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

Inside Sales

Simple order taking doesn’t cut it anymore

By Michael Caron, President, Northbound Sales

The role of inside sales is changing to be more demanding.  Your customer’s expectations from your customer service department is greater than ever.  It’s no longer adequate to simply “be there” when a customer is ready to order.  These days, customers expect you to know their business and anticipate their needs.  And with instant access to your competitor’s offerings, your prior relationship with your customer is constantly being put to the test.

To add to the mix, your inside sales team plays a more important role as the cost of getting face-to-face with customers from outside sales teams spirals in cost.

When planning how you’re going to confront this challenge, the first thing to do is ask, “What do we actually expect our inside sales team to do that they aren’t currently?”  Although companies sometimes label the department as “inside sales”, often times, they aren’t expected to drive sales.  Rather they really serve a customer service function, facilitating sales where the demand has already been created.  There’s nothing wrong with having exceptional customer service people — without them customers would leave quickly — but it’s important to clarify their precise role.

For true inside sales teams, ones who are responsible for creating demand, there are two primary types, reactive and proactive.

Reactive:  These teams respond to incoming communications from customers and through up-selling and cross-selling, sell “deeper and wider” with them.

Proactive: These teams reach out to existing customers and again, cross and up-sell.  For your team to effectively stimulate sales in a cost effective manner, good account planning is critical.  Before they contact a customer, they should be very familiar with their buying history, past issues/challenges and what share of wallet your company is currently capturing from them.  A good inside sales rep will be armed with some great questions that will help uncover business challenges that the customer has and that your solution can solve.  It’s not good enough to simply call up a customer to tell them about your library of products.

Up-selling is selling additional products and services to the original request.  This can involve asking probing questions to understand how the customer is going to be using your product or service; their problems or challenges, and then suggesting additional solutions.  However, to get the ball rolling, it could be as simple as asking, “Would you like fries with that?”

Cross-selling is getting your current customer to help leverage you into other departments that might need your solution.  Internal referrals almost always guarantee an open invite with new contacts within your customer’s organization to discuss how your product might help.  Some language might be, “Hi Bob, it’s Mary from Hugeco Widgets and George Wilson in your Atlanta office suggested we speak.  We’ve had a lot of success helping George and his department accomplish “benefit, benefit and benefit” and I was hoping to better understand some of the challenges of your department and see if we might be of help to you too.”

These types of calls can be made by either your inside or outside sales team.  But whichever route you go, they must be very skilled in being able to draw out in a conversation the problems, issues or goals of the customer and explain how using more of your company’s product or service can help them solve issues or reach their goals better.  The good news is that advances in technology (web, email, auto responders) allows inside teams to sell to your customers more effectively.

Northbound “Goal Aligned Selling™” program can help turn your customer service or inside sales teams into exceptional achievers.  For more information or to arrange a complimentary workshop for your team, contact Michael at mcaron@northboundsales.com or 416.456.1440.

Joined in businessAn Unpleasant but Often Necessary Part of Selling

Contrary to what some think, negotiating isn’t something that only takes place at the end of the selling process. We are actually negotiating and laying the groundwork for further negotiations 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 6 essentials.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Make a concession list – make a list of all the things that you could give up and all the things they could give up. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 . . . “

6. 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 and your team can learn to produce stronger relationships and more equitable and profitable business interactions with Northbound’s Win/Win Negotiations workshop. For more information or pricing, contact Michael Caron at mcaron@northboundsales.com, 416.456.1440

800px-claw-hammer

Protect your margins while increasing your closing rate

Naturally, we always want to sell value and reduce the times that customers ask you for a price discount, but regardless of your attempts, you will not be able to avoid them. You always have the ability to say no and lose the sale but if you are willing to reduce your margin and still make the sale, you are going to need to enter the dance of price negotiations.

