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Sales Prospecting: Are You Doing It Right?

Sales Prospecting: Are You Doing It Right?

Condensed from a Pipeliner SalesChats Interview with Dan McDade
Interview by John Golden

Dan McDade is certainly qualified to talk about leads. He founded PointClear in 1997, and for over 20 years he’s been instrumental in developing strategies that assure that 100% of the leads delivered to his company’s client sales organizations are fully qualified to client specification. Dan is also the author of The Truth About Leads, a book about how to focus lead generation efforts, as well as From Chaos to Kickass, a white paper detailing the benefits of Sales and Marketing optimization, available from PointClear’s web site.

Q: Why is prospecting so hated by many people, and how could they look at it differently?

A: One of things that companies have to recognize is that not every sales rep was created equally. Some are great hunters, and great hunters hate to beat the bushes looking for new business. Some are farmers, good at farming business out of the current clients, not so much looking for new business with new clients.

The difference in mentality between someone beating the bushes looking for business and a hunter is so dramatic that anybody who would be any good at one would be absolutely wretched at the other. So our view is you try to get more highly qualified leads into the hands of the field sales reps, and let them go do what they do best which is closing business.

Q: When is the best time to really start engaging with the prospect in their buying process, and how should you do that?

A: That’s my number one pet peeve.

Going back to 2013, SiriusDecisions reported that 70% of the buying process in a complex sale is already completed before a prospect is willing to engage with a live salesperson. Forrester said that 2/3 to 90% of the buying cycle is completed before a B2B buyer even speaks to a sales rep. IDG stated that business buyers spend just 21% of the buying cycle in conversations with salespeople, while spending 23% of their time in conversations with peers, and 56% of their time in the buying cycle searching and engaging with content before they have a sales rep get involved.

Contrast that with current thinking, such as that of my friend Mike Weinberg who recently wrote in one of his blogs, “What’s infuriating, aside from the fact that it’s absolutely not true, is that this nonsense is exactly what the reactive and passive sales reps want to hear. They want to hear that it’s fruitless to go out and cold call, because they don’t like to do it, they don’t want to do it, and they’re just going to sit back and wait for the prospects to come to them.”

When SiriusDecisions reversed their stance, Mike wrote in his blog, “Today I’m celebrating as SiriusDecisions publicly and authoritatively debunks that silly myth, oft-quoted statistic, at their annual sales SiriusDecisions Summit. It turns out, according to their own exhaustive research, that buyers are in fact engaging with sellers from the very beginning education stage, through the selection of the solution. In fact the highest level of reported buyer-seller interaction actually occurs early on in the education phase.”

What I always tell salespeople is that if you wait for 60, 70, 80% of the buying process to be complete before you get involved, the chances are that you’re going to be column fodder in an evaluation that’s already been won by one of your competitors because they were more nimble and got involved earlier.

Q: What are some of the skills that make a good prospector?

A: 2 words that we use frequently are “professional” but “persistent.” In looking through a sales process, you’ll find that there are salespeople who give up for what SiriusDecisions refers to as “unintuitive reasons.” One example of that is you send a lead to a sales rep, the sales rep calls twice, the prospect doesn’t call back, and the sales rep just ignores the lead and says, “It must not have been qualified.”

My favorite story about this is on the 42nd touch, the CFO of the 3rd-largest utility in the country called us back and said, “Don’t stop calling me. You’re my conscience. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, I’ve just been extremely busy.” About 5 months later, that lead closed for a billion-dollar deal.

So be persistent and don’t be defeated by being ignored, at least early in the stages.

Q: What are some of the best ways of being professionally persistent?

A: I find that the very best reps are driven by the 5 steps of the basic sales process. These steps are generic, but they really apply to every sales methodology out there. They are:

  1. Find the pain.
  2. Get agreement that there is pain.
  3. Get agreement to do something about the pain.
  4. Agree to a generic solution.
  5. Agree to a customized, specific solution.

