Sales is one of the most difficult professions in the world. There are so many variables in what we do on a daily basis it’s hard to keep everything in line. Here are some common challenges we all face and some actionable tips on how to address them.
1. Getting caught with “Do you even know what we do?” on an initial call
If you’ve ever had this happen to you and you didn’t have an answer you know how embarrassing it can be. It happens all too often in sales, mainly when it comes to prospecting. It would happen way more if the prospect asked us every time since unfortunately most sales professionals just pick up a list of names and smile/dial and hope for the best. We need to earn the right to make the call and at least know what the company does before we call them. The more research we do on the account before the call the better but some of us don’t have time to do research. So, at the very least, the best way to earn the right to sell and to avoid getting caught flat footed is to always have a client’s web site open in front of you while making the call.
2. Losing the deal after getting a verbal agreement
This is one of the worst things that can happen, especially at the end of the month or the end of the quarter. When we get a verbal agreement we get all excited, update our forecast, tell our manager the deal is coming in, brag about it to our team, and so on. Then, when it doesn’t come in we end up with egg on our face across the board and no money in our pockets which is even worse. Here are a few things to consider and to put into play with verbal agreements: 1. Ignore them, they are not a signed contract. 2. Work harder to close the deal; don’t take a breath. 3. Have a clear understanding of the role of the person who gave you the verbal. Make sure you know exactly where they are on the “power line” and how much authority they have. 4. If they are not the decision maker, do everything you can to get in front of the one who is. Write an email confirming they are ready to move forward and have them email you back in agreement. 5. Schedule a meeting on the calendar for the “decision.” Don’t just let them get off with something like: “We’ll sign off by the end of the week.”
3. The handoff to procurement or finance at the end of the sales process
You’ve done a great job meeting with all the key decision makers, understanding the decision making process, clarifying the details of their situation, developing a perfect solution that meets the needs of the client, and mapping out implementation timelines. Now you’re ready to close, but there is one more step: dealing with Procurement and/or Legal. Doh! Procurement has one job – to get your solution at the absolute lowest price possible. Legal has one job – protect the client against anything and everything they can. Neither of them cares about any of the work you’ve done to date with the business decision makers. Here are a few ways to deal with this: 1. Make sure you involve them early in the process. See if you can speak with them directly on the phone or in person, if possible, so you can develop some sort of relationship. Don’t get caught in a strictly e-mail relationship with them. 2. If it’s for the legal review, see if you can get your lawyer to talk to theirs and get yourself out of the middle. 3. Make sure you have a real “Champion” on the business side who you can bring back into the situation with Procurement if it gets too ugly. 4. Understand the implementation needs and timeline of the client and back out when you need to start the contract process. You can even tell the client you will send them your standard terms early in the process before the proposal and ask then to send them to Legal or Procurement to get the redlines out of the way sooner rather than later.
4. Getting caught off guard when making your calls
Have you ever made a bunch of calls and been lulled to sleep by the monotony of it all — the never ending number of voicemails left — only to get caught off guard by an executive who actually picks up the phone? Most people freeze up for a minute, stuttering and ultimately puking all over the client with a gross elevator pitch filled with all the wonderful things about their company and how great they are. Those calls usually end up with the kiss of death: “That sounds interesting. Why don’t you send me some information and call me in a week?” It happens to the best of us. Here are a few things we can do to prevent this: 1. Do some research before each call and at least know what the company does. 2. Make sure you have a reason for your call every time. Start off every phone call with this statement: “The reason for my call today is….” 3. Develop three to four one-line statements (I call them Attention Grabbers) that take no longer than 15 seconds to say. Focus on getting someone’s attention and getting the response to be “Tell me more” or “How do you do that?” Print these out and put them in front of your phone. 4. Have a few go-to questions you can ask when put on the spot, like: “What’s the number one thing you are personally held accountable for in your position?” 5. Have fun with it. If you ever get caught, don’t try to fake your way out of it. Be honest and make a joke out of it. You’d be surprised how many people will forgive you if you’re honest.
5. Getting blindsided in a meeting
Have you ever walked into a meeting completely prepared to meet with one or two people, but there ends up being a group of people there you’ve never met before? Or, there’s that one person who sits in the corner with their arms folded waiting to pounce and ruin your presentation with a very well placed question meant to sabotage you? Maybe you walk in thinking you’re there to meet about one thing and they completely change the topic and want to talk about a service issue they are having? Meetings are challenging for a lot of reasons. We need to make sure we’re controlling them as much as possible. Here are a few things you can do to put yourself in the best position possible with meetings: 1. Send an Outlook invite to your main contact and ask them to forward it along to everyone else who will be in the meeting. When everyone else accepts the meeting invitation you will get a confirmation that includes their email address and then you can look up who they are. 2. Make sure you do a background check on LinkedIn on all the participants to see if they have ever worked for a competitor or a company that uses a competitor. 3. Send an email out to all the attendees the day before the meeting with a brief three-point agenda that covers what you want to talk about. Leave three other bullet points open and ask them to fill in the blanks with what they want to cover. 4. Use the agenda to start the meeting and to ensure everyone is on the same page.
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