What Salespeople can learn from Local Political Candidates

campaign signs at polling areaFor many jurisdictions, it’s primary season. If you’re like me, you have been getting your daily dose of recorded phone calls from local candidates. Your mailbox is probably stuffed with campaign literature. And if you’re like me, you just recently voted early and dealt with a gauntlet of campaign workers or even candidates asking for your vote or trying to hand you campaign literature right before entering your polling area. And if you can’t find your local polling area, don’t worry. There is probably a sea of campaign signs blocks away from the polling area that will lead you to where you need to vote.

What can salespeople learn from local political candidates?

1). Most people have already decided on who to vote for by the time they enter a polling area –

If you are a candidate or campaign worker trying to persuade a voter as he’s walking to the polling area, you’re too late. I would argue that most people, especially those who vote early, have already done their homework and know who they are going to vote for before arriving at a polling place.

That’s the same for most customers. If someone is calling you about your product or service, chances are, they have already done their homework and are already leaning towards making a purchasing decision. Sure, they may be contacting your competitors, or just shopping around, but in most cases, they are ready to buy. The only question for you is – will they buy from you or someone else? That’s when you need to ask open-ended questions and qualify prospects to ensure they are going to be a good fit for your product and service.

2). Campaign literature doesn’t work unless you are unique –

Almost all the campaign literature I received offer the same promises from candidates. Examples include improving schools and reducing crime. All noble goals. But are any of the candidates offering anything unique? Are they distinguishing themselves from the rest of the crowd?

The answer – NO.

And that’s the problem that many salespeople face. The “we can do the same thing or better than our competitors” mantra isn’t going to cut it anymore. In an age where we are inundated with social media, advertisements, commercials and other distractions, you must grab prospects by the collar and clearly and distinctly show them how you are different from the rest of your competitors.

What are you offering of value that will persuade a prospect to become your customer?

Is it lower pricing?

Is it a better product or service?

Is it more reliable shipping?

Is it better customer service?

woman voting 3). Developing a strong base of supporters helps before Election Day –

As a political candidate, you must lay the groundwork early long before Election Day. That means you need to be a community activist. Examples include attending PTA meetings or joining groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. You could also join a local citizens committee sponsored by your city and becoming a regular attendee at local council meetings. Being a chief advocate for an issue like better walkways for pedestrians in busy traffic areas, or higher pay for teachers helps too.

The same is true for salespeople. You need to incorporate yourself in the industry you are serving. It’s not enough to sell products and services to vendors in an industry. You need to network, i.e., join LinkedIn groups, attend conferences and trade shows, and be active on social media. In short, you must give a damn about your customers so they, in turn, will support you with their orders and referrals.

It’s tough being a political candidate, especially during the primaries when most people don’t vote. Since most primaries are held in the late Spring or early Summer, people are too busy celebrating graduations, preparing for summer vacations and doing yard work to follow politics closely. So, it takes a lot of work and commitment to encourage people not only to go to the polls but to vote for you.

As salespeople, we face similar challenges. Our prospects are busy with work and personal commitments. Their attention spans are getting shorter. It’s not enough to bombard prospects with emails, direct marketing, and advertisements. You need to draw a clear distinction between yourself and your competitors. You need to offer real value. You need to embrace the industry you are serving.

In summary, you need to be shrewder than most local political candidates who think that recorded phone messages, “me to” campaign literature, and last-minute pitches at the polls are going to get them votes.

Work hard, yes. But also work smarter than local politicians if you want to get ahead.

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

 

How to Prevent Losing a Large Customer

Sad when losing a large customerSmall customers come and go. But when you lose a large customer, it can be both a financial and psychological toll for you and your entire sales team.

After the finger-pointing and blame games die down, everyone needs to take a step back, take a deep breath and evaluate what happened and how to prevent future losses.

Here is what you need to consider

1). Why did you lose the customer?

How do you find out? Ask. Sure, sometimes customers will be evasive and give you wishy-washy answers, e.g., the budget or a change in upper management. Sometimes those answers are correct. But if you to feel that’s not the case, you need to dig deeper. There are several reasons why customers will leave you. Examples range from a competitor offered a better deal, to your customer felt your pricing increases were getting out of control.

2). Did you see the signs?

Be honest with yourself. Were their signs there and you simply missed them? Examples include your key contacts not returning your phone calls or emails. Or, there was a sudden change in management. Or, maybe some of your key contacts got laid off, were fired, or quit.  Did the financial outlook look bleak for your customer? Was there a merger or acquisition?

3). Did you stay in touch enough?

While you don’t want to be a pest, you should stay in touch with a large customer at least once a month. I don’t mean sending the usual “just checking in” email. I mean sharing important information that your customer might be interested in using for his business.  Or making sure they know about the new features or benefits that were added to your product or service recently. Or, asking if others at your customer’s company would like to see a tailored made demo or online tour on how to better use your services better. Every time you contact a large customer, you must always add value. The “just checking in” email or phone call isn’t going to cut it because everyone is busy these days. We all want to feel special. Large customers are no exception.

Are you using your time wisely4). Are you using your time wisely?

Of course, you should always provide excellent service to all of your customers, regardless of their size and revenue. But let’s the real here – everyone in sales is stretched thin these days. Like it or not, you must set priorities. A small customer who is only generating $500.00 a year in sales isn’t going to be as important as one who is giving you $50,000 in sales. Sure, you hope that the small customer will grow with you over time. But in sales, money talks and everything else walks. You must follow the money.

