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Saleswise Blog

August 2012

13 Ideas to Run Engaging Meetings

Aug 30, 2012 9:00 AM
Nicki Weiss

Meetings can be either useless, energy-sucking wastes of time or a platform for lively discussion and the exchange of interesting ideas.

As we all know, because we have sat through too many of them, the first type is far more common than the second. And the blame mostly lies at the feet of the people who preside over these exercises in frustration.

Frankly, many leaders and managers don’t know how to manage meetings, and the lack of these skills is an expensive liability for their companies. Think about the cost of labour involved in the time people spend in meetings, and the lack of productivity when nothing is decided. Learn how to run meetings and your value to your company will soar.

As my editor Pat commented, “If this article prevents one more horrid meeting then it has done a great public service.”

There are three different types of meetings:

1. Sharing information
2. Learning something (a skill or a new process)
3. Making a decision

Try to avoid setting up meetings just for the purpose of sharing information. By definition, they are mind-numbingly dull. Instead, try to find alternate ways to spread the information, such as through an email, or make sure the meeting lasts no more than 30 minutes. Possibly you could incorporate an information-sharing agenda item into the other two types of meetings, but give the speaker a tight time limit.

Here are a lucky 13 other ideas to keep meetings alive and participants awake. Believe me, your colleagues will be grateful.

1. The Meeting Leader Should Contribute NO Opinions

The person leading the meeting has the most power in the room. If you are running a team meeting, and you are also the boss, you are doubly powerful. If you make your opinions known from the front of the room, you may wonder why no one else is talking.

As the meeting leader, you should be neutral and focus on the process of running the meeting, not on the content. If you have strong opinions about the topics being discussed, ask someone else to facilitate so you can add your voice.

Better still, rotate the responsibility of leading meetings with everyone on your team, and watch the energy level perk up.

2. Have an agenda

You already know this. I am amazed at how many meetings I attend that don’t have agendas. Always email a proposed agenda the day before, then give structure and focus to the meeting by reviewing the agenda and agreeing on its content at the top of the meeting.

3. Establish and uphold the ‘Rules of Engagement’ 

At your next meeting, ask your team what ground rules they would like to establish to keep meetings on track and to discourage negative behaviour. These “Rules of Engagement” can cover areas such as time limits for agenda items, freedom to speak out on sensitive issues, what to do about technology (cell phones, blackberries, laptops), and methods for resolving disagreements.

Be sure to explore the details of whatever ground rules the group establishes through questions such as “What kinds of behaviours would make our meetings run well?” “What does everyone think of this suggestion?” “What would this rule be difficult to uphold?” and “What would make it safe for everyone to speak out?”

Post the rules on a flip chart for everyone to see. If you are running conference-call meetings, email the rules to everyone involved and refer to them if a meeting starts to go off the rails.

4. Start With a Fun Icebreaker

Lead with a quick icebreaker so people can learn more about each other, have fun, and start the meeting off positively. A few of my favourites are:

a.What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
b.Tell us about your name (how you got your name, nicknames)
c.Tell us three things about yourself, two of which are true and one is a lie. As a group, let’s figure out which one is the lie.

Ask team members to share the responsibility for leading the icebreaker. For ideas, they can refer to:

http://wilderdom.com/games/Icebreakers.html
http://www.icebreakers.ws/
http://adulted.about.com/od/icebreakers/tp/toptenkinetic.htm

5. Ask For Success and Failure Stories 

As much as success stories buoy confidence, failure stories are good teachers. During meetings, allow people to talk about their failures without making them feel foolish or marginalized. I’ve trained many of my clients to think of “failing forward” to take the sting out of their revelations.

6. Stop Being An Air Hog

Resist the temptation to lecture or to be the expert. Your job is to make sure that people are participating, not just listening to you. Everyone in the room has ideas and opinions they’d like to share and keeping your personal air time to 40% or less will give them the space to do so. Hints 7 and 8 will help you to close your mouth and open your mind.

7. Ask More Open-Ended Questions 

Open-ended questions usually can’t be answered with just a “yes” or “no.” They start with “what,” “how,” “tell me about,” or “explain” and elicit much more information. Try “What does quality mean to you?” or “How would you implement that idea?”

8. Count to 10 

Wait a full 10 seconds after asking your questions (counting one, one thousand; two, two thousand). If there is no response, rephrase or ask your question again. Manage your impulse to break the silence (hard to do and takes practice). Someone will feel compelled to speak, and then your discussion will take off.

9. Give verbal reinforcement

Use neutral phrases such as “Thank you,” “I’m pleased you brought that up” or “We’re off to a good start” when meeting participants speak up. This method reinforces their involvement, not the content of what they said.

Resist the urge to add a judgment such as “great idea” or “excellent”. You run the risk of saying this only to some people. Those who don’t get your “high five” response will notice and stop participating.

10. Use Small Group Discussions 

Find ways to get people talking to each other rather than only interacting with you. For instance, you could ask the group to: “Take a few minutes and ask the person next to you how they might use this idea.” Each duo would then report back to the entire group.

11. Defer to the Group 

Rather than responding to and answering questions yourself, let the meeting participants offer their expertise. You could say: “What about it, group?” “What is important about having a standard way to follow up with our customers?” or “What would be difficult about implementing this?”

Then let the group decide as a whole which ideas they’ll use. If people have a hand in deciding policies or procedures, they have more of a stake in seeing them work.

12. Brainstorm

To generate a lot of ideas, pose a question and give people one or two minutes to write down their ideas before sharing them. Don’t let anyone call out ideas prematurely; you will get better responses.

13. Make a Decision in Every Meeting

Last year I read an article in Business Week magazine about how companies gain competitive advantage. The leading organizations require that every single meeting end with at least one decision. Taking more actions also means making more mistakes, but well worth it.

Take your meeting management skills seriously and implement these suggestions…and you’ll distinguish yourself while driving higher engagement. Let me know how you do.

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Does your sales division reflect our diverse world?

Aug 28, 2012 9:00 AM
Nicki Weiss

 I've been in sales and sales management training for the last 15 years, and I am continually struck by one unchanging situation: sales forces don't reflect the ethnicity of the working world.

