To reach the highest levels of sales success, you must create a sales system that is built to leverage your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.
– Malcolm Gladwell
Search Amazon.com under the topic of “sales,” and you’ll find hundreds of books written by hundreds of experts, who all seem to say the same thing:
- I spent years perfecting my selling system.
- I can teach you how to sell my way.
- If you sell my way, you’ll be as successful as I am.
Well, I unapologetically cry Bullshit!
You will never be as successful as one of these experts by adopting his or her sales system, because, by adopting that system, you are not doing the same thing he or she did to become successful. Think about it. Not one of these experts is saying, “I became a world-class salesperson by using someone else’s system.”
Tiger Woods didn’t become number one by copying someone else’s stroke. He became number one by studying the masters’ techniques, and trying and tweaking their concepts in his quest to develop the perfect stroke – the Tiger Woods stroke. And to this day, after all the personal and physical struggles, Tiger continues that quest, because he knows that, to once again become number one, he must constantly grow and adapt.
If you want to become the best salesperson possible, you must create the perfect sales system – the [Your Name Here] system – and continue to improve that system over time. Of course, this means you have a ton of work to do – work that includes a lifetime of educating yourself on the sales strategies and tactics of the masters, ongoing strategizing and planning, investing thousands of career hours documenting what works, tracking results and tweaking processes along the way.
Not to mention the energy you must expend to learn human behavioral concepts that apply to dealing with prospects, gatekeepers, vendors, bosses, peers – every person with whom you deal that can positively or negatively impact your success.
There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.
– Malcolm Gladwell
Welcome to the world of top sales professionals. It’s a highly complicated and often tedious job, which requires a can-do attitude, exhaustive patience, unparalleled persistence and extreme dedication. In my opinion, sales is one of the most frustrating yet gratifying professions there is – the journey to reach the top is so very difficult, so very long, and so very rewarding.
But hey, if climbing Mount Everest were easy, no one would bother doing it!
Putting Your Shoulder To The Wheel
In the previous chapters of this book, I did my best to lay the groundwork for achieving success at selling. I covered the basic components of sales and described my beliefs about how honesty and integrity will always outsell deceit.
I discussed the benefits of working with prospects, rather than against them, and explained the importance of learning before you speak. I also gave you my ideas on how to communicate more effectively by keeping your messages simple, clear and focused on the bottom-line issues decision-makers want to hear.
Finally, I covered the human component – describing ideas and methods for learning about yourself and others, so the effort you expend creating your sales system won’t be wasted.
Now it’s time to pull all the pieces together into a plan of attack – a project plan for accomplishing your goals.
My Style Of Project Planning
I grew up in residential remodeling – my dad was a contractor, and I started working with him on weekends and during the summers at age 12. Very early on, Dad taught me how to plan projects, so they could be accomplished as easily and quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality. Because of the simplicity and clarity of his message, I remember to this day what Dad said the first time he showed me how to plan a project: “It’s easier to row downstream than it is to row up,” Dad said. “Everything in life has a natural flow, so to get something done, you must look for the flow and match it the best you can.”
I opened this book with 50 simple words that described the primary components of sales, as well as its natural flow: “Some people have stuff and want money. Some people have money and want stuff. Occasionally, both parties find each other, communicate and agree to trade stuff for money. Provided both parties remain happy about the previous trade, they might connect one another to friends or trade again in the future.”
The natural flow of sales is supply and demand, marketing, sales, fulfillment, relationship management, and referral- and repeat-business generation, so the project plan process I’m about to explain is designed to follow that flow. However, since I’ve already designed, tested, implemented and tweaked the process over time, some of the tasks may seem out of order to someone who is learning it for the first time.
For instance, early in the process, you’ll be instructed to learn what your prospects want, to make sure you’re matching your supply to their demand, before you pitch them an offer. Later, you’ll be told that, if you use cold-calling, you should carefully listen to how your prospects say, “No,” to your offers, because that often indicates what they really want.
So, in an early customer-research phase of the project, you may place cold-call offers to prospects – in essence violating the rule that you shouldn’t try to supply something without knowing that your prospects want it. In this particular case, my reason for mixing up the process is twofold:
- A key to success in sales is to leverage everything you do in as many ways as you can. If you are planning to do customer research, and if cold-calling is going to be one of your marketing activities, then why not combine the two so you can save time and energy?
- The only arrow that can’t hit its mark is the one left in the quiver. If you use cold-calling offers as a way to learn what your customers want, you could get a lucky “Yes” and actually sell something along the way.
