How and Why they do it is More Important Than What they Do

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Salespeople love to understand what people do. Then they look for a place to interject how their product or service will help them do it better or faster or in some way that will benefit the prospect more. In other words they ask superficial questions then they pounce with a presentation on the value they can bring. But if you really want to uncover whether the prospect has a compelling reason to buy it is more important to discover how and why they do things than to merely understand what they do. Look at these two examples of a sales call on a company for the purposes of selling access to CRM which exists in the cloud rather than on the servers of the company.

SCENARIO 1 – Salesperson – What are you using now?

                      Prospect – We use a xyz system which we house on our servers.

                     Salesperson – Let me show you how we can improve efficiency by giving you access from anywhere and we have reports that give more detail ….

Scenario 2 – Salesperson What are you using now?

                   Prospect – We use a xyz system which we house on our servers.

                   Salesperson – Why did you choose that system? ANSWER: It wasn’t too complicated and had a custom report capability

                   Salesperson – How do you update the system? ANSWER: Our three users do it as changes occur

                   Salesperson – How often is that? ANSWER: about 4 or 5 times peer day

                   Salesperson – How do you get reports? ANSWER: The VP’s assistant runs them bi-weekly just before the staff meeting.

Even in these simplistic examples you can see that the why and how questions give you more and richer information and will lead you uncovering whether or not there is a compelling reason to buy or not. At the very least it will change what you focus on when you describe the product.

Are You Asking The Wrong Type of Question?

Salespeople must ask questions. However, most salespeople focus on asking discovery type questions to uncover what the prospect “needs”. Then they spend time trying to differentiate themselves by telling the prospect how their product or service meets the need and in fact is better than the competition. The discovery type of question is necessary to uncover information and context for the sale, but it does little to differentiate the salesperson. This is true primarily because prospects are numb to the “pitch”.  Everyone does it and prospects either don’t “hear” it or don’t believe it. Thee is a better way to differentiate yourself.

A Sales Guy, Inc. CEO Jim Keenan explains the difference between questions designed to make your prospect think and discovery questions, which are meant to uncover information. “Discovery questions focus on the ‘what’ and are designed to identify existing needs, problems, customer pain points, customer’s goals, etc.,” he writes. Thought-provoking questions, on the other hand, challenge the buyer’s preconceptions and change how they think about a topic.

You need to ask discovery questions but don’t limit yourself to that. Challenge them with questions like “why did you decide not to do X when you started the project” where X would have been another course of action. Or you can say something like “Why change anything? why not keep the status quo?” When you ask thought provoking questions you will differentiate yourself and your product. the conversation will go where the prospect has never gone with your competitors and you will demonstrate to your prospect that you have a deep understanding of the situation. This will most likely change the nature of how you present your product or service when it is time to do so.

For a list of 17 thought provoking questions that only top salespeople have the guts to ask click here for the download.

Are You Too Patient With Prospects?

Timing is everything. Asking the right question at the wrong time can send the sales call in the wrong direction. On the other hand if you miss the opportunity to ask the right question, you may never get another chance. The correct amount of patience is required to be a top salesperson. In his blog Understanding the Sales Force Dave Kurlan writes:

When there is an excess of patience it always results in the salesperson accepting an endless number of stalls and put-offs, thereby lengthening the sales cycle, and shrinking the win rate. When there is an excess of impatience, … there will be a disproportionate number of prospects who become turned off, pissed off, or offended.

Actually, the real skill is in recognizing the roper time to say or do something it is not usually in what we say or do. Here are two examples. CASE 1 – Fred, a business owner for a service company had a prospect for a $700,000 contract. The prospect was a bank and they had certain steps they had to take to finalize the deal (site visit, management buy-in, board approval, etc) there. There was no competition and the price was set. They had settled on Fred as the supplier but they still had 2 or three hoops to jump through internally before signing the contract. Fred wanted the deal in September however the client was going to close November 1st give or take a few days. When the client came for the site visit September 20th, Fred tried to close them by offering a $20,000 discount (price was not an issue or a major factor in  the decision). It didn’t work. they gladly took the discount and closed on November 1st. Luckily for Fred, they were too far down the line with him to turn back. Had he done something similar earlier in the sales process he would have turned them off and they would have gone somewhere else.

CASE 2 – Rich was on a sales call with a large prospect who showed interest in his solution. It was early in the the relationship with this prospect. He discovered during the call that they had been talking to someone else about this solution 3 or 4 months back but higher headquarters had halted the project for a time to get some approvals lined up. Rich should have asked the prospect about the status of discussions with the competitor. For instance he could have asked “why not just go back to the people you were working with before?” This could be seen as an aggressive question, but the timing was right to ask it. Before Rich spends too much time on the deal, he should know whether the prospect was committed to the other vendor and just giving him a courtesy look or if he was dissatisfied with the competitors solution. THE RESULT – He can’t get the prospect on the phone or to respond to emails and a meeting they had set up got cancelled through the scheduling software. Rich was too patient (or scared) to ask the question.

