Unless you are working in retail, most salespeople consider the holiday season to be a slow sales time. And for good reason. Many key decision makers are taking a long holiday break. Some companies will close down from Christmas Day through New Year’s Day. And even if you are making a lot of sales calls, you are being told to “call back next year.”
But don’t be fooled.
Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t slow down during the holiday season –
1). Key Decision Makers may be working – Not all decision-makers are taking a long holiday break. For some, the last couple weeks of December may be a quiet time for them to work. They assume that most salespeople are not going to call them, so they give their receptionist time off. Without the gatekeeper present, this is your chance to catch the decision maker off guard. Lonely and perhaps eager to speak with someone, the decision maker may actually take your call and engage in a good constructive conversation that could yield an order.
2). Holiday Cheer – perhaps happy for having a good solid year, the decision maker may be more receptive to taking your call and speaking with you.
3). Your competitors are not calling – Your competitors are under the age-old assumption that the holidays are a “bad time” to make sales calls, so they are taking a long holiday vacation. With your competitors out-of-the-way, you will have a better shot at reaching the decision maker.
4). Build up your prospect list– OK, maybe you are in one of those industries where historically many of your clients are not going to be available during the holidays. So what are you going to do? Drink all the eggnog, pig out on all the Christmas cookies, and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no. Start building up your prospect list. Do some research and start uncovering some hidden gems that you didn’t see before. While you may be riding the gravy train receiving inbound leads, not all prospects are going to call you. Track them down, enter them in your CRM (Customer relationship management), do some research on them, and make plans to call them early next year.
5). Brush up – Now is the time to brush up on your product knowledge. Maybe read some industry newsletters or learn more about what your competitors are doing that could impact your sales. Sure, kick back and watch some classic Christmas movies, but don’t forget to read some classic sales books too.
The holiday season is a time to relax. A time to connect with your family and friends. I get that. But don’t be completely off your guard or do a brain slide. Because while you’re spending time ringing in the New Year, your competitors may be ringing the cash register with all the new sales that you should have received.
When your pipes are clogged, you call the plumber.
When your sales pipeline is clogged, who do you call?
You can speak to your sales manager. Maybe he can help you. Or, you could speak to your co-workers and seek their advice.
But at the end of the day, your sales pipeline is your responsibility.
Before I move forward, let’s define what a clogged sales pipeline is – it is a pipeline in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system where you have too many leads that you are not following up on, or have fallen through the cracks.
This can happen for several reasons. Maybe you are spending too much time attending trade shows, and you haven’t had time to make follow-up phone calls. Maybe your sales territory is too large, and you don’t have time to cover it all. Maybe you are receiving too many inbound leads, and you don’t have time to call them. Whatever the reason, a clogged sales pipeline can hurt your ability to increase sales, which in turn, means smaller commission checks.
What is the solution?
1). Winnow down your leads – review them on a monthly basis and eliminate the leads that are not high priorities, and you strongly suspect are not going to buy soon. That doesn’t mean that you should drop them completely. You can always circle back in a few months. But for now, put them on the back-burner and focus on ones that will close soon.
The biggest mistake a lot of salespeople make is that they sit on leads far too long when they know in their guts they are not going to order. Keeping those leads in your pipeline only distracts you, and makes you look incompetent. And depending on how leads are distributed to your sales team, you may be hurting yourself from obtaining fresher and better leads from your sales manager.
2). Do you have real leads? Or are you sitting on a bunch of prospects? What is the difference? A lead is a client that has either contacted you and has expressed an interest in your products or services or is a referral that you received from one of your existing customers. A lead is also someone who you have contacted directly and is interested in speaking with your further, but he hasn’t “sealed the deal” yet. On the other hand, a prospect is a potential lead that fits your client profile, but you haven’t contacted him yet.
My point is to make sure you have a pipeline of active leads that could close soon, and not a bunch of prospects that you have to weed through.
3). What is your sales cycle? Every industry has its own sales cycle. Depending on what you are selling, it can take anywhere from a few days to two years to close a sale. For example, if you are selling products or services that historically have a two-week sales cycle, but you are still sitting on leads after six months, maybe it’s time to close those leads lead and circle back later. Or better yet, make sure you are actually contacting the right decision maker. Maybe the real reason your sales pipeline is clogged is that you are contacting interns and secretaries rather than the CEO or someone in upper management. And check the phone number – I actually know of salespeople who spent months calling the same phone number only to find out later they were calling the wrong number. Or worst, they find out the hard way that the lead left the company months ago, and the HR department never bothered to forward the phone calls or emails to another employee.
