Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open

Prospecting Sales CallEver get bad advice? I read a post this morning that struck me as such as it advised 3 Questions Sales People Should Ask Every Prospect. The three questions [taken from a longer ‘disqualification checklist’ of questions] recommended asking the following questions of every prospect:

1. What is your biggest [YOUR INDUSTRY] related challenge?
2. Why is what you’re doing now not working?
3. How do you go about making a decision like this?

In my post a couple of months ago, Are Your Questions Killing the Sale, I addressed the problem of exploratory questions like the first question suggested above.

In this post, I would like not only to implore sales reps to avoid squandering opportunities with prospects through exploratory questioning, but also provide compelling stats on the need to get the message right — from the opening question, through the closing of the sale.

Do you have the right starting point?

CEB had done a survey among 5,000 executives and decision makers that deal with sales reps, in which 86% of them indicated that the sales rep’s message had no commercial impact whatsoever to them.

86% of executives/decision makers believe sales rep’s messages have no commercial impact!

According to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, he describes the buyers as coming away from conversations with reps believing that what they are currently doing right now…the Status Quo…is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

Sirius Decisions had similarly shocking results from their PMM Survey suggesting that the biggest inhibitor to achieving quota was the rep’s inability to communicate messages of value. Not surprisingly, what we communicate and how, is of great import to our results.

Yet, so many take the approach of winging it with prospects, and exploring their way through the sale.

3 Steps to Approaching Prospects Differently:

  1. Know your prospects and know your story. Don’t call indiscriminately looking for any customer that may or may not fit your solution. Be specific and call those whose story you know and that you can help based on prior experience. Have a solid understanding of the issues those similar to them are facing in their industry
  2. Establish credibility quickly. If you have the right story and the right prospect, you will be able to demonstrate understanding of the typical issues those in their industry face. After stating your purpose for the call, open with a statement that summarizes the business issues affecting their industry.
  3. Validate with the prospect. Successful selling is not a monologue, but rather a well-choreographed conversation. Therefore, rather than assuming everybody has the same problem and moving on without them, follow your statement with a question to validate if they are experiencing any of the same issues you just described.

Putting the three steps together, the opening of your call with a prospect sounds something like the following:

“We work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country and have found that each commonly face one of three business issues, given the [current condition]. Their most common issues tend to be [X], [Y], or [Z]. Is your business currently facing any of these same problems?”

If you have a solid understanding of the typical issues similar businesses are experiencing, not only will you get quick confirmation, but often times they say they are struggling with most or all three areas. This allows you to start walking down the path to lead them to the center of their own story.

Even if they mention a different problem, you are still on a better path to zero in on their issues and create complete unrest with their status quo.

If they are not struggling with any of the issues you described in your opening, then you either have the wrong story, the wrong prospect, or both. Go back to step 1 and dedicate the time up front to get this right as you likely circumvented the full process and have just cost yourself a prospect and your credibility.

On the other hand, if you dedicate appropriate time to these first 3 steps of opening with credibility and delivering a message of value, you will see immediate improvement in your close ratios.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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Challenger Sale: Is it okay to let prospects struggle?

Butterfly struggles to emergeHe watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the chrysalis and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned that he decided to help. He ran to get scissors and snipped the chrysalis to make the hole bigger. With that, the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened! The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

Don’t Lessen the Prospect’s Initial Struggle
I am not the author of this story, nor will it be a new story for most of you. But it appropriately sets the stage for this very important question. Is it okay to let a prospect struggle?

We hate to see anyone struggle, and for many, the temptation to bail prospects out after asking a difficult question is more than some can bear.

For The Challenger Sales rep, this is most common at the point of the Reframe. In fact, this is intentional as this triggers the Constructive tension that needs to occur in order for the Status Quo to be disrupted. But for the rep that is still learning the Challenger Sale, you may feel your Reframe was inappropriate because the prospect squirms to answer or respond.

Sure, after hearing our different point of view, we would love to hear them say, “I never thought of it that way before” as they look upon us with amazement for our brilliance and intellect. It rarely happens that way.

The veteran Challenger knows that the aforementioned phrase more often sounds like, “I am not so sure I agree with you,”  or “Hmm. I need to get my mind around that.” 

