Did You Ask?

Salespeople get what they ask for! If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that I would probably be writing this from a beach somewhere in the Caribbean. That salespeople get what they ask for isn’t always true but it’s true far more often than it is not. 

Salespeople who consistently ask for the order will nearly double or even triple their closing percentages. Just by asking for the order!

Early in my sales career I discovered that an incredibly high percentage of sales calls ended without the sales person ever really asking for the  order. One day upon returning to the office from a sales call my sales manager asked me “if I asked?” I answered “did I ask what?” He said, “did you ask for the order?” 

My answer was of course I did, I always did. So he asks me how I asked, what words did I actually use to ask for the order. When I hesitated a bit he knew he had me. When I said I asked the customer “what do you think?” he just smiled and said that next time I should really ask. 

I learned through the years that questions like “what do you think” and “how does it sound” are not order asking questions. They are flimsy substitutes that salespeople use when they don’t have the confidence required to ask a real order asking question. 

A real order asking question is one that requires a yes or no answer. They are closed-ended questions that leave no doubt as to the intentions of the prospect, they will either be doing business with you or not. 

Good salespeople always ask for the order. Great salespeople know when to ask. 

Great salespeople earn the right to ask for the order by working with their prospect to determine how and IF their product or service will actually help the customer. They ask a ton of focused questions that help their prospect see the fit between the product and their situation. 

When the salesperson has helped the customer see the benefits of their product and how it will help them, then they have earned the right to ask for the order and ask is what they do. 

They ask by saying something like “may I have your business?” They ask directly. They wait for a yes or no before they say anything else. They get the order.

Even if you’re only a good salesperson and aren’t sure what questions to ask, even if you’re not 100% knowledgeable about your product or service, always asking for the order will increase your sales. 

If you don’t believe me then prove me wrong by asking, it’s the only way you’ll ever know for sure. 

How the Best Salespeople Sell – Part Two

It has long been said that the best salespeople have the gift of gab. It has also long been dead wrong. The best salespeople in fact have the gift of listening. They listen well, very well.

The best salespeople, and the best communicators in general, listen to understand rather than just listening to respond. They listen with all their senses and they listen with their heart. They use their empathy skills to focus not only on what was said but what was actually meant. 

The best salespeople do not “filter” what was said through their own biases or life lens. They accept what was said and don’t simply dismiss the things they don’t want to hear. When speaking with anyone they give that person one of the greatest signs of respect that a person can offer, their full attention. 

The best salespeople ask the best questions and that is not a coincidence. They know what they don’t know and they know that lack of information is a real challenge for a professional salesperson. They also know that challenge is small when compared with what they do know that isn’t so…. misinformation or just plain wrong information, when accepted as fact, will kill salesperson’s chance to really help a prospect and earn their business.

The best salespeople ask lots of questions, particularly open ended questions and they allow the prospect time to think about an answer. They are not afraid of a little silence as the customer searches for an answer. They know that if a prospect or customer can instantly answer every question then they probably aren’t asking meaningful enough questions to uncover real wants and needs. Without understanding those wants and needs a professional salesperson knows their odds of earning a customer’s business go way way down.

The best salespeople seldom discuss price without also discussing value. They believe in the value their product or service provides to the customer. They are skilled at using the information the customer provided when answering questions to help the customer understand and see the value too. When having the price/value discussion the best salespeople do not overstate, exaggerate or lie. EVER!

The best salespeople accept personal responsibility for a lost sale. They work to discover their weakness or the weakness of their offering and then they work to improve it. They work; the best salespeople simply put more effort into getting the results that they want. They know that sales is either the lowest paying easy job they will ever have or the most challenging highest paying job they could ever want. They know that everyday both options are a choice and they choose the challenge and accept the high compensation that comes with it.

They best salespeople hate to lose and they are excellent at hiding that fact. They don’t blame the prospect for their decision to go elsewhere and they don’t rip on the competition. They don’t stop calling on “lost” accounts, instead redoubling their efforts to earn the business back. 

Low performing salespeople will never admit to being outsold but the best salespeople know they can be outsold by other “best” salespeople at any time. They relish that competition and use it to strengthen their resolve and push themselves to constantly improve their product knowledge and skills. 

