Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sales Tip: Partnering vs. Challenging

When you have an opportunity to make a sales pitch, there is a reason you have been invited. The prospect wants some help.
But the situation is not a blank slate. Prospects and customers are already equipped with ideas that they think are great. They know what their problem is, and they have decided what they think they need. At the point in time that you are making your initial sales pitch, they don’t really want your ideas. They want to know if you are the person who can help them with their ideas.
You only have a few minutes to convince someone that you would be a good “partner” in solving their problem. You must demonstrate that you can be trusted. Every prospect is consciously or unconsciously asking, “Do I want to work with this person?” If you forget this fact and initially try to impress your audience with your ideas and your solution, you are likely to fail . You may prove that you are capable and smart, but who cares? Your three minutes are up.
To make a successful sales pitch, you must be prepared to focus on their outcome and their solution, even if you see problems and pitfalls. Forgive the sports metaphor, but sometimes you must be willing to play their game plan, not yours. If you want to demonstrate how smart you are or challenge the prospect in order to “enlighten” or consult, you are going to be in trouble.
Not being the smartest person in the room can be tough for some sellers, because sales professionals are typically knowledge experts. They often think they know the customer's problems better than the customer. They have great ideas, and in a sales presentation, it is temping to jump right into sharing those great ideas. They want to TELL their ideas instead of SELL themselves. It becomes a critical cart/horse scenario. The horse must be in front. And in terms of time, it is a very short race. Sell yourself quickly or you are out of the race.
“Selling” means partnering. You can’t just deliver a great box. It has to fit the space.
Work with the customer to improve service to the customer’s client, help the customer be more successful, cut the customer’s costs, reduce manufacturing delays, or whatever the customer’s issue may be. And frequently, selling means compromising. What you wanted to sell when you walked into the room may not be what the customer wants. The sale will go to the person with the most flexibility.
We often hear about the writer who stuck to her (or his) guns and finally wrote the best-seller she always wanted to write, even though hundreds of publishers turned her down. (For instance, Agatha Christie or J.K. Rowling, to name just a couple.) What you don’t hear about are the thousands of books that were rejected and never published or even completed when the author refused to make some compromises. And you also rarely hear about the books that were published and were better than the original draft due to incorporating some editor’s suggestions.
Stubborn is not smart. It is just stubborn.
If you want to sell something, be prepared to fit your idea into the buyer’s frame. Don’t compete. Be the person who helps the customer get something accomplished that was not possible without your help. And sometimes, you may discover the end product is better than if you had done it exclusively your way.
As a sales professional, be prepared to say, “If that is what you want, let us look at how I can help make that happen for you.” Flexibility is needed. Help find a way to achieve their outcome and incorporate their thinking. You must be prepared to fit into a solution that the prospect already is seeing in his/her mind.
If someone asks me for a team-development workshop, something I am resistant to do, I am likely to help clarify the real desired outcome, talk about the benefits of the proposed approach, some different ways to look at how such a workshop might be implemented in their organization, and I may be able to influence the thinking of the customer to consider different (non-workshop) ways to help the team. But only after I have sold me. Only after they have decided they want to work with me to solve their problem. Only after they trust me. And a workshop will always be an option, because it is the solution they initially wanted. The difference is how we define it and how we implement it. It is still THEIR solution but my refinements as we work together. We. Not me. And if I can’t sell me as someone they can trust, there will be no we to work on ideas together.
Customers want solutions, and they already have some in mind. Listen to those ideas. Look for ways to incorporate your ideas and use your expertise, but remember: Customers already have a solution and are trying to decide if you are the person who can help them achieve their goal. Don’t compete. Don’t quiz about “pain.” Don’t challenge. Don’t think you know best. Be flexible and be helpful. Sell yourself as a good “partner” and you will be invited to help them solve their problem.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sellers: Stop looking for pain

For decades, sales trainers have told us about the need to find a prospect’s “pain.” What is hurting? What is it costing? What is the cost of ignoring that pain? Who do we see is hurting the most? What is it worth to find a solution to that pain? Follow the long path to “pain”, and you will be successful, they have said.

They are wrong.

It’s time to stop wasting the customer’s time. Stop looking for “pain.” Look for ways to help instead.

Today, people do not have time to invite you to make a presentation and endure a series of “pain” questions. When you get an invitation to sell to a prospect, you should know how the prospect sees the problem before you show up. You don’t need to probe to find what’s causing the pain or whose pain it is or whether it is a financial pain or a personal pain. Clarify the issues and know the desired outcome before you go to the meeting. Learn what you need to know without seeking out “pain.” Stop wasting everyone’s time. Prospects want to focus on their idea and how to solve their problem. And they don’t want the meeting to last very long.

