Lighting a Spark Blog
Sharing tips, news, and views.
“There are only two ways of spreading light—to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith Wharton
It is the season of light when we celebrate the Light of the World with Christmas trees, the Hannukah and Kwanzaa candles burn bright, and winter solstice promises us the return of longer sun-filled days. We wish you a magical holiday season filled with love and laughter.
I recently taught a workshop to a group of experienced and very logical technical types who still believed that a clear, concise explanation of a product’s features and expected benefits was the most important selling skill. We had a lengthy discussion of why “telling ain’t selling.” Here are some of the key points to remember:
All buying decisions are first made emotionally; only when we know what we want do we look for logical rationalizations for why we should have it. Our customers are no different. If they want to buy from you because they trust you, or believe you “get them,” or are sure you are someone who will follow through, they will help you rationalize away differences in product and pricing. Of course you have to be competitive, but not the lowest. Just be reasonable.
Human beings are wired to contradict statements. No matter how great a talker you may be, a sales person’s opinions are not given much credibility. Selling is helping the buyer discover for themselves why our products and services are the ones they want to solve their problem or achieve their goal. The only mistake bigger than thinking you can talk someone into buying is thinking you can lower your price to become preferred. Buyers choose the product or service when they have a vision of how it will benefit them. When they can see their people using our stuff to solve their problem, we are helping them overcome their resistance to change and helping them realize the benefits.
When we lose a deal, it’s not because our product was missing a feature or our price was too high, it’s because we were out-sold. We can rationalize our loss any way we want to, but the fact is that someone else did a better job of leading the buyer to the decision and becoming the one they wanted to do business with. Get over it and do better next time by staying focused on the buyer’s goals. After all, it’s the goal or problem that got them looking in the first place and only a clear vision of how they can achieve it by working with us will overcome the power of staying with the status quo.
Selling is the most important job in our economy and the better we get at it, the more our customers , coworkers, and communities benefit. Be your best.
Are you playing “catch” or “fetch” with customers?
Happy New Year – Now what?
Most people start the new year tired and a few pounds heavier than they were before the holidays. That fuels us to make resolutions to be better, to be healthier, to be more successful. For most of us resolutions disappear from our consciousness faster than a plate of cookies disappears from my kitchen. So are they even worth it? Probably not.
Resolutions are not the same as goals, however. Goals have some important qualities that can help us change our behaviors. They include a realistic timeline, action plan, and vision of what the results will bring. Most of us know the acronym S.M.A.R.T. for setting goals: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-based. More important than these, however, is the vision. You need to give an honest answer to the question, “why do I care”? What will be different in your life if you achieve the goal? What will your life look like if you don’t? If there is no compelling vision of what you will gain, the status quo will look a lot more attractive than the pain of change.
This is the same process our customers go through when they look at our offerings. We may offer lots of attractive (in our opinion) features and benefits, but if we don’t help the customer develop a vision, they don’t have a compelling reason to act. They need to be able to close their eyes and see their people using our stuff to make life better if they are going to give up the comfort of the familiar for a painful transition to something new.
Next, you have to keep the goal in front of you. At my gym there is a mural that says, “to achieve a goal you have to expect it of yourself.” Review it every day. Keep it front-of-mind. Pay attention.
Finally, sharing your goal with someone you trust can help you be more committed and can increase your odds for success.
The idea is to form a new habit by focusing on your goal. It’s a lot of work. Is it worth it? Yes. Research has proven that people with goals are consistently happier than people without them—even if they don’t achieve them. Why? Perhaps it’s that the human heart needs hope and aspirations. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that working our goals, unlike making resolutions, can help us be better people living happier lives.
Wishing you happiness, health, and success in 2014.
It’s Labor Day, the day set aside for all of us to rest and be appreciated for our labors and contributions to this country’s success. But the next day we are back to “what have you sold lately?”
As pressure builds, whether it’s looming deadlines, stalled projects, fourth quarter expectations, our bodies rev up with stress. Fight or flight leads us to push to hard to close business on the one hand, or to walk away from the fight out of despair. Neither provides the results we seek and the stress hormones coursing through our bloodstreams affect our health, our hearts, our ability to sleep, our breathing. We eat too much or too little, have an extra drink or two. None of this helps, but what are the alternatives?
