Do You Know What People Buy?

I was being interviewed a while back for a magazine article and the writer asked me a question that I had to think hard about before answering. 

 

She asked in all my years of working with professional salespeople what surprised me the most. 

 

I couldn’t boil it down to one thing. There are two. One is that in all my time in sales and sales training I’m surprised by how many salespeople are unprepared to respond to customer objections. Even objections they hear over and over again like the price objection. Each time it comes up it’s like the first time they have ever heard it. A sales professional should have a thoughtful, well prepared response that speaks to value.  Instead many salespeople stammer and stutter and basically begin the negotiations process. 

 

They will not receive full price in return for the full value they offer. 

 

The other biggest surprise in all my years of working with salespeople is also the reason salespeople hear the price objection so often. The second surprise is that the vast majority of salespeople have no idea what they are selling. 

 

Charles Revson was the founder of the cosmetics giant Revlon. He was once asked what business he was in. He said that “in the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.”

 

If you understand his answer then you might be a successful professional salesperson. If you don’t understand his answer then your success in sales will always be limited. You’ll also hear a whole lot of price objections. Your customers will want a reduced price regardless of whether or not your product is the least expensive in the market. 

 

Charles Revson understood that no one buys cosmetics because they want to spend hours a week applying chemicals to their body. They buy what the cosmetics do for them…which is make them more attractive in the HOPE of attracting the attention of other people….maybe even that special someone.

 

No one buys a drill, they buy the hole it makes. No one buys a book, they buy the adventure or information contained within it’s pages. No one buys a picture frame, they buy a place to display their precious memories of events and loved ones who make their life matter. 

 

No one buys your product because they want the product, they buy it because they want what they can get from the product.

 

The vast majority of salespeople do not fully know what their customers want from the products they sell. The professional salespeople who do understand what their customers want discovered that information by asking questions. The type of questions that less successful salespeople didn’t ask. They didn’t ask because they were lazy or they didn’t have the courage to ask or they just didn’t care enough to ask. 


Salespeople who don’t know what their customers are buying have no way of knowing how to present their products to people who want them. That is very surprising to me and it’s most certainly not a recipe for sales success.

 

 

Are You a Salesperson Who is Easy to Beat?

Salespeople who sell on price are easy to beat because another salesperson can just lower their price a little more. 

 

If you allow competitive salespeople to make your product only about price then that will be the determining factor for your customer. 

 

Let me say this as clearly as I can… Professional Salespeople DO NOT sell on price. 

 

They know that price is merely one factor in a buyer’s decision making process. It makes no difference if it is an individual buyer, a corporate buyer, a municipal or governmental buyer, price is very very seldom the only consideration. 

 

People pay a certain price for a product or service in the hope that they receive value in return. 

 

Value is an interesting word because it has about as many definitions as there are people on earth. “Value” means something different to people based on their expectations, their past experiences, their lifestyle and their needs. 

 

Professional salespeople ask questions, often many questions, to determine exactly what value means to each of their customers. Then they work tirelessly to be sure their customers receive that value. 

 

Every person reading this, including unprofessional salespeople who believe that most people really do buy on price, have paid more for a particular product because they saw or expected additional value unavailable in a cheaper product. 

 

They considered the price but decided to spend more because they saw the potential to receive more in return. That “more” that they saw the potential to receive is value. 

 

The only way to discover what value means to your customers is to ask. Ask each one. Ask again and again because the definition of “value” changes over time. 

 

If you’re not asking value based questions then it’s a safe bet you’re selling, or attempting to sell, on price. That makes you easy to beat. 


Stop selling your product, sell the value it provides to your customer instead. 

You Gotta Make The Call – Part Two

This is Part Two of a two-part post on prospecting for new business by Cold Calling new accounts. I  hate to call these types of contacts cold calls because if they are completely cold then you’re handicapping yourself unnecessarily. A better description would be Prospective Account calls but that doesn’t have the same ring to it. 

 

Just so we all understand and are on the same page we’ll use the better known “Cold Call” for now. In this post we will focus on cold calling in person.

 

I was reading the local newspaper on my iPad the other day and was startled to see a headline exclaiming that a salesperson had been shot dead while prospecting for new business. Apparently he was asking a receptionist if he could speak with the owner of the business and the receptionist pulled out a gun and shot him on the spot. 

 

Now that’s what I call a cold call!

 

Okay, so I didn’t really see that headline the other day. In fact I’ve never seen a headline like that. I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen a headline about a salesperson being shot by a receptionist while prospecting for business either. 

