The 10 best questions to warm up a cold prospect

Hi readers,

Apologies for the sabbatical from my blogs…been busy on-boarding in my new avatar as Vice President Business Development of a great technology startup that will disrupt the social media space in the remote , rural , under-served, economically deprived, Bottom of the Pyramid Markets. The company I speak of is called GramVaani media (http://www.gramvaani.org/)

All this while I have addressed a distinguished gathering at the Rockefeller foundation‘s , Rock Talk event, and participated at the RMAI round table.

During all this, I have had the opportunity to engage with a group of very bright, young women who are raring to have a go at key account management and sales with a great new  platform that is poised to disrupt the wedding services space in India.

They posed a very good question to me- what would be set of some basic key questions that could warm up a cold prospect in the first meeting, agnostic to the vertical or the profile of the prospect (client). And I started to think on this and came up with this list that I believe would serve many who have the same question bothering them.

here goes…

  1. What can you tell me about your organization… and yourself?
  2. What do you like about what you’re currently doing?
  3. What don’t you like about your current situation?
  4. What would you like to be enhanced or improved?
  5. Have you spoken to other solution providers to address your current specific challenge?
  6. What can you tell me about your priorities and your options?
  7. What obstacles are there in the way of this initiative moving forward?
  8. What will be your criterion of evaluating different options if at all?
  9. How much have your budgeted for this proposal/project?
  10. When do you wish to start?

Try these questions with a cold prospect and write back to me with your inputs and comments…

more than happy to ideate with you !

Happy reading

Getting excited about Cold Calls!

Hi “cold feet Claude”

Is cold calling getting the better of you lately?

Is , trying to sell a product or service to an unknown and unqualified prospect getting to be so confronting that it freezes you  into a state of inaction? Are you daunted and stopped dead in your tracks at the prospect of making cold calls?

Well , Claude, you are not alone, and I have been there!!

Sadly, as the need for cold calling frequently accompanies the launch of a new business, or the launch of a new offering, such inaction

(caused due to numerous reasons)  can have dire consequences for your personally and definitely for the business.

Let’s try to fix it by looking at what actually causes our dislike and then introduce some new strategies- shall we?

  • Not surprisingly, the biggest reaction that’s generated by cold calling is the fear of failure. We know the incidence of sale is extremely low; we know the chances of even getting to the decision-maker are slim; is it therefore any wonder we are fearful of failure?
  • Running a close second, is the fear of rejection. No one likes to be rejected at the best of times and less so when the rejection is at best, abrupt and at times, downright rude.
  • The third fear is that of giving offence. It’s natural we don’t want to be seen as a nuisance — after all, this is not the atmosphere we look to foster with a potential customer.

So, we know cold calling has a low success rate; we know it generates fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of offending. How can we combat this and move forward with any degree of positive action?

I reckon the answer lies in our measurements of success.

Imagine you set yourself the goal of making twenty-five cold calls to set up meetings to promote your business.

Now let’s assume that twenty-three of the calls are met with either rejection or total failure to connect with a decision-maker.

In this scenario, the chances are you’d be feeling pretty miserable. You might feel like you’ve failed in twenty-three out of twenty-five of the calls. And you’d be right.

Imagine instead, you had approached the exercise with this goal:

‘To attract people who are genuinely interested in hearing about my work’

By choosing your language carefully and not linking your goal to a finite number of calls or sales, it is possible to switch the emphasis away from the fears of what may be coming (failure, rejection, offence) and more towards your sense of what you’re actually hearing.

By listening out for those ‘who are genuinely interested’ it is possible to quickly disqualify anyone appearing unsuitable or disinterested. Through these means, you’ll move more quickly to the next call and with a greater sense of purpose. What’s more, you’ll do so without being rendered inactive through fear.

Too easy? Try it and you’ll see why successful telesales people are able to make call after call, seemingly totally unfazed by any of the classic fears.

Confession– This piece is motivated by a patch in my life as a sales professional when I went through this rut myself and it was a friend of mine who worked in a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) firm who put me through the paces and taught me how to overcome my fears on cold calling.

This piece also helps young sales reps to understand how to qualify a serious lead through the process of cold calling, which is very important!

 

How To Reinvent yourself when the chips are down, and create a new avatar!

Hi struggling sales stars of yester years!

Feeling the heat of a struggling economy? Do you have nightmares about not making your quota targets and being presented with a beautiful pink slip on your table?

