Sorry, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Practice doesn’t make perfect,

only practice of perfection makes perfect.

–Anonymous

This is one of my favorite sayings, and I love to use it during training or during a speaking event. I ask the audience how many people think that practice makes perfect, and you should see the hands shoot up! Everyone has heard this saying since they were kids, and most people believe it is true. And you should see the look on their faces when I tell them it’s not.

As they slowly put their hands down, I tell them that practice only makes permanent. If you practice something wrong – a golf swing, a sales rebuttal, etc. – you’re going to get really good at doing it wrong. In fact, it will be easy for you to be bad at something automatically, you won’t even have to think about it!

Unfortunately, whenever I go into a company and listen to their pitch, or the way they handle objections, or open their calls, I hear it. Many sales teams, and sales reps, are practicing poor selling techniques over and over again. And because they get into the same situations over and over again, they just keep saying and practicing the poor techniques.

And this is why they don’t see the consistent results they want. Think about it: If your prospect tells you at the end of your demo that they need to talk to their partner or spouse before they can make a decision, the right response isn’t, “Okay, when do you think I can call you back?” That is practicing a poor selling skill, and the result is a lot of calls backs and chasing unqualified leads.

The proper response – and the way to practice perfection in this instance – is to isolate this stall by saying, “I understand and you should speak with them. And if, after you do, they tell you to do what you think is best, then based on what we’ve just gone over, what would you tend to do?”

By isolating this stall – rather than buying into it – you’ll soon learn that any answer other than, “I’d do it,” means that asking their so-called partner or spouse isn’t the real objection. There is something else holding them back, and until you uncover and deal with that first, then you are just going to get stalled by this objection over and over again.

Practicing poor selling skills has another danger as well. It also ingrains poor techniques and turns them into habits. And habits are very hard to break. In fact, when teaching a team new and better selling techniques, one of the biggest challenges is getting them to first “un-learn” their old, ineffective habits. While they may do well in the first week or two with the new approach I teach, soon, if they’re not diligent, they can drift back to their old habits and poor skills.

That’s why constant, ongoing work and commitment is required in the first 90 days to make sure they learn and adopt the new habit of a best practice technique.

The good news is that by concentrating on practicing perfection, you’ll not only get better results – and what better reinforcement is there? – but you’ll also develop better habits. Soon, if you really stay focused and keep practicing your new techniques, it will be easy for you to succeed in the selling situations and objections you get into over and over again. And then soon, it will be like you to do things well and become a top producer.

And that’s when selling become easy, and your career becomes much more rewarding.

First We Form Habits, Then They Form Us

“First we form habits, 

then they form us.”

–Bob Moawad, Edge Learning Institute

I just worked with a great inside sales team in Louisville, KY (hi Kathy, Darryl and the team!), and this week they begin working with a new, best practice approach that is going to make them much more successful. I’m excited for them! At the close of each day of training, I told them that the biggest challenge isn’t going to be learning the new scripted approach (although that will definitely take some effort), but rather it will be in unlearning their old habits.

Now don’t get me wrong, habits are a good thing and without them we couldn’t get much done. In fact, the great thing about forming a habit is that once you do, you can rely on it almost unconsciously and so devote your time and energy to other things. Just think about driving your car. Once you learn how, you no longer have to take the time to learn how to pull out into traffic, change lanes, or learn how to parallel park. You just get in and your habit of driving takes over!

When you come to think about it, our lives are made up of a series of habits: habits of eating and exercise, of communicating with other people, family members, etc., and hundreds of other routines of living (think about brushing your teeth – do you floss?). Just imagine how much more difficult life would be if you had to learn all these things over every day!

So habits are a wonderful thing – if they are good ones. Unfortunately, we also can develop bad habits. Once, when I was working onsite for a few months many years ago, I got in the habit of visiting the food truck at the 10:00 A.M. break. They had the most delicious French Fries with a tangy salt, and I developed the habit of having them every day. Well, after three months I had put on almost five pounds.

That’s when I remembered today’s quote. What I found was that the French Fries habit I had formed was suddenly forming me! And when you think about it, all habits work the same way. And this is especially true in sales. If we develop poor prospecting habits, then we create unqualified prospects and appointments. This leads to a low closing percentage. If we develop an aversion to asking for the order, then we tend to create a lot of call backs.

Because many sales teams have developed bad selling habits, the first thing they need to do is unlearn the bad habits before they can learn newer, better ones. Here are three tips for doing just that:

  • The first thing you want to do is make sure it is easy for you to adopt the new habit of a better approach. In the case of learning a new scripted sales approach, I always like to use the Adele example. How many of you know the words to the song, “Hello”? Lots of you, right? That’s because you’ve heard it a hundred times!

The best way to learn a new script is to record yourself practicing it into a recording device (all smart phones have one), and then commit to listening to your recording 30 to 40 times. If you do that, then using them will become an easier habit for you.

  • Record yourself. Because habits are mostly unconscious, we often don’t even know when we’re using them! By recording yourself, and then listening to your recordings daily, you will become aware of what you’re saying, and you’ll have the ability to change that.
  • Reward yourself when you use the new scripted approach. When you catch yourself using the new scripts, give yourself some positive reinforcement. Hit a “That was easy” Staples button (get one for your desk), or use positive affirmations to support yourself. I used to say to myself, “See, I knew I could do it. And watch this, I’m going to do it again!”

