Are you feeding the Sales Beast?

Are you feeding the beasts?If you want to keep a beast happy – feed him.

If you want to keep your salespeople happy – feed them too. But feed them with good leads and qualified prospects.

All too often, salespeople are told to find their own leads and prospects. There is nothing wrong with that. When times are slow, doing some research on the side is OK. But if your salespeople are spending too much prospecting, that means they are spending too little time selling.

Based on numerous studies, the average salesperson only spends about 30 percent of his time actually selling. The rest of the time is spent on training, administrative work, account management and other tasks.

This is why it’s so important to have a marketing team on board to help your sales team. Using tools like Data.com (formerly Jigsaw), DiscoverOrg, Zoominfo, and others can help your sales team generate more business.

What’s worse than a bad salesperson? A bored one.  Why?  Because bored salespeople who are good in their profession start seeking other opportunities. And you don’t want that to happen.

So always feed the sales beast.

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

Five bad habits to break at Trade Shows

I just got back from a large trade show and I notice five bad habits that I think all vendors should break.

don't be late for a trade show1). Tardiness – if the trade show starts at 9:00 a.m., then make sure you get your ass there on time. The last thing you want to do is come to a booth late, and find a note from a potentially good prospect who writes that he may stop by later. We all know from experience that most prospects are not going to “stop by later” because they get busy visiting other booths, attending workshops…or meeting with your competitors!

2). Arrive early to set up your booth or tabletop display. I know. As much as we try to plan ahead, things happen. Your flight is delayed. Your hotel claims they don’t have your reservation. The taxi cab driver doesn’t know where the convention center is located. I get that. But try to get to the exhibit hall area ASAP. You never know what problems you are going to face, e.g., there are no chairs because your department didn’t know they had to rent them before the trade show, or there is no electricity because you didn’t know you had to purchase it for the booth, or the scanner you are renting isn’t working properly, etc. You get the drift.

I actually once worked for a company that required all salespeople to arrive one day in advance to set up the booth. However, I realize that some companies have tight budgets and depending on the location and flight availability, you may have to fly in the same day the trade show begins and quickly set things up a couple of hours before the doors open. I understand. Just do the best you can.

3). Don’t leave your leads out all night – I will sometimes arrive early to an exhibit hall to check out other exhibits and get ideas. This is especially true if I’m the only one managing the booth and I don’t have time during the day to walk around. I’m constantly surprised by the number of vendors who leave their leads out on the table all night long. Sure, we’re professionals. We don’t steal. But how can you be sure that some unscrupulous competitor isn’t going to come along and pinch your leads? This is especially true at large trade shows where there isn’t enough security. Either hide your leads in your booth (some trade shows rent locked cabinets) or take them to your hotel room.

BTW, the same goes for candy. I once left a candy bowl out on the display table and when I returned in the morning, most of my sweets were gone. So hide your candy too!

4). Don’t stand or sit like a statue – engage. It amazes me that companies will spend thousands of dollars sending salespeople to attend trade shows and they don’t engage with attendees. Instead, they sit on their butts working on their laptops (which only signals to prospects that are you too busy to be bothered) or read their own marketing literature that they should be handing out.

You need to engage.

That means if someone gives you eye contact or looks at your booth, you may ask them “does anything catch your eye?” or “have you heard of our company or product?” Hopefully, by asking those or other questions, attendees may approach your booth and you can engage them in a conversation to determine if they are good prospects or not.

engage with attendees at trade showsAlso, don’t trust that your booth display or table top will be enough to draw prospects to you. While your marketing department may do a good job developing interesting visuals, at the end of the day it’s up to you to bring home good leads. That means if someone walks by and starts avoiding eye contact with you, call them out by asking them a direct question. By doing so, they may come over and speak with you. This tactic is especially helpful at large trade shows of 100 plus vendors where attendees are overwhelmed, busy and tired. You have to think of attendees as cattle – you have to drive them home through the open range.

Attendees, like cattle, need direction.

5). Turn your frown upside down. I understand. Trade shows can be long and sometimes boring when walk-thru traffic is slow. You get tired. Your feet ache.

But put yourself in the place of the attendees – they are sometimes spending hours walking from booth to booth, listening to sales pitches, and having sales literature thrust among them.

The last thing an attendee wants to see is a sad or disappointed salesperson at a booth. So smile. Be enthusiastic. Show real interest. Be curious. Who knows, you may land a sale or two that could put you over the top when meeting quota.

There, you have it. Break those five bad habits and you should do well.

Now go sell!

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

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 into 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 is 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 judgment 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)

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 to 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 to 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 were 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.

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

Are inquiries sales leads?

When a prospect inquiries about your products and services, is that a sales lead?

No. It’s just an inquiry.

There are two kinds of prospects – curiosity seekers and serious buyers.