I occasionally get invited to propose a “team-building” workshop. I generally don’t do team-building workshops any more. When someone asks for one because his or her team is not working well, I often shoot myself in the foot by stating that, in my experience, most requests for such action are due to one person being a problem. I ask, “Any chance that might be the case here? If so, why don’t we look at how to help that person and not waste the time of the whole team?” In nearly every case, the prospect appreciates the insight. I hear a response such as, “That’s a really intriguing idea. I think you might be right. Let me think about it for a bit.” And that is the end of it. There is no more discussion with me about team building. Or about coaching the problem person. I didn’t fit THEIR solution. Shame on me.

Prospects are not interested in being “challenged”or probed about their “pain.”

In most cases, prospects have a good idea as to what they want. They are not interested in being “challenged” or probed about their “pain.” They simply don’t have the time or the patience. They are interested, instead, in learning if they feel they can work with you and get their desired outcome. They want to see if you are a good fit and can work with them.

Sell YOU as someone who can help implement their solution

This leads to a major adjustment in how sellers must sell. First, remember you have been invited to allow the prospects to decide if they want to work with you. Can there be a relationship? In short, the presentation must sell YOU as someone with whom they can partner and help implement a solution, a solution that is may or may not be well defined. If you try to sell YOUR solution before you sell YOU, you will fail. Connect on both a conscious and unconscious level. Become someone the prospect will trust before you even talk about what you want to sell. (If you don’t know how to do this, read “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!”)

Can you avoid focusing on your solution and focus, instead, on theirs? How quickly can you stop presenting and actually engage your prospect? If you did your homework, you will know what the prospect is trying to accomplish. Get him/her to talk about that. Listen for what is wanted and look for how you can help. Talk about outcomes rather than pain.


Duane Lakin, Ph.D., is the author of “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!” and a new book, “Ten Ways Top Sales Reps are Different.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It has been said, "People don't leave companies; they leave managers." There is a lot of truth to this. However, it may lead to overlooking a key element of employment: PAY.

A psychological study of why people, especially top performers,  leave a company concluded that "high job satisfaction" is a strong determinant of whether someone leaves a company or not, and job satisfaction often reflects one's relationship with a manager.

However, independent of job satisfaction is the impact of pay growth. In other words, even if someone says he/she is happy in the job, stunted or perceived lack of pay growth can lead that person to leave a job. This is especially true of top performers. This is why top performers will take the call from a recruiter and may leave a job that was quite satisfying and challenging. If pay is not seen as increasing, a better offer will entice the person to leave.

The lesson: do not ignore your top performers. Look at your compensation policies and make sure they are not equal and fair. Reward your top performers better than others. As the author of this study (Nyberg) wrote: "Managerial overconfidence could lead to situations in which employees the company most desires to retain are instead more likely to leave." Better performance...and better performers...need to get better pay. Not only will this help you keep top performers, it might also inspire some others to strive to perform better.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Understanding Top Sellers: Observation 4..They have "Curiosity"



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op Sellers approach a sales call in a manner different from average sellers. The Top Seller is thinking about what he/she wants to learn in this call to help accomplish the goal. The Top Seller is curious. The goal is well-defined, and the pre-call thoughts are about what questions to ask and what information to look for to move the process forward. The average seller is thinking about what questions the prospect may ask of them! This is a critical difference between Top Sellers and average sellers. Top Sellers are thinking about what they need to learn, and average sellers are thinking about what they need to say. It is, therefore, not surprising that a Top Seller does far more listening in a sales call than an average seller.

Top Sellers know the power of knowledge. Information gives them confidence and an increased sense of the control they seek. As a result, they are always looking to see what they can learn that will help them achieve their goals. They ask questions and they listen.

A food ingredient company had been working with a major food processor for several years. The sales people worked closely with the R&D lab where new formulations were being tested. One day, while leaving the lab and walking through the main production floor, a new sales person on the team asked, “Isn’t that tomato soup?” “Yes, of course,” he was told. “That is our biggest seller.”

It turns out that tomato soup needs a key ingredient that was one of the primary products sold by the food ingredient company. But for two years or more, no one had ever asked what else the customer made and would there be other opportunities to sell them additional products. They had simply gone to the lab and sold small orders of their products. Until a new sales person, a potential “Top Seller”, joined the team, no one was curious enough to look around and ask about other applications.

Unlike the sales team above, Top Sellers are curious. They ask questions. They truly want to know. They are interested in what is around them and what they can learn from others to help them have an advantage. This curiosity can sometimes take the form of competitive intelligence gathering, such as reading a competitors invoice that was accidentally left on someone’s desk. Just as often, it is an active and conscious effort to ask questions and learn more about a customer as well as a market. It is not surprising, perhaps, that there is a program called “Question-Based Selling.” Top Sellers ask questions.

