Why is it that deals forecasted with a 50% probability of closing rarely happen before the end of the month, while deals that are forecasted with a 90% probability, only close 50% of the time?
“Selling Yourself in Today’s Competitive Marketplace.”
Everything seems eerily different now, as we slowly come to grips with the reality that the field on which we work and play has changed dramatically. Even those of us who were minding our own business when the downturn began breathed a collective gasp as the era of unabated prosperity that our economy has enjoyed for the last thirty years seemed to collapse overnight.
Not since the nineteen thirties have we experienced a scenario that could so widely impact the financial, political, and social fabric of our country, where the changing economic landscape will inevitably impact everyone at some point, if it hasn’t affected you already.
We have essentially been ‘snow-globed;’ turned upside down and shaken to the point where the tranquil scenes of our daily existence have been shrouded by a flurry of uncertainty that has suddenly clouded our view, and little pieces of reality now seem to be raining down in all directions.
This increased pressure in the marketplace comes with an ironic upside, however, one that has sparked a renewed sense of desire within companies, and, I dare say, throughout the entire sales profession. It turns out that the same people who are hungry for business are also eager for a new perspective and creative ideas about what they can and should do differently.
Never before have sellers been so willing to put their egos aside and adjust their approach to make themselves invaluable to their customers, colleagues, partners and company. I remember a time not so long ago when salespeople would come to my class without a pencil, fold their arms, and hope the clock would soon roll ahead to the end of day so they could head to the gym. Things are different now, as most people realize that some adjustments are in order with regard to how we deal with clients, as it appears that our best opportunity to emerge from the current predicament is going to be to sell our way out.
I now know why the car companies are not doing well. A few months ago, I went car shopping because my teenage daughter suddenly has ‘nomadic aspirations’ having reached the magical age where she can now drive. Mind you, she’s a good kid, but I’m not one of those parents who subscribes to the notion that sixteen year-olds deserve a car just because they come of age, so my intention was to buy a car that Sarah would have moderate use of as long as her ‘train stays on the tracks’ relative to schoolwork and other responsibilities.
My first stop was Dyer & Dyer Volvo in North Atlanta. On the internet, I spotted a used Saturn SUV that would have been perfect, so immediately called the dealership on Friday afternoon and got connected with a salesperson named Sid, who was pleasant and helpful. Sid encouraged me to hurry over to the dealership before the car got sold. Since I had a conflict Friday evening, I made an appointment with Sid first thing Saturday morning at 9am sharp.
I rolled into the dealership about three minutes after 9am, with a cashier’s check in my pocket and ready to buy. Strangely, no one came out to greet me, which was okay. I didn’t need to be hounded. Three other couples were milling around the showroom, but strangely, I didn’t notice any salespeople. So, I walked up to the counter and told the nice looking receptionist that I had an appointment with Sid.
“Everyone is in the regular Saturday morning sales meeting,” she said. I asked her how long this meeting would last. “It usually starts at 8:30am and probably will last another 30 minutes,” she responded. I explained to her that I had a 9am appointment with Sid. “Yes, we know, you are on the VIP board,” she said, pointing to a prominent whiteboard in the showroom that listed client appointments, and my name was tops on the list with a 9am appointment. I said, “Can you slip a note under the door and tell him I’m here?” She did and came back saying he couldn’t come out. With that, me and my cashier’s check left the building.
Wait, it gets better.
Since the Saturn SUV had caught my interest, I drove to the nearby Saturn dealership, figuring that they would probably have some pre-owned vehicles on the lot. This time, six Saturn salespeople wearing the company uniform (red shirt and khaki pants) were standing around and one eagerly stepped forward to greet me. “I’m Steve,” he said. “How can I help you?” I explained that I wanted to buy a safe but inexpensive vehicle for my daughter to use. We walked around the lot to survey the various options, and I actually stuck my head in a couple of them. We even took a quick test drive around the block.
After I had been there approximately twenty minutes, the sales manager came over—a tall former football player with his gray hair dyed blonde. “Sir, are you planning to buy one of these cars?” he asked abruptly. I hedged, giving him a definite ‘maybe’ type of response. “Well, Saturday is our busiest day, so if you’re going to buy a car, we’re happy to help. But, we don’t want to wear Steve out because he has to work tonight until 7pm,” he said. You just can’t make this stuff up. I glanced back into the showroom, and at 10:15am in the morning, there was only one other customer in the showroom along with a bunch of salesmen standing around with their hands in their pockets.
I politely excused myself, saying, “I’ll come back when you’re not so busy.” My cashiers check and I were on the move once again.
