Features and Benefits versus Knowing How to Sell

I had a landscaper install a new sprinkler system the other day, and as we stood under the warming sun waiting for his crew to set up he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a sales trainer (this is the easiest answer as for some reason as soon as I add “inside sales” to anyone out of the industry, they have no idea what I’m talking about).

He immediately made the mistake that most companies and managers and even sales reps make when he next said, “Product knowledge is what it’s all about. You have to know your products.”

When I corrected him by saying product knowledge takes second place to qualifying a prospect and discovering unique buying motives, he seemed genuinely confused. I explained:

“Most companies spend hours, days and even weeks training their sales reps on each product and service, and then about a day (or a couple of hours) on how to sell them. This results in a knowledgeable sales team that is quick to list features and benefits until the cows come home. This creates a lot of conversations, but not a lot of sales.”

“What should they be doing?” he asked.

And that’s when I asked him how he would go about selling me a pencil.

He thought about it for a while and then launched into – you bet – a list of features and benefits about a pencil.

I let him go on for a while until he was out of ideas (you can only talk about the color yellow and the use of an eraser for so long), and then I asked him: “What if I don’t even use pencils?”

That stumped him.

And that’s the whole point. Most sales reps sell just like he does: leading with features and benefits sure that if they just say the right one or ones, in the right order or combination, then prospects will eventually see some value and say, “Ah! I’ve got to have that! Thank you so much for calling!”

As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?”

The proper way to sell a pencil – and your product or service – is to first qualify for need and unique buying motives, and then match up the appropriate features and benefits to fit those defined needs.

So using the “how to sell a pencil” analogy, it doesn’t begin by pitching the attributes of a pencil, rather, it starts by uncovering the need for one (or for a thousand). It begins with a series of questions like:

“How do you use pencils in your facilities?”

“How many pencils do you go through in a month? A year?”

“Who orders the pencils?”

“What’s important to you in a pencil?”

“How many pencils do you usually order at a time?”

“Where do you get your pencils from now?”

“Why do you get them there?”

“When was the last time you compared suppliers of pencils?”

“If you were to change suppliers, what would be important for you in the next vendor?”

“Besides yourself, who makes the decision to order pencils?”

“How about in your other facilities?”

And on and on… Now, I can just hear some of you thinking, “But Mike, a prospect isn’t going to sit still for all these questions!” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. I’ll tell you now, non-buyers won’t sit still, but most buyers will. And that’s a clue as to who might buy from you and who won’t.

The bottom line is that you can’t sell without knowing if there is a need and interest. And if you get some of the answers above, then you’ll know exactly how to pitch and how to sell.

If you don’t, you’ll just go through your list of features and benefits and when you get to the end, you’ll cross your fingers and hope someone buys.

I don’t know about you – but that’s a horrible way to make your way through life in sales.

How to Build Instant Rapport with “C” Level Executives

I was asked by a client to make some cold calls into an upper “C” level suite to set appointments for his outside sales team, to show the inside team how it’s done. His inside team first of all had trouble getting these busy people on the phone, and then getting past the first paragraph of their script before getting cut off.

I had listened to these calls and immediately recognized the problem: the reps weren’t taking the time to immediately assess the prospect’s mood and connect with them, therefore they were coming off like sales reps — and the executives who they did reach weren’t having any of that…

If you call into the upper “C” suites, here is what I did (and you should be doing) to connect with and give yourself a chance to have a conversation with them.

1) First of all, before you leave a voice mail, try calling three to five times to try and reach them first. Vary the times of your calls, and on same day and on different days, to see if you can reach them.

I have done this for many years and it’s amazing how lucky you’ll get if you just persevere.

2) When you do get them on the phone, immediately assess their style of communication by how they answer the phone. Are they in a hurry? Are they a driver? Or, are they laid back? Relaxed and at lunch?

It’s crucial that you match their pacing and their energy or else you’ll just telegraph that you’re a sales rep who is going to waste their time.

For example: When one COO answered the phone, he was short and somewhat demanding. I immediately said: “John, thanks for picking up the phone, I’ll make this brief…” Then I went into a two sentence value statement and asked him a question. He was appreciative that I didn’t begin reading a sales pitch at him and gave me a considered answer to my question.

3) This is important: If you find someone who seems somewhat laid back or at least not in a hurry to bite your head off, then connect with him by talking about something else – briefly – before you pitch him.

For example, I called into a company and the hold music was the rock song, “Sweet Home Alabama.” When the prospect picked up the phone, I immediately complimented him on the hold music and asked him if that was his personal choice. He said it came with the phone system and we talked about the song briefly. Only after that did I tell him who I was and begin my pitch.

This technique also works well with subjects like the weather (is it hailing there, too?), and the day of the week “I hope Monday is treating you O.K.” or “I don’t know about you, but I’m happy it’s Friday…”

By the way, it’s always best to lead off with these kinds of rapport building techniques before you announce your name and company name. If you announce first, then you’ve put the “salesman” target on your forehead and it’s too late. But the key is you must have the right personality to do this with. If you try this with a driver, your call will end right there…

4) Be absolutely prepared to overcome the “I wouldn’t be interested,” blow off. You must have an effective comeback to that blow off memorized and be ready to rapid fire it off, because if you get that from a “C” level exec, then you’ve got a nano-second to recover.

I like something along the lines of: “That’s fine and I’m not trying to sell you something today. Instead, I think I have an alternative solution for you r (XYZ), and just want to find the best way to show it to you – believe me, you’ll be happy you learned about it…”

5) “Briefly” is a word that gives you the best shot of giving your next couple of sentences. Try: “_________, thanks for taking the call, briefly, what I’m calling you about is….” And then make it BRIEF. Get to a question quickly to either engage your prospect or give him the chance to tell you he’s still not interested or he’s not the right guy/gal, etc..