Here's what I mean.  I live in Toronto, the most multiculturally diverse city on the planet, and I recently became a Canadian citizen.  On that day, 113 other people from 22 countries also took the citizenship oath.  As I looked around, five of us were white. Only three of us spoke English as our first language (two Bulgarians were the other part of the white contingent).  I was surrounded by a sea of interesting looking faces of various colours and hues, and I was so proud to be part of this crowd.

I ride the subway whenever I get the chance, and the other passengers who are going to work (executives, middle management, administrators, blue collar workers, men, women, recent grads, the nearly retired) mirror the crowd at the citizenship ceremony.

I have worked with over 6,000 sales professionals in the past 15 years in a wide variety of industries including technology, packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, health care, travel, banking, insurance and manufacturing. Yet only a handful of people in all my training classes have been black, Asian, East Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc. 

Why?

This lack of diversity makes no business sense. Every day, companies struggle to develop their competitive edge and increase their customer base. They are operating in a global marketplace, made up of a vast range of cultures, customers and customs. Most companies declare in their corporate statements that their people make the difference, yet they haven't found practical ways to ensure that their sales forces reflect the marketplace realities of diverse races and cultures.

Some voices have started recognizing the benefits of diversity, such as Bill Minix, director of learning and development for Fisher HealthCare. As he says in a recent article in Selling Power magazine, "The more diverse your environment, the better your sales." "If you get 10 medical technicians together for brainstorming, each with 18 years of experience, what kind of ideas do you think you'll get?  But if you introduce a junior military officer with a background in leadership, someone who sold copiers on a commission-only basis, and someone who emigrated from another culture who had to learn how to do business in a new language, you might get new ideas on how to drive, motivate, and persuade your customers."

BRIDGING THE GAP:

How can managers encourage, recruit and nourish culturally diverse salespeople? Here are some ideas:

1. DECLARE YOUR INTENTION TO HAVE YOUR SALES TEAM MIRROR THE POPULATION
When hiring for sales positions, start paying close attention to company policies that encourage or mandate a diverse environment. Tell others (including your sales team) of your intentions, and ask if they know good people to hire.

Perhaps members of minority groups are not applying for sales jobs in your industry, or aren't being promoted into sales management. The same was said about women 25 years ago. Depending on the industry, many sales forces now include significant numbers of women. Change can happen.

2. QUESTION YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVES
Ask yourself some questions. What are your assumptions about races and cultures other than your own, or about the prospect of working with people who may look at the world and human interactions through different lenses? When you hire or promote someone from a minority group, do you feel as if you've done that person a favour? Unconscious attitudes can unwittingly lead to exclusionary actions.

3.  BE A MENTOR MATCHMAKER
Research indicates that employees of minority cultures in an organization may have more difficulty finding mentors than employees of the prevailing culture.  Find out if an employee would prefer to be partnered with someone of the same background, and then offer to connect that person with an appropriate resource within your organization.

4. SHARE YOUR SUCCESSES WITH ME
If your organization has been successful in hiring and retaining a culturally diverse sales and sales management force, please let me know how you've done it.  I will share your practices and insights with Sa1esWise readers.

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Cold Calling Is A Waste Of Time

Aug 23, 2012 9:00 AM
Nicki Weiss

In business, as in all areas of life, ideas come and go. What worked yesterday doesn’t work today and probably won’t work tomorrow.

Take cold-calling, a traditional staple of generating leads and driving sales. When I set up my own coaching and training business five years ago, I cold-called relentlessly. The result? I mostly got voice mail, polite but firm assistants who said thanks but no thanks, or a person at the wrong level.

I followed up with e-mails, which were also ignored. I got a few nibbles, but nothing major, and my work mostly came from referrals and strategic alliances.

I see other salespeople continuing to bang their heads against the wall, wasting hour after hour, day after day, month after month, cold-calling without great results. For many, this thankless effort destroys their once positive attitudes … and their souls.

Why are salespeople still stuck in a cold-calling mentality? Perhaps it’s what they have always done, or they are copying the competition, or they have tried another method of generating leads and it didn’t work. Or maybe they simply don’t know about the many other systematic ways to increase their sales without begging someone to let them in the door.

The secret is learning how to develop effective marketing systems that attract business instead of you begging for it. Motivated, qualified prospects chase you instead of you chasing them.

Think marketing … not prospecting (aka begging)

Marketing is the art of making yourself visible to many people. Cold-calling is the process of making yourself visible to one person at a time. Which would you rather do?

It has taken me quite awhile to embrace this type of thinking, and to figure out the types of marketing practices that suit me. With my new marketing perspective I have been able to grow my business substantially, leveling out the peaks and valleys that haunt most entrepreneurs.

Here are the practices I have learned:

The Rule of Threes

The Rule of Threes is a classic public relations technique that helps you clarify the image you want to project and the business you want to attract (you’ll see below how the “threes” work).

1. Figure out your objective (be prepared to feel egocentric). My objective is to:

  • Become visible to many (salespeople, sales managers, VPs, and business owners);
  • In ways that showcase my experience and talents as a trainer and coach;
  • So that people who are attracted to my style can find me and hire me.

2. Figure out three channels (venues or media) where you can become visible. The choices for my business are:

  • Free e-newsletter (because I also like to write)
  • Free educational teleforums
  • Networking/mastermind group

3. Show up in each of your channels at least three times within a three-month period.
Other channel ideas include:

  • Speaking at association meetings
  • Speaking at trade conferences
  • Writing articles for trade publications
  • Lunch and learns
  • Direct mail letters

Direct Mail Letters

If you want to contact a particular company, don’t cold call. Rather, use targeted direct mail by identifying at least two to three people in the organization to whom you can send a letter. Find these names by calling the organization and asking for a salesperson ~ they’re often happy to help you navigate their company. Or find names on the company website.

Craft a one-page letter that concisely explains why you’re contacting them, your competitive advantage, and that you’d like to arrange a 10-minute meeting.

Be sure to name each person on each letter. Here’s an example to give you some ideas:

Dear (first name only)

I’m writing to you, Mike, Cindy, and Hal, to find the most appropriate person or people to deal with regarding scheduling a ten-minute in-person appointment on October 10 or 11.

