The first person who speaks, loses

This may sound like a very aggressive and perhaps even arrogant statement but the truth of the matter is that it is true. I have found myself in countless negotiations, some as simple as buying a car and some with international corporations. The bottom line is, most of the time less is more. We have written a number of posts on this very subject and it always comes down to the old adage that we have 2 ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much.

There’s also the point when you simply need to shut up and let your latest comment distill and sink in. Far too many times as sales people or negotiators, we tend to throw out a conditional or assumptive close and talk past that close. It’s at that point that you need to stop talking and allow what you just said to resonate a little and perhaps even create a certain amount of discomfort. That discomfort is what progresses the sale closer to a close and agreement.

When you drop a statement in a negotiation that is designed to move them closer to a sale, it requires the other person to pause and think. That thinking process is critical to the progress of the negotiation. If you drop the statement and keep discussing the deal then you have thwarted any opportunity for the prospect to bring things closer.

Something to consider when dropping that statement and stopping is that if the person you are negotiating with is a seasoned negotiator, they will know this tactic and will not want to be the first person to speak. This is where your preparation is so important. At the point that the silence becomes a bit uncomfortable, change the subject. This is critical because it takes the pressure off them and allows them to redirect their thinking. Continue with some small talk and after a short period of time you should begin to steer the conversation back to the decision at hand and eventually drop a new assumptive close and stop talking. If this continues after several attempts then the best thing to do is call him out in a polite way and compliment him. Tell him that he is very good at what he does and try to put everything on the table and simply ask him straight up “what’s it going to take to make this happen right now”. He will respect you and probably give you the deal.

Do Not Talk Past The Close

I had an old employer who had built an amazing business, incredibly successful guy, and he loved to go on sales calls. He was actually quite talented at building rapport and getting the customer to want what we were selling. The only issue was that he loved to talk and often times when, as a salesperson, we should not be. Many times we would get a verbal yes for another meeting or to close the deal and he would begin to talk in circles unsure of where the conversation was going. It was often easy to tell that the buyer, on the other side of the table, was ready to be done with the meeting (Fidgeting, looking at watch, changing posture). This is quite common after receiving confirmation of your objective for new or out-of-practice sales people.

Just about everybody in sales has heard the expression “Don’t talk past the close”. But I have found that many people do not really understand what it means and more importantly forget what it means when in a pitch meeting.

Like I have said in the past your buyer is like an 8 year old boy and that means that the decision window is very small. You have to be able to recognize when the buyer has said yes and when you begin to lose them. Odds are if they said yes and you are still the one talking then you are talking past the close.

Every pitch should end with asking for the business and once there is a concrete yes (or something similar, typically it is not just a yes) then affirm the buyers decision to choose your product or service and get out of the office. The only time that you want to stay in the office is if the buyer is talking.

Two things can occur in a pitch meeting that can cause a sales person to talk past the close:

  1. Nervously excited about closing the deal
  2. Is oblivious to the fact that the deal is closed and that the buyer is losing interest

There is an old sports saying that goes “Act like you have been there before”. Don’t get me wrong you should be excited about your success as sales is a very difficult job and every victory must be celebrated but wait until you get in the car. You got the answer you wanted now leave before they change their mind. The second reason is sometimes tougher than it may sound and is why I always recommend two people for a sales call. When someone is performing a pitch it is easy to get lost talking and when you get to the end of the presentation you are in a word vomit. The counterpart to your team can recognize the buyers body language better as they are not focusing on the pitch and they are able to real you back in. (Post coming soon about how two is always better than one)

Just remember to be confident in your ability, once you get the answer that you are looking for get out of there and do not get sick with word vomit. It is far too common.

Comfortably Uncomfortable

Listen up everybody, if you want to be in sales people have to like you. People buy from people they like and respect. Typically, a great salesman has the ability to captivate an audience with a story and garner the status “life of the party” wherever they go. This is because a good salesman has become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. They understand that in that brief moment of uncomfort that prosperity will soon come (prosperity does not alway mean money). Being comfortably uncomfortably is a trait that people are drawn to it demonstrates a level of confidence that very few people have. Nobody likes a pushy salesman but everybody loves a good listener with a relatable story.

Sales is one of the most difficult professions to be successful and one of the very few where your performance is tied into your pay on a daily basis. However, according to CNBC sales is one of the top 20 best paying jobs with average mean salary of $140,320 right behind that of a lawyer. One of the reasons it is such a tough profession is because you have to prove yourself and your product. You have about 30 seconds or less at the beginning of a meeting to build a rapport with someone then if that is successful you have about 5 minutes to demonstrate how you can make them more money or you are out.

