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Open Ended Questions to ask your Prospects

First of all, what is an open ended question?

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no”. The person who is answering has to answer in his or her own words. These are questions that begin with a how, when, where, what, why. On the contrary, a closed ended question is one that expects a “Yes” or a “No” as an answer. Also, a set of options to choose from as a response is a closed ended question too.

They say, to start a conversation with a stranger in a railway station is to talk about the weather. “The weather is nice today, isn’t it ?” is a conversation starter. Tried and tested practice. Though it is a closed ended question, it is a conversation starter. So, you start with a closed ended question and gradually move on to open ended ones. That way, you don’t force the respondent to start thinking right at the beginning itself.

In Sales situations, you normally tend to ask: “Before I start, may I know who are the others who will be joining us for this presentation/demo?” That is a closed ended question. But starts the conversation. And eases the situation. It shows the client that you are human too. And then you follow-up with something like this: “Before the others join us, why don’t you tell me how are you currently solving this problem?”

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Why open ended questions?

  • Sales is largely dependent on your questioning capability.
  • Unless you ask questions, you will never understand what is going on.
  • Your right questions will lead you to the issues which will lead you to solving those issues which in turn will lead you to business.
  • Closed ended questions do not reveal much. Some may be answered in the affirmative and some may not be. But the conversation ends with closed ended questions.
  • To continue with the conversation.
  • To uncover the mind of the customer.
  • To qualify your prospect.
  • To get more information.

Well, I am convinced that I should ask open ended questions early in the sales process. But, how and where do I start?

Good that you have started asking open ended questions already. Now let’s look at what to ask:

  1. Start with something like this: Can you tell me what are some of the key industry trends in your industry?
  2. How do you keep innovating?
  3. What are some of the key challenges that you are facing?
  4. How did you achieve that?
  5. What makes you unique?
  6. What makes your clients stay with you?
  7. What do you do for achieving total customer satisfaction?
  8. What is your process for collecting customer feedback?
  9. What in your view is the biggest client acquisition ever? And why?
  10. Where and how do you find your clients?
  11. Who do you think is your closest Competitor and why?
  12. Where do we go from here?
  13. What are your suggestions for us?
  14. What can we do to help you mitigate those risks?
  15. What is your evaluation criteria?
  16. What is your process in such a scenario?
  17. Why would you want to buy this?
  18. What made you talk to us?
  19. What would make us look even better?
  20. How can we help you?

This is just a sample. Write your own set of open ended questions in your own words. You may want to write one set for each prospect you are meeting since no two sales situations are similar. But remember not to over do it. You have to invest time and energy to do this exercise. It is neither necessary to do this in one sitting nor it is possible to do it in one sitting. You need to get involved, invest time and energy and do this exercise with love.

Happy Selling !! Err Happy Questioning !!

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20 steps to becoming a “Trusted Partner” of your customer

Why should you become a Trusted Partner of your customer? Because, that is the only way you can do business with him/her. Trust can win you business and keep you in business. Old school techniques in Sales do not pay off anymore. So, things like smooth talking, hard persuasion, piling on the prospect, under-cutting, anti-marketing, pushing your product without knowing whether the prospect has any need for it or not and many others do not work anymore. So, what is essential today is to earn trust and respect.

trophy-2

So, what will help you become a Trusted Partner of your customer?

  1. Forget targets. Forget Metrics, Deep analysis, Demographics, Your Business Plans, Your KRAs etc. These don’t mean anything without customers to serve.
  2. Focus on your Customers – past customers, current customers, past prospects [those that didn’t buy from you], current prospects and the target industry that you serve or want to serve.
  3. Understand them well – their Industry, their challenges, their road maps, their business plans etc.
  4. Use a Consultative Sales approach.
  5. Do not be short sighted. Do not focus just on the deal on hand. Instead focus on helping the customer.
  6. Have an outlook that sets you apart from your competition. May be [may be] your competitor is just focusing on the deal at hand, does not show care and concern for the customer, looks at it as just another transaction, is inhuman etc. Fix these things. You have won the Trust already.
  7. Use every opportunity to serve them well. You will not get a second chance to make a first impression.
  8. Share knowledge. Willingly.
  9. Think that there is a solution to all the problems your customer faces. There is. Go find that solution.
  10. Be a part of their team. Give your sweat and blood.
  11. Stake everything you have to solve the customer’s problems.
  12. Show extreme seriousness when you deal with their problems.
  13. Have a systematic approach. Let the customer know before hand how you are approaching the problem.
  14. Break the steps to solve the problem into series of smaller achievable steps. Show progress at every single step.
  15. Involve your top resources on the job.
  16. Invite your customers to your office, introduce them to your gems, show how you work, show what level of professionalism, commitment, ethics & love, you and your colleagues have towards work.
  17. Let your customer see some of your works that are truly remarkable.
  18. Show you are committed to solving their problems.
  19. Don’t ever sell.
  20. Customers are looking for these everywhere – a sales person who delivers on his promises, a product/service that is a fit for them, a product/service that they like and one that is going to increase their profits, a partner who can be trusted and loved. Will you deliver all these and more?