Just as in selling my way won’t work for you, planning your project my way might not work either. So if you prefer another method of project planning, go for it. Just do your best to match your tasks to those described in this chapter, so you don’t miss anything important.
Assumptions And Overview
Most salespeople have two common behavioral traits, and I’m going to make an assumption that you’re no exception. First, they tend to skip around a lot, so the project plan I’m going to outline will not only allow you to skip around, it will occasionally encourage it. Second, most salespeople probably prefer to see the big picture before tackling the details, so I’ll describe the big picture first, then detail it later.
- Setting Goals And Creating Accountability: State your objectives clearly, and put your back to the wall, so you get this thing done.
- Taking Inventory: Determine your natural talents and strengths, and identify the resources you can use to accomplish your tasks.
- Supply And Demand: Learn about the stuff you sell, the stuff your customers want and the stuff they may buy instead.
- Marketing: Choose marketing activities that allow you to find prospects, and others that ensure prospects can find you.
- Sales: Create your preferred process for selling, and a second process that allows you to adapt to the way some prospects like to buy. That way, you’ll have total control in some instances, while maintaining sales control by relinquishing process control in others.
- Fulfillment: Establish your role in the fulfillment process, so your clients or customers receive their stuff, when they expect it, in the condition they expect it.
- Relationship Management: Determine the types of relationships you must have to achieve success at selling, then design processes for establishing and improving those relationships over time.
- Referral- and Repeat-Business Generation: Design methods for ensuring that prospects and customers both refer you to others, and return to considering buying later.
Now for the really great news – the news that makes everything you’re about to do worthwhile. I absolutely hate having to hunt for business. I truly enjoy tackling the puzzle to find a new way in, but once I know how to get in, implementing the process repeatedly is worse than digging a foundation by hand. I also loathe spending my own money to get my message into the hands of my prospects. I would much rather have people pay me to market to them. (Who wouldn’t love that, right?)
Because of my hatred for these two things, I decided long ago that the sales system I create must produce two eventual outcomes (or I will change it until it does):
- All the business I need will come to my door of its own accord. (Have you ever noticed how the top salespeople never seem to work very hard? That’s what I want – to never seem to be working too hard.)
- The activity of marketing will, in and of itself, produce enough revenue to pay for the marketing activity. (For 12 years, one of my best marketing activities was a networking membership association I built for entrepreneurs and salespeople. This activity not only produced dozens of great sales consulting clients, the membership fees I generated not only covered the cost of the marketing activity, it produced a profit.)
Personally, I can’t think of anything better than clients’ knocking down my door to buy from me and paying to receive my marketing message. Can you?
That’s the ideal selling proposition in my book, and anyone can make that happen. So, what I’m about to give you is a long list of strategies and tasks to perform, so you can eventually reach the levels of sales success you seek. In some cases, you’ll be able to do the task immediately, because you already possess the skills you need. In others, I might list a task that requires skills you haven’t acquired, such as “Interview executives for an article, describing the mistakes people make when …” If you haven’t perfected a skill, read the remaining chapters to learn it before implementing the task. (Just don’t let the task overwhelm you the first time you see it.) Also, you may have to figure out how to do some tasks on your own, because sales and selling are so different for each of us that I’d have to write a dozen books to cover everything. (Here I’ll concentrate on the stuff I think will make you most effective in the short term.)
It may take 10,000 hours to master the craft of selling, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money while you learn!
To get you started on the right track to achieving success at selling, I’m setting the following four goals for you. If you don’t like the goals I set, feel free to change them – it is, after all, your decision to make.
- To set big, hairy, audacious, sales goals
- To create and document my own, personal selling system
- To create enough “marketing gravity,” so I can stop hunting for business should I choose to do so
- To have prospects cover the costs of my marketing plan
While setting career goals, it is important to also maintain balance in life – to set goals in other areas of your life, so you don’t sacrifice one for the others. What other goals do you have that might impact your ability to achieve success at selling? Think outside the box. What about retirement, kids, travel or family? How about community, charities or spiritual goals? Make sure these goals are also in writing, because they might get forgotten otherwise.
The more difficult the goal, the more important it is that the goal be documented, complete with deadlines and accountabilities. For each goal you choose, set a target date for accomplishing your goal, then figure out how you’ll be held accountable should you not accomplish it.
In 2003, I volunteered to be the eight-hour pacer for the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon – I had to walk the 26.2 miles at exactly an eight-hour pace. I was doing this on behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so its Team In Training program participants would have a benchmark for finishing the marathon on time. (I tied balloons to me, and participants were instructed to finish in front of “the balloon guy,” or they wouldn’t get medals for completing the marathon.)
