Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 19, 2008

It’s as Much How You Say It as What You Say

Over the past couple of days I’ve conducted a mini survey of about 60 business owners and senior managers of corporations on their impressions of Barack Obama and John McCain from their appearances at the Saddleback event last Saturday evening.

The purpose wasn’t to determine who won and who lost in terms of content.  My intent was to get their gut reactions to whom they felt was most honest and most importantly, who they would most likely buy from based only on that evening’s event.

Naturally, this is a highly subjective survey and one where the respondent’s reactions cannot be completely separated from their previous opinions of the men or from their political leanings.  Even though in no way am I claiming this to be a scientific study or anything more than just a small glimpse of how a few dozen business people reacted to these candidates, the brief survey does indicate that the way we communicate influences the perceptions of our prospects.  I did, however, speak to men and women from various parts of the country, some self-identified Republicans, some Democrats, and some Independents.

My questions were simple and dealt with how these men and women reacted to how each man delivered his message, not the message itself, and why they believed they reacted as they did.

The overwhelming majority felt that McCain did a better job than Obama.  They felt he was more honest, sincere, and trustworthy.  Almost every one of them thought that if these two men had been sitting in front of them in a selling situation they would have bought from McCain instead of Obama.

Why?

The root difference appears to be the communication styles of the two men–one created a sense of confidence and assurance in the listener, the other didn’t.  McCain’s short, quick, forceful responses came across not only as honest but as though he had a grasp of the issues and knew what needed to be done.

Their emotional reaction to Obama was very different.  His answers were not only considerably longer but his speech was halting and much slower.  There was less a sense of self assurance, less of an impression that he was in command of the situation.

Is it fair to base one’s decisions on the way we deliver our information-on our speech patterns?  Not really.  But how we say what we say does have an impact on how our content is received.  Is McCain more confident and in control than Obama?  Probably not, but his delivery style on this evening was, according to the majority of the men and women I spoke to, more likely to move them to purchase from him than Obama.

Some of us, me included, have a natural delivery style much closer to Obama’s than McCain’s.  We might find it helpful to work on speeding up our speech pattern while setting forth our ideas in a more forceful, self assured manner that creates a sense of confidence and sincerity in our listener because how we say what we say is just as important-maybe more so–as what we say.

June 9, 2008

Guest Article: “Making Audiences More Receptive to Your Message,” by Thomas Freese

Making Audiences More Receptive to Your Message
by Thomas Freese

I don’t teach presentation skills like voice inflection, gesturing, or how to utilize visual aids in front of an audience. That doesn’t mean presentation skills aren’t important. They are! But so is another aspect of the sales presentation that nobody talks about, which is how to make your presentation audience more receptive to your message.

Too often, we assume that just because someone sits through a sales presentation means they are ready to listen to our ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Key decision-makers in large corporate accounts have lots of things on their minds, and if you don’t do something to secure their attention at the beginning of your presentation, then it doesn’t matter how powerful your message is. Moreover, buyers in general are naturally skeptical…in which case, sellers inherit all the negative biases that prospective buyers have formed as the result of having sat through countless other sales presentations.

In addition to making sure the right people attend your sales presentations, you also want them to listen attentively. That’s why I teach salespeople to break the ice at the beginning of their sales presentations, using an introductory technique that will pave the way for a much more successful event.

It’s simple really. With smaller audiences (like in a one-on-one meeting, or one-on-two), some casual chit-chat usually opens the meeting, followed by some introductory comments, and then you get down to business. During this introductory period, I always make it a point to thank the prospect for their time. This is not an earth-shattering new strategy on my part, just something that’s respectful and polite.

Then, I summarize by reviewing what brought us to this point. “Terry,” I might begin, “we had some initial conversation a couple of weeks ago, and based on your upcoming projects, we thought it would be valuable to sit down and review some solution alternatives.” Then, I add, “I’ve done some homework in advance of this meeting, and put together some ideas to review with you. But before I just start tossing out ideas, can I first ask: ‘What would YOU like to accomplish in this meeting?’”

