I clearly remember the evening I received a phone call from a leader at a well-regarded start-up accelerator. Our conversation centered around sales. “Can you speak to our entrepreneurs on sales?” the principal asked.
“Most of our entrepreneurs have great ideas; most are inventors, engineers or numbers people. They do understand the importance of sales/revenue generation.”
But: “They do not seem to enjoy sales,” he acknowledged. “It is not their forte.”
I considered the invitation and replied that before accepting, I first needed from each of the entrepreneurs some data about the top two sales-related items on their minds.
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Thanks to Google Forms, my request was quickly fulfilled, And, I duly noted, the beautiful thing about free form expression of thought is that it encourages people to articulate their needs, in the form of questions embedded in their subtext.
Looking for the trends, I pulled out five implicit questions:
- How do I find my targets efficiently?
- How do I build credibility in the first meeting?
- How do I build trust?
- How do I take it to the next meeting?
- How do I get long-term engagement?
While looking for these connections, I experienced a “light bulb moment”; I even chuckled at the idea. I was actually looking forward to the discussion.
The day arrived. Once everybody settled in, I posed the first question: “When you hear ‘sales,’ what comes to your mind?” I then listened patiently to an earful about used car salesmen, comparisons to aggressive recruiters and diatribes on morals and ethics. And I picked up on the near-consensus that sales as an activity might be necessary, but was not not these entrepreneurs’ cup of tea.
I next projected those five questions on the wall. “If we get some answers to these questions, is that a useful discussion on sales?” I asked. There was a collective nod in the room.
If that is the case, I told my audience, referring to their grin and bear it attitude toward sales, the answer is, “Just be yourself. That is the secret of success in sales.” Nods quickly morphed into perplexed faces, as a collective skeptical look was directed my way.
I redirected those looks back to the five questions. “Please re-look at the questions – the context of the first four questions could be a first date,” I said.
“Your success in that arena could bode well in a sales meeting.” There was a perceptible giggle among my listeners.
Sales is a lot like dating
With that statement, I projected a couple of statistics.
- Percentage of married couples first introduced by someone they mutually know – 63 percent
This stat is powerful, as it keeps the end goal in mind. Drawing parallels, converting a target into a customer, the best odds occur with customers who are introduced by a mutual acquaintance. That is the headline-grabbing part. There is another stat that gets little attention, but provides a good dose of realism:
- Percentage of first dates arranged by friends moving into a second date: Just 17 percent
Keep this perspective when some well-meaning customer introductions through referrals do not lead to second meetings! Rejections are the anathema of motivation; this larger perspective on odds is a wonderful counter-balance.
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Circling back to the audience, when this conversation first started, folded hands and relaxed, pushed-back seating had been the norm in the room. But at this point, many attendees were leaning forward, with coffee in hand, absorbed in the statistical analogies I offered.
Entrepreneurs usually like to work in environments they can control. So, while sales might seem like an afterthought worthy of delegating to a professional sales person, dating was not!
Having engaged these entrepreneurs’ attention, I next added, “Now, I am interested in your thoughts on what works/ does not work on a first date.” What followed was a mixture of sparks, deep thinking, reflections on missteps and some all-out zingers. I took my marker and started jotting down the synthesis of what, for my listeners, “works.”
The two leading areas of consensus that emerged were:
- Good listeners
- Sharing of related stories, experiences – a two-way connection
I then posed a follow-up question: “How much time do you spend preparing [to talk] about you before the first-date meeting?” Not much, was the answer. But many ventured to add that they do spend some time researching their dates online.
Drawing a parallel to sales, I asked, should you, the entrepreneur, spend a lot of time preparing customised slides before every customer meeting or spend some time knowing more about the customer?
After all, the customer might not explicitly acknowledge it, but he/she is looking for a “good listener.” And, in this informational day and age, many customers do their research about you and your product before they accept your meeting.
