Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 21, 2008

Measuring Your Words–Everything You Say Has a Price to Pay

What do you think of when you hear the name Oprah Winfrey?  Do you think controversy?  Do you think protests?  Do you think anger?  Or, do you think caring, concerned, audience oriented?  Do you think beloved and admired?

Probably until a few days ago you would automatically think of a loved, caring, extremely successful woman with legions of admiring fans.  You probably thought of someone who strove to connect with her audience and worked hard at cultivating a base of loyal fans.  Most would probably think of a woman who understood her audience and had the ability to connect with them in ways few others could.

That image has been tarnished, at least for the moment. 

According to a story in the Times On Line, Oprah’s endorsement of Barak Obama has caused her to lose as much as 20% of her audience.  A large segment of her base views her endorsement of Obama as turning against women by not endorsing Hillary Clinton—because she is a woman.  This group of fans (former fans?) accuse her of endorsing Obama because of his race, not because Winfrey agrees with his policies.

Likewise, Obama has come under intense fire from his Democratic rivals because of a statement he made last week comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan.  Obama pointed out that Reagan, with his message of optimism and revival of the American Dream during a time of great anguish and despair in the country, connected with people, giving hope for the future.  And Obama says his message is doing the same today.  For that seemingly innocent reflection on history, Obama is paying a price.

What do these two incidents have to do with sales?  Everything.  Communication is the heart and soul of selling.  The decisions you make in communicating with your prospects and clients sets the stage for your success or your failure.  Whether you decide to make a definitive statement such as Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama or simply a comparison as did Obama, everything you say has consequences. 

Both of these examples deal with a current heated topic—politics.  But we could take other examples to illustrate the point. 

For example, many years ago I was meeting with a new prospect.  During the initial conversation, he brought up a then popular sitcom, Alf.  He asked me if I had seen the last episode.  I responded that no, I hadn’t, and that it wasn’t a show I watched.  Apparently, my tone of voice communicated that I thought the show a bit juvenile (I did).  He was offended by my reaction—the appointment may as well have ended right then as it just went downhill from there. 

A coaching client of mine, Jesse from Colorado, was walking out to his car after a meeting with a prospect late one afternoon.  It just so happened that the prospect’s car was parked only a couple of spaces down from Jesse’s.  The prospect noticed the NRA sticker on Jesse’s bumper.  End of sale.  The prospect was a major supporter of PETA.

About a year ago in one of the posts on my blog, I predicted that we’d see a recession and that the sales environment would be much tougher within 12 to 24 months.  My prediction was based on some solid economic data.  However, I lost several subscribers from that post.  I was accused of not understanding the “new economy” where there was no reason for the economy to ever slowdown, much less go into recession. 

Should whether or not you like a sitcom, whether or not you agree on political issues, or whether or not you believe the economy will change affect a sale?  No.  Do they?  Certainly.

I’m not advocating you not have opinions.  I’m not advocating you not take stands.  I’m not advocating as some that you become whatever your prospect wants you to be.  But I am advocating that you understand that what you communicate to your prospects and clients has consequences.  Even the most banal comment can affect your relationship.

I’m sure that both Winfrey and Obama knew their words would have consequences.  Maybe neither guessed the repercussions would be as great as they have been, but both knew there would be some price to pay.  Both were willing to pay a price.  One, however, may be paying a higher price than she imagined she would have to pay. 

Don’t take your personality out the sale.  Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Don’t try to whitewash who you are.  But do understand that everything you say and everything you do has consequences. 

In the examples from my life above, I wouldn’t change the blog post that cost me subscribers.  I was simply communicating what I believed then and believe now to be accurate information that is important for salespeople and companies to understand and prepare for.  On the other hand, I’ve regretted that silly comment about Alf from the moment I said it.  There was no need to alienate a prospect over a stupid sitcom.

I don’t know if Oprah thought she’d attract as much ire from her fans as she has; however, I’m sure Obama knew that invoking the name of Reagan would rile his opponents and draw immense criticism.  Oprah’s price may well be more than what she had intended to pay; Obama is probably getting the exact reaction he expected. 

The lesson?  Think before you speak.  Is what you’re about to say important enough to you to say it?

January 20, 2008

Guest Article: Change Your Self Talk–Change Your Results, by Mike Brooks

Change Your Self Talk – Change Your Results
by Mike Brooks

First of all, did you know that you are talking to yourself all day long? (You’re thinking, “Do I talk to myself? What does he mean, talk to myself? I don’t talk to myself!”) Psychologists estimate that you are talking to yourself at a rate of 1,200 to 1,500 words a minute (in contrast, when we speak aloud we can only go up to 250 words a minute and that’s if we’re talking REAL FAST).