Most prospects and customers appreciate when you ask for input before just proceeding with your own agenda in the meeting. This simple technique of asking for their involvement will instantly increase the effectiveness of a smaller presentation.

With more formal presentations, I use a similar technique. But to avoid losing control of the meeting, I recommend a slightly different strategy.

First, with larger audiences, it’s important to be introduced by someone from the client company, usually the person who scheduled the meeting. A well-executed introduction can significantly enhance your credibility, and the person who set up the meeting has a built-in incentive to make you look good. With a little advance coaching, they can sound like one of your best references. But don’t leave this to chance. If your contact in the account doesn’t offer, ask them (in advance), “Do you mind kicking the meeting off with a brief introduction to make sure everyone knows why I’m here?”

Besides introducing you as the presenter, ask them (in advance) to introduce the audience as well. Unless the size of the presentation audience is unusually large, having someone (other than you) go around the room and attach names to faces offers a number of strategic advantages. In addition to familiarizing you with the group, this type of interaction at the beginning of a sales presentation is likely to yield some valuable information about who key decision makers are, as well as influencers or potential adversaries. If you pay close attention, some of the politics that will affect the purchase decision will be revealed during the pre-presentation banter.

After introductions, some sellers open with a joke or a funny story. Others choose a more serious approach and focus on the issue at hand. Me, I prefer an interactive approach.

I always start by thanking the audience for their time (very similar to how I open smaller meetings). Next, I re-introduce myself and briefly summarize the events that led to this meeting, when possible, referencing conversations I’ve had with key people in the account to let the audience know I’m familiar with their business. Then, I make it a point to try and create an interactive environment for my presentation. I do this by saying:

“There are a couple options for this type of presentation. One is for me to just deliver the standard corporate sales presentation, talking about all the wonderful things our product or service does. The other option is to set aside the standard pitch and have a more in-depth conversation about how our product would impact your specific environment.”

“So, rather than just starting down a pre-set path for this meeting, let me throw it out to the group… would you rather I stay generic…or get specific?”

Invariably, someone in the audience will say, “Let’s get specific.” Meanwhile, everyone else in your presentation audience will breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, “Great! Thank you for not just giving us another corporate sales pitch!”

Creating an interactive setting for your sales presentation is one of the great secrets of great presenters. If you involve the audience early, you will be surprised how much more receptive people will become. After all, isn’t it true that the most successful sales presentations are not just a one-way monologue, but rather, a mutual exchange of ideas?

Once the audience agrees that they do want to “get specific,” you step into a very different role in the presentation. Rather than just blasting them with a barrage of information, you earn the right to ask some “specific” questions about their business. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to establish credibility, uncover needs, and create a powerful backdrop for the messages you are about to deliver.

Thomas Freese is the president of QBS Research and author of Secrets of Question Based Selling.

May 27, 2008

Guest Article: “Dangerous Knowledge: What We Know Can Hurt Us,” by Keith Rosen

Filed under: Communication,Presentation Skills,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 6:19 am
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Dangerous Knowledge: What We Know Can Hurt Us
By Keith Rosen

I recently purchased some advertising space in a national magazine. I have been a subscriber for years and knew everything I needed to know to select them as an advertising vehicle. I called them with one intention, to place an order.

When I called their office, the salesperson began doing what she felt was appropriate; to start selling me. She began with the history of the magazine, then moved into a discussion about her subscriber base, how effective an advertising campaign can be and ended with information about her ad design team. She was unaware that I already knew all the information that she decided to share with me.

She never took the time to ask what my intention was in running the ad or what information I might be interested in hearing more about. While she was speaking at me, I could only think about how many selling opportunities this must have cost her when dealing with prospective clients who didn’t have the time or patience to listen to information that didn’t fit for them.

This is not an unusual problem. Many salespeople spend much of their time during a sales call attempting to educate the prospect about their product, service and industry. They think it will stimulate interest and increase the odds of earning a new client. In many cases, this is the same strategy that compromises their opportunity to create a relationship with that prospect.