Then, You are that Trusted Partner of your Customers.

Happy Selling !! Err, Happy Partnering !!!

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What are Metaphors and how to use them in Sales ?

Let us now “examine” what are metaphors, why should we “employ” them in Sales and how can we make them “pay” us. Is it easy to use metaphors in Sales ? If it was easy, why everyone is not using them ? What makes them so “attractive” and “image-provoking” ? Will the use of metaphors “drive home” our point ?

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What is a Metaphor ?

It is a figure of speech. Where you use one thing to refer to another. The two are not related. But they both share same characteristics. For ex, if you compare Argument and War, then that is a Metaphorical concept. In an argument there is no physical battle where as in a War there is. But both share similar characteristics like attack, counter-attack, strategy, winning, losing out etc.

It is not clever use of words. It is more to do with the concept. It is a thought process. You elevate the thought process to a greater height. Man generally thinks in terms of metaphors and readily understands metaphors. That is because we all think in terms of images. And communicating through visuals is more easier and makes a great impact.

Concept of Journey and Business “milestones” [which itself is a metaphor for achievements] is a good example that we can see in boardrooms and sales conferences. Other examples:

  1. He is hooked on to his mobile device for the last hour or so.
  2. You are rocking.
  3. I am on top of the world.
  4. He is upwardly mobile.
  5. He has a single-minded focus.
  6. That deal is in my radar.
  7. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” –William Shakespeare
  8. Can I buy some time from you ?
  9. Try to pack more persuasion in your words.
  10. Enjoyed my morning walk in the Sun kissed meadows.

Why should you use Metaphors in Sales ?

  1. Human beings think in terms of images and metaphors help create a visual experience in the minds of the customers.
  2. Retention of images is for long term whereas text is retained only for a short duration.
  3. To make a point.
  4. To simplify complex things.
  5. To take the discussion to a far greater height.
  6. To stand out in a crowded market place.
  7. To get the customer interested in abstract ideas.
  8. To make the customer visualize your product / service.
  9. To help create a relationship between your customer and your product / service. It is like saying: “Light. Years Ahead.” You know who says that.
  10. To generate more sales.

How to use Metaphors in Sales ?

  1. No more talking. Or talking texts. Talk only visuals.
  2. Use it in such a way that you get the buyer to tune in. And not tune out.
  3. Get the customer to see what you are saying.
  4. Appeal to the Right Brain.
  5. Buying is an emotional decision. Once you get the “connect”, Prospects will find their own justifications to buy your product or service. And metaphors will help you get the connect.
  6. Avoid cliched [overused] metaphors – “force to be reckoned with” etc.
  7. Get creative and build new metaphors.  If you are selling holiday resorts, you may want to say this to your prospective customers: “Leave your jewels in your bank lockers; we will give you stars to admire.”
  8. Your metaphors should open the creative eyes of the Prospect.
  9. They should connect with the dreams that your Prospect is chasing.
  10. The metaphors you use should help you build your brand. Forever.

 

Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.

1. The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;            5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,            10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.            15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference           20

Happy Selling !!

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It’s Transformation, which your prospects seek

Creative Stories

Your Prospects are not seeking a Commodity but are seeking Transformation. The route to the transformation does not matter much as long as the Transformation is guaranteed in a specific time frame. Transformation means “a marked change in form, nature, or appearance.” A metamorphosis, in essence, is what your prospects are seeking. For ex, from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

Whether you sell products or services or both, it is not that which you are selling that your prospects are seeking. Instead they are seeking transformation and if your product / service guarantees that, then you have a deal. Please get this.

Your prospects have some dreams and are vigorously chasing them. And if your product / service helps in realizing those dreams, then they will buy. Say for ex, if you are selling cars and your prospects dream is to acquire a status and if one of your vehicle categories satisfies that and you are able to communicate visually how that will improve his or her status, then you have a sale. Prove it to them that it helps them realize their dreams and they are going to have a transformation. And a lifetime achievement. And let them know how they are going to break records and create new ones.

