Ten Ways to Become a Better Salesperson

October 30th, 2009

Ways to Be a Better Salesperson1. Read a book on a subject related to sales every month.

2. Ask your prospects more questions.

3. Understand not just what your product or service does, but how it benefits your buyer.

4. Regularly read at least one business magazine or blog.

5. Do a self-critique after every sales call.

6. Talk less, listen more.

7. Ask your sales manager to critique and coach you.

8. Study your competition.

9. Attend every sales training seminar you can.

10. Hire a coach.

The more of these things you do, the better you’ll become. Hint: The top salespeople in every industry do all of the above.

Speed Sells

October 27th, 2009

Speed Sells In my last post, I referenced a new study by Forrester Consulting that found a retail web site has two seconds to load before it starts to lose a shopper’s interest. But human impatience doesn’t just apply to web pages. As a species, we detest waiting. We want everything immediately. Which means, the faster you are, the more of an advantage you have over your competitors.

So how fast are you and your organization? Consider factors like how quickly you:

• Answer phones
• Return phone calls and e-mail
• Get prospects the necessary information
• Deliver
• Install
• Restock
• Complete the job
• Respond to requests
• Enable prospects to check out
• Resolve problems

Measure, document and highlight your speed because it’s an important reason prospects should choose you over your competition. Prospects may take forever to make a decision, but once they’ve made it, they want it now. If you can best satisfy their obsession for speed, you’ve got a powerful edge.

You Only Have Two Seconds to Make the Sale

October 23rd, 2009

Two Seconds to Make More SalesActually, it’s your web site that only has two seconds. Specifically, a retail web site has two seconds to load before it starts to lose a shopper’s interest, according to a new study by online research company Forrester Consulting. That’s half the time online shoppers were willing to wait just three years ago.

Consumer expectations keep increasing and if your site can’t keep up, you’re losing sales. In the physical world as well as the virtual one. According to Forrester’s research, slow-loading sites not only cause people to abandon the site, but also make shoppers less likely to visit their brick-and-mortar store too.

It’s important to recognize that everything about your business causes prospects to be more or less likely to do business with you, from obvious things like your web site, brochures and sales presentations to less obvious things like your lighting, your average on-hold time and your billing practices.

So go over your entire operation with a fine-tooth comb, looking at everything from your customer’s perspective. Ask your most critical friends and relatives to give your business a once-over. Or hire a mystery shopping company to give you a detailed report of your strengths and weaknesses. (When I’m developing a custom sales training seminar for a client, I learn more from mystery shopping than any other research method.)

When you find aspects of your business that detract from the buying experience, fix them. Your sales will benefit. Remember, it takes a lot of time to attract a new prospect and only two seconds to lose one.

Steve Martin on Selling

October 19th, 2009

Steve Martin on SellingAt one point in his book, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, comedy legend Steve Martin describes his years on the road performing stand-up in small clubs in the early 1970’s. Discussing this period in his career, Martin shares a profound insight:

“I learned a lesson: it was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the circumstances.”

The same is true in sales. Every salesperson has the occasional deal where everything just seems to come together. What distinguishes true sales professionals is the drive to be consistently good, with prospect after prospect, in all kinds of situations.

The top salespeople in every industry constantly read, attend training seminars, practice and do self-critiques in a never-ending quest to achieve that status. And that is hard. It requires discipline, effort, sacrifice and a significant investment of time and money.

Is it worth it? That’s up to you. Do you want to be occasionally great? Or consistently good?

Sales Lessons from a Squirrel

October 14th, 2009

Sales Lessons from a SquirrelThis week is National Squirrel Awareness Week. (I swear I’m not making that up.) It caused me to reflect on my father and his long-running battle with sciurus carolinenis.

Like many homeowners, my father has a bird feeder in his yard. And, like many a bird-fancier, he has struggled for years to prevent squirrels from eating all the seed intended to attract songbirds.

His first countermeasure was to grease the pole on which the bird feeder sat. The squirrels learned to jump onto the roof of the feeder from a nearby tree branch.