Unfortunately, this is the easiest way to lose their attention. Once a person hears something they aren’t interested in or if they feel you are providing information that doesn’t apply to them, their interest is lost and they stop listening.

A sales call is not the time prove how much you know. It’s the time to find out what you don’t know about the prospect and what the prospect doesn’t know about you. It is not your knowledge that sells, but how effectively you customize your knowledge to meet each of your prospects’ specific needs.

Before you can uncover a prospect’s individual needs and educate them on how your product will meet those needs, you must first uncover what your prospect already knows.

Your company’s presentation materials are designed to assist you in educating your prospects. However, it’s your job to determine and provide the appropriate information that will fit their specific situation.

Start your conversation by asking certain questions. Questions will enable you to uncover the relevant information to provide and identify the prospect’s objective and expectation of the meeting. Begin your meeting with the following questions. “What are your expectations of our meeting today?” “What information can I provide that would assist you in making the right decision when choosing a contractor? “Just so I don’t sound repetitive, what do you already know about …?” Then, based on the information you receive, you can craft your presentation.

Caution: When listening to what your prospect already knows, some of the information you receive about your product or industry may be inaccurate. Address this carefully. Instead of correcting them, simply add another truth to their statement by asking another question or adding to what they had said. Otherwise, while making yourself look right, you run the risk of making the prospect wrong, thus putting them on the defensive.

Most importantly, learn to put your ego aside and let go of your need to “sell.” The most effective presentation is going to be judged by the outcome that you produce. This begins with finding the right balance of information that your prospects want to hear.

Take your life and career to the next level.

Keith is one of the foremost authorities on assisting people in achieving positive, measurable change in their attitude, in their behavior and in their results. Keith’s articles can be found in Selling Power Magazine and has appeared in feature stories in The New York Times, The Washington Times, Inc. Magazine, Sales and Marketing Management’s Ultimate Motivation Guide with Stephen Covey and The Wall Street Journal. For his work as a pioneer in the coaching profession, Inc. magazine and Fast Company named Keith one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country. Visit his website at http://www.profitbuilders.com

March 19, 2008

Obama and Overcoming Objections

Yesterday Barack Obama was faced with the most difficult part of his sales presentation to date. His speech was far more than a speech. His goal wasn’t to rally the troops, although he went in that direction toward the end of the speech. It wasn’t to sooth a few disgruntled potential supports, although he surely recognized there were probably a few he had to bring back into the fold. It wasn’t even an attempt to quash the debate about his former minister.

Yesterday Obama had to begin the process of addressing objections. He had gone for months ignoring the somewhat minor objections from some accusing him of being a closet Muslim and from others who were insinuating he would be a ‘black’ president. Those he tossed off as objections from a small minority of rightwing extremists. But when his association with Jeremiah Wright brought his judgment, which he had spent a year touting, into question, all objections were brought to a head.

Yesterday Obama had to become one thing and one thing only—a salesperson. Yesterday he wasn’t a Senator, aloof and above it all. He wasn’t a presidential candidate sparring over policy or voting records. Yesterday he was just a salesman facing a purchasing committee, many of whose members had serious objections to his “product.” Certainly, the committee he faced was larger and more diverse than any purchasing or executive committee any of us have ever faced. Yet he faced the same task we face—identifying and trying to overcome their objections.

He could have chosen to anticipate and address those objections on his terms within his larger presentation. He didn’t. Instead, he made the mistake many of us in sales make—hoping the objections would never surface or if they did, he could ignore them and they’d just fade away. But they did surface and they didn’t just fade away. So, in crisis mode, he had to shift his presentation from seeking to meet wants and needs (hope and change) to handling serious and potentially sale killing objections.

