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The ABCs of Always Be Closing

August 18th, 2015

Closing isn’t just for the final stage of the sales process. ABC

 

Early in my career, I landed a meeting with the CEO of a prospect company. When I arrived for the meeting, the CEO’s assistant told me that the CEO had been called out of the office, and that if she wanted to reschedule, she’d contact me. I had committed to the meeting, but I hadn’t closed the CEO’s commitment. It was a tough and valuable lesson.

ABC – Always Be Closing, the sales mantra of Alec Baldwin’s hardball character in the film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” doesn’t have to be aggressive. Always Be Closing is a mutually beneficial way to confirm buyer commitment. No matter where you are in the sales and buying process, continually and respectfully confirming your prospect’s commitment is smart and proactive. Here are two examples.

Setting Your First Meeting

A first meeting should be focused on learning about your prospect’s business needs and issues, and determining if there’s a fit with your products or services. Be candid with your prospect and yourself. Make sure that your prospect is willing to invest the time needed for a productive meeting. Confirm your prospect’s commitment through questions such as:

  • Is there anything before or after that hour that affects your availability?
  • Is this date soft-circled for our meeting, or is it a confirmed date?

If your prospect waivers on a date and time, ask: Is he genuinely interested in resolving his business needs and issues? A “no” at this point may be disappointing, but it saves your time and effort for qualified prospects.

The Signal that You’ve Missed Something

The definition of a successful meeting with a prospect is a clear next step. Many salespeople focus on describing their own next steps, such as, “I’ll send you those specs” or “I’ll call you next week.” Focus instead on confirming your prospect’s commitment by asking:

  • What do you see as the next step?
  • Is there anything we’ve discussed that can prevent you from moving forward?

Never leave a meeting with “I’ll think about it” as your prospect’s next step. It’s a sign that you missed something. Follow up with questions that address the gap:

  • I honestly thought I clarified your questions and concerns, and I’m wondering: what exactly didn’t we cover? What information do you need? What questions do you still have?

Give your prospect time to respond, even if that means a long silence. You’ll uncover information that will help you to determine the next steps – or if the next steps are worth taking.

The sooner you intentionally apply ABC throughout the sales and buying process, the more time you’ll spend with people who have a true interest in your product or service.

 

Reinventing TGIF: Top Business Development Activities for Summer Fridays

July 9th, 2015

There are nine Fridays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. How much new business will you generate with yours?

The idea of working on Fridays in the summer seems counterproductive. It can be easy to talk yourself into not working or leaving early: everyone’s on vacation; no one’s serious about business on Fridays.

Here’s the surprise: research indicates that taking Fridays off during the summer can be counter-productive. In a survey conducted by Captivate Network, fifty-three percent of those surveyed said that reduced hours on Friday lowered their productivity and increased their stress. Leaving early on Friday and dreading Monday all weekend is the ultimate waste of time.

Summer Fridays are the time to work smarter, not harder. Take advantage of the relaxed vibe and the slower pace with these tips.

Schedule Friday Morning Meetings

Busy executives wind down on Fridays and their calendars are often more open than other days of the week, especially during the summer. Meeting at a breakfast or coffee spot that is convenient to your prospect’s office can provide a brief change of venue without taking up much time. This approach can be especially effective as a follow-up conversation to an initial meeting. Nine Fridays? That’s nine opportunities to move nine potential buyers closer to a close.

Do Lunch, Get an Introduction

Summer Fridays are an ideal time to schedule lunch with former colleagues or business associates. Always confirm that you’ll meet at their offices, and ask in advance if they’d be willing to introduce you to their boss or other executive at the company that you’d like to meet. When you meet your new contact, be sure keep the conversation brief and informal. Remember, it’s not a sales call; it’s an introduction. By the end of the summer, you’ll be back in touch with nine colleagues and you’ll have nine new business contacts.

Send “Three by Three” Emails

Fridays are also a good time to refine and test your email messages to prospects. Pare yours down to three sentences, then test sending a few by 3:00 p.m. on Friday to three types of prospects:

  • New prospects you haven’t met
  • New contacts you have recently met
  • Contacts you know but have not approached as prospects

The typical business executive receives over 600 emails a week. This inflow slows down as the work week closes, and your email may get more attention on a Friday afternoon than on a Tuesday morning. 