4). Are you following up enough? Another reason you may have a clogged sales pipeline is that you’re not following up enough. As a general rule, when making cold calls, space your contacts out every 4 days. Unless you’re told otherwise by a lead, stretching out your contacts too long could be hurting your sales. Make at least 8 to 12 attempts (by phone, voicemail, and email). After all of those attempts, if you still haven’t talked to your lead, put him on the back-burner and contact him later.
Clogged pipelines are not difficult to clean. Just use some best practices and common sense, you will find yourself back on the right track.
What keeps you up at night? Is it the imaginary monster you remember from your childhood that is still hiding underneath your bed? Is it the ghostly sounds that you hear outside your window while you’re trying to sleep? Is it your black cat that’s scratching your bedroom door?
With Halloween fast approaching, what are the 10 spookiest things that scare you the most about selling?
1). Not getting enough qualified sales leads
Do you want leads? Sure, here’s the Yellow Pages – start calling! Seriously, most salespeople complain about the lack of leads or the quality of what they receive from their marketing team. But hey, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of free and paid sources now available. So stop complaining, and don’t be afraid of doing a little research.
Need help? Here are a couple of books you should consider –
You were told by your employer that you would receive training after you were hired. Instead, you were introduced to your work area and given a prospect list – now start selling. What should you do? Start reading. That’s right – start reading sales books, blogs, and articles. Start watching YouTube videos about selling. Study your company’s products and services inside and out until you know them by heart. Do what you have to do to be successful – because while your employer may not care, you better give a damn about your job. After all, what’s even scarier than little or no training is standing in the unemployment line.
Don’t know where to begin? Here’s help –
Here is a link to a guest blog post I wrote for Will Reed Jobs, an Austin based job hunting agency for young salespeople –
I know. The prospect accepted your meeting calendar invite to view your short webinar, but he disappeared. Where did he go? Did he fall down a pit? Are you going to curse the darkness? Of course not! Don’t panic. Just pick up the phone and try to reschedule the appointment. Things happen. Prospects get busy. Don’t take it personally.
4). Competitors who lie, cheat and steal
Hate them or respect them, competitors exist in every industry. You can either be afraid of them or fight them. The choice is yours. While you may want to boil your competitors in a cauldron of oil, the better approach is to stop worrying about your competitors and just do your job. In the long run you will succeed while your competitors fail.
5). Cold calling
A cold call isn’t cold unless you make it so. Do a little research first before you call a prospect. Is he the key decision maker? Do you feel you have a solution that will help him? Or better yet, try to get a referral.
6). The mysterious marketing department
You heard about the mysterious marketing department, but you’ll be damned if you know if it really exist or not. Is it a ghost department that only comes out at night when everyone else has left work? You were told that the marketing department was going to provide you qualified leads, but you haven’t seen any for a while. Did the leads end up in the quicksand? (See number 1 about finding your own qualified leads). And if your company’s social media efforts are still in the dark ages, start your own blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account, and become more active on social media yourself. While your marketing department may be invisible, you shouldn’t be.
7). Trade Shows
So you’re afraid to stand at your exhibit booth during trade shows. Don’t be. Chances are, most of the attendees are just as scared as you are because salespeople are pouncing on them like vampires every time they near a booth. Rather than asking good qualified questions, those salespeople are sucking the life out of attendees. Don’t be like that. Act cool. Show some respect. Don’t scan and scam. Take a more consultative sales approach when meeting with attendees. Believe me, in the long run it will pay off.
8). Conversions of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system
You love your CRM. It helps you keep track of your sales notes, customer contact information and all of the records you need to do your job. But another salesperson came along and sold your employer on a better CRM. Now what? It’s conversion time – that long, lengthy, agonizing period of exporting all of your data into the new CRM. Scared? Hell, you should be. Because sometimes important data has a way of ending up in a dark hole that will never be found again. (I’ve gone through 5 conversions in my career. In one case, the programmers forgot to transfer our sales notes. In another case, they forgot to transfer all of our expired clients). But don’t be afraid – instead, download and save all your information or print it out. But whatever you do, protect your information or it may disappear.
Yes, we’ve all been there, done that. But your sales manager may not be the bogeyman you think he is. Like you, he’s under pressure to make quota or achieve sales goals. The only difference is that he has to depend on you and the entire sales team to make it happen. That’s scary. There are a lot of books and articles on how to deal with difficult managers – here are a couple –
Every industry has its slow periods. You know, that time when most clients are not buying because it’s the holidays, or it’s the summer or whatever lame excuse you are given. So does that mean you slow down? Hell no. Find other prospects to contact. When I once worked in the accounting industry, tax season was considered a slow time to call on CPAs, accountants and tax preparers. Unless you loved getting chewed out by stressed out accountants facing the April 15th tax deadline, you pretty much left them alone. While that made sense, we didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves – instead, we contacted libraries, nonprofit organizations and financial institutions that we thought would be good candidates for our tax research program. You do what you have to do to hit your quota.