How to sell a dream. Here are some tips:

  1. Story Telling: You should look deeper and you will have a story to tell. Make it appealing with plenty of visuals. Because a picture is worth a thousand words. Somewhere, in the story, there should be a connect to the dreams of your prospect and how you can help realize that.
  2. Focus on their dreams and the transformation they are seeking.
  3. Highlight the losses if dreams are not realized.
  4. Focus on the benefits of the transformation.
  5. Connect your product / service at this instance and prove how it is going to help in the transformation.
  6. Visualize the transformation and clearly communicate that vision to the prospect.
  7. Use metaphors to make the prospect experience it, in his / her subconscious mind.
  8. State and then Repeat the salient features. But only through stories.
  9. Create characters in your story that the prospect can identify with.
  10. Be human. Not a robot. Because you are talking to humans and not robots.

Happy Selling !! err Happy Story Telling !!

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How to differentiate yourself from your competition ?

Businesses of all sizes have competition. The sales people have to face stiff competition day in and day out. They have to counter the competition to win deals and acquire clients. What are the various things that a Sales person can do or should do during the Sales Process to differentiate themselves from the competition ? How can the sales people stand out from their competition and win deals ?

  1. Provide Value to your prospects.
  2. Don’t sell on Price.
  3. Build good rapport with your prospects. Develop friendship with them. They are not machines to print your purchase orders.
  4. Understand your prospects.
  5. Don’t take advantage in any situation.
  6. Understand their pain points.
  7. Look at their situation from their perspective.
  8. Think that there exists a solution for their problems and then go find it.
  9. If you can help them resolve their problems, deal is yours.
  10. Carry yourself well through out the sales process.
  11. Be Professional.
  12. Small things matter a lot. So pay attention to small things.
  13. Pay attention to detail.
  14. Be a team player.
  15. Be interesting.
  16. Sound positive always.
  17. Have a grasp of current affairs.
  18. Be an expert and a thought leader in your Industry.
  19. Get your prospects to get connected with you, your products and your services.
  20. Be Passionate about Sales.

Group of ecstatic business partners looking at camera with raised arms

If you think you can, you will. Leaving you with a Poem by Walter D. Wintle.

Poem “The Man Who Thinks He Can”
by Walter D. Wintle

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world we find
Success being with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are:
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.

Happy Selling !!

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You can close more sales, if

We all want to close more sales. Right ? Let us understand what it takes to close more deals. First and foremost, I am sure you have heard this: Don’t rush the sales process. And don’t delay it as well. The right speed is what will determine the outcome. The speed that matches your prospect is the one that will help you land the deal. Customers would like to buy and don’t like to be sold.

You can close more sales, if

  1. You don’t rush the sales process
  2. You add more value during your interaction with your prospects
  3. You understand the prospects pain points and provide point solutions to resolve those pains
  4. You Align with your prospects
  5. You have built a good Pipeline of Opportunities
  6. You understand your competitors and have a strategy to counter them
  7. You act more like a Business Partner than like a vendor
  8. You are an Expert and an Authority in your domain
  9. You are willing to help your Prospects solve their problems
  10. You are putting effort in finding a solution that meets the growth demands of your prospects
  11. You keep up your commitments
  12. You can provide Customer References
  13. You can demonstrate your solution and prove that that is the best in the market
  14. You can highlight the value of your products or services
  15. You can offer a solution matching your prospects budgets
  16. You can eliminate the risks for your prospects
  17. You are enthusiastic, disciplined, courageous, entertaining
  18. You are willing to go that extra mile to match customer expectation
  19. You are helping your prospects save money, time and effort with your product or service
  20. You know how to smile from your heart and do.

Happy Selling !!

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How to develop a sense of urgency and achieve more in less time

Your prospects are not in a great hurry. At least not most of them. They seem to be quite happy with the Status Quo. But don’t you know that enthusiasm is contagious. And if you pack energy and sense of urgency into your action, they are bound to match your speed and energy. So, let us understand how to achieve more in less time by developing a sense of urgency.