I volunteered very late in the training session, and before then had never walked more than about five miles in my life. So, with only two months to train, I asked my Team In Training coach to help me create and document an aggressive training schedule. Then, to ensure that I’d actually get the training done, and complete the marathon, I devised some personal accountability.
At the time, I was an avid cyclist, and a twice-per-year participant in the Team In Training program for cyclists. For each event, each participant raises about $4,000 and trains for about four months, then travels to a great location to ride 100 miles (a century ride) in one day. I love doing these events, so I created the perfect motivation for doing my marathon training: If I failed to finish the marathon as planned, I’d have to drop from both cycling events in the coming year, but I’d still have to raise the $8,000. Talk about motivation!
And to ensure that I met my obligations, I sent an e-mail to the Team In Training director of our chapter, in which I specified my goal, spelled out my time line and committed to my accountability guidelines.
Exercise: Setting Goals
- Document your goals. (The difference between a dream and a goal is a time line and accountability, so the first step to accomplishing any goal is to put it on paper.)
- For each goal, establish the deadlines you will meet. (You might want to finish this book before setting dates, because then you’ll have a better idea on timing. So set a deadline for finishing the book!)
- Create accountability. (What consequences will you suffer if you don’t accomplish your goal, or the steps you must take to reach it, on time?)
- Elicit support from others. (Who will hold you accountable, as well as help you along the way?)
- Make your plan visible. (How can you make your goals visible to the point where you have no choice but to accomplish the tasks, because the embarrassment from failure will be more than you can bear?)
In Chapter 5, I discussed your need to understand the raw material – your own strengths and the strengths of those around you – before taking on the challenge of creating your plan. If you followed that advice, then by now you will have taken at least one of the many professional assessments available on the market today. Hopefully, you also had the financial resources to have an expert go over your results and discuss them with you, so you have a better understanding of yourself than you did before.
By this time, you should also have thought through the various relationships in your life and developed a fairly clear understanding of who can help you reach your goals, and who may stand in your way. Now it’s time to list your resources and plan how you’ll leverage them to their fullest.
Exercise: Taking Inventory
For each of the following questions, I want you to use speed-writing techniques (explained in the chapter on communicating) to answer each question. Set up a five-minute writing environment, just as you did in the training exercise. Read one question, and write your answer as fast as you can for the full five minutes. Don’t worry about cleaning up anything until later – this is a brainstorm session, so let that hurricane in your head have its way.
I’m giving you a lot to contemplate – a lot of questions, divided into the time frames of your past, present and future. So don’t plan to do this in one sitting – unless you have time on your hands. Although you can choose a time frame or a section out of order, once you’ve chosen a section, answer the questions in that section in order, in one sitting, so you maintain your train of thought.
If a specific question or section is not applicable to you, skip it. But before you abandon it altogether, ask one of your advisors whether he or she can think of anything you may have missed.
You will get out of this exercise what you put into it – it’s a one-to-one correlation. You don’t have to show this to anyone, so be brutally honest with yourself, and you’ll learn volumes that you can use.
Answer every question in as much detail as you can. And remember, I said becoming a master sales craftsman was hard work, so there are no excuses for not doing this exercise!
Learning From The Past
Often the key to the future lies in the past, so start by searching the past for clues you can leverage.
Past – Section 1
- Based on the emotions involved (not necessarily the dollar amounts), what are the three best sales you ever made?
- What did you do to create these sales opportunities?
- For each of these sales, what almost cost you the deal, and how did you overcome that roadblock?
- For each of these sales, what was the bottom-line reason the buyer chose you over everyone else?
- For each of these sales, after the initial sale, how much additional business did you do with the customer or client, and how did you create those opportunities?
- If no additional sales were made, why not, and what could you have done to change that?
Past – Section 2
- What were your two worst marketing efforts ever?
- What was the “biggest fish ever” that got away, and why did you lose it?
- If you’ve ever been fired from a sales job, and I asked your boss why you were fired, what would he or she say? (His or her words, not yours.)
- If a huge client has ever fired your company from the account, and I asked the client why, what would he or she say? (Use the client’s words, not yours.)
Past – Section 3
- What’s the worst advice you ever tried related to sales or selling?
- What’s the best advice you ever tried related to sales or selling?
- What sales advice have you heard that you’d like to try?
Past – Section 4
- What marketing activities have you done successfully in the past, are not doing now, but believe would work if you did them again?
- Why did you abandon them in the first place?
- What is blocking you from going back to these activities?
- How can you overcome these obstacles?
Past – Section 5
- In your opinion (as though you were a sales trainer telling someone else), what are the five most important things a salesperson must do to be successful?