At [name of your organization], where I am [your title], our business is helping companies such as yours to [very brief description of your offer]. The benefits we deliver are [three biggest benefits, with the greatest benefit first]. Our key point of difference is ____________, and we are proud of our position as the ____________ of ____________.

If you grant the appointment, I will present [brief description of key points of your presentation, focused on benefits]. When I follow up with your assistant in the next couple of days, please let them know if you wish to schedule the ten-minute appointment and what times are good for you. Otherwise, please direct me to the appropriate person you want me to deal with regarding a 10-minute appointment.

Warm regards,

Mail all the letters on the same day in envelopes with stamps. Receiving the letters will create a buzz in the target organization, and the recipients will be expecting your call (making the contact warm … not cold). Be sure to follow up with each person within four business days of posting (two for mail delivery, two to read the letter).

Give away freebie learning sessions

Holding free learning opportunities can help you create strategic alliances with organizations who have your ideal customer in their data base. Strategic alliances can benefit both of you. For example, you may sell to a large distributor whose customers could buy more of your products, if they only knew more about those products. Here are some suggestions for forming alliances that could have ripple effects on your sales.

  • You could partner with one of your distributors to offer one-hour, free lunch and learns for their customers (if their customers are located within easy driving distance). They advertise the idea to their data base; you provide the content, behind-the-scenes administration, and facilitation of the session.
  • You could ask one of your large clients to personally invite all their customers to come to your free workshop at an upcoming conference. Your client looks like a hero for offering valued customers something extra, and you look like a hero for providing great content and a stimulating discussion.
  • If you’re comfortable facilitating conversations on the phone, you can plan a conference-call program with one of your key manufacturers/distributors or an association.

These ideas work if you create topics that can help your customers and, in turn, their customers, to solve a problem in their business. The idea is not to make a sales pitch about your company.

You offer the program for free so your ideal customers will show up. The minute you charge even $.29, the power of this type of marketing goes away.

Find support

If you are serious about building your business, find someone who can help you and hold you accountable. My business would not be in such good shape if it weren’t for the help I get from my coach. It is money well spent.

Talk back: I’d love to hear your ideas on building business without cold-calling.

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12 Ideas To Get Your Voicemail Messages Returned

Aug 21, 2012 9:00 AM
Nicki Weiss

Last week I was waiting to see my client in his company's main reception area, and I wasn't alone. Five other people were there, each on a cell phone, and each picking up voice mail. Since none then proceeded to dial, I became curious about how many of those voice mail messages they would return (some might say I have a bit of a nosy streak).

So I asked each of them. One said she didnt plan to return any calls; two said about 20%; none said more than 50%.

Why? Because the messages were:

  • Too long
  • Irrelevant
  • Didnt tell them how to return the call
  • Somewhat unintelligible
  • Dull


Given the fact that most people on the listening end of your voice mails are overwhelmed with tasks during any given day, a message must be so compelling that it wins out over the 23 other urgent things on their list. Yet, many messages do not even come close to addressing the specific needs and concerns of the person being called.

A good voice mail message is like a butterfly: Captivating, perfect, light, here for a good time, not for a long time.

I asked successful friends and sales people to share their best butterfly-like, voice-mail techniques. I cannot guarantee that any of these methods will give you a 100% callback ratio, but they will definitely help improve your odds.

1.  Brevity is the soul of a good message. Don't begin your voicemail with small talk, jokes or other needless filler. Your message may be one of many, so get right down to business. Identify yourself and the purpose of calling.

Bad: “Hey, Charlie! Its me. Got a great one for you. Did you hear the one…”
Better: “Hi Charlie. This is Nicki Weiss, calling about our meeting in Tuscaloosa.”


2.  Put the call into context.

Bad: “Hello Jennifer! Im calling today to let you know of our great new line of…”
Better: “Hi Jennifer. This is Nicki Weiss. We met last Tuesday at the Electronics trade show in Chicago at my company's booth, Sa1esWise. I'm following up on your request to…”


3.  Give the listener a reason to reply. Everyone wants to know, “What's in it for me?” so offer something compelling that makes the listener want to get back to you.

Bad: “I'd like you to call me back so we can discuss”
Better: “I'm holding the training dates for 24 hours until I hear from you. Please call me by tomorrow to secure these dates or plan something else.”

4.  Time stamp the message. Let the person know the day and time you called and more importantly, when she can call you back. Provide a window for the return call that is accurate but not too restrictive.

Bad: “We need to talk about the medical account. Call me anytime to discuss.”
Better: “I'm calling on Thursday around 3 pm. I can be reached in my office tomorrow from 10 to 1 in the afternoon at 416-555-1212. Please call to discuss…”

5.  Let the listener know how to reach you. Simple, right? Its amazing how often I have to go hunting for a phone number (particularly of people I know well). And, if I have to spend time searching, chances are I'm not going to call back very fast.

Give the listener a phone number for a return call and an alternate such as a cell phone thats always with you. If youre never around and don't have a cell phone, give your e-mail address.

Bad: “Call me back so we can get to it.”
Better: “I can be reached at 416- 555-1212 from 3-5 today, or at my mobile number of 416- 555-2121 anytime. You can also reach me through email at nicki@saleswise.ca. I check it regularly.”

6.  Provide instructions. Tell the listener exactly what you want him to do. For business calls, discussion isn't good enough. What is this person needed for? “I need” is the most powerful phrase in the English language.

Bad: “Call me back so we can discuss the Warren account.”
Better: “I need your approval on the final proposal to Bob Warren for the half-million dollar widget order.”

7.  Leave 'em guessing
Try leaving messages with nothing more than your name and number. Do not say why you are calling. Curiosity is a powerful motivator. A friend's sales staff found that this one simple technique increased their callback ratio by 40%! Busy people calling in for messages from the road will also appreciate the fact that your message is brief.

8.  Reference their needs and hint at some useful solution
This is an excellent technique to use as a follow-up to a sales call. In your initial meeting with the prospect, ask questions to determine their needs. Then make a list of those needs and how your product or service can provide specific relief for each one. Each time you leave a follow-up message, mention one of your prospect's needs and hint at how you can provide relief. Do not leave the solution in the message. For example:

Message #1:" "Ms. Jones, this is Lee Fox from Fox & Associates at 416- 555-1212. I've been thinking about your situation. You mentioned your president is concerned that your customers don't think your company is offering environmentally responsible packaging. I have a solution that might work and I'd like to share it with you. Please call me at…"

Message #2:"Ms. Jones, this is Lee Fox from Fox & Associates at 416- 555-1212. I've figured out a few more solutions to help you reduce those customer complaints about the overpackaging that you spoke about in our last meeting. My number again is 416- 555-1212.

