Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Eight)

In Top Characteristic Part Eight, we’re going back to cold calling and qualifying to reveal an important skill all top producers possess:

Top Characteristic Part Eight: Treat all gatekeepers with courtesy and respect.

If you have to make cold or warm calls to prospects, then you probably have to deal with your share of gatekeepers. These can be receptionists, office managers, assistants, etc. No matter what role they have, whoever stands between you and your prospect is someone you have to deal with first.

Most sales people struggle to effectively deal with and get past these so called “gatekeepers.” And the majority of the time, the problems they have they bring on themselves. The reason is because most sales reps treat these people as obstacles to get past by using tricks or by acting authoritatively or by being downright rude. And you can imagine how that goes.

In addition, many sales people simply don’t understand some basic rules in regards to how to speak to gatekeepers, and so they create their own problems by giving incomplete information which just triggers the gatekeepers to do their job and keep them away from the decision maker.

Here is a common mistake:

Rep: “Oh hi, is Mr. Jones in?”

Gatekeeper: “Can I tell him who’s calling?”

Rep: “This is Bob.”

Gatekeeper: “Bob who?”

Rep: “Bob Smith.”

Gatekeeper: “With what company?

Rep: “The XYZ company.”

Gatekeeper: “Will he know what this call is regarding?”

Rep: “Ah, it’s about his (whatever the rep is selling…)”

Gatekeeper: “Has he spoken to you before?”

Rep: “Ah, no……”

Once a sales rep gets into that kind of dialogue with a gatekeeper, they will rarely win. Over and over again they will get turned away.

The way to fix all this is easy: Always give your first and last name and the company you’re calling from right away. And this is crucial: always end with an instructional statement like: “Is Bob available please.”

And by the way that’s crucial, too: always be polite and use please – two or three times.

Here’s an effective opening:

Rep: “Hi could I speak with Bob please?

Gatekeeper: “Can I tell him who’s calling?”

Rep: “Yes please, please tell him that (your first and last name) with (your company name) is holding please.”

If you do this right and with a smile in your voice, you’ll avoid 80% of the screening that you get now. Guaranteed.

In addition, if you don’t know a contact’s name, use the “I need a little bit of help, please,” technique. But always wait for them to respond before you ask for it:

Rep: “Hi, I need a little bit of help please.”

[Now pause long enough the gatekeeper to respond]

Gatekeeper: “What do you need?”

Rep: “I need to speak with the person who handles your _________. Who would that be, please?”

This is very effective if again you say it with a smile in your voice.

Last technique: Speaking of a smile, always put a BIG smile on your face right before your prospect (or gatekeeper) picks up the phone. It does wonders for how you project your attitude and opening line.

And, don’t be afraid of building a little bit of rapport with the gatekeeper as well. Ask them if they’re happy it’s Friday, or how Monday is going, or if they’re glad it’s hump day. Ask about the weather. Anything to be personable and to show them that you value them as people rather than just an obstacle to get around.

The bottom line is that top producers know how to interact with gatekeepers and know how to gain their trust and get them on their side. By using the techniques above, you can now begin doing that as well.

Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Seven)

How many times do you ask for the sale during a close? Once? Twice? The number of times you should be asking might surprise you…

Top Characteristic Part Seven: Be prepared to ask for the sale five times – or more!

Most sales reps I listen to (while reviewing their closing and presentation calls), ask for the sale once. If they are get a stall or objection, they generally go away in defeat. It’s rare that I hear someone ask for the sale more than three times. Think about that for yourself. How many times do you ask for the sale before you give up?

Years ago I was taught that the close doesn’t even begin until the prospect has said no at least five times! I was taught that in order to win the sale, I needed to show enthusiasm and confidence, and that I needed to be persistent and show that I believed in the reason the prospect should buy more than he/she believed that she shouldn’t.

Now please don’t misunderstand me here. I can just hear some of you complaining that you don’t want to be a telemarketer, you don’t want to be an obnoxious sales person, don’t want to be unprofessional or pushy. Good, because I don’t want you to be either.

But what I’m talking about is something completely different. Let me explain:

To start with, you must be working with a qualified prospect. One who has a legitimate interest in your product or service, has a need, is a decision maker, has the budget, etc. This is the first step. If you don’t have any of these things and you begin closing five times or more, then guess what? You’re going to become a pushy sales person.

But if you do have all these qualifiers in place, then you can feel confident that you’re dealing with someone who can and will benefit from your product or service. And if that’s true, then it’s up to you to present value, overcome stalls and objections, and ask for the sale five or six or even seven times or more.