The problem with sales right now is that a sales rep finds a pain and goes right to a specific solution, as opposed to going through all of the other steps. If you find the pain, and the prospect even agrees that they have pain, but they never agree to do something about the pain, then you’re going to step 5 and they’re back there stuck at step 3, and you haven’t gotten them over the humps to actually agree to do something about the pain. You’re not going to sell in that environment.

Q: When you come to train or advise people on prospecting, how would you train somebody to be a top-class prospector?

A: One of the things that I think is the toughest part of any sale is giving the call, so to speak, or giving the meeting, back to the prospect. In any sales call there is an opening, a dialog and a close. 20 years ago we identified a gap between the opening and the dialog that’s critically important to fill. That’s where you give the call or the meeting back to the prospect.

Here’s an example of such a transition statement: “When I meet with other CIOs in manufacturing companies, I hear the same issues over and over again. The first is, there’s a concern about lack of integration between their current technology and the modern tools out there today such as business intelligence. Two, they have a fear of both the real cost and the opportunity cost of replacing the current solution, and because it’s just such a huge mountain to climb. And three, many have doubts about the effectiveness of updating the current solution or the current technology. And I just wanted to ask, are any of these concerns of yours?”

If you ask the right questions, they’re going to say, “They’re all concerns of mine.” One of the things we tell our folks is, the best call that you can possibly have is when you use the transition statement, you ask one question, and they answer every other question you have.

Q: We’ve talked about the things to do, now let’s talk about some of the common mistakes. When you go and work with an organization, what are some of the common prospecting mistakes that you see happening and that you see prevalent today?

A: Probably the single biggest is the gap between Marketing and Sales when it comes to lead follow-up.

First of all, Sales and Marketing have to be on the same page as to what the definition of a qualified lead is. Right now I’d say 99 out of 100 companies don’t share a common definition of lead between Marketing and Sales. As a result, Marketing is generating leads that Sales doesn’t value.

Nurturing can triple the return on any marketing investment. So if you end up with a situation where the lead goes to Sales and gets rejected, instead of it ending up in a black hole, it needs to get back to Marketing so it can be nurtured along to the next step. We have a high degree of success with nurturing leads for our clients, leads that for whatever reason weren’t Sales-ready. We get those leads to Sales when it’s the right time for them.

To contact Dan McCade:


Impact of Content and Value Messaging on Sales Productivity

Impact of Content and Value Messaging on Sales Productivity

A very interesting report, called State of Sales Productivity Report, has just been released by Docurated. Compiled from anonymized data from the Docurated sales productivity solution and a survey of 127 sales and marketing executives, the report examines the state of sales productivity from both the sales rep and sales management perspectives.

In our first blog in this series, we took a look at the 5 Keys to Improving Sales Productivity, based on the report’s first finding. Our second blog focused on the importance of investing in sales productivity.

Another of the points brought up in the report was the value of high quality content and value messaging to sales productivity. In the top drivers of winning deals, 70 percent of respondents stated “Ability to convey value message” as most important. Second, at 57 percent, was “High quality content.”

As I’ve been pointing out for several years, the sales landscape has seen drastic changes since the proliferation of the internet. The buyer now has the advantage of being able to conduct plentiful research on a company’s product or service before contacting a salesperson, which levels the playing field considerably.

Adding Value with the Sales Process

What does this mean for a company? Right from the beginning value must be made very apparent to the prospect, in order to bring the prospect into the sales pipeline to begin with. It’s not enough for the value to be general, it must also be tailored to that prospect and their specific issues.

The sales process itself must be designed to add value at every single stage. That’s the only way, in today’s fiercely competitive sales environment, that an opportunity is going to make it all the way to a close.

Collateral Materials

Written materials add an element of authenticity to any sales effort. That is why Marketing is heavily relied upon to provide effective collateral materials. Such materials are used for nurturing leads to bring them up to a level of sales qualification. They are then used at every stage of the process, all the way up to the close.

Materials are even used beyond the close—you’re going to sell that new customer more of your product or service, and additional products and services as well.

What CRM Means for Adding Value and Quality Content

There are 3 ways CRM can be indispensable when it comes to adding value and providing quality content.