Clear Your Desk and Your Head

When I worked for a global consulting firm, we had an unwritten rule: don’t leave the office on Friday until your desk is clean and your week ahead is planned. It seemed restrictive at the time, but it’s a practice that pays big benefits: it frees up your head space for weekend pursuits. Nothing boosts productivity like coming back to a clean desk and a game plan on Monday morning.

If you work smart on Fridays in the summer, you won’t be alone. But you will be ahead of the competition.

Three Ways to Practice Listening as a Business Skill

June 25th, 2015

Watching with your ears pays off in improved business relationships

When I lived in Latin America, frequent trips to government offices to keep my visa status updated meant a lot of bus travel. I learned to close my eyes as soon as I got into my seat. By being “asleep” I could avoid any unwanted attention I might cause by looking around. It also developed my listening skills. Watching with my ears taught me to observe my surroundings and still focus on information about my stop or connection.

This came in handy during an especially crowded second-class bus trip during Easter week. My seatmate was a woman traveling to market with a live chicken in her lap. I can still hear that chicken’s off-beat clucking as Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” played through scratchy speakers. Despite all those layers of distraction, I still managed to hear the driver announce my stop.

About forty-five percent of a typical business day is spent listening, so watching with your ears is not only a smart travel strategy. It’s also a valuable skill for business owners and salespeople. Here are three ways to practice watching with your ears to maximize the value of every business interaction.

Asking and Listening: A former colleague of mine kept a roll of duct tape on his desk. It was his reminder to ask questions, shut his mouth and listen. Listening starts with asking open-ended questions that begin with what, how, who or where. In a business negotiation, examples of open-ended questions might be: 

  • How would you describe your current (workflow/maintenance/customer service) process?
  • What types of issues have surfaced in your current process?
  • What impact have those issues had on your (customers/employees/partners)?

The key is to ask, and then listen without interrupting. Practicing this skill with a friend or colleague can help you to notice and modify your interruption tendencies.

Listening through Layers: Listening through layers is a technique that can help you to uncover underlying issues or motivations. Try listening through three primary layers: listen for facts first, then thoughts and beliefs, and then for feelings. Often you’ll discover that you or others have made assumptions at one or more of these layers. Listening through them helps to clarify what’s important to each person and help to identify the next steps you can take together. 

Taking Action after Listening: Listening is half of the process. Identifying the next steps to a common goal is the other half.  Asking additional, open-ended questions can be useful in reaching workable future steps, such as:

  • What would you think if…?
  • How does _______ sound?
  • What are the options?
  • Who can help with that?

It’s not always easy to step back from telling or interrupting. Perfecting your listening skills takes a little practice, but it’s worth the payoff in avoiding in tense negotiations and improving the quality of your business relationships.

Finding Your Champion: A Field Guide for Sales

April 1st, 2015

Elvis. Sasquatch. The ivory-billed woodpecker. In business-to-business sales, finding your champion in a prospect company can sometimes seem like the quest for an elusive creature. The truth is, most champions don’t announce themselves; they need to be identified.

Champions don’t sell for you. They are your guides – your channel through the purchase process from the prospect’s point of view. If your contact provides you with information about the product/service decision-making process, introduces you to the decision maker and helps you navigate the obstacles, you have a champion. A champion has the influence and the ability to help you and their company to complete the purchase.

How do you identify possible champions? Here’s a field guide to observing and listening for them.

End user clues: People who use your product or service in their daily tasks are often the most enthusiastic. While they often lack the influence to be a champion, an enthusiastic end user can help you to identify the touch points a level or two further up in the company. In the case of a software application, for example, an end user might access the application in their daily activities. The end user’s supervisor might generate reports for their boss, who in turn makes business decisions based on the reports. Finding the highest-level user in the chain can often uncover a champion.