You have to remember that many times a prospect is on the fence, and the only way to push them off it (and onto your side), is to be persistent and overwhelm any doubt or hesitation they have with your belief, confidence and enthusiasm. Here’s how you do it:

First, you have to have solid and proven rebuttals to all of the common stalls or objections you’re going to get. You must know these responses inside and out so you’re not put off when you get them. So many sales reps act like a deer caught in a headlight when they get an objection. Many give up as soon as they do.

You can (and must) avoid that defeated feeling be being prepared with a rebuttal that not only addresses the concern, but that then leads you back into building value. In other words, you need a way back into your pitch. You can use something as simple as:

“I totally understand how you feel – it does seem that way at first, but actually the way it works is that…”

And then continue to build value or discuss a benefit and give them a further reason to buy! And once you’ve answered the objection, you must confirm your answer with: “Do you see how that works?” (In other words, use a tie-down.)

And if you get a yes, then you ask for the order: “Then here’s what I recommend we do…”

And BOOM! You’ve just asked for the sale again! And when you then get another objection or stall, you answer it, confirm your answer and ask for the sale again!

This is the long lost art of closing the sale. You must be prepared to keep pitching, keep building value, and keep asking for sale – five, six seven or even ten times.

Now again, for any of you rolling your eyes, you obviously need to be in tuned with each prospect and if someone is getting upset or really isn’t going buy or commit right then, then you back off. Of course you can still try getting back into the close with something like:

“You know ________, I love to learn: do you mind telling me why?”

Keep trying to reopen the sale.

If you are willing to do what the other sales reps are not going to do, then I recommend you get your favorite ten or fifteen closes together to handle the five to eight common objections you always get (see Top Characteristic Number Two). Then you’ll memorize them and be ready to deliver them automatically and perfectly.

Once you do, you’ll then be able to persevere and ask for the sale over and over again. And when you do, something amazing will begin to happen: You’ll begin closing more deals. You’ll begin closing prospects who you would have given up on before. Your confidence will go up. Your weekly checks will go up.

And before you know it, you’ll have arrived.

You’ll suddenly be in the top 20% of your company, and as you revise your pitch and get better and better, you’ll move into the top 5%.

And then the top 1%.

And once you’re at the top, you’ll wonder how you ever did it any other way.

Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Six)

Top Characteristic Part Six is difficult for many sales people to develop and practice, yet it’s one of the most important of skills to cultivate. And it is:

Top Characteristic Part Six: Learn to build rapport before, during and after a sale.

While most people think that sales people have the “gift of gab” and can seemingly talk to anybody, it’s not that way at all. If you don’t believe me, just listen to a few of your own recordings or those of your teammates…

The truth is, knowing how to honestly and naturally build rapport with someone takes a lot of skill, practice and patience. Unfortunately, most sales reps are in a tremendous hurry to get their pitch out and so they treat many prospects as an obstacle to go through to get a sale.

This is a big problem.

Years ago, my first sales manager (my older brother, Peter), taught me an important lesson. As I rushed through a pitch to qualify and then tried to close people, he told me that I was missing out on the most important thing – connecting with and treating people with respect and with genuine interest.

He told me, “Michael, these are people you’re speaking with. Treat them as such and you’ll go much further than you are now.”

It took a while for me to lower my guard and overcome my fear of rejection, but as I got more successful, I began to develop a genuine interest in the people I was speaking with. Once I remembered that they had lives, responsibilities, fears and goals just like me, it made talking to them, rather than at them, so much easier.

And once I did that, it was much easier to build real rapport.

You’ve probably all heard the saying that people buy from people they like, know and trust, right? When selling over the phone, learning how to develop genuine rapport will help get someone to like, know and begin to trust you.

There are three areas that you can learn to develop rapport: before (during the initial qualifying call), during (during the close or presentation), and after (once your prospect becomes a client).

Here are some tips on how to build rapport during all three stages:

1) On the prospecting call. This is perhaps the hardest time to do this because your prospect doesn’t know anything about you other than that you’re a sales rep trying to sell them something. This is when their defenses are the highest.

The way to build rapport during this phase is to concentrate on relating with them right in the beginning – before you start pitching. You do this by asking any number of things like how the weather is (“Is it still over a 100 degrees there?”), or by asking how the new conversion or transition is going, or if they’re super busy now that it’s Monday, or if they’re relieved that it’s Friday. Find some common ground and build some rapport around it before you launch into your pitch. Your goal is to try to build a connection before you put your sales person’s hat on.