Well…you are not alone and that makes two of us!!

But having weathered many situations and economic downturns myself over the last 18 years that I have been working, I have realized that mental agility (keeping your wits about), perseverance ( always a good attitude) and an open mind ( keep options open) are key to ensure that you dont get caught in a rut and are successful in reinventing yourself in a more potent avatar!!

So here’s how you do it folks!!

  • Step #1. Locate. Find the most talented and successful Key account manager in your company and ask (beg, if necessary) to let you shadow him (or her) on a couple of weeks worth of sales calls. Get your boss on your side; boss is gonna be very pleased that you are taking the initiative to learn and improve (see ..thats politically correct!)
  • Step #2. Observe. Watch how he presents himself, opens up a conversation, moves the sale forward. Observe the words he uses, the way he moves his body, the way he interacts with individuals. (Take notes on your tricorder if necessary)
  • Step #3. Investigate. After each sales call, ask your role model to describe what he was THINKING at each point in the sales call. You want to understand the basic beliefs and assumptions that support the successful sales behavior. (Always good to understand the perspective behind each action and reaction that you observed during the sales call)
  • Step #4. Imitate. After you’ve done this for two weeks, you should have a pretty good understanding of the way that a successful sales professional THINKS about selling, and how that thinking manifests itself in specific behavior. Good time for you to jot down these key observations and to think of a way to consciously imbibe that into your system.
  • Step #5. Integrate. Start trying to think and behave identically to the sales professional. It will seem odd at first and you’ll be tempted to start talking technical. However, if you emulate both the thought process and the outward behavior, you’ll eventually get similar results.

EVENTUALLY you will have evolved into a new YOU and success will be closer to you than a couple of weeks back!!

Results guaranteed!!

Hi readers,

When I started my career in 1992, I was introduced to the power of the sales pitch by my mentors who came from the old school. At that time, the sales pitch was king.

The sales pitch had to be perfected to a point that you knew that pitch by heart, and that was THE critical element of hooking the client.

Well, circa 2012, and Solutions marketing is fast gaining over traditional marketing and with that , sales strategy is evolving.

Today, successful sales reps know that, far from being a “sales pitch,” every customer meeting is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and to engage with the customer with a long term perspective.

there are 3 simple rules that the sales rep of today can follow in order to evolve from a slick , fast talking, fast thinking sales pro, to a more strategic thinking, solutions oriented, business partner to his customer.

  • RULE #1: Always seek the truth.  You want to find out if you really have something that can help the customer.  To do this, the meeting must be a quest to discover the real areas where the two of you can work together. Quick tip: your customer knows that you’re telling the truth when you’re not afraid to say something negative (but true) about your product or company.
  • RULE #2: Always keep an open mind. When you walk into a customer meeting absolutely convinced that the customer needs your product or service, the customer will sense you’re close-minded and become close-minded in return.  If, by contrast, you’re open to the idea that the customer might be better served elsewhere, the customer will sense that you’ve got his or her best interests at heart and will be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
  • RULE #3: Always have a real dialog. A customer meeting should be a conversation, not a mere sales call.  This means that you should be listening to the customer at least half of the time that’s spent at the meeting.  Furthermore, the dialog should be substantive and about real business issues, not just office patter or chit-chat about sports.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Sales Teams

Hi Readers,

New of impending fiscal cliff in the US, continued bad numbers from the Eurozone, Worst GDP numbers from India in a decade do not make our work in sales any easier than yesterday.

Selling is hard work, but it’s even more difficult when the sales team starts exhibiting dysfunctional behavior in the face of serious challenges from the economy, clients and competition!

In times of crises like this, Sales reps and sales teams exhibit behavior that I jocularly refer to as “sins”! And I am giving away advice free to those who care to read and listen on how to cope with this bad behavior!!

