Great salespeople are made not born.
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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.

Workshops for Salespeople

Resources

Setting Goals & ExpectationsChecking your progress is critical for success!

New year’s resolutions or goals—whatever you want to call them—can be the source of motivation and drive yet they can also represent endless frustration if we fail to reach them.

Everyone knows that goals make a difference, an incredible difference in fact. We all know (and maybe even secretly envy!) our friends and colleagues who set and reach their goals. High achievers will rarely be heard saying things like, “I don’t know how I did so well. It just sort of happened!” Rather, they use a process that others don’t.

If goals are so powerful, why do only 5% of the population set clear goals for their career and their life? The biggest reason is the dreaded F.O.F.—Fear of Failure—an enemy I was first introduced to many years ago in training as a summer manager for College Pro Painters. The thinking seems to be “If I don’t have goals, I certainly can’t fail reaching them can I?” Of course, this is skewed logic leading to failure.
What these people might not realize is that failure is fundamental to growth and higher performance in the future. Further, research proves that having goals almost always leads to greater results than not having them — even if you fail to reach them!

Reaching goals is something you can learn

The second most common reason for not setting goals is not knowing how. Setting & reaching goals is more complex than many people may think. It is a process that needs to be taught. Strangely, most people have little to no training on this powerful skill. If you are one of the few who took the time to write down some goals for 2015, congratulations. You’ve taken an important first step! Now let’s check to see if you have some of the other components that will lead to success. Effective goal management needs to be S.M.A.R.T. That is:
SPECIFIC. The more specific, the better. Saying, “I’d like to sell more this year,” isn’t good enough. How many more sales exactly? At what margin?
MEASURABLE. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” You need to know if you’re winning or losing and you can’t tell if you’re not keeping score. It’s best to have major goals broken down into mini-goals that you can measure along the way.
ACTIONABLE. Hope doesn’t cut it. You need to have a massive action plan designed. And you need to be ready to change. How many more calls am I going to do each month, each week, each day? Are they scheduled in your agenda? Are you planning on increasing your selling skills? How? When?
REALISTIC. Goals need to be a delicate balance between too hard and too easy. Too hard and you’ll give up when you see it being out of reach. Too easy and you’ll feel like you haven’t really accomplished anything. R also stands for REVIEW. Reviewing your progress along the way allows you to adjust your tactics accordingly.
TIME PHASED. If there is no time frame, there is no goal. Would you really be happy if you increased your sales in your last year before retirement? Of course not. Attach dates to everything. Pull out your goals regularly and “keep your eye on the prize”. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by some of the uncomfortable steps along the way. Keep your focus on how amazing you’re going to feel when you’ve reached your objective.

A great thing about training and developing sales teams is that I get to work with salespeople who, by nature, are goal oriented and high achievers. If you would like to learn more about improving your skills in reaching goals, Northbound offers “Bulls Eye!”, a workshop dedicated to helping sales professionals get what they want out of their career and their life.

trial_closesTrial closes are important, but not as much as you might think.

 

Trial closes get a lot of coverage in sales literature as do closing techniques in general.  I believe they get far too much exposure.  The way many so called sales experts drone on about them, you’d think they were one of the biggest secrets to selling.  They aren’t.  The oft quoted acronym “The ABC’s of sales – Always Be Closing” is just plain wrong.

 

Let’s start with a couple of definitions.

 

Closing question = Any question that when answered in the affirmative, means that the customer has bought.  

 

An example of a closing question is, “Well, it sounds like there’s a good fit with what you’re looking for.  Shall we place the order?”

 

A trial close differs from a closing question in that there is a condition attached to it.

 

Trial close = A question that confirms the buyer’s interest in purchasing if certain conditions are met.

 

An example of a trial close would be, “If we could solve the problems we spoke of in a cost effective way, do you think we could do some business together?”  A trial close is like testing the water before you jump in.  It’s a way to gauge interest without asking the buyer for a full commitment.

 

How they help:

 

Trial closes are very powerful in helping understand where a buyer is in the decision making process.  You can more easily determine their level of seriousness in solving their problems with either your solution or your competitor’s.

 

They are also very helpful in fleshing out what obstacles might stand in the way of making the sale.  Often, the buyer will share what concerns they have or what things are most important to them.

 

What they won’t do:

 

A trial close will not save bad selling skill up to that point in the sale!  Too many times, salespeople fail to uncover problems with the buyer, fail to help the buyer understand the full negative implications of these problems and finally fail to convey in a compelling & ironclad manner how their solution will help.  And after failing on all fronts, these salespeople, because they’ve read to “ask for the order at least 3 times” go ahead and do a series of trial closes followed by repeated asking for the order.

