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The selling landscape has changed.  Simply showing up and telling your customer about your company and it’s products and services just doesn’t cut it with today’s more demanding buyers.  Sellers have to provide more value than product knowledge or pricing – things the customer can often learn on their own with a few clicks.  In fact, recent research suggests that most customers don’t even engage a salesperson until they are 60% of the way through the buying process!

To compete in the new world of selling, you need to be equipped with better skills – skills that don’t simply get acquired by adding years of experience.  Making the same selling mistakes over and over again will not make you better.  There ARE selling techniques and strategies which work better than others and the good news is that you can learn them if you’re committed to continued growth.

Northbound’s methodologies work – period.  They have been culled from hundreds of sources and have been proven to work in the real world.  Our programs contain street tested ideas and actions that you can put into practice immediately.  The formidable combination of workshops, coaching and tools will help you implement the ideas into your own sales process.

Click here for a complete list of workshops for salespeople.

Click here to learn about full sales team development programs.

Contact us to arrange a complimentary no obligation workshop.  Contact Michael at mcaron@northboundlearning.com or 416.456.1440 to get details.  We are always happy to discuss your sales challenges.

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thank_you1
A kick at old school makes you stand out from the rest

I’m a big advocate of using hand written notes in your selling process for 2 main reasons

#1 Reason: They work

#2 Reason: They are a kind gesture which makes me feel good!

 

Why do they work?

In today’s world of digital communication, we are bombarded with literally hundreds of messages from others on a weekly basis.  People just don’t get nearly as much stuff by snail mail any longer and the stuff we DO get it usually junk mail (sounds a lot like our email in box too doesn’t it?).  Receiving something in the mail from a real live person is rare.  Handwritten notes such as a thank you card is even more rare.

A handwritten note helps you stand out.  Let me ask you this.  The last time you received a hand written card, what did you do with it right after reading it?  I bet you didn’t toss it in the trash.  I bet you put it on your desk, your fridge, or even showed it to other people.  What did you do with the last email “thank you” you got?  See the difference?

 

Why do they make me feel good?

Taking the time to hand write and drop something in the mail connotes a deeper level of thanks and appreciation.  As the famous Canadian futurist Marshal McLuhan famously quipped, “The medium is the message.”  Giving thanks to a customer for their time, or for anything in fact, is a big win-win.  It makes the receiver feel good but it helps me by building my gratitude.  And a recent study published in the Harvard Business Journal confirms what you probably know intuitively – that having gratitude increases happiness and increased happiness leads to higher productivity and sales.  What a fantastic ROI on your time!

 

There is one rule with sending handwritten notes including “thank you” cards.  They need to be 100% sincere.  If you ever try to pass around insincere thanks, it’s the same as passing around counterfeit money.  You will eventually be found out and your credibility will be in the toilet from that moment forward.

I’d recommend that you order some simple customized cards from any of the online print shops and start each day with a heartfelt thank you.  It’ll make someone else’s day and yours too!

 

scale-slideThe use of scale questions will help uncover more sales opportunities.

We all know that good questions are the most powerful tool in sales.  But some are markedly better than others.  One of the most powerful types is the scale question.  What’s a scale question? (Good question!)  A scale question is one that asks your buyer to answer on a scale, usually from 1 to 10.

To understand why they are so helpful in sales, we need to take a step back.  Solutions, by definition, can only exist if there is a problem.  Although many companies claim they sell “X solutions” it’s often not possible because their salespeople haven’t uncovered legitimate problems from the potential buyer that their solution can solve.  It’s the dreaded trap of “a solution in search of a problem.”

Needs begin with problems and problems only exist when their is a gap between where someone is currently and where they’d like to be.  This is commonly called the “tension for change.” Some might have an issue referring to this “tension for change” or gap as a problem.  They might prefer to call it an opportunity instead.  It really doesn’t matter what you choose to call it, however.  What’s important is that we realize that without a gap, there is no possibility for a sale.  The potential buyer sees no reason to change from the status quo.  On the other hand, the bigger the gap, the more motivated a buyer will be to find a solution.

Tension for Change Graphic

During the discovery phase of a sale, a good strategy is to establish what the key result areas are for the customer and then uncover the level of satisfaction in these areas.  Here’s an example of a simple way to do this.

You: “John, could you share with me the 3 or 4 most important criteria to you in choosing a (your industry) partner?

Prospect: “Price is most important.”

You: “OK.  And besides price, what would be next important?”

Prospect: “Great service.”

You: “OK.  Could you be more specific as to what great service looks like to you?”

Prospect: “I’d like to see my rep every couple of months.  I’d also like to have my phone calls returned quickly and my emails not as quick but still pretty quick.”

You: “So why is great service so important to you?”

