Prospecting and filling the top of the funnel are often the
most challenging disciplines for sales people. Many companies struggle with
that concept and what’s important to keep in mind is that everybody can be successful
at it as long as you adhere to a process.
Help is here! Below is the link to my latest book, Naked Prospecting.
There is a common misconception in sales that sales people
should be charismatic and charming. While a good personality never hurts, it’s
not the secret ingredient to a successful sales career. Quite contrary; some
sales people tend to talk themselves out of a sale, rattling off features and
benefits as opposed to leading with value. Naked Prospecting is a “how to” book
about the toughest part in the sales process. Prospecting!
Fear and resistance often play a big role. If you follow the
process outlined in the book, you will be able to overcome “angst” and anguish
that so often keeps sales people from being successful. Sales is a process and
only those who are diligent, persistent and focused will succeed. If you follow
the process outlined in the book, you will be able to overcome the fear of
rejection that so often keeps sales people from making headway.
Persistence is key
The most important aspect of successfully building and
maintaining a full pipeline is persistence. It’s not about making one call or
sending out a couple of emails. It’s about
Identifying your prospect universe
Finding the right decision makers
Crafting messages that focus on the value of
Not being discouraged by rejection
I can promise you that you will be able to see results in a
couple of weeks. Be patient, work the process and prosper. Good luck!
The business world doesn’t stop, even if it feels like it at
times, but you know who really doesn’t stop? Your competition and they will
gain new clients, clients that could have acquired.
I feel bad for companies who freeze
their business development hiring efforts because those very companies will
feel the effects later in the year.
This pandemic has forced us to
embrace a remote work environment. Personally, I have preached the concept for
years, especially in the industry that I operate in where companies are selling
technology enabled solutions. Why would people have to come to an office, other
than socializing, gathering and being able to see each other? Yes, it’s good
for morale (at times) but you can build a healthy company culture even when
employees are not physically together.
And before you feel that I am
opposed to being with people, let me explain. I am probably one of the most
sociable people you will meet and not many folks I know enjoy company as much
as I do. But when it comes to work though, I am most effective by myself. It’s
not that I’m not a team player, I am but I don’t need to see people in-person
to ask for advice, get or give guidance. And, I also don’t have to see my
prospects and clients in order to successfully sell. As a matter of fact, I
have been working remote for 17 years and have been able to acquire clients all
around the US and internationally without a problem. I had a client for 5 years
and didn’t meet here until year 3 and it was perfectly fine. And what do we
have all the systems for (CRM, Workflow management) if we still feel we all
have to be in one room?
Hiring during this crisis
The other day a recruiter told me
that they were not hiring until they can see people again. That’s just crazy
talk to me during times where we really don’t know when that will be the case.
He said that it would be hard to determine if that person can sell without
meeting them. To me the question is, how can you determine if a person can sell
when you actually meet them in-person?
The May 7th Revenue Collective
Benchmarking Report observed that “Most companies using Revenue or Bookings as
the KPI for returning to normal business operations but a healthy chunk
(33%) have not defined “normal” at all which puts the team at risk.”
Use Assessment Tools!
I believe what people are afraid of
is that they feel that the invisible (or what seems to be invisible) cannot be
measured. In fact, there are many sales assessment tools out there to measure whether
a sales person will be good at what they are doing.
Unless, you are a business where you
only sell to people in-person, most of the transactions will take place over
the phone or via Zoom/Skype, etc. So, what better way to measure whether a
sales person will be successful than observing how they conduct themselves
during the interview process.
For years, I have been telling my
clients to not only invite candidates to on-site interviews, but to extensively
spend time with them on the phone, to see how they follow up after interviews
(because how they do it during the interview process will be how they conduct
themselves following up with prospects & clients).
Let’s face it. We have all been a
bit lazy and complacent and many companies have been flying by the seat of
their pants. They used measures such as “how many times the sales person was on
the phone when the manager walked by”. Yes, you know who you are and now is the
time to change it. Once we establish Key Performance Indicators, such as…..
many prospects have you researched this week?
many touchpoints with prospects took place?
many actual conversations have you had?
many times did you agree on a next step?
…we will have a much clearer picture
of productivity and success.
Now, we are forced to operate in an
environment where productivity will matter more than anything else. Sales is
measured by numbers like no other profession, it shouldn’t matter where you are
in the world as long as you have a computer and an internet connection.