We do this by making small talk, if it is an in person meeting be sure to comment on something in their office, find common ground. This does not mean that if your buyer likes to hunt in their free time that you have to be the worlds greatest hunter, you just need enough to get the buyer talking. When the buyer is talking you are doing something right… within reason.

For example, if I walk into my buyers office and he has six taxidermies on the wall, I may say something like “Some nice animals you have on the wall there, I myself have a 30/30 in the gun rack at home”. Just find common ground. If you can get the buyer talking about something they are passionate about, they will like you. Everybody is 99% interested in what they have to say and 1% interested in what you have to say. You just have to make sure that you capitalize on the 1% that you get to say, make it worth while. Read Johnny, your 8 year old buyer for more information on the 1%.

If you are unable to meet with the buyer in person and are tasked with a phone meeting, there are a couple avenues that I recommend. The first one is to do as much research as you possibly can. I was recently in a meeting, admittedly that I was unprepared for, luckily my business partner had done his homework. As we got to the ending questions, the dreaded trial close, the buyer began to backtrack and showed signs of hesitation. He expressed that he had recently been furloughed by his biggest contract due to Covid – 19 and wanted to wait to hire us until the contract was active again. My partner quickly was able to reference, based on his research, what he thought would be our buyers biggest contract (based on his website). Once the company named was mentioned the whole demeanor of the ending remarks changed as he respected where we were coming from. We ended up signing the deal. It is all about relationships and trust, the customer has to like you or they will not do business with you. You will be surprised how big a customers wallet opens when they like and trust you.

The second recommendation for an over the phone meeting is to bring up something that affects everybody; sports, weather, holiday, Corona, etc. This allows for instant common ground, not nearly as affective as personal common ground but effective nonetheless. Often times generic small talk can lead to personal common ground if you can ask the right questions.

All of these aspects are important for every meeting that you go into whether in person or over the phone. Just remember that the product is less important than the relationship, find common ground and be likable. If the buyer does not like you then you’re not going to be able to sell them anything. People buy from people they like and remember nobody likes to be sold but everybody likes to buy something.

I called the Vice President but still no decision…?

Sitting at your desk ready to make some calls and land some appointments but not sure who to call, general manager sounds important right? Wrong! If you are not calling the owner or someone with true authority then you are waisting your time and theirs. Sometimes these middle level employees are tasked with finding a product like the one you are selling so it is important to impress everyone you speak to but nonetheless they are still a gatekeeper.

Oh the dreaded gatekeeper, but this one is disguised as a Vice President or General Manager…? Yes, sure you have the traditional gatekeeper that is the receptionist or the Owners assistant but you also have another level of gatekeepers. Sometimes the first set, secretaries, will transfer you to the second layer, Vice President/Manager. 

This second set of gatekeepers can be far worse than the first set as they do have some level of authority. The problem becomes that you do not know what level of authority they have. Often times in a company there are a lot of people that have the authority to tell you no but very few that have the authority to purchase or say yes. Two bad outcomes can occur when transferred to mid level management:

  1. They automatically tell you no 
  2. They graciously have you in for a meeting, many meetings and string you along only to find out they can’t make the decision

Far too often when prospecting, sales personnel get put in the “friend zone”. They go out on sales calls quite often and are very like-able people but because they are visiting prospects so often the middle management actually becomes friends with them. Not to say they are taking advantage of you but ultimately if you don’t have a decision in 3 meetings they are probably not going to buy from you. Send them a birthday card or drop by once a quarter to keep the relationship alive in case something changes but until then don’t waste your time.

A few years ago I was prospecting this decent size account that my boss had worked on a few years prior. He warned me that the owner liked to talk and didn’t like to make decisions but as the cocky salesperson I was I figured it would be different. After about 6 months of driving out there, taking him to lunch, and bending over backwards to get his questions answered he finally agreed and signed the paperwork to offer our products. The only caveat came when I returned to do the install and introduce the new products, processes, and systems none of the employees knew that the decision had been made. It was introduced with much resistance (Because there was no owner buy in) and moving forward the sales team would quote both companies (My products and the competition) and sell whichever was cheaper. Safe to say that my commissions did not equal the time that I put into the account. Some prospects are just not worth it. But I digress.

Now it is tough to find out who the true buyer is because when you are working with a small company the Vice President may call all the shots but when calling on Morgan Stanley, where everyone who owns a suit gets a VP after their name, it becomes a bit more difficult. To find out who if person is a true buyer you have to use your sales reasoning to feel the buyer out as you are conversing and more importantly after a short initial pitch or fact finding meeting be sure to ask if anyone else needs to be involved in the final decision. This question is so valuable and far too many people fail to ask it. Who knows maybe the company has a silent partner that you have never heard of. 

