When it comes to selling, tiny changes can generate big results. This post contains ten “tweaks” to your day-to-day sales routine. Each “tweak” has the potential to double, or even triple, the sales that you’re making on a regular basis.
The root of these “tweaks” is a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Tom Black, author of “The Boxcar Millionaire.” He’s an interesting guy who used his selling skills to climb from the depths of poverty to becoming a multi-millionaire.
I’ve taken his brief suggestions and fleshed them out, based upon my consultations with other sales experts and trainers, along with my own observations and experience.
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TWEAK #1: Only contact decision-makers
- Key Terminology: A “decision-maker” is a person who either owns the problem (or part of the problem) that your offering solves or owns the budget (or part of the budget) that will pay for it.
- What You Do: Research the job titles and backgrounds of people who have bought your offering (or similar offerings) in the past. Limit your lead qualification activities (i.e. cold calling, email marketing) to individuals with a similar profile.
- Why This Works: Because these are the people who make the decisions, they’re worth the extra effort it takes to try to reach them directly. If you find that you can only get access to a gatekeeper, move to the next lead.
- How This Saves Time: Because you have a limited amount of time to sell each day, don’t waste it calling upon people who don’t have the authority to purchase. While it is possible to use a lower-level individual to get contact with a decision-maker, cultivating such individuals can take more time and effort than getting directly in touch with the people that you really need to speak with.
- Warning: If you’re going to speak with high-level executives, you must be able to present yourself as their equal. If you take a subservient position, you’ll just get bumped down to the drones.
TWEAK #2: Only sell to big buyers
- Key Terminology: A “big buyer” is a company that is sufficiently large that it definitely has the kind of money required to purchase you offering, without causing any strain whatsoever on their finances.
- What You Do: Before you even make a call to a company, use the Internet to research the company and confirm that they are large enough, and financial solvent enough, to purchase your offering.
- Why This Works: Experience proves that it can take more time to make a small sale to a small customer than it does to make a big sale to a big customer.
- How This Saves Time: Because you have a limited amount of time to sell each day, it’s better to pursue a handful of big deals than chasing a hundred small ones.
- Warning: Regardless of size, if a prospect can’t spend money at this time, they’re not really a qualified prospect. So don’t waste your time.
TWEAK #3: Take control of your meeting times
- Key Terminology: A “meeting time” is the time you have committed to meet with a prospect.
- What You Do: When you first make an appointment, agree to whatever time is convenient for the prospect. Then, once the appointment is in the prospect’s calendar, request that the appointment be moved to match what’s convenient for you.
- Why This Works: Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a prospect will not mind changing the appointment date around, once the prospect has already decided to meet with you.
- How This Saves Time: It allows you to better schedule your travel time, preparation time, and meeting time, so that you spend less time on each prospect, but with the same positive impact.
- Warning: If you keep your calendar (and prospect list) SOLELY on your computer or smartphone, you’re eventually going to get burned. Those devices are wonderful, but they 1) run out of battery power, 2) crash unexpectedly, 3) get stolen, 4) get broken, 5) lose files, 6) won’t connect to the network, 7) require complicated commands, and 8) strain your eyeballs. If you’ve got your sales activities recorded on paper, the only excuse you’ve got for not contacting a prospect is if your dog eats the piece of paper, which rarely happens.
TWEAK #4: Use more referrals
- Key Terminology: A “referral” is when an existing customer or colleague suggests to a prospect that he or she speak with you.
- What You Do: When you’ve confirmed that a customer is delighted with you and your offering, ask that customer to contact somebody who might also need your service.
- Why This Works: When you come into a sales situation with a referral, the potential prospect knows somebody who has recommended from you. You have therefore been “vetted” you as a trustworthy person and worthy of their time.
- How This Saves Time: Because the customer trusts you, it’s easier to get the information you need to qualify the lead. As a result, you end up spending less time on false opportunities and more time on opportunities that could really lead to a sale.
- Warning: Only ask for referrals from delighted customers; asking when you close (or worse, when you don’t) is a good way to get dead-end referrals. Why should somebody put his own career and reputation on the line, if they aren’t 100 percent sure you can deliver?
TWEAK #5: Optimize your meeting schedule
- Key Terminology: Your “meeting schedule” is the collection of “meeting times” that you’ve put into a single day, week or month.
- What You Do: Figure out the optimum number of sales calls or meetings that you can make during a day and the craft your schedule accordingly. For example, if you find that your typical sales call takes half a day, schedule meetings at 8:30am and 1:30pm.
- Why This Works: It ensures that you spend time with as many prospects as possible
- How This Saves Time: It allows you to handle more prospects in the same amount of elapsed time, without lessening the amount of time spent with each prospect.
- Warning: Beware of the “one meeting” day. For example if your meetings with prospects typically take four hours, if you schedule a meeting at 11am, that will be the only meeting you’ll have that day.
