engage in a sales conversation, force yourself to be silent.  Can you do it?  Can you sell with silence?

 

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A word or two on sales coverage models

 

 

Isolated Earth -  Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

In a recent conversation with a CEO of a large service organization I was asked which sales model I believed was most effective in generating improved sales results.  A popular question these days.  Everyone who is responsible for generating revenue has asked this question at least once.  The answer however, lies with your buyer.

In a vacuum there is no one single, silver bullet to drive sales results.  The most popular sales coverage models include:

  1. Generalists – sell everything
  2. Specialists – sell usually one, perhaps two products
  3. Verticals – sell to specific industries; professional services, restaurants, manufacturing, etc
  4. Revenue – sell by revenue size of client; SMB, mid-market, enterprise
  5. Employee size – sell by number of employees; payroll companies often use this coverage model
  6. Account-based – assigned specific accounts/companies to sell or cross-sell

In addition to this mix of options, a head of sales must consider whether a field sales organization or inside sales team is most effective.  Again, the decision here should be informed by the company’s buyer’s journey.  Many products and services once believed could only be sold via an in-person interaction are now sold over the phone.  Taking this a step further, we also know – thanks to Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Intuit, and others – that self-fulfillment is not just possible, but preferred by many consumers.  The ability to do-it-yourself is highly appealing.

Gaining an understanding of how your buyer makes decisions is the first step to determining which model is best for your business.  Listen to your buyers and then align a sales process that helps lead the buyer through his or her journey.  That’s the answer to which model works best.

To Sell or Not to Sell?

USP concept
Hand with marker is drawing USP concept on the transparent white board.

Selling isn’t about winning or losing.  It’s not about money, trips, plaques, or prizes.  Selling is not an easy job, nor should it be a job to kill time until the “real thing” appears.   It’s not a set of activities, calls, presentations, or ratios.

Selling is about helping others.  Helping others solve problems and improving lives in the process.  Simply put, to sell is to make something, or someone better.  If what you’re offering for sale doesn’t provide some improvement over the status quo you have no sale.  The key is to understand your buyer well enough to know exactly how your product or service will improve their life or business.

People know when they’re being sold.  They also know when they feel they’ve been helped.  Seek first to understand before being understood is a good way to approach helping others.  Set out to help others and the sales will follow.

Strive For Mastery, Not Perfection

obi-wan-kenobi

Recently I was having a conversation with a long-time mentor, coach, and friend.  I was sharing my thoughts on a new endeavor and happened to mention that I was “trying to perfect” the thing I was working on, before attempting to market it.  My mentor stopped me in my tracks and said, “Not perfect.  Don’t focus on perfect, you’ll never get there.  Focus on mastery.  You want to be a master.  No one is perfect, nor will anyone ever become perfect.  But you can become a master.”

While certainly a profound statement, it wasn’t the first time I had heard this.  In fact, I recently went back and re-read one of my favorite books by Seth Godin, Linchpin. For Seth fans, you’ll know that he strongly believes in creating remarkable experiences.  In Linchpin he talks about being an artist.  Making your work, art…and art by definition isn’t perfect.  Some of the most valued art in the world is not “perfect”, instead it was created by a master, and even loved for its flaws.

Mastery is an ongoing journey while perfection suggests you’ve arrived, you’ve made it, you’re done.  What lies after perfection?  What’s left to learn?  What’s left to develop? What’s left to explore?  What’s left to invent?  The world is a timeless collection of things and events that simply prove perfection isn’t possible.  Instead, the world is changing, evolving, reinventing every day, minute, and second.

So with that, I will begin reframe my perspective to focus on mastery rather than perfection.  By accepting mastery as my goal versus perfection, it empowers me to accept life’s fact that there’s always something new to learn and invent.  Will you join me on the journey to mastery?