Nobody knows what will happen once we open the economy up
again, but one thing is for sure. Business as usual it won’t be. Only the
companies and executives who understand that this is a challenge as well as an opportunity
will be able to succeed.
The best way to go about moving forward is to look at this
as a blank slate. If we go into this 3rd quarter, treating is as
such and doing all the things we did in the previous years, we will fail. This
is a new environment and it’s a great opportunity to start from scratch. Yes, I
know. It might be painful because it’s so much easier to just plug away and
apply proven methods, but approaches that worked in the past won’t cut it any
People are looking for compassion, empathy and alignment. All
things that successful sales people already apply, but in this novel situation
sales people who pitch without regard for these new conditions will not only
fail, they will become obsolete. If we as sales people can help our clients and
prospects through this crisis without pushing an agenda, without selling but
rather advising, those clients will be loyal to us for a long time. So, let’s
break it down a bit on how we should shape the landscape.
It’s a lot easier to continue on a proven path, or to wait until things become better than taking action. True leaders will seize this opportunity. They will not wait around, but they will pave the path for a new economy.
If everybody just sits around waiting until “this is over”, it won’t be!
Every good sales person is curious, but the key will be to
be curious without pushing an agenda. These days it will be all about your
client’s and prospect’s world, understanding what they are going through, what
challenges they face and how YOU as the sales person can support them.
First and foremost, we need to show authentic empathy.
Nobody wants to be sold to and this couldn’t be more accurate during this
crisis. We need to show that we care, that we will do whatever it takes and to
truly partner with our clients. This means an even deeper understanding of
their challenges and their business. Many of our clients and prospects are in a
situation where they had to change their business model to stay afloat, so
learn about those challenges by asking meaningful and mindful questions.
If we are in a position where we can provide guidance to our
clients, we will be viewed as experts, as partners as somebody who truly cares.
It takes a lot to become an expert. We need to keep abreast of industry
developments and of economic changes, so there will be a lot more reading,
doing research and digging as opposed to picking up the phone or shooting off
Some industries are still flourishing and there is new
business to be found, but we won’t find it the way we found it last year or the
years before. Strategic planning will become essential. No more throwing things
against the wall, waiting until something sticks. Without the underlying
principles of compassion, empathy and strategy, nothing will stick.
Pay It Forward!
It’s time for all of us to band together and pay it forward.
To expect less and do more. To provide solutions that are profitable yet
meaningful, to partner with our prospects and clients to help each other be
successful. If we as people and as sales people band together, we can get this
economy moving again, but it will not only take a village, it will take an
entire business community to shift their thinking.
….Especially during a
crisis. This Corona Virus Pandemic is a crisis of epic proportion and
leadership matters more than ever. We are all watching leaders and how
they are handling this precarious situation and the brands, companies
and politicians who were not authentic and honest will have to pay a
price. In some cases, very soon and other cases the historians will
present the bill.
all know these “fair-weather” friends, the ones who show up when
everything is honky dory. They like to drink and eat with you and they
are mostly in a good mood, but once you come down with a disease or a
loved-one dies, they are nowhere to be seen or heard.
there are the “fair-weather” leaders. The ones who take credit for
everything good that happens but don’t want to take responsibility for
Leadership is easy when everything goes
well, so is parenting and being a good friend. The challenge for leaders
in a crisis is to be positive, while preserving the truth. Below are 5
characteristics that make a good and effective leader.
1. Leaders are authentic and honest
In today’s environment, where everything can be checked with a simple (or sometimes more elaborate) Google
search, honesty is key. It’s really hard to trust people who are making
false claims, especially during a crisis when facts matter. In sales we
want to over-deliver and under-promise and the same philosophy should
be used when managing expectations. People are willing to come to terms
with situations that are difficult to handle when you frame the
narrative in a sensible way, but it’s really hard to come to terms with
promises that weren’t kept. It’s the way humans operate.
2. Leaders are open to other opinions
leaders choose their advisors very carefully, based on their expertise
and they rely on them during a crisis. These people should be the
support team of a leader but they cannot be held responsible if things
go wrong. The leader always needs to make sure that whatever he/she
decides or says will be the message that the audience will perceive as
3. Leaders embrace criticism
leader needs to be prepared to face criticism and it’s healthy to get
push-back in certain areas, because good leaders learn from it.