- What of these five things do you do well, and what do you do poorly?
- What steps must you take to improve on the areas where you’re weak?
Defining The Present
Each of the questions in section one is independent of the others, so answer them in any order you like, in as many sittings as you need:
Present – Section 1
- What are the things you most hate about your job right now? (Please list everything.)
- What are the things you most love about your job? (List everything.)
- What are your two favorite activities (hobbies, sports, reading, etc.) outside of work?
- What’s your favorite charity, why, and how have you helped this charity in the last 12 months?
Present – Section 2
- What tools of the trade do you lack at this time?
- How can you acquire the tools you don’t have?
- On which tool do you depend the most? The least?
- How long would it take you to learn the new tools? (I’m asking you to analyze your transitional pain.)
Planning The Future
Now that you’re clear on the past and present, how will you apply what you’ve learned to improve the future?
Future – Section 1
- Who are the five people in your life most likely to help you achieve your goal if you asked for their help?
- For each of these people, what asset(s) does he or she bring that you can leverage?
- What are the two best ways you can leverage each asset of each person?
- How can you repay these people for helping in a way that would be beneficial not only to each of them, but to someone else as well?
Future – Section 2
- What steps would you need to take over the next six months to duplicate one of the biggest sales you ever made?
- What is blocking you from taking those steps?
- How can you overcome these obstacles?
Future – Section 3
- If in six months you become the top business producer at your company, who would be upset by that?
- Suppose for a minute that you couldn’t achieve success at selling without this person’s help. How would you go about securing that help? (Think outside the box on this one.)
Like I said earlier, I know salespeople fairly well, so I’m betting you read this far without actually doing the exercise. Well, that’s okay, because I have a suggestion for breaking this task into doable steps.
Give the list of questions to someone you trust – someone with whom you don’t mind sharing the answers. Have him or her send you one question via e-mail every day but at random times. As soon as you see the email, speed-write your response and hit <Send> immediately – before you take the time to clean it up. Trust your helper – he or she will not care if you missed a comma, spelled something wrong or wrote jibberish in one section.
This is very important, so listen closely. Your helper should not critique what you wrote – that will come later, after you’ve had a chance to clean up your thoughts and organize them into a single “Taking Inventory” document. Right now, his or her role is instigator and accountability officer – nothing more.
I believe that you already have most of the answers to the question: “What’s keeping me from achieving success at selling?” And it is my hope that taking inventory – in combination with what you learned in your behavior profile(s) – will open your eyes to some of the things holding you back, so you can create a plan of action to overcome those obstacles, and leverage the many assets you have.
Once you’ve finished this inventory exercise, sit down with a trusted advisor, mentor, significant other – perhaps even your boss, if your relationship is sound – and analyze what you’ve written. Then brainstorm things you can do to improve over time, put those goals in writing, add action items to your calendar and make a commitment to getting them done.
You will make the greatest strides forward by first looking back, because your past holds not only most of the secrets to your success, but the reasons for your failures as well. Only by recognizing and dealing with those issues first can you hope to succeed. So complete the exercise in this section before attempting anything else I’m about to explain, and then you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
Supply And Demand: Some People Have Stuff And Want Money. Some People Have Money And Want Stuff.
In Chapter 1, I described the three keys to leveraging supply and demand:
- Never assume you have stuff people want or that people want the same stuff today they wanted yesterday.
- Make certain your message is understood and memorable.
- Speak the prospect’s language – results, results, results.
If these are the keys to leveraging supply and demand, then your project must include tasks to ensure that these keys can be leveraged, so you may have a bit of work to do. I’ll assume for the purposes of this plan that you’re a totally new salesperson at your company, and outline some tasks for acquiring the knowledge you need to sell effectively. If you’ve been at the same company a while, naturally, some of this won’t be a fit for you.
Never Assume You Have Stuff People Want Or That People Want The Same Stuff Today They Wanted Yesterday
You cannot sell unless your supply matches your prospects’ demands and is competitive with the other products and services from which they can choose. That means you must: know what you sell; know what your prospects want, need and can afford, and whether they’ll part with money to get it; and know what others have to sell that is competitive with what you sell, based on your prospects’ perceptions, not yours.
In other words, you need to increase your product knowledge, prospect knowledge and competitive product knowledge. Here’s an outline and some ideas for making that happen, while possibly closing a sale or two along the way.
Before you embark on a mission to learn every detail about what you sell, please listen carefully to what I’m about to say, because this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned about selling complicated stuff.
Gill’s Rule: The more complex and complicated your stuff, the less you must know about it to sell it to your prospects. In fact, the more you know about the details, the less likely you’ll be to close the sale.