  1. Today’s CRM solution must be totally customizable to a company’s sales process. That way the members of a sales force can follow the process easily and without fail. Additionally, the CRM solution must be flexible enough that it can be changed on the fly, as the sales process changes.
  2. Today there is often the requirement for more than one sales process. For example, there could be:
    • one for nurturing leads
    • the main sales process for opportunities
    • another to care for a new customer; you’re going to continue to service them, and it’s a whole new journey
    • the need for different sales processes for different product lines or services

    For these reasons and more, a CRM application should allow for multiple processes with a common database.

  3. With today’s CRM, you should be able to add content to every stage of a sales process, where it belongs. Reps should be able to access this content with 1 click, when needed.

Note: Pipeliner CRM fulfills all 3 of these qualifications. In fact, it was designed with such qualifications in mind.

As you can see, content and value messaging have a crucial impact on sales productivity. Make sure they’re very well cared for.

If you haven’t done so, I recommend you give Pipeliner CRM a spin. Get your free trial of Pipeliner CRM now.

Commitments that Get You to the Close

Commitments that Get You to the Close

There has been so much published about “closing the sale.” Specifically, about WHEN to close the sale. I don’t even use that term anymore because its name alone gives the wrong impression about how it’s done! “Close” gives the impression that it’s conducted at the end of the sales process. When really, closing the sale starts at the very beginning and is conducted all the way through the sales process.

Periodically, through the sales process, the seller should be asking the prospect “commitment questions.” Questions that get the client to make agreements of sorts. Small agreements made throughout the sales process will inevitably give you a faster closing cycle.

Here are the different types of commitments or agreements you should be asking for:

  1. The Needs Commitment. “Can we both agree that you need to solve “x” problem in the future?”
  2. The Decision Commitment: “On what criteria will you be making your decision?”
  3. The Company Commitment: “Do you agree that my company provides a superior product to others you’ve seen?”
  4. The Product Commitment: “Do you feel that our product is the best in class and value?”

Clearly you can’t and shouldn’t wait until the end to start having these conversations. NOT getting an agreement on any one of those questions alerts you to where you have to focus your efforts.

6 Reasons your Sales Process will Fail

6 Reasons your Sales Process will Fail

Why is it that despite carefully crafted sales processes, advanced sales intelligence technology, that CSO Insights research found that the average sales forecast was 45.9%? More than half of the forecasted sales aren’t happening. According to their 2015 Sales Compensation and Performance Management study, only 54.6 percent of sales professionals actually meet the quota.

Process and technology can only be as good as the people implementing it. They are just tools. So when we ask why a sales process doesn’t work, or a technology fails to deliver- why do we blame them? That’s like blaming the plumbers’ wrench for failing when a 5-year-old is using it.

The Objective Management Group has evaluated over a million salespeople, in all industries across the globe. It used to be that 6% of salespeople were elite– they have the mindset that allows them to develop any skill and competency. The research today is now 7% of salespeople are elite. But that is the only good news. The percentage of strong salespeople declined from 20% to 16%, which means that the percentage of bad salespeople out there is an outrageous 77%.

But why are salespeople are getting worse, not better? Is it the competition, pricing, poor sales process, complicated technology, or is it something more obvious? Why do the same process and technology work wonderfully for one person, and not the next?

Sales fundamentals are about mastering the mindset that allows a salesperson to learn any skill, methodology, tool and buying process so that they are relevant, transparent, and more helpful to the buyer than their website is. Fundamentals come down to:

#1: Supportive Beliefs

We all grow up with a set of personal beliefs. How we were raised to behave and what we were taught to think influences and shapes our belief system. What your internal voice tells you will influence your sales behaviors and will either support or hinder your success. Some beliefs will limit or encourage a strong self-image and relationship with prospects. Others will influence buying decisions, size of deals, and for managers and executives, how they manage people and processes.

#2: Lack of need for approval

Lack of need for approval — Do you believe that people need to like you to buy from you? If so, you are setting yourself up for failure. Your fear of being disliked inhibits all of the necessary sales skills to engage in meaningful conversations that win deals. Without a need for approval, you have the freedom to do or say anything.