One good way to do this also is to develop a touch point plan of leaving voice mails and sending emails if you’re not able to reach someone right away. By leaving a carefully constructed series of messages beforehand, you can start your conversation by asking if they received your messages and if they’ve had a chance to read them yet. If not, then build rapport as above before you go into your pitch.

Building rapport this way takes a little practice, but if you truly become interested in each and every person you speak with, they’ll feel it and you’ll separate yourself from all the other sales reps just trying to sell them. Believe me, this will pay dividends…

2) Build rapport during your presentation. Most sales reps are in a hurry to get through their pitch so they can see if a prospect is going to buy or not. This is not only bad technique but it is also rude.

Top producers, on the other hand, continue their interest in their prospect and concentrate on having a conversation throughout their presentation rather than making their pitch a monologue. The way you do this is by putting lots of tie downs, open ended questions and even trial closes into your presentation. Your goal should be to check in with and involve your prospect in a conversation rather than give a pitch.

An example of this is by checking in with your prospect after you’ve given a benefit or explained how something works. Asking things like, “How would that fit in with what you’re doing,” or “Would that help you?” is a good start.

Using open ended questions is good, too. Instead of asking, “Are you with me?” you should ask, “What questions do you have for me so far?”

By building rapport in this way, you also begin getting an idea of how interested or engaged your prospect is. The more engaged they are, the better your chances of advancing the sale.

Spend some time this week to rewrite your demo or presentation giving your prospect opportunities to acknowledge, engage and ask lots of questions. The more rapport you can build during the close, the better.

3) After the sale. Many sales reps are surprised to hear this, but aftercare of a new client is just as important as getting one to begin with. Most sales forget a client once their check is in, but top producers know that right after a prospect has purchased is the best time to either up sell them or get a referral.

And the way you do this is by once again having a conversation and expanding upon your rapport. Get in the habit of calling your new clients a week or so out just to see how they’re doing. Offer any assistance and continue to develop a relationship with them.

If you have a chance to offer an additional service or product, do so. If not, then have your referral script handy.

Also, consider drip marketing to your new customer by using a greeting card system such as Send Out Cards. The more you can “touch” your new client, the stickier they are going to become and the more likely you’ll be able to do more and longer term business with them.

In conclusion, building rapport seems to be a lost art for many sales people. This is why most people (yourself included) hate getting calls from sales reps. But top producers know the value in treating people with respect and with genuine interest.

By doing so, you can not only develop a long and loyal customer base, but you can begin to enjoy what you do more as well. Sounds like a win/win to me.

Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Five)

In today’s ongoing series of the “Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers,” I’m going to give you a powerful way to open your closes. This is a technique that top producers use all the time, but that most sales reps are afraid of using.

If you do this right, however, you’ll have the confidence to ask for and get the sale the majority of the time. It is:

Top Characteristic Part Five: Requalify your prospect at the beginning of your closing presentation.

Let’s start with how most sales reps give a closing presentation or demo. Most sales reps get a prospect on the phone and then go through a long winded presentation, seldom checking in, and then at the end vaguely asking for the order with a weak statement like:

“So what do you think?”

A client of mine once described his sales team as “spraying and praying.” They “sprayed” a long presentation, and then at the end “prayed” the prospect was onboard and wanted to buy.

If that’s how you’re doing it now, then you know how sick of a feeling it is to finally ask for the deal (and usually be turned down).

Top producers handle this in a very different way. First, top producers get much better quality leads out because they follow Top Characteristic Number Four of fully qualifying their leads.

Next, when they get a prospect back on the phone, before they jump into their demo or presentation, they take the time up front to requalify their prospect so there are no surprises when it comes to asking for the sale at the end.

What they are requalifying for are things like decision making ability of the person they are pitching, the timeline for making the decision (especially using a trial close like: “And if at the end you like what you see today, is this something you can move forward with?”), and any other qualifying areas that weren’t covered during the qualifying call.

Here is a list of some sample questions you can ask at the beginning of your presentation:

“I know you mentioned last time that you were particularly interested in learning about ________. Is there any other area you wanted to see today?”

AND

“You mentioned that you were the one who would decide on something like this – is that still the case?”

AND

“I know you said you wanted to find a solution as soon as possible, so let me ask you: if this is everything you’re looking for, are you prepared to move on this today?”

AND

“You know ________, we talked about the range of investment being between $10,000 to $50,000 depending on which program you went with. If you do like this today, what kind of commitment are you thinking of making?”