Hopefully, you found that to be good news, because it means you can avoid investing thousands of hours learning all the details about your stuff. But if your reaction was, “Gill, you’re nuts!” then I’ll ask you to simply trust me for a bit. In the Sales section later in this chapter, I’ll explain why I believe this is true. (If you still believe I’m nuts then, so be it. This is the [Your Name Here] system, after all.)
Meanwhile, in your mission to increase product knowledge, you should concentrate on learning only what you must learn to help the decision-maker make a business decision that is based on the results your stuff can produce, and the investment required to produce those results. I call this “making the conceptual sale,” because the idea is to come to agreement that your stuff meets the decision-makers concept of success. Of course, you must also be able to answer the most likely technical and contractual questions you’ll be asked, so you’ll need that knowledge as well, but don’t learn one iota of technical or contractual information that you don’t believe you’ll need to close deals.
Objective: Increase Product Knowledge
For each product or service you sell, determine what information decision-makers must have to make a results-based, return-on-investment decision as to whether your stuff is for them.
- Examine all marketing material – brochures, websites, cold-call offers, cold-letters, ads, etc. – and list anything that describes an increase or decrease that your products and/or services will produce.
- Examine all customer testimonials and feedback, good and bad, to identify a list of results your clients said you produced for them. (Pay close attention to how their wording differs from yours.)
- Conduct brainstorm sessions with coworkers to describe the results your stuff produces for clients (in your words). Include people from as many areas of the company as you possibly can.
- Show your results list to anyone willing to provide feedback – the company attorney, accountant, banker, and so on – and refine your list until your company decision-makers are satisfied that it is both accurate and complete.
Learn What Competitors Provide
McDonald’s business model is founded on the idea that a customer can enter any store on the planet and get the same burger prepared the same way in less than a minute. When Burger King launched its “Have It Your Way” campaign, the strategy was to compete with McDonald’s by offering something completely opposite – something McDonald’s couldn’t match without changing the foundation of the way it did business.
Right up there with Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” strategy, McDonald’s attempt to change its business model to match Burger King’s “Have It Your Way” model ranks as one of the colossal bad business decisions of all time. The strategy lasted fewer than six months, because customers got tired of waiting in long lines.
Your competitive edge will come from both how you sell and the differences in the things you sell. As you examine the competition, look for both similarities and differences. And, pay close attention to your competitors’ primary strengths, because you can often use those strengths against them quite effectively, just as Burger King did.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 from above with your competitors’ information. (Make special note of results they list that you do not.)
- Where possible (meaning don’t tick anyone off), play mystery-shopper with competitors, to learn more about what they sell and how they sell it.
- If selling in a public request-for-proposal environment, locate competitors’ proposals and evaluate them.
- Conduct strategic planning sessions to determine the strengths and weaknesses of competitors’ products as compared to your own.
- Design strategies to compete by offering features your competition cannot match.
Increase Knowledge Of What Customers Want – Results, Results, Results
- Once results are listed for your own and competitors’ products and services, contact current customers and request brief meetings, possibly over meals, to determine whether the results you identified are accurate and are still desired. Also look for additional results customers want that aren’t listed. Attempt to determine the returns on investment that customers expect when paying to have these results produced.
- Examine customers’ websites, annual reports, brochures – anything you can find – to determine any result customers want to produce or any language used to define company objectives or measurement criteria.
- Craft new cold-call offers based on results-based research, then conduct cold-call sessions. Carefully track all “No” responses, so you can gain an understanding of what customers want.
- Change cold-call offers until your desired call-to-appointment and appointment-to-close ratios are achieved.
When you’ve completed your supply-and-demand efforts, you should have a fairly clear understanding of your stuff, your competitors’ stuff and the stuff your prospects want. At that point, you must update your marketing message, so it includes the results you produce in very clear and simple terms. Only then will you have a message that is memorable and effective.
Marketing: Both Parties Find Each Other
While there are six components to sales, the vast majority of your time will be spent finding prospects and making sure they can find you. And, in the early stages, you’ll spend a lot more time hunting – placing phone calls, sending letters, attending networking functions, writing articles, and so forth – than you will gathering – responding to prospects who contact you. As a result, whenever you pause your marketing efforts, such as going on vacation for a week, your sales results will be negatively impacted almost immediately. By carefully planning ahead, you can change this dynamic so that eventually you can stop hunting altogether. Once you achieve that level of success, vacations, holidays, even stopping to write a book, will have little effect on your sales results, because prospects will continue to find you.