 

There are certain steps to follow. Before you even start the process, you should assure the prospect that your price is fair. If and when they continue pushing for a discount, follow these steps:

 

Step One: Ask why they are asking for a discount. This may sound like a strange thing to ask but can be helpful when the prospect is forced to explain. Often they have weak reasons and some will ease off when they can’t come up with anything better than, “I’d like to pay a lower price”. Sometimes, negotiations may even stop right there when the prospect returns with, “Well, I had to ask.”

 

Step Two: The next step is to offer something in kind rather than discounting your price. Trade of your product or service always costs less than a cash discount. You could say something like, “I’d really like to have your business and if you’d like to get additional value, I can offer you (blank).” What you offer will be specific to your company and industry but try to make it something that has low cost to you and high perceived value to the prospect.
Some ideas may be: additional service, better payment terms, free shipping, future volume discounts etc. Your goal is to maintain your price integrity while giving up something that costs you little.

 

Step Three: If you must discount further, never give up something without getting something in return. This is a basic rule of negotiation. If you simply discount, you have opened the door for the prospect to keep asking for discounts now and into the future. Using the same concept as barter, you can give a discount in return for something that is high value to you yet low cost to the client. It could be references, quicker payment terms, volume guarantees, exclusive vendor arrangements, introductions to other internal departments, etc.

 

Step Four: If you truly believe you must give a discount in order to secure the business, do it slowly and with a good amount of resistance. If you quickly concede, the prospect might say to themselves, “That was easy. I’m going to keep going” Do not get caught on the treadmill of discounting whereby the prospect asks for a discount and you give it only to have the prospect ask for more. It’s a deadly downward spiral and can be prevented by the next step.

 

Step Five: Try not to give a discount without an agreement that if you agree to X discount, the prospect will buy. You could say something like, “I don’t know if I can give a discount of what you’re asking for George but if I can, does that mean that you’re willing to go ahead. The last thing you want to do is to offer a discount that’s only going to be used as leverage to squeeze another vendor’s price who ends up getting the sale.

 

The best way to handle discount requests is to reduce them! And the best way to reduce them is to work on building perceived value—right from the first contact while prospecting through to doing a proper “Customer Focused Sales Interview.” If the prospect truly sees that you and your company provide value and advantages over your competitors, they will be less willing to risk NOT doing business with you by pushing for unreasonable discounts.
Remember, dropping your price is the quickest and easiest tactic for a salesperson to help close. It takes little skill but comes at a high cost in terms of margins and commissions. Talented sales professionals—ones who can truly build value—discount far less often than less skilled salespeople. Our recommendation is to focus heavily on improving your selling skills so that you will need to deal with discounting less frequently and protect your margins and commissions now and down the road.

 

Northbound’s “Handling Objections” workshop walks you and your team through a six step process that will allow you to deal with discount requests and other objections like a pro.  For details contact Michael Caron at mcaron@northboundsales.com or 416.456.1440.

Confronting

Who gets through and who doesn’t?  Only the gatekeeper for the decision maker decides!

 

When attempting to contact your important decision maker, at Northbound a person we like to call Mr. Big Cheese, it can be very frustrating to have a gatekeeper “get in the way”. Naturally, the larger the organization, the more likely that Mr. Big Cheese will have someone whose job it is to decide who gets thru and who doesn’t. But don’t despair.

 