Just know that the good news is that once you displace an old habit with a more effective one, the new one will take on a life of its own as well. That’s why top sales producers remain top sales producers regardless of what company they work for or what product or service they are selling.

So commit to learning a better practice approach in your sales environment, and then commit to developing it into a habit. When you do, you’ll find that your new habit will soon be forming a more successful and productive you!

Managing Millennials

Sales management has always been a balancing act between supporting people to achieve more, and pushing them to go beyond what they think they are capable of. In today’s environment of motivating, encouraging and driving performance from the “so-called” millennial generation, there is even more to balance.

Today’s millennials are an interesting blend of being super smart, intuitive, and demanding. Many feel they deserve more than they have perhaps earned yet – more money, a promotion, or even part ownership of the company after 6 months. You know, just like many of us did!

The bottom line is that in many ways millennials are not all that different than the way any other generations were, they are just more vocal about it. And good for them. I’m all for promoting, encouraging, and having people on my staff who feel they can do more.

When it comes to managing this part of the work force, some interesting challenges emerge. Some managers try to fit in with the millennial group (or are even millennials themselves), and they try to lead by getting others to like them. Managers who do this frequently lose their ability to direct their teams because they are afraid of exercising authority for fear of alienating their team members.

The problem is that most managers and other figures of authority — Directors, V.P.’s, and even Business Owners — have never been taught how to properly exercise authority and command respect as leaders.

If you find yourself in this position, follow this proven, 5-step method for exercising authority. It will not only get results, but it will establish, or re-establish, your role as leader of your sales team or department – regardless of their generation.

#1) Make sure your instructions are clear. Having ambiguous goals, or methods of achieving them, automatically undermines your authority and dooms many projects from the beginning. Rule #1 — be clear on the goal and the instructions on how to accomplish it. After you have delivered them, ask your team if they have any questions about what is required, so problems can be cleared up from the beginning.

#2) Encourage people to approach you if they run into problems. Establishing open communication and feedback early on is crucial to avoid big disappointments later. Helping team members resolve problems as they arise ensures quick resolution, continued progress, and good morale.

#3) Take action quickly when you learn of any real problems. Failing to act quickly once you learn of a problem, or putting it off for days or weeks, not only undermines your authority, but also kills morale and confidence. Problems tend to get bigger the longer they go unresolved, and your job as a leader is to solve problems not avoid them.

#4) Insist your team report all the news — good and bad. So many companies treat bad news like the plague. Sales teams are taught to “always be positive,” but an attitude of “always be accurate and let’s find a way to succeed,” is more productive (and realistic). In meetings and one-on-ones, your goal should be to motivate as well as problem solve. Always encourage your team to report all the news.

#5) Use crises as an opportunity to develop people. You are a leader for a reason! Rather than shy away from a crisis (a big deal lost, unexpected bad news, major delay in delivery, etc.), teach your team members how to find opportunity in crises and how to grow as professionals and as people. Focus on the skills or attitudes that are needed to overcome the situation, and work with them to develop and strengthen them.

This 5-step method to exercising authority is powerful and will establish you as a leader and as the “Go To” person in your company. And isn’t that why you are in a position of authority to begin with? Redefine your position of leadership by using and expanding on the 5 secrets above, and involve and build your team while you lead them to greater heights.

Six Steps for Creating a Successful Inside Sales Team

Inside sales – already an important component for many company’s sales efforts – is expanding as more companies develop or add to this valuable sales channel. Here are six things to consider to insure your new sales team is effective and profitable.

#1 Define the role of your inside sales team. When considering building or adding onto your inside sales team, defining their role will guide every decision you make, including who to hire, how to compensate, and how much training and supervision will be needed. Ask yourself: Is your inside sales team going to take just inbound calls or will they make outbound, prospecting calls as well? Will the majority of their calls to be existing customers, as in either growing accounts or upselling, or will they also be responsible for bringing in new business? And what part of the sales cycle will they contribute to – appointment setting, qualifying leads or closing sales? All these considerations will help define not only the role of your inside sales team, but will make other decisions more straightforward as well.

#2 Define your sales process. CSOinsights.com reports that you can improve the performance of your inside sales team by as much as 33% if you first define your sales process. Surprisingly, many companies overlook this crucial step. Developing a defined sales process, or “DSP,” simply means that you’ve identified each step a successful sale goes through, and you’ve identified the best practices of each step. Knowing exactly what needs to happen at each step in the sales process allows you to not only teach best practice sales approaches, but it allows you to measure adherence to this best practice approach as well.

#3 Develop effective phone scripts. Effective phone scripts – that are rehearsed, internalized and delivered in a natural way – often mean the difference between a team who regularly hits their sales targets and those that don’t. Because sales is a set of skills that can be taught, learned and repeated, it’s important to give your team the tools they’ll need right from the start. Since 80% of the selling situations they run into are the same day after day, teaching your team the most effective responses to these stalls and objections, enables them to stay positive, win sales and stay empowered.