 

If the customer isn’t convinced that a) they have a problem that urgently needs to be solved and b) you’re the best way to solve it, you can ask for the order until you’re blue in the face but it’s not going to help.  In fact, research shows that in large transactions, asking for the order more than once actually reduces your chances of closing.  This is when customers may openly show signs of frustration.

 

On the other hand, if you are skilled and have helped the customer understand why their problem is big enough to warrant solving now and have proved to them that you are going to solve it, a trial close will be low pressure, reasonable and natural.

 

I’m going to share a story of poor selling technique and how it can lead to disaster.  After dinner tonight, I got a call from the major bank that has the mortgage on our vacation property.  Naturally, when I saw the name pop up on call display, I answered it thinking that it must be important.

 

Here’s what I heard,

 

Salesperson: “Hi Mr. Caron.  It’s Keith calling from ABC Bank (name changed to protect the guilty) and I wanted to let you know about a special offer for selected mortgage customers.  Do you have a few minutes?”

 

Me: “I’ve got 2 minutes Keith.  Can you explain it to me in that time?”

 

Salesperson: “Sure.  Your mortgage is up for renewal at the end of July and I was wondering if you’d like to get a lower interest rate by choosing a longer term than you have now.” (trial close)

 

Me:  “Keith.  I’m looking at my calendar and it says March 3rd.  Why would I want to decide on that right now if it’s not due until the middle of the summer?” This objection came up because Keith failed to find the problem with leaving the decision until later.

 

Salesperson: “Well, nobody can predict where interest rates are going to go and it would give you greater certainty.”

 

Me: “Possibly but why would I want to make that decision now instead of leaving it until the summer.  Is that the only benefit?”  (I had to repeat my question)

 

Salesperson: “No.  It could also save you point one five percent interest.”

 

Me: “That doesn’t sound like much.” I’m getting frustrated at this point because I don’t see any meaningful problem that is being solved for me.

 

Salesperson: “It might not sound like much to you or I but a lot of people would disagree with us.”

 

Me: “Can you work out how much that would save me in dollars?”

 

Salesperson: “Sure.  Just give me a moment.”  I hear clicking sounds.  “Eight dollars per month.”

 

Me (chuckling): “Keith, for thirty two dollars, I don’t think it’s worth the time and hassle.” My frustration is turning to annoyance at this point.

 

Salesperson (chuckling along with me): “I understand Mr. Caron.  Have a good night.”

 

This is a beautiful example of trial closes and unconvincing objection handling being used in lieu of strong selling technique.

 

My advice is to worry less about closing and instead, focus on sharpening your problem finding skills through the use of well designed questions.  Follow that up with practice of connecting your product’s features and benefits to the solving of these problems.  Once you master these techniques, trial closes and full closes will be easy and natural and the best news is, they will be met with a “yes!”

 

Northbound’s Goal Aligned™ Selling program helps you understand your customer better and fit your solution to them.  To arrange a complimentary live workshop for your team, contact Michael Caron at mcaron@northboundsales.com or 416.456.1440.

Joined in businessIf you stay cool and follow these steps, your negotiations will produce agreements that last.

Contrary to what some think, negotiation isn’t something that only takes place at the end of the selling process. We are actually negotiating and laying the groundwork for further negotiation throughout the sale. When the customer has agreed that your solution fits with their needs but there is not agreement on variables such as delivery, terms and, of course price, good negotiating skills will bring the sale to successful completion. Here are six essentials:

 

One – Plan:

Never go into a negotiation without a plan. Do your homework. What do you know about the individual you are negotiating with? What is their personality style? How can you adjust your style to be more effective with them? What information do you want to disclose or keep confidential? What is the time frame for this negotiation? Go through some of the other points below and write this information down.

 

Two – Have a collaboration mindset:

Most negotiations involve parties with which you want to have a long term, mutually profitable relationship with. You will only be able to protect and nurture this relationship if an agreement is reached that is truly win win. Enter the negotiation with this in mind and test the commitment of the other party to a win win, collaborative solution. If both parties agree that an agreement will be easier to reach if creativity, openness and collaboration prevail, the negotiation will have a much greater chance of delivering a successful deal.

 

Three – Make a concession list:

Make a list of all the things that you could give up and all the things they could give up in the negotiation. Then put two columns beside each, one for cost and the for value. By doing this, you will be better able to give up concessions that cost you little (but have high value to the customer) while accepting concessions in return that have high value to you.

