In Sales, Should you Leapfrog?

leapfrog over your sales leadYou received an inbound lead. After weeks or even months discussions, exchanging emails, doing online tours, giving on-site presentations, maybe doing a free trial or two, you feel the sale is about to close.

Then suddenly, crickets.

No return phone calls. There are no responses from your emails.

Nothing. Silence. Dead silence.

You thought everything was going well. Your inbound lead asked all the right questions. He showed interest in your product or service. In short, he was making all the traditional buying signals.

Now what?

You now face an impasse that most salespeople fear – do you leapfrog over your lead and contact higher level, and perhaps better, key decision makers?

Or, do you continue to be patient, make more phone calls and send out more emails, with the false hope that your contact will finally respond and say those magic words that we all want to hear “Let’s order.”

My answer – if you have honestly made every attempt possible to reach your lead, and he hasn’t responded to your repeated efforts, it’s time to leapfrog.

But first, let’s back-up – Why is leapfrogging even necessary?

Several factors come into play

First, you are dealing with the wimp factor –

Your inbound lead is a wimp. Straight-up. He may be afraid to talk to people in upper management. Maybe he doesn’t want to interrupt busy bosses. Or he’s worried they will reject his idea and possibly demote him, or worse, fire him. Perhaps he never had permission to speak to you in the first place, and now he’s caught between a rock and a hard place – a persistent salesperson (you) vs. a dreadful manager.

Like it or not, many people are employed in toxic work environments. They have to deal with layoffs, lousy morale, unpleasant bosses, endless gossip, etc. In those malicious environments, some employees are afraid to speak up or offer ideas.

Second, you were never working with the key decision maker –

Yes, people lie. Sure, they tell you they are the decision maker and puff up their responsibilities and role, but when push comes to shove, they play “duck and cover” when you start insisting on a decision. Of course, maybe you should have asked tougher questions in the beginning about how decisions are made, and if others are involved in the decision-making process besides your initial contact.

And third, you are getting drawn into office politics –

Never underestimate the power of office politics when it comes to hurting your chances of landing a sale. You may think everyone loves your products or services, and that the world revolves around you, but that’s rarely the case.

For example, several years ago I was trying to sell a password security software program to a major hospital. While the IT Director admitted to me that my company’s software was better than the competition, he had to purchase the other program over mine. Why? Office politics. Because my prospect was hired recently as the IT Director, he didn’t feel he earned enough brownie points or confidence yet in upper management to recommend a higher price – but better – program. As a result, he purchased what he knew to be an inferior, but a cheaper product, to keep his job.

On the other hand, around the same time, I was also working with another IT Director at a major university. He held his position for nearly 20 years. His colleagues and upper management respected him. So, when he recommended that the academic institution purchase my company’s software, he faced very little opposition or objection.

leapfrog over your first leadHow do you leapfrog?

First, research and find out who you think the key decision maker is.

Second, send him an email briefly describing your conversations with your initial contact (but don’t chastise him).

Third, in the same email, explain the value that you are offering the company.

And finally, propose the next steps – e.g., schedule a phone call, meeting, online tour, etc.

Then wait a few days and follow-up again. Send another email. Make some phone calls. Leave some voice mail messages. You know the drill.

Sometimes the critical decision maker will respond quickly. He may even ask your initial lead to contact you to continue the sales process with firm marching orders on how to proceed with you.

Or, maybe nothing happens at all. In which case, you may have to go higher up the ladder until you reach someone who will see the value of what you are offering and continue with the sales process.

Yes, you may offend your initial lead. Yes, you may not get the sale.

But when you’re hitting a brick wall, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And if all else fails, there are other fish in the sea to pursue.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

What Girl Scouts Can Teach us about Selling

With so many Girl Scouts selling cookies near my work and grocery store, I have to assume that the Girl Scout cookie season is upon us again. (Girl Scouts sell cookies Girl Scouts selling cookiesfrom January through April, but in some  cases, they may sell them in September).

For most of us, selling is a career that we either start as soon as we graduate college or mid-life when our current job isn’t panning out.

But for most young girls, selling Girl Scout cookies is a Rite of Passage that begins at an early age.

(Full Disclosure – My mom was a Girl Scout leader, and all four of my sisters sold Girl Scout cookies).

What can we learn from Girl Scouts?

Here are some observations

1). Location, Location, Location – it’s no accident that many Girl Scout troops will set up a tabletop display near a busy street corner, a grocery store, or shopping center. They know that location is the key for selling. The more people traffic, the better chance you have to sell more cookies.

(I once saw a Girl Scout troop hold a cookie sale in someone’s front yard. Despite all the cheering scouts, it appeared they didn’t get too much traffic).