The best salespeople love the profession of selling and respect it with integrity and high ethical standards. Their goal is not so much to sell as it is to help their customer buy. They know that by doing the right things right the outcome will more times then not be right as well. 

The best salespeople do the right things right. How many of these things do you do right each day? If you were on trial, charged with being a “best” salesperson, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

If not then start building your case today. You can become a best salesperson any time you wish…. Simply do the right things right.

How the Best Salespeople Sell – Part One

I almost never go more than a few days without receiving a tweet or message asking for tips on starting out in sales. It’s an easy question to answer.

It’s easy because unlike so many areas of life, sales, or more accurately, professional selling, has clearly defined right and wrong ways of going about it. If you go about it the right way, you succeed. If you go about it the wrong way, you don’t. Period!

Before I begin I should remind you of my definition of success. You can appear to succeed by lying and cheating but real success must be earned honestly. If you cheated and lied your way to the top then you might be wealthy but you’re not a success. You’re most certainly not a professional salesperson.

Okay, here’s how the best salespeople sell…

They have a defined, repeatable selling process. They always know where in the process they are and what is required to move to the next step of the process. I prefer a sales process that is designed to mirror the emotional buying process that humans go through. Dale Carnegie’s sales process is designed to do just that. I teach a proprietary sales process that is built on many of the same principles. 

I tell salespeople all the time that there are two ways to sell, by process or by accident. If you’re not using a process then how will you know what “worked” and what didn’t? How will you determine if you’re making progress with the customer? How will you know why they purchased from you and why they didn’t? 

If you can’t state, with great specificity, why you lost the last five prospects who didn’t buy from you then you’re likely not using a process. If you can’t state, with even greater specificity, why you’re last five customers purchased from you then you’re likely selling by accident.

You’re odds of long-term sales success go way, way up if you use a well defined sales process. 

Despite what you may have heard, the best salespeople do not always ask for the order. They only ask for the order after they have earned the right to do so. They earn that right by determining if and how their product or service will help their prospect achieve their desired goals and objectives. Once they have earned the right then they indeed always ask for the order. 

Keep in mind that we are talking about professional salespeople so even when they haven’t earned the right to ask for the order they still ask for something. They ask for something that will move the sales process forward; maybe it’s a product demonstration, perhaps an introduction to someone else within the account, maybe it’s a referral. But it is always something. 

If you’re wasting your time and your customer’s time by not moving the sales process forward then you’re likely just a professional visitor, not a professional salesperson. Professional salespeople use their time exceedingly well and are always respectful of the time their customers invest with them.

In Part Two later this week we’ll look at some of the specific skills that the best salespeople are always working on to improve. 

How to Sell More of Anything

Next week in Baltimore I’ll present a “How to Sell” class to a group of professionals. Not sales professionals, in fact, these professionals may very well have a certain disdain at even the thought of selling. 

As I prepared for the presentation I knew instinctively that a traditional sales training session was out of the question. No sales process or technique would be of interest or value to this group. While “selling” is important to their profession it is not something they are comfortable with and not something they do on a daily basis.

That got me to thinking about the essence of selling and what it really takes to sell effectively. The answer that popped into my head was trust and relationships.

People buy from people they like and trust. People don’t buy from companies or machines. Yes, we sometimes buy stuff online and through vending machines but usually even then someone, a person, has previously convinced us that it would be a good purchase.

The presentation morphed into a “Building Trusting Relationships” session and it quickly occurred to me that this isn’t just a great topic for non-traditional salespeople, it’s a valuable topic for all sales professionals. 

Salespeople, at least less successful salespeople, tend to focus all their energies on “telling” their prospect about the product. They spend far too little time on building the type of relationship that will help the prospect trust them as a person and as a result the prospect remains suspect about most everything the salesperson says.

The most successful salespeople don’t focus on themselves or their product, they focus on their customer and their customer’s wants and needs. They start that process by learning about their customer’s goals and objectives and it is from those conversations that a real relationship blooms.  