But these questions cannot be canned. They can’t learn “Five Questions to Ask Your Prospect.” True curiosity is not just an attitude. It is a behavior.  Top Sellers are not looking for answers. They are looking for insights and information.  They ask questions and listen to the answers. Top Sellers want to know what the prospect worries about and wants to achieve. What problems does the prospect have? What help does the customer need? How does the prospect want to be sold?

The questions that are important to a Top Seller are not “qualifying questions”. They are not part of “consultative selling”, a process that can test the patience of some buyers. The typical sales process where a sales person asks about needs or current vendors or similar “questionnaire” questions does not provide what Top Sellers want to know. In fact, such questions can seem like an interrogation and can be off-putting to prospects. 

Top Sellers want to know who the prospect is, what is important to that person, and how is the best way to influence and make a difference to this individual. What is the business and where is the pain? Who are my competitors? Who is influential in making decisions in the business? What is your wish-list? These are more broad-based than “How many pounds of nitric acid do you use in a month?” These are things she can learn by listening and observing, not by following a checklist of questions. These are not answers to questions she has to ask because her sales manager requires them. These are answers she wants to discover to satisfy her curiosity and to give her an advantage.

It may be because of their curiosity that Top Sellers are good listeners and, often, good conversationalists. They often have a broader knowledge of topics and issues, and because they are always learning, they can talk intelligently about many different topics. Still, it is their ability to listen that most correlates with their success in sales. It is hard to sell value if you do not want to listen and learn.

Curiosity also fits well with the competitive drive of Top Sellers. Simply put, they want to know more than the next person. They want to know how someone else can sell or make a change, and they use that information to make themselves more competitive and successful.

Another key correlate of curiosity is the Top Sellers’ relative comfort with ambiguity. Few average sellers are comfortable outside the lines of what they expect and know and are accustomed to seeing. Top Sellers are not afraid of ambiguity, because they are curious. They want to know more. They want to understand and find clarity. Average sellers (and politicians) want to get back “on message” and talk about what they planned to talk about.

In a similar manner, Top Sellers leave a sales call re-playing the interaction in their head. They are thinking about what was said and what they could have said in a different manner. They are learning from their experience, even if they failed to achieve their goal. Every interaction becomes a learning experience. Average sellers typically are thinking about what they need to do next or where they need to go now that the sales call is concluded.

Curiosity does not typically equate to wanting to participate in “sales training”, however. Top Sellers are curious about ways to reduce their fear and the risk of failing with useful knowledge and information. While curious and motivated to learn what will give them better control and influence, they are not eager to participate in formal learning situations. They are skeptical. They are also fearful of looking foolish or stupid in front of their peers. Typical training programs are painful to most Top Sellers. Still, they will be curious and learn enough to use a new skill when they need it to win their goal.

The President of a small manufacturing company was a participant in a workshop on psychological selling skills. He was largely unimpressed with the program, because he believed he was a very successful seller and did not need to do the work needed to learn some new skills. In the participant survey, he did not rate the program very high.

The next week, he was making a sales presentation. Unfortunately, it was not going well, and he knew it. As he described it later, “I didn’t know what to do, so I tried one of the crazy things Lakin was talking about last week. All of a sudden, the room changed, and I got my price without any real pushback or negotiation. I would like to change my rating that I gave that presentation last week. It was definitely a ‘10’.”

Top Sellers, like most people, do not want to work hard enough to change how they do things. However, Top Sellers have the courage to notice when something is not working and the curiosity to ask themselves, “What else might work?”  Others see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. How often has a sales person told her manager, “Oh, I think it went very well” when, in fact, it did not go well at all. This is not a lie. This is simply failure to have the courage to notice when things are not going well.

Top Sellers expect to win, and they know when they are not winning. They have the determination to stay engaged and involved until they are successful (if possible). As a result, if they are aware of a new option or a new way to make a proposal, they will often be one of the first of their peers to try it. While not showing a lot of enthusiasm for the training per se, they will draw from that training when they need it.  

Trainers should not expect Top Sellers to be enthusiastic participants in a training session, unless they can incorporate competitive games into the learning process. Yet Top Sellers are often the first to test a skill in the field and report results back to the others. But they will only use the skill when existing skills are not working for them and they ask themselves, “What else might work here?” Learning for the sake of learning will not motivate them. Learning must contribute to their sense of control over a situation when failure is suddenly a real possibility. When there is a chance they might fail, they will learn and use anything that is seen as a useful way to give them a competitive advantage. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Understanding Top Sellers: Observation 3..They have "Grit"

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It takes energy to sell. Any good seller is motivated to get up and go to battle. But for the Top Sellers, it is different. They have more than energy. They have more than “motivation.” They have “grit.”

Angela Duckworth is an assistant professor at Penn. She has been studying “grit” for many years. She defines it as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” A person with grit has more than energy. He or she has stamina and determination.

