Are you a sales lead squatter?

I recently read comments on a discussion board from a salesperson who complained that he and his team were being laid off partly because senior “lazy” salespeople were sitting on good leads for too long. In addition, another sales office might be shut down soon.

His argument was that if the senior salespeople cannot convert leads into sales by a certain time period, they should transfer those leads over to junior salespeople who may have a better chance of converting them. He further argued that junior salespeople are more hungry and motivated to close good leads because they don’t have large pipelines to cushion themselves when meeting quota.

Are you a sales lead squatter?Squatting on good leads has always been a touchy subject in sales. On the one hand, you want to be fair to salespeople and give them enough time to work the leads. Depending on the industry you are in, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to two years before you can convert a lead into an order.  On the other hand, if you suspect that a salesperson isn’t putting enough time and effort in working the lead, and you feel you could do better, what should you do?

While you can privately complain to others, the best approach is to discuss the issue with your sales manager. But you don’t want to appear greedy or bad mouth your colleague. Instead, you want to take a more “we need to work as a team” or “we need to do what’s right for the company” approach. Maybe offer some suggestions on how you would approach the non-responsive lead. Chances are, if your manager is smart, he probably is already aware that there may be a problem. But if you don’t complain, he may not move quickly to resolve the issue.

Why? Because most managers know how sensitive lead transfers can be. It takes a certain amount of deftness and diplomacy to remove leads from one salesperson to transfer them to others. I’ve seen fights and arguments break out on this very issue. In fact, I’ve seen salespeople quit on this very issue.

While this problem can be handled on a case-by-case basis, the best way to avoid sitting on good leads too long is to set some ground rules from the very beginning. This way everyone knows up front what is expected of them, and what benchmarks they need to achieve in order to keep their leads.

The ground rules could include the following –

1). Number of attempts – while I don’t believe that sales is a process or a numbers game, you would expect a salesperson to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts, i.e., phone calls, emails, voice mail and maybe even a customized direct marketing piece. Again, depending on the industry you are in, the attempts could stretch out for weeks, if not months, before a good lead is transferred to someone else, or goes into the dormant file for a while.

2). Has contact been made? – If after x-number of attempts and time goes by, the salesperson hasn’t reached the decision maker (or even knows who the decision maker is), then maybe it’s time to hand it off to someone else. In exchange, give the salesperson some other qualified leads to pursue.

3). Contact has been made, but you’re not getting anywhere – Let’s say the salesperson has made contact with the decision maker, but an order hasn’t been placed. For whatever reason, the decision maker isn’t budging, and no end appears in sight. The salesperson has been sitting on the lead for months (if not years). At this stage, it’s usually better to have the sales manager step in and work closely with the salesperson rather than yank the lead from him. Simply handing the lead off to someone else may undermine your efforts, and force your company to start from square one. Once your manager has reviewed the situation, he can better determine who and how the lead should be managed.

a helping hand in sales4). You know someone who could help – If a salesperson has been sitting on a good lead for a while, and you know of a contact who can help you reach the decision maker, what should you do? In that situation, it may be better to hand off the lead to you. Sometimes, the salesperson sitting on the lead may be grateful that you’re taking over, because it means he can focus on more productive leads. In addition, he may appreciate your efforts because he doesn’t want to look bad to his sales manager for not closing the sale. Sure, he may have some initial resentment towards you, but eventually he may see you as being his white knight rescuing him from a bad situation.

Besides laying out some ground rules, another approach to avoid lead squatting to is hold regular pipeline meetings to review leads and accounts. Usually, pipeline meetings are held once a week. Come to your pipeline prepared. Don’t be defensive. Tell your manager upfront if you are having problems with specific leads or accounts. Ask him for his advice – after all, he’s the manager!

If you know you’re not getting anywhere with a lead, and you’ve tried everything you can, recommend that the account be transferred to someone else. While some may consider this a show of weakness, in reality, most good managers will see this as a sign of strength and maturity on your part. Better to cut your losses early than let them linger on to have your competitors pluck your sale from the company.

Remember, your leads and accounts don’t belong to you. They belong to your employer. Like it or not, your employer sometimes needs to make unpopular decisions that may not appear to be in your best interest, but what is in the best interest of the company as a whole.