Good leaders want to be respected not liked.
4. Leaders are positive without making false promises
a crisis, everybody is looking for the silver lining and while some
“leaders” will make unrealistic promises, authentic leaders will give
hope while making sure that the underlying facts are considered.
5. Leaders apologize as opposed to defending
are also human, so mistakes will be made. The important thing is to
apologize, explain and course correct, rather than defend. Once people
start defending actions that have proven to be harmful, they are no
longer leaders but people who are vested in holding on to power.
Now, that reality of
this quarantine is really kicking in and there is no concrete end in
sight, we need to start thinking about things differently.
(not even Bill Gates) knows what our environment will look like once we
come out of this situation. There is so many question marks to almost
every single situation in our lives.
What will it look like once we ease Social Distancing?
Will people gather in larger groups, or will they be afraid to do so?
How much money will people be able to spend on activities like going out to eat?
What will vacations look like, or will we not even have to luxury to travel without fear?
looking at those uncertainties, there are so many industries that will
be touched by it. So, what can we do in order to keep ourselves, the
economy and daily life going?
One thing that I believe is certain
and that is that people will remember how companies acted during these
difficult times. If you do the right thing, you will be better off than
That’s not to say that every business will be OK, because
some companies will simply not be able to endure the financial stress.
If you are however a company that puts its people, the community and the
well being of others ahead of profit and greed, you will be rewarded
Remember the phrase after 9/11
“We will never forget”?
Well, that will be true once we come out of these difficult circumstances.
is the responsibility of Public Relations and Crisis Management
professionals to guide their clients through a crisis. They should
encourage companies to do good and to communicate clearly and
compassionately. Simply sending out communications that state “We are
sorry, blah, blah, blah” is lazy and can be damaging. Now is the time to
dig deeper, to come up with solutions that not only help employees but
that will preserve brand health in the future.
Let’s take banking as an example. The first communication that I got from my credit card company was not “we are here to help”
it was a message to encourage me to use the on-line system or the app.
It felt to me that they only cared that I knew how to pay them, which is
probably true but there could be other ways to package it. If you want
to make sure that your customers remember you in a positive way, give
them something tangible like a 30-day grace period for example and then
plug your app.
This is why mindful crisis management is so
important. Sometimes, communication is counterproductive because it is
obviously geared to benefit the company rather than the customers. Even
if it was not their intention, perception is reality and it matters how
people feel when you communicate with them.
I will remember that message and so will many other customers, I’m sure.
When we get married or
make a long-term commitment, one thing that is inevitable is that there
will be rough times. Some people are lucky and they only face minor
obstacles, others will have to deal with a full-blown catastrophe, such
as losing a home or even worse, a child.
Research has shown that
couples don’t separate because their life is in shambles, they separate
because they don’t know how to handle these difficult situations. Blame
is one ingredient that doesn’t improve the circumstances and things
often spiral out of control.
It was a long time coming
same holds true for this Corona Virus crisis. Everybody who has read
credible publications or watched trustworthy news over the last years
must have heard that a Pandemic was looming. I can’t remember a time in
the last decade where there wasn’t a potential danger of an outbreak of
the magnitude that we are experiencing right now, but then it didn’t
happen and we sighed with relief and moved on with our lives.
we know that at any time there is a worldwide pandemic that could
linger, what have we done to prepare? Not a lot as anybody can see. We
are reacting, but we are not executing plans that were developed prior
to this outbreak. And I am not even talking about the fact that there
don’t seem to be enough test kits or face masks available, that is
almost a rookie mistake.
Reaction vs. Preparation can lead to Panic
happens when there is a lack of preparation is a feeling overwhelm and
panic. The financial fallout from this crisis could be devastating and
it could have been mitigated if we had a solid crisis plan in place.
are being canceled and schools are considering to home-school children.