Behavior clues: The behaviors of the people who participate in a first meeting, demo or even a conference call can provide clues to their champion potential. Listen for individuals who open discussion and raise questions about relevant business issues, or those who offer points of view that challenge yours in a respectful way. Seating order in a physical meeting can also reveal possible champions: watch who sits near the decision maker or leader. Observe their responses to your comments and how others respond to them.

Motivation clues: Champions support a purchase decision because they have something to gain. A rising star may be eager for advancement and may see bringing in your product or service as contributing to their record of success. A long-term employee may value professional recognition and the respect of colleagues. Champions who want what’s best for the company might be motivated by helping to maintain the company’s competitive edge. Finding the common ground between your product or service and your champion’s motivations is one of the most influential factors in moving toward a purchase decision.

In the past seventy years, there have been only twenty-two alleged sightings of the possibly extinct ivory- billed woodpecker. If you look for the telltale clues, your next sales champion will be much easier to find.

Growing Your Business? January is Get Real Month

January 21st, 2015

It’s claimed as Hot Tea month, Hobby month, and even Divorce month. I think of January as Get Real month. It’s time for reviewing your business behaviors. What’s moving you forward? What’s holding you back? Here are three behaviors that top the list:

I’m Not Wired to Sit at a Desk: Some business owners will do anything to evade think time. They’re great at networking and generating ideas. When it comes to thinking through the implementation, they are equally adept at evasion tactics.

I Put Out Fires: I once worked for a boss who felt most productive when putting out fires. When his company was operating smoothly, he would create a crisis that he could step in and resolve. Constantly dealing with crises prevents you from thinking about your business.

I Have to Do It Myself: These business owners are overwhelmed with daily decisions and tasks that others should be doing. Every business owner must eventually face the operational consequences of growth: you can’t continue to make decisions or execute on every detail of your business.

If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, maybe it’s time to get real.

First, make and keep a recurring weekly appointment with yourself to think about what’s happening in your business and prioritize your activities. Figure out which day and time of day you feel most focused and open to stepping away from the daily details and claim that time as your own. Consider choosing a non-office location for your appointment if interruptions or distractions are an issue. Make certain that you’re not substituting office interruptions for distractions in another location.

During your appointment, keep your business goals, opportunities and issues visible. Reviewing a standard list of questions at each meeting can help you to focus.

Business Changes

What needs to change in my business?

Who or what resources do I have to make this change/who are my best change agents?

Whom do I know who can help with this?

Which of m y current activities need to change?

Opportunities and Issues

What can be done right now to help to resolve this issue/leverage this opportunity?

Who can take this action?

What is the most productive use of my time?

What were the top three things I did last week?

How do these things contribute to my business goals and opportunities?

Priorities and Productivity

What percentage of my time did I spend on those things?

What were the least important things I did in the last week?

How could I have deferred or delegated those things?

Then ask yourself the same questions for the coming week.

The most important appointment you can keep is the one you make with yourself. Get Real in January, and you’ll see results in 2015.

Are You Defying Gravity? Newton’s Law for Salespeople

November 4th, 2014

“Gravity. It Isn’t Just a Good Idea. It’s the Law.”

Gerry Mooney coined this tagline in 1977 and immortalized it on his cult-classic poster of an apple bouncing off Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

The law of gravity applies to sales just as much as it does to apples falling from a tree. Like gravity, an effective sales approach is a force of attraction – it draws prospects to your product or service. Unless you defy the law. Here’s an example from a mail piece I received recently.

The letter was from a financial advisor I don’t know. Inside the envelope was an informational piece about asset allocation in a financial portfolio. The advisor’s photo and contact information were printed on the piece, and next to his photo the advisor had written: “Congratulations on your award. I thought this article might interest you. I will follow up next week.”

This advisor deserves credit for proactively seeking out prospects, but his approach failed. In sales, as in physics, you can’t defy gravity: it’s the law. Here are three simple adjustments to turn a gravity-defying attempt at prospecting into a force of attraction.

Have a Clear Purpose: A handwritten note of congratulations is a considerate touch and an effective opener. The advisor’s note just didn’t have any connection to the asset allocation piece, and the piece had no connection to me. The communication lost its force of attraction. A simple card or separate note of congratulations would have been more effective as an initial approach.

