Silver Linings Playbook: Where You Start Your Sales Career is Not Where You Finish:
Early Career Advice from a CEO Who Started His Career Cold Calling
The third installment
This is installment #4 of 4. There is no shortage of advice for sales people and my four installments are my small attempt to help out or encourage sales professionals. If you want to sell effectively, it takes training, trail and error and time. The rewards are fantastic, and I stand by my statement in the first installment “sales people are the only ones who generate revenue! All the other disciplines manage or coordinate efforts after revenue is received. It takes years to learn accounting, operations, financial analysis, IT etc., and sales is no different, except we bring in the money. The key ingredient!
Installment 4 of 4
I will delve into visiting the prospect or client including advice on the sales pitch and effective questions. In the third installment, I reviewed: a) phone call follow up, b) first meeting preparation, c) first customer visit, and d) observing. In this installation, I address “visits, content, and objectives”.
Initial sales calls should be efficient and short. Many sales people make a big mistake; they talk too much about their company, and never get good information from prospect via effective questions. Remember, the most important person is the prospect, not you. My motto is “make quick goal oriented visits and get a second meeting”. I tell the client ahead of time, “my presentation requires about fifteen minutes. If you care to keep me longer, great! If not, I will leave”
It is important to remember the prospect accepted your visit; therefore, there is an interest in something. Your job is to uncover his/her need or interest. It may be a specific need or a general curiosity, but they want to learn something about you and your company.
Note to all: Before you leave for a visit, check to make sure you have business cards, a pen/pencil, paper and any other data gathering device you need. It’s also important to think about your objectives then write them down, also include a meeting outline and important questions.
1. The first visit: The first visit is about your company, the product and most importantly, you! You represent the company, and your employer empowered you with the authority to represent your company. There is significant money invested in you; take the responsibility to heart, embrace it and enjoy it.
First impressions are important and people love energy, passion, and efficiency. In my experience, the best sales people quickly and efficiently move through their presentations, and then after a brief pause, they ask pointed questions. Most sales call are directed by the sales person, and then hopefully evolve into a business conversation. In other cases, the meeting wraps up quickly because the prospect realizes there is no interest.
Every sales call presents a unique opportunity and a unique environment. On some occasions, it’s a 1:1 meeting, while in others you are greeted by ten people in a conference room. The only way to be ready is to:
a) prepare and study the prospect/client ahead of time,
b) know your product line,
c) be ready to recite your pitch (to one person or group of people), and
d) know the questions you plan to ask.
The sales world is filled with surprises, and it’s hard to become proficient. The only way to get better is to start. So, get started, get going…. it’s exciting, challenging and rewarding.
2. Good questions: Effective questioning (and listening) are fantastic sales tools. Effective questions are known as open ended questions or questions that require a qualitative or quantified response. A simple “YES/NO” is not possible. As an example, all sales people want to know about the size of a customer’s potential business. You may have a good feel for the size, but my advice is to start with a simple trial balloon question. The objective with the trial balloon is to gauge the person’s willingness to interact. I advise a question presented within a larger context. As an example, “as I was studying your website and while walking up to your lobby, I wondered about the size of ABC business within the XYZ industry. How big is your volume within XYZ?”. This type broad and wide-open question can be answered many different ways.
Most importantly, let the prospect answer without interrupting them. Just listen! Most sales people (sellers and buyers) hate silence; it makes people nervous. Learn to accept the silence and wait, the prospect will answer and listening is huge (note: to help me get through painful silence, I stare at my notes, look out the window or think about future plans. It helps!).
You need five or six (5-6) effective “open ended” questions. If the conversation slows down good questions help move things along comfortably. Here are a few examples: How many vendors do you use? What is the most important criteria for selecting new vendors? What product within our line interests you? Etc.
3. Concluding the call: Outline your notes and read them to the customer, and include your action items. It is important to avoid committing yourself to tight time lines without knowing the customer’s expectation. It’s important to remember your time management is critical; therefore, don’t create unnecessary self-imposed urgency. A typical example includes quoting a job. Young sales people will frequently make a commitment like “we will get quotes out first thing tomorrow morning” without asking “how quickly do you plan to decide on placing an order?” If the customer is not in a big rush, then don’t create unnecessary anxiety. Instead, tell the customer your standard turnaround time on a quote is X days.
Note to all: Remember, your support groups, like a pricing department, learn the salespeople who make everything a rush. There will be times when you need to move quickly so don’t unwittingly lose credibility at the office. If you’re confused, it is best to ask your manager or a more experienced person.
4. Trip report: A good sales day includes anywhere from two to ten sales calls, and the follow-up work load is tedious and time-consuming. Action, organization, and energy are the backbones of success. Trip reports are a sent to your support group. The trip report helps us focus our thoughts and priorities, and help build a strong historical basis for developing accounts and relationships.
Trip reports are a written report including date, meeting attendees, general observations and action items. Trip reports should be done while reviewing the meeting notes at the end of each day. This is important because the context and “feel” of the meeting is still fresh in your mind. If you wait a few days, then sales call details are lost as one sales call starts to blend with the others. Take the time to get the reports done on the day of the sales calls…. its worth it!
To summarize, the sales call offers the best opportunity for you and your company to create revenue, so be ready for all possibilities. Get pumped up! Study the company, observe the surroundings, prepare good questions, and take good notes. As the meeting closes, summarize your action steps to the customer, and write up a trip report.
These four installments covered a wide range of subjects in a short amount of space and time. The first and second installments focused on the foundational subjects that started with basic product knowledge and concluded with contacting prospects through phone calls and the initial meeting. The third installment focused on preparation for the first meeting and the importance of the “first impressions”. Remember, first impressions go both ways. We discussed the importance of personal preparation. Equally important, record your first impression of the customer. The exterior building and individual offices say a lot about a company and a person!
To conclude, I want to modify my earlier statement “sales people are the only ones who generate revenue!” Instead, I say “great sales people are the only ones who generate repeat revenue through loyal clients who trust and respect their supplier”.
Successful sales people, like successful people in all fields, achieve their success through hard work, good ethics, and determination.
You can do it.