These are signs of constructive tension as the prospect begins to struggle with their current circumstances and that which you have just shared that caused them to rethink everything. Allowing this early struggle to happen is a great sign as it ripens people to hear truth.

For example…
Last week a colleague and I met with the owner of a very successful organization. She is about to release a ground-breaking book, and asked for us to consult on her launch plans for a successful release. In evaluating the initial plans for release, I quickly saw that the current course would result in a book launched on an ill-prepared audience.

She immediately disagreed, sharing that the audience has been dying for an answer, and the research they had done would be the solution to their problems. As difficult as it was for her to hear, I shared honestly with her that she had the wrong perspective as her focus was too squarely placed on selling the book. She agreed that it was with a hint of, isn’t that why we are meeting.

I shared that I was more concerned in establishing her as an authority on the issues that she would address in the book. Without doing so, the book would be introduced to readers that didn’t know they should read it. She still pressed that this audience was ready for the answer.

I responded that while the target audience was indeed, ready for an answer, they were not ready for her solution. I proceeded to lay out some action items that would build a foundation and a platform for her to speak. This would be followed by a hungry audience clamoring for her solution by the time of release.

She listened intently, pressing back at points, but like most high-powered owners and Chief Creative Officers, they are doers. “Give me the action items and timeline necessary to sell my book!”

When debriefing with my colleague after the meeting, he asked me questions around her hesitancy with our proposed next steps. I explained that the hesitancy was that she is trying to sell a book, and we are trying to sell her as a credible authority to have written the book.

She sees herself as credible and an authority from her own perspective, but her perspective is still narrow. In order to broaden her view, I had prescribed steps that she committed to, which would expose the vulnerabilities in her thinking.

Simply explaining what will happen won’t work. She needs to experience that and struggle with that to ripen her for what she really needs to do. Reducing her struggle would result in a poor book launch and threaten her credibility as the authority in this area.

Don’t keep prospects in the Biosphere
As one final illustration of the benefit of the struggle, I would like to share a story stemming from the Biosphere 2 project erected in Oracle, Arizona in 1987.  Following is an excerpt from Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University, on the unintended consequences to plant and tree life due to the absence of wind.

There are many beneficial effects posed by wind for plants. Wind helps to pollinate many species of plants, spread seeds, remove harmful gasses, bring in many species of animals that are wind-dispersed, and many other forces. Wind is also necessary for creating hardy and strong trees. When it was first created, there was no wind inside of Biosphere 2. Plants grew relatively quickly, but they frequently fell over before they were of reproductive age. After some intensive observations and experimentation, it was determined that the lack of wind created trees with much softer wood than that species would normally make in the wild. They grew more quickly than they did in the wild, but they were harmed in the long run as a consequence. — By Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg, Columbia University, original article here

In summary…
What does it look like to shelter prospects? This may come in the form of answering [or changing] your question to the prospect because they appeared uncomfortable. A more subtle form of sheltering a prospect from the ‘struggle’ is to keep the conversation agreeable throughout your dialogue. Remember, the Biosphere was agreeable and as a result, also detrimental. The lesson of the trees from the Biosphere is that quick and fast growth, does not mean sustainable growth.

Question: Are you sheltering your prospects in the same manner the trees in the Biosphere were sheltered? If so, the consequences to them can be quite severe.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

A Metaphor for The Challenger Sale

Reframe HooksIn my post, Challenger: Reframing the Reframe, I spoke of the common struggles many organizations are having with the Reframe that are implementing The Challenger Sale.

The aim of this post is to provide a picture of how the Reframe functions and the role it plays within the context of Commercial Teaching and Commercial Insight.

While I hate the negative connotations that can be associated with ‘sales’ and ‘lures,’ I saw some constructive applications that may help to make the point. So let’s all agree up front, that none of us are intending the imagery to be derogatory towards customers nor the way responsible Sales professionals behave.

The Role of the Reframe
The authors of The Challenger Sale make reference to the Reframe as being the “Headline” of the insight. The goal, of course, is to attract the customer’s attention and ‘set the hook’ with an unexpected viewpoint (insight), thus the imagery of the lure.

It is at this point where the differences between Insight and Reframe can be confused as many would define the lure as the Reframe. It may help to recognize that Reframe is a verb, not a noun, but let’s define this further in the metaphorical sense. Keep in mind that no metaphor is perfect, though I hope we can have some fun with this.