Yesterday was just the beginning. He addressed the objections by trying to get his prospects to acknowledge a further, deeper need, to recognize a serious pain that needs to be resolved and tying that larger pain to the basis of their objections. In the months to come he will have to expand on his presentation and ultimately give some idea of a solution. As we salespeople know, you can’t simply seek to prick a pain or gain recognition of a need—you have to offer a solution if you want the prospect to buy.

So, politics aside, from a strictly sales presentation perspective—in your opinion, how did he do? I’d love to hear your opinions.

March 16, 2008

Guest Article: “Are You a Commodity?,” by Tessa Stowe

Are You A Commodity? 
by Tessa Stowe

Do you find yourself competing on price? Do you often talk to a prospect, think you have made the sale and then they decide to shop around and buy based on price?

If this sounds familiar, then potential clients probably perceive you as a commodity. They think the service you’re offering is much the same as the service offered by LOTS of other people. So it makes sense for them to shop around and buy the cheapest. Wouldn’t you?

I know you think your service is unique, and potential clients should be able to understand that and should be able to see your value. But if you’re competing on price, this is a red flag that your potential clients don’t see your unique value. Instead, they perceive you as a commodity. In this case, you need to do something about it — and fast.

The question is what do you need to do so you are not perceived as commodity?

The solution “seems” obvious: make yourself unique. This will take “shopping for the cheapest” out of the equation and instead, potential buyers must make a decision based on the value of what you’re offering. How can you make yourself unique? Here are three steps to ensure your potential and current clients see you as unique and therefore make decisions based on your value and not your price.

Step One: Determine the unique value (results) of your service.

Get really clear on the results you achieve for your clients. Then look at those results as a potential client would. Don’t cut corners doing this exercise, it’s crucial. Dig deep to find the answers. If you’re not clear on your own value how can you expect your potential clients to be?

Once you’ve done that, figure out what it is you offer that no one else does. I would suggest asking some of your clients these questions. Their answers may surprise and enlighten you.

Step Two: Determine the unique value of you.

What unique skills and strengths do you bring to what you do? What is unique about your approach and your interaction with clients? Again, I would suggest asking some of your clients these questions.

Step Three: Communicate your unique value.

It’s imperative that you communicate your distinct value in all of your conversations and marketing materials. It’s not enough that you know your unique value; you have to be able to clearly convey it to potential clients.
This is the key. Don’t leave it up to people to guess. If they have to, you’ve already lost them. The “how” of doing this is where most people struggle but it is a skill that can be learned as part of the sales conversation process.

If you follow these three steps, your unique value will be clear to potential clients. You will start having conversations with clients about the unique value you offer, and they will make a decision based on whether they want that value or not. Remember, if they want your unique value, they can’t shop around.

A funny thing will happen when you clearly articulate your unique value. You will find more and more people will be naturally attracted to you and they will be prepared to pay your price. You’ll also get a lot more referrals as your “unique value” message spreads. Chances are too that you can increase your price and potential clients will pay it.

If you go through the three steps and you still find yourself competing on price or getting price objections, then simply go back and repeat the process. It’s also a good idea to ask the person you’re talking with for their input as they could shine the light on your value gap.

Spend some quality time thinking about your unique value and how you can convey it. You will then start turning your sales conversations into more higher paying clients.

Copyright 2008. Tessa Stowe.  Published with permission.

Tessa Stowe is a sales trainer and author with over 20 years experience in professional sales.  Visit Tessa at her website http://www.salesconversation.com.

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

February 22, 2008

Guest Article: “Death by PowerPoint,” by Anne Miller

Death by PowerPoint
by Anne Miller
Putting PowerPoint (or any of its presentation cousins) into the hands of some sales reps is like putting matches into the hands of some children. The results often lead to disaster.

As members of the Information Age, we may have come a long way in our presentation technology, but one could argue that some reps are no better at creating visual presentations than their ancestors who first carved visuals on cave walls 30,000 years ago. 

Electronic Excess

No matter how many flying bullets, builds, or fades you can produce with your computer, if buyers are confused or bored by what they are seeing, you will have struck a bad visual chord with them. Don’t go overboard with the technology. Keep it simple. You’re there to make a sale, not to win an Oscar for special effects.