2 years ago I was called in to one of my accounts to do a “recap” on some material that we had gone over the month before. When I get to the account there is a gentleman there that I had never met, seemingly calling the shots (I had this account for 18 months at this time) and began to instruct me to perform a presentation. I stopped dead and said “excuse me sir who exactly are you?”. Well as it turns out he was the owner… nobody told me that the general manager (who I thought was the owner) had been given officer authority and was able to sign the documents. Always ask if there are any other decision makers involved as it is never fun to be blindsided. 

When speaking with company personnel remember that there are many people inside that are able to say no to you but very few that are able to say yes. Do not waste time trying to get to the decision maker through the middle management. If you are confident in your abilities/products then you deserve to speak to the top. Conversely, if you are self conscious regarding your ability then you will think you are not worthy of speaking to the true buyer and next thing you know you are “friend zoned” by middle management, spending a fortune on lunches for commission that is likely never coming. Next time you are about to make a sales call and you are choosing between calling the General Manager and the owner, be confident and call the Owner. 

The Knowing Doing Dilemma

Everybody needs training. It is not something to be ashamed of or something to shame. That is just how life goes. In fact, you are really hurting your company without implementing formal training (As I have discussed before). A recent study from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) shows that companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee. Pretty staggering statistic. So that makes it pretty clear that training is not something that should be looked down upon but rather awarded.

The truth is, it does not matter what you are doing even something as mundane as turning on the TV, someone once showed you how to do that task. Most skills are not inherent, they are learned. Sure, you may find that some people have innate skills that make them better at something but they still have to learn. Michael Phelps, for example, is an excellent swimmer and truth be told he probably has the correct body frame and special abilities that made him the swimmer he is today. With that said, he still would have drowned as a child if nobody ever taught him how to swim. Inherent skills are useless without proper training.

When we get into work related tasks the training becomes far more important, comprehensive, and beneficial (as shown by statistic listed above). After all, the success of the employees affect the success of the company. Training sessions can be long in duration and even lasts months at a time. If you have implemented training processes at your company or you work at a company where there are solid training processes then bravo to both of you. Give yourselves a pat on the back, because this is a critical step to the success of your career and your business. 

Now to get to the crux of the blog post, Is it a knowing or a doing problem. A few years ago I was approached to work with a manager at a medium sized business in Maine. The manager was directly tied to the sales flow and interacted with customers on a daily basis. After reviewing their sales process it seemed that the process and their training was actually pretty solid. I told this to the owner and he assured me that I must be wrong because the sales numbers were drastically lacking. I decided that I wanted a closer look at the manager so I put on my customer hat and role played with the manager. I could not believe how proficient he was with the material and process that he was taught to perform. Some of the best word and thought track performances I had seen. Perhaps a little shaky, definitely not a natural salesmen but nonetheless should be performing well. This illustrated to me that the issue with this business was not the process or the implementation but rather the personnel.

Allow me to elaborate. When I am asked to come into a company and work with their employees I am always looking to answer one question. This one question is not difficult to answer and is actually quite simple. It can usually be evaluated in as little as ten minutes even if I am unaware of the context or subject for which I am implementing the process. The question, “Is it a knowing or a doing problem?”. This critical step in my process was established from that training consultation just a few short years ago. This is why it is so critically important to follow the ABLE mentality, Always Be Learning – Evolve. We will be having a blog post on this in the coming weeks but I think you can garner the general message.

The manager from my story above demonstrates that the he knows the process but ignores it when with customers. This is the crux of every process implementation. When you are looking to implement change be sure to do so in a manner that allows for sufficient training. If the change is encouraged through constant training but your numbers are lacking, you can rule out the knowing problem. If it is not a knowing problem and the employee is resisting the change then it is a doing problem and you likely have a disgruntled employee on your hands, time for an Intimate Negotiation

Basically, to break down the two aspects, a knowing problem simply means that the person does not know how to perform the task. Perhaps they were thrown into the job with insufficient training, or filling the shoes for somebody who quit. This is a good problem as it is a fixable problem. Likely, with a knowing problem you will actually have a happier and more productive employee once they have received the training that they so desperately need.

The alternative to this is the doing problem. This means that the person is aware of how to do the task the way it should be performed but chooses to do it differently. This could occur for a few different reasons; upset with a manager, thinks the process you are implementing is stupid or takes longer, or thinks that their way of doing things is ultimately better. This is not the mindset that you want for an employee, they need to get on your bus. These are the employees that we have to worry about, now they may not be gone altogether but it is time for an uncomfortable conversation. I recently posted a blog post on “The Intimate Negotiation” this is what I call the uncomfortable conversations that need to be had in the workplace. This could be between Employer and Employee or vice versa and even among peers. Take a peak if you feel that it may be time to have one of these uncomfortable discussions.

