Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Killer Sales Skill You've Forgotten to Use

The more sales training you've received, the more likely that you've forgotten the most important sales technique of all.

Every small-business owner, regardless of his or her formal role, is also involved in sales. That's why many small-business owners constantly seek to improve their sales skills.
But some sales training and strategies can do more harm than good, especially if the techniques you adopt take you away from doing what works best for you.

Here's an example.
My wife wanted a new car. She likes sports cars, so we went to a dealership to check out a BMW 135i. The salespeople were hanging out in the lot--as car salespeople without customers are wont to do--so they all watched us cruise through several rows of cars before parking in front of the 135is.
A younger salesman broke away from the pack and hurried over. It was obvious he had been trained to follow a sales-process checklist. "Qualify your lead" was first on his list.
That didn't go well for him--my wife isn't really into divulging personal financial information--so he moved on to "Determine customer needs" and asked what we were looking for in a car.
Without being rude (she has a real knack for a courteous deflection), my wife asked a few questions. He struggled to answer them, probably because he kept trying to reengage his sales process.
That didn't go too well for him either.
Then he surprised us: He stopped talking, took a deep breath, and said, "I'm sorry. I really suck at this. Wait here, and I'll go get someone who can actually help you."
My wife melted--as wives who are businesslike but also caring are wont to do--and said, "We don't need anyone else. You're doing fine." (He wasn't, but what the heck.) "Tell me," she asked, "have you driven one of these?"
"Oh, yeah," he said, brightening visibly. "They're really fast...and I probably shouldn't say it, but they handle better than an M3." Then he looked around to make sure no other salespeople were nearby and said, "Even if you don't plan to buy one, you should at least drive it. They're a blast."
She did. It was. And she bought one.
Initially, he tried to be a qualifying, relationship-building, features-and-specifications-spewing, commitment-gaining, close-the-deal-and-leave-no-money-on-the-table sales superstar.
That approach may work for some people, but in his case it meant giving up his biggest strength: He stopped being a young, enthusiastic, friendly guy who loves cars.
He stopped being himself.

Think about your sales techniques. Do they take you away from your strengths?

If you're naturally introverted, don't try to channel your inner Matthew Lesko. Where selling is concerned, listening can be even more effective than speaking.

If you're perceptive and have decent instincts, don't be afraid to skip the qualification process. In our case, we parked a relatively expensive vehicle in front of a row of 135is, so any salesperson could safely assume we had the means and the interest. (In fact, the car you drive onto a lot probably says more about your means than any of the answers you provide to qualifying questions.)
After "Hello," the salesman should have said, "Tell me which one you want to drive, and I'll grab the keys."

If you're naturally relaxed and informal, don't try to be professorial or authoritative. Speak the way you speak to friends. Be genuine, and your prospects will respond.
Play to your strengths. Don't try to be something you're not. Instead, focus on being a better, more effective version of you.
That's the best sales strategy of all.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Train Employees to be Exceptional: 5 rules


These simple principles ensure that your firm gets real value out of any training programThese simple principles ensure that your firm gets real value out of any training program

These Simple Principles Ensure That Your Firm Gets Real Value Out of Any Training Program

Companies spend billions of dollars a year on training. Unfortunately, a lot of that training is simply wasted effort, according to sales guru Duane Sparks. A while back, he gave me a set of principles or rules for training employees. Our conversation was mostly about sales training, but it applies to kind of training. Here are those rules:

1. Teach Skills Not Traits

Rather than trying to change the personality of the individual, focus on training skills that can be taught and learned.
For example, suppose you're responsible for a field engineer whose duties entail going on customer calls. If she is naturally introverted (a trait) don't try to convince her to be more extroverted (a trait) in order to help you sell. Instead, train her how to listen actively (a skill) and how to use terminology customers will understand (a skill).

2. Teach the Appropriate Skill

Only teach employees skills that you're certain will produce tangible results, within the context of that employee's job.
For example, if a sales team consists of hunters (who find new business) and farmers (who develop existing accounts), it's wasteful to train everybody on the team on cold-calling techniques. Limit such training to the hunters and provide training in other skills (like account management) to the farmers.

3. Reinforce and Support the Skill

Whenever you train a skill, provide multiple opportunities to check on how well that employee is executing that skill and provide coaching as necessary.
Learning a new skill entails making it into a habit. Unfortunately, doing so usually involves overcoming existing habits, which is inherently difficult. Coaching allows you gradually reinforce the skill and overcome the habits it replaces.

4. Implement Skill-based Metrics

There are no truer words in business than "What gets measured gets done." If you really want employees to integrate a skill into their day-to-day performance, you must, must, must measure the results of the application of that skill.
For example, if you're providing training on some aspect of your sales process, you should measure the conversion rate at that stage of the sales process, rather than just measuring the total revenue that's booked at the end of the quarter.

5. Consistently Measure Progress

If you do all of the above, you should be able to watch the metrics improve as the new skill becomes second nature. If you don't get the expected improvement, there's something wrong. Either you've been training the wrong skill or not providing enough reinforcement and coaching.

By Geoffrey James | Oct 5, 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Best Interview Technique You Never Use

The more questions you ask, the more you learn about a job candidate, right? Wrong. Here's a better strategy.

Eventually, almost every interview turns into a question-and-answer session. You ask a question. The candidate answers as you check a mental tick-box (good answer? bad answer?).

You quickly go to the next question and the next question and the next question, because you only have so much time and there's a lot of ground to cover because you want to evaluate the candidate thoroughly. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn about the candidate.

Or not.

Sometimes, instead of asking questions, the best interviewing technique is to listen slowly.

In Change-Friendly Leadership, management coach Rodger Dean Duncan describes how he learned about listening slowly from PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer:

  • Duncan: He urged me to ask a good question, listen attentively to the answer,and then count silently to five before asking another question. At first that suggestion seemed silly. I argued that five seconds would seem like an eternity to wait after someone responds to a question. Then it occurred to me: Of course it would seem like an eternity, because our natural tendency is to fill a void with sound, usually that of our own voice.
  • Lehrer: If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you'll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he's already said or he'll go in a different direction. Either way, he's expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.
  • Duncan: Giving other people sufficient psychological breathing room seemed to work wonders. When I bridled my natural impatience to get on with it, they seemed more willing to disclose, explore, and even be a bit vulnerable. When I treated the interview more as a conversation with a purpose than as a sterile interrogation, the tone of the exchange softened. It was now just two people talking...

Listening slowly can turn a Q&A session into more of a conversation. Try listening slowly in your next interviews. (Not after every question, of course: Pausing for five seconds after a strictly factual answer will leave you both feeling really awkward.)

Just pick a few questions that give candidates room for self-analysis or introspection, and after the initial answer, pause. They'll fill the space: with an additional example, a more detailed explanation, a completely different perspective on the question.

Once you give candidates a silent hole to fill, they'll fill it, often in unexpected and surprising ways. A shy candidate may fill the silence by sharing positive information she wouldn't have otherwise shared. A candidate who came prepared with "perfect" answers to typical interview questions may fill the silence with not-so-positive information he never intended to disclose.

And all candidates will open up and speak more freely when they realize you're not just asking questions--you're listening.