The point is to engage your prospect – not talk at them.

6) Let your prospect talk! After you’ve got your two sentences in (better make them good!), it’s time to let your “C” level executive talk. DON’T interrupt. Hit your Mute button. These guys and gals are used to talking and to having people listen. If you do that, you’ll gain their respect and they’ll give you a chance to speak when it’s your turn (usually).

The point of all these tips is that you have to connect with your “C” level exec and meet them on their level. You can’t just go into your pitch at your own speed and expect them to politely listen. They won’t.

But if you follow the above techniques, you’ll at least separate yourself from all your competition who is calling them, and you’ll have the best chance of actually connecting with them and having a chance to get your value statement across.

How to Overcome the “We are Handling That In House”

If you are trying to set appointments for an outside sales team, or even if you’re trying to generate leads so you can do an over the phone demo later, then you know all about put offs and stalls. While I’ve previously discussed the common ones like, “I’m not interested,” and “Just email me something,” there others that are somewhat harder to overcome…

One of the more frequently encountered objections is “We handle that in house so we don’t need you.”

Many sales reps are taught the normal, “old school” approaches of things like:

“That’s fine, but when was the last time you did an apples to apples comparison to what it might run you if you outsourced that?”

OR

“But if I could show you a way to save money, then surely you’d want to know more about it, wouldn’t you?”

While either of these responses can be used effectively in the right situation, there is a better way to handle this objection. What you want to do is offer value in your visit or demo, and then leave it up to your prospect to decide if it’s worth taking your call or visit any further after you have.

Try the following rebuttal (obviously, customize this to your particular service or product):

Objection: “We handle that in house.”

“That’s fine – glad you have a way that’s working for you now. Here’s what I’d recommend you do though: I’d be happy to drop by and show you how we’d go about taking care of that for you, and what our processes would look like.

At the end you may still choose to keep doing it the way you are, but at least you’d have a different perspective on it and you may even find some ways to save money or time. The visit wouldn’t take long and everyone we visit with finds a benefit.

What’s a good time for you next week…”

As you can see here, you’re not pitching necessarily, instead you’re offering to enlighten them as to a better way. What they do after that is up to them.

Try using this for the next couple of weeks and see if you can get past prospect’s natural resistance to setting up a meeting. If you use it consistently, you’re going to set more appointments, open more doors and close more sales.

In Sales The Most Important Thing to Say is….

I know, it’s a catchy and kind of a trick title, isn’t it?

And when I ask audiences what they think it is, they guess things like:

“Asking for the sale!”

“When would the customer like delivery?”

“How many units do they want?”

Things like that. All these are good guesses – they are all closing questions and these are arguably the most important things to say, but the number one most important thing to say is…

Nothing.

That’s right, remaining silent after asking a qualifying question or using a tie down or a trial close, or – and this is especially difficult for most sales reps – when the prospect gives an objection (because a prospect will often explain his or her reasoning), and so remaining silent at these moments actually is your most powerful tool.

The reason for this is that your prospect or customer has all the answers as to why they’ll buy or not buy, as to what you need to say to steer them towards the close, and to what objections or obstacles you need to overcome – and how to overcome them.

The problem for 90%+ of sales people is that they want to talk instead of suffer through what they interpret as an uncomfortable silence. But it is just this silence that will always encourage your prospect to reveal more, and the more they reveal the more insight and leverage you’ll have to close the sale.

So how can you get good at not saying anything? Simple: use your mute button. For most reps, the mute button is something they seldom use (do you even know where yours is?), and if they do occasionally use it, it’s to put a prospect on hold to get some information or look something up.

But for top sales producers, the mute button is the most powerful button on the phone. Here’s how to use it:

#1: First of all, locate it, start practicing using it – you know, get comfortable with the time delay (if any) between when you turn it on and turn it off. Reassure yourself that there is no ‘clicking’ noise and that it is absolutely seamless.

#2: Know when to use it. This is simple, actually. Whenever you ask a question of a prospect, hit your mute button. DO NOT unmute yourself until your prospect is done with his/her thought and done speaking.

In fact, put a two to three second delay between when you think they are done and when you unmute. This is crucial…

Special Tip Here: Contrary to what you think, your prospect does not need to hear your ‘um’s’ and ‘uh’s’ to evidence you’re listening. The more absolute quiet there is, the more comfortable they’ll feel – and the more they will talk.

#3: Get in the habit of encouraging them to talk even more by unmuting yourself (after they are done) and asking, “Oh?” or “What else?” or “What do you mean exactly?” Then mute yourself again and let them answer.

#4: Take notes while they talk. Write down any words or phrases they say and make it a point to feed these back to them later in the conversation. This will show them you are actively listening, and they will be more receptive to common words and phrases they use often.

#5: The mute button is good for prospecting calls as well! Don’t just use it during the close. In fact, your tip is that whenever your prospect is talking, you need to be on mute.

The treasure of information you’ll get by listening and not interrupting is beyond valuable. Not only will you get the exact reasons and motives needed to close the sale (or objections to avoid or overcome), but you’ll get something else just as valuable: You’ll gain trust and confidence.

Everyone loves to be heard; loves to be listened to. Most sales people are distrusted and disliked because they are pushy and make it seem as if it’s all about them. You can immediately reverse this by becoming a great listener.

Quick last story: Just the other day I was speaking with a new prospect and, employing the mute button, the call went for an hour and forty minutes. The prospect probably talked for an hour and fifteen minutes of that time.

When the call finally ended, he told me how much he enjoyed the conversation and how much he was looking forward to the next call. And all I did was ask pointed questions and then listened while on mute…

So there you have it: the most important thing to say in sales is…..nothing!