A Picture of the Challenger Sale
To help get a clearer picture of how the Challenger Choreography functions with respect to Commercial Teaching, Commercial Insight and The Reframe, following are definitions and descriptions cast within the context of a fishing metaphor.

  • Lure = The Warmer: It appears attractive and familiar; Operates within and relates to the customers world
  • Hook = Commercial Insight: A part of the lure, tailored to the customer; Creates discomfort with status quo
  • Setting the hook = The Reframe: The customer is hooked unexpectedly, compelled to go a different direction
  • Line = Rational Drowning: The fishing line, or business case, ties the insight to the customer’s story
  • Reel = Emotional Impact: The reel is symbolic for drawing the customer into the center of their own story
  • Pole = Commercial Teaching: The fishermen uses a pole to skillfully deliver insight at the right place and time
  • Flex = Constructive Tension: Pole flex represents tension when drawing customers to the center of their story

The Metaphor in Action
So now that we have definitions set, here is how this looks in action.

You, the skillful Sales professional cast your lure into the specific area of the lake where your customers are known to swim. It is a place where not many other people fish, as they seem to prefer where the waters narrow. The locals call it The Funnel. You prefer being upstream, at the top of the funnel where your customers aren’t use to seeing what you fish with.

You cast your insight right on target so as not to intrude, but rather to meet them where they swim together to be social (Social Media). The others fishing the Funnel, create a splash every time their lure hits the water. They refer to this as their ‘prospecting call.’ It sends the fish into hiding every time. Those fishing are not dissuaded though, as they are known to spend inordinate amounts of time just looking for any customer that is attracted to their lure.

However, the customer you are looking for is specific and is currently entertaining your lure. Upon seeing your lure, it feels immediately  familiar and agreeable to them (The Warmer), looking like it belongs in their world and was made just for them (Tailoring). In fact, it looks quite appealing.

The customer likes what they hear as you describe the waters in which they currently swim and they start to nibble at the lure. Normally, after a nibble they drift off, but rather than needing a nap, they are engrossed with what you just shared (Commercial Insight). After all, what you just shared was that the waters where they currently swim are having a direct impact on their growth.

Being somewhat disoriented by what you revealed, and fearing you are correct as you give a little tug to set the hook, they find they are hooked (Reframe) and going in a different direction than they thought they were originally going to go with you.

You let out a little bit of line as you continue to make the business case (Rational Drowning), but never so much as to let the flex in your pole (Constructive Tension) go back to slack (Status Quo). Too much line can allow them to go in unproductive directions, getting tangled in the roots and rocks of the lake bed (False Positives).

This could cause harm to them, which was never your intention and is why you don’t reel them in too fast either (Destructive tension). In fact, you care so much for them that you are willing to endure some initial discomfort, because you know their future is better with you than without.

As you skillfully reel them to the center of their own story, they come to realize that fighting to remain where they are at…their status quo…is now untenable. They know the consequences of remaining are detrimental. There just has to be a different way… or even a New Way out of this mess.

With confidence and care, you compassionately share that which you couldn’t wait to talk to them about earlier. Your Solution. But you knew, bringing this up any earlier would be too soon for them. It would have sent them racing to the center of the Funnel to find comfort with their peers. That is why you patiently led them in a way they could follow.

In Summary…
As a humorous way to demonstrate the rest of the metaphor relative to the customer’s Status Quo and Our Solution, I thought this would fit with the metaphor…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessIt has been said that the fish can only grow to the size of its fishbowl. There’s a better way. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

 

Sales: Beware of False Positives

What are False Positives?
As a term often used in the medical community, a False Positive is defined in the Medical Dictionary as, ‘A result that indicates that a given condition is present when it is not. An example of a false positive would be if a particular test designed to detect cancer returns a positive result but the person does not have cancer.’
False Indicator

In sales, when prospects self-diagnose and present a symptom as the issue, this is a false positive. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier they surface in the discussion, especially when unsolicited, the greater the likelihood you are dealing with the symptoms, not the root cause.

Beware of the Trap
As research from CEB and others have shown, customers are deep into the purchasing process before they choose to engage a sales person. For all intents and purposes, consider this as the customer’s process of self-diagnosis.