He then covered the wooden roof with sheet metal so they would slide off. The squirrels responded by dropping straight down onto the roof’s apex.

He next pounded nails part-way into the roof, creating an uninviting porcupine effect. The squirrels mastered the art of jumping to the edge of the feeder’s roof, grabbing a couple of nails by their forepaws and hoisting themselves up.

Refusing to give up, my father purchased a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder. It featured a spring-loaded perch that would support the weight of several birds, but would close the feed doors if a squirrel sat on it. This worked well for several weeks until the day I glanced out the window and called my father over to witness an astounding sight: A squirrel had figured out that by standing with one foot on the perch, one foot on the side of the feeder and one forepaw on the edge of the roof, it could shift its weight to the foot on the feeder’s side, use its free paw to shovel out some seed, then shift its weight back to the foot on the perch and eat the seed it had managed to extricate before the door shut.

My father has bought several other “squirrel-proof” bird feeders since then, and every time, the squirrels figure out a solution to the designers’ challenges. At last count, it was Squirrels 12, Humans 0. How is it that a creature with a brain the size of a pistachio can outwit the species that created space travel, the Hadron Super-Collider and Double-Stuff Oreos?

And more importantly, what can salespeople, managers and business owners learn from this humble animal? Here are the squirrel’s secrets. (Not to be confused with Secret Squirrel, the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 1960’s.)

Focus
Squirrels don’t multi-task. They’re focused on the goal at hand and nothing else. They may have really small brains, but they put every neuron to work solving the problem.

Experimentation
When one attempt fails repeatedly, squirrels try something else. If that doesn’t work, they try something else. And so on and so on…

Motivation
Failure means hunger, sickness and possibly death. Success means a full stomach, not just today, but every day the feeder is refilled. (Sort of like a repeat customer. Hmmm…)

Determination
Given the above motivation, it’s no surprise squirrels stick to the challenge until they succeed. They’re 100% committed.

How do you stack up against this fuzzy-tailed quadruped? If the birdseed is your sale and the feeder is all the objections, competitors and other obstacles standing in your way, do you have what it takes to raise your paw in victory? Or are you just road kill waiting to happen?

Pre-Emptive Customer Service

October 9th, 2009

Pre-Emptive Sales & ServiceIn my last post, I criticized a restaurant where I received some bad service. So it’s only fair that I write a post about a restaurant where I received some great service.

A while back when I was in Naples, Florida to conduct a sales training seminar, I had lunch at a restaurant called Tommy Bahama’s. A friend had recommended it to me, raving about their food and service. I placed my order with the cheerful server and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Just as I was beginning to wonder where my food was, the waitress came to my table and said, “I’m sorry sir, your order slip got misplaced in the kitchen. We’ve got it taken care of, and your order will be ready in just a couple minutes. And your meal is on the house today.”

Whoa.

I sat there in mild shock for a moment. The problem was resolved before I even had a chance to get upset. I didn’t have to complain, argue or ask for anything. I felt important and appreciated. How could I not forgive them for the mistake?

When the food arrived, a scant two minutes later, it was delicious. But what made the meal memorable was the wonderfully proactive customer service. The sense that I was taken care of.

What would have happened if the restaurant had not been so proactive? Nothing. I would have gotten my food, thinking, “It’s about time.” I would have eaten my meal, although my enjoyment would have been significantly diminished by the long wait. And I would have walked away thinking, “Well, the food was pretty good but the service was awfully slow.” I would never have gone back or mentioned the experience to anyone.

But because of that pre-emptive service, I’ve recommended Tommy Bahama’s to thousands of people. And I look for opportunities to return. For the cost of my meal, they’ve garnered themselves thousands of dollars worth of free publicity and earned a customer for life.

Mistakes happen. They’re inevitable. But when you make a mistake, admit it quickly and take immediate action to correct it, whatever the cost. That way you’ll always leave your customers with a good taste in their mouths.