Take 5. Just 5 minutes at the beginning of your day spent reviewing what you want to accomplish and how you are going to schedule it in gets you focused before the phone rings or the emergency email arrives in your inbasket. Remember the wisdom of Stephen Covey who reminded us not to prioritize our work, but rather to work our priorities.
Take 5 again at the end of the work day to review your efforts. What did you do well? What did you learn? What are you grateful for? What will you plan for tomorrow? Taking the time to review and to write it down can free your mind from the ruminating anxiety that haunts so many of us in the evenings when we would rather concentrate on our families. It interrupts the sleep we so desperately need to do our best the next day.
Take 10. Once a week, take ten minutes to thoroughly review your forecast. Look for stalled projects and ask yourself what might be causing the delay. Did you skip steps in the process? Get too far out in front of the customer’s vision? Have you sent a champion letter? Gotten above the power line?
This brief reality check should give you an idea of how to proceed, where to invest more time and in what activities, or whether to flush this opportunity right out of the pipeline. Most sales people complain about not having enough time to do all that is expected on them. We all get the same hours in a day. The difference is what we choose to do with them. Too often we chase opportunities that we can’t win, missing the behavioral clues as to whether we are column A or column fodder. Focus time where you can realistically expect a return and save yourself the strain and pain of chasing hopeless causes. As sales people, we are judged by results, not effort.
Take a breath. Remind yourself throughout the day to breathe, pause, and to listen before speaking. Your message will have more impact, your customers and coworkers will feel respected, and your results will show the difference. In addition, with every breath your body will shake off some of the stress overload we all live with these days. Respect yourself and give yourself what you need to be your best.
Seth Godin wrote in his book, Tribes:
The easiest thing is to react.
The second easiest is to respond.
The hardest thing is to initiate.
Are you asking the questions that initiate new thinking? Are you challenging yourself to initiate new behaviors? Are you setting your own standards and then living up to them? Leading requires the ability to initiate thoughts, plans, and actions. Be a leader.
“Resistance is futile.” So say the Borg on Star Trek. And while assimilation may not be inevitable, change is. We see three common types of resistance to change:
• If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
• Why mess with success?
• Don’t rock the boat.
I encounter these attitudes in my sales process workshops and often challenge salespeople by asking what they would lose if they changed. Sales people who have been successful for a long time and who hold the “why mess with success?” position often believe change will jeopardize existing customer relationships. They believe those relationships are the key to their continued success, even when they know their coaches are far below the power line that separates people who can spend money on capitol projects from those who are assigned a budget.
Business relationships today are based, as always, on trust. We earn that trust when we keep our word, follow-up as we say we will, and tell the truth. But in addition to trust, today’s buyers demand value. They expect us to help them develop the best approach to solving their problem. They want us to challenge them with new thinking at times and to broaden their knowledge base. And they want us to help them sell the right capabilities internally to the decision makers above the power line, while also building consensus at the user and implementer levels.
To sell our value, we are required to ask intelligent questions and listen to the answers. We are required to develop a clear picture (vision) in the customer’s mind of how life will be better with their people using our stuff to solve their problems. And, we are required to call on more people and different people in an account than we did in the past.
That’s change and it is inevitable. We will succeed when we meet it head-on, sharpen our skills, and practice our proven sales process.
Some questions for self-examination regarding change:
• If I don’t change my professional practices, what will be the likely result?
• As my customer environment changes, how will I keep pace?
• If my customer fears change, what lessons can I share with him or her to help them move forward?
As a salesperson, you are a leader and others will look to you as an example of how to handle change. Show them how to embrace it and benefit from it instead of joining the complainers around the water cooler. You will feel better about your work and will see more success as a result.
If you haven’t already heard about To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, here is a brief review of this exciting new book by Daniel H. Pink (NY: Riverhead Books, 2012.) Pink is known for his previous works, Drive and A Whole New Mind and in his latest work challenges the cultural stereotypes about selling and sales people. He shares information from a Qualtrics survey called “What Do You Do at Work?” that explains how much selling is a part of any successful career. He calls selling that doesn’t involve a product “non-sales selling”–which seems to beg the question to me, but he explains:
“1. People are now spending about 40% of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling–persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of professions, we are devoting roughly twenty-four minutes of every hour to moving others.
2. People consider this aspect of their work cruciial to their professional success–even in excess of the considerable amount of time they devote to it.” (p. 21)”
He redefines selling as “moving others” and supports the principles I espoused in Selling with Soul Version 2.0. Selling is the lifeblood of business and deserves respect. He also points out how the internet has changed selling from caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, to cavet venditor, let the seller beware because information can now be accessed by both parties equally and a buyer no longer needs a sales person to form a preference. This can happen between the buyer and the internet without a seller even knowing there is an opportunity.