#3: Ability to control emotions

Ability to control emotions — Being emotionally involved in a sale takes you out of the present. You think about the future or next step. You are not in the present moment and hearing what your prospect is actually saying, including the tone and inflection of their voice. You are losing your objectivity, ability to offer insight, and developing happy ears that tell you what you want to hear. (They’re ready to buy!) This will inhibit your ability to listen and ask questions with ease.

#4: Supportive buy cycle

Supportive buy cycle — If you are the type of person who has to compare features, price shop, or delay decisions to think a purchase over, then you can certainly understand it when a prospect wants to do the same thing, right?

#5: Be comfortable discussing money

Be comfortable discussing money — When your prospect pushes back that you are too expensive, you are likely to agree with them. Instead of helping a prospect focus on the value of solving the problem, you are focused on price. When that happens, you aren’t able to find the real budget for a solution. When you focus on price, you are not asking the right questions to make sure you understand the problem. To you, the problem is the price. You can understand that it seems like a pretty high price to you too.

#6: Handling rejection

Handling rejectionThe ability to handle rejection stems from your own self-image. When you are comfortable with who you are and the value that you bring, you understand that it’s not you, just your offer to help. When rejection no longer inhibits you, you will be able to ask the appropriate thought-provoking questions and become a thought leader and trusted adviser in your prospects’ and clients’ mind.

If you want to fix sales, you must first fix the salespeople. In order to fix the salespeople, it’s not enough to tell them what to do (sales training) or give them all the steps that they need to take (sales process) or even keep them accountable to the things that you have told them and shown them (sales management). We must fix what happens in their heads.

How Your Positive Attitude Can Win You Sales

How Your Positive Attitude Can Win You Sales

Have you ever been in a situation where everything about your product and sales process seemed so right; product quality, pricing, sales presentation, buying audience, and suitability of the product to soothe buyer’s pain points and yet deals are not closed? If you have been selling for a while, either as B2B or B2C, this will be very familiar. In business, your attitude determines whether customers buy from you or not. With positive attitude you are able to exude the bright side of life that makes your personality likable and acceptable.

There is no way an optimistic salesman will expect a failure not to talk of accepting it. Even though there may be failed attempt(s), it will be seen in the light of generating useful feedback for improving business sales process or product itself. Interestingly, sales reps with the positive attitude always expect the best to happen and they are constantly winning sales. I keep reminding my sales team, selling is fun and tough. It is tough when you are confronted with an opportunity embedded in rejection, and you fail to notice it. When you have mastered the art of handling sales challenges that may arise in the present and future, you will experience the fun side of selling.

Let me share with you this story of how a great attitude can uncover an opportunity. In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

The peasant learned what many others never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one’s condition.

No wonder Keith Harrel said “attitude is everything”. I will give three suggestions on how you can develop positive attitude towards sales;

Believe in your selling ability

Confidence in your selling ability goes a long way in sales success. While it is not the only ingredient to closing deals, it is a vital factor. Regardless of your line of business, you need to successfully sell yourself first. Customers will not believe what you don’t believe. If you don’t have trust in your ability to sell, customers will not even give you the opportunity to waste their valuable time in pitching. So you need to set your thinking right. James Allen in, As a Man Thinketh said, “All a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his thoughts.”

Every customer is important

There is a strong likelihood you treat your customers differently. Consciously or unconsciously, some customers are treated special while others are grouped as not-too-special customers. If you are culpable, have a rethink. Customers are quick to know how important they are in your buyers classifications. While grouping our buyers is great for sales and marketing, sales organization need to see every customer as a VIP, treat them with due attention and respect. If not, your sales reps will be the first to sell you out and start a show off bad attitude to a customer that may turn to great customer in the future.

Considered deals closed before they really are

Over the years, research has shown that what we believe and consistently think about all day can create itself. Be it sales or something else. If you believe a deal is closed before you even get to discuss it with customers, the forces of nature often bring it to past. I have experienced this in my sales business and it worked pretty well. When you visualize a deal as closed you are more likely to act in a frame of mind the will make the sale happen.