The problem is that most of our self-talk is negative. And even worse, we tend to believe our self-talk and that influences our performance – in a big way. For example, have you ever stopped to listen to your self-talk after you missed a sale? Mine used to go something like this:

“There I go again. I’m an idiot! I’m amazed I’ve ever made a sale. This product sucks, nobody is ever going to buy and I even knew he wouldn’t buy. I wonder when lunch is – do I have enough money for lunch today? I wonder if I’ll make a sale this week – how am I going to pay the rent if I don’t close at least X amount of business. I wonder how long they’ll keep me, shoot, why didn’t I stay in college. I hate sales….”

Sound familiar? This is the self-talk (or some variation of it) of 80% of your competition. Not very empowering, is it? And the biggest problem with this is that it leads to even poorer performance. With self-talk like this, you automatically stop using effective sales techniques, you don’t qualify properly, you begin using negative, closed ended questions, etc., and you anticipate being blown out (and then give up). In other words, poor self-talk leads to and creates poor sales performance.

Here’s the good news: The opposite is also true. When I committed to becoming a Top 20% producer, the first thing I did was begin to monitor and change my self-talk. When if missed a sale, I began to say:

“Gee, that wasn’t like me. Let me think about what didn’t go right with that and here’s what I’m going to do to change it. OK, I’ll use this line or I’ll ask this qualifying question next time, and here’s how I’m going to improve on my next sales call.”

Then I’d pick up the phone to prospect and say to myself, “OK, watch this, this will be much better!”

And it really worked! Suddenly, it was “like me” to use proper qualifying questions and to qualify red flags. Suddenly “I regularly” used my scripts and was “in the habit” of practicing perfection on each call. And my performance and production reflected it. Within 90 days I was the top closer in the office. And monitoring and changing my self-talk was a HUGE part of it.

I challenge you this week to begin getting accountable for what you say to yourself, and begin taking responsibility for your attitude. When you find something you don’t think is positive or helpful, don’t beat yourself up, but rather, change it to something more empowering. I’ve been using and teaching this (and other) attitude adjustment techniques for years and THEY WORK!

The bottom line is that your attitude determines how much of your ability, knowledge and desire you have. The question is, “What are you doing to improve yours?”

Mike Brooks, Mr. Inside Sales, offers FREE Closing Scripts, and a FREE audio program designed to help you double your income selling over the phone. He works with business owners and inside sales reps nationwide teaching them the skills, strategies and techniques of top 20% performance. If you want to Close Business like a Top Closer, then learn how at: www.MrInsideSales.com

January 19, 2008

Do Business Networking Breakfast Groups Work?

If you’re in sales, are an independent professional or are a small business owner, you either’ve attended a business networking group meeting or have been invited to attend one.  They’re everywhere.  Some of these groups are franchised by large, international companies; others are simply small, local groups that have been formed by a local entrepreneur. 

Nevertheless, whether part of a huge company or just a lone group, most of these networking groups work more or less the same way.  The object is getting a number of businesspeople together to work at supplying “referrals” to one another.  Each member is encouraged and expected to actively look for and supply leads to other members of the group.  Generally, membership is limited to only one person or company for each industry or each area within an industry.

Members typically pay a fee to join and then monthly dues—and, of course, there’s the breakfast that must be paid for also.  Each meeting will usually feature a member who has a few minutes to highlight their particular business and define for the group what a quality referral for them is.

I’m frequently asked by salespeople and business owners if membership in these groups is worth the time, effort and investment.  And my answer is—it depends.  If you’re a mechanic, a lawn care company, or a plumber, probably so.  If you’re a CPA, attorney, sell investments, or most any business-to-business salesperson, there are probably far better networking opportunities available to you.

The primary objective of a networking group is to find potential prospects for one another.  The idea is that each member will develop relationships with or meet people who will need or want products or services other members of the group can supply.  If each member actively works to refer business to other members in the group, everyone will increase their business. 

The concept isn’t bad.  And most people if they become active in a group, will eventually see some business developed through their membership—possibly even enough to make their membership worthwhile.

Yet, for most salespeople and business owners there are better places to spend their time.  For example, a CPA whose business is primarily focused on small manufacturing companies would be better served belonging to a manufacturer’s association where he or she could meet and develop relationships with a large number of actual prospects.  Would you rather spend your time networking with 25 other business owners and salespeople who may on occasion run across a small manufacturer, or would you rather spend your time getting to know and develop relationships with 75 or 80 or more small manufacturers? 

Likewise, a financial planner would probably be better served joining and becoming active in a Porsche owner’s club where they can meet several dozen members who presumably have enough disposable income to afford an expensive hobby than spending time with 25 or 30 struggling business owners and salespeople who may only on occasion run across someone that needs financial planning.  No interest in Porsche’s?  Then consider joining the architect’s association or the petroleum engineer’s association. 

