Selling is no longer about high-pressure, "won’t take no for an answer" sales pitches. It's a different dynamic in which salespeople listen, empathize and even end pitches early if they sense clients aren't engaged.
Today’s savvy sales reps are learning to listen to customers, mirror their speech patterns and feel their pain, according to Colleen Stanley, president of Sales Leadership Development, a sales training company based in Denver. She is also the author of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success: Connect with Customers and Get Results, set to be published by Amacom in November.
Before starting her own sales training firm about 10 years ago, Stanley was a top sales manager for Varsity Spirit Fashion, a leading maker of cheerleading uniforms and major sponsor of the National Cheerleading Championships.
OPEN Forum asked Stanley to share some of her selling secrets with us.
OF: When it comes to new prospects, how do you book a face-to-face or phone appointment?
CS: First, if you are a sales manager or business owner running a sales team, you need a plan—a set number of appointments to make every week. Note, I said a number of appointments not some appointments; some isn’t a number, some is hope and hope isn’t a strategy. You need to have a clear strategy for every sales activity.
At my company, for example, every member of my team (four full-timers and a handful of contractors) is expected to make 50 cold calls or e-mail outreaches, set up two meetings with influencers, attend eight networking events a month and bring ten prospects to attend our monthly sales seminar. They are also required to book me or another member of our team to make two marketing presentations, and invite at least two people they know to attend an event.
OF: That sounds like a lot of work.
CS: That’s not all. They also have to write, or help me write, two blogs a week and submit 20 to 25 articles to a variety of websites and sales resources. We also update our LinkedIn and Twitter accounts at least three times a week.
OF: So successful selling requires a mix of strategies, right?
CS: Yes, you need to take a diversified approach and have five or six things your company is always doing to sell products and services, and then track everything you do. Most companies don’t track their sales efforts, which is a mistake because you need to see what’s working.
OF: What's important to do and say during that first meeting with a prospect?
CS: The number-one thing is to relate to your prospect. You have to size up your prospect quickly. The likability factor is huge. People decide in the first five minutes if they like you or not. We rely on neuro-linguistic programming. (NLP is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created in the 1970s.)
Communicate with your prospect in a way that matches and mirrors their pacing, rate of speech, volume, etc. Listen for certain words they use and note their level of enthusiasm. People want to do business with people they like and trust. If you come on too enthusiastically or too strong, you can send them into fight-or-flight mode.
OF: How do you know if you have established rapport with a prospect?
CS: To test rapport during a conversation, change your body language and if they follow you, you have rapport. If you lean forward, do they lean forward? Also listen for real answers. If the person is giving you short, curt answers or "grunt" answers as we call them, they are not engaged.
When this happens, we coach our clients to say, “It seems that we aren’t engaging, so let’s stop here.” You simply state the obvious. Don’t take anything personally—just shift the conversation back to them. Also, let them know you are okay with ending the conversation, which shows you are not desperate for the sale.
OF: So once you establish rapport, what’s the next step to making a sale?
CS: You need to set up an agenda and set clear priorities. Sales people have to make sure they coach the prospect into sharing enough information that they can understand their situation. Most prospects are being called on by ineffective salespeople who just do a product dump. That doesn’t work.
OF: Should the salesperson offer to demonstrate the product early in the meeting?
CS: No. It’s better to ask a few questions first to better understand their "pain" points. You need to set up the agenda so the prospect can convince you they have a problem big enough for you to fix.
OF: What is the worst mistake sales people make?
CS: Not paying attention during meetings. They are checking their e-mail or looking at their BlackBerrys. You need to be present: Turn off your phone and focus on the conversation. Don’t even put it on vibrate. It’s a distraction.
OF: Can you share your worst sales experience? What did you learn from it?
CS: My worst experience was a meeting with a man who was in my leads (networking group). I was there for three hours. He finally leans forward and says, “It’s 6 p.m. I don’t like the way you are selling me. I’m also diabetic and I need to eat something.” I basically got thrown out of the meeting. I was so embarrassed and frustrated. Then, it hit me that I was the pain. He had been telling me his pain, but I didn’t want to hear it. That was a turning point for me. I finally understood the concept of pain.
OF: What one word would you use to describe a successful salesperson?
CS: There are two words: work ethic. Reps need to be better prepared and work hard. That means you are willing to do the day-to-day, week-to-week activities necessary to build a strong sales pipeline.
OF: Can anyone learn to sell?
CS: My belief is that you can teach people selling skills. We have worked with non-selling professionals, such as project managers in the construction business, who pick up concepts really quick. However, the question is whether they can get out of their comfort zone.
OF: How much does social media impact sales? Has technology helped or hindered salespeople?
CS: I think the jury is still out. Social media is more successful in business-to-consumer sales, not the B-to-B world. We teach our clients to do something new as well as something old. Don’t focus on the "shiny objects." We see the most success with LinkedIn, which is all about building a relationship and finding strategic alliance partners.
We use all of it: Twitter, Facebook, weekly newsletters, blogs, events and workshops. If we find articles of interest, we send those out. You’ve got to be relevant.
What sales skills do you want to improve?
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Sales Check-In 2012 series.
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