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


Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

One of the most common questions that salespeople ask their clients is “What are your pain points?”

Now, maybe you don’t actually ask the question in that matter. Maybe you phrase it differently. But the underlining goal of all salespeople is to determine what type of pain points your clients are suffering to see if what you are selling will solve his problems.

Let’s say you discover those pain points. What next?

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

By vitamins, I mean are you selling a solution that is holistic and a “nice to have.”

By medicine, I mean are you selling a solution that is really necessary and a “must have.”

Let me give you some examples –

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good vitamin sales example is someone selling books, subscription courses or videos about enhancing professional development in your field. Of course, we all want to improve ourselves and do better in our careers. But is it an immediate need? Unless your boss or manager is demanding that you improve your skills or craft, chances are you don’t need to order any professional development tools right away. It’s something that you will put on your check list and consider when you have the time or money.

So a vitamin sale, based on the client’s view, may be way of preventing a future problem, but it’s a minor pain point that he can deal with for now. There is no sense of urgency.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good medicine sales example is someone selling password security software to prevent hackers from breaking into your network. With all the news lately of hackers stealing credit card and Social Security numbers from major retailers, banks, government agencies and colleges, your software will probably be on the top of an IT director’s list. Sure, the IT director may negotiate the price with you, but in the end, he clearly understands the threat of security breaches and he will make a purchase. The only question is will he be buying your software or someone else’s.

So a medicine sale, based on the client’s view, will prevent an immediate problem, that’s becoming a major pain that he must deal with now. There is a sense of urgency.

There is nothing wrong with selling vitamins or medicine. But if you want to jumpstart your sales, reexamine what you are offering, and see if you can make your solution more of a medicine rather than a vitamin sale.

While Mary Poppins is right when she sung “that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” finding the right pain points and offering medicine instead of vitamins could be your best solution.

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

The Holiday Season is not a slow sales time

Unless you are working in retail, most salespeople consider the holiday season to be a slow sales time. And for good reason. Many key decision makers are taking a long holiday break. Some companies will close down between Christmas Day through New Year’s Day. And even if you are making a lot of sales calls, you are being told to “call back next year.”

But don’t be fooled.

lazy salesman during the holiday seasonHere are five reasons why you shouldn’t slow down during the holiday season –

1). Key Decision Makers may be working – Not all decision makers are taking a long holiday break. For some, the last couple weeks of December may be a quiet time for them to work. They assume that most salespeople are not going to call them, so they give their receptionist time off. Without the gatekeeper present, this is your chance to catch the decision maker off guard. Lonely and perhaps eager to speak with someone, the decision maker may actually take your call and engage in a good constructive conversation that could yield an order.

2). Holiday Cheer – perhaps happy for having a good solid year, the decision maker may be more receptive to taking your call and speaking with you.

3). Your competitors are not calling – Your competitors are under the age-old assumption that the holidays are a “bad time” to make sales calls, so they are taking a long holiday vacation. With your competitors out-of-the-way, you will have a better shot at reaching the decision maker.

4). Build up your prospect list– OK, maybe you are in one of those industries where historically many of your clients are not going to be available during the holidays. So what are you going to do? Drink all the eggnog, pig out on all the Christmas cookies, and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no. Start building up your prospect list. Do some research and start uncovering some hidden gems that you didn’t see before. While you may be riding the gravy train receiving inbound leads, not all prospects are going to call you. Track them down, enter them in your CRM (Customer relationship management), do some research on them, and make plans to call them early next year.

5). Brush up – Now is the time to brush up on your product knowledge. Maybe read some industry newsletters or learn more about what your competitors are doing that could impact your sales. Sure, kick back and watch some classic Christmas movies, but don’t forget to read some classic sales books too.

The holiday season is a time to relax. A time to connect with your family and friends. I get that. But don’t be completely off your guard or do a brain slide. Because while you’re spending time ringing in the New Year, your competitors may be ringing the cash register with all the new sales that you should have received.

Note: If you like my 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.

What are some key Cold Calling Techniques?

cold calling in salesWhile some sales experts argue that cold calling is dead, I believe that cold calling is very much alive and well – and needed, if you are going to increase your sales. While it’s great to receive inbound calls, or make warm calls to prospects who are already familiar with your company, at the end of day, you have to make your share of cold calls in order to survive.

Gavin Ingham, sales motivational speaker, argues that cold calling will make you feel more control of your destiny and more empowered.

I agree. Sure, you can sit around waiting for the phone to ring. But really, is that a great plan? No. You have to be more proactive. While social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) and marketing (e.g., trade shows) can help, you have to reach out to your prospects directly if you want to increase new business.