Be Helpful: The advisor doesn’t know me or anything about my interests. What made him think the asset allocation piece would interest me? Do your homework and find out about the prospect and his/her company, and don’t push too much information too soon. A relationship-building approach might be, “As you explore financial options as a business owner, I’d be happy to be an information resource for you.”

Communicate a Meaningful Follow-up Plan: The advisor’s note said, “I will follow up next week.” Follow up on what? Open the door to getting acquainted with a local prospect by requesting a time to introduce yourself informally and in person. If your prospect is involved in a local chamber of commerce, professional association or civic group, suggest meeting and introducing yourself to your prospect at an upcoming meeting. It’s a low-key way to establish a connection.

Gravity always pulls; it never pushes. If your sales approach is pushy, you’re defying gravity. Use the law to your advantage, then watch the impact it has on your sales.

Would You Hire This Person?

October 2nd, 2014

I recently led a whiteboard session at Summit Technology Academy. This forward-thinking high school accelerator is a national model for providing pre-professional, college-level coursework for students interested in science and technology-related careers.

The session was like many productive whiteboard sessions – a sometimes messy, muddy, process. Getting to clear outcomes requires asking crystal-clear questions – and answering those questions with honesty.

During a break in the session, I took a walk through the hallways to incubate my questions. As I turned around a corner, I came face to face with myself.

A full-length mirror was mounted on the wall. Above it was the question: Would you hire this person?

Well, there’s a crystal-clear question. Most of us have thought about that question when it pertains to someone else. The students that call the Academy home pass by that mirror on a daily basis, and are challenged to answer it for themselves. How would you look at yourself from an external point of view and answer that question from an internal point of view?

It’s about more than just what you’re wearing. It’s the intangibles that the mirror challenges you to confront. Do you project the confidence and determination to do what it takes? Does that show in your expression? Your demeanor?  Can you look yourself in the eye and honestly answer, “Yes, I would hire myself?”  If you honestly answer no, what could you change? How could you develop those intangibles? 

Beyond the job interview, every business interaction is an opportunity to be hired. Lunch with a colleague, a sales presentation, informal networking over coffee or a department meeting – all of these interactions give everyone you meet a full view of what you bring to the table. If you take an honest, full- view look at yourself and challenge yourself to answer “yes,” you just might bring more to the table and get better results.

Take a look in your mirror today and ask yourself: “Would you hire this person?

 

Strategy: What the Greeks Knew

September 19th, 2014

The Greeks knew it. The Trojans learned the hard way. From its political and military origins thousands of years ago through the current business climate, strategy – how to develop it, execute it, out-position your competition with it, achieve results with it – is essential to business success. Results matter more than ever to business owners and company leaders, who expect more from the strategy development process than a plan in a binder.

Ask yourself or your team about strategy, and you’re likely to uncover long-held assumptions about the process. Here are two of them:

Assumption #1:  Strategic planning is a logical, intellectual exercise. True, the strategy development process is partly logic-driven, and it’s also very much colored by emotions. Strategic planning involves people – individuals and teams who have a stake in the outcomes. Some may initially see the process in terms of an evaluation of their performance, as a challenge to the ways they’ve become accustomed to working, or as a change that alters how their value to the company is perceived.

The variations on these perceptions are as numerous as the people who hold them. When emotion-based perceptions are not acknowledged, the collaborative benefits and outcomes of strategic planning suffer. Participants can become defensive and competitive. The process can be compromised by hidden agenda, or take on a tone of risk management. These unintended consequences are avoidable. Leaders that recognize and accept strategic planning as a non-linear, often emotional process can make a significant difference in the outcomes.

Assumption #2:  Classic strategic planning is the only valid approach. Classic strategic planning emerged in the 1950’s. Assessment and analytical tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The classic approach can be effective. It’s also one of many approaches. I sat down recently with a company president to discuss his company’s upcoming planning retreat.  When I suggested that the company could consider a range of options in addition to a classic approach, he visibly relaxed and commented, “I didn’t realize we could do this in other ways.” 

The optimal approach and tools for your company depend upon a range of factors – your current business situation and market position, the personalities involved and your expected outcomes from the process. Exploring a range of approaches to strategy development can be energizing, especially if you aren’t aware that you have options. You do.

