This post is for all my new colleagues in Ireland-sales executives and directors, VPs, MDs, and CEOs who have been attending Enterprise Ireland and The Dublin Institute of Technology's International Selling Programme.
I've facilitated seven days of programmes with just one left to go. We've discussed sales effectiveness-building processes and strategies for building a sales infrastructure within your companies, and you've done a great job in the discussions and workshops. So, here are some tactics to consider building into your sales plans. Consider them a bonus for a job well done.
As we discussed in the Programme, every sales process must have methods and tools for 1) assessing the customer situation, 2) determining a sales objective, 3) devising one or more strategies, and 4) building the tactical plan that will support strategy execution.
A well-conceived strategy should be the foundation of every sales campaign. In its simplest form, the strategy is the completion of this sentence: "The customer will buy from me because _______." But all of us know that once the competitive battle is on, it is the tactics we devise and execute that often make the difference between winning and losing.
Here are some of the tactics I collected over the years that have enabled sales reps at all levels in all industries to outsell the competition. But remember, these tactics need to be embedded into your overall sales plan.
- Speak with a key buyer in an account where you have won business. Ask him specifically what, if anything, your competition did to try to upset your victory after you were selected. Chances are the competitor will try that again in another opportunity.
- Don't negative sell. Ask well-planned questions that will enable your prospect to figure those weaknesses out themselves.
- Always have at least three qualification questions ready to ask your prospect. Ask the same ones again and again to assure yourself that nothing has changed, such as the budget for your solution being reallocated to some other project.
- Differentiate yourself through your questions. What is the best question you could ask the real buyer the first time you meet that would make them sit up and take notice? Hint: "What keeps you up at night?" isn't the answer.
- Determine where, by how much, and when your solution will impact your customer's financial position. If you can't do it yourself, get some help.
- Every week learn something you didn't know before about the industry into which you are selling. Figure out how to use that information to your advantage.
- Introduce a sales prospect to an existing customer of yours before they ask for a reference.
- Practice simple math tricks that will enable you to figure numbers quickly. It's a valuable skill.
- After getting their permission, send your prospects high-value emails containing articles, press releases, etc. These should be personalized (not blind copied on a distribution list), with a brief, relevant comment as an introduction.
- If you work for a large company and are competing against a smaller one, get things done immediately so you appear nimble to your prospect.
- If you work for a small company, learn precisely how to use that to your advantage. You can be certain your bigger competitors will attempt to portray your company's size as a weakness. If you are competitively savvy you can discredit their strengths without negative selling.
- Answer questions truthfully, especially when the answer is "no." Executives will test your integrity by asking a question to which they know (or suspect) the answer. You must pass the first time.
- Don't start selling until you understand what your customer thinks they need to buy. Only then can you effectively influence their vision of a solution.
- If your prospect asks for something from you, make sure you get something in return, such as information or access to a decision maker. Admittedly that's harder these days than ever before.
- Closing should never be a surprise nor contentious. Make sure your prospect knows what to expect when you schedule that meeting. Solicit any objections in advance.
- Test your final proposal with your coach in the account first, before submitting it to the real buyer.
- If you have to depend on a lower-level person for presenting your proposal to the real buyer, make sure you have trained them to sell it upstairs. That includes handling objections, competitive positioning, and cost justification.
- If you don't want to get trapped, don't do what your competition thinks you are going to do.
- Consider showing your executive-level coach in the account your sales plan. Under the right circumstances, it will impress them and differentiate you.
- If you are doing a web-based presentation or demo, email the slides to your prospect 5 minutes before the meeting is scheduled, just in case the technology fails.
- If you are going to be meeting or presenting to a prospect, call as many of the attendees in advance as possible. Introduce yourself and find out what their expectations and issues are. When you then meet them face-to-face, the ice will already be melted.
- Don't invite executives and lower-level people to the same meeting or presentation. It is nearly impossible to meet the needs of both constituencies. Most times you'll alienate one of the two groups. Schedule two meetings instead.
- List three reasons you might lose the deal. Make sure none of those happen.
- Protect yourself against no-shows. Make sure you know who will be attending a meeting. If there's someone in particular you want to attend, negotiate it well in advance. If that person is not available, offer to reschedule. Important: Get your prospect's word that if a key person who has agreed to be there does not show up, you will meet with that person later. Your negotiating position is stronger before the meeting takes place.
- Ask people in your prospect's company how they bought the last product or service that is comparable to yours. That will often yield insights into their buying and decision process.
- Convert your prospect's organization chart into a political map to see who else may be involved in the decision.
- Is your competitor effective at selling? Find out whether the salesperson on the other side made quota last year. If not, why? If so, why?
- Begin searching early for someone in the account who you can coach and train to help you win.
- Perform a formal debriefing with everyone who participates in a customer meeting. Collect observations, action items, objections.
- When someone else on your team is presenting, face the audience if you can. That way you can observe their reactions to what is being said.
- Invest in a book on body language. It will help you understand what your customer is not saying.
- Require a formal account briefing with everyone who will participate in a customer meeting, even your CEO. Coach everyone on their role. Prepare your team with objections and issues that might be raised during the meeting and the customized value statement/proposition to be delivered to each person, if appropriate.
- Ask your customer what will happen if they don't buy when they say they will. If they don't have a good answer, the deal may not close when you think.
- Learn how your customer competes in their market. Is it on price? Innovation? Service? Technology? Reliability? What's important to your customer's customers is probably important to your customer.
If you feel that none of these is appropriate due t0 the fact that you sell through reverse auctions, RFPs, or third-party consultants all of which prevent you from having any control or even direct contact with the customer, stay tuned for a future post...