There are thousands of business, industry and social associations, many with chapters near you.  No matter what you sell there are associations and organizations that can put you in direct contact with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of your prospects.  For most of us, general networking groups cannot even begin to give us access to that many prospects. 

Networking can work well.  The real question with networking isn’t can it work, it’s where can you most profitably spend your time and energy.  Rather than joining a group of diverse businesspeople who will probably only run across a real prospect for you on occasion, why not join a group made up primarily of potential prospects.  The only thing we really have to sell is our time.  Making the best use of that resource is one of the keys to success.

January 18, 2008

5 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting the Referrals You Want

Virtually every professional has learned that generating referrals from clients and prospects is a key to success, yet surveys of thousands of attendees of my referral training seminars indicate that less than 15% of all salespeople and professionals generate enough referrals to impact their business.  Traditional referral trainers have taught us to “do a good job and ask for referrals.”  Using the traditional approach, the typical professional services business will get an occasional “referral” or two from their clients, but these tend to be just names and phone numbers, rather than qualified prospects. Even worse, this “do a good job and ask for referrals” approach creates five problems:

1. The client is not prepared to give referrals.
By waiting until the service is complete and then asking for referrals, your client has not had an opportunity to prepare for your request.  To the client, the request comes from out of the blue.  When you approach your client with your request without giving him an opportunity to think about it, you put him on the spot. You are giving him only a few seconds to go through his mental file cabinet.

2. The client does not know what you need.
It may seem obvious to you, but your client has little idea of what makes a good referral for you, even if she takes a few seconds to think about it. You assume that because your practice involves a number of services for small to mid-size businesses, from management consulting, to tax preparation, to financial analysis, your client is immediately going to think, “What other companies do I know or do I do business with that might need Toms’ advice and expertise?” Wrong assumption.  What she actually thinks is “what does this person want from me?”

3. Your client does not have a reason to give referrals
We assume that if we have done a good job, the client will like and respect us and be willing to give us referrals.  Again, this is far from the case.  Most clients will not give quality referrals just because they like you or because you have done a good job for them.  They need a reason to give you referrals.  They need to understand why it is in their best interest to give you referrals. 

Clients assume that whomever they refer you to will be more demanding and critical they have been.  When a client gives a referral, he is putting his reputation and image on the line with the person to whom he is referring to you.  He is concerned about what his friend or acquaintance is going to think of his and his judgment, particularly if you mess up.

4. The client doesn’t have an objective standard by which to measure your performance.   
The traditional referral generation method does not give the client an objective standard by which to measure the quality of your performance.  You and your client may “feel” you have done a good job, but when you ask for referrals, they begin to think back over the process more critically and question whether you have really performed up to standards they believe others would find acceptable.

If the two of you agree up-front on exactly what you need to do in order to “do a good job,” the client will have an objective basis to decide if she trusts you enough and if you have performed well enough to earn the right to be sent to people she really knows well and respects.

5. Most advisors do not ask for referrals
Finally, from tracking the responses of the attendees of my seminars, it appears a majority of professionals do not ask for referrals–rather they suggest them.  Instead of asking a direct question seeking referrals such as, “John, what other business owners do you know that I may be able help solve some crucial issues?” the typical professional will make a weak suggestion such as, “John, if you happen to know someone I can help would you mind letting me know?”  Or, “John, if you run across someone, who could use my services, would mind giving them my card?”  Rather than a request for referrals, these are throwaway sentences, quickly forgotten by most clients.

Traditional referral training is inherently unfair to you and your client.  It does not give you the tools needed to successfully work with your client to generate quality referrals, and it gives your client neither a reason to give referrals, nor a chance to become comfortable referring you to people they know and respect.

Generate the referrals you want
Yet, it is possible to generate a very large number of high quality referrals from your clients.  You need to have a referral generation process that:

  •  Informs your client ahead of time that you will ask for referrals
  • Lets the client know what your definition of a referral
  • Educates your client on why providing referrals is in their best interests
  • Provides an agreed upon objective criteria to determine your performance

By forming a process where you eliminate the problems associated with the traditional referral generating method, you will increase not only the number of referrals you receive from your clients, but also the quality of each referral.

January 17, 2008

De-Commoditizing The Financial Services Sale

If you sell financial services, from property and casualty insurance, to life and health insurance to securities to financial planning, your industry is rapidly changing.  You must either change with it or find a way to combat the change.  Either way, you will have to change the way you do business if you want to survive.

It wasn’t that many years ago when consumers who were in the market for financial services of any kind wanted and expected the advice and guidance of a financial advisor.  Whether dealing with an insurance decision, investing their hard-earned money, or trying to layout a complete financial plan, people understood the need to consult an expert.

