Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Under Promise & Over Deliver!

Salespeople often get a reputation for being less than truthful and for the most part, it’s because they are promising the prospect something their company can’t deliver. I’ve heard salespeople and executives of companies say: “just get the business and we’ll figure out how to deliver the product.” In my opinion, this is just the kind of attitude that negates any kind of future success for the company. It means that the company will settle for dollars over quality and that can only lead to poor quality in the long run.

Anyone can promise a product or service and then go buy it from someone else to resell. However, if you haven’t planned for providing high quality, you will surely get caught by the little details that become so important when trying to deliver. You’ll miss some costs or forget a timetable or drop a critical piece of the installation process. Without proper planning, you are doomed to failure sooner or later.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP
As a salesperson, if you want to be able to effectively deal with product delivery issues and set realistic customer expectations, you must become a student of your company's delivery processes and procedures. It is also imperative that you study your competitors’ products and how they deliver them. That way you'll know how you stack up against them and be ready to deal with any unrealistic expectations they have set.

If your company has a set of written Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), it is incumbent upon you to read and understand them. Very often there are separate SOPs for many functions within a company, but there is just as often, no SOP for the entire chain of events necessary to deliver a product to the customer. Also, things change and SOPs that have been very effective in the past, but aren't kept current, can lead you down the wrong delivery path. This is why you must also do some walking-around research and get the real skinny on all of the processes and procedures involved, including the unwritten and untold ones. It is very important to find out how your company successfully delivers the product, but it is just as important to find out where the problems arise in these processes and be prepared to deal with them with your customer ahead of time, if possible.

OK, how do you under promise and over deliver? Now that you understand the real operating procedures utilized by your company, you know what you can and cannot truthfully promise. For instance; your company's stated installation interval is 30 days, but you know from your experience and the research you've done that it could take as long as 45 days. Well, you give your prospect the 45 day interval instead of 30. Now, if the company achieves delivery in less than 45 days, you have under-promised and over-delivered and you have protected your company's operational reputation. Another example is; the customer's expectation is that your support organization will get in touch with them via email to inform them of the next steps. So instead, you set up a meeting and hand deliver the set of instructions, timetable, escalation list, company contacts, etc. to your customer, thereby going the extra mile. It is all about exceeding expectations and it takes some effort, but your customer will appreciate it and become a great reference for you.

If your product does not meet expectations as you have sold it, you will only have to spend time fixing the problems and lose time doing what you are there for. It is better to tell the customer the real truth so you don’t have to deal with the problems later. The power of “No” is quite liberating, but that’s another blog!

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Mike Feeley

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Don't Pay You All of That Money to Juggle One Ball!

As a high-tech salesperson, you think to yourself and maybe occasionally even utter out loud; What if all I had to do was just sell my product? Wouldn't that be great? But as reality sets in, you must admit that if you don't bird-dog that new customer relationship from start to finish, you'll most assuredly have to fix something later and possibly compromise the relationship you have worked so hard to establish. While it is said that problems are opportunities, you don't really want to create or have someone else create problems for you just so you can have those kinds of opportunities. Bigger and better opportunities emerge from successfully nurturing a new customer relationship; then they tell their friends and colleagues what a great experience it is to work with you.
Click to Enlarge - Sales & Mktg Cycle

Think about all of the people in your company that have to be involved in the capture of a new customer and delivery of the product. It starts with Marketing; then hands off to Sales;  then to Sales Support; possibly to Legal; to Operations; to Customer Service; to Accounting and back to Sales for referrals. How many things can go wrong with all of those people touching the customer in one way or another? And, who's going to straighten out the problems if and when they occur? You guessed it, You, the salesperson, the face of the company for the customer.

What does this mean to you? It means it is critical that you know your company's process for on-boarding a customer, and additionally, how your client's company wishes to be interacted with during that process. It may not be up to you to manage the actual work necessary to assure a smooth delivery, but you'll need to be involved in tracking it, at the very least. Otherwise you might see someone with less interest in a successful turn-up drop the ball and neglect to inform anyone about it. It could happen in the customer's organization or yours, or both.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems attempt to eliminate the need for "walking around" tracking and they do a decent job of it. However, CRM systems won't automatically keep everything on-track or in line for the whole process because people are involved. That is why to assure your customer is brought on-board smoothly and happily, you are going to have to juggle a few balls. It may cause you to lose a little selling time, but it is easier to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one. 

So, bite the bullet and ride shotgun on your customer's installation because they could end up being your best customer, your best lead source and your best referral. After all, isn’t it about people buying from people they like? Yes it is, but that’s another blog.

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Mike Feeley

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Tell Me Where it Hurts!

OK, you've gotten yourself in the door, so I assume you've researched your prospect and done some initial qualifying. If you are sitting across the desk from him/her, you must have done something that intrigued them enough to see you. You know who they are, what they do, who they compete with and how they market their brand. You also know they utilize a product comparable to yours and they might need some of the features and benefits that your product offers. So how do you find out if they'll buy from you or not?

This is where you have to accomplish the deep qualifying necessary to demonstrate to them that you understand their business and more importantly, how your product can be of service to them. It's sometimes called searching for pain. The prospect may not be aware that they are suffering; they may not know there is a solution to one or more of their problems; they may think they've done their job as well as they possibly can and they don't need you. But, you’ve convinced them to see you, so now it's time to go to work!