Choosing Your Weapons
What I want you to do now is choose at least three marketing activities that you believe will produce your best results in your sales process. You may choose from the list that follows, but be sure to adhere to these guidelines:
- Don’t choose any activity on the list of things you hate about your job. (If you hate cold-calling, but your boss requires you to do it anyway, continue to live up to that obligation. Just don’t choose cold-calling as one of these three.)
- Two of the activities should leverage what you’ve learned about yourself through the behavioral profiling and inventory assessments you’ve already done. They should be things at which you’ll probably excel or enjoy doing.
- One of the activities should force you out of your comfort zone, perhaps something like speaking in public or writing articles. (Pick something that scares the tar out of you but that you’re willing to tackle anyway.)
- Two of the activities should be hunter processes, designed to quickly find and set sales appointments.
- One of the activities should be a gathering process. (Writing and speaking come to mind once again.)
The sky is the limit on the creativity you can apply to this selection process. You’ll know you’re done when you have three activities that all fit the guidelines above. Here are some common marketing activities from which you can choose (this is by no means a comprehensive list):
- Cold-calling to set sales appointments
- Conducting research projects and writing case studies
- Conducting workshops
- Creating lead-sharing groups or strategic partnerships
- Creating your own website
- Helping community, government, charities or nonprofit organizations
- Hosting exhibits at trade shows
- Mailing items of interest to clients and prospects
- Networking at business gatherings, association meetings and community functions
- Offering interviews to newspapers, magazines and radio or television programs
- Providing free advice on your website or through list-server participation
- Sending direct mail
- Serving on trade association or community boards of directors
- Speaking at trade associations and conferences
- Writing a book or books
- Writing a company newsletter and/or e-newsletter
- Writing articles for publication in relevant periodicals
- Writing cold-letters to targeted markets
The reason I use the guidelines above is threefold. If you take the time to organize and implement these activities properly:
- You will generate the short-term sales you need to keep your boss happy and your pocketbook full.
- You will force yourself to learn new things and expand your horizons.
- You will begin the process of creating the personal brand you’ll need to become the best salesperson possible.
You must choose your marketing weapons, so you can organize your efforts by following the advice in the next chapter.
After you’ve made your marketing activity choices, discuss them with your advisors, and make any changes you collectively agree are appropriate.
Personal Branding Effort
As I mentioned early in Chapter 1, it is very important that you create a personal brand – something that sets you apart from both your competition and your teammates and peers – because, without a personal brand, creating marketing gravity is a hundred times more difficult. If you included writing in your list of marketing activities (hey, if this construction stiff can do it, you can, too), then consider adding the following to your long-term plan:
- As you learn about your prospects and customers, pay attention to the bottom-line results they want to produce, and to the words they use to describe those results.
- Invent combinations of words that “speak” to your customers – their words always will. Use your name as your domain URL. Or try to create a domain name that has a bit of flair or can be recognized by your ideal prospects as having meaning. Then search to see whether any of your domain choices are available.
- Reserve the domain name and then slowly create your website. Make it your personal site – a representation of you as a proud sales professional. Give it a bit of attitude – don’t hesitate to offer your opinions, even when they’re a bit controversial.
- Commit to writing one short article, or producing a video, or interviewing someone, every week at a minimum.
- Post everything you write on the site and engage with people who comment.
- Eventually, you too can write a book about your subject – all it takes are a can-do attitude, dedication and time.
The thing to remember about creating a personal brand is that it’s not the brand that makes you, it’s you that makes the brand. In the early years, don’t expect people to come knocking at your door without your knocking on theirs first. (They will come, but it takes either time or tons of money to make it happen – I’m assuming time is the asset you have to invest.)
Note: If you want assistance creating your personal brand from scratch, I strongly recommend the Wizard of Ads partners. They’ve helped me immensely! If you want a personal recommendation, JD Campbell is my guy. Perhaps he can become your guy as well! (Tell him Gill sent ya.)
Sales: Both Parties Communicate And Agree To Trade
Earlier I promised to explain my position on why less is more when it comes to your knowledge of complex products and services.
From the decision-maker’s perspective, the more complex a purchase is, the more he or she must both buy based on gut feel, and rely on subordinates to help make the correct decisions. So thinking from this perspective, and hunting for that all-important bottom line, three primary issues must be considered:
- Decision-makers don’t have time to understand details, so they delegate this responsibility to their subordinates.
- If you align yourself with the subordinates – understanding every detail of your stuff – then, in the decision-maker’s mind, you are a subordinate, too.
- When making a gut-feel decision, decision-makers will trust their peers more than their subordinates. (Birds of a feather flock together for a reason.)