Bottom line is whether you are an employee or a boss be sure to ask this simple question to see what the status is on the job being done. If you are the employee resisting change, ask yourself why. Typically, people far smarter than any of us came up with the process you are being taught.

My sales department is very good… I think

Sales is not an easy profession. It requires training, diligence, patience and above all accountability. All these requirements culminate in a seasoned professional sales person. A sales department may have a handful of these seasoned professionals and some that are learning and some that are brand new. Many times the missing element to a successful sales department is a process and a structure.

I have been working with many sales departments that basically allow the sales people to do whatever they want and there is no accountability for time and process and laziness is ubiquitous. Eventually the sales person becomes fat dumb and happy meeting the status quo and there is no longer a drive or any ambition. They essentially become clipboard order takers – not good.

A company needs a hungry and ambitious sales force in order to grow and stand with or ahead of the competition. This is done with incentive programs, aggressive commission structures, contests and competitive processes. Do you have a sales board in your sales department? Do you have quotas set for the day, week and month? Are there contests sprinkled in from time to time, are you honest about the overall sales numbers? Is there accountability to the quotas with performance reviews, rewards and even discipline if necessary. Are you constantly monitoring production and sales pitches? Are there training programs in place to help educate your sales people about the product, value statements, features, advantages, benefits? Have you trained and educated your sales people on the products and companies they are selling against?

There are many elements of en effective sales department and creating all these elements into a process and then wrapping that process into an exciting and energetic program can help increase sales, commitment, loyalty and moral.

Everyone should work in sales. Here are 4 Reasons why.

If you are jumping into the workforce and you do not know where you would like to begin, start in sales. The lessons and skills you will learn in sales will stick with you through any career path that you decide upon. There are also an immense amount of sales positions available, 1 in 8 jobs in the US are sales focused. Here are some of the main reason why an introduction into a sales career is a good idea:

  1. Learn how to take a defeat: Likely at the start of any sales career you will be doing the very fun art of cold calling. For those of you that are not aware, this means that you have a list of names and numbers in front of you that you have to call all day. Most cold calling sales positions will reach out to 50-100 prospects in a given day and you may not even get a result. Most of the time, if you are lucky enough to actually get someone on the phone, the prospect will tell you they are all set and not in need of your product or service. Hearing no that many times is dexterity that most jobs cannot teach you and will surely be helpful down the road. 
  2. Resiliency: It typically takes 8 calls to actually get your prospect on the phone. That is a lot of work and is why most people do not like to cold call. This teaches you to never give up until you speak with the prospect. This is an important lesson no matter what career you choose.  
  3. Develop Relationships: Almost every business is about developing relationships, you could have the best product in the world but if you don’t know anybody then you will never be able to get it to market. In sales you have about 10-30 seconds to build a rapport that will likely develop a relationship. Acquiring the skill to develop a relationship in a mere 30 seconds is a skill that will pay dividends for years to come. 
  4. Professional Demeanor: In a world of technology, being able to carry yourself professionally is a talent being aggressively scouted in the workforce right now. Whether on the phone, in person, on email, or in any form of communication it is important that you are able to walk the walk and talk the talk. 

In any case whether you are interested in sales or not you should at least give it a try. If nothing else it is a great training ground for the rest of your career. In addition the top paying sales positions in each industry is well over $150,000 so safe to say there is a lot of money to be made in sales. 

Dress to Impress

The famous Zig Zigler once said “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.” In short this means that you have to “look the part”, in business “looking the part” is an underrated principle that if mastered goes a long way. It does not matter which company you work for or which department you are involved with because you still have to look the part. Would you be a successful/respected janitor if you wore a tuxedo? How about a successful clown if you wore gym shorts a tank top and no makeup? Of course not, these are very elementary examples about what I am speaking towards. 

This principle works for more traditional business departments as well, here are a few: 

Management or Executive Positions: Must command yourself in a manner that demands respect and illustrates why you are the leader. This starts with your clothes, body language, attitude, and overall demeanor. People are looking for a leader, this does not mean that you have to wear a $5,000 suit, it simply means that your outfit has to be a non issue. (People don’t look at it and think wow thats a tough work outfit, he is my boss?)

Sales: You must fit in with the crowd that you are selling to. If you are selling Ferraris at the Los Angelas Ferrari dealership you should probably be dressed in business formal clothing as that is likely the clientele you will be dealing with and more so what your clientele will be expecting. However, if you are selling Ford’s in a small town in Maine then a polo and jeans will suffice and ultimately make your customer more comfortable with the buying experience. 

