Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Can't Sell to the Customer that You Can't See

To begin, this article title can be interpreted as not making a sales call or not being able to secure a meeting with a vital prospective customer. This is actually not what I will be speaking to in this article.

I drew the title of this article way back from my days as a baseball player. I had a former Major League baseball player and American Legion coach who always told me, "You can't hit what you can't see." This means if you don't recognize the pitch coming down the plate and can't see it, you have very little chance to hit the ball. It is no different in sales. If there is a prospective customer out there who you can benefit, it matters very little unless they know about you or you know about them.

Companies and salespeople usually identify what they believe are the major players in each of their markets. Some of these customers are in there column, others remain elusive year after year as a business connection is never able to be established. I call this group of customers and prospects - the "usual suspects".

To truly grow your sales at an unprecedented rate, you have to move past the "usual suspects" in your sales quest. With proper networking and prospecting through targeted information searches, you can always discover a hidden market of prospective customers that have not been identified. I believe this to be true even for companies and salespeople who normally have a narrow scope of prospective customers.

Don't ever fool yourself into believing that your company or sales manager has properly identified all the "good" prospects in your market. Take the time to network properly with your existing customer base, always take different routes when traveling to discover new businesses, and learn to use the Internet to identify new companies that you can benefit. If you can master the art of finding hidden markets & prospective customers, your sales numbers will skyrocket like never before. And always remember - "you can't sell to the customer you can't see."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making Assumptions in Sales is a Big Mistake

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in sales is making assumptions about prospective customers before doing any sort of investigating. That being said, I don't want anyone to get this confused with qualifying prospects. Qualifying is extremely important in attaining sales success, but qualifying doesn't involve making assumptions. Qualifying is a process in which a prospect is thoroughly examined through questioning and other relevant fact-based analysis.

In your sales career, you might have pulled up to a facility that seemed sub par and decided there was no way that any buying potential existed for your products or services. You might have met with a gentleman that you just couldn't see as being successful, therefore you left them in the dust and never took action. While your judgement might be right, I would argue you need to make sure to investigate these opportunities thoroughly before pulling out of the fight.

There have been numerous times in my own sales career that I have missed opportunities by making false assumptions. As I grew in my selling career, I started dismissing my own initial gut feelings about prospective customers and began a qualifying process of them to make sure I was right. While my own "gut" check was usually on the mark, I occasionally would find a "gem" in the group.

If you are making assumptions in your sales interactions, I would urge you to discontinue this activity immediately. Every opportunity is worth investigating, even if your own initial feelings point you toward dismissing them. I can guarantee you that if you qualify every prospect that comes your way, you will occasionally find a great opportunity that you didn't see initially.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Surviving a Bad Economy - "Live to Fight Another Day in Sales"

Unless your specific industry has been lucky enough to sustain "across the board" overall growth through the past year, the road ahead will be difficult one for all who travel it. And if you haven't planned on taking market share from your competitors in 2009, you will certainly find an even harder road ahead of you.

That being said, many salespeople simply won't achieve either their company sales quotas or their own personal sales goals in 2009. Economic downturns are also a really bad time for the "non-believers" in the sales profession. It seems that every 8-10 years when a downturn occurs, our ranks of salespeople are purged of the ones who don't belong. The problem is, however, that some really good people end up getting caught in the cross hairs of this decimation, too.

If you can't achieve your goals for 2009 - what should you do? First off, don't give up or concede the year at this point. We are only a little more than halfway through January, so we still have close to 95% of the year left! As a salesperson you are an agent of change, so get out there with your best "game" and make it happen. It might be a harder ladder to climb, but you as a salesperson have the power to climb it.

When times have ever gotten tough in my own life, one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies always comes to mind - The Outlaw Josey Wales. Towards the end of the movie, Josey Wales and the people he has befriended along his journey find themselves preparing to defend their homestead from an impending Indian attack. After going through every one's job and responsibility in preparation for the attack, Josey says to the group, "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is."

And that is the way it is. Complicated problems are often coated with simplicity in the way they are solved. Wake up earlier. Work longer. Exercise more. Make the extra call. Read another sales book. Get mean. Get mad. Accept nothing but a complete and total victory. And if the 1987 version of Mike Tyson appears before you ready to brawl, you are going to go down swinging. Make the SOB regret ever stepping in the ring with you, even if he wins. Because he is going to get hurt in either case.

There is a warrior spirit in all of us. When times get tough, we have to call on our warrior spirit. Warriors have never been, and will never be determined by their wealth, race, creed, gender, or religion. Yes, you can be a beautiful 115 lb woman and have a warrior spirit you can bring out to succeed in sales!

Take to the streets right now as if you were Mad Max the Road Warrior on his last quest. If you put in the effort and combine it with a well thought out sales strategy, you can succeed in '09. More importantly, even if you don't achieve all of your goals this year - "you will survive and live to fight another day." And remember that surviving is worth something, because a good economy is always right around the corner.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Marketing Optimism: How Insight Seems to be Using an Old Political Campaign as Inspiration for Their Commercials

Over the past six months, I have noticed how Insight Communications (a cable company) seems to be using a version of Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, "Morning in America" in their commercials. The "Morning in America" campaign was highly successful, as Reagan swept 49 out of 50 states and garnered close to 60% of the popular vote. Because Reagan's approval numbers were so high going into the election season, his team tried to run a very positive campaign (can you imagine this now? - in our current day and age...).