3 Quick Ways to Know if Your Team is Sales Enabled

Detective

You’ve got a great product, competitive pricing, and best-in-class service. Your revenue numbers should be exploding and new recruits should be beating your door down for the chance to work with you. But none of that is happening. Revenue is flat, turnover is higher than average, and your sales team can’t seem to provide accurate forecasting that you can depend on. So what’s wrong?

For the moment we’re going to focus on your sales efforts and put Marketing to the side. You seem to have many positives in your direction but progress is alluding you and your team. Start by probing into these 3 areas of your Sales team:

  1. Education. Knowledge is only powerful if the owner knows how to apply it. What’s your philosophy on learning? Do you run your team through sales training and consider it a box checked off? How much self-educating and self-development is taking place? Are you encouraging your team to expand their horizons beyond what you’re providing them? What actions are you taking to facilitate or develop a learning culture? Without continuous education and learning your team is at a disadvantage.
  2. Resources. How well equipped are your sales people? The best warriors need weapons. A sharpshooter can’t perform without bullets, nor can a drummer play without sticks. Your sales people need tools. They need resources. Resources could include a killer website, an eBook, a webinar, or podcast. No matter what the product or service is that you’re providing, your team needs tools. It’s been reported that the average B2B buyer consumes 6 pieces of content before making their purchase. The days of a handshake and charismatic smile winning the deal are over. In the “age of the buyer” the demands are much greater for tangible value.
  3. Application. Simply having the knowledge along with great tools still isn’t enough. Direction on how to apply that knowledge and those tools is critical. This is where the true “enablement” piece of Sales Enablement happens. Navy Seals aren’t great just because they are educated on warfare tactics and have great weapons. Seals are awesome warriors because they are taught how to use their knowledge and resources available to win the fight. The same is true in Sales. Great content and an impressive presentation are meaningless if the sales person doesn’t know how to present them. Are you providing application training?

To create a winning Sales team requires great talent, an executable strategy, clear tactics, knowledge, tools, and application training. Pulling all these pieces together is called Sales Enablement. If you’re struggling to hit your number step back and ask yourself, “What am I doing to enable my team to win?” If you don’t have a clear answer to all 3 areas above start there and begin developing them.

What Happens When The Suits Meet The Customers?  3 Outrageous Stories.

Suits

As a self-proclaimed buyers journey geek, I love watching and observing buyers during their buying process. In fact, there’s only one thing I enjoy more than watching the buyer, and that’s watching “the suits”. The suits are the folks that work for corporate. They arrive either on their magic carpets or white horses. Decked out in flowing robes, the suits have arrived to pass the ultimate judgement on how things are going with the business. They travel in packs, Starbucks in hand, and armed with Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. The moment they walk through the door all activity seems to go into suspended animation. Time slows…painfully slow.

Just what does an experience with a suit look like? Below are 3 recent examples where I have observed the suits in their “unnatural habitat”. I ask you think about these examples and whether you, or your company operates in a similar manner. Next week I’ll provide alternative strategies that demonstrate how you can turn the time the suits spend at the business into revenue.