Consequently, most people selling financial services, whether working for an insurance company, a wirehouse, or a financial planning firm, spent hundreds, some thousands of hours each year studying the intricacies of their products and services.  Each sought to become a product expert, a trusted source who could not only properly fill out the paperwork and calculate the cost (and the commission), but could also give professional advice—advice designed to help the customer or client reach their ultimate goal and to make well informed decisions about complex issues.

Certainly, there have always been a percentage of financial services providers concerned about making a quick buck, but most who entered the industry were seeking a career where they could not only make a solid income, but also be recognized an expert, a true professional.

There are still hundreds of thousands seeking the same goals.  They still spend hundreds or thousands of hours each year diligently studying their craft.  They still seek to find creative—yet legal—ways to help solve client problems.  They still try to help their clients meet their ultimate goals, whatever those goals are.

Nevertheless, your industry is changing before your eyes.  What was once considered complex transactions needing expert advice and guidance is quickly becoming nothing but a commodity to be bought at the lowest possible price.

Insurance companies are looking for ways to turn agents into order takers, selling based on price or the ability to at least appear to be the lowest price; investment firms are looking to turn registered reps into order takers, transacting trades at the cheapest possible price; and some companies are offering cheap fill-in-the-blank “financial plans” that are nothing but boilerplate documents, with recommendations taken from a pre-determined list of options.

Of course, there are still customers who recognize a need for expertise and guidance.  However, that group is shrinking all the time.  More and more people are prescribing their own financial medicine.  Just as the proliferation of drug ads on TV and in print is subtly encouraging people to determine their own medication, needing only the sign-off of their doctor, the proliferation of financial information, from books to TV shows is encouraging more and more people to financially self-medicate, needing only the signature of a licensed agent or registered rep.

This isn’t to say that the tsunami of financial information available isn’t good.  It is simply to say that the natural culmination of this proliferation of information is a large–and growing–number of people who believe they no longer need to pay more for financial advice than the price of a book. 

And the result of all of this self-medication?  Traditional insurance, securities, and financial planning firms are finding it more difficult to find new sources of business.  Traditional agents, registered reps and financial planners are fighting for an ever-shrinking number of potential clients.  Competition is getting more and more cut throat.  The reaction of the companies is to hire more agents, reps, and financial planners, hoping to bring in more business. 

The washout rate within each industry is increasing—with no end in sight.

Yet, within each segment of the financial services industry, there are agents, reps, and financial planners, both long-time professionals and new up and comers, who are making more money than ever before.  This small group of professionals has found a way to combat the commoditization of their industry.  Not only have they found a way to combat the growing commoditization, they have found a way to make it work in their favor.

How?  Not by giving in to the pressure of selling price.  Not by retreating from offering expert advice and guidance.  Not by throwing in the towel.

Their answer is to decommoditize their products and services by developing a public reputation and image as the local expert in their field.  They have forsaken traditional marketing and opted for a more radical marketing model.  Rather than simply becoming product or service experts and then seeking to market themselves as in the past, these professionals have sought to become publicly recognized experts and mini-celebrities within their local areas. 

They no longer hope for simple name recognition through advertising or direct mail.  They no longer rely on the attraction of their company’s household name.  They certainly don’t spend hundreds of hours cold calling looking for those few individuals willing to talk with them.

Instead, they actively work to generate a public name and image for themselves that sets them apart from their competition, whether that competition comes from traditional marketing or from discounting price.  They have learned how to use strategies historically reserved by corporate PR departments and high visibility “experts” to position themselves within their marketplace as a recognized expert.

They realize people are willing to pay top dollar to work with someone who has the public status of an expert—and visibility and publicity dictates status.  You may be the best agent, registered rep or financial planner from a technical standpoint, but if prospects don’t recognize you as an expert by reputation, image, and publicity, you are just another of the crowd. 

If you want to stand above the crowd in a crowded and shrinking marketplace, you will have to shift your thinking from traditional marketing to using methods that are more sophisticated.  Being a great technician just isn’t good enough any more—unless you’re satisfied selling a commodity.

January 16, 2008

Guest Article: Maximum Impact: Finding Your #1 Growth Strategy by Jill Konrath

Maximum Impact: Finding Your #1 Growth Strategy
by Jill Konrath from her Selling to Big Companies Blog 

“What was the #1 strategy you used last year that significantly impacted your sales?” asked Jan Visser of Sales Team Tools.

Now that’s one good provocative question! Almost immediately, an answer popped into my head. Then the next moment, another response emerged and then another. Before long, I was in a full-blown argument with myself with six different strategies vying for the top spot.

But after a rigorous analysis, I finally decided that the best results came from the strategic relationships I established with other firms who sell to my targeted decision makers.

These companies leveraged my expertise (in the form of ebooks, podcasts & webinars) as a part of their lead generation campaigns. Essentially, they “blessed” my work, telling their prospects and customers that I was a well respected thought leader in the sales field.