Better to hand off unproductive leads to others than lose your job because the company isn’t generating enough sales. Exercising good judgement is better than squatting.

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

Top photo credit: Brighton housing action via photopin (license)

Are you inheriting an orphan sales position?

You just started your new sales job. Your sales manager has introduced you to the rest of the sales team and maybe some key employees.

If you are lucky, your manager may even take you out to lunch on your first day. He may also have created an agenda outlining your training for the next week or two before you hit the phones.

orphan sales positionFinally, after your training, your day has come. It’s time to make sales calls and start generating some money. Like most new salespeople, you probably begin by reviewing your existing accounts or leads. You want to get the lay of the land, prioritize your top accounts, begin making introductory calls, and start building up your pipeline.

But as you review your accounts in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management), a sickening feeling begins to develop. At first you don’t see it, but as you start examining your accounts and leads more carefully, you begin to see a disturbing pattern. You discover that a lot of salespeople over the years have been contacting or managing the same accounts and leads. But where did they go?

Some are now working in more lucrative sales positions in your company. But most are no longer working with your employer at all. In fact, you notice that some sales people only worked your accounts or leads for a few months before moving on. Others a little longer, but not much. You go on LinkedIn, and track those former salespeople down. You discover they are now working in other companies, and that their tenure in your position was short.

Then it dawns on you. You have inherited an orphan sales position.

What is an orphan sales position? It’s a position that has been abandoned by several sales people over the years. In short, there has been a lot of turnover. It is also a position that is not well supported by the company for a variety of reasons. Maybe the company feels its sales and marketing budget should be allocated in more profitable positions. Maybe the company feels that sales will only pick up when they hire the “right” salesperson. Maybe the company feels it’s a “starter position,” i.e., one where they know little revenue will be generated, so there is no risk for the company to hire a new salesperson to season him up for greater challenges in the future. (We all have to crawl before we can walk). Or maybe the company is waiting for the sales fairy to come along, and wave her magic wand and the orders will magically appear.

abandoned sales positionSometimes an orphan sales position was created by accident. For example, a company may have bought another company, and then allocated most of the best accounts to senior salespeople, while giving less experienced salespeople smaller accounts. The thought may have been that the smaller accounts would eventually grow. But to date, that has not been the case, thus the cycle of high turnover and abandonment begins.

Frustrated, a company keeps hiring new salespeople to turn things around, but with no avail. Promises are made, but not kept. Prices are adjusted, but don’t work. Salespeople keep abandoning the position, and soon it becomes an orphan.

However, from your point of view, your greatest concern right now is should you even consider staying in an orphan sales position, or start seeking a better job.

After all, you would like to make a long-term commitment in your job. You don’t want to be seen as job hopper. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be seen as a loser either. There is nothing worse than starting a new sales job, only to have your colleagues taking pity on you, or avoiding eye contact because they feel you got a raw deal. Sure, your colleagues may be professional, and even downright friendly, but you can’t shake that “you’re a loser vibe” every time they glance your way. Hell, for all you know, some of your co-workers may be taking bets on the side on how long you still stay around. (This actually happened on a regular basis at one of my previous jobs).

Soon, you become a running joke in office, and you have to endure the daily facades of plastic smiles and chirpy “Good mornings” as you head towards your desk. When you arrive at your desk, all you want to do is hide underneath it.

You see, with an orphan sales position, your biggest challenge is convincing existing accounts and prospects to order from you. But from their point-of-view, why should they even bother? If you are the fourth or fifth salesperson to hold your position in two years, how confident are your accounts and prospects that you’re even going to be around long enough to care about them? How motivated do you think they are going to be in offering you referrals if they feel you’re going to leave the company soon? Why should they accept your phone calls or respond to your emails if they think you’re going to run when the first good opportunity comes along?

On the other hand, an orphan sales position may put you in the catbird seat. Unless you are working for an extremely conservative or stuck-up company, your employer may be more willing to listen to your suggestions. They may be more willing to go out on the limb and experiment with new sales or marketing methods. While your colleagues are sitting at their desks making sales calls, your employer (or sales manager) may invite you in the conference room, where you can sit with some of your company’s major players, and hash out a game plan to increase sales. In short, your employer may appreciate you more because they realize the challenges that you are facing.