Substitute for Success

October 6th, 2009

Substitute for Sales SuccessWhile driving through Texas not long ago, I stopped at a fast food place to grab a quick lunch. I hadn’t visited this chain in years, so I thought I’d give them a try again. I won’t reveal the name of the chain, although I will mention that they sell dairy products fit for a queen.

After perusing the menu for a few moments, I ordered a combo meal and asked the woman behind the counter if I could get curly fries instead of the regular fries. Her response was a simple, curt “No.” When I asked why not, she replied, “We can’t substitute anything.” Again I asked her why not, and she responded (with an increased tone of annoyance), “We just can’t.”

I settled for the regular fries, but I’m never going to that chain again. Not when every other chain restaurant I’ve been to has been happy to make substitutions for me.

You probably feel the same way. In fact, most of us do. A study by the Strategic Planning Institute found that 96% of unhappy customers don’t bother to register their complaint, but 90% will never visit the offending company again. With so many available choices today in virtually every industry, it’s far easier to switch than fight.

Was this incident an aberration? Possibly.

Was it due to a lack of training? Could be.

Do I care? No!

And neither do your customers if something similar happens to them. You’ve got one chance with your customer and if you blow it, you may never get another.

So you need to ask yourself (and others in your company): Are we being as convenient to the customer as possible? Are we selling the client what they really want to buy, or simply what we want to sell them? How can we insure that our customers have a positive experience with us every time?

Both consumers and business buyers place a high value on convenience. When you make it easy for your customer to get what they want, when they want, how they want it, they’ll reward you with increased loyalty, higher sales and more referrals. In short, more profits.

And there’s no substitute for that.

Sales Lessons from The Twilight Zone

October 2nd, 2009

Sales Lessons from The Twilight ZoneOn this day in 1959, The Twilight Zone debuted on CBS. Fifty years later, the groundbreaking series still runs regularly on the SyFy network, can be obtained from video rental services and is available in a DVD boxed set. Salespeople, small business owners and CEO’s can learn several important lessons from this long-lived television show.

Deliver a quality product.
The writing on The Twilight Zone was consistently excellent. Rod Serling was a gifted writer who penned many of the episodes himself. He also adapted short stories by some of the best authors of the day. And the show featured performances by such talented actors as Robert Duvall, Buster Keaton, Carol Burnett, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, Cloris Leachman, Robert Redford and Mickey Rooney. (Yeah, yeah, Burgess Meredith, Dick York and William Shatner were each in several episodes, but everybody knows that.)

Engage people emotionally.
Most episodes do one of two things: 1) present a sympathetic protagonist we can easily root for, or 2) showcase a villain we want to see punished. Either way, the audience becomes emotionally involved. The show routinely played with fear, anger, jealousy, greed, hope and other emotions.

Create a memorable experience.
When you finish watching a Twilight Zone episode, it stays with you. Whether it’s the powerful story, the emotional connection with the characters or the plot twist at the end, nearly every episode leaves an impression that lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Be different.
Throughout the show’s five-year run, Serling often clashed with the network because the topics he wanted to tackle hadn’t been done on TV up to that point. Over the course of its 156 episodes, The Twilight Zone addressed a wide range of issues including racism, gambling, war, aging, the fear of death, the ideals of beauty, the dangers of technology and what it means to be human. The insights, critiques and commentary the series offered on society, governments and human nature still hold up today.

In celebration of The Twilight Zone’s 50th anniversary, I’ll leave you with some great lines from the episode, “A Game of Pool,” written by George Clayton Johnson and starring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters.

“Nothing’s impossible. Some things are less likely than others, that’s all.”

“As long as people talk about you, you’re not really dead. As long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn’t die just because the man does.”

“You’ll never get the job done with your mouth.”

“It takes more than skill to be a champion. It takes equal parts of talent, luck, work and nerve.”

“Everyone needs a challenge. Someone great out of the past to say, ‘Match what I’ve done and make it better!’”

“You’ll never make it great at anything by playing it safe.”