What scares you about selling? Please send me a comment.
Let’s face it. No one likes a long sales cycle. The longer your sales cycle, the longer it will take you to earn your commission.
I’ve had sales cycles that have lasted anywhere from one week to two years. Sure, sometimes a high-priced item will take longer to sell. That’s a given. But don’t let your prospect treat you like a wimp. Sometimes you need to use a little tough love to ensure that you are not wasting your time. You’re a professional. Act like one.
So, how can you shorten your sales cycle?
1). Decision Maker – make sure you are speaking to the right person at the beginning of your sales cycle. Yes, some prospects will lie and tell you that they are the decision maker. OK. Play along. But start doing some research on LinkedIn or the company’s website to make sure that you are talking to a heavy hitter and not a summer intern.
One good way of avoiding the “decision maker lie trap” is to ask about the decision-making process. Note, I said process, not who is the decision maker. By asking about the process, hopefully your prospect will not lie to you and string you along. Instead, he will explain how his company makes purchasing decisions. More companies than ever have more than one decision maker, especially if you are dealing with a mid-to-large company. Just like herding cattle, you have to be patient and rope in all the decision makers.
2). Time Line – it doesn’t hurt to ask upfront what your prospect’s timeline is for making a purchasing decision. If they tell you within the few months, hold them to it. If they tell you in 6 months or longer, maybe you should circle back when they have a budget and interest in making a purchasing decision.
3). Pain Points – why now? Is there any urgency in them buying your product or service? What type of problems are they having that you feel you can solve for them? But just don’t ask about pain points – make sure you have a solution that will help them. Clients don’t buy products or services – they buy solutions. Make sure you have one that they can use.
4). Budget – do they have budget to make a purchasing decision? If not, maybe you should check back when they are ready. Sure, you may do a short demo or presentation of what you are selling to gauge their interest, but don’t devote too much time until they are in a better financial situation.
5). Competition – don’t be shy. Ask upfront if they are considering other vendors. Sometimes prospects will surprise you and honestly tell you that they have already considered others, but now they are considering you. That’s great. Ask why they didn’t consider the other vendors to ensure your service or product will meet their expectations. This will put you in a better position to offer real value to your client.
6). Limit Trials – depending on what you are selling, some prospects will want to do more than one trial. That’s OK, but don’t let them string you along.
7). Firm Scheduled Call-backs – try to set hard scheduled call-backs or follow-up calls. The more specific the day and time of your next appointment, the better chance your prospect is really interested in what you have to offer. Send a calendar invite. Send a short email the day before reminding them of the appointment. Try to hold them to it. If a prospect isn’t willing to schedule firm appointments, maybe he’s not serious. The last thing you want to do is make endless phone calls, or leave countless voicemails and a stream of emails.
8). Ask pre-close questions – along the way, try to measure the client’s interest and determine if there are any objections. The sooner you overcome objections, the better chance you have to close quickly.
9). Call High – stop wasting time calling low or mid-level managers who don’t like making decisions or who may not be the right people to speak to. Call the CEO or the president. You will be surprised that sometimes he will recommend the best person to speak to in his company. So when you call the real decision maker, you can drop the CEO’s name, and hopefully move the sales process a lot faster.
10). Use various cold calling techniques – making phone calls isn’t enough anymore. Use a combination of email, voicemail and social media (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn) to move your sales process along.
Mr. Pryor’s main argument is that selling is a process, and to be more successful, you need to adopt his best practices and advice to achieve your goals. But he cautions that you can’t do it alone – your entire sales department – indeed your company, must adopt his program.
While some sales experts argue that cold calling is dead, I believe that cold calling is very much alive and well – and needed, if you are going to increase your sales. While it’s great to receive inbound calls or make warm calls to prospects who are already familiar with your company, at the end of the day, you have to make your share of cold calls in order to survive.
Gavin Ingham, sales motivational speaker, argues that cold calling will make you feel more control of your destiny and more empowered.
I agree. Sure, you can sit around waiting for the phone to ring. But really, is that a great plan? No. You have to be more proactive. While social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) and marketing (e.g., trade shows) can help, you have to reach out to your prospects directly if you want to increase new business.
Mr. Ingham offers 10 tips for making cold calls. I will add some tips and insights of my own below.
1). Plan and prepare your opening statements. A good way of doing this is to tell the prospect upfront who you are, why you are calling, and mention that you have a product or service that could help them (e.g., save money, improve productivity, save time). And then ask the prospect if you could ask him a few questions.
For example, you may say “Hi, I’m Bob Smith with ABC software company. We offer a software program that can help you prepare taxes for your clients more quickly and efficiently.”