“You can’t move mountains by whispering at them” – Pink
mountain
  1. Set your sights really very high. Don’t worry about how you will achieve them.
  2. Break that vision into smaller achievable goals.
  3. Break that further into smaller activities or tasks.
  4. Have energy. If not, get your dumbbells and go for 3 sets of shorter reps 8 – 10 each. Or hit the floor and go for 3 sets of 5 push ups each and start pumping up iron. Get those muscles.
  5. Add passion and sense of urgency. Act as if you have fifteen meetings in a day. While you have to submit five proposals. And go for two negotiations. That is your normal day.
  6. There are three types of people in this world – one, those who take things as it comes and are happy with it; two, those who take things as it comes and are frustrated with it and then there are Sales people, the rarest of rare breed, those who make things happen. With or without the “Sales” title.
  7. While you have created the sense of urgency, do not over react or walk all over others or ill treat them.
  8. Instead treat everyone with respect, courtesy and kindness.
  9. Remove the obstacles. Do not spend time on investigating who had put the road blocks. Just keep moving.
  10. Don’t accept mediocrity in anything.
  11. Pack Energy and Enthusiasm into everything you do.
  12. Wear a smile on your face. Even while you speak on the phone. It sounds nice and the receiver on the other end knows that you are speaking with a smile on your face.
  13. Focus on results.
  14. Be disciplined.
  15. Have the courage to walk the untrodden path.
  16. Imbibe the qualities of a leader.
  17. Break all the rules. And Set your own rules.
  18. Create something every day.
  19. Don’t worry about the tough times. They are there to bring out the best in you.
  20. You were not born to be complacent and hence always be doing many activities and setting up new activities. Keep yourself busy and engaged.

Happy Selling !!

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How to make 100 Sales Calls in a short period

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The idea is to spread the word, understand the market needs, identify the decision makers involved, get to know the competition, their pitch, what works for the competition and what doesn’t etc. Idea is definitely not to sell anything.

So, here are the steps to get you to make those first 100 sales calls without any plan whatsoever. Do not wait until you have perfected your sales strategy or understood your target segment completely. There is no time for all that. You can learn all those on the job. Hit the road and start meeting clients. Here you go.

  1. Get into an Action mode. Hit the gym if you want some energy or keep two dumbbells handy at your work place and play rock on your headphone and see the magic unfold.
  2. Keep the script ready – at a bare minimum it should have the details on – who you are, where you are from, what is it that you want to do for them [target segment] and why – let this not be a pitch but a generalized statement. For ex, say, “we are passionate about offering solutions to the travel industry segment and we understand the issues that the travel industry faces”. If the customer asks, then and only then explain the issues and your solutions.
  3. Identify the target customer segment that you want to focus.
  4. Login to your CRM and quickly search for the target segment – from your Leads, Accounts and Contacts.
  5. Check if there is a Trade Association for that target segment. If yes, is there a members database available for free or for a fee. Get that list.
  6. Use LinkedIn, start searching for the target segment from your first level contacts, to start with.
  7. Identify the people you want to meet – from Finance function or Marketing function and VP level or above or below.
  8. Export that list from LinkedIn and merge it with the list from the Trade Association list. Keep the source of leads column and import it into your CRM.
  9. Query your CRM on the Target Segment and create a filtered list [with Title/Designation, City etc].
  10. Create a Task “Call” or “Meet” with a short description and add the Script and do a mass update to this selected list.
  11. Hit the Visual Task Board and you will see all these items lined up in Stage 1.
  12. Start calling or meeting.

That’s it. You are off to a great start. Best Wishes !!

Happy Selling !!

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What can Sales people learn from “The Walk” and Philippe Petit

From Wikipedia: “The Walk is a 2015 American 3D biographical drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Christopher Browne and Zemeckis. It is based on the story of 24-year-old French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974.”

the-walk-movie-642628

 

What were the steps taken by Philippe Petit to achieve the final outcome of walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974 ? How did he achieve what he wanted to ? What must have gone through his mind during the event ? How can someone achieve such a rare feat ? And what can we learn from his walk on the high-wire ?

Let us now examine one after the other.

Steps taken by Philippe Petit:

  1. He dreamed at an early age and thought it was possible to walk on the tight rope at such an altitude.
  2. He came to know from a magazine about the construction of World Trade Center while sitting in a dentist’s clinic and found that it will be the tallest building in the world.
  3. He conceived his idea.
  4. Planned meticulously.
  5. Traveled to New York several times.
  6. He and one of his collaborators, a photographer rented a helicopter and photographed the under construction towers.
  7. Had few other collaborators and friends who helped him. One of them provided financial assistance as well.
  8. Entered the building as a Journalist and in the pretext of interviewing the workers observed the towers from close quarters.
  9. Got caught by a Policeman once but that didn’t dampen his dreams.
  10. He and his team settled on the bow and arrow attached to a rope to pass the cable and they perfected this technique by practicing it several times.
  11. He and his crew got an opportunity to travel in the elevator to 104th floor on the day of the event. With their heavy equipment. Call it miracle if you wish.
  12. Finally executed his plans.