Do you remember the term “visual aids” from school? The screens in your PowerPoint presentation are just that: “aids.” They are meant to clarify and communicate a message, not to muddy and overwhelm it.

The Killers

People make many mistakes with visuals. Below are three of the biggest ones that I see in my seminars. Compare these to the ones in your current presentations. Are they working for you as sales messengers or sales killers?

Killer No. 1: Drowning with words. “Hey, I know. I’ll include as many full sentences as I can to describe what my site/service does.” If you want to know how effective that is, may I suggest that you put a phone directory on the floor, turn to the page where you think your name is likely to appear, put the directory opened to that page on the floor, and try to find your name looking down at the page. Now you know what it feels like to an advertiser who is trying to make sense of what you are showing when you show all text pages.

Instead of using text-heavy visuals:

•  Use bullet points; have a maximum of five to six per page
•  Ruthlessly edit — a maximum of five to six words per line
•  Separate with white space

Compare the following:

Text-heavy visual:

•  We have 23 million unique users per month, which makes us No. 1 in our category.
•  Another advantage is that we offer an unduplicated audience for your advertising.

Non-text-heavy visual:

•  No. 1 — 23MM unique users per month
•  Unduplicated audience

When you present text-heavy pages, you tend to read them, which becomes remedial reading. So not only are you boring your advertisers, but you are insulting their intelligence as well. Moreover, since the human eye moves faster than the human mouth, your advertisers are reading point number four, while you are still presenting point number two, so they are not even listening to you. A disaster all around. Hit that space bar, and edit, edit, edit!

Killer No. 2: Smothering with visual sameness. Bullet-point visuals are best used for lists and summaries. Page after page of even good bullet-point pages becomes numbing to listeners. Graphs, charts, and pictures have much more impact.

Pick up a copy of your favorite business publication, whether it’s Business 2.0, Business Week, or The Wall Street Journal, and look at the business-to-business advertising. The overwhelming number of ads show a picture with the text because copywriters know what good presenters know: The eye picks up and remembers pictures far better than it does words. Look at any publication’s graph, chart, or table, and invariably there is a pictorial element to it, for example, oil wells used in an energy growth bar chart. (Some call that the USA Today effect.)

Use the guidelines below to liven up your message.
Explaining trends?                               Use line graphs
Describing a series of steps?                Use a diagram
Comparing capabilities?                       Use a table
Showing comparisons?                        Use a pie chart or bar graph
Explaining how your site works?           Show the site

In all of these, include color and, where possible, pictures. The bottom line is that by showing real visuals versus screen after screen of words, you will be helping your advertiser truly understand your message. Even Einstein preferred real visuals. He said, “If I can’t see it, I don’t understand.” If Einstein had problems with words-only information, think about the effect of your wordy visuals on just us regular folks.

Killer No. 3: Torturing advertisers with meaningless titles. The last thing in the world you want is your advertiser thinking “Why is this person showing this to me? Who cares about a headline that just describes what’s on the visual?”

Give meaning to the information you are presenting by replacing descriptive headlines with headlines that sell.

Headlines That Tell versus Headlines That Sell
Our Statistics versus Reach Your Best Customers
Advertisers versus Be With the Best
Reporting and Targeting versus Tailor to Your Needs

Since many of you leave hard copies of your presentation with advertisers to review, you want to be sure they get the selling story straight. The proper headlines will do that job for your information.

In summary, Peter Drucker quite rightly said that communication takes place in the mind of the listener, not the speaker. Look at the visuals in your presentations from an advertiser’s point of view. Are they sales killers, or are they as strong as they can be to help sell your story?

Internationally respected author, speaker and seminar leader, Anne Miller teaches sales people how to increase their business; coaches CEOs and senior management to communicate successfully to key constituencies; and enables technical people to transform complex information into simpler, meaningful messages.  Her website is www.annemiller.com

Paul McCord may be contacted at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

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