Caution: do not use this technique unless you have something useful to share with the prospect.

9.  Eliminate the word "just" or other minimizers from your speech

Examples:

"I'm just calling to follow up on yesterday's meeting."
"Nothing important. Just a follow up call to yesterday's meeting."
"Just a little reminder about how our widget can help build your business."

10.  Speak more slowly and clearly than normal
Don't slur or run your words together. The person you are calling is not as familiar with the material as you are and will quickly become annoyed if you make him replay the message because he did not understand it.

11.  Practice and record your message
You want to sound welcoming, sincere, energetic and helpful. A voice that projects anger, fatigue or boredom wont get a callback. Its worth five minutes of rehearsal to get it right. Practice by recording your message on your own voice mail. Listen to your message, then adjust your words or tone of voice if necessary, re-record and listen again.

12.  When all else fails, politely explain that you will "close their file"
Making sure you don't sound hostile or impatient, leave a polite message that goes something like this:

"Ben, I've been attempting to reach you for several weeks now regarding the proposal you asked us to send on July 24, but I have not received a call back. I don't want to bug you or clog your voice mail with unwanted messages, so would you please call me back and let me know if you would like me to close your file?”

One person I interviewed said it is almost humorous how quickly this message has gotten people to call her back. People like to leave their options open and nobody likes to be "terminated".

Talk Back: I'm always looking for fresh ways to leave great voicemails. Please share your experiences with me.

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Typical Mistakes Salespeople Make And How To Fix Them

Aug 16, 2012 9:09 AM
Nicki Weiss

Sometimes I wish sales success was a simple matter of following the right formula.

You know, make the right phone calls, have your value proposition down tight, and figure out how to counter resistance. But the formula theory leaves out one important part of the equation: salespeople are dealing with individual buyers who each have separate needs, opinions and business challenges. Catch-all formulas don’t address this uniqueness.

Below are two classic mistakes that all of us make. If you see yourself in these, take heart, because they are fixable. A tweak in behaviour or attitude can go a long way toward creating better relationships with your customers that will feed your bank account as well as your soul.

Mistake #1 Not Showing Up To Serve, But Showing Up To Be Self Serving (aka ‘The Pitch’)

The typical sales pitch rests on the assumption that the buyer will purchase your product if you position it correctly. The conversation between a sa1esperson and prospect usually goes something like this:

  • After hello, the rep talks about all the latest and greatest products his company has, then
  • Asks one or two questions, using the buyer’s remarks as a launching pad for the pitch.

Unfortunately, this method can backfire because it embodies seller-based and product-focused selling. It assumes the prospect is a blank slate, waiting to listen to the information the sa1esperson is offering, and ready, willing and able to buy.

Think of sitting in a restaurant where the waiter says: “I’m not taking your order; I know what’s good on the menu and I’m going to tell you what to eat.” The buyer, as you would with this waiter, ends up feeling hostile and defensive.

THE FIX: Assume your buyers are creative, resourceful and wise. They have the answers; salespeople simply ask questions.

Selling is about helping your customers achieve their goals and objectives. It’s about helping them solve their problems. It’s not about what you sell. So keep your focus where it belongs on your customer.

Be the stone dropped into still water. Slowly and intentionally go deeper into their world; have them consider the ripple effects; get to the bottom of things.

You can do this by asking questions about their challenges, their industry, and their vision for how they want to grow their business. Then closely listen to their answers, using what they say as another opportunity to be curious.

Authentic curiosity, with a light touch, makes people comfortable and willing to open up.

Research shows that buyers appreciate salespeople who come with insightful questions that made them think about problems and solutions at a deeper level. Buyers also report that most reps do not ask good questions on sales calls, and they are poor listeners.

Other studies show that super-successful salespeople ask six times as many questions as mediocre ones. Let me repeat: six times as many questions!

Good selling is about creating conversations with decision makers, actively listening to their answers, and not pitching. Remember, your offering is only a tool to help them achieve their desired business outcomes.

So zip it and let them talk … and talk … and talk.

Mistake #2 Not planning the next step you will ask the customer to do at the end of a sales call

Whenever you meet with a customer, each of you has a reason for getting together.

For your part, you may want to introduce yourself and your products or services; develop an understanding of your customer’s needs; deliver and discuss a proposal; close a sale, or several of the above.

On the buying end, your customer may want to learn about your firm’s capabilities; discuss his or her needs; respond to a proposal, or fulfill an organizational requirement to talk with several suppliers before making a purchase decision.

Buyers these days rarely make snap decisions. It typically takes multiple meetings and phone conversations to solidify your contract, project, or order, even if your offering grows their sales and saves them oodles of time and money.

Yet when I ask many salespeople what their main objective is for the meeting, they tell me, “Get the business”. Going into a meeting with this goal is a setup for failure, especially if you use the lame closing techniques promoted by many so-called sales gurus.

When selling, particularly to big companies and distributors, you need to move forward in steps. To figure out those steps, analyze the process your customers go through to make a decision. For example, a typical sales process could look like:

  • Initial conversation with one person
  • Talk with others in their organization
  • Review a proposal
  • Do a month-long trial
  • Place an order

As a seller, you can’t short-circuit their decision cycle. You need to align with it, making sure you’re doing whatever you can to advance it to the logical next step.

THE FIX: Your job, before you pick up the phone to call your customer, or before you walk in their door, is to plan the logical next step you’ll propose.

This next step should be something you’re asking the customer to do. We all usually leave a sales call with a long list of to-do’s, such as write a proposal, get back to them with specific info, or talk to others in their organization.

The customer doesn’t have to do a thing. A question: How committed is that customer?