I must admit, I am an Insight customer and they have been wonderful to business with. That being said, I don't blame them for using a version of Reagan's optimistic theme for marketing purposes. I have included below a commercial from the Reagan campaign in 1984 with a current Insight commercial below it. I'll let you be the judge on how close they actually are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don't Put the Future of Your Success in the Hands of Others

Today, on January 20th, 2009, the US will inaugurate a new President. There is certainly a lot to be proud of as Americans when President-Elect Obama becomes sworn in as President. The positive symbolism of today is so thick you can cut it with a knife. That being said, I want to remind everyone to stay grounded in reality when it comes to your own success.

All sides can argue that having a certain politician in office can help you more economically than another, and that it is a fair assessment. However, it is foolish to put the future of your own success in the hands of others. No President, now or ever, has the power to bring or stop success coming to your life by your actions. Always remember that your success is determined by what you do, and is ultimately determined very little by the political leadership in charge.

Enjoy the moment and the day, as the peaceful transition of power is always a proud moment. When you wake up on the 21st of January, however, make sure you don't fall prey to putting the future of your success in the hands of others. And never fool yourself into believing that your success is determined by who is in charge of the country.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Five Most Common Types of Salespeople

Rather than just typecast prospective customers, I also like to analyze different types of salespeople I've come in contact with in my years of selling. Salespeople "crack" me up, because they don't think anyone understands how they operate. I have listed below the five most common types of salespeople I've had the opportunity to typecast over my career.

The "Ghost" Sales Rep - This has got to be one of my favorites. The "ghost" sales rep typically works in an industry with repeat customers that buy every month. This rep is usually hardly ever seen in person, hence the name - "ghost". He or she is just a voice on the other line, and primarily drives business by using the phone only. While this rep is not a new business kingpin, they usually are half decent at getting price. The reason why is they don't want to have to work harder when prices are lowered. This might call for "face to face" activity and the ghost sales rep can't have that! When times get tough, this rep has a hard time digging his or her way out of it. In most cases, this rep is found in the average or slightly above average category when it comes to performance. If they can burn up the phone through massive cold calling, they can make it to the top.

The "T to T" Sales Rep (aka - Tuesday to Thursday Sales Rep) - Obviously, this sales rep hates working in the field on Mondays and Fridays. Ghost Sales Reps were usually in this classification at some point before they decided to stay home! T to T reps can actually become very proficient, and use Mondays and Fridays for organization, paperwork, getting reports done, cold calling, and planning sales strategies. They seem to maximum their "face to face" activity to the utmost from Tuesday through Thursday. Believe it or not, they are quite a few top performers that are "T to T" sales reps. Most are usually "status quo" salespeople, however.

The "Rule Breaker" Sale Rep - Usually very independent, this sales rep is horrible when it comes to doing paperwork or getting in reports on time. They are also cynical when it comes to rules and regulations, though they very rarely voice their dissent in company meetings. The rules breaker is not necessarily dishonest, and he or she is very creative in driving new business. A lot of top performers are rule breakers, because they do what it takes to make their number. They have come to understand the phrase - "Better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." The rule breaker is usually found at the bottom or the top, and seldom can be classified as average.

The "By the Book" Sales Rep - This is the prototypical sales rep most companies go after. This sales rep will always work the required hours, get paperwork in on time, and put a lot of strength on the company's own method of selling. However, this sort of sales rep usually finds it hard to make it to the "top performer" level. While they work hard, they usually lack the creativity to drive business at a high level. They seem to call the "boss" on just about every semi-difficult situation they face. 80-90% of reps in this category could be classified as "average" when it comes to their sales performance. Their sales numbers also usually match the company's overall growth or decline.

The "Price" & "Complainer" Sales Rep - This is the sales rep that loves the sound of his or her voice in company meetings. Why? - because they love to complain! When dealing with customer complaints, they will almost always blame the company and have a hard time negotiating a "fix" with the customer. They are cynical beyond belief about company rules, but after voicing their dissent they actually follow the rules most of the time. This rep always gives away price unnecessarily, and likes to complain about company prices being too high, also. This type of salesperson never makes it into the top performer category unless they are extremely lucky. When it comes time to scale back the sales force, this person becomes an easy target for downsizing. This is also the most common sales rep type to leave the sales profession behind altogether.

Well there it is...the most common types of salespeople I've run into over my career. If you have one in mind that isn't described above, please feel free to leave your description as a comment to this post.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Good News for the "Five Minutes With VITO" Book Giveaway

I have been fortunate enough to come across three (3) additional books for my "Five Minutes With VITO" giveaway. This will bring the book giveaway total to six (6) books in all. These books are being supplied by Karl Goldfield courtesy of his sales blog. If you haven't yet qualified for the book giveaway, please go to my original post on "Five Minutes With VITO" to view the qualifications for the drawing that will be held at the end of this month. Thanks again to Karl Goldfield and his donation for the book giveaway.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is it OK to Give Up on a Prospect?

