Thursday, July 31, 2008

The "Blue Collar" Salesperson

All right, I must mention that I have a deep affection for "blue collar" folks. After all, my father was blue collar all the way down the line and I did serve five years in the Marine Corps. In my heart of hearts, I still feel like I'm blue collar, too.

What I'm going to talk about here is completely different from those kinds of definitions, however. I want to speak about the blue collar salesperson and how this individual operates.

The blue collar salesperson is certainly a hard worker. This individual makes the extra sales calls, relies on cold calling for almost all new business, and typically works over 60 hours a week in maintaining & developing their customers. This individual never reads books and may have come from a background outside of sales. They rarely if ever make important contacts (non-customers, but important people like mentors or folks that are in a great position to give referrals) that can improve their sales numbers with less work. In short, the blue collar salesperson is very dedicated, but is certainly headed for a huge burnout in his selling career. Even though they are capable of producing great sales numbers, they will many times leave the selling profession because of overwhelming stress.

Are you a blue collar salesperson? If so, that is ok, I was at one point my career as well. Do yourself and your selling future a favor, however. Take some of that hard work and put it into educating yourself to be a more productive salesperson. Your family, friends, heart, and the selling profession as a whole will appreciate this move more than you'll ever know.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Products or Services Salespeople Represent Largely Determine How They are Viewed

The primary buzzword in sales for the 21st century has been "consultative selling". This type of selling has been applied to everything from telesales to actual consultants. While I have a few problems this idea of selling, (this implies you will recommend the best product or service, even if it is a competitor), I'll save that for another article.

The truth is, what you sell largely determines how you are viewed by your prospects and customers. I'll explain further. If you are a software company salesperson or sell business consulting services, chances are that your prospective customers will view you with much power and authority. If you sell commodity items that can be purchased at dozens of locations in your marketplace (examples - building materials, office equipment & supplies, etc), it is much harder to obtain a higher social status among your prospects. On some levels, I would argue it is more difficult to make large sales gains with commodity products. After all, it will usually will come down to price and color for most salespeople in closing the deal.

In short, the more technical and overall business ability the salesperson is perceived in having, the more likely the prospective customer will view this person as "credible" and "worthwhile". If you are a salesperson in a technical or business consulting field, this will come much easier (and you must work hard in maintaining a strong image). If you sell commodity products, you need to dig deep and find unique ways of presenting yourself as an "expert" to prospects. Think about it, do you really want your sales numbers to be determined by color and price?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sales Territory Mapping is Overrated

There are a lot of companies out there who have started incorporating sales territory mapping to list an individual salesperson's accounts. While this software is pretty cool, I think a lot of companies and sales managers incorrectly use this information to manage their sales force.

I actually worked for a company some time ago that started a new sales territory program that used software to map each salesperson's territory. While this information was very useful, the management at this company went down the wrong road by micromanaging their sales force at an extreme level. Each morning, the salesperson would "log in" to find their sales calls already programmed for the day. Yes, that means the company actually had a computer determining who the salesperson should call on (imagine that, you are allowing a computer program to run your sales force). I tried it for a month, and as my sales numbers dipped I went back to doing things my way. I didn't feel comfortable about "blowing off" what they wanted me to do, but at the end of the day your overall sales numbers are the only thing which keeps you employed.

Sales territory mapping can be beneficial, and in the future I will publish several posts on how you can correctly use this information.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What's on the Back of Your Business Card?

Many salespeople leave blank one of the simplest ways to market their products & services. What is on the back of your business card? Like most business cards, chances are it is blank.

There are a number of ways to market yourself on the back of your business card. It can contain sales awards, a one-time discount for new customers, your different locations, or even a short sales pitch. You can even take this one step further by having several versions of your business cards with different material on the backside.

I'll be publishing more posts in the future on the specifics of what a business card should contain. Stay tuned, and start thinking of ways you can "brand" yourself as a salesperson by using this method.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Flashback" Friday: "Thank You" Cards Work

Do you want an easy way to set yourself apart from your competitors? How about looking into hand-written "thank you" cards? As the internet and computers come to dominate our lives more, personal mail is becoming less frequent. All of us are getting less personalized hand-written mail as each day passes. We all still appreciate it, however, when we recieve something hand-written in the mail.

Sending out hand-written "thank you" cards will go a long way in building rapport with your prospects and customers. Keep a stack in your car (they are dirt cheap at any office store!) and write one after the first meeting with a prospect when you leave. Two or three sentences will do fine. Drop it in the mail as soon as you get back in your office or when you go home for the day. This will instantly set you apart from your competitors. It is professional, personal, and should be expected from top salespeople.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why My Posts Are Short

Many of you may be wondering - why are Will's posts concerning sales strategies short in length? I number of other sales Blogs on the web publish lengthy articles in more detail. Here is why I do this, and as always, I'll keep it "short".