Prospect: “If I have an issue and it doesn’t get fixed PDQ, it can cost us a lot.  Plus it’s very frustrating not being able to get a hold of somebody with the vendor we use now.”

You: “So, if you were to rate the service you’re getting now from your current vendor, say on scale of one to ten, what do you think you’d say?”

Prospect: “Oh I don’t know.  Maybe six.”

You: “OK.  So is it fair to say that there’s room for improvement here?”

Prospect: “For sure.”

Repeat the above for at least 2 other areas.  Through this process, you’ll have identified several problems — areas that are important to the customer and that he’d now like to do better in.  You’ll see that in most cases, the customer concludes that they are not as satisfied as they could be in key areas and how the “gap” has negative implications.  If you simply asked them to tell you what problems they have with their current vendor, not only will you get less valuable information, but they might also say, “I’ve got none.”  At this point, you have nowhere to go except out the door!

Your homework for this week:

1) Come up with a scale question that will help uncover an area that you have a competitive advantage in.

2) Use it on your sales calls this week.

You should have your own list of questions that you constantly refer to in sales calls.  If you don’t have any pre-written ones, these will give you a great start!

Northbound’s workshop “Questions Are the Answer” teaches you and your team the consultative approach to selling then helps you create dozens of powerful questions that you can immediately use to grow your sales.  For more information or for pricing, contact Craig Brandys, Vice President Sales, at cbrandys@northboundsales.com.

Voicemail

Why you need to leave a voicemail every time.

I’m frequently asked this question and my typical response is, “Why wouldn’t you?”  The answers I get back range from “They’ll never call me back so why bother” to “If I leave a message, they’ll know why I’m calling the next time and won’t pick up.”  Both are bad answers.  Here’s why.

 

“They’ll never call me back.” – WRONG!

 

This just isn’t true.  Our own statistics plus statistics from our clients who we’ve trained to leave voicemails all point to the same thing.  Some prospects will call you back.  While many won’t, some will and some is much better than the “none” who will call you back when you don’t leave a voicemail.

 

Naturally, the more clear, concise and compelling your message is, the greater the chance of a callback.  Our research has shown that callbacks can increase dramatically with the right technique and skill.

 

But there’s an equally powerful reason to leave a voicemail.  Even in the cases where it doesn’t lead to a callback, you are able to get your message through to the buyer.  You are able to convey the reasons why it makes sense for them to have conversation with you.  When you are able to convincingly speak of how you’ve helped others solve problems that they might have, it can cause them to sit up and take notice.  Just as in advertising, you’re making a “impression” on the buyer and for people to take action, they often need multiple impressions.

 

“If I leave a message, they’ll know why I’m calling the next time and won’t pick up.” – WRONG!

 

The notion that catching a prospect off guard will somehow help you engage with them seems very flawed to me. Question: Would you be more likely to have a conversation with someone if you a) knew what they were calling about and b) think that they might be able to help you resolve a challenge? Of course you would. And your prospects are no different.

 

When you catch someone completely off guard, their automatic internal knee-jerk response will likely be something like, “It’s a salesperson. I’ve got to get them off the phone.” They will be far less likely to think about what value you might bring to them. If, however, you’ve already touched them with your value proposition several times like you can with your voicemails, there will be a higher likelihood of agreeing to a brief conversation.

 

If you haven’t been leaving voicemails when prospecting, start today.  As with all your selling skills, you’ll want to practice again, again and again until you sound smooth and natural.  You will instantly see both the number of connections increase as well as the quality of your conversations.

 

Northbound’s “Connecting to the Big Cheese” workshop will teach you and your team how to be master this critical selling skill.  For pricing or more info, contact Craig Brandys, Vice President of Sales at cbrandys@northboundsales.com.

no-talkingIf you’re a sales manager who prides yourself on playing the role of a “sales coach,” one of the most important skills is learning to keep quiet.

Do you get out in the field with your reps enough?  Yes?  Great.  But what happens when do ride-alongs and do some sales calls together?

This is what typically happens:

Sales Manager: “OK Bob.  What’s the objective of the next call?”

Bob: “I want to explain how our left-handed widget will help them cut their waste.”

Sales Manager:  “Sounds good.”

Bob: “Hi Mr. Customer.  Have you got a few minutes?  Great.  I wanted to tell you about our new product that I think you’re going to really like.”

Sales Manager: “Yes.  We’ve spend a bundle on R & D to come up with it.  It’s 43% better than the right-handed model.  What are you the challenges you’ve been having with the right-handed one?”

BOOM.  The Sales Manager is off to the races.  He’s now deep in a conversation with the customer while Bob sits there and doesn’t dare interrupt.  After the call is over, the Sales Manager asks, “How do you think that went?” to which Bob answers, “Pretty good.”  The Sales Manager is thinking, “Darn good thing I was there!”