When I watched the local news the other day, they were referring to the
way some countries are now engaging with students as E-Learning. They
don’t even have the terminology right. It’s not E-Learning, it’s
long-distance learning. I know that because I own a company that has
E-Learning capability with a technology platform and a curriculum that
was developed so sales people who are disbursed all over the world can
all learn at the same pace. On the other hand, we now have teachers who
are instructing their students over the internet without the ability to
truly collaborate or being able to tap into an E-Learning platform.
all of this happens in the 21st century with so many technology
solutions available. We scramble, we panic and we react and it’s really
scary to watch how the news develop and there is no clear path to
For governments this should be a wake-up call to
fund departments to be prepared. We have access to the data and we know
that the next Hurricane, Flood or even Pandemic will be coming. It’s
not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how often.
should keep companies accountable and require a crisis preparedness
plan to be in place. There are many companies who offer crisis
management, including training, incident planning and response tools.
if we weather this emergency in a way where we contain it (fingers
crossed) the question still remains how well prepared we are for the
From a very early age
on I was fascinated by fairy tales and stories. Storytelling is
essential in a consultative sales environment. It helps you connect with
your prospects and it is a great way to add value rather than pushing a
In a consultative B2B environment we are often faced
with a situation where we are selling the invisible. Often, there is no
physical product we can showcase when we are prospecting on the phone
and we are challenged to connect with a prospect in a short period of
time. It is therefore imperative to build am emotional connection and
that can only happen when we tell a story.
Telling stories and
sharing best practices gives us an opportunity to communicate a business
objective in a personal way where people can relate.
Remember 1001 nights?
I was a kid I loved the idea of people gathering in a tent or square
and listening to stories. It’s fairy tales and stories that shape our
thinking, they trigger our imagination and fuel our creativity. As
adults it’s not that different, we are always drawn to stories where we
feel that something speaks to us directly.
When I started out in
sales, I had come from a public relations/marketing background with no
credentials in sales so I decided to do what I liked best – listening to
stories. I researched case studies and told my prospects about the
success that other companies had when using our service. It worked!
people like to listen to stories, they can relate to them. Product
features are boring to people unless they can use them to their
advantage. Nobody wants to listen to you bragging about your company,
your service, how good you are, etc.
What people are interested in is what your service can do for them and how it will help their business.
If you don’t have something to show, share a story
if you have something to show you should tell a story, but it’s
especially important in a B2B environment where you often don’t have a
product to show and you need to rely on anecdotes to get people
interested, especially when you first engage with a prospect. The key
question is “What do the clients do with the service you provide?”
What better way to explain than sharing success stories.
Why is it easier to sell a story than a product or service?
than selling a service, focus on the value it brings to the client and
the human experience. Instead of selling a service that is “better”,
offer a solution that helps increase efficiencies. Once we are able to
tap into somebody’s emotion, it’s a lot easier to connect. Never forget
that it is human beings you are targeting. Although you are trying to
sell them something, you are also an advisor, a consultant in the true
sense, a resource to help them make the right decision.
telling stories, it is important that you own them and make them yours.
Be personal, just like a dinner conversation. First, listen to your
prospects, then choose a case study/story that you think will resonate
with their needs and I can assure you that your prospects will listen.
Because, everybody likes stories…
Sales people often believe that prospects will remember their emails
or voice mails, when in actuality we are really not that important.
It’s a crowded business environment and we get inundated with information every day, or every waking hour for that matter.
Therefore, sales messages should be crafted a little bit like ads.
messages shouldn’t sound salesy, but they need to be memorable. Just
like in advertising, you want to make sure that you penetrate a person’s
mind with your communication. And by penetrate I don’t mean that you
aimlessly repeat the same thing (which some sales people do) but you
effectively craft a message that will resonate with your target
The best ads are the ones where we not only remember the message, but we also connect the message to a brand. Geico anybody?
This can only be accomplished when we weave repetition into our outreach.
In other words, you want to say the same thing over and over, using slightly different versions, changing the order a bit.
me give you an example. Let’s paint the scenario where you want to get
the attention of a COO (Chief Operation Officer) of a mid-size
manufacturing company. Your goal is to get a response from that person
to either, book a meeting with him/her or get a referral to the person
who is responsible for that area.
You want to craft an email/phone
outreach cadence of five touchpoints where you use the value
proposition over and over, using slightly different words.
For example, you talk about your solution and how it can create efficiencies to help save time and money
and that’s the message you want to come back to time and time again.
Everything else you say is basically a filler. What you want them to
remember is “saving time and money by creating efficiencies” using your
But the key is not only repetition, but also to have no
more than 10 business days between the first and the fifth outreach. You
can only tap into people’s memory when the intervals between each
outreach are short.
Again, we all get inundated with information
and for somebody to remember you and the message you are trying to
communicate, it is important to stick to this recipe.