Thoughts are very powerful. Whether we believe it or not, they influence our attitude towards prospects and customers. Great product with right attitude will edge you a mile ahead of your competitors. In reality, sales start with you, not your customers.

Sales Target Attainment: Name It and Cut Through The Noise

Sales Target Attainment: Name It and Cut Through The Noise

The key to success, in pretty much any endeavor (including sales target attainment), is being able to clearly identify a goal, define the steps needed to achieve that goal, and then cut out any extraneous noise or distractions so that you can focus exclusively on execution and reaching the goal.

Ask anyone who’s been there: It’s easier said than done. But it can be accomplished.

Naming the Goal

It’s been said by many: if you don’t name your goal, you’ll never arrive at it. So first you must decide what the goal is. In the case of sales, the goal is, of course, the sales target for a given period: the quota for a month, a quarter or a year.

Of course you could just throw a big number out there—but in the real world, you’ve also got to have a chance of attaining that sales target. For that reason integral with naming the goal, or following right on its heels, is figuring out how you’re going to make that goal. In the case of a sales organization, the sales manager would need to work out goals or quotas for individual salespeople that, put together, equal the main sales target.

Constituent Parts

Each sales rep quota must be made up of opportunities that will add up to it. Here is where it’s getting a little trickier, because not every opportunity is going to be closed.

For this step, you must have already figured out the closing ratio for each of your reps. Then each rep pipeline must contain enough opportunities so that if some aren’t closed, the quota will still be met. For example, if a rep closes 40 percent of her sales, and the rep’s quota is $1 million, there needs to be $1.6 million worth of opportunities in that rep’s pipeline for the goal to be reached.

If there aren’t enough opportunities in a given pipeline for a goal to be met, the sales manager and the rep must work backward, figuring out how many leads are needed to convert into opportunities, and then figuring out where those leads are going to come from and obtaining them.

Here is where an efficient CRM solution comes into play. The CRM solution should clearly show how the leads and opportunities add up, their chances of closing, and the actual goal to be attained with those opportunities.

Clearing the Path

Once the goal is named, and each rep has an individual goal, now it becomes a matter of the clearest pathway possible toward that goal. This pathway is your sales process—clearly defined steps that take each sale from a lead to a close. A sales process is most successfully founded upon best practices of your top reps.

What companies and sales organizations don’t often comprehend is that a sales process, just like the sales environment itself and the world for that matter, is dynamic. Just as the sales environment, the market, the economy, and endless other factors are constantly in a state of flux, so should your sales process be flexible—you should be able to change it as needed.

To the degree your sales process is fixed and unchanging, is the degree that extraneous noise and distraction are going to be introduced into your sales pipeline. Such distraction comes about as reps invent their own methods to replace those that have become outmoded, or opportunities become stalled in sales process steps that no longer apply or are unwieldy in today’s scene.

The accuracy and flexibility of your sales process are what will determine how distraction- and noise-free your path to quota attainment will be.

How It’s Done

As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, individual names and accomplishes goals by being organized and focused, and proceeding in an orderly manner.

The same is true of an organization—but an organization won’t remain organized and focused without the right technology. In sales, this means the right CRM solution.

The right CRM solution is:

  • instantly customizable to your company’s processes
  • visual and intuitive, so that users can instantly grasp and proceed with what needs to be done.
  • flexible, so that changes can be made on the fly as needed.

Target attainment is possible! Name the goal, figure out how it can be attained—then clear the road of noise and distraction.

Stay tuned for more in our series on Focus and Clarity

It’s Really About Much More than Closing the Deal

It’s Really About Much More than Closing the Deal

We all know that the business world changed permanently as a result of the recession that began in 2008. We’re all familiar with the enhanced power of purchasing, emboldened strategic procurement practices, and very deliberate attempts to squeeze most, if not all, of the profit from suppliers who compete fiercely and are often desperate. We have come to accept that there is generally far more supply than demand in the industries into which we sell. And, that the ever-mounting noise and hype in every market leaves buyers frustrated, confused, and often distrustful of anyone trying to sell anything to them. As all of these forces converge, we sellers find ourselves in an increasingly difficult position.