2). Product – unless you are a con artist who can sell ice to an Eskimo, selling requires having a good product. Being a connoisseur of Girl Scout cookies, I can testify first hand that the cookies are delicious. (My favorite is Thin Mints®).

3). Free samples – I notice that some Girl Scouts have taken a page out of the professional salesperson’s handbook and are offering free samples. That’s a great idea. It’s an excellent way of driving foot traffic to your location and increasing sales.

4). Branding – at most Girl Scout table displays, I notice a lot of signs. This is not a coincidence. In this busy and hectic age, you must attract attention of busy shoppers and pedestrians. Large colorful signs tapped to a table, or better yet, waved by girls, is a right way of drawing attention and more sales. Also, having a large stack of boxes of cookies on display will help people quickly see the variety you are offering, and enhances your branding too.

5). Variety – According to Girl Scouts’ Meet the Cookies, there are 12 brands of cookies this year. There is a debate on whether companies or organizations should offer too many products or not. Think 1-800 Flowers with its large display of flowers and other gifts. Too many products can be overwhelming.  But given that most people expect a lot of variety when it comes to snacks or desserts, 12 different types of cookies appears to be a good fit.

6). Referrals – most of us have worked in offices where at least one employee has an order sheet in the office kitchen for people to sign up for orders. If it’s the boss or manager, some employees may feel some undue pressure to order cookies to secure favor and harmony in the workplace. But for most of us who like cookies, it’s the convenience of completing a form and knowing that our favorite snacks will be arriving soon.

7). Enthusiasm – I’ve never passed by a Girl Scout cookie display without witnessing enthusiastic girls (and sometimes the adults are more excited than the kids). Enthusiasm is contagious. It also helps with sales.

(Several years ago, I saw an overweight man sitting in an office lobby behind a display of Girl Scout cookies. His arms were folded. He had this overconfident smirk on his face, as if he was expecting people would rush to buy the cookies. That didn’t happen. With his arms folded, no display and no real enthusiasm, he wasn’t very approachable).

8). Dress for success – most Girl Scouts wear their uniforms when selling cookies. This is important. It shows professionalism and credibility on their part, and underscores that they are raising money for a good cause.

There you have it.

Most Girl Scouts may never be salespeople. But we can learn a lot from their techniques in selling cookies.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

In Sales, How to Deal with the Hand-off

the hand offYou spent weeks, if not months, working with your client to close the sale. Just when you think you finally see dollar signs in your eyes, your client decides to hand you off to someone else.

What just happened?

You just got handed over to someone else who may or may not give a damn about what you are selling. In fact, he may never even have heard of you or your company before.

Why did this happen?

First, your client wasn’t a serious buyer. Sure, he may have told you he was the decision maker, but he lied. Don’t be surprised. It happens. In fact, it happens all the time.

Second, maybe your client is interested, but he’s too busy working on other projects, or suddenly, a personal or professional crisis occurred, and he has to break discussions with you temporarily. Because what he’s going through isn’t your business, he hands you off to some flunky or low-level employee to keep you busy for a while until he gets his affairs in order.

Third, he honestly wants a second opinion from an outside expert or consultant, so he decides to have an outsider hear what you are pitching. This happened to me once when I was selling password security software. After months of free trials and online tours, the decision maker wanted to cover his ass, so he decided to bring in a cybersecurity expert to review the software I was selling. Was I confused and hurt? A little. But then I put myself in my client’s place – because this was going to be a significant order for him, he wanted to get a second opinion before signing the dotted line. If I were in his place, I probably would have done the same thing.

So, rather than get my feelings hurt, I decided to treat the outside consultant with respect. I repeated all my online tours. I provided him with all the information I sent to my client. I patiently listened to all his questions and answered them accordingly. In a couple of months, my efforts paid off – I won over the consultant, he became my advocate, and I got the large order.

How to avoid the hand-off?

First, make sure your client is the decision maker. And in most cases, the decision maker isn’t always one person. Sometimes decisions are made by a series of people in upper management or even by a committee.

Second, try to get a time commitment from your client. What is his deadline? Is there a sense of urgency on your client’s part to making a purchase? Or, is he just window shopping.

And finally, if you do get handed off, don’t panic. Depending on what you’re selling, the sales process could take a long time. Be persistent. Be professional. And if all else fails, there are other fish in the sea. And who knows, your current fish that you’re trying to reel in may just voluntarily jump on your boat when you least expect it.

A hand-off doesn’t always mean you’re getting the backhand. It just means you have to work harder to seal the deal.