What kind of quality learning experience is that for the Bob?  Hint: Not a very good one.

The first rule for sales coaches is to observe current behaviour. You need an accurate picture of what the rep is doing when you’re not there which you will not get if you take over the call.  Far too often I see sales manager’s egos get in the way of good coaching.  Sometimes it’s not ego as much as the sales manager’s eagerness to help the customer as much as possible that makes it impossible for them to keep quiet.

Frequently, sales managers tell me, “I can’t just sit there and be quiet.  The customer’s expecting me to say something.”  While I agree, you can still keep your conversation to a minimum.  If a question is directed at you, simply defer it to the rep by saying something like, “Bob’s probably more up to speed on that than me actually.”  And then let Bob take it.

I’ve been on calls where the rep has been messing up so badly that I’m practically ready to burst.  It almost kills me to keep my mouth shut but I know that I have to.  One way of looking at it is this – Bob’s probably messed up a couple dozen calls before this one.  What’s one more?  You need to have first hand evidence of what he’s doing.  Otherwise, you will be coaching in a vacuum.

Instead of talking, a much better use of your time is to take a few notes of what Bob did well and what he can do better next time.

You’ll not only be able to coach more effectively, but Bob is going to look forward much more to your next coaching session!

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 10.35.59 PM

There are some common ingredients among top sellers.

Sugar and spice and everything nice is what the nursery rhyme says little girls are made of but what are the ingredients for sales success?  There are three as well, but you can’t simply buy them at the grocery store like you can sugar and spice.

The three key components that you need to have in good measure are 1) Activities 2) Skills and 3) Attitude.  Strikingly different from each other, they are rarely found together in the right proportion.  Each one deserves some specifics.

Activities – Activities are like the sugar.  The more you have, the sweeter the reward!  A great salesperson needs to understand what the key activities are that lead to sales success and then do lots of them.  Are you taking the proper actions that move buyers through the pipeline?  For most salespeople in traditional sales, these would include things such as leads generated, referrals received, outbound touches such as calls & emails, meetings set and proposals delivered.  For social selling, the activities could be posts, new connections made or conversations scheduled.

Skills – Skills are like adding spice to the selling process.  Without it, your activities will be bland. (OK – I’m stretching a bit to make the metaphor work.)  You need to possess the skills to make your prospecting activities effective and turn them into meetings.  You need to know how to manage your time, set & manage goals, adjust your selling style to the customer, do a great discovery meeting, present solutions, handle objections, move the buyer towards commitment and so on.

Attitude – This is the equivalent of “everything nice” because recent research clearly shows that having a positive attitude brings, on average, 34% greater sales.  See my recent post “Happiness Can Lead to More Sales” for more detail.  Without a positive attitude, you will be stopped in your tracks when you hit the inevitable challenges that selling involves.  A positive attitude ensures that the other two ingredients, activities and skills, are sustainable.

Do you really need to have all three of these to excel in sales?  Yes and no.  I’ve worked with many salespeople who make a decent living with 2 out of the 3.  For instance, I remember one very personable individual who I’ll call Marty who was part of my first client’s sales team.  Marty had a positive attitude.  He always had a smile and a high level of confidence.  He was also pretty skilled.  Even before training, he could clearly make effective prospecting calls and did a decent job in meetings too.  He made a good six figure income.  So what’s the problem?  Maybe nothing except that he could have done so much better if he had the third ingredient: activities.  To be blunt, he was lazy.  He would go for 2 hour lunches at least a few times a week.  At 5 o’clock, you’d better not be standing near the door for fear of Marty running you over on his way out.  I did an analysis of Marty’s funnel and conversion rates and found that for him to earn $15,000 more that year, which was his goal, he only had to spend 45 more minutes prospecting per week.  It didn’t happen because Marty was in the “comfort zone” and refused to do any additional activities.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some who have have an incredible work ethic, doing massive amounts of activities with wonderfully positive attitudes but have only moderate skills.  Fortunately, these people have the best chance of improving their income from a sales development program because skills are easier to change than the other two ingredients.

Each of these 3 ingredients can be developed to varying degrees.  Your takeaway action is to set a goal for the next 12 months how you’re going to grow each of them.  After that, make a list of things that you can do in the next 30 days to get you started.  The last step is to schedule an action that you will take tomorrow.

By focussing on the fine balance of these key ingredients, you will experience everything nice that a great career in sales can bring!

positive-thinkingResearch study shows clear link

Many of you reading this heading might think that it reads backwards.  That is, it should state that “more sales will lead to greater happiness!”  This notion is intuitive with almost all salespeople receiving a shot of endorphins (the happiness hormone) when they close a sale.  A recent study concludes, however, that being happy leads to more sales – 37% more sales in fact according to the author of the Harvard Business Review article, Shawn Achor.  A bestselling author of two books on the subject, Achor asserts that a decade of research has shown that a good healthy level of happiness helps people’s careers not only in sales but in productivity by 31%, accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements.