Coming up against a gatekeeper doesn’t mean you have to retreat. With a few simple strategies, you will be able to safely negotiate your way through to your valuable prospective customer. Here are things to keep in mind:
1—Respect the gatekeeper’s role . . . Whether it’s a receptionist, an executive assistant or another subordinate, it’s important to realize that gatekeepers are being paid to filter people out and protect the time of Mr. Big Cheese. Not all people of course—just the ones who they feel wouldn’t be of great value to their boss. Contrary to popular opinion, they don’t hate all salespeople — just most of them. And for good reason. Most do a poor job of patiently explaining how Mr. Big Cheese would benefit from speaking with them.  Use empathy when speaking to them such as, “I understand that part of your role is to figure out what’s relevant or not for Mr. Big Cheese.”  Understanding that they are simply doing their job will go a long way to connecting with them and reduce defensiveness.
2—Sell them first . . . When you approach a gatekeeper, it will take more time because of the additional effort to sell them first. If you can convey the potential value that your product or service might bring to Mr. Big Cheese he or she is much more likely to let you pass through. A few months ago, I was faced with a very good gatekeeper named Arlene. When I asked for the President, she politely but firmly explained to me, “I’m sorry but I can’t put you through until I know what it’s regarding”. I noted to her that I respected that she was trying to ensure that the President’s time isn’t wasted. I then engaged in a conversation with her similar to what I would with a Mr. Big Cheese. I treated her with respect and carefully explained why it would make sense for Mr. Big Cheese to speak with me briefly. After a few moments, she came back with, “Michael, based on what you’ve told me, I’ll put you through.” I complimented her on the way she handled things and ever since, she recognizes my voice and is warm and friendly.
Remember though that you are only selling the gatekeeper on the benefits for Mr. Big Cheese to speak with you. You are NOT selling your product or service. Yes, the gatekeeper decides who gets through but they are not the economic buyer.
3—Don’t bulldoze them . . . Gatekeepers have the power and authority to shut you out. Trying to muscle your way through them will almost surely backfire. If you irritate them, it’s human nature for them to want to help you less.
4—Call before 9 A.M. and after 5 P.M. . . . I’m not a huge fan of calling prospects on their cell or well outside of business hours—prospects need their personal time too—but calling between 8 & 9 A.M. and between 5 & 6 P.M. will often allow you to dial direct to Mr. Big Cheese’s desk and speak to them while things are less frantic.
5—Be assertive . . . Salespeople sometimes invite gatekeepers to question the purpose of the call by sounding well, like salespeople! One of the concepts we teach in Northbound’s “Connecting to Mr. Big Cheese” workshop is that you are one business professional contacting another on Equal Business Footing. Ask for your “Mr. Big Cheese” as you would if you were calling a colleague—firmly and assertively. Often reception won’t even question your authority to speak with your prospect.
When all else fails—If you’ve tried the above and the gatekeeper is stubbornly shutting your efforts down, you could try this very bold verbiage: “Would you knowingly stand between Mr. Big Cheese and (the major benefit of your product/service)?” Yes, it’s bold, but you’ve got nothing to lose at this point and it has opened the door in some situations.

In summary, if you treat gatekeepers with the respect and patience they deserve, you will be rewarded (most of the time!) with an opportunity to connect to Mr. Big Cheese.

If you or your sales team would like to learn how to master this technique and learn dozens of other proven strategies to improve your prospecting results, check out our “Connecting to Mr. Big Cheese” workshop.  For pricing or more details, contact Michael Caron at mcaron@northboundsales.com or 416.456.1440.

Pete the Parrot

Is using an imaginary exotic bird to help you close more sales as ridiculous as it sounds?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Read on to find out.

The number one problem area for sales teams in terms of technical selling skills is doing the “feature push.”  A feature push is the nasty and deep rooted habit of simply telling our customer about some of the wonderful “features” of your product, service, company or even of yourself.  Some examples that I hear all the time are:

“Our company is the biggest in the industry.”

“We have unique technology called (Insert something here that nobody’s heard of) that’s very unique.”

“We have 12 locations.”

There’s nothing wrong with features.  They often represent real competitive advantages.  The problem comes in when salespeople leave it up to the customer to figure out how these features can help them.  The consultative approach to selling, which is generally accepted to be the most effective selling methodology, says that customers only make purchases in order to solve a problem.

Going back to sales training 101, we probably learned about features and benefits.  In it’s simplest form the difference is:

Feature = How something works

Benefit = How it can help

For example, an executive at Black and Decker was famously quoted as saying, “At Black and Decker, we don’t make 1/2″ drills.  We make 1/2″ holes!”

In the middle of a sales call, it can be hard to remember to follow up a mention of a feature with the accompanying benefit(s) and that’s why I recommend that you use Pete to help.  Let me tell you about him.  (This story might not be 100% true but it’ll help you remember about Pete!)  Pete is a parrot who I bought years ago at a pet shop for only $100, a deal compared to other parrots.  When I asked the pet shop owner why Pete was so cheap, he explained that he can’t say anything anyone wants.