#4 Record your calls. This one tip is the essence of all successful inside sales teams. Every major company uses recordings to train, measure improvement, and help coach their teams to better performance. Sales reps find recordings especially helpful because it gives them the awareness they don’t have while they’re on the phone and in the heat of the sale. By stepping back and listening to opportunities missed, and to areas that can be improved, they’ll be able to make adjustments and get better.

#5 Learn how to onboard your new reps effectively. Many companies spend more time training on their products and services, and on their procedures, than they do preparing their new reps how to succeed on the phone. Several things you can do include intensive role-playing sessions to help prepare new reps for the selling situations they’re about to face. Also, playing recordings of other sales reps successfully handing common objections also teaches them not only to expect these objections, but it provides them with specific examples of how to overcome them. This builds confidence and helps them experience success quicker – all of which increases their chances of turning into a productive, long term hire.

#6 Give your manager the training they need. Most managers have risen through the ranks of a company, and it’s not uncommon for a top producing sales rep to find themselves promoted to sales manager. The owner’s thinking is that if they could sell well, then they should be able to teach others to do what they could do. Unfortunately, successful sales management involves many other skills besides just a knowledge of how to close a sale. People skills, leadership skills, management skills, etc. are all important components in helping a sales manager be successful at hiring, training, and growing a successful inside sales team. To prepare them for that task, you’ll need to provide your sales manager with the specific type of sales management training they’ll need.

Understanding the importance of phone scripts

We all dread it: Your phone rings at night, and you’re greeted by a person reading a script who asks you how you are doing. “Fine,” you think, “as soon as I get rid of you!” Telemarketers like this have given phone scripts a bad name, but don’t let them discourage you from the proper use of this highly effective – and crucial – tool for inside sales.

Look at this this way: for those inside sales reps who say they would never be caught dead using a script, isn’t it true that if you were to record them for a week, transcribe what they say day in and day out, and then handed it back to them, you’d find that they are using a script already? The truth is, they are saying the same thing over and over again, and that is their “script.”

The real problem with this is that what they are repeating on each call is often a bad combination of poor sales techniques. Most sales reps have never been taught how to handle objections and stalls correctly, and as such, when they get into these situations, they usually fail. Think about it: how does your team respond to someone when, after a presentation, the prospect says they need to talk to their partner or spouse or another party?

Most sales reps respond to this smokescreen stall by asking them when a good time to call back would be. Or worse, they ask to speak to the other party, completely buying in to the smokescreen and not getting to the real objection. By using proven scripts, however, sales reps can be taught to isolate this smokescreen and thereby advance the sale.

Here’s how they should handle the “I want to talk to someone else” objection:

“That’s perfectly O.K. (prospect). Just out of curiosity, if they say to do whatever you think is best, and based on what we’ve gone over just now, what would you tend to do?”

This prepared, scripted, response is geared to cut through this smokescreen objection and get the prospect to reveal how they really feel about the product or service. Any answer other than “I’d move forward” means that talking to another person is just a smokescreen. Unless it’s explored and handled here, getting back to someone usually results in a missed sale.

This brings up two important points about all sales. The first is that the great benefit about being in sales is that 80% or more of the selling situations, objections or stalls a sales rep faces are going to be the same, day after day, month after month. The benefit here is that because they know what’s coming, all it takes is a little preparation to craft and deliver an effective response to them.

But that’s a step most sales reps and management teams tend to overlook. In fact, if you record most sales reps, you’ll find that they are, for the most part, ad-libbing on the phone. Most reps are making it up as they go along, and this means their responses are seldom consistent or effective.

Scripting proven, prepared responses and training on these scripts solves this problem, enabling your inside sales team to have the proven tools they need to overcome the situations they run into most often.

The other important point in sales ties into the above. You’ve probably heard that “practice makes perfect,” right? It’s actually not true. Practice only makes permanent, and the problem with most inside sales teams is that they are practicing, day in and day out, ineffective responses to the same selling situations they get over and over again. This is why such a large percentage of sales reps fail to make their revenue numbers each month.

The answer to improved and consistent sales, and to a confident sales team that does not experience call reluctance, is to equip them with, and train them on, effective, proven scripts which they can practice, internalize and then deliver naturally. Once an inside sales rep learns how to respond effectively to the selling situations they face most often, they will be freed from
thinking about what they are going to say next. And this will allow them to begin practicing the most important sales skill of all: listening to the needs and wants of their customers.

The Three Most Important Metrics to Measure

What are your three most important metrics you measure to track and predict revenue?

That was the question I asked my LinkedIn “Inside Sales Management Group,” and the answers I received were quite interesting. Whether you’re a business owner, sales manager or even a sales rep, you know that metrics are a crucial way to measure your performance, predict revenue, and evaluate progress made. But which metrics are the most important? Before I give you my answer, let me share some of the answers I received:

One answer was: 1) Opportunities created, 2) # of times contacted, and 3) conversions, deals closed.

I thought that was an interesting answer, especially the “# of times contacted.” While I understand the opportunities created and conversion or deals closed, I don’t know that I’d include # of times contacted as one of the three most important metrics to measure. Obviously it’s important to know how much time a sales rep is spending chasing a sale, and also how effectively they are closing on each call, but I think there is a more important metric that I’ll share later on.