Note: If you like this post, please read my book: Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

 

Should you send out Reminder Emails?

sending reminder emails to clientsAfter months of work, you finally scheduled an online tour or webinar with a large client. You sent him the meeting invite to his Outlook Calendar. He has accepted your invite.

The tour or webinar is tomorrow. Do you send your client an email reminder notice? Or do you just assume that he will be available tomorrow when you call and do the presentation?

There are two schools of thought about this issue –

1). Don’t send the reminder

The thought behind this is that if you send a reminder, the client may use that as an excuse to opt out. He may have second thoughts about viewing your tour. As a result, your client may send you a lame ass excuse about his cat being ill, or he has a conflict on his calendar, or he will suddenly be out-of-town tomorrow.

Not only are you a believer in the “assumption close,” but you also believe in the assumption meeting, i.e., you take the client’s word that he’s going to show up, so why give him an excuse to bail out on you. You call tomorrow and hope and pray he will pick up the phone and be available for your presentation.

2). Do send the reminder

The thought here is that by sending your client a reminder you are showing him that you a professional. Sure, you know that your meeting invite is on his Calendar. Sure, he accepted it a week ago. However, you know from experience that professionals like yourself are busy. So sending a reminder is your way of being polite.

What would I do?

I would send the reminder. Why? Because by sending him a reminder a day or so in advance you are showing professional courtesy to your client. But most important of all, you want to make sure your client is really serious about viewing your presentation. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be excited about your product or service as you are. Sure, they may tell you to send them a meeting invite to make you feel good or to save face. But a few minutes before the presentation begins, you receive a last-minute cancellation, or without any advance warning, the client doesn’t appear at all.

In short, you have a “no show.”

We all know it takes time to prepare for a presentation. Like most salespeople,  you already have prepared a set of slides or screens shots in place, and you probably have customized your demo, e.g., adding certain benefits that you know the client will like, or addressing specific pain points that you know the client needs to resolve. But all that work takes time.

Better to know in advance if the client isn’t going to show up, so you can devote more time scheduling other appointments, prepare for other tours, or make sales calls.

And who knows – maybe your client is being honest and can’t view your presentation. No worries. You can always reschedule.

If you like my post, please check out my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

10 Tips for Conducting Webinars

how to conduct webinarsWith most of us working from our offices these days, we are relying more on conducting webinars to our clients. The days of the traveling salesperson are slowly disappearing. While some of us are still regularly traveling to trade shows, most companies are trying to cut costs by using online tours.

Tools like ClearSlide, Anymeeting, GoToWebinar are making it easier to do online demos.

But what are the most effective ways of conducting those presentations?

1). Pre-Qualify – If possible, try to pre-qualify your prospect before conducting the tour. This can be done with a short phone call conversation or questionnaire that the customer fills out online. Your goal is to make sure that your service or product will be good fit. You should also try to find out why they are interested in your service or product now. Are they trying to solve an immediate problem, or are they just shopping for prices? And finally, try to find out if they have contacted any of your competitors. If they have already reviewed your competitor’s products or services, find out what they didn’t buy from them. This could give you an advantage of how your pitch your product during the presentation.

2). Research – Let’s say that you don’t have time to pre-qualify your prospect. The next best step is to do some research on your client’s company. With Google, LinkedIn and other search tools, this should be an easy process. You don’t have to spend hours doing research. Your goal is to learn enough about the company to determine if  they will be a good fit for what you are offering.

3). Confirm the appointment – Cancellations or postponements happen. It’s a given in sales. But one of the best ways of reducing cancellations and postponements is to send a confirmation email the day before the tour. Sure, some clients will use it as an excuse not to view your presentation, but at least you will not be wasting your time. And hopefully, you can schedule another appointment during that time slot. However, I wouldn’t give up so easily on a cancellation. Try to reschedule it, or dig deeply into why they are not really interested in speaking with you. Maybe you need to do a better job of outlining the benefits of your service or product. Maybe you’re not speaking to the right person. Maybe its bad timing. Whatever the reason, don’t give up so easily.

4). Know the attendees – If more than one person is joining you on the online tour, try to find that out in advance. In fact, the more advanced information you have for all the attendees, the better. For example, if you know that your prospect’s boss is going to be joining the online tour, there may be some questions or comments that you don’t want to bring up during the presentation. This is especially true if your prospect is your advocate, but you know he has a lot of convincing to do with his boss. You don’t want to embarrass your advocate by making statements that could backfire on both of you.