Then you go on to say –
“We have helped our clients reduce their workload by 40%, so they can focus their time on other activities like seeking more clients. I’m confident that I can do the same for you. Would you like to learn how?”
As Mr. Ingham points out, put yourself in the client’s shoes – what will your product or service do for my business and why should I care?
All prospects have fears and concerns. Is your price too high? Are you a highly reputable company? What is the availability of your customer service or technical support team? What is the difference between your product vs. your competitors?
And also, what value are you offering your prospect? What makes you different compared to all the other vendors out there selling similar products or services? You don’t have to go into a long explanation, but find something that stands out that your client will remember you, and hopefully, he will be asking you questions.
What you don’t want to do is use deception or tricky when you reach your prospect. Do that, and you will be dead in the water before you had a chance to proceed.
2). Get in the right state of mind, and expect success. You don’t feel like making cold calls today? Too bad. Whatever negative feelings you have, bury them deep, think positive thoughts, and start calling. Maybe watch a positive motivational video on YouTube to get you in the proper frame of mind. Or take a short walk around the block to clear your head.
3). Know why cold calling is important to you – it’s unrealistic to assume that you are going to close a sale on the spot with the first call. So why are you making a cold call in the first place? Simple – to set an appointment. That’s it. Your goal is to set up an appointment so you can go into more detail later about what you have to offer. An appointment can be a face-to-face meeting, a phone conference or schedule a webinar (demo).
4). Practice delivery. You should have a couple good opening statements written down. Practice them repeatedly until you feel so comfortable making your statements, that it sounds natural and unrehearsed.
5). Plan and prepare relevant questions – I always have a list of questions to ask before making any calls. Also, it helps to do a little research on the prospect of contacting him. A great source is LinkedIn, the company’s website and industry newsletters.
At the end of the day, you have to find out if what you are selling is going to help solve your client’s problem. But sometimes your clients may not even know if they have a problem until you ask good questions to raise some concerns.
What you don’t want to do is ask lame questions like “How are you doing today?” – especially to high-level clients who are probably very busy, stressed out, and most likely are not doing very well at all.
And never ask “Is this a good time to talk?” – because you are giving your prospect an opening to end the call on the spot before you even have a chance to speak further.
6). Have your support tools to hand – don’t forget to have pens and paper handy for taking down notes. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have a comparison sheet of your products and services vs. your competitors, or some other notes highlighting some of your key benefits. In short, be prepared to answer questions.
7). Divert calls and minimize interruptions – If you are working in an office, from home, or in a high cubicle, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, it may be more difficult to do when working in an open space environment. Hopefully, your employer is using white noise to minimize the noise level, and you are sitting in an area where you are not going to be distracted, or dealing with a lot of multi-tasking projects.
8). Set clear objectives – don’t wing it. As mentioned above, your goal is to schedule an appointment to move the sales process further.
9). Don’t put your phone down or better yet, wear a headset. Personally, I prefer wearing a headset so it frees up both my hands.
10). Master your physiology. Sit straight. I know of some salespeople who use a small mirror to force themselves to smile while speaking to prospects.
I would also add that using scripts could help you when making calls. Eventually, you will develop your own voice and techniques and abandon the scripts altogether, but in the beginning, using scripts can help. Yes, of course, your goal is to understand the value that you can offer your prospect, understand his problems, and ask good qualifying or needs based questions. But using a script in the very beginning can help you until you feel more confident speaking to prospects until you can get it down cold.
Speed matters too. I don’t mean speaking fast, I mean have a process and system in place that allows you to make a lot of calls on a daily basis.
Michael Bernoff, a sales and business coach, makes 3 key arguments about developing better trust and rapport over the phone with prospects –
1). Tone matters – are you excited when you are on the phone or do you sound exhausted? I once received a phone call from a salesperson who was selling financial services. He sounded very exhausted and I could tell that he had been making too many phone calls. I advised him to take a break, drink some water and relax for a few minutes. He told me he couldn’t because he was required to make between 80 to 100 calls a day! I told him good luck with that.
2). Physiology check – how do you feel? Are you sitting straight in your chair or slumping over? When I speak over the phone, I always pretend that the person on the other side is seeing me. It helps me to stay focused. I’ve known salespeople who actually use small mirrors next to them while making calls. It forces them to watch their facial expressions and ensure they are projecting a positive attitude.
3). Emotional drivers – you need to better understand people’s emotional drivers. If they are worried about paying their mortgage, don’t focus on the worry, instead focus on finding a solution. In sales, our goal is to be problem solvers. Yes, find the problem, but don’t belabor the point. Instead, focus on asking good qualifying questions and then slowly arrive at a solution.