Sales Lessons from Wimbledon

June 30th, 2010

Sales Lessons from WimbledonAt the 2010 Wimbledon tennis tournament, American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match in history. Over the course of an exhausting eleven hours and five minutes—spread across an unprecedented three days—the two players shattered multiple records for length of time played, number of games played and number of aces served.

Both competitors inspired their countries, tennis fans and casual observers. And they served as a reminder that sometimes our goals don’t come as quickly or as easily as we’d like.

There are other lessons salespeople, managers, business owners and CEO’s should take away from this historic match. Such as:

Prepare like crazy
A few days before the match, Isner’s coach told him half-jokingly, “You could play for ten hours straight if you had to.” He was referring to Isner’s fitness due to his training and conditioning program, which, as it turned out, was essential to his being able to survive the grueling three-day battle.

How well are you preparing yourself for every sales encounter? Do you know your products and services backward and forward? Have you studied your competition thoroughly? Have you researched your prospect so you know something about their history, challenges, strengths and goals? Are you continually reading books, soaking up audio and video programs and attending sales training seminars?

Focus
Both Isner and Mahut had to ignore all the distractions around them: people shouting and cheering, camera flashes going off, planes flying overhead and more. They each had to focus exclusively on what they and their opponent were doing.

How’s your focus? Are you tuning out everything around you and concentrating on what’s most critical to your sales success?

Get a coach
Not only Mahut and Isner, but every professional tennis player—and for that matter, every professional athlete—has a coach. Because coaches help you get better. They can analyze what you’re doing wrong and share secrets for greater and faster success.

If you’re a sales manager or business owner, how much time are you spending coaching your sales team? And if you’re a salesperson, professional or CEO, how much are you investing with a coach of your own?

Be willing to make the extra effort
Isner and Mahut’s match lasted three times as long as a typical tennis match. Despite that, neither appeared to slack off at any point. It’s hard to even imagine the amount of effort required to play at such a high level for so long. And yet both players were willing to put forth the extra effort for as long as it took.

Sometimes a sale requires more effort than you expected. How willing are you to expend whatever effort is necessary? What extremes are you willing to go to?

Don’t give up
Eventually in the fifth set, it became clear that whichever player could break the other’s service (win the game in which the other player was serving), would win the match. Which meant one of the keys was simply not giving up while waiting for that opportunity.

How quickly do you give up on a prospect? A strategy? A salesperson? Perhaps more importantly, how quickly do you give up on yourself?

Sometimes you still lose
Despite playing outstandingly, Mahut eventually lost the fifth set (70 games to 68) and the match. The simple fact is, one of them had to lose. And while it was a heartbreaking loss, Mahut will play again. After all, there’s always another game.

You can do everything right and still not make the sale. Sometimes the prospect just can’t afford it. Or the competitor’s offering is truly a better fit for this particular prospect. When you lose a sale, don’t beat yourself up. Determine what you can learn from the experience and move on. After all, there’s always another prospect.

A sales career—and often the sale itself—is a marathon, not a sprint. (To mix sporting metaphors.) Are you in it for the long haul?

Is Flat the New Up?

June 21st, 2010

Are Flat Sales the New UpDuring a conference at which I was speaking last week, one of the other speakers made the comment, “Flat is the new up.” He was discussing sales trends and saying that companies should look at flat sales as a positive, because it’s better than sales being down.

People nodded and murmured agreement. The idea that “flat is the new up” seemed to resonate throughout the attendees and the concept was referenced later in the conference.

So is flat the new up?

NO!!!

No! No! No! No!

Absolutely, definitely, unquestionably no!

Let me explain.

While I agree we should appreciate each and every sale we make, and we should be grateful that our sales numbers are not as bad as they once were, to buy into the idea that “flat is the new up” is to set the bar too low.

Scientists working in the fields of neurophysiology and neuropsychology have proven we tend to get what we expect. In other words, the outcomes we achieve correlate with the expectations we—and others—set for ourselves.

The reason for this is our brains seem to like consistency. So our subconscious mind works to manifest the beliefs and expectations we already hold.

Which means, if you expect your sales to be flat, that’s what you’re going to get. If, however, you expect your sales to be up, your subconscious will work to manifest that outcome instead.

The same principle applies to your entire sales team. If a company’s owners and managers believe sales will be flat, their salespeople will—unconsciously—create that very result. Change your beliefs and expectations, though, and your team’s results will change accordingly.

And there’s good reason not to believe “flat is the new up.” The fact is, just because everyone else’s sales are down or flat doesn’t mean yours have to be! In any economy there are always stories about companies whose sales have climbed. Why can’t you be one of them?