He also shares interesting research about the difference between being a problem-solver and a problem finder. The “finder” is skilled at finding the correct problem to address rather than accepting the surface view of what needs to be done. He tells a story about being in the market for a vacuum cleaner and how he doesn’t really want to buy an appliance; he wants clean floors. He can get product data and pricing from the internet. But what if he gets the “problem” wrong? “Maybe my real problem is that the screens on my windows aren’t sufficient to keep out dust…(or) my carpet collects dirt too easily, (or) maybe I should join a neighborhood appliance coop (or) hire a cleaning service…”
You get the idea. Helping our customers understand the underlying problems and facilitating their analysis of alternative solutions is the real work of a seller. That’s why they value our knowledge of the market, product usage, and environmental factors more than they expect us to be the product experts.
Daniel Pink says “existing data shows that 1 in 9 Americans works in sales. But the new data reveal something more startling: So do the other 8 in 9. They, too, are spending their days moving others and depending for their livelihoods on the ability to do it well.” (p. 25)
I’ve always said that sales is the only job that creates more jobs and sellers deserve to be treated with respect for their vital role in growing business. Is the world starting to agree with me? It’s nice to know that at least this author does.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side? To show the possum it could be done?
I don’t know. I’d have to ask the chicken.
Assumptions lead us into dangerous territory. When we assume, we’re often wrong and we make the mistake of lumping this customer with every other customer we’ve come across in the industry. No one wants to be generalized. No one wants to be “shoulded,” or told what to do. They want to discover the best solution for their challenges and, with your help, they can. But you have to ASK.
Questions invite conversation and elicit information including a preliminary estimate of value. Statements, on the other hand, invite contradiction. That’s just how we’re wired. So the better you become at asking intelligent questions, the more successful you will be in aligning with the customer and bringing value.
Sometimes it’s as simple as rephrasing. For example, turning “We could help you…” into “Would it help if you could?” invites the customer to reflect and comment rather than bracing himself to be “sold.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as pausing before we blurt out our opinion to rephrase it in a way that encourages the customer to express his opinion. During the pause, the customer may add information or ask a question that helps us better understand the situation.
I’m not saying you should never make a statement. As an intelligent and experienced professional, your opinions and your knowledge bring value to the discussion and to the customer. Timing, however, is critical. With skillful questions you can help the customer discover for himself the value of your capabilities and then you have established a context in which you can share your experience and ensure the customer has a successful outcome.
It’s always about the customer. First, do they have a goal? Is it measurable? And have we taken the time to find out what it is?
Second, are they willing to change? Is this achieving this goal enough of a priority for them to commit time and resources to achieving it? Have we helped them develop a vision of how they could achieve it using our capabilities?
Third, have you and the customer agreed on the value that achieving this goal will provide? If not, it will be hard for them to justify committing effort or resources toward the change.
While these fundamental concepts may seem obvious, the skill to achieve these steps requires constant practice. A golfer doesn’t improve his swing by reading a book. A quarterback doesn’t develop his arm in the locker room. Time and effort and practice are essential to mastering any skill. So let’s start with the basic question: How do you know if the customer has a goal, is willing to change, and sees value in the effort? ASK.
If you could wave a magic wand over your business, what would be your wish? Would you increase your revenue, crack that big target account, get the order for a big career-making project? Or would you create more time for yourself and your personal goals? Whatever you wish, how would your life change if it happened?
Before you make resolutions for 2013 or set goals, ask yourself what your life will be like if you achieve them? What kind of rewards will you experience? But also, and perhaps more importantly, ask yourself how your life wiil change if you don’t achieve them. What will you miss out on? What will it cost you? Remember that 10% of your business disappears every year due to attrition (mergers, relocations, plant closings) so just staying even isn’t an option.
We can expect our quotas to increase along with the pressure to grow our business, but a corporate expectation, even when it is delivered by your direct supervisior, doesn’t provide motivation to change. That has to come from inside you and what you expect from yourself. Even the threat of firing or being laid off is not effective in inspiring salespeople to increase their performance. It just breeds surface compliance or the appearance of working harder, or at its worst, it fosters short-term thinking and bad decisions to try to force business out of customers who just aren’t ready to buy. So how can you build your business in a way that improves your confidence and your self-esteem right along with your revenue?
