10 ways to Shorten your Sales Cycle

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.

herding prospects in salesOne 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.

Salesperson making a phone call, closing7). 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.

To learn more about shortening your sales cycle, please read Lean Selling: Slash Your Sales Cycle and Drive Profitable, Predictable Revenue Growth by Giving Buyers What They Really Want, by Robert J. Pryor. 

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.

What are some key Cold Calling Techniques?

cold calling in salesWhile 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 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 scheduling 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.

questions for cold calls5). 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 before 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 sales people 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. For example, if you are using SalesForce.com, you may want to ask your employer to purchase software program like KiteDesk to improve your productivity and workflow. KiteDesk integrates with SalesForce.com, and you can even import prospects from LinkedIn or websites to the database. Or purchase a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) that offers good workflow like Close.io.

Here is Mr. Ingham’s video below –

3 Tips for building Trust and Rapport

Michael Bernoff, a sales and business coach, makes 3 key arguments about developing better trust and rapport over the phone with prospects –

trust in sales1). Tone matters – are you excited when you are on the phone, or do you sound exhausted? I once received a phone call from a sales person 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). Physicalogy 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 sales people 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.

Below is his video –

Recommend: Close.io “how to sell” video presentations on YouTube

Steli Efti, Founder & CEO of Close.io, has created an excellent 16 part video series on how to sell. The series is posted on YouTube. While the presentation focuses mainly on inside sales and start-ups, some of his advice can also help outside salespeople and those working for major corporations.

Here are some of the key takeaways –

Salespeople need to hustle1). Hustle –  you have to hustle if you want to make sales. Sitting on your ass and waiting for the phone to ring isn’t going to work. If you want to get into the money zone you need to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be proactive. While you hope your company has a good marketing department that can provide good inbound leads, you have to take responsibility for your own success. Remember – the marketing team isn’t working on commission – you are. So start calling.

2). Show up, follow-up and close – really, in summary, that’s what selling is all about. Just showing up daily (and on time), making your calls, following up with more calls and emails, and closing is the key to your success. It’s not rocket science. You just have to be consistent in your actions. Sure, there are certain techniques that you can learn along the way. There are a lot of books, articles and blogs to help you. But when you think about it, selling is like acting – you just have to bury your negative emotions and bad mood, and professionally play the role you were hired to do. You have a process, use it well, and you will be successful. But don’t try to fake it until you make it. Clients can spot a phony a mile away. Just make it work – now.

3). Rejection is your friend – Embrace it. If you are not getting a lot of rejections, you are not doing your job well. Don’t focus on just the low hanging fruit – go after the high hanging fruit  with the potential of bigger sales. Low hanging fruit is for order takers. Salespeople don’t take orders – they make orders happen.

4). Be a Journalist –  Ask good questions. Listen more and talk less. If you really want to help your clients and solve their problems, you need to dig deep by asking good qualifying or needs based questions. You want to be seen as a problem solver, not a sleazy salesperson trying to peddle his wares.

5). Value – focus on selling value, not features. When you do a feature vomit on your client, he will run, not walk, away from you. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about your client. What value do you offer that’s going to solve his problems? If you don’t have what the prospect needs, be honest, and move on. As the old saying goes, there are plenty of other fish in the sea to catch.

6). Lead generation – as I mentioned in other posts, there are many ways of finding leads. But before you start buying or developing leads, review your existing customers (if you have any). Create a client profile of your top 5 to 10 best customers. Who are they? Why are they buying from you? Do you see any patterns? Once you have a good idea of who your clients are, you can then start targeting prospects that fit the same pattern. It’s better to narrow down your prospects than waste time going too broad. Yes, a wide net will catch a lot of fish – but do you want big fish or minnows?

7). Objections – there is a lot of advice on how to handle objections. In my opinion, the most common objection is price. However, it’s always a good idea to list some common objections and have answers prepared for them. In short, it’s better to be ready and respond with one or two sentences, then fumble around sounding like a fool. Because if you sound like a bumbling idiot, the next sound you hear will be “click.”

8). Send emails – contrary to popular belief, cold calling is more than just making phone calls and leaving voice mail messages. You also need to send emails. Some clients respond better with emails than by phone. No problem. The key is to connect with your prospect and hopefully get the sale. Phone, email or carrier pigeon, do whatever it takes to make the connection. Get a response. If it’s no, OK…but don’t cross your prospect off your list too fast. Try to circle back later. Maybe he will be in a better mood or have budget to move forward. Based on studies I’ve read, you need to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts before a prospect will acknowledge your existence.