Here’s an exercise for you. Answer these questions:
• What reasons are there to believe your sales will increase this year?
• What circumstances are working in your favor?
• What advantages do you have versus your competitors?
• Where are your opportunities for sales growth?
• What is everyone else not doing that you could do?
• What action steps can you implement immediately?

You might turn this into a group exercise for your next sales meeting. Or even a competition among your sales teams to generate the most ideas possible.

Because when you come up with good answers to these questions, you’ll free yourself from the limiting “flat is the new up” mindset. And you’ll unleash the creative power you have in yourself and your sales team.

Let your competitors settle for flat. You can—and should—expect more.

The Worst Thing You Can Hear from Your Customer

June 9th, 2010

Worst Thing You Can Hear from Your CustomerIt happens every day. You ask your customer about their experience with your product, service or company. Your question is something along the lines of “How was everything?” Their response is a single word:

“Fine.”

You want to believe that the customer means it was “wonderful,” “terrific,” “exceptional.”

You’re deluding yourself. If they meant “wonderful,” “terrific,” “exceptional,” they would have said so.

Instead, they said “fine.”

Which really means, “It didn’t suck too badly.”

In other words, their experience was:
• Decent
• Acceptable
• Unremarkable
• Passable
• Average
• Undistinguished
• Mediocre
• Okay
• Satisfactory
• Fair
• Middling
• Ordinary
• Pedestrian
• Adequate
• Uninspired
• Tolerable

Talk about damning with faint praise.

“Fine” is the worst thing you can hear from your customer. At least if they say something negative, you have the opportunity to resolve the problem. But the word “fine” is insidious, because it lulls us into believing things are great, when in fact they’re not.

Which is not to say the customer was dissatisfied, because they weren’t. They didn’t have any problems, per se, but they weren’t impressed either.

If your customers are consistently telling you that your product, service or people are “fine,” then you have a problem. Because in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, you can’t afford to be mediocre, pedestrian or tolerable. You need to improve your customer experience.

How?

Ask them.

The next time a customer tells you things were “fine,” ask them what could have been better.

Or be proactive:
• Conduct a survey of your customers or the whole marketplace
• Assemble a focus group or two (or three)
• Hire a mystery shopping company to give you accurate feedback
• Engage a consultant to help you come up with ways to improve

“Fine” is not fine. It’s just a notch above awful. Which is not an acceptable benchmark. If you want to boost your sales now and in the long-run, treat every “fine” you hear as a sub-standard review. Then take action until your customers consistently describe their experience in more glowing terms.

Eight Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills

June 3rd, 2010

Eight Ways to Improve Your Presentation SkillsGreat presentation skills are a powerful asset for a salesperson. Lousy presentation skills are a serious liability. Even if you have the best product, service, delivery, warranty and price, a poor sales presentation can shatter your prospect’s confidence in your company, causing them to run in the other direction.

If your presentation skills suck—or aren’t as stellar as you’d like them to be—use some of these strategies to get them up to snuff.

1. Study others
Watch and listen carefully to people who are great presenters. Pay close attention to what they do and how they do it. Notice also what they don’t do. Take detailed notes whenever possible. And if appropriate, ask them for advice.

2. Read books
There are hundreds of books on presentation skills. Browse your favorite book store or Amazon.com. Cash flow a little tight at the moment? Hit your local library.

3. Invest in audio or video programs
Audio training programs allow you to learn while you drive, bike or roller blade. They also enable you to hear examples of good presentation techniques. Video programs go a step further and show you examples of effective presentation visuals.

4. Practice
No amount of reading, listening or watching will make you a better presenter unless you practice. To be a better speaker, you need to speak. As much as possible, as often as possible. Build practice time into your schedule.

5. Get peer feedback
It helps to practice in front of a live audience. Especially if that audience contains other experienced presenters. Ask your colleagues, bosses and anybody else who has a stake in your sales success to listen to you and critique you.

6. Videotape yourself
Get feedback from your toughest critic: yourself. Record yourself and watch the video. You’ll be amazed, impressed and horrified by what you see.

7. Join Toastmasters
If you’re not familiar with Toastmasters International, it’s a non-profit organization with thousands of clubs around the world. You can develop your presentation skills at your own pace, in a supportive environment. For more details and to find a club near you, visit www.toastmasters.org.

8. Hire a coach
A presentation skills coach is a significant investment, but it can produce massive dividends quickly. A coach can identify your biggest problem areas and help you correct them fast. Because of the immediate impact coaching can make on your sales, your company may pay the tab. If not, your investment is still tax-deductible. And well worth it.

I’ve seen enough sales presentations to know that many—if not most—salespeople don’t do them well. Which means sharpening your skills can give you a huge edge over your competitors. Don’t risk another sales with a sub-par presentation. Boost your skills and you’ll boost your sales.