Curious, I asked him what he does say.  He explained that he used to belong to a salesperson who used to spout off about nothing but features when in front of a customer and that because Pete couldn’t stand it any longer, he finally started squawking, “So What?” after the salesperson’s feature pushes.  This forced the salesperson to keep explaining until it was clear to the customer how the feature could help him solve a problem, challenge or issue.  “PERFECT.  I’LL TAKE HIM!” I said.

While you can’t borrow the real (cough . . . eh um) Pete for your sales calls, you can borrow the imaginary Pete anytime you’d like. In fact, I would recommend that he quietly sits on your shoulder on your next sales call.  It’s like having a sales trainer with you without the cost.  Any time a feature comes out of your mouth without a related benefit, Pete will squawk out “So What?” reminding you to keep going into the specific benefits to the customer.

One piece of advice.  Don’t talk back to Pete in the middle of a sales call.  It’ll kill your closing ratio!

If you’d like to learn how to use Pete and other techniques in improving your sales team’s performance, I invite your call or email.  416.456.1440 or macron@northboundsales.com

Have fun with Pete!

 

Michael

desparate-recruiter

Over 90% of prospecting phone calls end in voicemail.  Here’s how to use them to your advantage.

By Sian Henderson
Program Delivery Director, Northbound Learning

As frustrating as voicemail is when making chase calls to prospects, it’s the norm and unfortunately, there is an inverse relationship between the size of a company and the ability to connect in person. That is, the bigger and more attractive the prospect company, the lower the chance of your prospect picking up the phone. Like everything else in the prospecting process, you should measure your results in this area. The number of contact attempts divided by the number of connections with your prospect is called “contact ratio.” Sales reps that I’ve worked with report contact ratios on the high end of 30% and a mere 2% on the low. With voicemail confronting you so often, how can you increase your chances of being called back? Here are 6 common mistakes to stay away from:

 

1) You don’t actually leave a message

I had to get this out of the way because I still run into some salespeople who have been trained (poorly albeit) to “never leave a message”. This makes no sense. Why would you give up the opportunity to get your valuable message into your customer’s ear? I actually prefer to get voicemail on the first attempt. Why? Because it paves the way for my next call. It gives the prospect the purpose of my call and what’s potentially in it for him to have a conversation with me rather than just catching him off guard. Think about it. When you are interrupted from doing something by an incoming sales call, what’s the quickest and easiest way to get back to what you were doing? That’s right—by saying no. Have you ever quickly said “No thanks” to a telemarketer or a door canvaser and then thought later, “Hmm. I might have been interested in looking into that actually.” Even if it may be something you might be interested in buying, the natural knee jerk reaction is to say no. By having your prospect listen to a well crafted voicemail prior to speaking with you, it can prevent the knee jerk reaction.

2) You don’t have a Compelling Business Reason (CBR)

There must be a reason and perceived benefit for the listener to take time out of their busy day to have a conversation with you. Too many salespeople position the voicemail around how great they or their company is instead of what might be in it for the prospect to call you.

3) You ask for too much

Your first goal in a chase call or voicemail should be to have a two-way conversation. Salespeople shouldn’t ask for a meeting without having first established G.A.S.—that is, value that they may be able to Gain for the prospect, future issues they may help them Avoid or current problems that they might help them Solve. A voicemail should be requesting a very low commitment—a brief conversation to see if there might be a fit between some challenges the prospect has and your company’s capabilities for instance.

4) You “wing it”

Some salespeople are against using a phone script. Common reasons are, “It sounds so fake”, “You can’t predict what the prospect is going to say”, or my personal favorite, “I like to mix it up so I sound fresh”. Unfortunately, these same people have little success in booking appointments and after listening to them in the field, it’s easy to see why. Their voicemails are all over the map: convoluted, weak and generally pointless in nature. Yes, some people sound like they are reading when they use a script but only because they haven’t put the time in to practice it until it sounds natural. I do a little bit of amateur acting and on the first read-through of our scripts, it’s terrible. I sound 100% like I’m reading and I am! After rehearsing my lines hundreds of times over, however, it becomes a different story on opening night. A high priced Hollywood actor would never ask to roll the cameras until they know their lines down pat and neither should you.