Another answer was: 1) Opportunities created, 2) Calls made on the accounts, and 3) Quality of the call.

This was obviously in relation to account management calls, and once again opportunities created was listed number one. The thing that I found interesting with this answer was quality of the call. As you’ll see later in the article, quality of the call, and, more specifically, how that quality is measured, is one of my top three metrics.

The most interesting answer came from VP of Sales, DJ Farnworth. Here was his answer:

1) # of open deals (times) 2) Historical win rate (times) 3) Historical ave. deal size = Pipeline. DJ said:

“One metric I’ve found very effective is: (# open deals) X (historical win rate) X (historical avg. deal size) = Pipeline. This takes some of the moving variables out of measuring just the numbers that are in the existing open deals and is based on past performance which should better indicate likelihood than a probability entered by the sales person.”

What I liked about this answer is that it seemed to most accurately predict the upcoming pipeline. I’ve sat in a lot of pipeline meetings, some worldwide even, and almost everyone in the room knows there is a lot of ‘wood’ that isn’t going to close. Getting an accurate account of what is truly likely to come in seems hard. This formula seems easy. You should try it.

O.K., now for my answer:

1) # of opportunities, 2) Close percentage 3) Script grading adherence evaluation per closing call.

#3 (Script grading adherence) is based on recording each call and grading adherence to your best practice script and scripted rebuttals. The reason is if a rep is winging it, they won’t get better and you can’t coach them. The manager’s job is to teach the best practice approach and then coach to it. Then you measure who is adhering to it and who isn’t. Every other metric (number of calls, number of contacts, trending to revenue for the month), etc., flows from that direct metric.

I always like to talk metrics with managers to see if they are measuring this very important component. Bottom line is if your reps aren’t using the best approach and handling objections and sales situations effectively, then the other metrics won’t improve much. If you ask them to make more calls, all you will get is more bad calls.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite metrics, so visit our site and submit some. In the meantime, begin listening to how your reps are performing during their call, and begin improving their delivery and technique. That’s how you automatically improve all the other metrics.

The NFL Has a Playbook, Do You?

Now that Labor Day is past, it’s time to think about getting back to work, pushing hard in September to set yourself up for the fourth quarter and….and….wait a minute. Fourth quarter? That reminds me the NFL season has just begun! Are you ready for some football? I sure am!

In preparation for the season, all 32 teams have been working hard on scripting out every play on offense, defense and special teams. They have studied the talents of their players and developed plays to maximize their strengths. They have analyzed their competition looking for tendencies and weaknesses, and they have scripted out the plays most likely to be successful against them.

After they designed these plays, they organized them into a playbook and then gave a copy to every player and coach – usually on an iPad, by the way – and they told them to study, learn and memorize every play and position during that play. It’s absolutely crucial that the players internalize each play so they react rather than think. As Dan Shula, the Superbowl winning ex-coach of the Miami Dolphins once said, “If you have to think about what to do next, it’s too late.”

An NFL playbook is a sacred thing. Most players are responsible for always knowing where their playbook is, if not to always having it with them. They bring it to every meeting they attend, take it home with them, and spend hours each day studying it. The only time they let it go is if they get cut. And no player ever wants to be told, “Coach wants to see you. Make sure and bring your playbook…”

No NFL team is without a playbook because no NFL team could be successful without it. And the same is true for a company with an inside sales department. If you own or run or are a part of an inside sales team, your playbook is your complete script book. Just like in football, your playbook also has sections. These sections include cold calling and qualifying, closing the sale and objection handling, and for call backs. It should also have a section of best emails and voice mails.

And just like in the NFL, every one of your sales reps need to study, learn and memorize every best practice response for every situation they get into. Just like in football, your sales reps need to automatically know how to handle the situations that find themselves in. When they get an objection or stall, they must automatically know how to respond. If they have to think about what to say, it’s too late!

In football, as in sales, being prepared with a proper game plan is crucial for success. No football team would just go out on a Sunday and wing it. That would be suicide for the coach and the team. Yet it’s amazing how many sales reps and sales teams do just that. Instead of taking the time to script out the best responses, they insist on ad-libbing and winging it. And then they wonder why they don’t win more sales.

To succeed in the game of sales, take a tip from the NFL – identify the selling situations your team gets into, identify every objection, question and stall, and then script out the best, most likely to succeed response to each of them. Give them to your team members and make them drill, practice and rehearse them. The most prepared team on Sunday tends to win. And the most prepared sales rep tends to close the most deals.

If you’re in sales management or an owner of an inside sales team, then it’s your responsibility to equip your team with the tools and techniques they need to win. And that starts with a playbook of scripts that will help them properly qualify prospects, overcome stalls and objections and close the sale.

Remember: No NFL team would think of entering the season without a carefully constructed playbook, and your team shouldn’t either.

Note: If you need help in writing the most effective playbook with rebuttals and scripts that really work, then contact me. I’ve written script playbooks for companies of anywhere from 25 pages to over 135 pages, and the sales teams that use them see increases of sales of as much as 34% in 90 days. Your team can, too!

Three Techniques to Make Your Sales Training More Effective

Introduction:

According to CEOInsights.com, over 48% of inside sales companies surveyed reported that they missed their monthly revenues goals more times in a 12-month cycle than they reached them. Other sales indicators like time on the phone, closing ratios, percentage to monthly goal, etc, pipeline accuracy inevitably suffered as well as sales teams struggled to make quota and reach revenue.