Marketing: Whatever business or industry you are in your website, signage, etc has to match your overall culture and brand. The marketing efforts must be impressive to YOUR customer base. If you are trying to attract a right wing conservative group, you had better have an American flag on your promo material. 

The main take away from this is to identify where you fit in a market, regardless of your department or industry, and make sure that you “look the part”.

Why so many people can’t close the deal

I have cold called 100 companies, 99 turned me down, I secured a meeting with one company, designed a presentation/pitch custom tailored for the prospect, and I delivered the pitch perfectly. Great, all the hard work is done right? Wrong. After a successful prospecting journey culminating with the solid pitch of your value add comes the dreaded question. Asking for the business.

The CEO of a large organization once said to me (In my second ever sales pitch) “Son, nice presentation but if you don’t ask for the business I am not going to give it to you.” From that point on I understood the importance of the final few statements in a pitch meeting. 

There are a few different approaches for this: Trial Close, Assumptive Close, or simply asking for the business. All of these options lead to just 3 possible outcomes: Yes, No, Not Now. Once you have dangled the final statement/close out there in front of your prospect it is time to sit back, for he/she who talks first loses. 

Trial Close: The trial close is a culmination of your entire relationship to date, putting the buyer in a position to make a decision on the spot. It would go something like this: “Mr./Ms. Buyer now that we have illustrated the value that we believe we can add, can you see this working in your organization?” Be sure to pull in anything specific from the presentation that got the buyer excited. If you did your job and are selling a good product, it will be tough for the buyer to say no to this question. Remember they met with you for a reason.

Assumptive Close: You have to tread carefully with this option as it can come across as aggressive and pushy to the wrong buyer. Following the presentation, assuming it went well, you would very simply assume that the buyer is going to enter into a business relationship with you. It would go something like this: “All we have to do now is to sign the paperwork Mr./Ms. Buyer, here you go.” Or “Okay well all we need is half up front to get started”. 

Asking for the business: This one is the softest of the approaches and takes the most skill to truly achieve as you want to be guiding them the entire presentation so that they assume the close for you. This is done through guiding the conversation while letting the buyer think  that they are leading the charge. The statement at the end is typically less important as you have already gotten intellectual commitment. But an example might be something like this: “We would love an opportunity to work with you Mr./Ms. Buyer. “

Whatever your approach is just remember that you have to ask for the business in one way or another. The easiest way to get good at this is just swallow your pride and ask the tough question. 

Sell me your pen

There is an age old question that seems to be asked in nearly every sales type interview. The question is “Sell me this pen”. The interviewer is looking for your ability to think on your feet and how quickly to can add value. If you are able to provide a succinct sales pitch adding value to such a seemingly meaningless item then you probably are on your way to a successful career in sales.

Most people struggle with this question even if they are tremendous sales people. The reason being is that the whole situation is forced, it is like role playing at a sales convention, typically not your best work. You are also trying to sell something that has very few attributes for which you can add value to. 

The best way to focus on this question is to focus on the emotional aspect. Yes, it is true that the pen is not that special but make me feel like I need to own it. Create a storyline that makes it impossible for me to not buy this pen. If you can do this you will be picking up the employers jaw off the table. 

Here is an example: 

Employer: Sell me this pen. 

Candidate: Mr./Ms. Employer, thank you for meeting with me today to discuss your need for a new pen. This is a top of the line Bic pen that is in limited production due to the fact that they are handmade. Our pens are used by only the best and brightest of todays minds, as a matter of fact 4 U.S. President are currently using this pen. Now, let me ask you something Mr./Ms. Employer? Do you sign important documents? 

Employer: Well yes I am the President of the company. 

Candidate: And what pen do you use to sign those documents?

Employer: I dont know whatever is on my desk. 

Candidate: As important a person as you are and as important as the documents you are signing don’t you deserve a pen that is memorable?

Employer: Well yes I suppose. 

Candidate: Here is what I am going to do for you, because we are at limited production for this specific pen I will get you a single case at a 10% discount. Unfortunately, this offer is only available today. 

If you can come up with something very similar to that on the spot in front of an employer I guarantee you will get the job. I have interviewed enough people for sales positions to know that most answers do not even come close to that. This situation provides the buyer/employer with a sense of urgency, true value proposition, emotional add, and demonstrates that you are a “Special Customer”. Focus on the emotional value when you are selling something, make the buyer feel what you are selling. Sounds cheesy but remember nobody wants to be sold something but everybody wants to buy something.