Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learning to Listen

If I were to ask you about the basic personality type that makes a good sales person, what would you say? How well does that reflect the type of person you are?

It might be that you thought of a good personality match for sales as being someone who is outgoing, well-spoken and who loves interacting with others.

Think of the most outgoing, well-spoken, people-person you know. Is he in sales? Do you like him or not? Why?

It is important to make a distinction here. There is a difference between being a people-person and a me-person. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But sometimes people get confused between liking to be around people and liking people. The best “good-with-people” people have very little to say about themselves and often don’t want to be the center of attention. They’d much rather hear about you and support your good efforts than promote their own agendas. Interesting isn’t it?

What does that have to do with prospecting and sales? Well, Hal Becker puts it this way:

Selling is asking, NOT telling.

Selling is listening, NOT talking.

(Hal Becker, Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time, Morgan and James Publishing, 2008, pg. 7)

Let’s make that more specific.

Prospecting is asking, NOT telling.

Prospecting is listening, NOT talking.

The same social skills that apply to developing any relationship definitely apply to prospecting and sales. The people you most want to know may not be the most prominent. They’re the people who make you feel like you matter most and they truly care about your happiness and success.

Prospecting is the same thing. You are looking for relationships, problems you can help the prospect with and expressing genuine concern for their needs and interests. Not trying to get them to care about your need to sell a certain quota or how great you think your product is.

When you’re prospecting call is over your goal is to have a new Highly Qualified Prospect. What makes them highly qualified? They are ready to buy and you can help them solve their problems with your product. You are looking for synergistic relationships and good matches not another sales number.

Before you can get them to listen to you, you’d better have done a significant amount of listening to them.

So, let’s go back to communication 101 and learn about listening.

Shut out distractions and give the prospect your full attention. Do your best to keep things quiet on your end of the line so that both of you can focus better.

If a customer is talking, it’s a time to listen, not plan what you will say next. You already have a planned script to help you with your end of the conversation, concentrate on understanding their side. When we talked about scripting, we talked about planning ahead to direct the conversation. Remember that’s not planning ahead to turn the conversation back to you, but to anticipate what you can ask the prospect that will help you both.

Listen, try to anticipate the direction the speaker is going and use your script to help you quietly direct the conversation.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t finish thoughts or ideas for them. You aren’t a mind reader and you’ll annoy them if you try to act that way.

Ask questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” answers. You may not get the full picture that way. But remember to stay focused on information you need to understand and help them.

Encourage the prospect to talk by using verbal interjections that show you are listening “Yes, I see,” and “Please, go on.”

Don’t act like you understand when you don’t. Verify information or points you may have missed.

Remember, an individual fact may not be as important as the overall message. Do you understand why the prospect is saying something, not just what they may be saying?

Validate what the prospect is saying as important.

Sum things up-- for you, and the prospect. Restate what you have concluded are the most valid points, it sticks in your brain better and gives the prospect a chance to confirm you are understanding their needs.

Remember to record pertinent information in your Marketing and Sales Database while you are talking or very soon after. Don’t let the information get jumbled or forgotten.

The next time you think about the personality and character traits it takes to be a good sales person, remember your goal is to be a people-person, not a me-person and listening to others more than you talk is a great way to show that. Besides, good listening is always a good idea. Thankfully, practice makes perfect. Practice listening more and talking less in every encounter: prospects, coworkers, friends and family. Soon it will become second nature and you’ll become one popular guy. Not because you’ve told people how wonderful you and your product are, but because you’ve made people feel wonderful about themselves.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Objective of Prospect Relationships

Why do you really want additional customers? No, really—I’m serious. What is it that drives you to seek out new prospects and new business opportunities? When was the last time you really thought about your reasons for being in sales?

There are all kinds of reasons, and yes, money is one of them. That can’t be overlooked. But, I’m betting there are other reasons outside of that paycheck which keep you coming back to work and back to nurture your business every day. There are things in this life that are worthwhile to be passionate about and one of those things, I hope, is your business.

Now, turn the tables. What is it that drives a customer to buy your product or service? Why would they choose your company over the next guy’s? Is it about passion for them as well? Probably, just not about the exact same things you are passionate about. The trick is finding out how the two of you fit together. Like any good relationship, a customer relationship can and should be about more than money. It’s about finding a good fit and a synergistic relationship. It’s about respect and value that goes beyond dollar signs.

I talked a little bit about this when I encouraged you to define your ideal client. To be successful, you need a very good understanding of your own drives and motivations and an even better understanding of your prospective client’s drives and motives.

First, let’s realize a general assumption. There are two kinds of prospects: new and seasoned. What do I mean by that? Basically, you will encounter two different types of consumer. The first – new – is a new player. They are new to the need for your type of service. They are start up companies or those who are learning a new way of doing things. (Think Grandma shopping for her first cell phone.) The second – seasoned – have been in the game for a while. They know what their needs are, they know how and what they want to buy, and they’ve done it all before. (Think about the teenage grandson Grandma brought shopping with her who is one his fifth cell phone.)

New and seasoned prospects have to be approached differently but your end goals are the same. You both want a positive outcome to your buying and selling relationship.

I’ll focus for just a minute on the seasoned prospect. Why? It’s a matter of logistics. They’re the ones you’ll encounter most often and the biggest question you’ll have is: are they buying from me or my competition?

Having completed millions of prospecting activities, we have learned a thing or two from the tens of thousands of sales opportunities we’ve generated at Ekstrom and Associates. Among these things is the fact there is relatively little complete brand loyalty. There can be substantial loyalty to a provider or vendor, but there typically isn’t blind loyalty to the brand as a whole. This is what you need to focus on. A prospect’s loyalty is generally focused on the company, not the brand of the product. Even if it’s there, loyalty to a brand will not stop you from taking business away from the competition.

Prospecting always works, and if you want to go after your competitors’ best clients there isn’t a better tool. What percentage of your existing clients left you and your company in the past five years? It’s likely that your competition suffered the same loss. Your ability to prospect, among other things, allows you the opportunity to learn firsthand, from your competition’s clients themselves, how dissatisfied they are with your competition. Use that knowledge to draw them away from your competition to you.

In order to take opportunities away from the competition you must be willing to step up to the plate where these seasoned buyers are telling you they have dissatisfactions. You need to know your ideal customer: their drives and passions and be willing to foster a relationship based on their needs. You look for additional services to provide that show your company is passionate about they’re needs.

First, you look for and fill an immediate need, then you work to keep these people by building a fortress around your relationship. These efforts: taking the most attractive clients away from your competition, and guiding you in building a fortress around them are what Ekstrom and Associates specializes in.

It can be that simple. Build a stout fortress around your most valuable clients and tear down the fortresses your competitor’s have built. It doesn’t make economic sense to take 10 great clients from your competition and lose 10 great clients in the process. Let them know how much you value their business. If you don’t show them they are a valued customer, they will find a company who will.