As most of you know, I am a big fan of Karl Goldfield's Sales Blog. He recently started a TV Show, also. His first episode was great, and I enjoyed being a part of it. While Karl is a sales mentor for start-up entrepreneurs, his ideas certainly can be implemented by salespeople, too.

In his first TV show, someone asked the question, "Is it ok to give up on prospect?" Karl's response was that as soon as productive a business conversation doesn't take place, it is time to move on. I agree completely with his assessment.

Sure, when calling on a prospect for the first time or two, there will be some awkwardness and push back. However, repeatedly calling a prospect that gives you the cold shoulder over and over is nothing but a fruitless pursuit.

Self respect, in my opinion, is always more important than any sale. When we lose self respect from repeatedly calling on prospects that show no interest or won't engage in a business conversation, we ultimately damage our outlook on becoming successful. If you move onto the folks that show genuine interest, you will no doubt improve your sales numbers at a much higher pace.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Book Giveaway - "Five Minutes With VITO"

I just wanted to remind everyone once again about my free book giveaway for "Five Minutes With Vito" that will be held at the end of this month. All you have to do is leave a comment or sign up via email for blog updates. Once you have done either one of these, you will be entered in for the drawing for one of the three (3) free copies that will be given away here on Top Sales Blog. If you leave at least one comment on a post and sign up via email for updates, your name will be entered twice for the drawing.

I'm in the process of finishing this book myself, and it is certainly a great read. Be sure to enter in on the drawing as this book is one that I highly recommend.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Is "Price" Retention Going to be Our Biggest Sales Challenge for 2009?

With a full US and worldwide recession underway, salespeople will face many challenges in '09. Recently, we have also seen falling prices at the pump. While this will likely be the #1 reason we will get out of our current recession, I certainly believe there will be drawbacks to falling fuel prices.

When we were hit with record gas and diesel prices in 2008, we saw numerous products spike in price. Basic food items such as milk and bread went up overnight. Most retail products jumped, also. Raw materials jumped up in price as well rather quickly - including steel and most building materials. What all of us learned from this is that in our present time, fuel is the engine that drives our economy. You might not like it, but it is certainly the truth. Think about it. Before oil became a widely used natural resource, most of the world lived in log cabins or huts accompanied with outhouses.

With fuel prices falling, the numerous competitors that exist in every industry will eventually lower prices in an attempt to gain market share and also because the present market conditions demand it. This will negate the price increases that were passed along in 2008 that propped up sales for many companies. With a full recession underway, some companies had also already been making "never seen before" deals to prop up sales before fuel started its downward trend in price. The combination of these issues will put a great deal of pressure on salespeople to make their sales quota for 2009 and be able to preserve the price they had been getting on their products or services in the second half of 2008.

Is there a way to combat and fight these issues? You bet there is. There is no time like the present to scrutinize your proposals to make sure they present a solid profit justified solution. If you can show that your solution will increase efficiency, productivity, and recover lost revenue - you will be able to preserve the price you have been getting. Don't forget to add in the fact that more companies are willing to take a look at who they are doing business with during a down business cycle, either. If you can prepare for these challenges that will face all salespeople and companies this year, there is certainly no reason why you cannot have a successful 2009 sales year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Happiness is..." - Not Watching the News!

Ever since the '08 election ended, I haven't been watching the news. And guess what? I could not be happier!

Not only did I end my sales year stronger than ever, my 4th quarter performance was my best of the year. I can attribute this to many things, but among them are the fact I quit watching the negative cycles on the cable news channels.

Should you vote? Yes. Should you care about the direction of the country and the world? Yes. Should you write your elected officials about areas of concern? Yes. Should you sit around obsessing about what you can't control? No!!!

Sure - its great to vote, have an opinion, and write a politician when you have a major area of concern. But constantly obsessing and getting mad about what is going on in government will get you nowhere. It's also a complete waste of time. The only other way you can bring about change is by running for political office yourself.

Will you miss out on anything by not listening or watching the news? It's not likely. If a major scandal or event erupts, somebody will let you know.

Make a pledge for '09 to turn the TV off and turn inward for your own sales development. Not only will you sell more, you will also have a much better attitude and perspective in your pursuit of sales success.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How Many Christmas Cards Did You Recieve From Your Customers?

As 2008 has now closed and the sales year for 2009 has begun, it is good to measure where you stand with your customers. Hopefully, you sent out a number of hand written Christmas cards to your customers during our recent holiday season. More importantly, I would ask - "how many of your customers sent you a Christmas card?"

If you didn't receive any, don't worry or get down about it. Most salespeople don't get any from their customers, either. However, it should be a goal and a milestone when you start receiving them. I was fortunate enough to receive quite a few from my customers during this past Christmas.

When this finally occurs in your sales career, this will show you that a transformation has taken place from being an ordinary "salesperson" to a "trusted business advisor or advocate" with a particular customer. Regular sales folks don't get Christmas cards - but great business people who benefit others with their business advice do.