That’s why if you have a large enough sales team, you need to divide up the sales process so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Examples include

One group that handles research for new prospects. This means using lead generation tools, Google, and other sources to find companies to contact.

One group that manages existing accounts. (And I would go further and divide up the tasks between small, mid-size and large customers). This means holding customer’s hands to ensure you are taking care of their needs and concerns. Examples include being a troubleshooter for billing or shipping problems, seeking upgrading or cross-selling opportunities, and being a watchdog to prevent your competitors from stealing your business.

One group that prospects and schedules sales appointments.

One group that conducts presentations (in-person or online). This group would probably be your closers. They are the ones to make the sales pitch, handle objections, answer questions, and hopefully will see the buying signals to move forward with the sale.

And depending on the size of your company, one group that devotes most of their time on the road attending trade shows and conferences. These are your road warriors. If your company has a large enough budget, these folks could be traveling for weeks, uncovering good leads at events and handing them off to the sales team.

By dividing up the sales process, you make certain that you prevent losing more large customers down the road.

So, you lost a large customer. It happens. Stop whining. Stop complaining. Stop blaming others. Get off your ass and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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

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

 

Who is your Biggest Competitor?

time managementWhen you start a new sales position, one of your first tasks is to determine who your competitors are in your niche industry.

When you start a new sales position, one of your first tasks is to determine who your competitors are in your niche industry.

Depending on where you are working, your employer may already have a list of key competitors, along with descriptions, and a cheat sheet of the fundamental differences between your products and services vs. your competition.

That’s all good news.

But some salespeople are missing the point – your biggest competitor isn’t other companies.

Your biggest competitor is time.

That’s right – time.

Think about it. It takes time to make sales calls. It takes time to do research. It takes time to enter your notes in your CRM. It takes time to leave several messages before your reach your prospect. It takes time to send and respond to emails every day. It takes time to attend sales meetings. Hell, it takes time to commute to work!

Time, then, is your most significant competitor.

How you manage your time can make a difference in achieving your goals or just getting by.

Here are 10 tips for time management

1). Focus on your top prospects first –  However, don’t spend all your time on your significant opportunities, because depending on the industry you are in, your sales cycle could be extended. So, it’s a good idea to mix it up – maybe devote 70% of our time on your larger accounts, and 30% on the smaller ones that you hope to close quickly.

2). Set time aside for administrative work – Too often, salespeople get caught up on administrative work, and they neglect doing what they were hired to do – which is to sell. Unless it’s urgent, I find it’s better to set aside one hour in the late afternoon to handle administrative work.

3). Research – unless it’s a significant account, don’t spend too much time on researching your prospects. It’s very easy to get caught reading too many websites and LinkedIn profile pages. I usually spend no more than three (3) minutes doing research, and then copying/pasting my findings in my CRM for future reference.

coffee breaks4). Snacks – rather than wasting time constantly going to the vending machine or your building’s sandwich shop, I find it’s better to bring snacks to work and put them in my desk. The same is right with water. Rather than run back and forth to the water cooler, I keep a plastic water bottle at my desk. I also bring in a coffee canister from home to save money and time at my local coffee shop. (Plus, I prefer drinking strong coffee).

5). Stay off the internet – it’s easy to get lost online these days, especially if your company gives you a lot of freedom to go on the internet. I always set time aside during lunch or in the late afternoon to go online to read the news. Even then, I keep my reading at a minimum and just skim the headlines.

6). Watch the small talk – it’s so easy to engage in conversations at work. But in sales, you just don’t have the time. Sure, you don’t want to be rude. And sometimes we all need to release tension by talking about diets, movies, celebrities, etc. But you have to work to make money. Through my body language, I try to convey that I’m busy or don’t want to be disturbed when working.  I know that can be tough to do in an open office environment. Just try to avoid eye contact and focus on your monitor.

7). Organize your email – If you’re like me, you probably come in each morning with a slew of emails to read and respond to.  With Outlook, I’ve created several folders and put my emails into each one. It’s saves me a lot of time later when I must retrieve an important email. Also, unless it’s urgent, I try not responding to emails until later in the day when I’m doing my administrative work.

8). Keep your Smartphone out of sight – I purposely put my Smartphone out of sight during the day. I only check my personal emails while commuting to work on the Metro, during my lunch hour, and while commuting back home. That’s it.

9). Email templates – rather than keep writing the same emails repeatedly, I have a file of email templates that I use. However, I will sometimes modify and personalize my emails before sending them out. Also, I usually keep a record of attachments (articles and brochures) that I send out, and I will refresh my attachments with new material every couple of weeks.

10). Schedule calls – whenever possible, I always try to schedule my calls and online tours. Yes, sometimes people will cancel your phone calls at the last-minute, or become complete “no-shows,” but in the long run, scheduling calls beats making repeated calls or sending out tons of emails.

I hope you like my suggestions.

Here are links to other articles on time management for salespeople –

“Eight Time Management Hacks for Sales Reps,” by Andrew Quinn
“6 Effective Time Management Techniques for Success in Sales,” by Jenny Poore

Here are some books on time management that could help you –

11 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, 11th Anniversary Edition: Gain the Competitive Edge and Make Every Second Count, by Career Press

Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople, by Thomas Nelson

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