As a salesperson, executive, or business owner, your time is very limited. My aim is to give you daily posts that get the blood flowing, without you having to spend a great deal of time or energy in your visits. I know you will make this a daily stop, while other sales Blogs on the web might give you an article every week at best.

It is also hard to take every post I publish and incorporate it in your overall strategy. Some viewpoints you might disagree with; and because nobody is the #1 authority on selling in my book, this is certainly acceptable.

My goal is to simply get you thinking, keep you motivated, and maybe change several ways in which you operate. Incorporating just several of the strategies I discuss can give you big paydays. If I accomplish that, than I have contributed in a great way to the selling community. This is my primary goal at this Blog, more than anything else.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Negative Sales Authors

Every sales author will certainly have a little negativity in their materials. After all, they are trying to sell you reading or audio materials. I find a certain amount of negativity acceptable; however, some of these authors are just plain mean and nasty.

This heavy amount negativity from certain authors is really repulsive. They will claim that sales jobs are going away, salespeople are no longer needed, and if you don't purchase their material you are going to lose your job at some point in the future. Take my advice, stay away from these types of sales authors.

If you allow this level of negativity to come into your mind it will slow your efforts in selling. You will start believing that you can't succeed, and you will be hesitant to take action. Let me remind you, action and a positive attitude are more important than any sales strategy.

Obviously, I certainly believe there are better ways of selling than the traditional formats. That is why I publish this Blog. I will say with all certainty in my heart, though, that a belief in one's self is the most important asset that any salesperson can have.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Websites for Salespeople

Many salespeople are starting to wonder if they need their own website to generate leads for themselves (obviously, most companies do a poor job of providing leads). My answer is absolutely "yes"! Think about it, isn't it nice to have something working for you at all hours of the day, even when you are sleeping. If that is not appealing, you can certainly continue the age old drill of cold calling to generate leads (we all know, this is not fun).

To explain the in and outs of starting a website is too extensive for one post. However, building a website is easier than ever. Look into doing this when you get time (or come back to my Blog in the future) and remember that the cost is dirt cheap.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New Accounts Are Vital

At one of my first sales jobs, I had a boss who actually stated to me that "everybody who is worth something has been called on." His thoughts were that the only way I could increase sales was to penetrate existing accounts further.

True, the scope of customers this company I once worked for was limited. But this old boss of mine was completely wrong. In my first full year, over 10% of my overall business came from new accounts I personally opened.

Don't ever let anyone fool you into believing that new accounts aren't important. They are vital to every salesperson’s and company's future business. Even if your scope of customers is narrow, always be looking to add new accounts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Flashback" Friday: Punishing Honesty

About a year ago, I was in front of a large prospective target customer in my territory. This prospect ran a great business and was well regarded within their industry. After getting the opportunity to tour their facility, we started discussing some possible business between our companies.

The prospect came right out and stated how great their relationship was with their current vendor. Instead of taking this in stride and appreciating their honesty, I pushed back with pricing, quality, service, and a bunch of other nonsense this prospect was not interested in hearing. I should have instead thanked them for their time, sent a follow up thank you note via mail, and thought a little more deeply about how I could obtain business from this company moving forward.

When buyers mislead or deceive salespeople, we tend to get frustrated. With the accuracy of hindsight, however, I readily understand why buyers do this. Look at my actions with the prospect in the above paragraph. Here was a guy just being honest, and I punished him for his honesty by firing back with a product dump along with a boring company story. Later on, I actually did devise a different strategy and ended up selling to this account. But imagine if I wouldn't have reacted like a typical salesperson. I might have ended up doing business with this company sooner.

My main point here is simple. Don't punish prospects for being honest! This is the biggest favor they can do us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Role-play in Sales" - Only if You Want to be an Actor

I'm not a big fan of role-playing in sales. Heck, playing house with my daughter is more productive in my world. Instead of wasting time with role-playing, how about you spend time in front of "real" prospects in "real" situations.

Role-playing is never realistic. I could go on about this but then you and I would never get that time back. As salespeople, we were at some point put through this embarrassing exercise. It has never helped me, and for the most part I goofed around while performing this exercise in futility. Read a book, get a mentor, listen to CDs, go to a seminar, but do not talk yourself into believing role-playing sales calls will achieve anything other than "B" movie acting status.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Putting the Last Nail in the Coffin of Your Competitor

Oh no, the most dreaded words we could possibly hear. "William, well I know I said I was going to go ahead with the order, but...I just feel like we been with this vendor so long, I really...uh...maybe things will change down the road. I’m going to give them another chance.”