Perhaps for spite, I whipped into the Kia dealership directly across the street from the Saturn reception desk. The folks at Kia couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive. I test drove a couple options, went back and forth a reasonable number of times, and with 90 minutes, we had a deal. The salesperson passed me off to the in-house finance minister who painlessly facilitated the legal mumbo-jumbo. After signing my life away, we shook hands and I turned to leave in my new Kia. “You’ll be getting your tickets in about three weeks,” the finance guy said.
“What tickets?” I asked. He told me, “You get two season tickets to all the Falcon’s 2008 home games when you buy a Kia.” “Why are you giving away free tickets?” I asked. He explained, “It’s a promotion to sell more cars.”
I have never been in the car business, but it seems to me that if you are going to offer a promotion to sell more cars, it might be smart to use the special offer as carrot or incentive to close deals, as opposed to mentioning it after the paperwork has all been signed and the customer is literally walking out the door.
No wonder the car business is in trouble…
You don’t need to be defensive on price—we already made this point. Very few people buy the product or service that has the absolute lowest price. What they buy is value, seeking the biggest bang for their buck. This includes evaluating their solution alternatives and making the best decision.
The challenge for salespeople is getting prospects to compare products in an equitable way. Selling professional services is a good example. Why would anyone want to pay in excess of a hundred dollars per hour for a good accountant, when they could have their taxes done at the local H&R Block office for $69.95? Likewise, why would it make sense to pay two or three times as much for an experienced software analyst when you can hire a bench technician from a local computer outlet for cheap?
It’s especially difficult to quantify benefits with intangibles. From the prospect’s point of view, is it better to pay less money for a less valuable resource, or to pay more for the appropriate level of expertise? Since customers cannot actually see the intangible (in this case, a service) before it’s delivered, they often struggle with making the best decision. That’s why, when my QBS clients ask me to help their salespeople justify the premiums they charge for a higher level of expertise, I suggest they should negotiate like a dentist. Here’s a cute little parable that illustrates my point.
One day, a dentist is examining a new patient in the chair.
“Hmmm,” the dentist says after reviewing the x-rays.
“What’s wrong?” asks the patient, sensing the dentist’s concern.
“It looks like we need to pull a bum tooth,” the dentist answers.
“Oh no!” the patient grimaces. “How much will that cost?”
“About a hundred dollars,” the dentist responds.
“How bad will it hurt?” the patient moaned.
“Not bad. It only takes a minute,” the dentist replies.
“Wait a second. You’re going to charge me a hundred bucks for something that only takes a minute?” the patient challenges.
“Well…how long would you like it to take?” asks the dentist.
To justify the value of your product or service, sometimes it’s necessary to change the prospect’s perspective. Would you rather pay a little more to have a tooth pulled quickly and painlessly, or some other alternative that is less expensive, but comes with a much higher personal cost?
In the spring of 1996, I asked my wife Laura, “Would you be absolutely opposed to having one of those big screen televisions in the den?”
While she was noticeably unenthusiastic about the idea, she responded somewhat neutrally saying that no, she wasn’t “absolutely opposed.” That sounded like a green light to me. So the next day, I went out and bought a brand new 46-inch Mitsubishi big screen. As you might imagine, Laura has been much less neutral in her responses ever since.
After three months of big screen bliss, a power surge in our neighborhood caused an electrical spike, which shorted out the electronics inside the television. A loud snap and a blue flash came from behind the base unit, and our brand new Mitsubishi went dead.
Since it was still under warranty, I contacted the local service center and they promptly came out and picked it up. They estimated that it would take five to seven days to repair and return the TV, which seemed reasonable.
After seven days passed, I called the repair center to follow up. The service manager representative explained that two replacement parts had been ordered, but only one had been received. The other part apparently was on back order. “On back order until when?” I asked. The service manager didn’t know but he promised to find out and call me back. Within minutes, he called and told me the second part was back ordered until November. “November?” I was shocked! It was only May, and the thought of waiting six months to have my TV back seemed less than reasonable.
I promptly lobbed a call into Mitsubishi’s national parts department. The woman who answered pulled my order number up on her computer and confirmed that part #624537-B was indeed on back order until November. She explained that there was nothing she could do to expedite the process, since Mitsubishi parts were manufactured overseas. I thanked her for the information and then asked, “What would you do if you were in my predicament?”
“I would probably escalate this to Customer Relations,” she said.
Within seconds, I was on the phone with Mitsubishi’s Consumer Relations department in New York City. “Hello, this is Marsha,” the woman announced. “How can I help you?”
I briefly explained my predicament, and she too called up my account on her computer and confirmed once again that the part we needed was on back order for six months.