Mr. Ingham offers 10 tips for making cold calls. I will add some tips and insights of my own below.

1). Plan and prepare your opening statements. A good way of doing this is to tell the prospect upfront who you are, why you are calling, and mention that you have a product or service that could help them (e.g., save money, improve productivity, save time). And then ask the prospect if you could ask him a few questions.

For example, you may say “Hi, I’m Bob Smith with ABC software company. We offer a software program that can help you prepare taxes for your clients more quickly and efficiently.”

Then you go on to say –

“We have helped our clients reduce their workload by 40%, so they can focus their time on other activities like seeking more clients. I’m confident that I can do the same for you. Would you like to learn how?”

As Mr. Ingham points out, put yourself in the client’s shoes – what will your product or service do for my business and why should I care?

All prospects have fears and concerns. Is your price too high? Are you a highly reputable company? What is the availability of your customer service or technical support team? What is the difference between your product vs. your competitors?

And also, what value are you offering your prospect? What makes you different compared to all the other vendors out there selling similar products or services? You don’t have to go into a long explanation, but find something that stands out that your client will remember you, and hopefully, he will be asking you questions.

What you don’t want to do is use deception or tricky when you reach your prospect. Do that, and you will be dead in the water before you had a chance to proceed.

2). Get in the right state of mind, and expect success. You don’t feel like making cold calls today? Too bad. Whatever negative feelings you have, bury them deep, think positive thoughts, and start calling. Maybe watch a positive motivational video on YouTube to get you in the proper frame of mind. Or take a short walk around the block to clear your head.

3). Know why cold calling is important to you – it’s unrealistic to assume that you are going to close a sale on the spot with the first call. So why are you making a cold call in the first place? Simple – to set an appointment. That’s it. Your goal is to set up an appointment so you can go into more detail later about what you have to offer. An appointment can be a face-to-face meeting, a phone conference or scheduling a webinar (demo).

4). Practice delivery. You should have a couple good opening statements written down. Practice them repeatedly until you feel so comfortable making your statements, that it sounds natural and unrehearsed.

questions for cold calls5). Plan and prepare relevant questions – I always have a list of questions to ask before making any calls. Also, it helps to do a little research on the prospect before contacting him. A great source is LinkedIn, the company’s website and industry newsletters.

At the end of the day, you have to find out if what you are selling is going to help solve your client’s problem. But sometimes your clients may not even know if they have a problem until you ask good questions to raise some concerns.

What you don’t want to do is ask lame questions like “How are you doing today?” – especially to high level clients who are probably very busy, stressed out, and most likely are not doing very well at all.

And never ask “Is this a good time to talk?” – because you are giving your prospect an opening to end the call on the spot before you even have a chance to speak further.

6). Have your support tools to hand – don’t forget to have pens and paper handy for taking down notes. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have a comparison sheet of your products and services vs. your competitors, or some other notes highlighting some of your key benefits. In short, be prepared to answer questions.

7). Divert calls and minimize interruptions –  If you are working in an office, from home, or in a high cubicle, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, it may be more difficult to do when working in an open space environment. Hopefully, your employer is using white noise to minimize the noise level, and you are sitting in an area where you are not going to be distracted, or dealing with a lot of multi-tasking projects.

8). Set clear objectives – don’t wing it. As mentioned above, your goal is to schedule an appointment to move the sales process further.

9). Don’t put your phone down or better yet, wear a headset. Personally, I prefer wearing a headset so it frees up both my hands.

10). Master your physiology. Sit straight. I know of some sales people who use a small mirror to force themselves to smile while speaking to prospects.

I would also add that using scripts could help you when making calls. Eventually, you will develop your own voice and techniques and abandon the scripts altogether, but in the beginning using scripts can help. Yes, of course your goal is to understand the value that you can offer your prospect, understand his problems, and ask good qualifying or needs based questions. But using a script in the very beginning can help you until you feel more confident speaking to prospects until you can get it down cold.

Speed matters too. I don’t mean speaking fast, I mean have a process and system in place that allows you to make a lot of calls on a daily basis. For example, if you are using, you may want to ask your employer to purchase software program like KiteDesk to improve your productivity and workflow. KiteDesk integrates with, and you can even import prospects from LinkedIn or websites to the database. Or purchase a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) that offers good workflow like

Here is Mr. Ingham’s video below –

How to sell subscriptions

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

I’ve sold subscriptions to software and niche publications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please let me know if you have any comments.