Strategic planning is big thinking about the big picture. And it’s only part of the story. Developing and implementing strategy also takes continual refocusing on the intended outcomes. Refocusing doesn’t end with the retreat, the whiteboard diagrams and the carefully bound document. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process. As the Greeks knew.

Slow, The New Fast

June 10th, 2014

What happened to that white-hot prospect?

Every business owner and sales person has asked this question. You had their attention and mobile number. They had a need; your product or service practically sold itself. You had rapport, and then –

Silence. 

You replay the conversations in your mind and retrace your steps from your notes. Did you miss something?

Perhaps. But maybe it’s not what you think you missed.

Maybe what your prospect took was a break. Some time away from a business pace and information intake that is increasingly head-spinning and demands an increasingly rapid response.  

A business owner I know unplugs once a month, reserving a day to think through all of his pending business decisions and related information. Many executives can’t or don’t schedule intentional “think time,” and they temporarily escape by postponing decisions. Your prospect’s balancing-act response to an overload of information, decision-making and the need for speed? Slow, the new fast. 

Before the next hot prospect turns into a whiff of smoke, consider your prospect’s capacity for information, rapid change and rapid response. Integrate the following questions into your interactions with them:

  • What are you getting from me that is most helpful?
  • What am I doing that is not helpful to you?
  • What could I be doing to be more helpful?  How does that help?

Information overload affects all business professionals and their activities, including you and  your prospects. Think through your sales cycle and build in time for your prospect to gain perspective on their future use of your product or service. It’s one of the routes to yes in slow, the new fast.

The Suspense is Killing You (And Your Deal)

June 27th, 2013

Willy Wonka’s eyes gleam as he watches a boy wedged in a pipeline for chocolate and quips, “The suspense is killing me – I hope it lasts!” 

 Gene Wilder’s line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is relevant for sales people and business owners who sell. Suspense can kill you, and it can also kill your sale if it lasts. 

 In sales, stress can be reduced by managing the source of the stress. That isn’t the case with all vocations, according to CareerCast.com. The career portal annually researches and rates the top 10 most stressful and least stressful jobs (www.careercast.com/jobs-rated). The most stressful jobs in 2013? Soldier. Military General. Firefighter. Sales didn’t even make the Top 10 list. True, sales didn’t make the Top 10 list of least stressful jobs, either. It’s somewhere in between, and where it falls on the scale for you depends on how you deal with the stress. Here’s an example.

 While attending a trade show, I struck up a conversation with the CEO of a small company that was exhibiting at the show. He had arranged several sales meetings in advance of the show, but he focused on complaining that his prospects at a large company that was also exhibiting had not responded to his requests to meet. “They know where my booth is,” he groused. “They can come find me, and if they don’t, I’ll go over there and give them a piece of my mind.”

 Focusing on what others were not doing added suspense and negativity to the sales equation, not only for the CEO but also for his young sales team at the booth. When you’re in a similar situation, you can create suspense and spiral down with the stress, or you can manage it and use it to make progress with a few key questions:

  • What is the worst that can happen with this situation if I do nothing to change it?
  • What’s the best that can happen if I take action?
  • What are the options for action?
  • Which options can bring me closer to the best that can happen?

The CEO didn’t ask me for my opinion. If he had, I would have suggested stopping by the large company’s booth on the last day for an informal conversation with his prospects. During the initial small talk, the CEO would likely be asked, “Did you have a good show?”  The answer could get the CEO his meeting: “We had a great show. We had several meetings onsite that we arranged in advance, and those meetings went really well.  I am sorry that you and I couldn’t get our schedules to coordinate before the show. Let’s figure out how to make that happen.”

 Back to the three most stressful jobs: all of them involve fighting something—like other human beings or the elements. That’s why they’re stressful. Sales is not war. The prospect is not your enemy unless you think of him or her in that way. 

Sales is a team sport, with the objective of bringing both you and your prospect onto the same playing field. Finding options that put both of you on the same playing field are a lot more rewarding than letting the suspense kill you and your deal. Unless you own a chocolate factory.