Based on my experience in working with business-to-business sales organizations, some next steps for the customer could include:

  • Introducing you to others, including end-users, influencers, technical evaluators, financial people, or decision-makers. Leverage your contacts ~ a decision often affects many people.
  • Participating in a demonstration to see your products in action
  • Conducting a trial. Before you agree to that, you’ll need to set criteria for what a successful trial looks like, get their commitment of providing enough people and energy to do a fair trial, and the guarantee of a sale if your products meet the criteria
  • Calling a reference you have supplied
  • Working on a proposal with you. You do the first draft, and they agree to make changes with you to fashion it into a proposal they’ll buy. This is a very collaborative and respectful practice that will yield positive results!

The key is to be very specific about the next steps.

But you already knew that.

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30 Ways to Build Loyal and Productive Sales People

Aug 14, 2012 9:01 PM
Nicki Weiss

Call me crazy, but I love lists. If it werent for to-do lists, nothing in my world would get done.

I also write what I call morning pages. These arent traditional lists of tasks to accomplish, but are notes I write first thing in the day. They take various forms, maybe current thoughts occupying my mind, or something new I learned the day before, or some piece of information I want to explore further. My morning pages form a rough guide to my uppermost priorities, and from them I cull "marching orders" for the direction I want to follow.

The other day I went back through a few years of morning pages, and discovered a theme that I hadnt spotted before: I had frequently written down my opinion on which actions work and which dont work when managing a sales staff. A number of these notes were inspired by my clients. Most of them are not complicated or earth-moving, but when taken together, they add up to a powerful guide for sales managers.

Put a few of these on your list, and youre bound to make your salespeople loyal, positive, and productive.


1. Remember that everyone is tuned to the radio station WIIFM. (Whats in it for me?) Find out what each salesperson wants and help him or her get it.

2. Inspire trust and respect by doing what you say you will do

3. Remember that its human nature to want to connect. Be approachable and help people connect with you.

4. Schedule regular coaching sessions to bring out the power in your salespeople. Dont ignore your high performers, mistakenly thinking they dont need coaching . . . they do. Twice a month is good.

5. The phone is a great medium for coaching; you dont always have to talk face-to-face. The key to success is regular conversations.

6. Call these meetings coaching sessions, not status updates. You can do status updates on e-mail (and bore your staff silly if this is the only kind of meeting you have with them).

7. Ask questions to uncover their hopes, their fears, and their vision for themselves and their work. Youll be amazed at the answers.

8. Be curious, but not judgmental during your conversations. Your salespeople will tell you more (yes. . . this is a good thing).

9. Give regular, balanced, timely feedback. People want to know what they do well and where they can improve. Give feedback as information, not as criticism.

10. Learn to monitor and manage your emotions. Your emotional intelligence is directly correlated to your success in your job.

11. Tailor your approach to each salesperson so he or she feels comfortable working with you.

12. Wildly cheer the successes of your team to senior management.

13. Be attentive when talking with your salespeople. Put your Blackberry away and dont look at your computer.

14. Make eye contact.

15. Respect peoples time: Be punctual

16. Keep in mind that business is based on relationships. Take time to build solid ones with your salespeople.

17. Value the discipline of management, rather than seeing it as an irritation. Management is primarily about collaborating with your salespeople in their development, and this process takes time and attention.

18. Remember that people work for a person, not for a company. 83% of salespeople who leave their jobs fire their boss, not their company.

19. Keep in mind that it takes two people to start a conflict, but only one person to take steps to resolve it. That person might as well be you.

20. Give your staff challenging goals and reward them generously.

21. Be a cheerleaderCome on, you can do it, I know you can, Ive seen you do it before!

22. Speak less. Listen more.

23. Stop solving their problems. Ask questions, and dont give them the answers. Youll create salespeople who will take more risks, make better decisions, and stop depending on you.

24. Organize your sales meetings to make them meaningful and productive. Make sure you have an agenda; and that your salespeople role-play regularly.

25. When working with salespeople from diverse cultural backgrounds, take extra time to build relationships and to learn about their cultural practices.

26. Pay attention to spouses and partners at a business dinner or event.

27. Dont rely on e-mail for important communication. Talk to people.

28. Dont hire prima donnas. Theyre nothing but trouble.

29. Hire slowly; fire quickly.

30. Get a coach. Coaching will help you get where you want to go faster and support you on your management journey.

31. Practice gratitude.

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Business Lessons from the Ashram

Aug 9, 2012 9:42 AM
Nicki Weiss

A few weeks ago I went to the Bahamas on my first yoga retreat with my buddy Cindy.  Every day we practiced yoga for four hours, meditated for two (also a new experience for me), and when we weren’t engaged in finding yoga bliss, snuck into the hotel next door to swim in the pool and have some drinky-poos.

I came home smoothed out, inspired, feeling more intensely connected to people who are important to me, and proud of myself that I finally did a yoga headstand.

What does my yoga experience have to do with sales, sales management, or team building? Well . . . quite a bit. Here are some of the lessons I learned, or relearned.

There is only one thing to focus on in this moment

Omkar was a powerful yoga teacher.  He kept telling us to slow down: slow down our breath, slow down our thoughts, hold the pose longer, and focus on ONE thing.

He told us that in the slowness comes power and control. In the slowness comes concentration, and with concentration comes an ease and a flow.

In our daily work, sales calls are not races, and coaching conversations with salespeople are not tasks to speed through.

It also can be so hard to slow down our anxious thoughts when customers express their disappointment with us. And that is when we disconnect. All the chatter in our heads goes off and there we are: out of control and less-than-powerful.

As I learned, a deep breath and the next curious question we want to ask are all that we need to focus on.

Joy is not a frivolous endeavour. Direct your mind and your heart to it.
 

Omkar reminded us, again and again, to open ourselves up to the joy of doing our yoga practice. When we do things with joy, the practice is easy, there is no struggle, the work is a pleasure, and we feel successful.

Joy is intentional, it is not an accident, nor a by-product of success. What a concept: to actually choose to do work with joy in our minds and hearts no matter what the outcome is.

I was in an awkward backbend, hurting. Compared to the fit 25-year-old next to me my pose was pathetic, and there was Omkar beseeching us “Do it with joy . . . do your practice with sweetness . . . go deeper and deeper and deeper into the joy.”

So I did. I actually felt myself sink deeper into joy, and he was right. The struggle went away and I could hold the pose.