So what should you do?

Do your homework before accepting a sales job1). Do your homework before accepting a job offer. The best way to avoid landing in an orphan sales position, is to do your homework and ask the right questions during your interview. First, go on LinkedIn and find out how many past salespeople worked at the same position you are applying for. If you notice a large number, that should give you pause. Second, contact some of those previous sales people through LinkedIn and ask them why they left. You will be surprised – sometimes they will give you an honest answer. Third, go to  Glassdoor – do you see a pattern of negative reviews from anonymous current or former salespeople about the company? While not completely scientific, seeing a lot of negative reviews should also give you pause. And finally, ask the interviewer why the position is open. Sure, he may lie, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

2). You did your homework, but you still got screwed. OK, you did the above, you thought everything was alright, but to your astonishment, you still ended up in an orphan sales job. Now what? Don’t panic. If there is high turnover in your sales department, chances are you will land a better sales position within 6 months to one year in the company. If you can hang on that long, hunker down, be patient, go through the motions, and wait for your turn to move up the ladder.

3). Maybe things will turn around. The company may realize that they have created an orphan sales position, and not wanting to see more turnover, will invest more in your position. They could provide better leads, improve the marketing efforts, or if you are lucky, enhance the product or services that you are selling. And if you are extremely fortunate, the company may decide to increase your compensation plan in an effort to lure you to stay and stick it out.

4). The position was orphaned too soon or too much. The position may not be as bad as you think. It could be that due to a strange set of coincidences, the position was orphaned before anyone really had a chance to profitably work the accounts and leads. It’s not unusual for leads to remain dormant for a long time, and then suddenly, without warning, you start seeing a flood of orders. The trick is to ensure you continue to see a steady flow of orders.

talking to your sales manager5). Talk to your sales manager. Look, your sales manager may already know you are in an orphan sales position, and he is tired of seeing high turnover. Unless your sales manager is a wimp or idiot, if he’s a smart, he will bend over backwards to help you. Talk to him. Pick his brains. Get some ideas on how both of you can be successful. Notice I said “both of you” – that’s because your sales manager is also earning commission or bonus based on your success. Come up with a short list of ideas or reasonable requests. Brainstorm with him. Maybe together both of you can turn things around, and create a win-win situation for everyone.

An orphan sales position may not be as bad as you think. With a little nurture and care, your position may blossom. Be patient. Be persistent. Work smart. Work hard. But don’t be taken for a fool either. Give an orphan sales position your best shot, but after you have done all you can, if your still feel you are fighting a losing battle, quit and move on.

Life is too short to be a loser.

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

Do you have a clogged sales pipeline?

clogged sales pipelineWhen 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 in 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 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 been 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.

10 Tips for Working at a Trade Show Booth

I recently came back from a trade show in Charleston, S.C. It was my first trade show in nearly a year. Based on my observations, here are 10 tips on how to work at a trade show booth.

How to work at a trade show booth1). Stand, don’t sit. Yes, I know it’s tough to stand all day. But by standing, you are inviting attendees to approach you and engage in a conversation about your company. By sitting, you are signaling to attendees that you are not interested in speaking with them, or that you are tired. Look, if an attendee is spending most of their day walking, you should at least have the courtesy to stand. If you are tired, take a short break and sit down somewhere else.

If you only have a table top display, try to stand next to the table – not behind it. Why? When you stand behind a table, you are putting a defensive barrier between you and the attendee. By standing next to the table, you are signaling to the attendee that you are accessible and friendly, and are interested in engaging in a conversation.

Don’t stand in front of the table, because you want to give attendees a chance to look at your display to determine if your company is a good fit for them. Also, you don’t want to be a stalker and pounce on attendees while they are walking by. Remain calm, compose and inviting.