A Top Seller with “grit”  wants a goal badly enough that working toward that goal is not work but just part of the process. An average seller, for instance, is willing to make cold calls but may complain about it and find other things to fill the day when possible. A Top Seller who needs to make cold calls to sell will look upon the activity as just another thing that has to be done. It is not separate from the goal of being a good seller and meeting sales goals. It is one and the same.

A recent candidate told me about getting a job with one of the largest chemical companies in the world. He said his first two months were spent in what they called Sales Boot Camp. About a third of the people left before the training was completed. either of their own choice or because they were asked to leave. He said it never occurred to him that he might not finish. (Optimism) It was hard, but it was what was necessary to get the job and excel.

Many people have goals. But how many never let go of them? As Duckworth points out, graduating from a two year school is a challenge, but it is nothing like graduating from a four-year college. It usually takes “grit” to hang in and go through all the academic hurdles, pay the price, and forego other activities to get the four-year degree.

In spite of Duckworth’s example, a college degree…or the absence of a college degree…does not, by itself, lend any clues about “grit.”  Does getting a degree online require as much “grit” as getting a degree in a conventional academic setting? It depends. It is not the degree; it is what it took to get it. That is how you find out about “grit.” The candidate who told me recently that he is thinking about getting his college degree does not have “grit”, at least in the area of academic achievement. Thinking is not all that tough. But the person may have “grit” in other areas of his/her life. Academic “grit” is not a pre-requisite to being an achiever in the work world and in sales. But the successful candidate must show some “grit” somewhere in life that is meaningful and relevant to the position in question.

A Top Seller must have “grit” to meet quotas and excel. It helps to be smart and driven, but it is focus and persistence that characterize “grit.”

Athletes often have “grit”, and their stories give a hint about what to listen for when interviewing in search of a Top Seller. “ You gotta want it so bad you are willing to be exhausted” was how one football player described college pre-season.  Vladimir Horowitz, the esteemed piano player, hated practicing, but he practiced four hours a day, because that was what it took to be great. A pro-bowler in the NFL said, “Sure it hurt, but I knew it was worth it” when describing the exercises and drills he endured every year of his playing career.  A Navy SEAL described his experience in this way: “It was the toughest training I ever experienced but I knew it was necessary.”

“Worth it”? “Necessary?” These words only make sense when paired with a clear focus, even obsession, toward an end goal.  To someone with “grit”, the end goal is so important that whatever it takes to get there is worth it. Necessary. No complaints. No skimping. No sneaking out of practice or finding excuses to not make calls. The goal is clear and the steps to get there are simply part of the process.

When interviewing sales candidates, ask “grit” questions.

            "What have you wanted so badly that you gave up other
             things to achieve?”

“Was there ever anything so important to you that you suffered through things others might have called boring or hard or even impossible? Describe what you endured. Why did you do that? (Listen for the goal.) Why was that so important to you?”

“What was the most difficult learning experience you ever had?”

“What was the toughest challenge you ever faced? How did you overcome it? Why did you go to so much trouble?”

“Tell me about something you wanted to master but had to really struggle to reach that level.”

“Grit” is character. Character differentiates good sellers from Top Sellers. People with “grit” do not give up. Nor do they complain. They do the “reps” and run the steps and study the financial reports and hit balls out of the sand and play scales. They do what they must to reach their goal of being excellent. Some say it takes 10,000 hours to excel at something. Those with “grit” are not keeping track of the time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When beliefs become behaviors


I was recently reading a review of a new book by Dan Ariely on honesty, lying, and lying to ourselves. Part of a reported study discovered that when participants were reminded of a set of rules, such as an Honor Code or the Ten Commandants, there was significantly less cheating.

The story reminded me of a company I worked with for many years that had a strong culture of honesty. As the Chairman told me when I first met him, “We bring our own stamps to work”, a message far broader than the simple fact that people used their own personal stamps to mail their personal mail rather than using company postal machines for non-business-related mail. This company was dedicated to high standards of honesty and integrity, and the Chairman wanted me to understand that fact from the beginning of our relationship. It was key to hiring people who fit the culture. Whenever there was a meeting, people were reminded of the values that drove the organization. I never heard of anyone in that company stealing funds or behaving dishonestly.

Simply reminding people of what you believe as a leader can have a significant impact on your organization. A culture exists when beliefs become behaviors. If people do not know what you believe, you will not be able to create nor sustain the culture you desire. Speak up. Let people see in your daily behavior what you consider to be important. And keep speaking up. There will always be someone who hears it for the first time.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

34th Anniversary of Lakin Associates: THANKS

Thanks to all my clients and friends who have helped Lakin Associates enjoy 34 years of providing service to executives and companies throughout the world. It continues to be a great run. Thanks.