What Do You Want Prospects To Remember?

Salespeople memorize “thirty second commercials” or “elevator pitches”. They describe their product in complex and sometimes confusing terminology. However, they forget that complex ideas cannot be grasped easily by prospects. When describing what you do, shorter and simpler is better. Simple concepts, simple sentences and plain language is what the prospect will remember. When they think of you and your product or service they will most likely only remember snippets of what you tried to communicate.  Leanne Hoagland-Smith in her recent blog takes it to the extreme in distilling your product down to one word. This is more of a marketing and branding concept than a sales concept but the idea is worthwhile.

The one word equity sales pitch is the brain child of Maurice Saatchi who believes in this digital age brevity must be pushed to its breaking point. This one word is the word you want others to think about you and your company. It can be a noun, an adjective or even a verb. Saatchi provides the example of the word “search.” Who or what comes to mind. For many that entity is Google. He contends today only brutally simple ideas get through because they “travel lighter and travel faster.”

In sales you should spend most of your time listening to your prospect. but when it is your turn to talk, deliver our message in clear and simple terms relating your solution to the prospects problem. If you get too complex or try to sound too smart , you run the grave risk of losing them and not getting your message across. The main thing you want prospect to remember is that you understand their problem and have a workable solution. Distill your message into a few simple concepts and deliver them in a simple and straight forward way and assuming you have listened to the prospect, they will remember you or your product. They may not remember the details. But they will remember that you listened and your solution sounded like it will work.

5 Things Sales Managers Should Be Doing To Help Scale The Company (But probably aren’t!)



1. Debrief Salespeople Weekly

The sales manager should have a standing meeting with each salesperson each week. It should be on the calendar and be considered inviolate except in unusual circumstances. The purpose of the meeting to hold the salesperson accountable and to provide an opportunity for targeted coaching to help the salesperson grow. In my experience fewer than 25% of sales managers do this on a regular basis. Request the free reports by clicking the green button below and learn the 5 major self-limiting beliefs that salespeople have which limit their effectiveness.

2. Work to Eliminate Self-Limiting Beliefs of the salespeople

 Sales managers must identify and work to change or eliminate the self-limiting beliefs of their salespeople. Success of a salesperson has more to do with their belief systems than with any other single factor. Everyone has firmly held convictions about the way things are, or at least should be.            26% of salespeople have the belief systems strong enough to be successful in today’s selling environment. Fewer than 5% of sales managers are even aware of the existence of self-limiting beliefs. Even fewer spend any time working on eliminating or changing them. This fact places a severe limit on the sales manager’s ability to grow the sales team.



3. Manage the Pipeline Correctly


The two most prominent methods sales managers use to forecast future sales are the quasi-scientific expected value method (using estimated projected closing percentages) and the totally unscientific ‘gut feel” method.  In most cases, neither is very accurate. Managing the pipeline and reporting it accurately may be the part of the sales manager’s job description which most drives a CEO to distraction.

CEO’s need accuracy in the sales forecasts to effectively plan inventory, personnel requirements, and a variety of other parts of the business. Yet sales managers continue to deliver inaccurate forecasts or no forecasts at all. Click the Green button below and order the detailed report to learn more about how to make forecasting more accurate.


4.Let Salespeople Fail


You learn more from mistakes than from your successes. Yet sales managers make the mistake of never letting a salesperson fail. They rescue them by attending all of the important sales calls. They act as the “super closer” on big deals.  If you never take the training wheels off, you never learn to ride a two wheeled bike. Sales

managers typically are reluctant to let the salespeople fail even on little sales. Hence, they are ineffective at managing the salesperson through the growth process to get them to the next level. Learning from small failures and applying the lessons learned is how we all grow. Avoiding small failures is also avoiding the lessons learned which will be needed on larger deals.

5. Track Sales Activity


Sales managers generally have sales goals (quotas) assigned to each person but they rarely set goals for how much sales activity must be done to reach those goals. Sometimes they have a standard for activity such as 2 face-to-face appointments per day. But, even in that case, the standard has little to do with the goal or with the skill level of the salesperson.

Only about 1 in 20 sales managers have set activity goals for their people that are related to the goals they are committed to reach. And fewer than half of those (maybe 2%) actually track the sales activity on a day to day basis. Remember that “what gets measured gets done”.  If you don’t hold salespeople accountable to the activity then there is a good chance it won’t get done, sales targets will be missed and growth of both the individual and the company will be stunted. Get the free Sales management Report below for more details on what and how to track activity.


