Are You All In?
There are not many jobs that reward productivity as much as a sales job. What’s not to like?
Most people will answer that question with one word: REJECTION. And not just any rejection. Constant, daily, maybe unfair and sometimes cruel rejection. Rejection can—and will—happen during every single step in the sales process. The hang-up on the first phone call, being turned down for a follow-up meeting, the dismissal of your concept or idea, the refusal to entertain more detailed price negotiations. Rejection happens all the time in sales. The question is how you deal with it.
What sales champions understand is that what’s being rejected is not themselves. They don’t take it personally, understanding that rejection is part of the job. Sales is a series of defeats interrupted by revenue-generating wins. Salespeople who get too hung up on the defeats instead of remaining focused on the wins are the ones who get easily frustrated and potentially even burn out. Salespeople who stay positive throughout are the ones who eventually enjoy more, and better, client relationships. Once the enthusiasm about a closed deal sets in, all the rejection leading up to it is quickly forgotten.
All Glory Comes from Daring to Begin
Compared to the other tactical steps in the sales process, prospecting provides the rare opportunity to ask yourself big-picture questions and make strategic decisions. Since you’re making key strategic decisions that will have a long-term impact on your performance, you should stay in close contact with your sales manager throughout the process. There is a lot of information you might not have access to, and your manager’s knowledge and experience will prove invaluable in keeping you on track. There would be no way, for example, for you to know your company’s different closing ratios in specific business segments, with your goal of course being to focus on the ones where the company has seen higher numbers. Your manager can also immediately tell you which segments are already well covered by other salespeople on your team. Excellent sales managers view supporting their sales force during the prospecting phase as essential, so take advantage of their expertise.
Creating Qualified Lead Lists
At this point in the sales process you should have generated lists of leads from different sources. These should all be prospects that, at first glance, look promising to you. You absolutely must keep track of the lead source for each of these prospects. Did you find them because they are doing business with a competitor? Did they pop up in a Google search? Did someone tell you about a new company that just got start-up funding but hasn’t launched yet? Don’t lose this information; it will keep you on course and prevent the number of leads that originate in the outer circles of our chart (e.g., Google searches) from getting out of control. Remember, you want to have a good mix of leads, and lead source is an important part of determining lead quality.
Developing Your Prospecting System
You started with a longer list of leads that you identified during your different prospecting tactics, then narrowed it down by researching and evaluating them using our three filters. The end result is a segmented, limited, and prioritized lead list.
Successful salespeople know exactly which prospects they are pursuing at any time, and all the reasons why they are investing time in them. There is nothing vague about their leads. If you wake up sales champions in the middle of the night, they will be able to recite all of their top leads. There is also nothing vague about their prospecting systems. Sales aces develop a system that they follow religiously and capture the most important information on each of their prospects to have at their fingertips when they start to reach out to them. They understand that they won’t be able to pull up the information from memory, especially once they start to juggle many different prospects and are at different stages of outreach for each of them.
Setting Up Face-to-Face Meetings
Now that you’ve identified and evaluated your leads and built a segmented, limited, and prioritized prospect list, it’s time to move on to what many consider to be the most difficult task of the entire sales process: connecting with the prospect. You can do this by using several different channels, which usually work in tandem:
- LinkedIn and other social media networks
- in person
Depending on your industry, product, service, and type of prospect you are reaching out to, you will typically try to accomplish one of four core connecting objectives:
- Scheduling a face-to-face meeting, either in person or through a video call.
- Increasing awareness of your company and yourself with the prospect. This is especially important for salespeople who work for lesser-known companies or new ventures.
- Gathering additional information about the prospect. This is relevant in industries selling to customers for which few data points are available and can be found during the prospecting phase (e.g., companies that sell to very small businesses).
- Closing a deal. Many industries are driven much more by quantity than quality (e.g., an industry selling products that are sold at a low price point) and are therefore focused on getting a deal done on the first outreach.
The Moment of Truth
Of all the sales tools available, the phone is still the most powerful. Many salespeople, especially younger ones, will try to debate this.
“Nobody picks up the phone anymore.”
“Sending emails is so much more efficient.”
“It’s not like it used to be. People get irritated when I call them.”
It’s always been hard. It’s always been the least favorite part of everyone’s job. When underperforming salespeople argue it is no longer effective, it always seems as if they are actually hoping they are right, so they can finally give up on cold calling for good and focus instead on blasting out one email after another or posting and sharing articles on LinkedIn. Rejection is so much easier to take that way, right? A hang up or a “not interested” over the phone is worse for the ego than no reply to an email.