5) You leave too much time in between voicemails

If you call your prospects once every few weeks, it’s easy to become forgotten. On the other hand, if you only leave a couple of days in between your calls to a prospect, you will be forefront and they will feel more compelled to respond. At the end of each voicemail you should say something like, “If I don’t hear back from you by say, end of day tomorrow, I’ll try you again at 10:15 on Thursday.” Your prospects will get the idea very quickly that you’re not going to be giving up anytime soon. Strike a reasonable balance between being persistent and pesky.

6) You act too submissive

If you act like a lesser business person begging for the prospect’s consideration, you have reduced yourself and the prospect can lose respect for you. You are one business person requesting to speak to another business person to see if there may be a mutual benefit of working together. Approach the call from an Equal Business Footing (E.B.F.) perspective. Picture how you might speak to another person you meet in a park while walking your dogs together. You wouldn’t be pushy or threatening. That’s how you should think of your prospect when you’re leaving a voicemail. If you sound relaxed, confident, open and honest, your prospect will be much more likely to want to speak with you.

 

Northbound’s “Connecting to Mr. Big Cheese” workshop teaches your team how to dramatically increase the number of meetings booked with potential new customers.  To enquire about fees and details, contact Michael at 416.456.1440 or mcaron@northboundsales.com.

Compound Interest

The concept of compounding works for investing – in both your finances and your sales career.

Most everyone understands the power of compounding. In a nutshell, small increases in anything multiplied by more small increases over a long period of time produces a hockey stick curve of massive increases. Compounding can produce powerful increases in your sales results too. That is, small improvements in your selling skills from sales training and equally small increases in your activity levels can produce massive increases in overall sales.

Let’s take a look below at the different stages of a sale for a typical salesperson who we will call Kevin Kloser. Like many salespeople, Kevin makes outbound prospecting calls and attempts to connect with decision makers. In this case he makes 100 calls (and/or emails) monthly and, on average, ends up connecting to 20 prospects equaling a 20% contact ratio. Out of the 20 conversations, he generates enough interest for 4 of the conversations to lead to meetings – a 20% booking ratio. Finally, with a closing rate of 25%, 1 out of 4 meetings results in a sale. This example is a 4 step funnel, meaning there are 4 distinct steps between first contact attempt and conclusion of the first sale. You may have more or fewer stages in your selling process but the concept remains the same regardless.

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Now, let’s see what happens when Kevin does some good sales training (and more importantly implements it). Kevin learns how to leave better voicemails and uses other powerful strategies to increase his connection rate from 20% to 24% immediately. This results in connections to almost 9 more people.  He learns how to engage the customer on the phone in such a way that they want to learn more about his product or service and bumps up the number of meetings booked by 20% which now equals almost 7 when combined with his higher contact ratio. When in “discovery” meetings, he gets better at uncovering the customer’s true issues, challenges and problems and is able to connect his solutions to these in a compelling way. This causes his closing ratio to increase from 25% to 30%. With some fresh and proven ideas, increases of 20% in these skill areas are very realistic. It’s not uncommon frankly for salespeople who apply themselves to become 100% better in these areas!

In addition to growing his skills, Kevin also learns how to manage his time better so he can make 20% more contact attempts through phone calls, emails or social selling platforms. The “Kloser + 20%” column below illustrates what happens to Kevin’s sales results. Incredibly, he has more than doubled his sales!

 

Kloser plus twenty percentCan you get 20% better? Having trained thousands of people, I’m confident that you can if you’re committed. After mentally making the commitment, the next step to doubling your sales is to get yourself or your sales team some great training. Click here for a complete list of workshop topics that Northbound can deliver to your team to help you with your own “20% Solution.”

Happy Selling!