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I personally believe that listening and credibility have a high positive correlation, built on that age-old mantra: Understand before understood. Sharing of related experience back and forth builds on that.
It was getting time to end my talk. I did so with a question. “All of this is great,” I said. “So, if all goes well, how do you ensure the next meeting?” I answered my own question: Just ask for the next meeting – I said. There was another set of chuckles in the room as we wrapped up the session.
“Sales” can conjure up different images and emotions, whether they be that of the old-fashioned used car salesman; an on-stage monologue; an enthusiastic, informative teacher; or a two-way, engaging date.
The choice is yours. But if you choose the last option, the time you spend on preparing content will be the least you’ll need among these four scenarios – and time is one thing many entrepreneurs have in short supply.
At the very least, it would be wonderful to spend those extra few hours saved, with family and friends. Above all, the biggest bonus would be that you could be your nice self and still be successful. And nothing beats that.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How to Get Clients When You Hate Asking for Business
Three ways to trade cold calling for warm leads.
Whether you’re starting a business or growing an existing one, you need clients. If you don’t like selling and don’t have a strong referral network, getting clients is a big challenge. I’ve helped scores of entrepreneurs who hate selling grow their business, and in my experience, one of the biggest hurdles is how you feel about selling itself.
If you judge selling as manipulative, you probably try to avoid it, and if you can sell in a way that aligns with your values and your personality, getting clients gets easier.
One of the best ways to do this is to start with warm leads instead of cold calls. This means approching people you know or feel comfortable with.
Here are three key ways to generate warm leads:
1. Contact database
By putting your contacts into a spreadsheet, you’ll find lots of great people you’ve forgotten about.
Download your list of names into Excel with data fields for first and last name, then add two new columns. Call the first column “lead status” and the second one “lead type.” In the status column, mark “warm” or “cold.”
Warm contacts on this list are the people you wouldn’t hesitate to call because you know you’d receive a warm welcome. Cold contacts are everyone else.
In the “type” column, decide whether each person is likely to be a potential client, referral source, mentor or something else. Knowing why you will contact each person in advance makes reaching out easier and desired results more likely.
Once you’ve got the columns populated, filter for the warm leads and reach out to all of them. Target a specific number of calls per day for maximum payoff. You may have to use Google or other research to get phone numbers. If you can’t get a number, then use email as a last resort. Be ready to call or email several times to get a response.
If you want to generate new warm leads, networking is an excellent place to start. Instead of looking only for ideal clients, consider the fact that anyone can be a mutual referral source.
If you’ve exhausted everyone in your network, try someone new you have a lot in common with. You’ll be more likely to grab a cup of coffee with someone who shares your love of hiking and traveling, and that conversation may lead you to your next client. We’re more likely to hire and refer people we know, like and trust, but the foundation of that relationship is often common interests, not a potential to become business partners.
Before you get too far with these strategies, make sure you set up a customer relationship management (CRM) database. This will keep you organized so you remember who you need to call back and know which Cathy was the potential client and which one recommended the great sushi spot.
I recommend an online tool like Less Annoying CRM, Insightly or Highrise HQ if you have a small budget. Excel is great for filtering, but it doesn’t email or text you reminders to follow up, which is crucial for acquiring new business. If you’re not on top of it, you’re wasting your time and throwing out potential revenue. Make sure to keep up-to-date notes about activity, actions you’ve promised and when you need to reach out again.
Referrals are an excellent warm lead resource. The problem is, when you wait for referrals, they aren’t reliable or plentiful enough to keep your business going. You need to create multiple referral sources and nurture them.
To do this, make a list of your power partners. These are other businesses that serve your target market in a non-competitive way. Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer. Your power partners include makeup artists, florists and DJs. The magic of these partners is that you can all refer each other so it’s a two-way street rather than beneficial to only one of you. If you get a large list of power partners and are in regular contact with them, your referral numbers will increase and become more reliable.
