Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To “Win” In Sales

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This is one of the biggest “aha moments” I ever had when learning to be salesperson, which I got from a fantastic book called: Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.

“In sales, you and the customer want the very same thing: the Exact Right Solution.”

 

Let me unpack this for you…

If you are talking to a potential customer, than they have already given you a buying signal; they are giving you some of their time, which means there is at least some level of interest in your product or service. So you both know what you are there for, a potential sale. The goal then is to make sure that you both get what you want out of the transaction, they get a reasonable price on a product or service that they need and you make a reasonable profit. This is the only possible outcome for successful transaction, the Exact Right Solution.

  • Sell them something too expensive and they find out that your price was high, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them something too cheap and you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.
  • Sell them the wrong product that will not actually meet their needs, but makes you a nice commission, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and deliver it late, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and it does not work, and you fail to follow-up and get it fixed quickly, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product but promise them too many additional services, you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea, unless both you and the customer get exactly what is right for both of you, you have not made a successful sale.

That means that it is not you against the customer, it is the two of you working together as a team to develop the Exact Right Solution. To me, this takes away the sometimes adversarial relationship between buyer and seller. I remember early in my career that every time I went on a sales call I felt like I was trying to “win the sale.” The truth of the matter is I should have been trying to win the trust of my customer by giving them exactly what they wanted, that also aligned perfectly with what I wanted, so that we could build a strong positive relationship and I could be seen as a partner and trusted advisor who would always do what was in their best interest, as long as it was also in my best interest. The classic Win-Win agreement.

Now that I understand this, sales is so much more fun. I’m not there to “win” anything, I’m there to help us much as I can and work jointly with my customer to develop solutions that makes everybody happy so that we look forward to doing more business together in the future.

To me, that is the way a professional salesperson approaches the sales process.

Your thoughts?

Selling Value Where None Exists

John Spence on Selling Value

In my last blog, The Big Trends From 2016, I got lots of great comments and questions. I especially liked this question and wanted to share my answer with all of you.

 

Q: How often do you find executives who expect their salespeople to sell value that does not exist? In my last two sales jobs, the real value of the product or service was not a differentiator in the marketplace. Even for the most incredible sales person, companies are not naive and they can quickly assess whether there is value in an offering or just double talk. What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation? How often are you seeing this situation at companies?

 

A: Good question, tough answer. You have to find some way to add value above the product or service even if it is truly a commodity. I have worked with a lot of companies that had very little differentiation, and the executives wanted their folks to sell on value, but few people understood how to create real value beyond what they were selling. If you cannot figure this out, then the only thing you have left to sell on is price.

In my strategic thinking workshops, I tell the attendees that all effective strategy boils down to: Valued Differentiation X Disciplined Execution. In other words, you have to bring something to the marketplace that is unique, exciting and compelling – that your customers VERY highly value – that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy – and that you can deliver on flawlessly. Until you can discover how you, your products and/or services can meet these criteria – the only thing you have to sell is lower price, which is the fast lane to bankruptcy.

You ask above, “What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation?” It is my feeling that they must understand their product and market well enough to clearly show their salespeople where the real value exists. If they cannot clearly differentiate their own product from the competition’s product, then a salesperson needs to ask how they can sell on value if the executive can’t even describe it. One of the big issues I see are companies that demand that their salespeople sell on value and capture a premium price in a market that truly will not support it. This is a recipe for failure and is exceedingly frustrating to the sales force. As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone,” and you can’t sell value where none exists.

However, it has been my experience that where there is little product differentiation the only way to command a premium price is for the salesperson to add massive additional value. What unique expertise can you bring to the situation? How can you give your customer insights and ideas they could not have developed without you? What recommendations can you make to improve the customer’s business? What additional services can your company deliver that significantly increases the value of your total solution?

In other words, if the product is not a differentiator, the salesperson must be. This is easy to say, but extremely hard to do. It takes a lot of work, time, effort and energy to educate yourself at a level where you can be positioned as a trusted advisor – not a salesperson. Luckily, very few salespeople are willing to make the personal investment necessary to become a high level consultative salesperson, so if you can achieve this you will have created a good deal of job security because every company wants a salesperson who can create unique value for the customer that drives high margins.

I hope you found this of value.

Leaders Are Readers

How do you make the most of a conference?