  1. OVERCONFIDENCE. When everyone wants to make big numbers, there’s a tendency to sell too much, too quickly.Solution: Before closing, always make certain that the customer really needs your offering and that your firm has the resources to deliver promptly. Key take away– measure your selling pace, and DONT Push the sale; it will rebound on you and your client will vanish from your Rolodex!
  2. GRANDIOSITY. If you’ve got a terrific offering, it’s all too easy to pretend that it’s a panacea. While some products do arguably “change the world” they’re few and far between. Solution: Focus on helping the customer, rather than converting them to a “product” religion. Key take away– Leverage your EQ, keep a balanced approach to sales, look at the long term and sell a “solution” as opposed to a “great product”
  3. HUBRIS. Sales professionals know what worked in the past, but the memory of past success blind the team to changing customer requirements. Solution: Become obsessed with customer satisfaction and measure it through an objective customer survey.Key take away– DONT delve in the past, that is history; learn to learn new skills everyday, absorb the changes around you, adapt your self according to the change and display dexterity in making your offer to your clients.
  4. DEHUMANIZATION. Sales technology is great, but if it becomes too pervasive it can hinder the person-to-person interaction that is the core of relationship building. Solution: Use technology sparingly and use face-to-face communication for key customer meetings. Key take away– Remember, the product or the service does not a sale make, YOU DO!
  5. OVERWHELM. During times of change, there’s a tendency demand more from everybody on the team, and management may pile on extra offerings, making it difficult for keep abreast. Solution: Stay focused on what the customers are buying today. Key take away– KISS, Keep it simple and sweet! Always works,…….
  6. STOVEPIPING. In every company there is a tendency for sales to view itself as the only group that’s really important; meanwhile, other groups start viewing the sales team as arrogant. Solution: Get other groups involved in the sales process by inviting them to meetings with key customers. Key take away– Humility is a life long mistress for the successful sales star and a future leader. Collaborate with your internal teams that support you in your efforts to get your quotas, share accolades with them and give them their due for their unstinting support to you.
  7. STRESS. Sales is, by nature, a stressful activity. If a sales team isn’t careful, it can end up creating a sales culture where stress becomes habitual, like a drug. Solution: Make humor and laughter an integral part of your personal sales process. Key take away– De-stress over a round of golf, do Yoga, meditate, shake a leg….get a life beyond your quotas, commissions and job!!

 

Dont be a sinner, become a SAINT!!!

The 7 Myths of Selling to Smaller Firms

Hi readers,

Forget G-15, Forget OECD countries, Forget the mature, developed economies of the Western Hemisphere, the future belongs to the newbie emerging economies.

The BRICS and MINT are the way to go!!

BRICS- Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa/ MINT- Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey

Do you know what is largely driving these economies even in these trying times?

An entrepreneurial spirited, and driven, SMB segment! Yes, these economies are largely fueled by small and medium firms that are driven by first generation entrepreneurs,  often betting their own financial resources to chase their dreams…

The SMB segment is fast emerging as a focus for major B2B focused businesses across the globe.

B2B businesses who wish to successfully convert SMB clients often find it challenging to generate traction and business in this fast growing segment and for lack of a comprehensive understanding of this segment, and its long term business implication in their business eco-systems and respective economies, they often lose out.

Sales reps who have had qualified successes while working with larger firms , often use myths to justify their lack of success in the SMB segment and thats where they need to revisit their sales process when working with SMB clients..

Selling for an SMB can be challenging, especially if you’re used to working for a larger firm.  There’s usually not much in the way of sales support, and people often end up doing multiple jobs. All of that is manageable, however, providing you have the right attitude about your job.  This RIGHT ATTITUDE is best explained by mentioning the 7 myths that hinder your sale to the SMB client, and what you need to do to redress this and succeed!!

  • Myth #1: Prospects won’t buy from us because they’ve never heard of us.
  • Truth #1: It’s an advantage when prospects lack negative preconceptions.

 

  • Myth #2: Prospects won’t buy because we’re new in the business.
  • Truth #2: Prospects are always interested in something new and different.

 

  • Myth #3: We can’t compete because we’re only a tiny handful of people.
  • Truth #3: It’s an advantage not to have a bureaucracy to weigh us down.

 

  • Myth #4: Customers won’t buy because our product is new in the market.
  • Truth #4: In today’s world, true innovation is (almost literally) priceless.

 

  • Myth #5: An enterprise CEO can’t possibly be interested in speaking with us.
  • Truth #5: It’s in a CEO’s best interest to learn what we’ve got to offer.

 

  • Myth #6: Prospects are asking us to do a lot of work to get their business.
  • Truth #6: We have the right to ask for major concessions in return.

 

  • Myth #7: Big companies have more resources, so they’re likely to win.
  • Truth #7: Big companies frequently bite off way more than they can chew.

Lets get us some SMB business now!!

The 10 Immutable Rules of Sales Success today!

Hi readers,

This blog is the result of constant badgering by my sales team, when I was P&L head of a CPG startup business in Africa, from 2007 till 2011.