2). Don’t read your laptop or smart phone. Yes, I know it’s tough to be away from the office. And there may be times during the day when you have to respond to an emergency e-mail, or make an important phone call. But try to do it away from your booth. Again, your focus should be on the attendees, not your work or personal life. And if you are still reading print newspapers (remember those), now is not the time to catch up on sports or the latest news. Put all print material that is not related to your company away.

don't eat at a trade show booth3). Don’t eat at the booth. If you are working with a group, take breaks to eat. It’s discourteous to eat at a booth while others are walking by. However, if you are working at a booth myself, wait until traffic is slow to take a break or eat. By reviewing the conference agenda, you should know when to time traffic flow during a trade show. (And don’t raid the candy bowl at your booth – it’s for the attendees to attract them to you).

4). Limit your conversations with your colleagues. I know. Working at a trade show can be boring at times, especially when traffic is slow. So you want to strike up a conversation with your co-workers. I understand. Just keep your eyes open for an approaching attendee. Most people are polite. If they see you talking to one of your co-workers, they may be less reluctant to approach you at the booth.

5). Be friendly. Nothing discourages an attendee from coming to your booth more than not seeing a friendly or inviting face. Sure, you don’t want to be a stalker or stare at attendees as they walk by your booth. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be looking down at the floor, or staring in space. Be casual and cool.

6). Speak to the right attendees. Don’t waste time speaking with attendees who obviously are not interested in your company, or are not good prospects. Be firm, polite and diplomatic, but steer an attendee away if he’s not a good fit for your company’s products or services. Remember – you only have a limited period of time to speak with people. Try to keep the booth open for the right prospects that you need to speak to. Attendees don’t want to hear about your vacation plans or your recent travels. While it’s nice to chit-chat, stay focus on the business at hand.

7). Keep plenty of marketing literature at your booth. Not everyone will want to speak with you. It’s nothing personal. Attendees are busy. So keep plenty of marketing literature, swag and business cards at your booth for quick retrieval by attendees.

8). Don’t scan and spam. Don’t waste time scanning every attendee who approaches your booth. Most of them probably are not going to be good prospects anyway. Take your time and engage in a conversation with attendees to determine if they are worth pursuing after the conference. I would rather return from a trade show with 50 good leads than 100 bad ones.

9). The last hour can be the most critical.  When the closing bell goes up, don’t be like everyone else and visit other booths for free (and better) drinks and food. Stay at your post. Some of the best orders I’ve received were from attendees who raced from booth to booth at the last-minute seeking information, and scheduling appointments after the show.

10). Collaborate with neighboring vendors. Right before the trade show begins, talk to neighboring vendors and see what they are offering. If they are not a competitor, form a quick alliance – if an attendees arrives at either of your booths that are not a good fit for you, but could be a good fit for the other vendor, encourage the attendee to visit the other booth. This could increase more traffic and sales for you. Plus it’s just good business.

Note: Like my post? Then please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com (top photo credit).

The 10 spookiest things about Selling

spooky things about sellingWhat 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

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 –

New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, by Mike Weinberg and S. Anthony Iannarino.

Power Prospecting: Cold Calling Strategies For Modern Day Sales People – Build a B2B Pipeline. Teleprospecting, Lead Generation, Referrals, Executive Networking. Improve Selling Skills, by Patrick Henry Hansen.

2). Getting little or no training

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 –

Ten books that New Salespeople should Read

And HubSppot has a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

don't panic in sales3). The “no show” prospect

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.

salespeople pouncing on trade show attendees7). 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.

Here is a good article from Jane Applegate on “How to Work a Trade Show.”

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.

Here a good article from Chuck Schaeffer on “Lessons Learned in CRM Data Conversions.”

bogeyman as a sales manager9). Bad sales managers

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 –

A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell, by Gini Graham Scott Ph.D.

Dealing With Horrible Bosses: How To Handle Bad Managers at Work! (difficult managers,poor boss,difficult bosses,work bullies,bad bosses,bullying at workplace,bullying at work), by Damon Lundqvist.

And VorsightBP, a Northern Virginia based sales consulting firm, has an excellent webinar on “10 Tips to Transform Sales Leaders From Micromanagers into Great Coaches.” (You have to submit your contact information to watch it, but it’s worth it).

10). Slow sales periods

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.

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.