As a result, my ideal clients learned how my company could help their salespeople crack into corporate accounts and shorten sales cycles. In short, I leveraged their database to create more opportunities with minimal extra work.

The key to this strategy is LEVERAGE!

Have you ever stopped to think how you could achieve the same or better sales results with less effort? Mmmmmm?

I bet not! For some odd reason, most of us feel we need to slog it out by ourselves. Each morning we get up with a humongous list of “to dos” we need to accomplish in order to grow our business. And it seems like we can never get ahead.

So I’m going to challenge you to step back from your normal way of working for just one day to see if you can come up with a leveraged approach to increase your sales. 

The first thing you’ll want to do is identify potential strategic alliance partners. Think about who else calls on the same decision makers you want to reach. I’d suggest looking at companies that have related, but not overlapping products or services. Also, talk to your customers to find out which companies & individuals they respect.

Once you have some names, set up a time to explore the concept of strategic leverage. Be creative! There are so many things you can do together. You can share leads, focus on developing your business at specific firms, bring each other in as trusted resources and more.

Here are two examples of alliances that turned out to be extremely profitable for all involved.

The top salesperson for a company that sells to the automotive industry established an alliance with other sellers who call on the paint shop. This enabled him to keep on top of new developments, thus ensuring that his customers didn’t experience any line-stopping problems. Even though his offering is pricey, his sales are growing at the expense of the competition.

Several years, I joined forces with four other firms to put on a seminar about new product launches. We co-marketed the event to our combined databases. Then, at the workshop we each talked about our areas of expertise. The event paid for itself, but more importantly, everyone netted new clients.

Have I got you thinking? I sure hope so, because it doesn’t have to be so darn hard to get sales and grow your business. 

When I realized that strategic leverage was my #1 growth factor, I took a long lunch with myself to rethink my own plans. Within two hours, I came up with a couple knock-your-socks-off ideas that will take my business to a whole new level with less effort.

You can do the same thing! Figure out your own top growth strategy and do more of it! Or borrow mine. What matters is that you act with deliberate intent, analyze your results and focus on strategies with maximum impact.

Jill Konrath is author, speaker, and sales trainer.  Her book, Selling to Big Companies, is one of the best on how to break into large accounts.  You can find more of Jill’s writing at www.sellingtobigcompanies.com.

Jan Visser of Sales Team Tools asked this question of Jill, myself, and many leading sales trainers and will be running a series concerning our responses on Sales Team Tools.

January 15, 2008

7 Things You Must Do By February 1

We’re already down to only 11 months left in 2008.  For all practical purposes, for most of us January is already history in terms of closing new business.  If you haven’t found your prospect by now, you’re more than likely hunting for February’s business.
 
So, with only 11 months to go, what must you do NOW to make the most of the next 11 months?  Here are 7 musts to get done immediately:
 
1.  Flush out all of the tail chasing “prospects” in your system.  We all have “prospects” in our pipeline that take up time and energy but that we know in our hearts will never buy.  Get them out of your system now.  Don’t spend any more of your precious time on them.  Concentrate on real prospects not that you “hope someday” will buy.  Vow not to spend any more time chasing your tail.
 
2.  Get organized.  Most of us spend as much or more time “organizing” each day as we do working.  Take a day or two and get yourself organized and then 30 minutes each evening getting ready for the next day.  Don’t waste half the year or more “getting ready” to sell.
 
3.  Know who a prospect is.  If you haven’t already defined your ideal prospect(s) in detail, do so now.  Many waste a great deal of time chasing unqualified prospects because they haven’t taken the time to define for themselves exactly who their real prospects are.
 
4.  Focus only on real prospects.  Many who have defined in-detail who their real prospects are find themselves chasing after those who don’t qualify.  Commit yourself to staying on track.  Defining your prospect doesn’t do any good if you allow yourself to wander.
 
5.  Eliminate the busy work.  If what you do isn’t directly involved with finding qualified prospects, making sales presentations and closing sales, or getting a sale completed, its busy work.  Busy work may make you feel like you’re accomplishing something but it isn’t making you a dime.  If it doesn’t make you money, don’t do it unless it is absolutely necessary–and 90% of busy work is not only unnecessary, no one else will even notice if it isn’t done.
 
6.  Learn to generate referrals.  Referrals are the best, most cost effective prospecting and marketing method there is.  Nothing can beat referrals in terms of ROI, close ratio, and client loyalty.  Yet, few salespeople generate many quality referrals.  Less than 15% of all salespeople generate enough quality referrals to impact their business.  Learn the process that really generates a large number of high quality referrals and turn your clients into your marketing platform.
 