 

And yet there were undoubtedly salespeople reading that paragraph and saying to themselves, “I knew it.” They knew cold calling could get them killed. At least that’s the way it appears when you watch most, yes most, people who make their living selling. You would think walking into a business that hasn’t done business with them in the past was as dangerous as walking into a war zone. 

 

I guess in the world of sales that’s called “call reluctance.” I think that’s being way too kind. It’s fear, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking or sounding stupid. 

 

It is fear of hearing NO from someone who either doesn’t like your product or has never heard of it. But guess what? Selling is not about going around collecting orders from people you know and people who are already sold on whatever it is you’re selling. 

 

Selling is converting someone with a neutral or negative attitude about you, your products or service into a positive one. Selling means interacting with people you might not otherwise go near. Selling means overcoming whatever fears make you insecure when introducing yourself to people you’ve never met before. 

 

Cold calling by definition is reaching out to people you’ve never met before. It’s no mystery why less successful salespeople hate it, they hate it because they fear it. It’s why so many salespeople go to networking events and only talk to people they already know.

 

In years past cold calls were truly cold. You called people by picking their names out of a phone book or you showed up at a business that “looked” like they might be a prospect. It burned a lot of time but a whole lot of salespeople did it exactly like that. 

 

Today, a cold call is far from cold. Or at least it should be. As I mentioned in my last post if you’re not doing research on prospects before you contact them you’re wasting their time and yours. 

 

You should never walk into a business and ask for the person who buys….whatever you’re selling. You should know their name. You should know it because you found it during your online research or from a referral source. 

 

You should have some idea if they are a likely prospect and more importantly, why they may benefit from your product. If your research or referral indicates they may benefit from your product only then do you make the call.

 

But…just showing up expecting anyone to drop what they are doing to talk to you is the height of arrogance, at least in my opinion. I used to tell the receptionist in my office that one of her most important jobs was shielding me from drop in salespeople. 

 

So don’t drop in…drop off. I strongly recommend a two-step approach to cold calling in person. The first step is to simply drop off “correspondence” for the person you believe to be a prospect. The word “correspondence” is key. Literature, brochures, information, etc. are all words that mere product peddlers would use. 

 

A day or two after you’ve dropped of your correspondence make a follow up call to your prospect. If the receptionist answers let her know that you were there the other day and you’re following up on some correspondence with (insert name here). When the prospect answers introduce yourself and let them know you are following up on your correspondence. Ask if they have any questions. 

 

At this point a number of things can happen. They may have questions or they may not have even seen it. If they have questions your call is not at all cold anymore. Your only task now is to interest them further. If they haven’t seen the correspondence then give an explanation on what the correspondence was and offer to resend it. 

 

When you follow up a day or two later you can simply tell the receptionist that you’re following up on some correspondence that (insert name here) requested. 

 

The two-step drop off approach requires more effort, it also greatly improves results. This is another example of sales being the lowest paying easiest job or one of the highest paying challenging jobs in the world. 


The good news is you get to decide which one it will be for you. 

You Gotta Make The Call – Part One

This will be a two-part post focusing on one of the most disliked aspects of selling. That aspect is cold calling. Part One will focus on cold calling over the phone and Part Two will focus on cold calling in person. 

 

I’ve never met a salesperson who truly loved making Cold Calls. I’ve met some who claimed to but their actions showed otherwise. But the discipline to make those calls whether you like to or not often determines the success of a sales professional. 

 

Successful people have developed the habits of doing the things that less successful people simply don’t like to do. Successful salespeople have developed the habit of prospecting even if they don’t particularly like it. 

 

If you’re Cold Calling over the phone then use a script. But, and this is huge, never, never, never read your script. Use it as a roadmap to make certain you don’t skip over important points. Use it as a confidence builder so you’ll actually make the call but if you’re calling people up to read to them expect to be a far less than successful salesperson. And please please please, don’t tell anyone you have exactly what they need before you even know their name.

 

Your first question MUST be relative to time. Never assume your prospect was just sitting around waiting for you to call. No matter how good your product is or how helpful it could be you ARE an interruption to your prospect’s day. You must demonstrate immediately that you understand that. Also demonstrate that you will ALWAYS be respectful of their time. 

 

Don’t ask if this is a good time to talk because it almost never will be. Ask instead if they have a few moments to talk about an idea, product or solution they may find beneficial. A few moments seem like less time than a few minutes so your odds of getting a yes are better. Just remember if after getting a yes you burn up too much of their time you are an instant liar. 