You might be asking, “Even if being happy can help sales, how can I just be more happy?”  What a great question.  Does Northbound have a workshop on happiness?  Unfortunately, we don’t, but Achor shares the results of a happiness training program done with the KPMG that proves that a company can teach it’s people how to be happier on the job and off.  He also gives tips on how to do it yourself.  I’m a firm believer that happiness, like selling skills, can largely be taught.  What happened at KPMG in this study supports this.

With just a three-hour introduction to positive psychology and training on how to apply the principles at work, all measured areas improved including life satisfaction, perceived stress, effectiveness at work and work optimism.  Even months later, this very short session’s impact was still holding strong.  A key component was doing daily exercises which, after 21 days, became a habit.

The exercises were simple:

  1. Write down three new things you are grateful for every day;
  2. Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours;
  3. Exercise for 10 mins a day
  4. Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out
  5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your team

I’ve read a lot about cognitive psychology over the years – especially the groundbreaking work of Dr. Aaron Beck – and the themes are consistent with the KPMG study.  Every feeling that you have is created by thoughts.  Therefore, change your thoughts and you can change your feelings – including happiness.

The incredibly compelling part of focusing on gratitude, positive experiences and kindness is that once you train your brain to change the pattern of how it works, you get better results.  When you get better results, you have even more great stuff to focus on which leads to more happiness.  More happiness leads to greater results and the cycle continues.

Unfortunately for many of us in sales, it can become a downward spiral just as quickly.  Focusing on the sale you missed, on the sales manager who is annoying you, or on the prospect who was rude can create, as Zig Ziglar calls it, “stinkin’ thinkin‘”.  Happiness and attitude go south and so do your sales.  They feed off each other and before you know it, you’re in a miserable slump.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Print out the 5 daily actions and start today turning them into habits.  A very small commitment of your time will pay tremendous dividends in both your happiness and your sales performance.  It could very well end up being the greatest investment you ever made!

originalIs there a magic number of attempts before calling it quits?

I’m bombarded with this question when I’m delivering a prospecting workshop.  I usually pass it back to the group to sound in before I give my explanation.  “Never” is often tossed out as is any number between 1 and 10!  Like many sales methodologies, the correct answer, although it seems evasive, is “it depends.”

Recent research reveals some statistics that can help us.  A study by M.I.T. found that it takes on average 7 telephone contact attempts for a salesperson to get through to a prospective customer.  This has shot up from 5 in the 90’s.  Of course pre-internet, the phone was the primary method of reaching out with your message when prospecting.  With email, texting and people putting their phones on voicemail virtually all the time, it’s much harder to get through to a live person.

So how many voicemails and/or emails should you leave before moving on to greener pastures?  Some of the factors to consider when deciding on a reasonable number are:

1) How potentially lucrative is this prospect?  Is it a whale or a minnow?  Whales are worth a lot more effort.

2) What types of prospecting touches have you used in addition to phone?  Regular mail, email, LinkedIn InMail and even faxes are often very effective when used in conjunction with phone calls.  I strongly recommend against the use of texting when prospecting.  Most people find it very intrusive coming from strangers.

3) Has the prospect given you any clues as to their level of interest?  If you have something that shows interest, it makes sense to try harder.

4) How high up in the organization is the prospect?  Generally, the higher the position the more tenacity will be required to connect with them.

In general, I suggest you leave a minimum of 5 voicemails over a period 3 weeks and combine this with at least 2 other types of contact attempts before you give up on the prospect . . . for now.  Park it for 3 to 6 months and then go back to it.

Don’t make the mistake of many salespeople who wrongly assume that if the prospect doesn’t get back to them after a couple of attempts that “I guess their not interested.”  It doesn’t mean that at all.  People are busy and returning a sales call is a B52 priority for most people.  It doesn’t mean that they have no interest at all.  It most often just means that they aren’t going to put it at the top of their to-do list.  Case in point – since starting Northbound, the company has made approximately 8,000 prospecting calls, 3,000 emails and delivered 1,500 regular mail packages.  We have actually spoken to approximately 2,500 of these prospects.  How many have told us something to the effect of “If I were interested, I would have called you back?”  A grand total of TWO!

Invariably, what we hear is something like this: “I’m so sorry I haven’t called you back.  We’ve just been crazy around here.”  They apologize most of the time!

While it’s crazy to never give up, I bet you’re stopping far too early when prospecting.  Don’t be scared to crank that number up and you’ll be rewarded by much higher contact ratios.

For more strategies on prospecting, check out our workshop, Connecting to the Big Cheese.