How did he achieve what he wanted to ?

  1. The central theme of the whole thing – that is, the events leading to the big event – was a firm belief that he can achieve what he wanted to.
  2. He was committed to it.
  3. He was ready to sacrifice anything and everything to achieve it.
  4. Was there fear in his mind ? Must have had fear but gradually did overcome that fear and succeeded.
  5. He gave everything that he had to achieve it.
  6. He had a good team who also sacrificed, risked and provided solid support to him.
  7. He was focused. He breathed, ate, slept, walked [?] high-wire walk.
  8. He was positive and had overcome all obstacles.

What must have gone through his mind during the event ?

  1. He must have forgotten that the world exists.
  2. He must have forgotten that he is walking at such a high altitude [1350 feet from the ground].
  3. All he saw was the wire.
  4. He focused his mind towards balancing the walk on the high-wire.
  5. He must have walked as if he was performing at a low altitude – like his past performances.

How can someone achieve such a rare feat ?

  1. Discipline.
  2. Preparation.
  3. Courage.
  4. Positive thinking.
  5. Single minded focus.
  6. A team that fully supports.
  7. When others think it is death, he thinks it is his life. Coming out of the fear zone.
  8. Meticulous planning.
  9. Execution.
  10. Skills. Training. Practice.

And what can we learn from his walk on the high-wire ?

  1. If you think you can, you eventually will.
  2. Dreaming is very important. Everything was originally a dream.
  3. Commitment, sacrifice, putting effort, training, practice, single minded focus are important.
  4. Not to get cowed down by obstacles.
  5. Not to get discouraged by friends, family but to continue with your plan against their warnings.
  6. Skill development – is a given.
  7. Positive thinking makes things happen. The whole world conspires with you.
  8. Taking risks.
  9. Great team. And Team work.
  10. Identifying what gives you happiness and relentlessly pursuing it, come what may.

Happy Selling !!

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Why I love consultative selling and you should too…..

What is Consultative Selling ?

Customers’ needs or pain points forms the focal point of the sale. Your product or service does not. You ask open ended questions and listen. In the process, you learn what is the pain point or needs of the customer and you propose a solution to address that pain point. Sometimes it is also called as Solution Selling.

I am of the strong opinion that the “Selling” in “Consultative Selling” should be renamed “Helping”. It should then be “Consultative Helping”. Because that is what it is. Selling does not happen here because there is no need to. Customer buys your solution since you have solved the problem or addressed the pain points.

Help your customers. They will ensure your success. They will be your brand ambassadors.

What are the benefits of Consultative Selling ?

  1. Customer Experience and Customer Satisfaction is enhanced.
  2. Relationship with the customer gets stronger.
  3. Sales Forecast is more predictable. Shorter sales cycles. In reality, that is. Though people may say the sales cycles are long and sales is highly unpredictable in Consultative Selling and that is not true.
  4. Customer does not get the feeling that someone is “selling” to them. Instead he will start feeling that someone is helping. So, you essentially remove the resistance to selling.
  5. Focus is on the Needs or Pain Points of the customer. Right from the beginning. Sale happens only if you solve those pain points. So, no question of customer becoming unhappy later.
  6. It is a win-win situation. You win only if the customer wins. In the first place.
  7. Referrals: There is more likely-hood of customer referring you to his friends.
  8. You are regarded as an Authority in your field of work. That is a recognition. To strive for.
  9. Customer values your time as much as he values his own.
  10. No false promises or false commitments on either side.
  11. You say what you do. And do what you say.
  12. The relationship is not anymore seller – buyer. It is more of a Partner – Business.
  13. There is more likely-hood of customer trying to adapt or adjust to your product or service. Really.
  14. Return on investments is higher.
  15. You are more likely to clock a high value sale. But that is not the idea. The idea is to address the pain point and make the customer win.
  16. Customer knows, understands and values that you are committed to solving their problems / pain points and not just dumping your product or service on them. So, they trust you. Remember, Trust cannot be bought. Ever.
  17. You don’t have to ask, probe or find out – what are the other needs or plans or goals that the customer has in pipeline that you can solve or help them achieve – instead he tells you what are those – before you ask
  18. Similarly, you identify and tell the customer what they might need in the near future, even before they realize it. This is exactly the reason they need you. This is where you score over others.
  19. You throw competition out of the window.
  20. You don’t win on price. Not anymore. Because, there is no need to.

Do you still need more reasons to practice Consultative Selling err Consultative Helping ?

Don’t “SELL”. Just HELP. And allow the customer to BUY.