 

Your goal on a cold call is most commonly to sell an appointment. If you’ve done even a little research on how your product or service can help the person or company you’re calling then setting an appointment should go pretty quickly. 

 

Speaking of research if you’re not going to do any then you’re not going to have much success cold calling, on the phone or in person. It’s never been easier to find information about a potential customer than it is today. A 5 or 10 minute investment of time on the internet can make all the difference in the success of your cold call. After all, if you’re selling hay then don’t expect much success when cold calling a person raising chickens. Find the prospects raising horses… BEFORE you call.


Technically the research means your cold call isn’t nearly as cold as cold calls used to be. You have the ability to “warm” it up as much as you want. If you’re making cold calls the same way it was done in the 70’s and 80’s you’re completely missing the boat. 

 

I know this sounds stupid but you need to rehearse. Out loud, not in your head. 

 

I once knew a guy who was arguably the best salesperson who ever lived. He sold life insurance. Billions and billions (literally) of dollars of life insurance. He was his company’s top salesperson for 54 consecutive years. 

 

I ran into him shortly before he retired. He was standing outside an office building talking out loud to himself. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was about to make a cold call and he was practicing what he was going to say. 

 

As he had many times during our friendship he amazed me. He had to have made thousands of calls during his illustrious career and yet he wouldn’t even consider making a call without practicing first. 

 

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of even mildly successful salespeople rarely if ever practice before a call. They figure they are good enough to “wing it.” It’s common practice to not practice but you should know that you will never achieve uncommon results by doing what’s common.

 

Those are all helpful ideas to increase your success rate when cold calling over the phone. However, none of them are the biggest reason salespeople fail at this important aspect of selling. The biggest reason they fail is because THEY NEVER MAKE THE CALL. If you’re going to have any success at cold calling you gotta make the call. 

 

No amount of practice, research, or planning will help if you never actually get in the game. Very successful salespeople fear failure as much as less successful salespeople do. They difference is they try anyway. 


Make the call! 

 

 

No, Sales Don’t Fix Everything

Sometimes I’m at a loss for words. I know frequent readers of this blog may find that hard to believe but sometimes I am so flummoxed by something I hear that I don’t know how to respond.

 

I recently had one of those conversations when the subject of selling came up. I pretty much despise discounting of any kind. If a company has built value into their products and services then they should be able to sell that value to customers. The purchase price of that product should reflect the value that was built into it. 

 

In a perfect world that’s the way it would always be. But the last time I checked the world wasn’t perfect. 

 

So salespeople, even at times very good, well trained salespeople will be forced to offer a discounted price to earn the business of a customer. That happens for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is a competitor pricing their inferior products well below the price of the superior product. Then they sometimes deceive the customers into believing the products are nearly identical. 

 

They in effect commoditize the product and tell the customers “it’s all the same so why pay more.” It’s not exactly ethical but if you don’t have a lot of mirrors around and you don’t need much sleep at night it works.

 

The skill of the salesperson must match the quality of the product. If not then the customer may not have the opportunity to compare the products on a level playing field. 

 

That’s what first attracted me to sales training. Companies with high value products need salespeople who are skilled at showing that value to customers and prospects. 

 

Without highly skilled and professionally trained salespeople the companies that sell products with high value will leave their customers and prospects vulnerable to the offers and “deals” on inferior products put forth by their competitors. 

 

The customer loses in that scenario. They may not realize it at first and truthfully some may never realize it but they lose all the same. But the high value company loses as well. If they can not receive fair value in return for the value they offer then they will fail as a business. The failure may come quickly or it may take a while but the end result will be the same. 

 

If your business is selling high value products and services then you must be compensated fairly for those products and services. That requires a well trained and professional sales force.

 

This is a bit of an aside but if you’re training your salespeople today in the same way you were 10 or 15 years ago then you are only partially training your salespeople. The marketplace is far more chaotic today then it’s ever been before. There is more information available to customers and prospects (much of it misinformation) than ever. There are more ways to purchase something than was imaginable only 5 years ago. Sales has changed and your sales training needs to change as well.

 

Which brings me back (finally) to the point of this post. In a conversation with someone who should know better, who in fact MUST know better, they used that oft stated cliche “well, sales fixes a lot of ills.” 

 

I immediately corrected them and said “no, sales HIDES a lot of ills.” The problems are merely disguised for a time. If too many of those sales are heavily discounted then you have a problem.  If you are a high value company you have two choices: stop selling high value products or go out of business. 