Once you know your power partners, you can look for them at networking events, and you can ask your existing contacts if they can connect you to others. If you’re introduced to an ideal referral source through a mutual friend or contact, you’re both more likely to make the effort to help each other.
Another great way to get clients and warm leads is speaking. The key to getting clients through speaking is inviting the audience to work with you during your presentation. If you find this step as cringe-worthy as cold calling, here are a few tips:
- Determine your core values and desired audience perception. One of my clients values professionalism, integrity and service. With this understanding, we brainstormed how she could invite members of the audience to work with her in a way that made her feel aligned with her core values.
- Talk to “your people.” During your presentation, you’ll notice a few people are more engaged than the rest of the room. You’ll know they love what you’re saying by their smiles, head nods and questions. When you make your pitch, have those people in mind. If you make more eye contact with them during the pitch, you’ll feel more comfortable. They’re the people who want to speak with you further, so make them feel invited to do so.
- Attend other speaking events. Listen to how other speakers make a pitch. Write down what you like about their methods and what turns you off. Figure out how to integrate the aspects you like into your own pitch.
If all else fails, make sure you have a way to collect names, phone numbers and email addresses at your events. This will give you a collection of warm leads. Enter them into your CRM system and then call them to follow up.
If you start using even one of these strategies, you’ll find yourself with more leads and more confidence. Confidence, in the end, is what makes selling easier.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
6 Sales Secrets To Turn A Rookie Into A Sales Superstar
Here’s a tip: You’re a consultant, not a salesperson. So, figure out what you’re really selling.
I once worked as a salesman in an insurance company. And, like most salespeople, I couldn’t meet my targets in the beginning. I noticed however, that certain people in my organisation made more sales than all of us put together. So, I got close to some of them and tried to learn their secrets.
Luckily, they were kind enough to let me in. And they taught me that selling is a skill that can be developed, not a special gift one is born with. After following them, I found that my selling improved drastically, and almost immediately. My sales were huge.
So I now believe that like me, anybody can learn the art of selling. But it begins by learning the following secrets:
1Make continuous learning your personal mission
I remember catching a ride with one of my sales managers one day. I was surprised that throughout our ride, he never played music, as I would have done were I the one driving. Instead, he plugged in an mp3 and played a particular talk. It was a huge lesson and I followed suit immediately.
To be a sales superstar, you need to learn every day. The future of “selling” belongs to those with an unquenchable thirst for learning, not just for those who work hard.
Make learning a top priority. Invest in books, seminars and audio talks related to sales, and watch your sales skyrocket.
2Overcome your fear of rejection
This fear is the greatest obstacle you must overcome if you intend to have a successful sales career. Like most newbie sales agents, I found it affected my selling, too.
Luckily, my supervisor became concerned and taught me that selling was basically a game of numbers. In other words, the more I met people, the more likely I would be to make a sale.
That new knowledge fired me up. I started getting new prospects, and when they were not interested in my product, I simply said, “Next!”
To be honest, we are all afraid of something at one point or another. But, to borrow a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “If you would be a great success, make a habit throughout your life of doing the things you fear.”
3Keep your sales funnel full
All sales superstars at any time have more than enough prospects to work on. To get better results in your sales, make sure you don’t lack prospects. If you must, hire someone to help you generate leads.
Most important, make sure you always get referrals after closing each sale. Lead-generation tools like Bant.io and Hubspot are becoming part of more and more companies that desire to streamline their sales, to save some time.
Related: 7 Simple Ways To Close More Sales
4Make your enthusiasm Infectious
Imagine that a salesman knocks on your door looking tired and worn out. Gazing at you, his eyes filled with disappointment, he pitches you in a whisper.
“My organisation can help you plan your event,” he says. “But then, you don’t really need that, do you? I mean, everybody plans their events these days, except celebrities. You don’t happen to know any celebrity around, do you?”
It will be a cold day in hell before such a salesperson makes a sale. According to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and one of the nation’s richest salespersons, rightly said:
“One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.”