The most successful salespeople treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness. They listen to what others have to say before expressing their own thoughts. Successful salespeople do not insult, disparage or knock another person’s ideas. Even if that other person is a competitive salesperson. Especially if that other person is a competitive salesperson! 

The most successful salespeople have long ago thrown out the Golden Rule and replaced it with the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated.

The most successful salespeople don’t play the blame game. They accept responsibility for their actions and they honor their commitments. They share credit for their success knowing full well that no salesperson can succeed long-term without a lot of support from others in their organization.

The most successful salespeople avoid wasting time and are consistent planners. They are genuinely interested in other people and believe they can learn from anyone. They smile often and always, always, always maintain control of their attitude. Simply put, they are the type of person we all enjoy being around. 

Now, for those of you who have never sold a thing or are in a position that requires a non-traditional sales approach, just remove the word “sales” from every sentence above. What you’ll discover is that the way to sell more of anything is to be a successful person. 

Once you have developed the skill of building trusting relationships, sincere relationships, well then you can sell most anything to most anyone. 

You see, great salespeople are also great people.

Advice for New Salespeople

I received a Direct Message on my Twitter account the other day asking for advice for new salespeople. Now I can be pretty concise but geez, advice for new salespeople in 140 characters is way beyond me.

Since communicating in more than those 140 characters is why I started this blog in the first place I figured I’d answer here. So here we go!

My first and best advice is once you’ve earned the right to ask for the order always, always, always ask for the order. It is amazing to me the huge percentage of sales presentations that end without the salespeople asking for the order. It’s a fact that professional salespeople tend to get what they ask for and they always ask for the order.

My next best advice is never ask for the order if you have not earned the right. Screwing up a sales presentation and being unprepared to represent yourself and your product makes you look like a hack. Asking for the order anyway is what gives salespeople the poor reputation that we often have.

Now the tough part. How do you earn the right to ask for the order? That question alone could fill up several blog posts.  Maybe I’ll write again on this topic, but for for now let’s see how I do with this one.

Earning the right to ask for the order involves preparing for the call. Call preparation is where the majority of salespeople fall short. When you’re not prepared for the call you fail to make a good first impression, you fail to ask the type of questions to generate interest on the part of your prospect and you make such a generic sales presentation that you often miss the mark completely.

If you’re going to succeed in sales then you need to prepare for success. Preparing begins by learning as much as possible about your prospect before you make the initial call. There is more information available to you today than ever before; a simple Google search can provide you with enough basic information to know at least a little something before you introduce yourself. If your first question to your customer is “So, what business are you in?” you can be certain you have failed in what is known as pre-approach.

Next, do a little strategizing to determine what information you’ll need from your customer to help them see the value in your product or service. Determine the questions you’ll use to uncover that information. This step of the sales process, the information gathering part, is called many things by various sales training types but whatever you call it, this is the part where most salespeople lose the deal. They simply don’t have enough information about their prospect to know what they would buy and more importantly, why they would buy it.  Do not “wing” this part of the sales process, it is where business is won and lost.

Next, learn everything you possibly can about your products and the products offered by your competition. You’ll never present all of it to a prospect but knowing it allows you to piece together a presentation that “fits” with what your prospect told you during your information gathering step. If you do this well it will look like your product was made for that particular customer. If you’ve found the right prospect and selected the right product not only will it look like it, it will actually be true.

Once you’ve asked the right questions, hopefully better questions than any unprepared salesperson could ever ask, and once you’ve professionally presented your product (the right product for that particular customer) then and only then have you earned the right to ask for the order.

If you’ve earned the right and don’t ask for the order, for any reason, then you’ll likely struggle in sales as long as that’s your chosen profession. The most successful salespeople are fearless about asking for the order once they have earned the right.

If you’re going to succeed in sales you had best find your own fearless and use it everyday!

I could go on and on with advice for new and experienced salespeople alike but let me close like this:

Sales is an honorable profession if YOU make it one. There are plenty of things you can’t control about sales but you can always control yourself. You can decide how professional you will be, you can decide how honest you will be and you can decide if you’re only in it for the money or if money is just part of it.