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I was just asked by the folks at the Eventbrite, a tool for events I use often, if I would offer some suggestions for how to be more successful when networking at a conference. You’ll see the great infographic they created below, but I’d like to emphasize a few of my main ideas on this topic.

  1. It is NOT about what the people at the conference can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them in order to earn the right to have a real business relationship.
  2. Be a connector, imagine the conference as a giant party where you are the host and it is your job to make sure that all of the guests have a great time and meet lots of interesting people. So focus being a superb connector of cool people, they will appreciate your efforts a great deal and in turn will introduce you to their cool colleagues.
  3. When you meet someone, ask about their business, then ask them what are two or three of the big challenges they are facing that they would love to have help with, then do everything you can to connect them with someone that can assist them. There might be a chance that they will mention something that you can help them with, but the goal here is just offer assistance, not try to get a new client right away.
  4. Follow up soon after the conference, not to ask for business, but to say how wonderful it was to meet them and then try to offer more value. Connect with them on social media, connect them with someone you know that you think they’d like to meet, recommend a great book on a topic they are interested in, send them a fantastic article or a link to a great blog – and then send them something else of value every month or so. And then, every now and then, send them something about your company, products or services – not something super  salesy — it has to be something interesting and of real value to them. If they are a great potential customer they will eventually reach back out to you and ask more about your business and how you can help them.

Here are a few more suggestions from the folks at Eventbrite and me…

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Great Leadership Book + Two Business Ideas


Click HERE to learn more about my new Consultative Sales training course and use promo code 45OFF to get a 45% discount!!

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How To Increase Your Sales Success

shutterstock_46908313I have been teaching consultative sales for the past 20 years and in my opinion three of the most critical skills necessary to be superb as a salesperson are: asking highly focused and thoughtful questions, being an intense listener and then taking excellent notes. Great questions allow you to gather the essential information needed to understand the customer’s problems, create the exact right solution and close the deal. However, if you ask great questions and don’t listen carefully and write superb notes, you might as well not ask any questions at all.

Let me help you understand how important listening is. Think about the average value of one of your larger sales, then determine how much time (in minutes) you actually spend in front of the key decision-maker during the sales process. Then divide the total value of the sale by the number of minutes and it will give you how much money is on the line for every 60 seconds you’re talking to the key decision-maker. For some of my clients that number has been in the thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. The number might be much smaller for you, or it might be quite large, but either way it is essential that you be incredibly focused on your customer during the brief amount of time you get to spend with them. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you are paying attention and truly care about what they are saying is to be absolutely fantastic at taking notes. Again, if you ask a great question and they give you an in-depth and detailed answer – and you don’t write any notes – you are telling the customer not to answer any more of your questions because it will be a waste of their time. (**As someone who has owned several businesses I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had a salesperson sit in front of me while I explained my problem or need in detail – and they didn’t write a single note – nothing. Which is exactly what they got from me, nothing. No sale, no deal, and no invitation for a follow-up appointment).

Here are some of the things I recommend to increase your listening and note-taking effectiveness and clearly demonstrate that you are focused solely on your customer.

  1. Turn off all electronic equipment that you do not plan to actually use in the meeting. No phone, no iPad, no computer – nothing that can distract you.
  2. Bring a professional notebook such as a Moleskine to write your notes in. Unless you are a phenomenal typist and can keep great eye contact while typing notes, it is better to use a pen and paper and transfer the notes over later.
  3. Bring an extra pen.
  4. As you are listening and taking notes use good body language and eye contact to show your customer you are fully engaged in the conversation. If you are selling over the phone use of verbal cues to let the customer know your listening and encourage them to continue talking.
  5. As the customer is talking repeat what they are saying over and over again in your head as you are taking notes. This will shut out any mind chatter you have and help you remember what your prospect is telling you because even though they have said it only once, you have heard it several times in your own mind which makes your memory and recall dramatically better.
  6. I have created a number of special icons that I use to help me focus in on the most important information in my notes. For example, I put a # next to where the customer gives me numbers, and a $ next to where those numbers represent money. I draw small set of clock hands next to anything that deals with time. When a client emphasizes a specific point I put a big star next to it, if they mention it again I put another star – and another if they talk about it even more. I write a ? when there is something I need to come back and ask for more detail on. Then, at the end of the meeting (or phone call) after the client has shared a significant amount of information with me, I can quickly go back over my notes and say something like:

“I’ve listened to you very carefully and from what you have shared with me it looks like you have three major concerns: 1, 2 and 3 (the three items that I put several big stars next to) that are costing you about XX dollars (based on everyplace I have written a $) and are causing you to waste about XX hours a week (based on where I drew little clocks) and you’d like to try to get this fixed by XX day (based on where I put the #’s). Does that sound about right to you?

