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Direct Sales - What's a small company to do?

A significant reason for failure that I have observed with small companies is an "aversion" to the direct sales process. This includes the failure to define and execute an effective sales strategy. It extends to the failure to hire, manage and compensate a direct salesperson in a sustainable manner.

Most small businesses that I have observed have a clear focus of the value that their product/service creates. They manage product development and delivery with high standards of professionalism. They have invested time, money and energy to sustain their product.

What methods of hiring, managing and compensating a direct salesperson have produced sustainable results for you?

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Recently, I spoke with a successful salesperson and we came up with the following methods of prospecting that we believe that most business people would be willing to consider:

1. Warm phone calls (using linkedin to find friends of friends and getting the OK to call)
2. Personal emails after doing some research that include specific reasons why the prospect might be interested in what your company has to offer
3. Business networking at events where your "buyers" go to sell!
4. Displaying your expertise via volunteer work in business associations
5. Displaying your expertise by offering executive workshops or speaking engagements
6. Creating opportunities for your prospects that brings them positive visibility and fodder for their resumes (speaking engagements; introductions to people they would want to meet (peers); panelist opportunities: focus groups; publication via a newsletter or blog that you find for them)
7. Answer questions in linkedin groups or other forums like this that allow you to display your expertise and be found by others that need your expertise.

Paul Terlemezian said:
Recently, I spoke with a successful salesperson and we came up with the following methods of prospecting that we believe that most business people would be willing to consider:

1. Warm phone calls (using linkedin to find friends of friends and getting the OK to call)
2. Personal emails after doing some research that include specific reasons why the prospect might be interested in what your company has to offer
3. Business networking at events where your "buyers" go to sell!
4. Displaying your expertise via volunteer work in business associations
5. Displaying your expertise by offering executive workshops or speaking engagements
6. Creating opportunities for your prospects that brings them positive visibility and fodder for their resumes (speaking engagements; introductions to people they would want to meet (peers); panelist opportunities: focus groups; publication via a newsletter or blog that you find for them)
One of the 20th century business models that I have used and now want to be challenged on is the following. The way to differentiate your product/service (even for a small company) for your buyers is based on six factors:

1. Capabilities
2. Convenience
3. Risk
4. Terms and Conditions
5. Intangibles
6. Price

I believe that the six factors are still accurate but I believe that the 21st century buyer perceives them differently than the 20th century buyer. What do you think?
Here's another model that I learned in the 20th century and continue to apply.

There are five and a half reasons a prospect will say no to you when you try to sell them something. Your preparation for a sales call will be improved as your prepare for these "no's. Your execution, review and follow up will also be improved. The reasons are:

1. No Trust
2. No Need
3. No Help (they need what you are offering but prefer to get the need addressed in a different way)
4. No Hurry
5. No Close
5.5 No Money (this may be an easier way to say no than the above 5 so it only earns a "half-reason" status)

What do you think? Are these reasons valid in the 21st century? Are there other reasons?

One of the questions I try to get answered as I work with a small training or consulting companies (but not with small technnology companies) is the following:

Are you a contractor, consultant or a company? Most answer that they are a company since they have formed a legal entity that proves that they own a company. My question is focused on how you operate and how your customers perceive you. The way you successfully sell will become a function of which of these entities you really represent. The kind of questions that your buyers ask or answer will communicate you how you are perceived.

Contractor: Delivers a defined product/service (usually defined by the buyer) for a predetermined price. You'll be asked what you do and what it costs.

Consultant: Focuses on determining source of the buyer's need and then defining the process to address the need and produce the solution. The scope of the solution is often broader than the consultant's ability to implement. If the buyer is reluctant to engage at this level of discussion with you it may mean that they perceive you as a contractor or that they are only enabled to engage contractors. You'll be asked how you help, how long it will take and what other investments they will need to make to be successful. You will need to answer these questions.

Company Promises to deliver the business results that the buyer needs. This will involve performing a consultative role and then fulfilling the solution - even if and especially if the solution requires capabilities outside the direct control of the company. You'll be asked to describe the results you've produced for others. You'll need to prove their ROI is achieved.

Which are you? Contractor, Consultant or Company? Is this how your buyers perceive you? What has been effective for you in changing the perception of your buyer?

My thinking about direct selling - which I continue to self-challenge and invite challenge from others is based on Treacy and Wiersema (Discipline of Market Leaders), Howard Stephens (Selling the Wheel), iFive Alliances (SWOT) and Good Luck. Blending these four philosophies creates the best selling approach (IMHO.)

Discipline of Market Leaders (What is the company’s strategy?)
i. Lowest cost most readily available solution
ii. Simply the best solution for everyone
iii. The best for you "dear client"

Selling the Wheel (How does a specific prospect view the company?)
i. Complex solution to a savvy buyer
ii. Complex solution to an unsavvy buyer
iii. Simple solution to a savvy buyer
iv. Simple solution to an unsavvy buyer

SWOT (What will the salesperson be able to execute effectively?)
i. Achievement
ii. Enjoyment

Good Luck (Are the stakeholders ready for realism?)
i. Preparation meeting opportunity
ii. Hard Work
iii. Chance

All of us (CEO, Sales person, prospect, external consultant) are subject to whimsical and measured decisions. That’s life and it’s also where the art of selling meets the science of selling!

Please challenge my thinking - it will help me learn and therefore be better at helping you.

A friend sent me this link to an article written by a CEO. It expressed how he "likes" to be sold to. My guess is that he is not alone. Do you follow these guidelines?