What if we decide that in our upcoming negotiation we would bring joy and preparation and not much else? What if our tension and anxiety melted and was replaced by joy? How would that practice improve our experiences with customers?
 

Prepare, participate, and be light

In between poses, Omkar had us mentally prepare for the next one. “Think about the shoulder stand. Imagine yourself doing it easily, with joy, and make yourself light. The lighter you are, the easier it will be. Up you go . . . ”

My first few shoulder stands were a struggle. My arms ached from holding me up; my hands gripped my back. Then I let go of my death grip and changed it to a softer hold; I breathed slowly; I straightened my neck and my legs and concentrated on feeling light; I let go of the need to look good.

I found the place inside of me where I trust myself to do things a little differently even though I’m out of my comfort zone.

Voila!

How can we achieve lightness at work? Certainly drawing on our past positive experiences helps. Visualizing success helps. Watching and learning from others helps. Practicing helps. And great help comes from having faith that this experience, the one we are experiencing right now, won’t kill us, so we can let go of the fear and the need to look good.

Treat business as a spiritual practice

We can focus on a lot of different aspects of yoga. We can focus on the poses themselves. We can focus on our breath. We can focus on the struggle of the experience, or on the joy, or on competing with the guy next to us.

Or, we can up the ante. We can focus on how to learn, and do our best. We can focus on connecting our mind, body, and spirit and taking the experience to a different level.

The same choices exist in business. I notice that when team members focus on connecting with each other and protecting each others’ backs, they report having more meaningful and positive work experiences. When managers look for the strengths in their reps rather than what is going wrong, reps trust their managers more, are energized, and are more productive. When reps show up to serve their customers, rather than to serve their products, they have happier customers, deeper understanding and empathy for their customer’s point of view, and they sell more.

Be in the company of wise people

One of the morning lessons was about minding the company we keep. In a nutshell, the message was: we can surround ourselves with positive, talented, smart, caring, focused people, or we can choose not to.

Given that we are often influenced by others, who do we want to associate with? The person who has excuses? The drama queen? The “Yes . . . but it can’t be done” guy? The black-and-white thinker?

Or the person who manages with joy? The colleague who helps us succeed? The insightful strategist? The person who doesn’t give up easily? The customer who knows how to be a partner?

We need to stay away from people who try to belittle our ambitions and cultivate people who make us feel we can become great.

Holier-than-thou is irritating

After an evening of beautiful communal chanting (yes, even nice Jewish girls can happily belt out ‘Hare Krishna’); of trying to still my mind during meditation (I’m hopeless . . . this is definitely a work-in-progress), there was an evening lecture by a visiting swami.

This guy took my excellent frame of mind and stomped on it.

He talked at us, chanted at us, treated his wife with arrogance and indifference, and generally gave us the impression he was here to impress us.

The same thing happens in sales calls all over the world. Salespeople don’t read their audience, try to impress customers with their endless product knowledge, don’t include the customer in the conversation, and talk at them. Sales managers take over sales calls in order to feed their egos.

Please . . . create conversations, not pitches.

Talk back: I’d love to hear how a change of focus contributes to your ability to do business in ways that everyone appreciates.

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Sell Anything To Anyone

Aug 7, 2012 9:09 AM
Nicki Weiss

The ideas and text I present here are (mostly) shamelessly plagiarized from the book Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller. I urge everyone to buy this book if you want to raise your ability to sell anything…to anyone.

“Charismatic communicators take the complex and make it simple and the simple and make it meaningful. They do that with stories and metaphors.” Fortune Magazine

I frequently notice one factor that gives salespeople an edge against their competition: their choice of words. Your company, product or services may not be unique or distinctive, but the way in which you describe them can be. Effective communicators choose their words carefully and use metaphors masterfully. What they explain doesn’t just make sense; it stands out.

Two tiny words can be a clap of thunder. In 1980, Lee Iacocca went to the U.S. Congress to obtain $1.2 billion in loan guarantees for the then failing Chrysler Corporation. Congress was not interested in a bail-out. Iacocca cleverly substituted the image “safety net” for “bail-out” and persuasively argued that the government provides all kinds of safety nets for its citizens and that Chrysler represented a large group of citizens. Congress gave him what he wanted.

That is the power of speaking metaphorically: You can change minds, even to the tune of over a billion dollars.

Words Matter

As an executive coach and seminar leader, I can say without reservation that what frequently passes for communication is nothing but a string of facts. Reps can work hard preparing slick PowerPoint presentations and excellent handouts, but they frequently drown their customers with a tidal wave of information. They confuse information with communication and make it difficult for customers to make decisions.

Imagery – the core of metaphoric language – will beat out explanations, charts, graphs and bullets every time. When Steve Jobs was courting John Sculley of Pepsi to become CEO of Apple, his winning argument was not a list of facts and benefits. He asked, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is any comparison that creates an “aha!” in your customers’ minds, where they can see, hear, taste, smell, feel, or experience something.

For example:

Challenge: Like trying to change the oil in a speeding car
Chaos: Like a zoo with all the cages left open.
Ineffective Strategies: You wouldn’t buy a car in parts. You buy it whole. Why would you piece together your system from different software component manufacturers?
Precision: Like operating with a scalpel, not a meat cleaver

You get the picture. So, how can you create metaphors for your prospecting calls, sales presentations or proposals?

Four Steps to a Winning Metaphor

Recently I was in competition with two other firms for a contract to deliver coaching to a sales manager and his team to help them improve revenue. The two other firms had experience in the market segment. I didn’t. It took me a few days to come up with an analogy that won me the business, but that thinking time was worth it. This is the process I followed:

1. Determine Your Customer’s Blindspot
The first step to changing someone’s mind is to identify the exact nature of the blindspot. Here are some typical examples:

 Objections

“You are too expensive.”
“We’ve always done it this way.”
“We’ll just start with a test.”
“Yes – but not now.”
“We’ve been down that road before".

 Likely Blindspot

 Confusing value with price
 Fear of change
 Fear of large commitment
 No sense of urgency
 Fear of getting burned again


My prospect’s blindspot was that I had no experience in his particular industry and my competitors did.