Typically the client is overwhelmed by the quality of the notes I’ve taken and the information I can summarize and give back to them. I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that I am listening, paying attention, interested in what they are telling me and because I’ve written it down in such great detail I will be able to remember it and develop the exact right solution based on my understanding and analysis.

  1. Then as soon as I get out of the meeting or end the phone call I immediately take out my notes and dictate (I use the voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking) a clean and thoughtful summary of everything that was discussed and agreed to during the meeting.
  2. I then send a copy of that summary/call recap to my client to confirm that I’m on target, that I have not missed anything important and that we are in full agreement on next steps.
  3. Lastly, I post my call recap/summary into my client’s file so that I will have it to review days, weeks, months or years in the future. I still have notes from phone calls I had with clients more than 10 years ago and they are amazed that I can go back and share with them key things we discussed a decade ago.

I will tell you from experience that if you use the tools and recommendations I have listed above it will have a significant positive impact on your sales success. Everything I’ve mentioned is common knowledge, every salesperson knows that they should do this, but very, very few actually do. When you conduct a professional sales meeting, asking superb questions, being a highly focused listener and taking incredibly thorough and detailed notes – you clearly differentiate yourself from all of the other salespeople your customer is meeting and create a level of trust and professional respect that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy.

I hope you find these ideas of value and that they help you close more big deals!

 

Sales Advice in 60 Seconds

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Three Great Books and a Fantastic (Free) Sales Webinar

The Sales Webinar has already passed — it was earlier in the year.

 

My Best Sales Advice for 2016

My best sales advice for 2016 (or any year for that matter) is to make this the year of extreme curiosity. If you are selling a product that requires some level of understanding your customer, then you need to stop thinking of yourself as a salesperson and truly get into the mindset of a consultant. So, here is a simple four-step process for you to be much more successful in 2016.

ONE:  Practice the art of asking superb questions. Think deeply about the specific information you need to obtain in order to offer the perfect solution to your customer. Reflect on the information you want to receive from your customer when they answer your question, what do you want them to say, what specifically do you want them to tell you? Remember, that you don’t have an unlimited number of questions, so make sure that every question counts and helps you collect the critical information that will allow you understand the customer’s real needs and move the sale forward. To help you with this, I suggest you create a list of the key information you need to gather from almost every client. For example, in a business-to-business sale you might need to know:

  • What is the timeframe to make this decision?
  • Who will be involved in the decision-making process?
  • What is your budget for this project?
  • What are your selection criteria?
  • What other companies are you looking at to help you with this project?
  • What are the top issues that you hope that we can help you with?
  • What are the financial implications if you can’t find the exact right solution?
  • What would the financial upside be if we can deliver the exact right solution?
  • What would the exact right solution look like to you?

These are just a few examples, but take some time to sit down and write out the 10 most important pieces of information you have to get from every client and then write an elegant and focused question to get the client to give you the specific information you need.

TWO: Once you ask an excellent question, you must then be an intense listener. Make the person you’re talking to the most important person on the face of the earth while you are sitting there talking to them. Forget about your cell phone, forget about your next appointment, forget about your quota,  forget about your golf game this weekend – give them your total and undivided attention.

THREE: As you are listening intently, take highly detailed notes. Put a star next all important ideas, list out their buying criteria, and underline key budget numbers. Take notes that allow you to perfectly summarize and paraphrase what the client has shared with you to demonstrate that you have listened very carefully to them and understand their needs, wants, wishes, desires and concerns.

FOUR: Now, and only now, have you earned the right to start talking about your product or service!!!

I have met so many salespeople that do the opposite of what I am recommending here. They come in and immediately pitch their product, ask very few if any questions, and don’t write any notes. This is why 88% of senior executives say that the number one reason they won’t see a salesperson is: They waste my time!

If you follow the four steps I have listed above, you will be seen as a consultant and peer that is there to learn as much as they possibly can about their client so that they can deliver a true value-added solution at a reasonable (not lowest) price.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful, I very much look forward to your comments. – John