5Present yourself as a consultant, not a salesperson
When I started my consumer goods business, I asked myself what I was selling. I had groceries for sale in my mart, but when I introduced “Home and office delivery services,” I realised that what I was really selling was stress alleviation, and a good time-saving option.
Once I understood this, I revised how I approached my targets, who were mainly busy professionals. When I met them, I didn’t just start selling my products. Instead, I tried to understand the level of stress their jobs placed on them. I then recommended my grocery home delivery service as a way of helping them reduce stress.
In the same way, you should present yourself as a consultant. Don’t leave anything to chance. Prepare for every sales meeting or call. Dress the part too, and look important. And just as my manager advised me back then, I’d say, take a short-term loan if you have to. Buy better clothes; you could even buy a car with a little down payment. Just make sure you present prospects with the image of a successful consultant.
6Close the sale
Many salespeople don’t ask for the sale. They assume that after their sales pitch, clients will take the initiative to pay. In most cases, however, they postpone it.
Related: How To Hit Your Sales Targets
My sales manager always drummed into my ears the words, “Toby, you will always lose 100 percent of the sales you don’t ask for.”
So, don’t make assumptions. Learn all you can about closing a sale. Just make sure you close the sale.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
You Can’t Succeed At Sales Working In Failure Mode
Customers buy products because of awesome marketing, not because of an awesome salesperson.
As an entrepreneur, time is your scarcest resource. You should try to spend each minute of your work life in the most effective way possible. This means reducing the time you spend on sales and increasing the time you spend on marketing. Marketing scales; sales doesn’t.
Let’s look at typical sales activities. You spend a good amount of time one-on-one with individual clients, explaining to them what your products or services are for and what the benefits are compared to the alternatives. You try to influence leads and prospects in a personal way, hoping to turn them into paying customers.
With typical marketing activities, you spend more time on one-to-many approaches – reaching out to audiences with valuable ideas, offering entry-level products and services for free, presenting yourself and your business as authentic and handling any interactions with leads and prospects in a scalable way. Using this distinction, it is clear that sales activities don’t scale, but marketing activities do.
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When you have to verbally explain to someone the differences between two versions of your product, you are wasting your time.
You’re doing sales. You should use that time to make it clear to potential clients – using text, audio or video – what you offer in which versions. That’s marketing.
When you’re physically on the road or in a store trying to convince leads and prospects that your products and services are great, you are doing sales. It would have been more effective to use that time making your products and services so awesome, that word gets around and clients are lining up to get a piece of the awesomeness. That’s marketing.
When you are personally leading people around your store, showing them your wares and getting them to test some products, you’re in sales. When you enable people to try things for themselves and use the internet for information, you’re in marketing.
Your ultimate goal is to reduce the time you spend on sales to zero, and spend it all on marketing. Granted, it is unlikely that you will ever truly reach zero, but it’s a useful goal. Part of the marketing job is prioritising ideas and requests for development. The end goal is to make things awesome. The service department is also an area where marketing plays a role because all client contacts are opportunities for marketing.
When you have products and services that are great, people should be eager to be your customers. If that is not the case, you lack in marketing, not in sales.
Some people will argue that there are products and services that require a personal touch. Some would say, for example, that you cannot just have people test drive a Mercedes-Benz E-Class without a salesperson guiding them through the process. I disagree.
High-end products do require a personal touch, but that’s not sales; that is a service people pay for. This service comes with the product. It starts before the actual purchase, and it extends far after. Thanks to great development, service and marketing, the customer should already have made up his or her mind.
The “salesperson” is not spending any time selling anything to the client. Marketing should have already influenced and convinced the client. The salesperson just makes the purchasing process an enjoyable experience, which is the premium service the client pays for.
Don’t waste time on sales because sales activities don’t scale. You are operating in failure mode. It indicates that development, service and marketing were not able to make and communicate something that customers think is awesome. And it’s only awesome for you when you can scale it, and when clients pay a premium price for personal service.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.