7.  Create a consistent client communication campaign.  If you don’t already have a consistent communication campaign for your clients and prospects, create one now.  You should be touching each of your clients and long-term prospects 12 to 16 times a year.  Use a combination of media–calls, emails, newsletters, letters, postcards.  Make sure each of your communications brings value to your client.  The key question to ask yourself before making any contact is “does this benefit the client or only me?”  If it doesn’t benefit the client, don’t send it or don’t call.  Never waste your client’s time.  A quality communication campaign will more than pay for itself in add-on sales, repeat sales, referrals, and word of mouth marketing.  But if you don’t have a great campaign, you’ll be leaving a tremendous amount of money locked in your database that you’ll never see. 
 
Time is short already this year.  But implementing these 7 “musts” will get your year on track to be one of the best you’ve ever had.  By implementing these, you turn your career from work to production–and that’s the only goal of what you do, producing satisfied clients.

January 14, 2008

How Do You Find the Right Sales Training?

Yesterday’s post was a guest article by Bill Caskey on how much should you be investing in training.  Obviously, that is an important topic for any salesperson, professional, business owner or company.  If you don’t invest in training, you’re losing ground to your competitors who do.

But one of the questions I hear often is how does a salesperson or company know whom to hire for training?  Training is a big investment and there are thousands of trainers.  How can you determine where to spend the money other than simply picking a name you’ve heard often or resorting to luck?

Individual salespeople often complain that their company doesn’t give sufficient sales training and that they are expected to find and pay for the training themselves.  This is usually stated with more than a little hint of resentment in their voice.  However, if you’re a salesperson, every piece of training you get—whether paid for by your company or by you—will stay with you for the reminder of your life.  When you pay for training, you’re not paying to become a better salesperson for the company you sell for today; you’re paying to become a better salesperson for the remainder of your career.  You’re paying for your career development, not for the good of the company you sell for currently.  You’re investing in yourself, not the company.

Companies, on the other hand, often skimp on sales training, focusing instead on product/service training.  As Bill points out in his article, this is extremely shortsighted.  Your sales team is the source of your revenue.  They are the ones who keep your business going.  The more you can properly prepare them, the more they can produce for you.  The few thousand dollars it takes to hire a quality trainer can be more than justified with additional sales.  Depending upon your sales force size, the format of the training, and extent of the training, hiring a quality trainer can cost literally just a few thousand dollars. 

Nevertheless, once the decision has been made to make the investment, the next logical questions are what and from whom?

What:
What is actually the central question.  What do you train?  Whether you’re an individual or a company, more than likely the question isn’t really what in terms of what is the one area of training that is needed, but rather the question is probably what are the areas of training and in what order.

All salespeople and managers need constant training—and retaining in those areas they have already been trained in.  None of us knows all there is to know on any one aspect of sales and sales management, much less everything about all areas.  We work in a dynamic industry.  Marketing, prospecting, negotiation, the sales process, sales psychology and all other aspects of selling is constantly changing and evolving.  In order to maintain skills and a sharp edge one must be constantly learning—both through trial and error and through organized training from people who really know their subjects and are thought leaders in their specialty. 

Consequently, every individual salesperson and company should take the training budget they have committed to after reading Bill’s article and set out a detailed training program that starts with their most immediate need and works its way through the entire sales process. 

What is the most immediate need?  Obviously, that depends upon the individual salesperson and company.  But I suggest the most immediate need isn’t necessarily the weakest area.  Rather, the most immediate need is the area of training that can contribute the quickest to increased sales whether that is prospecting, negotiation skills, customer service, persuasion, presentation skills, or whatever.

Whom:
The whom is more difficult.  There are thousands of individual trainers and training companies.  How do you decide which is the right one?  Here are some guidelines:

1.  There Isn’t a Right One:  Although some individual trainers and training companies claim to be gurus in all aspects of selling, there isn’t a single individual trainer or company that can offer top of the line training in every aspect of selling.  There is simply too much to know, too many areas to master, too many demands for any one individual to be capable of being a top trainer in every aspect of sales.  Even companies can’t do it, as it would require a top of the line staff far too great for any individual company to handle.  Consequently, you will have to look at experts within the individual areas of selling and work with a number of experts, not just one or one single company.

2.  What is There Real Specialty?  Every trainer and training company has certain areas that are their real specialties.  It might be negotiation, or personal marketing, or the sales process, or presentation skills, or cold calling or any number of other areas.  Certainly, some may have two or three very closely related areas that are their specialty areas.  When selecting a trainer, focus your attention on someone who specializes in the particular area you are looking for training in.  Asking someone whose area is cold calling to train your team on persuasion isn’t your best choice.  Hire the cold call expert to train on cold calling, hire a persuasion expert to train in persuasion.

How do you know their specialty?  Most high quality trainers identify exactly what their specialty areas are.  However if they don’t, you still can find out.  Examine their materials and their website.  Are there areas they present more material on than others?  Do they talk about one or two areas more than others?  If they do you can probably bet those are the areas they’re most comfortable working in.