Short Time Frame + Repetition + Perseverance
many sales people are hung up on the fact that their prospects should
remember the company they represent. Unless you work for IBM, SAP or any
of the other known brands, people generally don’t care. What they care
about is “What’s in for me?”. The key is not for them to remember the
company you represent, but how you can help them solve a business
I have worked in many industries, consulted with
even more and one thing I know for sure. Certain skill sets come in
isolation and they can’t really be combined. Let’s take Market Research
as an example. If you are looking for a sales person to sell market
research/analysis, then you have to choose one skill set over the other.
Please don’t look for
Unicorns! Having listened to many of my former colleagues looking for
new opportunities, I realized that most job requirements are quite
unrealistic. Of course, hiring managers take their orders from the
person who is looking to fill the job, but shouldn’t there be some
Can research people sell?
people are good at selling and developing business and research people
are good at analysis. Very seldom will you find somebody who can do both
There will always be an aspect of the qualifications that
will not be met. The key is to identify what is most important to the
person/company who is hiring.
If they are looking for growth, then
hire somebody with a sales/business development background who
understands market research/data/media. They shouldn’t have to be able
to do the analysis themselves, they just need to understand the concept.
if you are looking for a researcher or somebody who does analysis, then
look for a person with that skill set. If this person happens to have
an aptitude for business growth, then maybe they can be trained to
become a good seller. They will probably never be a super star, but
their performance will be decent.
Unicorns can stunt a company’s growth
Looking for a unicorn can actually stunt growth. It happens all the time. I have seen it more times than I can remember.
used to work for a big market research firm, years and years ago and
they realized after a couple of years of modest revenue growth that they
have to split responsibilities. Best decision they ever made.
They hired people with a strong sales acumen to sell and left the research to the people who love analyzing data.
when it comes to upselling, that’s a different story. Some researchers,
after having built a relationship with their clients are able to
upsell, but also not all the time. It is best to always involve somebody
with a sales/business development mind to meetings when it comes to
Not every sales person is comfortable asking for
money, so trust me when I say that I have yet to meet a research person
being at ease when they are tasked to introduce new services.
What about LeBron James?
use an analogy (I love them!) – we wouldn’t ask LeBron James to be a
soccer champion as well. So, why are we having these lofty asks from
people who are not celebrated athletes?
And don’t get me wrong.
Some people can do it all, but it’s a small percentage and it’s almost
impossible to find them, because they often start their own companies.
How many times have you heard somebody say this? Not only in
sales, but in every-day situations.
From a sales perspective, there is actually no such thing as
“too expensive”. The meaning of “too
expensive” is always “it’s not valuable
Just think about it. We can all buy, sell, choose something
at a lower price tag, but what are the consequences of the lower price? Do we
actually consider that when choosing a product, a service or a person for that
When companies hire employees, do they actually evaluate
what that person can bring to the table, or do they just look at a category
that fits that job description and make an offer accordingly? I think we all
know the answer to that.
Do we consider the
When a person chooses a product or service, do they consider
what might happen if they go with the provider that has the best price tag?
Some people do, but most people don’t.
Cheaper products and services sometimes cost way more than a
solution that lasts longer and is future proof.
We have also all worked with the people who are highly paid
and don’t bring value and the ones who are talented and efficient, but
One of our clients manufactures and sells modems to prevent
internet outages, certainly a product that is essential these days to keep
businesses up and running. Their fiercest competitors are not other companies
that offer a similar model, but cheap consumer devices that you and I would use
for our homes.
What is the value of
Imagine, you are a company where the cash registers depend
on a reliable internet connection and this company uses the same product that
you and I use for our home offices. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s the truth.
I experienced it first-hand a couple of years ago when I
wanted to buy something at a Dunkin Donuts kiosk at JFK airport and the cash
register wouldn’t open up. In an airport! where time is of the essence. Maybe
management didn’t consider what the loss of revenue would cost them and I am
not even touching on the bad customer experience.
There is always a
Everything comes with a price tag, some higher some lower.
And some products are competitively priced but when you choose a new solution,
a new hire or a new product always consider the long-term value vs. the short
And for us sales people, we need to make sure that people
understand the value of our solution. Leading with value is key, so price
discussions don’t come up in the first couple of minutes, but at a point when
the decision to purchase is being made.