You got in the door with the prospect. You gave them a good price, a profit justified solution, and got a "yes" answer. Hell, you didn't even close, the deal closed itself.

Now comes the dreaded call two days later. Your competitor undercut the price and begged to keep the business. Here is how the conversation started, “We have been doing business together for years Mr. Customer, and we will do whatever we need to do to keep your business.”

The bottom line here is you could have prevented this from happening. How? Confirm with the decision maker with a scenario like the following:

“Mr. Prospect, I know you told me you wanted to move forward in doing business together. I’m very appreciative of this decision, but still, I’m sure you current vendor is going to be pretty frustrated in losing your business. I’ve obviously very excited about getting started, but I need to know something before putting the work into making this business transaction happen. If they cut their price, beg for your business back, are you going to change your mind?”

Almost universally, the prospective customer will answer with “No, let’s go ahead and move forward.” To hand this business back, they must now break their “word” with you. It could still happen, but most likely your competitor is out the door for good. The only way you can let them back in is by breaking your “word”. Execute this strategy, and you will mortally wound your competitor before they even have a chance to fire a bullet back at you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Politics of "Change" and What It Teaches Us

As we enter yet another Presidential election season, the politics of "change" have taken center stage (which they always do after eight years of any President). Both candidates are scurrying about trying to present a strong image of change. There is a lesson that we as salespeople can learn from this Presidential election.

As salespeople, we are also agents of change. After they have been doing business with our competitors for some time, we arrive to change the situation to their favor. We reduce expenses, improve profitability, and recover lost revenue for our customers as this change takes place.

No matter which candidate you are pulling for in this election, remember, you must also be an optimistic agent of change to win. Doing so will draw new customers into your camp. Think of each sales dollar you bring in as a "vote" for your candidacy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What a Gas Station Can Teach You...

I recently stopped by a gas station (or C-Store) to get a cold fountain drink after a long day in the "field". Living in the same city for seven years now, this is a gas station that I have stopped at a number of times.

There were no parking spots so I had to park by a gas pump. I got my drink and quickly headed back out to my car. What I noticed (and this jogged my memory a little) was that the price per gallon on gas was thirty cents higher per gallon than the going rate everywhere else in the city. I soon remembered this, as this gas station has been doing this for number of years.

How can they do this and stay in business you might ask? I wondered the same exact thing. First, this gas station is off of an interstate exit with very few gas stations around. Also, there are over a dozen hotels located in and around this station (rental car fill-ups, company car folks that don't pay for gas, people who need gas in a hurry, people who are out-of-towners that don't know there way around).

What can this teach a salesperson? It teaches us that as salespeople, we can always get price when we are positioned to get price. The next logical question to ask is "how can I get in that position"? That is an even better question, so stay tuned to this Blog to find out!

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Flashback" Friday: Why Don't Prospective Customers Trust Us?

We have all had some really good meetings with prospective customers on the first appointment or sales call. Everything sounded great, we got good feedback from the prospect, and we walked out wondering where we were going to spend our commissions.

But in the end, this prospect never returned our calls and the sale disappeared. What happened?

Maybe these prospects were not qualified or decided that they did not want to go with a new vendor after all. This is certainly plausible. I happen to think when this happens the prospect did not trust us. Why is this?
We know we are trustworthy, we know we are excited about our product or services, and we know we could have benefited this prospect by doing business together. While we where sitting back talking a mile a minute thinking this person was ready, they had it in their head they were not going to be doing business with us all along. See, most salespeople out there are not trustworthy. We ended up being thrown in a pile with other untrustworthy salespeople, whether we deserve it or not. Can you blame these prospects, chances are they have been burnt from a salesperson in the past.

What we all need to remember is the following. Even though we consider ourselves trustworthy and great people to do business with, we cannot assume our prospects feel this way about us. After all, they just met us, right? Take the time to show third-party proof to take this trust issue off of the table. In the end, we will all end up with more sales by taking the time to build our credibility before jumping right into proposals with prospects that don't trust us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not Every Customer is Worth Having

We all need to remember that not every prospect is good for us to do business with. I have found, where there is smoke there is always fire. It seems like a beat-down on pricing, weekend visits, constant problems with products or services, and very slow or non-payments usually always go together.

The relationship with these customers almost always ends in disaster. They go out of business, never pay you (and then move onto another vendor), or end the relationship the one time you don’t give them the answer they want to hear.

If an account is always a problem, cutting them loose will usually boost your sales numbers in the long run. This includes big accounts that might give you a significant volume of business. Think about this, is the business you receive from a customer worth the cost of downsizing your self-worth and positive attitude. These accounts also take so much time away from new business development.