5). Keep it short – Long webinars are boring as hell, no matter how exciting you think your product or service is. Keep it short. No more than 15 to 30 minutes at most. Unless the attendees are excited and are asking you a lot of questions (a good buying signal), better to cover the key points that interest your prospect, and then either schedule another more advanced online presentation, or a conference call to hash out the details. People are busy these days. If you tell them the online tour will be longer than 30 minutes, many will shy away from watching your presentation. The goal is to get the sale, not to be long-winded.

how to conduct a webinar6). Know your goal – is it to make a sale on the spot? Is it to move the sales process along? Is it to give a quick overview before scheduling a free trial period? Is it to find out more why the client is interested in buying your product or service?

7). Outline the ground rules – let the attendees know upfront what the ground rules of the presentation are. For example, is it OK to ask questions during the presentation or wait until after you are finish? Is it OK to record the presentation so that the people who couldn’t attend will be able to view it later (which could save you time from doing multiple presentations).

8). Customize it – don’t use generic terms to title your presentation like “Password Security” or “Higher Ed” – instead, customized your presentation by using the client’s company’s name like “ABC Company Password Security Presentation” or “The University of Delaware Presentation.” Even if you are only copying the generic presentation and slapping your client’s name on it, you are still giving  the impression that you spent time putting together the demo and showed some real effort.

9). After the presentation – when the tour is over, what’s next? Besides answering questions, make sure you schedule a follow-up phone call. Your goal is always to move the sales process forward until you get the sale.

10). Review it – if you recorded your presentation, have your manager or someone else review it. It’s always good to get feedback.

For more advice on how to conduct webinars, please check out these books

Deliver Webinars Like a Pro: An Essential Guide for Business Owners. Tips and Strategies to Setting Up and Using Webinars Effectively for Sales Presentations, Marketing Campaigns and Online Training, by Melodie Rush and Carl Stearns

Webinar Authority: The Step-By-Step Guide On How To Prepare, Present, Host, And Execute a Successful Webinar (AMC Book 5301), by Saifuddin Indorewala

For more information on where to find webinar tools, please read –

“6 WebEx Alternatives for Hosting an Extraordinary Webinar,” by Caroline Malamut on the Capterra website.

“The 15 Best Webinar Software Products from Around the Web,” by Nathan B.Weller in Resources on the Elegant Themes, Inc. website.

If you like this post, please read my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

How to Sell to Vendors at Trade Shows

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to exhibit at a trade show. There are various reasons for this. Maybe the exhibit booth fee is too high, or only a handful of the attendees are your target audience. Regardless of the reason, you feel that the vendors exhibiting at the show are your real best prospects.

But how do you network and solicit business from vendors without being a pest? After all, put yourself in their place – if you are exhibiting at a trade show, who would rather speak to – a potential customer or another vendor?

You see my point?

selling to vendors at trade showsVendors are spending a lot of money to exhibit at trade shows. For example, not only are they paying for exhibit booth registrations, but they are also forking out money for travel, meals, hotel registrations, and miscellaneous expenses like swag and marketing literature.

In some cases, vendors don’t appreciate other vendors approaching them at trade shows because they feel you are hurting their ability to generate new business. And they may also resent that you are not an exhibitor, and see as an interloper interfering in their business transitions.

So how do you approach a vendor without hurting his sales, and developing a win-win situation for both of you?

Here are 14 tips to help you –

1). Trade Show Traffic – it’s better to approach vendors during slow times of a trade show. This will give you a better opportunity to meet them without hurting their business. Slow times are usually early in the morning, mid-morning and afternoons (when workshops are going on) and late in the day. The busiest times are usually when coffee breaks and lunch is being sponsored in the exhibit hall.  Depending on how long a trade show will last, the first day is generally the busiest time. Why? Because most attendees want to take a quick peek at the vendors before going to workshops or general sessions.

2). Booth Traffic – are vendors busy speaking to customers at their booths? If yes, stand back and wait for traffic to slow down before approaching a vendor. Nothing is going to undermine your ability to get a sale more if you hurt your customer from getting a sale himself. Trade shows can be very stressful for vendors. So don’t take it personally if they quickly reject you, or only half listen to your introduction. Most of the time, they are looking over your shoulder to talk to a “real” customer – not you. Take it in stride and try to return to the booth later when traffic dies down.

3). Target – depending on the size of the trade show, you may only have a limited amount of time to visit vendors. With 300 or more vendors exhibiting at the trade show, are you really going to have time to visit each one? Not really. So the best solution is to target key vendors that you want to speak to, and hopefully generate sales down the road. This requires research. Do your homework. Most organizations will provide lists of vendors prior to a conference. And if you are lucky, most organizations will send you a list of all exhibitors, along with their contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. Use all of that information to your advantage and select which vendors to meet. If you are fortunate enough to meet everyone on your top list, then go to your “B” and then “C” vendors, and so on.