2. Make a Snapshot of Your Customer
The briefest of encounters can supply you with the snapshot you need to create an appropriate metaphor for your sale. Even when you’re denied a face-to-face meeting, find out everything you can about your prospect and their world.
In my case, I learned from my prospect’s website that they had customers in a variety of market sectors. During the sales call I asked how much prior experience they needed in X business to earn the right to sell to them. I suggested “none,” that their customer just had to be sure they were the best darn supplier around.

3. Create a Comparison
Create a metaphor based on a detail from the snapshot that will change how your client perceives your offer.

I decided to create mine on the basis of knowing they had won customers in a variety of markets. I compared their right to win X’s business to my right to win their business without prior experience in their market.

4. Relate Back to the Situation
Make a linking statement from the comparison back to your own selling point.
I said that just as they felt qualified to work in new markets, I also was qualified to do work for them.

Selling with metaphors

  • Grab: attention At the beginning of a sales presentation, you could tell a SHORT story.
  • Position your company: For example: “We at ABC firm are like architects. We not only design your systems, but we manage all the business relationships needed to get them built, so that your distribution house always comes together the way you want it to. Our competitors are like carpenters or electricians. They may be very good at one aspect of the construction job, but not as good at overseeing the entire responsibility.”
  • Make recommendations: For example, if you are recommending replacing System A with B, you can say, “In effect, we will be replacing a horse and buggy with a Porsche.” Or you might be recommending a streamlined process by saying, “Bottom-line, the new process will take the sand out of your gears.”
  • Explain Quality of expression always beats quantity of words: For instance, the Steelcase company designed an innovative chair that looked weird (it had knees), but was a breakthrough in ergonomic comfort. Thinking of the chair in the context of other once-foreign-now-familiar technologies (computers, cell phones), they hit on just the right comparison. “You’ve never seen a chair with knees? Not long ago, people hadn’t seen a typewriter with a TV screen, either.” They sold hundreds of thousands of these chairs.
  • Make numbers stick by forming a picture: Trying to lose weight by remembering the calorie content of different foods? Before you grab your next bagel (5 oz. 400 calories) and cream cheese (2.5 oz. 250 calories) for a total of 650 calories, consider that you are eating the caloric equivalent of the following combined: four light pancakes, four vegetarian sausage links, two tablespoons light syrup and a dish of sliced star fruit. (Hold the bagel!)
  • Add punch to the titles in your proposals/quotes: Which title is stronger?
    “Proposal for General Motors by Innovative Plastics” (accurate and boring)
    “Increasing GM’s Market Share” (stronger)
    “Revving Up Sales At GM”(has visual power and energy)
     
  • Counter an objection: If your customer is balking at, say, ongoing maintenance fees, you might respond, “It’s a lot cheaper to get your teeth cleaned twice a year than to undergo root canal work – and a lot less painful.”
  • Clinch the close: Ideally, circle back to the image or story you invoked at the beginning of the call. In my example about lacking specific industry experience, I wrapped up my call by saying, “Imagine if we – you, me, our suppliers - all needed deep industry experience before going after new business. Our companies would never prosper. Just as you won the X account by focusing on how your expertise can help them grow their business, I can do the same for you. And, like you, I bring the advantage of an outsider’s fresh perspective.”


Become a Metaphor Magnet

There are many ways to increase your powers of observation and your ability to make links between seemingly disparate topics. The easiest way is to start a clipping file of metaphors used elsewhere. Most of mine come from newspapers and magazines and movie reviews.

The more examples you collect, the more trained your eye will become.

When you get stuck for an attention-grabbing opening or proposal title, consult your files.

Here are some good Internet sites to help you along:

www.famous-quotations.com
www.cartoonbank.com
www.annemiller.com

As I stated at the beginning, the ideas presented here are taken straight from Metaphorically Selling: How to Use the Magic of Metaphors to Sell, Persuade, & Explain Anything To Anyone by Anne Miller. Buy it for even more ideas.

Talk back:
Please send me stories of how you used a metaphor to sell your product or service, to overcome confusion or resistance, or to dramatize a point. I’d love to hear them!

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Does Your Customer Trust You? The Acid Test of Selling

Aug 2, 2012 9:55 AM
Nicki Weiss

Here’s a question that might puzzle some of you. Have you ever told a really good customer of yours that he or she should contact one of your competitors? I ask because my topic this month is customer trust, and this is the best question I know to assess whether your customers can trust you to have their best interests at heart.

It is not just a philosophical question. Gaining your customers’ trust is the strongest predictor of your sales success, and the most successful route to being trusted is to show that you truly want to help in whatever way you can.

The Acid Test of Trust in Selling

If you have never recommended a competitor to a good customer, then
either your product is always better than the competition in every situation (puh-leeze), or—far more likely—you always shade your answers to suit your own advantage.

Which says you always put your interests ahead of your customers’. Which says, frankly, you can’t be trusted.  However, there are also some conditions under which a “yes” doesn’t work as a trust indicator, either:

a. The customer was trivially important to you
b. You were going to lose the customer anyway
c. You don’t have a viable service offering in the category your customer needed
d. You figured the competitor’s offering was terrible and you’d give them a black eye by recommending them.

The only fair “yes” answer is one in which you honestly felt that an
important customer would be better served by going with
a competitor’s offering.

If that describes what you did, and it is a fair reflection of how you think
about customer relationships in general, then I suspect your customers trust you.

A true story

My colleague Joanne and I work with an ideal team. For the past two years, the members of this group have committed themselves to becoming the best team possible.  Their efforts are working, and company executives have noticed their power.

The executive team, however, behaves less-than-powerfully with each other and this behaviour affects the whole company. Over the years the execs have tried to address their interactions but have been dissatisfied with every outside consultant they hire. In particular, the executive team prefers not to work with women consultants. In my humble opinion, Joanne and I would be a good choice for this team, however, given their preferences, we recommended other coaches.

At some level, this is risky. The coaches we recommended are at the top of their game and stand to benefit from other work that may arise from the engagement (work that Joanne and I could do). Yet, I believe that our ‘competitors’ will do an excellent job.  They trust us to do right by them and by their company.

Our ideal team thanked us for the recommendation, introduced us to other sales and marketing teams in the organization, and continue to confide in us.

Another story

A rep firm I work with sells electronic components to, among other customers, the U.S. military.