In addition to missing revenue numbers, many other companies indicate that the level of training, core selling skills, and overall selling talent of their sales team could be improved as well. When asked how many companies have a defined sales process in place and a specific training program to reinforce and teach those best practices, our experience tells us that less than 35% of companies have taken the time to define and implement these processes.

While you would expect an under trained sales team to lead to under performance, what is rarely considered is the toll this takes on other factors that contribute to sales decline. Getting rejected daily and repeatedly missing sales lead to a lack of confidence which in turn leads to call reluctance. Getting beaten up for missing quotas leads to poor attitudes and these attitudes spread rapidly throughout a sales organization creating an environment that becomes toxic and self perpetuating.

Is Sales Training Enough?

All companies have some form of sales training, even if it just consists of new reps shadowing senior reps for a few days before they “hit the phones.” While sales training can be graded from inefficient to very effective, there are some important points you should consider when designing your own sales training:

1) Make your overall training not only specific to your product or service, but break your training down to the various parts of your sales cycle and teach best practices for each part. For example, if your first call is simply to set an appointment or send information to a prospect, what are the five benchmarks your reps need to cover for you to consider this a qualified lead?

Having this kind of clarity all the way through your sales cycle will help not only your reps but will help your manager coach them all the way through the sale.

2) Give your reps specific, scripted responses to the sales situations they run into every day. This is the best way to empower your reps and it helps them successfully navigate the sale from beginning (getting through the gatekeeper) through to the end (getting the deal in the door).

An example would be to script out and teach them how to overcome the smokescreen objection of, “I have to show this to my boss” objection. Most sales reps don’t know how to deal with this objection so their usual response is something along the lines of, “OK, when should I get back with you?”

This simply leads to non-qualified leads that clog up pipelines.

A specific, scripted approach to this objection will teach your reps to isolate this objection to see if it’s a smokescreen or a real objection. Have them use something like this: “I understand and I think you should speak to _________. Just out of curiosity, if they say to do whatever you think is best, where are you leaning in regards to using this?”

Again, giving your reps specific tools to navigate through the sale is what is going to help them become successful.

3) Make sales training a daily event. To learn a new skill of any kind you need to reinforce it daily. We recommend running a brief sales meeting every morning to reinforce the skills and techniques that your top 20% are using successfully. Playing recordings, role playing, passing out updated scripts are all things that will help your team improve on a daily, weekly basis.

Specific Sales Solutions

In alignment with the suggestions above, here are three specific sales solutions that you can adapt and implement to immediately make your inside sales team more effective. These are proven skills that will help your team navigate past some of the common objections, brush offs and situations they encounter on a daily basis. You can use these techniques as sales meeting topics and have your team help to customize them to fit their selling situations.

Qualifying Techniques

#1 – Question the Red Flags

One of the best ways to determine who actually does make it into your sales pipeline is to make sure you avoid one of the biggest mistakes 80% of salespeople make when qualifying. And that is to overlook or not react to obvious Red Flags prospects give during the initial qualifying call.

In their haste or desperation to “generate a lead” or to “fill their pipeline,” many sales reps will hope that any possible objection they hear on the front end will miraculously go away once the prospect sees their information or product or service, etc.

But you all know from experience — it never does.

In fact, the rule for calling back leads is that:

Leads Never Get Better!

What appears to be an objection or deal killer on the front end, always is.

A sales rep told me about a prospect who wasn’t calling him back, and who (once he did reach him) told him that he was leaving the company. He wrote to me and said, “I guess intuitively I knew he wasn’t the right guy to make the decision anyway.”

And I’ll bet he intuitively knew this because he heard (but didn’t question) the Red Flags the prospect raised during the qualification call.

You can’t ignore these Red Flags! Do what the Top 20% do: As soon as you hear something that triggers your intuition or that gives you that sick feeling in your gut, stop and ask the tough qualifying questions!

Here are some examples you can begin using today:

If someone says that they usually buy from ________, but would like to see your information, ask:

“Why would you switch vendors?” Or

“How many other companies have you looked at in the last six months?”

And then: “And how many did you go with?”

If someone says that they will pass your information on to ________, say:

“Thanks. So that I make sure I’m not wasting her time it’s best that I speak with her for just a few minutes. Can you please tell her that (your name) is holding please?” (If you’re then told they are not available, make sure and get their direct line or that person’s extension and keep calling until she picks up.

If someone says that they’d be glad to look it over, ask:

“Great, after you do, and if you think that it can help you (or your business, etc.), what would the next steps be?”

And so on.

#2 Teach your reps how to avoid getting brushed off

So many times prospects aren’t really interested, but they either don’t know how or won’t come out and tell us. Instead they will say things like, “Go ahead and send me the (information, brochure, demo) and I’ll take a look.” Or, “Put that quote in writing and send it to me.”

When a top closer hears this, his/her first thought is, “I don’t have the time to do that, and I especially don’t have the time to follow up with an unqualified lead.” Here’s how they handle it and how your reps should, too:

Put off #1: “Go ahead and send me your information.”