The last thing you want with a decision-maker is to be viewed as a subordinate, so, to avoid being pigeonholed, you must act the way a decision-maker would act. You must rely on subordinates to get the detailed questions answered, just as any decision-maker would. Only then will you have the peer-to-peer relationships that will encourage that ever-important gut acceptance. (Yes, it’s okay to know the details but still delegate their delivery to others.)
I include a detailed description of this concept, and the entire sales cycle, in later chapters, so I won’t cover that here. Instead, I’ll define some tasks you must perform, so you’ll have the sales process you need to shorten your sales cycle and remain in control of the sale from end to end.
Creating A Systematic Sales Appointment Approach
Following the task list below, create and document the sales process you will use when meeting with prospects:
- Depending on what you sell, your sales process may consist of a one-hour meeting or a years-long effort that includes dozens of touch points. Your first step in this project is to define the “normal” sales process, so create a list of all the steps you’ll take in an average sales situation. (Yes, if it takes 12 separate meetings, with 14 preparation steps and 8 follow-up steps each, then, including the meetings themselves, you’ll have a process containing 276 steps.)
- For each meeting in your sales process, create a list of the questions you must have answered – for instance, “Whose name and title should I put on the proposal?” – before you can move to the next portion of the sales cycle.
- For each meeting in your sales process, list the questions you believe your prospects will want you to answer. (Use your experience and assistance from colleagues to generate this list.)
- Design transition questions you will ask for all transitions in your sales cycle. (A transition is the time period from when one meeting ends until the other begins.) What questions will you ask at the end of one meeting that can better prepare you for the next? For example, when I sell technology products, I typically have three meetings – a “conceptual sale” meeting with the decision-maker, during which we discuss business issues alone; a “technical sale” meeting with the technology people; and a “contractual sale” meeting with the decision-maker, during which we finalize the deal. At the end of a conceptual sale meeting, I always ask questions so I can set up both the technical and contractual sale appointments. That way, when I meet with the technical folks, I can tell them I’ve already set another meeting with the decision-maker, and thereby stop them from attempting to block my path back to the top person.
- Learn and practice the interview and communication techniques outlined earlier in this book – practice makes perfect, so never stop practicing.
Very few salespeople, including only a few top salespeople, have documented any part of their sales systems. All I can tell you is this: If you write it now, your chances of making it happen will increase tenfold, because, after doing all that work, you’re more likely to implement every step, if for no other reason than to justify the effort.
Fulfillment: The Parties Trade Stuff For Money
Fulfillment often has nothing to do with selling, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assume full accountability for this component of the sale. After all, if the customer bails because of poor fulfillment, it will be your commission on this sale, the referrals you may have received and the commissions they may have generated, and your commission on repeat sales to this customer that all get cut.
If you’re at a company that requires you to not contact customers after the sale – one that has a sales team that finds new clients and an account management team that takes it from there – then one of your tasks is to work to change the system. Because I covered this briefly in Chapter 1, and because it’s not likely to be the case, I’ll assume you can help with fulfillment as you see fit.
Remember that new customers made their decisions without all the facts, and those include gut judgments that all will go as planned. So, they will be extra particular during the earliest stages of fulfillment. To protect your pocketbook and your reputation, make sure the first fulfillment processes go off without a hitch.
Exercise: Making Fulfillment Work For You
If you did as instructed in the previous chapter, you will have already determined the people in fulfillment with whom you should build relationships. These people often have very tough jobs, so, to start the process of creating your fulfillment plan, consider thinking things through from their perspectives and figuring out ways to make their jobs easier.
Answer the following questions based on nothing but your personal understanding of the Fulfillment department’s issues. Use speed-writing techniques, then meet with the fulfillment folks to see if there’s anything they can add.
Fulfillment – Section 1
- What information does your Fulfillment department need that is most often forgotten by salespeople?
- What is Fulfillment’s biggest complaint about customers?
- What is Fulfillment’s biggest complaint about vendors?
- What is Fulfillment’s biggest complaint about salespeople?
- What does Fulfillment believe is “the perfect customer”?
- Other than helping to correct the problems above, what five things can you do to make fulfillment folks’ lives easier?
Fulfillment – Section 2
- What is the worst disaster Fulfillment has ever caused with one of your customers?
- What could you have done to prevent this disaster?
- When mistakes are made, how can you be certain you are informed as soon as possible?
- How can you keep yourself in a position to fix mistakes?
- What authority do you have for offering your customers some kind of compensation (free stuff, extended deadlines, reduced fees, etc.) for mistakes that could damage your customer relationships?