The rep on this account has been trying to help one of the military buyers streamline a particular process, recommending ideas, products and trials.  The rep feels that he has figured out a good solution, but it is outside of his customer’s price range. 

So, he sent in numerous competitors to see if they can help.

The upshot? As the military buyer continues to modify his design, he calls this trustworthy rep back. He appreciates that the rep’s competitors have helped him get closer to a workable design, and has now decided to expand his budget to include the rep’s more expensive components.

We all know trust when we experience it

And many of us have a spidey-sense for untrustworthiness. If we, as salespeople, are perceived by our customers as being "in it for ourselves" to make a profit on every transaction, then trust dies, even if we deliver on all other fronts.

Do customers trust someone who’s never willing to invest in the longer term, never willing to compromise, never willing to gracefully defer in the interest of what is best for the customer?

Passing the acid test suggests you know how to focus on relationships, not transactions; medium and long-term timeframes, not just short-term; and collaborative, not competitive, work patterns.

Paradoxically, in the long-run, self-focused behavior is less successful than is customer-helpful behavior. Collaboration beats competition. Trust beats suspicion.

Profits flow most not to those who crave them, but to those who accept them gracefully as an outcome of customer service.

Talk back: I'd love to hear your stories of how you pass the acid test, and what you do to gain your customers' trust.

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July 2012


Top 5 Practices That Will Keep Customers Coming Back

Jul 19, 2012 9:00 AM
Nicki Weiss

I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy recently, and spent my last few days at a spectacular villa in Sienna called Frances Lodge. It is run by two of the most gracious people I have ever met, and I had the privilege of observing, first-hand, how they run their business and make their customers feel cared-for and special. Franco and Franca set a standard that guarantees customers will return, and we can all learn from them.

Research shows that it costs five times as much to gain a new client as it does to retain a current one. Here are some of my observations of Franco and Franca, and why their business is a success. None of it is rocket science. All of it works. My own goal is to become even more focused on customer care so that I, like my Italian hosts, can earn an A+ on my client’s report card.


1. Treat guests graciously
(Translation: your clients, staff, and colleagues)

When my cousins and I arrived at Frances Lodge, Franco was waiting for us at the top of the driveway, waving and happy to see us. He and his wife anticipated our needs and quickly supplied help with our luggage, an Internet hookup for a quick e-mail home, maps, and a tour of the villa. We felt that we were in good hands.

I bristle when I visit clients or colleagues and am left waiting, as if I am an interruption in their busy day. People also mess with their Blackberry or e-mail while others are speaking. Cell phones and pagers go off during meetings. What is that about?

Greet your clients, staff, and colleagues on time, giving them your full attention, and make them feel you are happy to be in their presence. This type of graciousness is in short supply and displaying it will set you apart from your competition.

2. Always help with the luggage
Franco delighted us with stories of his travels, stressing how the level of customer service added to or detracted from his enjoyment. Number One on his list of no-no’s is checking into a place, and receiving a key with no further help to find your room or carry your luggage. This did not sound strange to me, since that is standard practice in North America (although a tip will get you that service). However, it disgusted Franco since his credo is to make people feel special.

Helping with luggage in your business means offering small acts of kindness consistently and deliberately: giving a referral, being a referral, helping out on someone else’s proposal, acting as a sounding board, writing a thank-you note.

These caring gestures can go a long way toward building customer loyalty.

3. Be in the same business for a lo-o-ong time

In addition to being a gorgeous place for visitors to park their weary heads, Frances Lodge sits on eight acres of well-established vineyards, olive and lemon groves, fruit gardens, and horse stables. The villa has been in Franco’s family for three centuries and at one time or another, these grounds have contributed to the owner’s income.

Franco and Franca know what they are doing. They have an established reputation, solid business connections, and a way of doing business that keeps people coming back for more. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves?

Statistics show that in sales, you hopefully break even in your first year, make some money in your second year, and take off in your third year. Thereafter, if you’re any good, your business will grow through referrals, and your income will steadily increase.

Like many salespeople, I am restless for what I can only call “something else.” For me, “something else” shows up as pining for bigger opportunities, more of a challenge, or fewer headaches. In the past, this restlessness led me to switch companies prematurely, not allowing myself sufficient time to build long-term relationships. Happy customers couldn’t find me to give me their referrals.

Now I am experiencing the rewards of staying in one place: deeply serving my customers, developing a niche that allows me to add value in a meaningful way, establishing a reputation, and making it easy for people to locate me.

4. Tell your history with pride

I loved hearing about the history of Sienna, of traditions that have lived for 600 years, including an annual horse race in the town square, how it took 200 years to build the church, and that Franco’s family raised and used carrier pigeons to send messages. He also has more recent stories about villa renovations, bartering with neighbours, and plans for the business. His deep pride made me feel privileged to be his customer.

Often, when I hear other people talk about their company’s history, the narrative feels canned and detached. Salespeople have a great opportunity to create a visceral experience for customers when they tell stories about their company. Find someone in your organization whose enthusiasm is palpable.

Interview them; emulate them; find and tell stories that make you proud; practice your delivery. Passion sells!

5. Share your abundance

Franco and Franca embody the attitude of abundance. They are willing and thrilled to share. At no extra charge, they loaned us their cell phone when we ventured into the countryside, gave us extra food at breakfast, called long distance to make us dinner reservations, and drove our luggage and us to the bus stop (a 45-minute round trip).

In business, we often protect our ideas and insights, fearing that we will lose them if we spread them to other people. Those who are willing to share their workshop outlines, sales strategies, proposal templates, or scripts and speeches, set themselves apart as valuable and caring businesspeople. I’m learning to appreciate that abundance begets abundance, attracts clients, and increases customer loyalty.

If you get the chance to visit Tuscany, check out their website at http://www.franceslodge.it/eng/main.htm.
Monthly Challenge: STOP!

  • Take a minute and make a list, right now, of what customer care tasks or attitudes you've been putting off, such as:
  • Identifying a customer (each week!) to whom you can express your gratitude
  • Putting a colleague in touch with someone who can help him or her, with no benefit to you
  • Sending a thank-you note and gift for a referral
  • Sending an article or website to someone you know would be interested in it
  • Inviting a client to join you at a conference/lecture/workshop

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