AND

“I’m happy we have some time to go over how all this works and let me ask you: If after you see all this you agree this is what you’re looking for, is this something you can give me the go ahead to put to work for you today?”

If some of these questions seem daunting to you, it’s probably because you haven’t been thoroughly qualifying your prospects to begin with. You may be more used to the “spray and pray” model.

I’m here to tell you that you’ll close more deals, avoid more frustration, and confidently close more deals if you begin requalifying your prospects up front.

The benefits of doing this are many. To start with, if you find that a prospect isn’t going to make a decision at the end but rather has lots of concerns or objections already, then you can adjust your pitch accordingly. You can shorten it or ask for their main interests points and address those first. Then after you’ve answered any questions, you can begin overcoming some of the obstacles or ascertaining if this is a prospect who is ever going to close or not.

If you find that most of your prospects aren’t going to make a decision at the end of your presentation, then you can go back to your qualifying script and put in more definite questions so you get better qualified leads for your next closes.

On the other hand, if you find out that your prospect is indeed ready to go, then you can use more tie downs and trial closes during your presentation and then confidently ask for and get the sales sooner.

Either way, you’ll know where you stand at the beginning of your pitch and what you’ve got to do to win the deal.

Take some time this week to restructure the opening of your presentation or demo and put some of the requalifying questions you’ve read above. Or, adapt some of your own. The more you ask these kinds of questions, the stronger of a closer you’ll become.

And one last note: Don’t be afraid that you’re going to scare off buyers by doing this. Know one thing: buyers will respond to these kinds of questions. Only non-buyers will give you trouble, and wouldn’t you rather know up front who is going to buy and who isn’t?

Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Four)

In today’s ongoing series of the “Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers,” I’m going to introduce you to one of the main differences between the Top 20% of sales producers versus the other 80%.

And in a sentence it is this: “You can’t close an unqualified lead.”

Top Characteristic Part Four: Thoroughly qualify each and every prospect and client before you set up your close or demo or run your appointment.

I’ll start with a story: I was in the Bay Area giving a training to a group of tech sales reps, and I was talking about what makes up a qualified lead and how important it is. I went over the six things you need to know about each prospect before you set up a close, and then I covered specific scripted questions (along with rebuttals for any resistance) and how to get this information.

The sales reps sat around the conference table with a look of wonder on their faces. Only one person in the back of the room was smiling broadly and nodding his head up and down. Turns out he was a new rep who had just joined the team after working for IBM.

After I was done with the qualifying piece of the training, this rep raised his hand and told the following story:

“I know exactly what you’re talking about in terms of fully qualifying leads before setting them up for a demo or appointment. In fact, the number one rep in our division at IBM had a team of “qualifiers” who would make the initial calls and then turn the leads over to this guy for his approval.

“This rep (we’ll call him Brad), had put together a “qualifying checklist” of ten items he demanded his qualifiers ask, and if they turned a lead over without at least eight of the questions answered, he’d turn the lead back over and tell them to call back and get the rest of the questions answered.

“Now here’s the thing,” this rep said, now almost shaking with enthusiasm. “All the other reps would have been happy if three or four of the questions had been answered. We’d all of considered that a good lead to call!

“But not Brad. Brad wouldn’t waste his time with what he called, “non-qualified leads” because he said he didn’t need the practice of trying to close sales. He said he’s only interested in pitching and closing qualified leads.”

And then he dropped the bomb that made believers out of all the other sales reps in attendance:

“And the thing was, Brad was the number one producer in our division and grossed over one million dollars a year in commissions!”

And that’s the characteristic you need concentrate on with each and every prospect or “lead” you generate. You have to make sure they are fully qualified. Ask this about every lead before you set a demo or appointment:

1) Why will this person buy? What’s their specific buying motive? Hot buttons?
2) Why won’t this person (or company, etc.) buy? What’s the likely objection that will kill the deal?
3) Who are all the decision makers? What is this person’s role?
4) Timeline! What is the decision process like? How long will it take? How many hoops do you need to jump through? How soon – or how long – are they going to take to make a decision on this?
5) Competition. Who are you competing against? Is their old supplier or vendor still in the mix? Why would they choose you?
6) Budget. What is your prospect or client looking to spend? Is your solution perceived as having enough value to justify your cost? If not, how can you build that?

These are the six basic qualifiers that you need to know about every lead before you enter the closing area. There may be more given your particular sale, and if so, you’d better create your own “qualifying checklist” and make sure that you know this information well in advance.