3.  Reputation:  What can you learn about their reputation?  I’m not talking about their name recognition.  There are a few trainers that are household names.  Although well known, they may not be the best trainers for you or your team.  In fact, the best trainer for you may be someone you hadn’t heard of prior to running across one of his or her articles or their website.  But just because you hadn’t heard of them doesn’t mean that you can’t qualify them.  Look carefully at their site.  Who do they work with?  Are their other trainers or industry leaders that endorse their work?  Do they have others that you recognize and respect participating with them on their site by contributing articles, interviews, or other material?  You can learn a great deal about someone by whom they associate with.  Do they have testimonials or endorsements from salespeople, managers and companies?  If so, are those giving the testimonials fully identified by name, company and location—or is their identity concealed by using tactics such as only initials or one name and one initial?  Generally those with a quality reputation have no problem fully identifying those who have given them testimonials. 

4.  Examine Their Writing:  An excellent qualifier is to read their writing.  Most quality trainers will have a body of writing that is easily accessible on their website.  Many will have published books.

Articles:  Read a number of their articles.  Don’t just read one or two.  You may accidentally pick their best or worst couple of articles and end up with a false impression.  Rather read 8 or 10 or more.  Do they make sense?  Do they have anything new to contribute or are they simply repeating the “common knowledge” of the industry?  What areas do they write about most often (that will give another indication of their real specialty)?  Does the majority of their writing reflect actionable information or is it theoretical only (you’ll probably get the same in their training)?  Have their articles been published in national industry and business publications such as Selling Power, Advisor Today, Registered Rep, Sales and Marketing Management, Sales and Marketing Excellence, and others?  National publications are very selective in what they publish so if the trainer has been published in a number of national print publications, it is an indication they have quality original contributions to make. 

Books:  If the trainer has published a book, read the book.  A book will generally contain the trainer’s most original and innovative work.  It certainly is a very strong indication of their specialization.  Who published the work?  Being published by a major business book publisher is an indication of the quality of the work.  If the book is self-published or published by a vanity press, the fact the trainer has a book can’t be used to qualify them—nor can it be used to disqualify them unless you actually read the book.  Major publishers are highly selective in the work they accept (although they do make mistakes).  Anyone can self-publish or have a vanity press publish their book.  And even though there is much junk that is self-published, some of the best books are also self-published.  Even though being published by a major publisher is a strong indication of quality—the judgment should really be based on reading the book, not who published it.

Who endorsed and reviewed the book?  Endorsements and book reviews can also give a good indication of the quality of the trainers work.

4.  Interview Them:  Once you believe you have found a trainer that is suitable for your organization, interview them.  Most trainers will be happy to spend 45 minutes to an hour on the phone discussing how they might be able to help your team.  In fact, most quality trainers will insist on an interview prior to accepting a training commitment because while you’re interviewing them, they’ll be interviewing you.  They will want to make sure the fit is right also.  And don’t interview the office manager.  If you must, insist on interviewing the person who will actually be doing the training.

5.  Pricing:  Pricing is the poorest qualification method, although one of the most often used.  Quality training isn’t cheap.  If you’re looking for bargain basement discount training, you’ll probably end up with bargain basement quality.  However, reputable trainers aren’t inclined to charge outrageous prices either.  That trainer whose website promises to change your career by teaching you the true secrets of selling if you only purchase his e-book and CD for $895 is not the person you want be spending your money with. 

There are no “secrets” in selling.  There are no magic formulas.  There isn’t anything that only one or two people know and if you’ll just fork over a huge chunk of money they’ll teach you their secrets.  There are techniques and strategies that work and that can be taught.  There are trainers who can train you and your team to use and perfect those strategies.  There isn’t anyone who can initiate you into the secret world of easy selling—although the internet if overflowing with the sites that promises those secrets.

Finding and hiring quality trainers isn’t that difficult.  It does take a little time and investigation to weed out the hucksters and find quality.  Investing in the quality trainers is worth every single penny as it will pay dividends for years to come. 

January 13, 2008

Guest Article: What Should You Be Spending on Training? by Bill Caskey

I’m often asked by salespeople and companies how much I think they should be investing in training themselves or their sales team.  Most salespeople and companies skimp on training.  Companies leave training to their managers or have a training department made up of former educators or HR personnel who know little or nothing about sales.  Sales managers often make adequate coaches but most are poor trainers.  Training departments are notorious within the sales department for presenting beautiful–and useless–training programs.  Bill Caskey gives his suggestion of a reasonable training budget.  In a future blog post I’ll give my idea of how to select training providers. 

What Should You Be Spending On Training?
By Bill Caskey
 
Recently the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) delivered their 2007 State of Training Study. In it, they address the national average of investment-per- employee in training.