To help you learn more about selling, Close.io is offering a free 30 day startup sales success course sent to you via email.

Here is the link – http://close.io/free-sales-course

I thought the videos were on point. I have two criticisms – First,  I wish the Close.io would put the videos on an organized playlist on their YouTube channel to make it easy to follow each presentation. I found myself jumping around too much trying to find the next video in the proper order.

Second, Mr. Efti argues that start-ups shouldn’t hire traditional salespeople because they don’t know how to adjust in an ever-changing work environment. I disagree. I’ve worked at major corporations that constantly go through reorgs and other changes throughout the year. I also know salespeople who have worked at major corporations who had their compensation packages changed every quarter – if not every month.

For example, one of my friends use to work for a popular large car dealership in the Washington, D.C. area. Every month, the car salesperson with the lowest sales of the month would be fired – regardless of his seniority or his sales record YTD. Why? Because the sales manager wanted to keep his sales team “on their toes.”

Nice guy.

My point is this – any good salesperson has to know how to be flexible in order to survive. The business world – whether we are talking about start-ups or major companies – is changing all the time. If you are seeking a nice, safe conservative job, become a banker or an accountant. The sales process is constantly evolving – either keep up or switch careers.

Close.io has other videos I would recommend that you check out. Also, the company has one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read about selling. Yes, they are promoting their product to some degree (hell, we are all in sales). However, the blogs offer great sales advice that you can apply in any industry.

Below is a sample video from the 16-part presentation –

 

10 places to find sales leads

prospecting for sales leadsFinding sales leads or prospects is much easier today than when I began in sales. I literary had to use the Yellow Pages at one point in my career. Needless to say, I wasn’t very effective. Now with the internet, you have a much easier time finding leads. The real challenge is making sure you are using your time wisely to prospect and find the right leads to call on.

Below is a list of sources  to help you –

1). Industry newsletters – subscribe to as many industry newsletters as you can. You can always find leads to contact. Most newsletters are free.

2). Live Chat – set up a Live Chat box on your website. Sometimes people are shy about calling your directly, so at a spur of the moment they will send you a Live Chat to ask questions or obtain quotes.

3). Trade Shows – rent out an exhibit booth at a trade show. If you can’t afford a booth, consider speaking at a workshop or sign up as an attendee and make the rounds – both during the trade show and after hours at social events.

4). Customer Referrals – hey, if your clients like your products and services, it doesn’t hurt to ask them for a referral. You may want to consider offering a discount.

5). Good Marketing Content – providing useful content on your website will encourage prospects to visit your site, and hopefully, they will download your material and provide you with contact information, e.g., name, email address, phone number.

6). LinkedIn – since LinkedIn is a professional site, you should be able to find plenty of prospects to contact. Also, target discussion groups within your industry – there you should find a lot of potential buyers.

7). Twitter – you can find prospects by seeking buying signals. For example, if you sell bike accessories, type in “bike accessories” under search to see if someone is trying to buy those items. Or, look for a hashtag like #bike accessories.

8). Your Competitor’s website – believe it or not, many companies list their clients on their website. Big mistake. You may think you are impressing your clients and potential prospects, but all you doing is giving your competitors a list of your clients to contact.

9). Paid Lead generating tools – Below is a list of the most  popular ones:

Sales Genie (from Infogroup, Inc.)

InfoUSA (also from Infogroup, Inc.)

Hoover’s (from Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.)

USAData, Inc.

Data.com (formerly Jigsaw from Salesforce.com)

RainKing (used in the IT industry)

DiscoverOrg (used in the IT and Finance industries)

10). Your old expired trials or clients – Just because you haven’t heard from your expired trials or clients for a while, doesn’t mean they may not be interested in ordering from you. Give them a call. Drop them an email. Who knows, they may be glad to hear from you. Maybe they now have budget to make a purchase. Maybe new upper management came on board and now they are interested in speaking with you again. It can’t hurt you to swing back and see if they are interested again.

I hope the above list helps. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

How to sell subscriptions

selling magazine, digital and newspaper subscriptionsSelling subscriptions isn’t hard. However, you still have to apply the same sales and marketing rules if you want to be successful. And these days, subscriptions just don’t apply to magazines or newspapers. Thanks to the internet, we have seen an explosion of subscriptions other markets, including entertainment, technology, communication and healthcare.