Your response: “I’d be happy to, and if you like what you see is this something you would move on in the next couple of weeks?”

OR,

“Before I do, I want to make sure you’d be ready to act on it if you like it. Let me ask you…(qualifying questions on budget, decision-making process, etc should be asked next)”

OR,

“Sure, and after you review it, how soon would you make a decision on it?”

OR,

“And what would you need to see to say yes to it?”

Put off No. 2: “Put that quote in writing and send it to me.”

Your response: “I’d be happy to, and from what we’ve just discussed, does it sound like you’d go with it?”

OR,

“Absolutely. How does this compare with the other quotes you’ve received so far?”

OR,

“Great. Based on the quote/price I just gave you does this sound like it fits within your budget?”

Closing Technique

#3 Five Ways to Stop Talking Past the Close

Have you ever caught your reps doing this? They deliver a great presentation, think that your prospect is with them, but then they just keep on pitching.

Or, they get an objection, answer it, but then again, they just keep pitching — or worse — they go to the next rebuttal and start reading that pitch.

Talking past the close is much more common than repeatedly asking for the sale (which is what they should be doing). And why is that? It’s because it’s scary to ask for the deal and be told no. It’s much easier to keep pitching, “Maybe they’ll just cave and finally hear something they want and buy.”

Sound familiar? It should. That’s how 80% of your sales reps are pitching. They are ad-libbing, talking past the close, and even introducing new objections. What a mess!

Here are five ways to stop talking past the close, so your reps can spend more time closing, and earning the income the Top 20% do:

1) Record yourself. Before you can stop talking past the close, you first must begin hearing and catching yourself doing it. One day of recording your reps and you’ll become immediately aware of when and how they do it.

2) Use a script. One of the best parts of a well-crafted script is that it ends with your reps asking for the deal! Listen to their recordings and then craft a good response to the common objections they are getting. Then, make sure they adhere to the script.

3) Ask for the deal five times. If you give your reps a close quota of asking for the deal at least five times, then they are going to be much quicker in asking for it.

Have them keep track of this on a piece of paper using stick figures. If 20 minutes has gone by and they don’t have any marks on the paper, then you know your team is in trouble!

4) Welcome getting a no. So many sales reps are afraid of no’s, but you don’t have to be. With most sales you’ve made, you’ve probably heard some no’s along the way, so reframe the way your team thinks about them and realize the truth — each no gets you closer to a yes. So welcome getting a no. It usually means you’re that much closer to getting the sale.

5) Shut up and listen. Teach your team to be quiet after they ask for the sale. Use your mute button or cover the mouthpiece and count to five – 1/1000, 2/2000, etc. By forcing your reps to remain silent for five seconds after asking for the sale, they’ll actually have something to concentrate on rather than fear.

Conclusion

If your sales team is in the 50% of teams that aren’t making their monthly sales quotas regularly, then daily, specific sales training is your fastest way of changing that. There are other factors as well, including having a Defined Sales Process, an organized sales training program that reinforces your best practices, etc. But using and reinforcing the three techniques above will bring you and your team immediate results.

The 4 Secrets of Leadership

Can you name the one or two best sales managers, or business owners you ever worked for? If so, how did they make you feel? What qualities or traits did they have in common, or which ones do you most try to emulate in your own company?

I work with a lot of business owners and managers, and I can tell you that the most successful ones all have at least four core characters in common. Many of them possess other qualities as well, but these four “Secrets” as I call them are always at the center of their power and charisma.

As you read through them, ask yourself which ones you currently have, which ones you’d like to strengthen, or which ones you can develop. Once you master them all, you will be able to lead any team and any company to greatness.

Here they are:

#1: Unbounded Optimism. Ask any great leader to describe the future, and they will always tell you it’s a wonderful place. Leaders are extremely goal oriented, have clearly identified what it is they want and what they are willing to sacrifice to get there, and they radiate an optimistic glow because they already live there in their mind’s eye.

Because people want to feel good about themselves and their futures, they naturally gravitate to winners. People want to work for and, in fact, work harder for people who are optimistic. Plus, optimism is contagious. A great leader can often turn an organization full of negativity around, and the excitement they inspire can result in greater morale and greater results.

If you’re in a position of authority, ask yourself if you’d want others to catch your attitude. If not, then focus on ways to become optimistic – you’ll be a much more effective leader when you are.

#2: Rock Solid Confidence. Great leaders are convinced they can do anything they set their minds to. I love a saying of Napoleon Bonaparte’s : “The improbable we’ll do at once. The impossible will take a little longer.” A leader’s attitude is: Whatever the challenge, we’ll find a way to overcome it.

Confident also leaders create confident followers, and a company, family, or team with an “I Can” attitude is unstoppable. The confidence of a great leader always inspires the best performance of his/her employees, and their team’s success just adds to and confirms the leader’s confidence.

#3: Integrity. In a recent survey about what qualities employees wanted from the managers and business owners they worked for, integrity was the most desired trait people picked. Integrity, including honesty, fairness and consistency of attitude and action, are traits that build confidence in a leader and that build loyalty in the people who report to them.