How do you find the pain without overtly telling them they are sick? This is where you become the doctor and convince them of the value in participating in a wellness check-up. They may not even be looking for a cure or know that they have a problem that requires relief. The pain can be caused by anything; maybe they're spending too much money on their current solution, maybe their requirements have changed and they need to add on, or maybe their current solution is not living up to expectations! But, it is always about solving a problem that is causing them some kind of headache. You just have to discover what it is and have them agree that they are in pain.

Deep Qualifying Stage
You, being the savvy and experienced salesperson who knows your product inside and out, your competitors inside and out and how your product fits into your prospect's business, can now start the consultative sales process. Now you may suggest that you have a conversation about their current plans, vendors, needs, budgets and upcoming changes that will  help you determine if you can assist them or not. Before you begin this process you must know the questions you want to ask to start and keep the ball rolling. The questions should be designed to bring out as much information as possible, lead the prospect to certain conclusions and cause the prospect to question whether they are being as efficient and effective as they can be with their current vendor’s solution. The more conversational this wellness check up is, the better. Let them do the talking!

In one of the sales organizations I led some years ago we used a ten point qualifier developed by our top salesperson. It had ten questions the salesperson would ask and each answer would have a value attached to it. For instance one of the probing questions was about our competition and asked; what solution are you using now? The prospect would answer the question (Competitor A) and we would know what numerical value to place on the answer because we knew how we stacked up against Competitor A. So, on a scale of 1-10 the answer value might’ve been a 6; then the next question would work the same way. By the end of the wellness check up we were able to average the answer values and if the prospect came out to a 7.5 or above, that meant they were well qualified for our solution. If not, we would tell them we probably couldn't help them and move on. Sometimes it got pretty humorous because some of the prospects that failed to qualify would ask to take the "test" again to see if we might stay and help them.

If you embrace the wellness check-up style of selling you will become a trusted consultant instead of just another pesky salesperson. You won't waste your time or your prospect's and you will create loyal customers and be very successful. Knowledge and sincerity sell, but that's another lesson.

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Mike Feeley

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feed The Funnel So It Feeds You!

Click to Enlarge
This is the infamous Sales Funnel. It is quite possibly the only sales territory planning tool you will ever need. If its processes are implemented properly, it will tell you exactly what you have to do to achieve your target sales revenue every month, quarter and year. All you have to know is what your goals are and what the average value-per-sale is and you can work backward from there to determine how many suspects are needed in the funnel. As an example; if your revenue production goal is $10,000 and the average sale is worth $2,500, you will have to close four sales to reach your goal. If you have a 14% close percentage, you will have to put 28 to 32 potential customers into the funnel to be successful. If you can keep 28 to 32 suspects in the funnel at all times, you should see the desired sales results.

By determining the number of suspects you need to have in the funnel, you can direct your prospecting efforts in a much more focused manner. Through your qualifying activity you will quickly determine the real opportunities to assign to your forecast and then you can concentrate on closing those deals. If at any time during the process you find that you have underestimated the number of suspects necessary to hit your goals, you may wish to increase you prospecting activity. To mitigate the risk in stop-and-start prospecting it would be wise to prospect on a regular basis. The sales funnel tool is invaluable for just this kind of planning.

Once you have implemented funnel management and fine tuned it to fit your industry/sector you can help your marketing team better understand the attributes of your target prospects. That will enable them to better focus their efforts in acquiring superior leads for you. And in the end, you will be concentrating on the deals that have a better chance of closing. Everyone wins!

The sales funnel is a valuable tool for any salesperson, but it must be fine tuned to fit your experience with how your suspects and prospects are qualified to make it onto your forecast. It is my experience that 75% or more suspects and prospects fall out after being firmly qualified. How do you firmly qualify suspects and prospects? Well, that's another lesson. Click the Follow button on this page to be alerted to the next lesson.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Did You Sell Today?

This is the question everybody asks a salesperson, every day. They may not ask it directly, but they all want to know. Peers, Sales Managers, Directors, VPs, Presidents and CEOs all want to know what you did to make the company successful today and you'd better have an answer. In the current B2B selling atmosphere in the US, you cannot rely on your talent alone. You must be organized and busily networking.

Successful salespeople move suspects, prospects, and customers through the Sales Funnel every day. I learned early on in my sales career that you have to sell something every day to be a success. Now, this can mean as little as moving a sale forward in the process by getting a concept across or actually closing a sale with a signed order. In complex sales that have many steps, it is nearly impossible to close an order every day, but if you move the sales cycle to the next level every day, you will have accomplished this goal.

So, how do you move suspects, prospects and customers through the Sales Funnel? You must complete the steps of the sale, which will weed out the unqualified prospects and make it much easier to move the real opportunities through to completion.

In my experience in high tech Sales for over 30 years there is a sales process that never fails. If you adhere to it, you will be successful; if you don’t you will struggle. Here are the steps to follow once you have leads:
  1. Research & Qualify
  2. Set The Appointment
  3. Meet with the Prospect
  4. Qualify the Opportunity
  5. Conduct a Technical Assessment
  6. Create the Solution Proposal
  7. Trial Close
  8. Present a Final Proposal
  9. Close
  10. Set the Deliverables Expectations
There are many sub tasks that make up these steps, but if you can move a prospect through these steps to a satisfactory conclusion and repeat it over and over again, you will have a successful sales career.

As a Salesperson, your job doesn’t end with the close. You might say this is just the beginning of the relationship you’ll want to build with the customer, but that’s another lesson.