The curiosity seeker is usually someone who is inquiring about your products or services. Maybe he did a Google search and came across your company and has some questions. Maybe he stopped by your booth at a trade show and wanted to learn more about what you do. Or maybe he picked up your sales literature and actually read it, and wants to know more about what you do.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the curiosity seeker is a sales lead. You may be able to turn the curiosity seeker into a sales lead. How? By asking good qualifying questions, determining need, discovering problems or pain points, and uncovering the timeline. If you are getting a lot of vague answers or the classic “I’m just shopping around” response, mention one or two options and see if the prospect bites. If you are still getting vague answers, it’s time to move on.

Curiosity seekers can drain your time, energy and motivation.

Curiosity kills the catTo twist an old saying, not only does curiosity kill the cat but it can also kill your sales.

On the other hand, a serious buyer is a real sales lead. He’s done his homework. He asked around seeking referrals. Sure, he went to Google to check you out. But he also checked out your competition too. So he’s not just window shopping – he’s comparison shopping. And most important of all, he has a budget. He’s ready to pull the trigger. You just need to make sure he pulls the trigger your way.

Inquiries. Sales leads. Just make sure you know the difference before spending too much time with a prospect.

What would you do with 10,000 sales leads? Part 2

In part 1 of this post, I asked the question “What would you do with 10,000 sales leads?” In part 2, I will provide you with more of my suggestions.

6). Do some research. Prior to making a cold call, do some quick research on your prospect. You don’t have to be a professional research associate. Just take a few minutes to read the prospect’s profile on LinkedIn or some other site. What is his title? What are his responsibilities? Can you find a hook, e.g., did he work for a company that is now your client? Or, did you find an article that his company is having a problem that your service can solve?

7). Develop a cold calling script. As a rule, I’m not a big fan of using scripts. However, when you are new to an industry, it’s always helpful to have a script handy when making first-time calls. Eventually, you will develop your own natural voice, and throw the script away.

Below is a list where you can find sample cold calling scripts –

www.profitbuilders.com
blog.close.io
cdn2.hubspot.net

8). Develop a voice mail script. What type of message are you going to leave if you don’t reach the prospect? The last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself by leaving a fumbling or long message that screams out “please delete me.” You need to know in advance what you are going to say. Everyone has their own variations. Just use your natural voice, but sound confident and strong at the same time.

Below is a list where you can find sample voice mail scripts –

www.salesgravy.com
blogs.salesforce.com
sales.about.com

9). What is your goal? Why are you calling prospects? In the case of our young salesperson, his goal was to set appointments for his company’s consultants. Once the appointment was set, the consultants would do the heavy lifting. You may have a different goal. Maybe you want the prospect to trial your service for 30 days. Maybe you want the prospect to watch a demo. Maybe you want to qualify the prospect to determine if he needs your service. Regardless of the reason, have a goal in mind. You don’t want to fall into what’s known in the industry as the “busy fool syndrome,”  i.e., doing a lot of make work and activities that don’t lead to any concrete results.

For example, I once worked for a company that had a very strict outbound call policy – you were required to make at least 50 calls a day. However, there was one sales person who almost consistently didn’t meet his call quota, but he always generated more sales than the rest of the sales team. His secret? He did some research before making calls and he had a set goal in mind for each call he made. (Despite his success, he has still fired anyway for not meeting his daily call quota).

Do you want to be a busy fool or a successful salesperson? Have a goal in mind.

making sales calls10) Start making phone calls. OK, you have a client profile in place. You have reviewed your prospect list and will begin targeting who you consider being the best prospects that meet your client profile. You have cold call and voice mail scripts in place. You know what your goal is. You also know that you need to do some quick research before making each call.

Now comes the fun part – making phone calls.

I can write several posts on how to make cold calls (which I will later). But for this post, let me give you a quick and dirty approach.

First, the best time to reach prospects is early in the morning and after work. This way you will bypass the gatekeeper. Sure, you can leave voice mail messages, but your ultimate goal is to talk to a live person.

Second, there is a big debate in the sales community on how many attempts you make, but depending on the industry you are in, and the types of services you are selling, I would make at least 6 attempts – but spread those attempts out over a period of time. Don’t be a pest and call every day. That’s rude and unprofessional. And when I mention attempts, I’m also including sending emails and sending direct marketing material.

Third, don’t just rely on phone calls. Send emails too. Keep the emails short and to the point. Offer some value. Maybe attach a case study, white paper or an interesting article that is related to your prospect.

Fourth, in some cases, send some printed material, and include swag – may be a magnet, a pen, a mouse pad or something with your company’s name and contact information.

Fifth, after making several attempts, if you are not getting anywhere, put them on your back burner call back list, and circle back in a month or six months (depending on the size of your prospect).

It would also be a good idea to have your employer or someone senior listen in to some of your calls and voicemails. They can offer you some valuable advice and pointers to help you.

In part 3 of this post, I will make suggestions on social media strategies.