- If you have no authority, what must you do to acquire some?
- What else can you do to make Fulfillment your ally?
Your mission with every department at your company is to become part of the solution – part of the team. Allies help one another, and achieving success at selling is easier when you have allies.
Relationship Management: Both Parties Remain Happy About The Previous Trade
Most behavioral profiles I’ve seen indicate that salespeople will let relationships slide if they don’t see a future benefit. Well, I’m here to tell you that all relationships have potential benefits, if you manage them carefully and leverage them where you can. So don’t forget to maintain regular contact with all customers, both with your predefined marketing processes and by doing special things just for them.
The Little Things Count
As long as you concentrate on the fulfillment end, the big issues will tend to take care of themselves. But you can increase the value of your relationships with current customers in many little ways. Here are but a few that you can add to your plan:
- Thank-You Cards: Sending thank-you cards is probably the most well-known, effective and inexpensive relationship-building technique on the planet – and virtually no one ever does it! If you do nothing else to build relationships, get some thank-you cards, handwrite them, and send them whenever it seems like a nice gesture to do so. (Don’t think about it, don’t plan it, just do it!)
- Referrals: There are few things a client or customer will appreciate more than a referral. As you build your contact base, pay special attention to the products and services your customers sell – and send referrals their way whenever you get the chance.
- Invitations: Are you speaking in public or attending an interesting association meeting? Think about which of your customers might want to hear you speak or find value in the same meeting.
- Interviews: Writing an article? In addition to interviewing prospects for the article, why not interview an established customer or two as well, and strengthen your existing relationships even further?
- Outings: As you build better relationships with your customers, learn about their hobbies or sports activities, so you can introduce them to others who share the same interests. Or, provided you share their interests naturally, perhaps you can go on outings together.
- Connections: Referrals aren’t the only things your customers will value. Consider inviting two, three, perhaps more customers and/or prospects to a “connection dinner” where you strategically connect them to one another. Your role is to pull the event together, facilitate the introductions and ensure that every person who attends leaves with new relationships he or she can leverage.
These are just a few ideas that may help you think a bit more carefully about your customer and prospect base and may help you add relationship-creation activities to your list.
New-Business Generation: Connect One Another To Friends Or Trade Again In The Future
Salespeople never seem to know how to get referrals from great customers. Trust me when I say that, if you do everything I described above, referrals will come to you. That being said, I have one great technique for getting all the referrals, testimonials and client references you can hope for from a new customer – because success is based in normal human behavior.
In his book “INFLUENCE: Science And Practice,” Robert B. Cialdini discusses what he calls “commitment and consistency.” He postulates that once someone commits to a decision, his or her subsequent actions will be in full support of that decision. (Remember my example in Chapter 2 – my undying commitment to my Toyota 4-Runner the day after I bought it?)
Here’s the best technique I’ve found to leverage this behavior and produce tons of referrals, testimonials and references. After your prospect signs on the dotted line and becomes a client or customer, and, as soon as you can, figure out how to ask something like this:
“Joe, it’s great to be working with you. I’m monitoring fulfillment as closely as you would to make sure we accomplish everything we set out to do for you. I have a favor to ask, however, if you don’t mind.
“Referrals are the lifeblood of my business – without them I’ll go broke. [When we’re finished with this project][When you’ve had a chance to check out our containers][When we get done building your office complex] … if we accomplish everything we set out to accomplish, would you be willing to provide me some referrals, write a testimonial or act as a reference for others who are considering our company?”
According to Cialdini, Joe will be virtually guaranteed to say “Sure.” (Barring company rules against this sort of thing, of course.)
Then, when the project is finished, order is filled, building is built, or whatever, follow up with something like this:
“Joe, back when we started this project, you said that, if we accomplished everything we set out to do for you, you’d provide some referrals, write a testimonial or act as a reference. Are you still willing to do that?”
The odds of getting nothing will be slim, provided you did as you promised to do. And more times than not, you’ll get all three.
The [Your Name Here] Sales System
No one can think of everything related to creating an entire sales system – me included, I’m afraid. But if you do the project outlined in this chapter, answer the questions and complete the exercises, and then follow through on all your planning, you’ll be further ahead of the game than the vast majority of salespeople out there.
Remember, to truly create The [Your Name Here] Sales System, you must add your own flair. So please let this book be a guide to getting you started – the ignition that lights the fire, if you will – not the be-all, end-all guide to creating your system.
There are literally hundreds of great resources into which you can tap in your effort to achieve success at selling – and much better project-planning guides than this. So always keep learning, and keep your shoulder to the wheel. More importantly, trust in yourself.