Other Ways to Get in the Door
Reaching out by phone, email, and LinkedIn are not the only ways for salespeople to set up face-to-face meetings with new business prospects.
Many, many books and articles have been written on “social selling,” a vague term that, for our purposes, we’ll define as “using social media platforms to generate sales.”
The term “social selling” itself is certainly misleading. From a B2B sales perspective, reaching out to a prospect actively on LinkedIn, either through an InMail message or simply by first connecting and then reaching out with a follow-up message, does fall into the “sales” bucket
However, most other activities—like posting articles or sharing research studies—are much closer to marketing than sales. You’re marketing your company, and, even more so, yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. A company’s effective sales marketing strategy can make life much easier for its sales force. Prospects become more familiar with the company’s brand and its offerings, and its salespeople don’t need to start from scratch when speaking with prospects by explaining what the company does and stands for.
Social media and especially a platform like LinkedIn can absolutely help you become a more effective seller. In fact, failure to engage in social selling will put you at a massive disadvantage to others that do. LinkedIn is especially effective in deepening relationships with existing clients, since you can see all of their connections and use them to improve your depth of contact, including potential influencers you have not met. Similarly, posting an article of value will make an impression with your client and potentially benefit you.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Ask
“Closing” seems like a misnomer anyway. It sounds like something is coming to an end, when in reality it is the beginning of the client relationship. “Closing” sounds like something you are doing to buyers, when you’re actually working with them toward a mutual benefit. It also sounds like a onetime act, when it is so much more than that. So let’s forget about closing. Instead, let’s focus on asking. Not just asking for a final commitment at the end of the sales process, but also asking for mini-commitments throughout the entire sales journey:
- Ask for the decision maker
- Ask for the first meeting
- Ask for permission to follow through with your meeting agenda
- Ask for information during the discovery phase
- Ask for an assignment
- Ask for a budget
- Ask for input to craft a customized solution
- Ask for the proposal meeting
- Ask for the order
- Ask for the signed contract
You get the idea. Sales champions ask for mini-commitments at every phase.
It’s your job to keep the ball rolling and your job to ask for the order, directly and assertively. Your buyer will not do it for you. When you fail to ask for the order, you will fail. If you have done everything appropriately during the sales process up until this moment, you have earned the right to ask for this final commitment. Buyers know that you are a salesperson and that you are meeting with them to eventually sell them something. It’s not a secret. There is no reason to be uncomfortable asking for the commitments you need to help your prospect solve their challenges. If you have built enough trust in the process, this conversation should feel really natural.
Winning in Sales Negotiations
Most salespeople are the worst negotiators in the world. Really, that’s true. As soon as a buyer puts pressure on them, they crumble. Most want deals to happen so badly that they are willing to sacrifice the company’s margins and their own income. Just do the math. If you propose a $20,000 a month program to a new client, but end up agreeing to $17,000, and this client continues to do business with you at this investment level for three years, you cost your company $108,000. At a 10 percent commission rate, you left $10,800 in commission on the table. That’s already a lot of money, but just picture how this could hurt you financially over the course of your career, with many more clients and deals and discounts that are potentially much larger than our example.
Rather than lowering your pricing, offer more value for the same financial investment. Before you start negotiating, come up with a list of items that have relatively low value to you and don’t cost you much (or nothing at all), but are important to and have high value for the buyer. Offer to add them to the existing proposal. These items can be related to the proposal (in the media industry, for example, additional no-charge impressions in dayparts that a TV or radio station has unsold inventory available to use) or not (an exclusive money-can’t-buy experience to which you have access).
Sometimes, you will have to lower the investment level you initially included in your proposal. Instead of heedlessly starting to give discounts, determine which elements of your proposal could be excluded in return for a lower price. Ideally, these items will be of high value to you, and of low value to buyers. They are losing something they don’t consider that important and paying less. What’s not to like?
It is not uncommon that the first counteroffer from the buyer is completely unreasonable and you will need to determine if it even makes sense to continue the negotiation. What can be effective in a situation like this is to take the proposal off the table. Here are two examples:
- “I’d really love to work with you, but it seems we are just way too far apart with this particular proposal. It will make more sense to come up with a completely different and smaller solution.”
- “If I can’t do that, how can we still work together?”
If you did a good job throughout the sales process and your initial proposal was strong enough to solve the prospect’s challenges, most likely buyers will insist on the original solution you presented. And with that, your negotiating position will have improved dramatically.