Sales is either one of the easiest lower paying jobs in the world or one of the most challenging highest paid professions in the world. You get to decide which one it will be for yourself each and everyday!

What Do You Mean, Urgent?

ur·gent 

Function: adjective 

1 a : calling for immediate attention : PRESSING <urgent appeals> b : conveying a sense of urgency

2 : urging insistently : IMPORTUNATE

– ur·gent·ly adverb

Well, there is the definition from Webster’s.  I think I like the first one, but the second one isn’t too bad either.

I guess it really doesn’t really matter which one we prefer as long as we have one of these definitions that we can embrace as our own. 

Now when I say embrace I mean EMBRACE!  Really latch on to it and live the meaning of urgent, live it through our words and actions every single day.  I remember attending a Dale Carnegie™ Sales Conference about 18 years ago when one of the presenters was asked about his opinion on the most serious threat facing professional salespeople at the time.  I think his answer applies more today than it did at the time: a lack of urgency. 

He believes, and I agree, that salespeople who go about their business as though a deal could wait another day are doomed to a career filled with limited successes and missed opportunities. 

Some salespeople lack a sense of urgency, urgency regarding following up on a request for information, urgency to return a phone call, urgency to make that one additional sales call a day and urgency to do the things they know would make a difference. These are the woulda, coulda, shoulda salespeople. They lament the poor business climate which the salespeople with a sense of urgency attack, maximizing the market and reaping the rewards.

Which one are you?  Do you have that sense of urgency?  Or, do you “leave a little business for tomorrow?”  If you’re a woulda, coulda, shoulda, you better hope your competition is too!  As of August 1st, there are barely 100 sales days left in 2013. You best get a move on. 

Now, go help a customer reach their goals and sell something, it’s urgent!

The Best Thing About Being in Sales

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I’d be the first to admit that selling, or being in sales, isn’t for everybody. You have to like people, and not necessarily people with your same likes and opinions. You have to like a wide variety of people. Sometimes you have to find a way to build at least a working relationship with people who you otherwise might not even associate with.

If you’re going to be in sales you must be mostly self-motivated. The most motivated sales manager in the world will not be able to motivate someone that just doesn’t want to be motivated.

Professional salespeople can have a lot of freedom and they can make a lot of money. I heard a speaker say one time that sales “is the easiest low paying job in the world” or “the hardest, best paying job in the world.” It’s a salesperson’s choice!

The best thing about being in sales is that professional salespeople control their own destiny. There are many factors which can have an impact on the environment that you sell in; the economy, the fluctuating price of commodities, or some surprise activity of your competition.

It would be naive to suggest that those factors don’t matter but none of them, or even all of them combined, have as much impact as a professional salesperson’s attitude. That’s the reason I believe that salespeople control their own destiny, because they also have complete, 100% control over their attitude.

Now I know some stuff about controlling an attitude, or more accurately and honestly, about NOT controlling an attitude. It’s simply easier to be negative and staying positive is a battle we should fight often and continually. There’s really no secret to winning that battle, it’s just a matter of being aware that the battle exists.

Salespeople often face a frequent stream of negative information, feedback and issues. It can make some days such a challenge that the battle is more like a war. But how you react is still your choice, no one else’s!

As you move into the final quarter of 2012 and begin to look forward to a great New Year you may hear some rumblings, noise I like to call it, about the challenges you’ll possibly face in our 2013 marketplace. If I’ve learned anything in my years in business it’s that the future is pretty hard to predict. There are at least as many positive indicators as there are negative indicators for 2013. The people who focus on the negative ones will lose the attitude battle and that will prove costly to them in the coming year.

Losing that battle could lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy that no one wants and that no one can afford. Your success in controlling your attitude could be the single greatest contributor to your overall success, and not just next year, but every year.

So, as you plan your 2013, plan for a great year, commit to working the fundamentals of sales that work regardless of outside influences. Commit to doing all the little things that you know will make a big difference. Plan for big wins and maybe even a few small loses, and most of all, plan to avoid the “noise” and stay positive.

In 2013, plan to be the absolute master of your destiny, after all, it’s the best thing about being in sales.