I’ve sold subscriptions to software and niche publications.

You would think that selling software subscriptions would be easy. You just do a demo, set up a trial, and the customer is impressed with what you have to offer, and then pays for your product.  However, like any sale, you still run into objections. And the higher the price point, the more objections you need to overcome and the longer the sales cycle you need to manage.

When I sold password security software, my sales cycle would run from one month to two years. This was because I was usually dealing with a lot of decision makers in different divisions within the company that I had to convince.

With niche publications, the biggest challenge you face is all the free content available online. So it’s important to offer unique information that your average customer would have difficulty finding online, or doesn’t have time to find through Google searches.

This is why I always laugh when telemarketers try to sell me print subscriptions to the Washington Post. I mean, really?!? With all the free news information online, I have no problem keeping up with international, national and local news. Sure, I may occasionally buy the print Sunday edition to read the comics, or get coupons, but beyond that, I just don’t need a print newspaper anymore.

Niche it down. The more unique your publication, software or service, the better chance you have of increasing and retaining your paid subscriptions.

When selling subscriptions, here are some good rules to follow –

1). Offer good marketing content on your website that attracts prospects. That would include blogs, white papers, case studies and interesting articles.

2). Create a good prospect list to contact by cold calling, emails and direct marketing. Obviously, target those that you feel will have the greatest interest in what you are selling. Also, it goes without saying, start with your potentially highest paid prospects and work your way down the list to the lowest ones.

3). Contact expired subscribers and try to bring them back on board. Maybe you could offer them a free trial, a special one-time discount or some other incentive.

4). Offer free trials for x-number of days.

5). Provide testimonials on your website. Or better yet, have a video collection of testimonials to send to your prospects.

6). Ask for referrals. Maybe offer a discount per referral.

7). If you are offering an online subscription with network licenses, make sure everyone subscribing to the license is using your service. Also, if someone leaves, immediately contact the key decision maker to find a replacement. Nothing hurts more than having a 20 user license and seeing it reduced in half because employees left, and you never bothered to quickly find their replacements.

8). Keep track of subscribers moving from one company to another. If an old subscriber lands a new job with a company that’s not currently subscribing to your publication or software, contact them and bring them onboard. Use LinkedIn to keep, Google Alerts and industry newsletters to keep track of your current subscribers.

9). Engagement. Create a discussion board to allow your subscribers to offer ideas and exchange information. This is also a good way to moderator what your subscribers are thinking that could help you make improvements. It also helps you to build a community. Customers today are not just interested in buying and using your products or services – they want to feel like they are part of your company, and they want to interact not just with you, but other clients too.

As mentioned in Zuora, Inc’s SlideShare presentation “Driving Success in the Subscription Economy”, there are 6 steps for a successful subscription campaign – Acquire, Nurture, Collect & Automate, Measure, Iterate, and Scale.

By Acquire, use the personal touch, offer value, and make it easy to access your information or services.

By Nurture, keep clients engaged and make it easy for them to renew and move through different subscription plans. In short, reduce the friction.

By Collect & Automate, make it easy for clients to pay and provide them with accurate billing information.

By Measure, use tools like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) to gain insights of your subscribers, and help you make smarter decisions about cross-selling and up-selling.

By Iterate, test to find out which pricing and feature strategies work best to enhance customer relationships.

By Scale, ensure your system is secure and scalable as you expand your client base and offerings.

And finally, below, I have compiled a series of articles I found on how to sell subscriptions. Please let me know what you think.

Alix Stuart, in her article “How to Sell Subscriptions – for Everything”, makes a good point of making sure your clients are committed to paid subscription model before you pursue that option.

Offering good content is obviously a key to your success, as pointed out by 3dcart in “How to Sell Magazine Subscriptions Online”.

Steve Burge from OSTraining, offers good advice in his article “Lessons Learned from 5 years of Selling Subscriptions.”  For example, he warns against using most payment processors and not to use PayPal directly.

Is there still a market for print magazine subscriptions? Rebecca Sterner in her article “How to sell Magazine Subscriptions” seems to think so. She outlines a series of strategies for selling both print and digital subscriptions.

MarketingSherpa makes a strong point in its article “Five Rules for Selling Subscriptions to Web Sites and Email Newsletters” about the need to survey your clients. How else are you going to sell and increase subscriptions unless you know what your readers want from you?

Please let me know if you have any comments.