 

Four – Uncover goals: 

Make a list of goals from your point of view and the other party’s point of view. These should include objective and subjective goals along with business and personal. If you’re not sure of some of the goals of the other party, make an educated guess for now and attempt to confirm them during the negotiation.

 

Five – Don’t counter immediately:

When an offer is made, resist the urge to make a counter offer immediately. A person’s resistance to another person’s idea is the greatest immediately after they’ve given their own. Instead, explore it with the other party. Ask questions like, “Why do you think this might make sense for both of us? How exactly would that work in this area?” Probe for this solution meeting the win win criteria and show that you are truly considering it. If it doesn’t meet win win, state why it doesn’t work and then slowly come back by saying something like, “Something such as (terms) might work because . . .”

 

Six – Know your walk away point:

The goal of the negotiation is not just to produce an agreement. It’s to produce an agreement that works for both parties and protects the relationship. Know what the minimum terms are for you to accept an agreement. Understand that no agreement might be the best alternative. We call this your “BATNA” or the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. By knowing your BATNA, you will prevent being driven into a deal that works for the customer but not for you.

 

You or your team will learn how to master these steps plus learn many more strategies to successful negotiation in Northbound’s “Win Win Negotiations.”  Contact Craig Brandys, VP Sales at cbrandys@northboundsales.com for pricing or more information.

Customer TestimonialHaving a salesperson say your company is good is very different than someone else saying it.

Most companies vastly underutilize testimonials.  It’s a big mistake because the fact is that they are very powerful in building credibility and trust in your product.  Just as importantly, they provide proof of performance.  A study by Yahoo revealed just how powerful they are.  They found that if a salesperson makes a claim as to the capability of a company or product, it is only believed by 23% of people.  That’s right, 4 out of 5 people think salespeople exaggerate or in some cases, outright lie.  However, if the exact same claim of capability is made by a third party, over 80% of people believe it to be true.  Do the math and you’ll see that by having a testimonial speak to your ability to deliver, it is 4 times more convincing!  Northbound’s U.S. based partners, Corporate Sales Coaches, note below how to get a testimonial and how to use one in your selling process.

By Len D’Innocenzo and Jack Cullen, Authors of, The Agile Manager’s Guide to Customer Focused Selling
One of the problems we hear most often at our sales seminars is, “How can I prove how good I am to someone who doesn’t know me?” This is a real obstacle when approaching an account you never have sold to.
The power of a testimonial letter can be an excellent solution. A testimonial is a written communication from a customer that talks about the value added benefits your company and you provide. It is tangible, written evidence that says you are not just another sales rep trying to make a pitch. It allows you the opportunity to showcase the specific reasons you are different from your competition. Testimonials enable the smart sales rep to cement relationship with the author of the letter.

I’m sure most of you have been asked to give a reference or two when you applied for a new job. What was the purpose of providing a reference? Obviously, to show your new boss that you are as good as you said you were. You provide a personal reference to vouch for your competence and to attest to your qualifications. Most employers require at least three professional references and one personal reference before you can start working.
Doesn’t it make sense that a new sales organization should also provide references to a prospective customer? Why should a prospect spend money with you if you can’t prove it? Sales people can greatly increase their effectiveness by asking for and using testimonial letters. An example of the type of services you have provided and the benefits received by your customer will increase your credibility.

How to get one

How do you get testimonial letters? First of all, you need to have a base of customers that are satisfied with the products and support you and your firm deliver. These accounts must be living, breathing references to your value added service.
Who are your best customers? How many have you serviced that are really satisfied with your work? Everyone that has been in sales for a year or more should have at least one or two. If they haven’t sent you an unsolicited letter of thanks, solicit one on your own!
Yes, call them up and ask them to send you a letter that talks about why you are different. A letter that says you helped them save money, time or anything else of value. A letter that says you helped them increase or improve efficiency, throughput, control or anything else of value.
Why mention you helped them save, increase or improve? Because that is how a benefit is described. Benefits help people save, reduce, control and decrease costs or expenses. Benefits help people increase, improve, enhance or gain money, efficiency or time.
People want to know what’s in it for them when you approach them. A good testimonial letter will help you to tell your story. It also will show that you know something about a specific market, industry or business.

How to get verbal into written

How many times have you heard a customer say, “This system is great! We’re able to use your system to cut our order processing time.” Or, “Your system has saved us a lot of time and money! We love our new system! We’re very pleased with your service and support. You really saved our butt!”