“Marsha,” I asked, “By any chance, do you have young children?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I have two boys…five and three (years old).”
“I have two daughters,” I said. (We were bonding.) Then, I explained, “Marsha, here’s the real problem. Every night, before I tuck my girls into bed, I have to explain that the reason they can’t watch a video is because daddy bought a Mitsubishi.”
“Oh no,” Marsha groaned empathetically. My comment had obviously hit close to home.
“As I see it, there are three options. Mitsubishi can either replace my television with a brand new one, remove the part in question from a brand new television and put it in my TV, or you can cut me a refund check so I can go out and purchase a Sony.”
“Mr. Freese, let me see what I can do,” Marsha said.
That conversation occurred on Monday. By Friday of that same week, our 46-inch big screen television was fully operational and back in our den. It just goes to show that when resolving a standoff, it can be much more effective to forge common ground with the person you’re dealing with, rather than getting upset and increasing the harshness of your demands.
(Taken from Chapter 20: It Only Takes 1% to Have a Competitive Edge in Sales)
Shortly after I formed QBS Research, Inc., I started receiving tons of sales calls. Registering my company must have triggered something that put my name and contact information on every salesperson’s mailing list. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long before I got sick of being on the receiving end of so many cold calls. You know, the calls that interrupt an important thought, meeting, or project, where the salesperson is working just as hard to stay on the phone as you are to get them off. Trust me, I can get rid of a pesky salesperson with the best of them, but at some point, I would rather just not be bothered.
Since sales training is my chosen profession, it may seem a bit odd that I wouldn’t like cold calls, but I don’t want to have my time wasted any more than you. This all changed for me, however, on May 7, 1999. That’s the day the first shipment of my book, Secrets of Question Based Selling, arrived. Suddenly, we had a warehouse filled with books, and thousands of people out in the business world who had never heard of the Question Based Selling Methodology. Marketing the book was an integral part of my business plan, and it was definitely time to pull out all the stops.
Later that night, I received a cold call at my house from a fellow named Frank Myers, who represented a mortgage company. My first inclination was to get off the phone as quickly as possible. For some reason, I didn’t. Instead, I listened for a few moments and waited for an opening. After Frank’s opening blurb, a pregnant pause ensued, so I jumped into the conversation and my selling instincts took over. Here’s what happened:
TF: “Frank, can I ask you a question?”
Frank: “Sure, Mr. Freese.”
TF: “Since you are in sales, is it safe to assume that you will make a bonus or commission if I buy something?”
Frank: “Yes, we are measured against certain sales goals.”
TF: “In that case, do you have access to the Internet?”
TF: “Do you have a pencil handy?”
Frank: “Yes, sir.”
TF: “Good, then write down this website address.”
I explained to Frank that going immediately to this website address and buying the book, Secrets of Question Based Selling, “will do a lot more to increase your income than staying on the telephone with me.”
“Thanks for the tip, Mr. Freese.” Frank said in an enthusiastic tone, and we politely hung up. Frank felt great because I was cordial and gave him some valuable advice. I felt great because it was suddenly comfortable and easy to get off the phone.
Later that evening, I checked our website and sure enough, Frank had ordered not just one book, but six—for himself and others on his team. I used the same approach with the next salesperson that called, and they bought books too! Of course, not everyone who called purchase books, but it worked often enough that I had uncovered a trend. Cold-callers had suddenly become a very lucrative market for QBS book sales. Not surprisingly, receiving cold calls became much less annoying, now that we were generating revenue each time we picked up the phone. You might even call it reverse telemarketing.
I realize that this strategy of reverse telemarketing may not apply to everyone’s business, but at the very least, if you ever get tired of receiving cold calls from salespeople, do me a favor. Have them call me.
The famous comedian, George Carlin, says: “If you think about it, the average person is pretty stupid!” He adds, “But what’s really scary is…statistically speaking, half the population of the world is even stupider than that!”
Relate this to business and you may find that the “average” salesperson is struggling to stay afloat in today’s increasingly competitive business marketplace. By the way, half of the salespeople in the world (or on your sales team) are having an even more difficult time than that!
Last summer, I trained the inside sales organizations for one of the largest and most successful telebusiness companies headquartered in Austin, TX.
This company essentially works with Fortune 1000 corporations to expand their sales coverage by outsourcing their telebusiness, customer response center, and outbound lead generation functions. With literally hundreds of in-house salespeople, making thousands of calls every day, the amount of business that this company is able to generate has been wildly impressive (to say the least).
When I arrived on-site in Austin to deliver a Two-Day QBS Methodology Training at their corporate offices, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a sign posted on the glass on their main front door that said: No Soliciting!