Start with your own mission statement. Vow to provide your customers the best products and services for their particular needs and to lead with integrity in all you do. Commit to fully understand a customer’s needs before prescribing a solution and to consistently follow through on your customer interactions. Then, pick one thing a month to work on and incorporate as a new habit. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to change all at once. Baby steps get us where we want to go more surely than one great leap, and they provide incremental satisfaction along the way. We are not what we do occasionally. We are what we do consistently. That is how we are known and how we build our business. Find the time every day to review your goal for the month and schedule it in your planner. For example,
“This month I will reach out to XYZ Company and try to get a meeting with a key executive. I’ll do that by researching the names and titles of key executives, sending them letters of introduction, phoning them to follow-up, sending an email with a menu of business issues, and phoning them again.“
That’s the goal and the plan. What’s missing? Time. When are you going to do this? If it’s left to whenever you get the chance, you may take one or two of the actions listed. If you have a date with yourself for every Thursday morning at 8:00 to execute the steps and record your progress, you will complete them and will either have a new customer opportunity at the end of that month or a better sense of why that company is not a good place to invest your limited time and resources.
Finally, how will you keep yourself accountable? Some of us have a mentor or coach we look to when we need help staying focused on our goals. For others, the buddy system is a good alternative. Ask a friend or colleague for a check-in meeting once a week regarding your progress and offer to do the same for him or her. Critique each other’s prospecting letters or business issues. Give each other the support you need to stay committed and to succeed.
With a clear understanding of what you want, how your life will change if you achieve it, a plan and dedicated time to executive it, and someone to help keep you on track, you are well on your way to making 2013 a golden year for you and your business.
Happy New Year to all of you!
This week’s post is also our December newsletter Sales Tip.
What is the best gift you ever received? Why was it so important? Did it make you feel loved or understood? Did it show you someone was paying attention and cared about your individual longings and needs?
Compare that to the worst gift you ever received. Did you feel like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” who received pink bunny-rabbit pajamas, complete with ears and a fluffy tail more appropriate to a 5-year old girl than a 9 year old boy whose only desire was an air rifle? Did it leave you feeling that the giver didn’t really see YOU at all? In your day-to-day business, when someone gives you a product pitch without bothering to know if his product would be of any help to you at all, you are like Ralphie in his pink pajamas. Now step into your customer’s shoes. Do you ever deliver a one-size-fits-all message when you have an opportunity to meet with them? Are you concerned with their goals or problems and sincerely hoping to help? Or are you checking a box.
Gift-giving this time of year throws many of us into a tizzy seeking just the right thing at a price we can afford. The long lines on Black Friday are a visible sign of the effort we put into it. We may send our customers cards, fruit baskets, snack trays—often with our company logo prominently displayed–but year after year we forget that the best gift is us: our time, our attention, our caring.
When we give our customers our time, seeking first to understand and only then seeking to be understood, we are saying to them that they are important and we value them and their success.
When we ask knowledge-based questions and share our hard-earned experience, we are saying that we want them to have the best solution, not just whatever we sell.
When we give our customers our attention after a meeting and do a follow-up letter, we are saying to them that we don’t forget about them when we leave the room.
Quid pro Quo is a fundamental concept in selling: Get something before you give something. What we want to get is not just an order, but a customer, one who respects us and continues to do business with us over the long term. But what we must give in exchange is our best. Not “stuff.” Not pitches or discounts or “hot” deals. Rather, we want to give our customers our time, attention, commitment, and respect. There is no greater gift to a customer at this time of year, or at any other time of the year.
While we’re on the subject of gifts, do you write thank you notes for the presents you receive? It’s a custom that seems to be fading away in favor a quick phone call or email, but the holiday season is also a perfect time to say thank you, to count our blessings and acknowledge others who enrich our lives as well as those who enrich our bank account. Take time this year to say thank you to your customers for their business in 2012. Take time to thank them for their trust in you and to reaffirm your commitment to deliver quality service to them in 2013.
My great uncle used to say that a hug was the perfect gift because you can’t give one without getting one back and one size fits all. Sounds like quid pro quo to me. Maybe you can’t actually hug your customers without running afoul of the politically-correct police, but you can say thank you and then continue to give them the best gift of all: You.
To all of you, thank you for following Lighting a Spark and may your holiday season be filled with joy.