Should You Present First or Last

Every sales trainer has an opinion as to whether you should go first or last when you are making formal presentations to a prospect. Hubspot blog has quoted two psychologists who typically agree with both depending on the situation. This is a very important  finding. The determining factor is time between presentations. The quote below is self-explanatory. Just remember to ask about the timing of the presentations and don’t be afraid to ask for the position that will favor you. I have never had a prospect refuse to honor my request.

Whether you should go first or last depends on one primary factor: The time between the presentations. If you and a competitor are presenting back to back, you should go first because you will shape your potential customer’s perception and create biases that will put your competitor at a disadvantage. Researchers refer to this as the primacy effect, which describes the brain’s tendency to be more influenced by what is presented first than by what is presented later. This is why first impressions are so highly influential. However, if there is some time between the presentations (more than a week), you should go last. This is because the memory of your competitor will fade with the passing of time, while your presentation will be fresh in the buyers’ minds. This increases the likelihood that you’ll be chosen.

More reasons not to sell by email


I keep saying that you can’t sell by email. Hubspot blog has identified 4 reasons why your time may be wasted sending emails to connect with people. These are in addition to my belief that the primary reason is that email is a way for salespeople to avoid the perceived unpleasantness of prospecting. Hubspot gives these reasons:

1) They’re (prospects) relying on email less.

2) They’re using software to route your messages out of their inbox.

3) They use a separate email alias for web forms.

4) They filter messages containing commonly used sales phrases.


Spend your time developing relationships by prospecting and networking and only send emails to people yo have a relationship with and who tell yo that is an acceptable way to communicate. Even then use email sparingly since you can’t find pain in an email chain. This Video will explain in one minute a little more about why that is so. 


rp_sticker_shock-150x150.pngI recently read an article about how to handle the “I want to think it over”. The techniques were standard fare and I have no real quarrel with the techniques (other than they seemed very high pressure to me). I just think the whole approach is wrong. Salespeople usually cause their own objections by being Me-Centered and “pitching” (I hate that word) the prospect. We have all been on the receiving end of a salesperson’s pitch. Your instinct is to defend yourself without being mean or arrogant so the easiest thing to do is say “I need to think about it”. In other situations prospects come up with other objections “I have to talk to my spouse”, “Can you call me later”, “we don’t have the money right now”, etc. These are all designed to take the pressure off of the prospect, make it seem impossible to move forward and get rid of the salesperson. We have all said these things to salespeople when we didn’t really have to talk to our spouse, we knew we wouldn’t take the call when they followed up and when we had money if we wanted the product. These were made up objections designed only to end the sales encounter.

Think of it this way; either objections are real, or they are made up. If they are real, you can’t overcome them and if they are made up you don’t really have to overcome them. If you try and succeed getting by one objection they will make up another. This is not to say that once in a while they don’t give up and buy. But the emotional energy and the risk of alienating the prospect is hardly worth it.

THE ANSWER – Don’t cause the objection in the first place. Don’t be me-centered. Focus on the prospect instead. Don’t say “We have this really great product and it will make copies twice as fast.” Rather, ask a question like “are you wasting time because your copier is too slow”. The question will lead to discussion and you won’t hit a dead end with made up objections.

Here is a sales tip of what to do when you find yourslf in that situation

Determine the Urgency

stop_watch_preciseSales can be derailed and forecasts rendered inaccurate when you fail to nail down the urgency. Remember that urgency involves a time component.

A prospect may not be happy at the current situation but is willing to live with it for the foreseeable future. The salesperson who only focuses on pain, and doesn’t deal with the time element, will forecast an imminent sale only to waste time chasing it for months.


Writing proposalsWe believe that the prospect has to earn the right to get a proposal from the salesperson. The Optimal Salesperson® will only write a proposal to a prospect who has completely met all of the elements to be considered a qualified prospect. Most salespeople spend entirely too much time writing proposals. They do a cursory job of qualifying the prospect and then they either volunteer to write a proposal or are asked to write one which they eagerly agree to do. There are several possible factors which can cause this to happen.

  • The salesperson does not have or does not use and effective sales process
  • The salesperson knows how to qualify a prospect but is unskilled at executing the process
  • The salesperson has a belief that they must quote when asked
  • The salesperson has a fear of rejection so they won’t ask the tough questions
  • The salesperson believes that they can’t win if they don’t quote
  • The salesperson thinks that writing proposals with low probability is a good way to avoid prospecting which they hate worse than writing proposals

There are many more possible reasons and some salespeople suffer from more than one.

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