 

Businesses don’t succeed because of an impressive top line. Businesses succeed when their bottom line is reflective of the value they sell into the marketplace. 

 

What truly flummoxed me was this person’s disagreement with that statement. They insisted that if you were selling enough you would be successful regardless of your profit margins. 

 

For emphasis they repeated, “it’s all about sales and only sales.” 

 

That is almost scary! I wonder how many people in business feel profits are optional? I never considered there would be people in a for profit business that felt that way. Now I’m wondering if I‘ve discovered the cause of a whole lot of business failures. 

 

Sales are not what keep a business going. Profitable sales are what keep a business going. If you don’t know that, if you don’t live that, then you won’t be in business very long.

 

Just so we’re clear, profit isn’t the only thing a business should make. They hopefully make a real difference in the lives and businesses of their customers. They do that by providing them with high quality products and services. But if they hope to do that consistently, for the long haul, they MUST make a profit. 


Because no no matter how much we may want it to be so… sales do not fix everything. 

An Audit for Sales Success

I’ve never met anyone who completed their taxes and then said “I hope I get audited.” We all know audits are bad things, someone checking up on us or worse, trying to catch us cheating. Even if you did everything by the rules audits are still a royal pain. But audits do indeed serve a purpose – they let us know how we did or maybe how we are doing right now.

 

My grandfather always used to tell me that an honest person doesn’t mind being checked. I would add to that bit of wisdom that the most successful people check themselves.

 

Here is a short audit for sales professionals. The results (if answered honestly) will help you understand the areas you may want to work on to ensure your continued success. Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers. Just score yourself 1 to 10 in each of the areas and then develop a plan to increase your score before you conduct the next audit. Here we go:

 

  • Your goals are clear, written down and you review them daily.
  • You have a reasonable product or service. You can understand why your target market would buy it.
  • You have a repeatable sales process proven to work in your industry.
  • You know how many people in your specific target market you need to speak with to get a sale. (You know your batting average)
  • You have a sufficient amount of people who look like your “ideal customer” in a target list that makes you reasonably sure you can make your number, month after month.
  • You know the specific task motives, maybe even a few personal motives of your target customers, and you know that your product or service can match them.
  • You have a general interest statement that works, reliably, to get people to say, “Tell me more.”
  • You have a set of information gathering questions that you ask to find out if someone needs, wants and can afford what you sell.
  • You spend most of your day (four to six hours) in selling and marketing activities.
  • You work from a daily, weekly and monthly plan and are reasonably organized and efficient.
  • You don’t work more than 50 – 55 hours a week.
  • You do what you say you will do for prospects, customers and your employer. (You MUST be honest here cause if you’re lying to yourself you’ll never reach your potential.)

So how did you do? If you answered honestly you now have some areas to work on as you continue to grow yourself and your business. 


If you didn’t answer honestly then no amount of effort will lead to success…. but at least you learned why your struggling

Are You a Proud Sales Professional?

The most successful salespeople are proud to be in sales. They know that any profit making business requires sales to survive. Everything in business may not begin with sales but it certainly ends without them. Every advancement a company makes is made from the revenue delivered by the sales team. Every person employed by the company is paid from the profits produced by the sales team.

 

The most successful salespeople also know that they do not succeed alone. The best salespeople work well with other departments in their company, particularly the customer service department. They use the knowledge and experience of other salespeople to compliment their own. They do all this with the goal of providing the customer with the best possible buying experience.

 

The most successful salespeople are not only proud to be in sales, they are proud to sell their products and services. They make the effort required to build a realistic value proposition for the customer. They relentlessly defend that value proposition against the weaker value propositions of their competitors. Their goal is not merely to sell more, it is to help more.

 

They help their customers understand their needs. They help their customers acquire the products they need to achieve their goals and objectives. They help make certain that their customers receive every bit of the value they expected to receive when they made the decision to purchase. 

 

Professional salespeople guard their integrity as if it were gold because they know that it is in fact golden. They will not misrepresent themselves or their products and they will not, will not, will not lie to a customer or a prospect. 

 

Professional salespeople are indeed proud to be in sales. They arm themselves with the skills and knowledge required to be the best, day after day and month after month. They believe in continuous improvement and they know that improvement begins with them. 

 

Does that sound like you? If not then don’t be disappointed with yourself. Each one of the characteristics of a professional salesperson is within your reach. You must decide to possess them and then get to work to make them a part of your own DNA. 


You can do that, the only question that remains is, will you?