My senior sales managers would hound me to “extract” every bit of knowledge to comprehend the elements that ensure “sure shot” success…

I was exasperated to the point of repeating myself a thousand times that …guys there is no simple mantra for sales success…a fast paced , dynamic business eco-system means that us folks in the field have to evolve into super smart, super flexible , quick thinking and quicker acting professionals and to leverage our basic selling skills to close our deals successfully.

BUT…on closer introspection, it was apparent that there were some basic fundamental rules that governed sales success across business eco-systems, irrespective of how the economy was today and what it will evolve into, tomorrow.

Here is my take on what I believe are the 10 ( dare is say immutable ) rules for sales success!

  • RULE #1: Have a sales philosophy that emphasizes relationship building.

Relationship building skills, with customers, both internal ( your boss, his boss, the production head, the finance head, the CFO, the account head, the logistics head etc) and external, is MOST CRUCIAL to your sales success. Imbibe this skills, work on it life long, and leverage it strategically and you will succeed.

  • RULE #2: Value the relationship more than making your quota.

Work on your relationship management and development skills- relationships last you a life time, and they are PRECIOUS in sales- take it from me, I have 18 years selling experience in some very inhospitable business environments, and succeeding against all odds!

  • RULE #3: Consider yourself and your firm as the best at what you do.

Be proud of what you have achieved as a sales professional and you will have generated positive aura around yourself. MOST important, believe that the firm that has employed you IS THE BEST IN ITS CLASS AND CATEGORY…( even if the CNN, WSJ rankings tell you otherwise!!). You have to sincerely believe , that you are a game changer, a winner and best in class performer, and once you have taken this route, your firm will automatically be the best place there ever was! Winning can be positive and infectious ….

  • RULE #4: Achieve a perfect job of delivering what you promised.

Perfection comes from life learning, constant improvements and practical application in different challenges that you address as a sales rep every day. Practice makes perfect, and perfection ensures that your delivery is first class every time.

  • RULE #5: Provide absolutely impeccable service after the sale.

After sales service is the success mantra of every product or service based business, BUT many times, that level of service after sale, that the client expects , is wanting. Learn to pick the slack on behalf of your other team members, and go the extra mile to serve your client , even at your own cost- not only would you have created genuine opportunity for customer delight, BUT would have served your firm well!! The satisfaction that you would have achieved after this would be worth many awards!

  • RULE #6: Help the customer build the customer’s own business.

Go beyond selling a simple product or the service- consciously evolve into a solutions sales specialist, who is able to work in a matrix, complex organization, and develop the sensitivity and perspective to understand FIRST from the customers point of view, BEFORE getting headlong into a sales pitch- believe me , all traditional businesses in B2B and B2C can be valued added for your client as a “solution” and not simply as a product or a service- do this , and you will have a client and customer for life.

  • RULE #7: Think end-of-time friendships not end-of-month totals.

Go back to Rule # 2, Relationships, first, then evolved to a life long friendship, if you implement Rule # 6. When your clients ( both internal as well external) see how you are different from the rest of the sales team, are able to think out of box, are analytical , as opposed to simply quota driven and commission driven, YOU ensure your longevity in the firm! mark my words…

  • RULE #8: Define your niche and position yourself as the expert.

Regularly conduct critical self assessment, based on what your career plans are, and see that in the context of current business eco-systems, as also the predicted and likely business eco-systems of the future. Read deep and read well and talk to those who have been in your field of work long before you ever thought of working in sales, pick on their brains, learn from them, and re invent yourself with the changing times- you would not have to call your self an expert, your clients, and peers will!!

  • RULE #9: Translate what you offer into the customer’s business results.

Again, evolve into a solutions sales professional as opposed to a quota driven sales jock- understand the value that your product or service currently offers its clientele, assess that offer versus your competitors and replacements, analyse, yours firms comparative and competitive advantages, and use that insight to re-define the offer to your client, ensuring that you peg that offer directly to your clients business results ( increase in profit , by reducing up front cost, as also total cost of ownership over a life time!!)- get your number crunching skills upto speed and you would be well on your way to the sales hall of fame!

  • RULE #10: Remember that the road to success is paved with setbacks.

There is no sure shot to success that will not have a setback or two- setbacks are like wake up calls, and the mature sales rep will learn from that episode, imbibe into his system, and develop the capability to NEVER REPEAT THAT mistake twice. The less repetition you have in your career, the more likely you are to succeed as a sales star!!