If you’ve only heard it, if you delivered what you promised to a customer, ask for a letter. The more you do for an account, the stronger your relationship should be. If you have a strong relationship, capitalize on it. Get a letter that says you deliver what you promise, (not everyone does), that you’re good and your company is good (not everyone is), that you help people save money or time and that you are someone that. people should talk to! These are powerful words that you deserve and that you can use!
If your customers love you but have not had the time to write you a testimonial letter, write it for them. Yes, you write your own testimonial letter. Type up a “draft” for their review and approval. Ask them if this letter is a fair statement of what you’ve done for them. If they want to make any changes they can. If they change it at all, they will usually make your letter even stronger. Most of the time they just type it on their letterhead and sign it. It is that easy.
Don’t wait for that extra special person who goes above and beyond and sends you a letter unsolicited. Take control of your own destiny and draft your own testimonial. Besides, when you do it, you can say what you want to say. When they do it, you never know if the right message comes through.
Make this idea a reality. Give yourself a deadline before this month ends, and get a note from your best accounts. When you get one, share it with your associates. Any sales manager reading this article should collect testimonials from each sales rep.  Email them around to every rep. A testimonial from one customer can be used for almost any prospect.

How to use one

What can you use testimonial for? Lots of things. Use them for approaching new accounts. If you did a good job for one business in your area, let other businesses know about it. Send a copy of a good testimonial letter to the same level (or higher) at another company. It doesn’t even have to be the same industry. The point is that you and your company are good. You can deliver what you promise. Someone also has checked you out.

(If you’ve ever gotten an email from me, you’ll see a testimonial in my signature on every one – Michael)

You can also use testimonial with your proposals. Put them at the end to serve as proof that you are worth the investment. Encourage your prospects to call and check your references. Make sure you call, before they do. There is nothing more damaging than providing a bad reference on yourself A testimonial will also improve self esteem. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your name in a letter from a happy customer. Well, I’ll admit it would be more satisfying to see your name in a letter that came in unsolicited but who can wait for things to just happen? Make things happen!

VoicemailWhen prospecting, don’t miss an opportunity to use voicemail to deliver your value message.

Are you frustrated constantly by trying to connect to buyers when prospecting and getting their voicemail? I hear this complaint from many of our clients.

Times have changed. In the early 90’s before voicemail was ubiquitous, studies showed that one business person attempting to contact another business person would get through 22% of the time. Sounds low doesn’t it? But it gets worse. Today’s stats are more like 10% or even less. That means that 9 out of 10 times, you’re going to get voicemail when doing cold prospecting.

What I find crazy is how many salespeople don’t leave a voicemail when they’re calling a buyer.  By not leaving a message, they are missing a great opportunity!

Instead of looking at this marvel of communication engineering as being your enemy, it can be your friend – at least in the short term. Before you say I’ve lost my selling marbles, let me explain. How many of you can convey a compelling description of your product’s benefits and features in 30 words or less?  Some of you may be able but wouldn’t it be nice if you had a full minute? Of course it would.  A good prospecting voicemail can do just that for you.

There’s a big difference between getting a prospect on the phone right off the bat and being able to leave a voicemail message first.   I far prefer to leave a carefully crafted, practiced, voicemail message as my first voice contact with a prospective customer. You can’t get cut off, you can build some “personality” and trust and with many systems, you also have the added benefit of erasing it and doing it again if you screw up. Be careful to leave the message as best you possibly can and finish before trying to erase it though in case you can’t!

Just like in advertising, multiple impressions are often required before a message registers with someone.  Each time your buyer hears what’s possibly “in it for him” to have a conversation with you, it helps strengthen your case.

Obviously you eventually want to connect in real time with the prospect and there are specific techniques to drastically increase your chances when the time is right but that will have to wait for a future post.

Using voicemail to your advantage is part of Northbound’s “Connecting to the Big Cheese” workshop.  To arrange a complimentary condensed version of the workshop for your team, contact Michael Caron @ mcaron@northboundsales.com or 416.456.1440.

procrastinateBy Michael Caron, President, Northbound Sales

Congratulations for reading this! Procrastination has been appropriately called the “silent killer of careers” yet few people have ever had formal training on how to overcome this immensely costly habit. All of us procrastinate to some extent but While managing this problem is a constant challenge to me, I have learned some strategies over the years that have worked very well:

Urgency versus Importance: The first step in overcoming procrastination is to understand that by definition, urgent activities are done before non-urgent. On the surface, this seems to make sense until you take into account the additional factor of importance. In Northbound’s “Goal Aligned Time™” program, we train people on how to place every activity in their personal and business life on a quadrant with these two variables before they decide what to put on their plan. Important tasks are often not urgent and so get pushed off the agenda. Unfortunately these are also frequently “growth” activities such as prospecting and skills development on the career side and on the personal side, might be things such as exercise and building stronger relationships. Have the discipline to schedule these activities so they get done and start saying “No” to low value, urgent activities that are screaming for your attention.