Cut these cancers loose and move on. You will make more money and sleep better at night in the end. You owe it to yourself to do business with customers that respect your expertise, hard work, and recommendations.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Problems are Always Opportunities…

Do you want to build rapport with your customers and prospects? Do you want loyalty and referral business? How about expert credibility, is this something you desire to have in your sales career?

How you handle problems will largely determine your reputation in the marketplace. This doesn’t mean you need to give everything away for free when a problem arises, but responding quickly with a resolution will do wonders for “branding” your name. We can’t prevent all problems from happening, but we can determine our response. Because we can control our reaction, problems with customers or prospects will always become opportunities.

That is what works for me!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Working Out for Sales Success…

It has occurred to me in my own sales career that lack of physical exercise is really bad for your sales numbers. Most salespeople simply carry around way too much stress. Let’s face it; selling is a very demanding and stressful career. We have to balance this with exercise.

I have found in my career that when I work out frequently at the gym (even if I work less in my sales career) that my sales numbers always improve. Let’s take the time to take care of ourselves first, so we can enjoy the fruits of our hard work in achieving sales success.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Direct Mail for Salespeople

Direct-mail can be really expensive for the low returns it brings in. Chances are, a prospect you have never met will not read or respond. If that is the case, why bother to take the time for a direct-mail campaign?

Although direct-mail is a poor marketing system for prospects you haven't met, it is a great idea for prospects that you have met in person. A prospect/customer newsletter allows your name to stay in front of decision makers and keep your phone ringing. More importantly, it builds a strong "branding" around your name for prospects that know very little about you.

Go through your business card stacks and look at who you are not currently doing business with but have met with in the past. This is a great place to start for a targeted, direct-mail campaign that will yeild results.

Friday, July 4, 2008

"Flashback" Friday: Buying vs. Selling

I often find that prospective customers would rather buy than to be put through some sort of sales process. Don't get me wrong, some situations require a little "push" to get the job done and put a sale on the board. A salesperson, however, should not have to continually fight an uphill battle with every prospect on "what's your best price" and "I am happy with my current vendor".

When these questions arise it is obvious that the salesperson has not taken the time make sure he or she is credible in the prospect's eyes. In short, the prospect has no perceived value in dealing with you when these questions come hurling at you like darts.

When selling is done correctly, buying should take place without any push from the salesperson. If the prospect has been qualified, the salesperson has taken the time to show third-party proof to enhance credibility, and the proposal is profit-justified, a sale should take place with no closing skills of any sort. If the prospect is qualified and believes in you, they will certainly believe your proposal and the money, time, or productivity you are putting back in their pocket.

About six months ago, I inherited an existing account that was happy with the products they were buying from my company. I placed a call on the main decision maker shortly after the account was given to me. After I introduced myself, I will never forget what this gentlemen said to me. "Hey, don't feel like you have to come in here and sell something to me." My response, "I don't want to sell to you, I just want you to buy from me.". After that, I shut my mouth and took an order.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Take My Order Please!

I called up my cable/internet provider a few weeks ago to add a premium channel to my line-up (mainly because there was a boxing match I wanted to see!). The customer service rep did a great job at first of taking my order. However, she kept going on and on about other services she wanted to sell me that I had absolutely no interest in or needed.

I started getting fustrated, but I did remain calm. After she ran through her sales pitches, I thanked her quickly and got off of the phone. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I realized, that a lot of so-called experienced salespeople do this, too. We always need to remind ourselves at certain moments (the kind where we start down the path of overselling) to shut-up and take the damn order! There is nothing worse than talking yourself out of a sale.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What to Expect From This Blog Going Forward...

As more of you come to visit my Blog, you will find that I will be posting daily (Mon-Fri). I don't really know of any current sales Blogs that offer this at this time.

Some of my past Blog entries are really good, and I of course do not want you to have to go back through the archives to find them. Therefore, I will have a "Flashback Friday" which will feature past Blog entries of extreme importance.

Additionally, I will be adding video shortly. The launch of videos will take place around the beginning of fall. A newsletter sign-up will also be added around this time as well.

Thanks to all of you and stay tuned for the upcoming changes...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Less" is "More" in Selling

Many times "less" is "more" in selling. This goes back to supply and demand. If you sit by your phone waiting for phone calls and run out to meet every prospect right away, prospective customers will believe (and rightly so) that you have very little business or credibility in your industry. In short, the ample supply of your time signals the demand is low for your services.

This does not mean should not return calls promptly or adequately serve your customers in a timely manner. But remember this, your schedule should be full as you have lots of business to take care of. Prospective customers will understand this and appreciate the fact they have access to a credible expert who is in high demand. Even if you don't have a lot of business, you need to "fake it until you make it". Take time to qualify prospects and don't give in to giving them a meeting on the same day they call you. This is one way that you can talk yourself right out of a sale before the process even begins.