  1. Large national discount retailer, selling name brands for less. I accompanied my wife to the store as she had some “things” she wanted to look at. That’s code for it’s going to be a while. I sat at the front of the store watching customers go in and out. It was busy. The cashier line was never shorter than 10 – 12 customers deep. The suits had arrived, dressed to the nines, Starbucks in hand, trying to be inconspicuous but looking as out-of-place as a surfer would in Syracuse in January. They huddled around one another, not separating more than a couple of feet from one another. After all, you never know when one of these customers may get a little nutty. In 30 minutes, I watched as not a single suit said hello or smiled to engage a customer. I think they actually thought they had Harry Potter’s invisible cloak on. As my wife finished shopping we got into line to cash out. The tension at the register was real…fear. Our cashier asked her manager if she thought they would be getting a “5 star rating”. The manager looked like she was about to throw up and said “I don’t think so.” Mission accomplished for the suits. They successfully avoided customers and proceeded to collapse employee morale…all in about an hour’s time. Perfect!
  2. Large grocery store chain operating under a number of different brands in the northeast. Call me crazy but I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping. It was Sunday morning two weeks ago and I went to “our store” to do our weekly shopping. The store was a madhouse. Lines at every check-out lane and cashiers who looked ready to drop even though it was only 9 am in the morning and the day just started. Huddled together at the front of the store the suits had their arms folded, whispering to one another with one hand covering their mouth…as if they were calling plays into the huddle for the Philadelphia Eagles. More than half the registers were closed. It took 30 minutes to check out. The suits never moved. Never spoke to an employee let alone a customer. Mission accomplished. They now know what was wrong. Not enough cashiers on Sunday morning at 9 am…except this past Sunday nothing had changed…another 30 minute wait to cash out.
  3. Regional tire and auto service business. I took my wife’s Chevy Tahoe in for a standard oil change and tire rotation. Got there a few minutes before 8 am (opening). Spoke to Sam at the counter who told me they’d have me in and out in no time. That is actually why we’ve been going there for the last several years. They know us and treat us great. But not today. I asked for Mike and Bill only to be told that “they left in the last month”. Hmm. And so it began. The technician pulled my vehicle in at 8:10 am, put it on the lift, and then got some coffee. At 8:30 nothing had been done to the truck. He was having a donut. At 8:45 am I asked Sam for an update and he told me the tech would get to it soon. The Service Manager was hanging out in the garage area where there were 3 other techs… my Tahoe being the only vehicle in the garage. After several failed attempts to get his attention I blew past the warning sign on the door that says “For Insurance Purposes Customers Cannot Enter The Garage Without Being Accompanied By An Employee.” I called the Service Manager and he came over. When I asked him what was going on with my truck he looked as if I had asked him to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. He went over to the tech who was now on his 3rd donut…no lie…and said something that caused them both to turn and look at me simultaneously. Awkward. At 10:05 am I pulled out of the parking lot for something that should have taken less than 30 minutes. Mission accomplished. Avoid the customer, duck and cover, and talk about them in the most obvious way.

You just can’t make things like this up.

 

 

 

The Disruptive Buyer: A Cautionary Tale of Change.

1960businessowner

 

The business owner sat behind his desk staring out the window.  He started his business 7 years ago and for the most part things were okay.  He made it past the infamous first year when most start-ups go under, but it wasn’t easy. His sales were consistent, but flat over the past 3 years. Running a business was one thing, growing it was quite another.

The owner knew he needed to purchase a few super widgets to achieve his growth goals.  He had heard through the grapevine that other businesses using these super widgets were making lots of money. He had to get them if he too wanted to make more money. He needed them now. He wasn’t sure where he’d find them, or who sold them.  So he started his shopping the same way every other business did…

Like every business owner shopping for new products, he reached for the yellow pages and flipped to “W” for widgets but found nothing.  How could that be?  He thought some more and flipped to section “G” for growth. After all, the purpose of super widgets were to make businesses grow faster. Although his guess was correct, he wondered how long he would have looked if it hadn’t been. He would have kept looking if he hadn’t found them in this section, after all, the yellow pages is only so big. He found 2 pages of companies selling widgets. He wrote down the names, and phone numbers, of 5 businesses that sold these widgets and began dialing his phone. With each click of the rotary dial he was introduced to a sales person who offered to send him a packet of information which he’d receive in the mail in less than 10 days. This excited the business owner. In no time I’ll be making more money because of these widgets.

Two weeks past and the business owner sat in his office looking through 5 different packets of information from each of the companies he had called.  From there he narrowed his search down to the 3 companies whose brochures most appealed to him. He decided to begin making phone calls to these 3 companies immediately.