The 15 Minute Strategy: Psychologist David Burns recommends simply making a promise with yourself that you will give some task you’ve been putting off just 15 minutes of effort. His point is that we often become overwhelmed by the sheer size of a task and talk ourselves out of it. We might tell ourselves, “It’s going to take soooo long” or “It’s too big to do now. I’ll leave it until I can really focus on it”. Instead, talk back and say, “OK, I’ll just give it 15 minutes and then I can stop”. How hard can 15 minutes of anything be? Once you get started, you will have broken that psychological barrier. Most often, you’ll find that it’s not nearly as hard as you thought it was going to be and you’ll either keep going or not fear it so much next time.

Think of the End Result: Instead of thinking of how difficult the process may be to accomplish something, think rather on the end result and all the great things that it will mean to you. Turn thoughts of “I hate cold calling. It’s not much fun” into, “If I make 2 hours of calls, I’ll probably book one meeting. I usually close one out of two meetings so I’m 50% towards a sale if I make some calls!” Once your brain clearly connects the doing of a task with major benefits, you’ll be unstoppable!

You and your team can learn dozens of other proven time management strategies with Northbound’s Goal Aligned Time™ workshop. Graduates report an average productivity increase of 12%! For more information or pricing, contact Michael Caron at mcaron@northboundsales.com, 416.456.1440

attraction-marketingIf your customer likes you, will it lead to more sales?

 

The link between “Like-Ability” — being liked by your customer — and increases in sales, is a hotly debated topic at live workshops that I lead.  Some of the comments that I typically hear are:

 

“Selling is all about relationships.  My customer has to like me to buy from me!”

 

“I’m in a competitive business.  The fact that a customer likes me more than the competitor’s rep is what sets us apart.”

 

Applying Economics 101 to the issue, the question becomes, “What is the correlation between the amount the customer likes the sales rep and their inclination to buy from that rep?”

 

I try to base the strategies at Northbound Sales on research and not just anecdotal evidence but the research on this topic is pretty light.  Some experts claim that being liked by your customer is akin to gaining admission to a club.  That is, if the customer likes you, you’ll gain the privilege of being considered but if they don’t like you, you won’t even be considered.  This makes sense to me.

 

Neil Rackham, the father of the consultative selling approach, found in his research that led to the SPIN Selling revolution that the relationship between being liked and increased sales was weak.  Although there was a very slight correlation in general, it was limited to rural areas.  Just as most people would guess, it is true that customers in smaller communities will choose to buy more often from a salesperson they like.  In dense urban areas, his immense research found that although customers might “like” one company’s rep more, they were more likely to buy from the rep who provided the most compelling solution to their problems.

 

Bottom line is that if you can’t find your customer’s problems and link them to your unique solutions, they can like you more than any salesperson they’ve ever met, but it won’t close the sale for you.  What I find in working with people in the field is that they spend too much time on pleasantries and small talk at the expense of solving the customer’s problems.

 

I’m reminded of my ride-alongs with Jim, a rep for a national supplier to furniture manufacturers.  When I do ride-alongs, I track how much time is spent on the different steps of the sales call.  In Jim’s case, when he learned that his customer built cabinetry for 2 large national chicken specialty restaurants, the conversation shifted to an open discussion on which restaurant had the best chicken!  Out of a 43 minute sales call, how much time was spent on sharing how the new product might help the customer?  6 minutes.  How much time was spent debating chicken? 22 minutes!  When we got back into Jim’s car, I couldn’t help but question him.  “Jim, where were you going with all the talk about chicken?” to which he replied, “Mike, my customers buy from our company because they like me.  If they want to talk chicken, I talk chicken.”  I’d be very interested to ask the customer if they agree!

 

My biggest advice for you is this:  Yes, try to ensure the customer likes you but don’t think for a New York minute that this is a substitute for deep skills in finding your customer’s problems and helping them fix them.  Work on your “Goal Aligned Selling™” selling skills rather than talking about chicken.

 

To learn more about our “Goal Aligned Selling™” program or to arrange a complimentary workshop for your sales team, contact me at mcaron@northboundsales.com.

 

Happy Selling,

 

Michael