TWEAK #6: Sell when prospects are available
- Key Terminology: “Available” means that the prospect is able to take your call or meet with you face to face.
- What You Do: Don’t waste prime sales call time (i.e. “working hours”) fussing with your CRM system, doing research, answering emails and so forth. Instead, spend that time getting in touch with, and meeting with, real live prospects.
- Why This Works: The crux of your job is to sell; all the rest is just busywork – necessary, perhaps, but secondary to getting the real job done. If possible, offload the electronic paperwork onto a clerical staff.
- How This Saves Time: Prospects are only available when they’re available. If you’re ready to sell and they’re not ready to buy, you’ll have to wait before you can get your sales process into gear.
- Warning: Many sales reps have NO IDEA about the best time to call or contact prospects. Quick clue: the worst time to call is right after lunch.
TWEAK #7: Keep initial meetings brief
- Key Terminology: An “initial meeting” is your first substantive meeting you’ve contacted a lead, qualified them as a real prospect, and entered them into your sales pipeline.
- What You Do: Most B2B sales require more than one meeting to close, especially if there ismore than one decision-maker. Find an appropriate goal for the initial meeting and achieve that, then move the sale forward to the next step.
- Why This Works: The biggest fear that most prospects have at the beginning of a relationship with a sales pro is that the pro is going to waste their time. Having a brief first meeting lets the prospect know that you’re busy, too.
- How This Saves Time: A brief telephone call, web-conference, or face-to-face conversation consumes takes less time, and allows you to further qualify and prioritize the prospect, so that you spend more of your time on the most likely opportunities.
- Warning: There’s a natural tendency to want to close business when you’re meeting with a decision-maker. However, if you try to close too soon (like before everyone is on board) it can actually make it more difficult to close in the future.
TWEAK #8: Stop repeating yourself
- Key Terminology: “Repeating yourself” is when you attempt to make the same point more than once, in the belief that it didn’t “stick” the first time you said it.
- What You Do: Create an agenda for your meeting and for any presentation that you might give. State your main points once, forcefully and with confidence.
- Why This Works: Many sales pros are secretly afraid prospects won’t believe what they’re saying, so they start repeating themselves, hoping it will add credibility. However, repetition actually detracts from credibility because it makes you seem uncertain.
- How This Saves Time: When you show a lack of confidence in yourself, the prospect begins to suspect that you can’t be trusted to deliver or (worse) that you’re hiding something. As result, you end up spending extra time re-establishing your lost credibility.
- Warning: There’s a myth floating around in “how to present” programs that you should repeat your messages 3 times. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The rule is: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” The first is a pre-positioning of the message (so that they know it’s important), the second is the message itself, and the third is the call to action based on the message.
TWEAK #9: Don’t Anticipate Objections
- Key Terminology: An “objection” is a temporary mental barrier that the prospects has put in the way of buying.
- What You Do: Become familiar with the objections that you usually encounter in your sales cycle. Never surface those objections explicitly (e.g. “I suppose you’re wondering why this costs more than the competition.”). Instead, build the answers to those objections into the presentation without identifying them explicitly. (e.g. “Our customers show an ROI in three months — the fastest ROI in our product category.)
- Why This Works: Most objections are variations of “it costs too much”, so building a strong financial case into your sales message defuses most objections anyway. And while prospects almost always have objections, the last thing you want is to provide them with a laundry list, even if you’re pretty sure that you’ve got the answers to everything on that list.
- How This Saves Time: While some objections are inevitable, you could easily surface an objection that hadn’t yet occurred to the prospect. Then you must spend time answering that objection, when you should have left well enough alone.
- Warning: If a prospect doesn’t surface at least one objection, there’s a good chance that the prospect is leading you on. An objection is usually a sign that the prospect is considering a purchase.
TWEAK #10: Test for the close, then close
- Key Terminology: Ultimately, the “close” is, of course, the point when you ask the customer to buy your offering. However, a “close” can also refer to moving to the next step of a buying cycle.
- What You Do: When you have told your story, check to see whether it’s time to close by asking a question that confirms the prospect’s interest in buying. (E.g. “Does all of this make sense to you?”)
- Why This Works: Many sales pros avoid closing, especially after they’ve invested significant time and effort in an opportunity. They’re afraid that all their positive expectations will be disappointed and the they’ll learn that the relationship they’ve built with the prospects is bogus.
- How This Saves Time: Testing before closing makes it more likely that you’ll close at the appropriate time, neither too soon nor too late in the sales cycle. Attempting to close at at the wrong time always means that you’ll need to spend extra time selling. If you try to close too soon, you’ll create resistance, which must then be overcome. If you delay your close, you may delay it so long that somebody else will close for you…with their offering, not yours.
- Warning: Many sales training programs teach various kinds of “trick closes.” (E.g. “what would I have to do to get you to buy today.”) Those hoary old techniques don’t work any longer, if they ever did. Avoid them.