If, for some reason, you didn’t learn everything on the first call, then consider strongly “requalifying” at the beginning of your close or demo. Ask these questions at the beginning of the call so you’ll have the leverage you’ll need to confidently close later.

There is a reason Brad wasn’t interested in attempting to close leads that weren’t completely qualified. He knew the basic rule of sales: You can’t close an unqualified lead.

So stop trying! Fully qualify upfront and watch your closing ratio soar.

Top Ten Characteristics of Top Sales Producers (Part Three)

Last week, in Top Characteristic Number Two, I introduced the concept of scripting out the very best responses to the selling situations and objections you get into 80 to 90% of the time. I urged you to practice, drill and rehearse these responses until they become automatic.

The point here is that you are practicing the right responses.

You see, the thing about practice is that it doesn’t make perfect, as everyone has heard. Practice only makes permanent. And that’s why underperforming sales reps and sales team remain stuck in unsatisfactory results. They keep doing and saying the wrong things over and over again.

The truth is this: Only practice of perfection makes perfect.

That’s why Characteristic Number Two is so important. Only by practicing the right responses will you achieve perfection in sales. And this leads us to Number Three:

Top Characteristic Number Three: Record and critique your calls every day.

A top telemarketing sales trainer, Stan Billue, first introduced me to this concept. He said that nothing could help you double your income in 90 days faster than recording and critiquing your calls daily.

He also said that most sales reps would not be willing to do this (and he’s right). But, he said, if you are willing to do it, then you will quickly move into the Top 20% of the selling professionals in your company and industry (he was right there, too!).

By the way, all professionals record their performances and then use them to improve. Think about how much time football players spend watching game film, or dancers spend watching film of their practices and performances, or actors and directors watching a previous day’s shoot, etc.

Every professional records, critiques and gets better by analyzing and improving their performance using some kind of recording device. You need to as well.

Once I made a commitment to recording my calls, I was quickly amazed by how much I was missing, and I think you will be, too. Here are some things to be on the look-out for:

1) How well did you listen to your prospect or client? This is huge because once you begin hearing yourself on a sales call, you’ll be amazed by how much and how quickly you start talking. Often talking over your prospect.

2) Did you hear what your prospect or client was saying or did you just hear what you wanted to hear? Clients and prospects are always trying to tell us what’s important to them, but most of the time we never hear it. When you begin listening to your calls, you’ll see the need to begin using your Mute Button so you hear the buying signals – and the potential objections.

3) Did you ask all the right qualifying questions? Most sales don’t close because prospects just aren’t qualified to begin with. By listening to what questions you are missing, you’ll be able to strengthen your calls on the front end, thereby producing more qualified leads to close later on.

4) Did you follow your best practice script, or did you fall back on your old habits of ad-libbing. Following a new script is hard! Our tendency is to fall back on our old scripts and start shooting from the hip. By recording yourself, you’ll begin to hold yourself accountable.

5) When answering an objection, did you end by asking for the order or did you simply talk past the close? This is a big one as well because many sales reps are afraid of asking for the order for fear of getting more objections. But asking for the deal is crucial and must be done over and over again…

6) Did you introduce an objection by talking too much? This will give you shivers the first time you hear yourself doing it.

7) How about tie downs and trial closes? Most sales reps love to talk. It’s a bad habit because in inside sales, you have no idea what your prospect is thinking – unless you stop to ask them. By recording yourself, you’ll get an idea of how much you’re talking, and how much you’re listening.

8) Are you improving? This is big because we all need reinforcement. You need to hear yourself getting better, celebrate your improvement and see the benefits of all the work you’re doing to get better. By recording yourself, you’ll be able to do just that.

9) How is your tone, your pacing and your energy? All of these things are crucial on a call, and if you’re not objectively listening to yourself, you have no way of correcting yourself.

10) You’ll find many other ways to improve as well – ways that would never occur to the other 80%.

As you begin listening to yourself, you’ll find that it’s painful in the beginning. Nobody likes to hear the sound of their own voice, and no one likes to hear how bad they usually are. But soon you’ll be happy you did, because nothing pays off faster than practicing this crucial characteristic.

The easiest way to start is to pick a partner at work and begin listening to each other’s calls during lunch. Get a buddy and make a commitment to tearing each other apart (all in fun!), but be ruthless in your effort to get better. What you’ll find is that when you’re back on the phone, just before you go off script or talk over someone, you’ll see your buddy’s face and you’ll hit Mute to avoid making a mistake that your buddy will point out later…

As soon as you can, find a way to record and download your recordings for playback and critique. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll leapfrog over your competition!