My Beyond the Sales Process co-author Steve Andersen and I, based on a significant number of sales effectiveness improvement projects with companies—from start-ups through the Global 100—as well as a series of revealing interviews, have learned a great deal during the past seven years. By talking with and capturing the best practices of the world’s most successful salespeople and account managers, and interviewing their customers, we’ve drawn some sobering conclusions:

  • Over the last decade buying has changed dramatically, but selling hasn’t kept up;
  • Very little has been written or is taught about the period of time when the customer is not buying (Your customer spends only between one and two percent of their time—based on a 2,000 hour work year—actively buying from you.);
  • Too many salespeople and account managers expect their sales tools, processes, and techniques to miraculously win business for them, when the real problem is that they only show up when the customer announces an intention to buy; and
  • Customers don’t care about tips, tricks, or sales forms, and they don’t want to be processed, coerced, controlled, or otherwise pushed around.

What should you be doing differently?

Steve and I have asked hundreds of customers what they care about, and they consistently tell us that they value authentic relationships based on transparency, competence, credibility, and trust—and that they’ll pay more for these qualities, even in today’s highly competitive selling environment.

We’ve gone inside some of the world’s premier companies to determine just how the “best of the best” are achieving success, and it’s clear that top sales performers and account managers on the front line of customer engagement are upping their game to include a focus before, during, and after each of their sales. Simply winning the deal isn’t enough. Their success provides a compelling case for the effectiveness of stronger alignment, collaboration, innovation, and mutual value creation in this new era of customer engagement. Beyond the Sales Process documents some of their accomplishments through nine revealing case studies that feature details of their relationships with their customers.

Today’s top performers have learned how to shape their customers’ perception of them and their offerings by not being out of sight or out of mind for too long. They know that when they pay careful attention to the “other” 98 percent of their customer’s time (when the customer isn’t actively buying from them), they can strongly position themselves to impact that highly leverageable 2 percent (when they are engaged with their customer in an active opportunity).

Customers today want more effective engagement with their most important suppliers. Beyond the Sales Process serves up 12 proven strategies and tools for competing and excelling in this demanding and pressurized selling environment, along with instructive examples of how to do it.

If now is the right time for you to have a change of mindset, a change of attitude, and a change of heart regarding how sellers and buyers engage and do business together, you need to dispense with what no longer works and deliberately strive to meet the new requirements of our customer driven world.

Finding the Win-Win in Client-Centered Selling

Finding the Win-Win in Client-Centered Selling

A wise woman (Jill Konrath) once said, “Nobody cares about your product, service or solution. All they care about is the difference you can make for their organization.” Now that is what I’m talking about! Yet, I am baffled why so many sales reps and sales managers still sell the hard way. Often, it’s because sales managers send mixed messages about quotas. The truth is, when you align your products and services to attain the customers’ goals, the better chance you have of reaching quota.

The key is to make your customer the center of your sales process and show that you are interested in them. Dale Carnegie once said, “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” Turning around your focus toward the customer will strengthen the relationship by establishing a solid foundation of trust and credibility. The more you know about your customer and can talk to them in their language, the greater the benefits for you, your company and your customer.
Putting your customer at the center of your sales process is beneficial in four key ways:

  1. You can align your products and services to their business goals and MBOs ensuring what you sell is a priority to your customer
  2. You can be viewed as a trusted advisor and have people come to you for expertise, since many times you know more about different lines of business than customers do internally
  3. You can increase your credibility by showing your customer that you care about helping them achieve their goals
  4. You can provoke and challenge early to begin to align yourself with the customer’s goals and strategies

The greater the trust they have in you, the more information they will share. This knowledge will help you identify the customer’s priorities and future opportunities to continuously help them, because you’re always ensuring your products and services are aligned with their desired goals.

In today’s selling environment, the key is this: Placing your customer at the center of your sales process is a win-win. If you truly understand what they are trying to accomplish, appreciate their time lines, reduce or eliminate risk of implementation, and help them to win both personally and professionally, you’ll not only help the client succeed, you’ll reach or exceed your quota at the same time. Then, everybody wins.

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