  1. Get my name right.
  2. Personalize. I will not respond to a mass emails. Period.
  3. Understand what my company does.
  4. Customize your sales pitch for my company.  Don’t use generalities.  Research what my company does and ask me good questions.
  5. Call and email.  
  6. In your voice mail,  say your phone number two times. 
  7. Don’t use a voice mail script.  If you do, you are not at the level yet to successfully sell to me.  Try again next year.
  8. Don’t use a negative sell.
  9. Know your product inside out.  If you can’t answer nearly all my questions, you should not be reaching out to me.
  10. Don’t call me if someone else at my company makes the decision.

 

No clear sustainable method.  Limited funds requires that we often bet on ONE individual at one time, vs. multiple individuals.  Requirement by many to have a base salary, benefits, and upside potential makes it hard to sustain unless the salesperson is able to produce sufficient call activity (not sales) quickly, since the sales cycles are typically so long.  How to nurture relationships that ultimately leads to training related solutions require a large learning curve for most.
How about RAINMAKER! :)

Paul Terlemezian said:
My thinking about direct selling - which I continue to self-challenge and invite challenge from others is based on Treacy and Wiersema (Discipline of Market Leaders), Howard Stephens (Selling the Wheel), iFive Alliances (SWOT) and Good Luck. Blending these four philosophies creates the best selling approach (IMHO.)

Discipline of Market Leaders (What is the company’s strategy?)
i. Lowest cost most readily available solution
ii. Simply the best solution for everyone
iii. The best for you "dear client"

Selling the Wheel (How does a specific prospect view the company?)
i. Complex solution to a savvy buyer
ii. Complex solution to an unsavvy buyer
iii. Simple solution to a savvy buyer
iv. Simple solution to an unsavvy buyer

SWOT (What will the salesperson be able to execute effectively?)
i. Achievement
ii. Enjoyment

Good Luck (Are the stakeholders ready for realism?)
i. Preparation meeting opportunity
ii. Hard Work
iii. Chance

All of us (CEO, Sales person, prospect, external consultant) are subject to whimsical and measured decisions. That’s life and it’s also where the art of selling meets the science of selling!

Please challenge my thinking - it will help me learn and therefore be better at helping you.

This article offered four simple ways to double your sales. Is it really simple to do so? Let's see:

 

1. Use research as a platform for learning.

 

I agree and here's how. Sincerely approach your prospect and your research as if you were the client. Would you purchase the products/services of your prospect? What would it feel like to be their client? As you prepare this way and focus your questions with your prospect along these lines - your prospect will be doing the talkng and you will be less inclined to push your product/service. As you listen to their "pitch" you are likely to find ways that you can help them with their clients/prospects. If you cannot help them - you really have no chance in selling anything to them?

 

2. Ask questions that create a broader context.

 

Here's how - focus on understanding their previous investments that were related to what you have to offer now. Then move to their current interests and finish with what they perceive they will need in the future. Find out what worked or did not work and why. Find out what they believe is triggering current and future needs. Focus on finding a way to make their previous investments continue to provide value and gain their permission to provide break through ideas for the future.

 

3. Present solutions in terms of customer value.

 

You want to reach to the fourth level of executive access by understanding their value needs well enough that you can:

 

Level 1 - describe how your capabilities meet their expressed needs

Level 2 - credibly prove that you can meet their needs

Level 3 - help them discover an unknown need that you can help them with

Level 4 - be the person they call when they have a problem that needs to be solved

 

4. Consider "closing" as the beginning of the sale

 

Actually, I prefer to consider the "closing" as the middle of the sale. If you are providing value to the prospect during every interaction and continually taking work off of their plate and putting it on yours - you will become the provider of choice.

 

What do you think?

Interesting article - 10 Things Never to Tell Sales Prospects by Jeff Haden:

If you use any of the following phrases I encourage you to read the article and learn why Jeff thinks you should not use the following:

  1. “Customer focused.”
  2. “Best in class.”
  3. “Low-hanging fruit."
  4. “Exceed expectations.”
  5. “Unique.”
  6. “Value added.”
  7. “Expert.”
  8. “Exceptional ROI.”
  9. “Partner.”
  10. “Turn key.”

My understanding of his point is that it is better to understand, offer proof and demonstrate your fit for the value the client needs than to use words to convince. How did this article help you?

Another favorite technique is what I refer to as the "Past, Present, Future." The purpose of this technique is to help your client/prospect discover something they did not know they needed. It is part of the value creation of the sales process itself. Would it be "music to your ears" if your client/prospect said to you as their salesperson: "I am so glad you called, I always learn something useful about my business when I talk with you."

 

I use this PPF technique when I have a new prospect or when I am reviewing my work with a past client. Sometimes I use it subtly as part of planning my questions and other times I try to make it into a joke. Here's the joke (please laugh or at least humor me by telling me that it made you laugh:

 

Joke:

Dear client/prospect - I've been thinking about you a lot lately and I have three areas that I am really concerned about.

Client/prospect/response: "Really - what are those three?"

Punchline: Your past, your present and your future

Client/prospect/response: Genuine laughter

 

And then you get serious:

 

Past: I would like to fully understand your previous investments related to (the value your client/prospect desires.) My goal is to find a way to extend the value you are gaining from your previous investments.

 

Present: I would like to understand your current priorities. My goal is to accelerate the success of your identified initiatives.

 

Future: With your permission I would like to present my ideas for where I see the future in relation to (the value your client/prospect desires.) My work every day allows me to see innovations that others are embracing.

 

Then, with permission I ask my questions related to these three areas.

 

Almost without exception -   I get an enthusiastic positive response to this approach. Also - one area stands out in the client/prospect's minds - which one do you think it is?

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