Leaders with integrity genuinely care about the company they are building or the job they are doing, and this helps everybody feel as if their work has meaning and makes a difference in people’s lives. Most people spend a third of their lives at their jobs, and while we go to work for a pay check it’s the intrinsic satisfaction someone gets from their work that allows them to feel fulfilled. Leaders with a high degree of integrity help foster this feeling by setting the example.

#4: Decisiveness: All great leaders are decisive and committed to the actions they take. This doesn’t mean they act capriciously, on the contrary, they fully weigh out and think through their options, but the key characteristic is that they aren’t afraid to make a decision and implement a plan of action.

Most employees tell many tales of bosses who are afraid of making a decision, or who frequently go back on them, and this habit of hesitation undermines their authority and the confidence of everyone in the organization. Leaders, on the other hand, may not always make the right decision, but they can be counted on to make a well thought out one, and then to take action on it. If facts change or results warrant it, they are flexible enough to reevaluate and make another decision.

If you’re in a leadership role, don’t shy away from decisions. Evaluate the data at the time and the relative need of making a decision and then choose the best course of action and commit. Making a decision – even if it’s the wrong decision – is better than making no decision at all.

If you are in a position of authority and wish to become an effective leader, then find ways of developing or strengthening these four characteristics in yourself. Remember, everyone is counting on you for guidance, and it is your ability to lead that will determine the ultimate result in your team or company.

5 Elements of a "Best In Class" Inside Sales Team

Recently I was asked by a client what a best in class inside sales organization looks like. This got me thinking about all the companies I’ve worked with, and after a while I picked a client company in Canada that I believe is practicing the 5 crucial elements that define it as “Best in Class.” Before we get into these elements, here is what they do and how we started working together.

A little over a year ago, I met the C.O.O of a young company in Canada that sells HR Solutions over the phone to businesses across Canada. This company was already doing well and had been designated one of the fastest growing companies in 2010. They had a team of about 35 inside sales reps and in each of their first two years they had broken new sales records. When we met over the phone, the C.O.O. told me that they had accomplished this without any official sales structure or training and he was anxious to see what kind of growth he could accomplish by implementing proper systems and sales processes.

After an initial evaluation, we identified several key areas that we could improve and after working together for several months, we implemented the following 5 elements that would ensure his company’s continued growth and their “Best in Class” status. Here they are:

Number One: The first thing we worked on was defining his sales process. As is the case in most sales rooms, of the 35 sales reps prospecting and closing accounts, there were about 35 different ways this was being done. It took some reps 2 calls to close a deal, while other reps needed to make 4, 5 and even as many as 8 calls to close deals.

In addition, while interviewing the reps I found that there were vastly different opinions on what was needed to close a sale. Some felt that extensive emails and information was important for gaining trust and closing the sale, while others used a demo of the website to sell a prospect. Still others relied on referrals from others within the prospect company, while others couldn’t tell me what the deciding factor was. They said they just sent out information to whomever appeared to be the decision maker and then hoped for the best.

So the first thing we needed to do was to look at how the top 20% of their sales reps were prospecting and closing sales and then standardize those successful techniques into a best practice structure. We started by indentifying the bench marks in each step and then used these to define the most effective sales process. I call this building the DSP (for Defined Sales Process), and once we had that in place, we could then develop a scripted sales approach that their entire team could use to be more effective.

Number Two: Once we had the DSP constructed, we then needed to take these best practice steps and benchmarks and turn them into a useable, repeatable scripted playbook. In other words, we took each step of their best practice sales process – starting with dealing with the gatekeeper, to identifying he decision maker, building rapport, qualifying, etc. – and we scripted, word for word, each part of the sales process out.

Taking the time to comprehensively script out each part of the sales process – including best practice voice mails, emails and complete objection handling – allowed them to equip each sales rep with the most effective way of handling the sales situations they were in 80 to 90% of their day. By developing and subsequently practicing a uniform and proven sales approach, the reps were able to qualify better prospects which allowed them to close more deals in a shorter period of time.

Number Three: Once a Defined Sales Process and a scripted playbook were in place, the company was now able to better empower their front line managers and supervisors because now they had a uniform way mentoring and coaching their sales reps. Prior to this process, when the reps were adlibbing and unstructured, the style of management was reactive and inefficient. Without a standard to grade, coach and evaluate by, the managers made inconsistent progress and were generally ineffective.

This all changed, however, once both sales reps and managers were following a proven, objective sales process and scripted sales approach. During this process we developed actual script grading adherence forms so managers could regularly grade adherence to the best practice sales approach. In addition, script grading also allowed the managers to target problem areas for each rep and design very specific development plans for improvement. Because each step of the process was defined and objective, evaluating and changing performance and measuring and tracking progress of these changes was now possible.

Number Four: Once these processes were in place, the company saw the need and benefit in rearranging personnel and redefining job descriptions to better manage and train their growing sales team. Some of these changes included reducing the sales quotas of their team leads/supervisors so they could spend more time in helping their reps improve their sales skills and close deals, and in tasking their sales director with more involvement in hiring and recruiting talent. In addition, they promoted one of their human resource members into a full time sales training position – something they had never had before.