4). Appearance – how to dress when you attend a trade show can sometimes be hard to determine. Unless you attended the same event before, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you should wear a suit, go business casual, or go completely casual. I usually prefer to take the middle ground and wear a nice sports coat with casual business pants, which the option of wearing a tie. I’ve never worn suits while attending a trade show (either as an attendee or exhibitor). It’s a judgment call. As the old saying goes, it’s better to dress to impress. You will be taken more seriously and you will feel like the true professional.

5). Knapsack – I always bring a knapsack with me when I attend trade shows either an attendee or vendor. It’s easier to carry around all the literature and swag that you know you will pick up. Also, it’s easier to carry around your laptop if you want to give a quick demo of your product or service.

business cards at trade shows6). Business cards – this goes without saying, but always make sure you bring plenty of business cards with you. Also, rather than carry around large stacks of fliers, bring a postcard instead depicting what you are selling. Postcards are easier to carry, hand out and most people will read and keep them.

7). Be Honest – don’t try to pretend that you are a potential customer. Tell trade show vendors upfront that you are a salesperson too. Believe me, they will appreciate your honesty. Just let them know that you stopped by to learn more about their business, and see if you could schedule a call or online tour after the show. Of course, exchange business cards, maybe pick up some of their literature, take a quick look around their booth, and then leave. Don’t be rude and take their swag – that’s for customers. If you really are eager to bring home swag, wait until the end of the trade show. Most vendors would rather have the leftover swag given away to attendees than pack it up and take it back home.

8). Small notebook – Do you have a great memory? If not, bring along a small notebook and pen with you to jot down notes or ideas.

9). Attend workshops – not all your potential customers are going to be exhibiting at the trade show. Some will attend workshops. Review the agenda beforehand and select workshops where you feel you have the greatest chance of meeting good prospects. Or better yet, if you know that a key customer will be speaking at a workshop, as a matter of courtesy (and good business sense), attend his event. After he speaks, go up and shake his hand and congratulate him on a good presentation. Or better yet, if you can swing it, ask if you could speak at a trade show or participate in a panel discussion.

10). Social events – All conferences and trade shows have social events. Again, review the agenda and select ones that will give you the greatest chance to meet clients.

11). Your Mother was wrong. Do talk to strangers –  When you were a child, your mother offered you good advice about not talking to strangers. But as a grownup sales professional, you need to talk to strangers to network and generate new business. See a lunch table with an open seat? Ask if the seat is taken. If not, sit down, introduce yourself, eat, and maybe find a customer. Standing in line waiting to use the restroom? Introduce yourself to the person next to you and strike up a conversation. You rarely are going to find a lot of potential customers in one setting than at a conference or trade show.

12). Scott Ginsberg is right. “Surrender your agenda”Scott Ginsberg, author, and speaker made a very good point in an interview published in an article on How to Network at Conferences and Trade Shows: Mini-Guide by MarketingSherpa.

Rather than attend trade shows with a hard agenda, Mr. Ginsberg recommends that you try to be more approachable and have fun. In the interview, he states that “people can usually tell when you have an agenda, and that’s certainly not being approachable. Surrendering your agenda puts you more at ease to be yourself.”

Unless you spoke to a vendor in advance of a trade show, you rarely are going to get a sale on the spot. Sure, prior to attending the conference, you may want to schedule some meetings while at the event. It’s not unusual for attendees to be sponsors and lease a small makeshift office or table for conversations or demos. But try to set the right expectations for yourself. You should focus on generating relationships with the goal of scheduling more time after a conference for extended conversations, online tours, free trials and eventually getting the order.

BTW, when you have a chance, please read his book Hello, My Name is Scott.

13). Avoid the hard sell. When you are working at a booth, you usually can’t avoid doing the hard sell. Time is money and you want to meet as many attendees and potential customers as you can. But when you are a vendor visiting other vendors, you have to take the soft sell approach. Don’t go in with guns blazing and tell everyone about your company or product. Instead, show some interest in what they are selling. Ask good questions. Take some notes. Remember, your goal isn’t to sell on the spot, but try to get an appointment after the show.

14). Be social. That is, be on social media and follow vendors before you attend the trade show. Follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites. Let them know that you are showing interest in the company, and hopefully, in return, they will show interest in you.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Here are some articles that can help you –

“How to Network at a Trade Show” by WikiHow
“How to Work a Trade Show” published in Entrepreneur
“Top Ten Networking Tips at a Trade Show” by Chaz Brooks

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.