As he made his calls, each sales person sounded identical to the other telling him how long they’d been in business, why they different, and how happy they had made all their customers.  One specific sales person asked about his kids and right then and there the business owner was hooked.  He had made his decision on who he would buy from. It was this sales person who asked about his kids that he liked best. “She shares the same values as I do,” he thought.  She cares about my kids and my family. And with that he gave the order over the phone to purchase 5 super widgets.  He hung up the call excited to receive the purchase order in the mail the following week. In no time he’d be up and running with his super widgets.  In fact, it only took 3 – 4 weeks to receive them once his sales person received his signature on the purchase order and his payment in full. He sat back in his chair and thought about how easy buying these widgets was.  It only took a matter of weeks to educate himself and less than a month later to select a provider and have his super widgets in hand.  This was great…so he thought.

STOP THE PRESS!

Remember when? It wasn’t really all that long ago that this is how buyers made their purchasing decisions.  It’s how you and I both bought products and services.  It’s how we all shopped, considered, and purchased. We relied on the information we were “allowed” to have by the seller along with the claims and promises made by the seller relative to the value delivered by their products and services. We knew just what the seller was willing to release and not much more. You could say we were a lot like mushrooms just a short time ago.  Kept in the dark and fed a lot of….

But that’s all changed.  The age of the customer is upon us. She’s educated, connected, and socially engaged.  She wants information.  She wants a trusted advisor. She doesn’t want to be sold.  She doesn’t need to be sold.  She simply wants someone to help her along her journey, not the sellers journey, but her own personal journey.

If how you’re going to market still approaches the buyer like it’s 1999 I would ask two questions.  First, why? And second, how’s it working for you?

At the recent Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco, Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist, talked about the disruptive buyer. A sales persons job today is to “facilitate the buyer on their journey, getting them ready to buy.” Quite a different and refreshing approach to selling.  A salesperson can no longer survive by having the brightest, shiniest widgets on the market.  They must have strong business acumen.  They must know how to use the tools at their disposal. Jill’s point of “a fool with a tool is still a fool” is quite thought-provoking.  It’s also still how many companies operate.  Produce the cool tool and let Sales run with it.  Bad idea.  Your buyers are way too sophisticated to simply follow the shiny bouncing ball. And not only will they not follow the bouncing ball, but they’ll kick it…hard…in the other direction making you have to chase after it to try to catch it.

Your job now is to be where the buyers are, and answer their questions where they raise them, when they raise them, and how they raise them.  Build it and they will come no longer works. Leading with the sale equals failure, while leading the buyer to the sale equals success.

Why as consumers don’t we want to be pushed, prodded or strong-armed into a sale?  We don’t like pushy sales people in our personal lives yet in business we direct our sales people to be exactly that. A robot can twist an arm, mail a piece of content, and do an online demonstration.  That’s not what the buyer is looking for when she finally engages with a sales person.  And forget value. All this talk about presenting value is overrated.  What is value?  In a recent study conducted by Sirius Decisions, the number one reason sales people lose a sale is because of the sales persons inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.

Your buyer is now the disruptor, more so than technology. She now drives the sales process, you don’t.  She has all the control because she determines what information she wants, from who she wants it, when she wants it and how she gets it. She has access to social platforms that provide feedback about you, your product, your company, your brand, your reputation.  She knows what you sell and how closely it delivers against your brand promise. The slightest disconnect between your brand promise and the experience delivered and you’re out of the game, kicked to the curb.

It’s your job to be engaged socially where she is shopping and learning.  You need to be there at the right time with the right content to help her through her journey.  She doesn’t want to be sold.  She won’t be sold.  She wants to be advised.  She wants information.  She wants hero stories…how others like her have benefited from following your recommendations.  She wants to feel connected to you and your company.  She wants to understand your brand…both brands…that of your company’s and you personally.  She won’t settle for anything less.

The age of the buyer has arrived.  Each buyer is unique.  Each is on his or her own personal journey. Each favoring different points along that journey where they need or want help. So are you still leading with a sale, or leading your buyers through their individual journey to a sale? It’s time to answer that question.