Their research showed that the average company invested approximately $1200/person in training in 2006—and the most telling indicator of all is it went down 7% from 2005.

One can argue all day about the “average” and how it applies to a sales team, but since that’s the work we do in our company and in this blog, I thought I’d add some comments.

You should be investing 5% of your income in training (that’s whether you’re a manager or a sales professional). If you earn $100,000 a year, then that means 5% should go back to nourish the ground and grow the organism.

If you’re in sales and you “make your own way” (are on total commission), then you’d better be taking a part of your income and putting it back in to the growth of your personal asset–your mind. Most people don’t do this. And most companies don’t invest nearly 5% of a person’s salary in training—but they should.

Not investing that money implies that you cannot get 5% more effective in what you do. Two years ago, we had a person call and order “one of everything” from our array of products. It was so unusual that I called him back to find out what was up.

He told me his story about when he started in sales at age 25 and he committed to investing 10% of everything he earned back in to personal growth. (It was a suggestion by his mentor). His first year, his income was $30,000. By his eighth year, he was earning $275,000 (when he called to order one of everything).

He confided in me that it was a bit hard to justify 10% of $275,000 ($27,500); however, he hadn’t gotten to $275,000 a year by not investing—so why should he stop now?

His number of 10% seemed a bit high, but it had served him well and had done the job, and he should not stop.

As you head in to next year, what are your plans for investing in yourself? Are you committing not just the financial resources, but also the time, to learning, growing and blossoming?

If not, shame on you. You have infinite potential and it’s waiting to flourish, and one thing that helps is investing in yourself and learning new ways to solve old problems.

Bill Caskey is a sales development leader and experimenter. His ideas about selling are convictions about life, money, and meaning. He has coached sales professionals and executives for over 19 years. And his philosophies and strategies have fueled explosive growth in sales and profits for clients.  www.caskeytraining.com

January 12, 2008

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Selling in 2008

It appears that 2008 may be stacking up as a critical year in the careers of millions of salespeople, professionals, and small business owners.  Unless there are radical changes in the very near future, this year may be the worst year for salespeople in almost a decade.

The financial markets are in a mess.  More and more foreign cash from Europe, China, the Middle East and Japan is flowing into American companies, in particular banks and brokerage houses, to stabilize them due to their losses from the mortgage fiasco.  Mortgage companies are failing by the droves.  Personal credit use is soaring, while late payments and defaults on credit cards are rising.  The Fed is cutting interest rates to keep things afloat.  The government is pumping money into the financial markets like crazy.  Yet, daily we read of more financial woes and new segments of the market beginning to show signs of weakness.

Some economists are predicting recession.  Others claim we’re already in a recession.  A few are predicting a depression, a few others stagflation as we experienced in the 70’s.  A very small minority are trying to convince us that the economy is solid and everything is just fine.

Recession, depression, stagflation, or things as usual, I’m not sure anyone knows where we’re going to end up a year from now.  But I do know that businesses and individual consumers are watching the economy with great anxiety.  As the anxiety grows, spending will eventually slow.  Purchases will become more deliberate.  Prying money from a buyer’s fist will become more difficult. 

Just finding and having the opportunity to speak with a real qualified prospect will become more difficult.  And this is where the majority of salespeople, professionals, and small business owners will hit a wall that if they don’t learn to overcome will drive them out of business. 

As the economy slows and sales get tougher, the natural reaction of salespeople and companies will be to ratchet up their marketing.  The number of cold calls will dramatically increase.  Direct mail and advertising messages will become shriller.  The number of fliers on vehicle windshields will explode as salespeople and small business owners look for cheap ways to get their word out.

Nevertheless, the result of all this marketing will be a steady decrease in sales. 

Surprisingly, there will be salespeople and small businesses that do well during this time of crisis.  Not only will they suffer far less than their competition, many will actually see their business increase. 

Those salespeople and business owners who understand that consumers, both individuals and businesses, are sick of all the marketing—the incessant cold calls, the ubiquitous direct mail, the inescapable advertising, and all the rest, and have learned how to connect with prospects in ways prospects respect and want to be communicated with will find their businesses stable and even growing while their competitors are withering. 

Although the natural reaction by most to the changing economy will be panic, followed by trying to beat prospects over the head with more unwanted marketing, those who understand that today’s consumer wants real information and unbiased guidance and advice and who develop the skills to reach out to consumers in more creative ways will thrive.

Certainly, hope for the best for the economy, but prepare for the worst.  Learn how to connect with your prospects in the ways they want to be connected with rather than following the crowd trying to scream louder and more often than the next guy.  Marketing for the individual salesperson, professional and small business owner is increasingly becoming more sophisticated than the traditional cold call and flier.  To compete—especially in what appears to be a much weaker economy, you need to upgrade your marketing methods.  If you aren’t, your competitors are. 

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