A crucial change was the creation of a qualify control person whose sole job it was to listen to and grade recordings of the sales team. Because an important component in this process was to record and grade rep’s adherence to the new sales playbook (and so analyze their sales skills and measure their improvement), it immediately became apparent that listening to 35 sales rep’s calls was a full time job. The innovative change this company made was recognizing this need and creating a position to fill it. Having a full time quality control person allowed the front line managers to spend more time on the floor working with reps and it also provided the ‘real time’ feedback on how each rep performed during the actual sale and how they were tracking in terms of improvement.

Number Five: Motivating a sales team is an important component of sustained and improved sales performance, and in this area the company deviated from the daily cash bonus and spiff model of short term motivation and instead took a longer term approach. Recognizing the need to grow the sales team and the benefit of offering its employees a more sustained career model, the company created a career advancement program that rewarded long term sales performance by promoting sales reps into different levels of responsibility and increased pay.

The company created new team lead positions, new supervisory positions and even new customer reorder departments that created new growth opportunities for performing reps. Each of these new positions became linked to bi-annual performance goals and replaced the short term bonus plans previously in place. The result was a more engaged and motivated sales force who’s focus was more on the long term goals of the company rather than the short term goals of daily production.

While a lot changed in this company’s sales structure, focus and execution, the amazing thing was they were able to make these changes in a four to six month time frame. The results in terms increased sales production were exceptional. Not only did they grow sales by over 34% in their existing department of new business, but they were able to expand their current accounts business by penetrating deeper and cross selling departments and products.

The bottom line is that when this company took the time to improve and implement these 5 elements, they were able to leverage their existing sales personnel and create a scalable model for across the board sales improvement. And that is what I call a “Best in Class” sales company.

Experienced Sales Reps – Should You Hire Them?

Who would you rather hire for your inside sales team – an experienced inside sales rep with experience selling different products or services across several companies, or someone new to sales, say a college graduate, or how about a waiter or bar tender or someone one else new to sales? The proper answer here, of course, is it depends on the individual circumstance. But as we’ll see, if the proper systems are in place, it’s usually a wiser choice to go with someone new to sales. Let’s find out why.

While conventional wisdom would lean towards hiring someone with specific inside sales experience, what common experience tells us is that that choice is rarely a guarantee of good performance. In fact, after hiring or being involved in the hiring of thousands of experienced inside sales reps, I can tell you from personal experience that it is very rare to hire an experienced sales rep who turns into someone truly exceptional. It’s more common to find mediocre sales reps who continue to produce down to their level of past production. There are many reasons for this.

To start with, most sales reps have never received the kind of sales training that leads to consistently good results. Sales training, and its constant reinforcement, is an area that is either under developed or an effective extension of product training. After initial orientation and training, most inside sales reps are left to either figure it out on their own, or to sink or swim. This leads to a lot of sales reps who develop poor sales skills that they repeat over and over again as they ad lib their way through their jobs. It’s these very same unsuccessful reps that are looking for work when they answer your job posting.

This has been my experience, and I’m not alone. In fact, in their book, “How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer” by Greenberg, Weinstein and Sweeney, the authors compared results from hundreds of thousands of assessments that were conducted over several decades with actual sales performance measurements and found:

55 percent of the people earning their living in sales should be doing something else.
Another 20 to 25 percent (of salespeople) have what it takes to sell, but they should be selling something else.

They concluded that based on these statistics, the practice of hiring experienced sales candidates will produce an unsatisfactory result as much as 80 percent of the time! That may seem a pretty dire pronouncement, but it once again rings true in my experience and, I’m willing to bet, in the experience of many of you reading this article as well.

Now before you throw your hands up in the air and decide to abandon your sales efforts completely, the good news is that there is a solution. The solution is to invest the time, money and effort in defining your sales process, developing a solid training program that teaches the best practices of your sales process, and then to give your front line managers the tools to manage your rep’s adherence to these defined sales processes. You can see a video of me describing this process on my website.

Once you build these processes, you will be in the unique position of being able to hire and successfully on board new talent into your sales team. The great thing about hiring someone new to sales is that they are a blank slate without any poor sales skills and habits. Rather than trying to undo years of poor performance and attitude, you can spend your time actually training someone the right way from the beginning. After that, your time can be spent reinforcing and measuring adherence to your best practices. The major benefit here is that you can shorten the time it takes to evaluate whether or not the person you’ve just hired has the ability and desire to succeed in your sales environment.

Another benefit of using this method is that since you are hiring people who are new to sales, you can now recruit from almost anywhere. Rather than being handcuffed to running the same old ads and attracting the same old suspects, suddenly you will be free to find and recruit new talent anywhere you go. When I was actively managing and growing a financial service team, I would carry my business cards with me everywhere and would constantly be on the lookout for people who were bright and had winning personalities. I’d chat up people working in department stores, waiters, bar tenders, and anywhere else I found engaging and motivated people. In fact, some of my top producers where found in this way.

Now, let’s get back to the question at the beginning of this article. Is it better to hire an experienced inside sales rep or someone new to sales? Again, it depends on the circumstance because you obviously don’t want to hire someone new who doesn’t have the temperament or desire, and you don’t want to not hire an experienced sales rep who might do well in your environment. The way to be successful with both of these hires is to have a solid training program and follow up mentoring and measuring system to evaluate them. Only in this way will you be able to successfully hire and develop the right candidate.