The problem comes when rep’s respond to issues raised as if it is the root cause, without recognizing it is a false positive. Doing so will derail your conversation rather quickly, and will likely result in introducing products or solutions prematurely, as if that is the cure. It is not, however. It is a trap, that both parties enter into unwittingly all too often.

Here is an example of how it might look:

Customer:  “We are struggling with [insert problem], and are looking for a product to solve that.”

Rep:  “Our products have been designed to solve exactly that and are rated #1 in customer satisfaction!”

Implications of Pursuing False Positives
The example above shows just how quickly conversations can go to product or solution. The prospect demonstrates what appears to be ‘pain’ and points specifically to something the rep’s product can solve. Why not proceed?

Two reasons:

  1. The rep would likely be solving the wrong problem
  2. The rest of the conversation will center around the product’s features and benefits, leading to price

In the example above, the prospect is framing the discussion to be about product. It is all too easy to answer the prospect’s questions, which will continue to keep the focus on product features, benefits and price.

Some reps will be excited by the interest shown and are just positive the prospect will choose them over their competitors. Chances are, the prospect will see all the differences pointed out as similar [enough] to the competitor’s products, therefore it is simply a matter of best price.

This, from my perspective, is a disastrous conversation which could have been prevented by identifying the false positive, and reframing the prospect’s original premise into a new way of thinking about the issues they are really struggling with.

How to Identify False Positives
It is said that when the FBI trains agents to identify counterfeit money, they begin with and focus primarily on what genuine bills look like. As a result, agents are quickly able to identify counterfeit money because they know the identifying characteristics of authentic bills. To train otherwise would require knowing the characteristics of every counterfeiter. Impossible!

Now consider the sales professional. Customers present endless combinations of  characteristics of their issues, many of which are ‘counterfeit,’ or not the real issue. Sales professionals have been trained for years to dig for customer’s pain points, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, there are two resulting problems:

  1. Anything resembling “pain” will lead reps to believe they have successfully uncovered the problem
  2. Exploratory digging for pain, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, is cruel to prospects

Responding to false positives  as true positives, shows itself in close rates. So how can you tell if what they are surfacing is the real deal – a True Positive? The answer is simple, but not easy.

In the example of detecting counterfeits, there is a standard (i.e., the genuine bill), by which counterfeit bills are held up to. Anything that doesn’t match the genuine bill stands in stark contrast.

When it comes to customers using your unique product offering or solution, what does genuine or authentic look like? Be careful not to focus on product or solution, but rather the customer relative to your product or solution.

Customers that use your product/solution should function differently…uniquely…optimally from those that don’t. Understanding in what ways, and what are the characteristics of ‘genuine’ or ‘authenticity’ in your organization will be critical.

This is the part that isn’t easy. It requires investment of time by you and your organization, cross-departmentally, to determine these answers.

The investment of time in this area is well worth the effort as it will change the trajectory of your next conversation.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale: Do you Reframe in 3-D?

Magic EyeDo you remember when the Magic Eye pictures were all the rage back in the 90’s?

For those unfamiliar with Magic Eye artwork, a 3-D image was embedded into a picture that otherwise appeared to be nothing more than colorful, repeating patterns.

However, to the trained eye, when looked at in a different way, the 2-dimensional image would suddenly, and magically, ‘pop’ into a stunning 3-dimensional reality right before your very eyes.

There were two camps with these Magic Eye pictures – Those that could see the images and those that couldn’t. For those in the latter camp, they found it difficult…frustrating. In fact, it reminds me of how prospects often feel when Reframed to see a radically different picture of their own circumstances. They can really struggle at this stage…which can be very good!

A Different Picture of the Reframe
When considering Magic Eye art and comparing to the Reframe, there are some great parallels that may bring clarity to your understanding of what the Reframe does and how it feels to your prospect when they finally see what you want them to see. But first, a lesson on how to see the picture in this Magic Eye image above.

Viewing the Magic Eye Picture

There are two prescribed methods for seeing the picture in 3-D (i.e., A clipper ship in this case), although knowing you are looking for a clipper ship will not help as much as you think. Regardless of the method you choose, start by clicking the picture to enlarge and open in a separate tab of your browser.

Method 1: Relax your eyes and get real close to the screen as you stare at the picture. Don’t try to focus on the picture, but simply gaze through it in the same way that you do when you daydream. Begin to back away from the picture slowly after 5-10 seconds. You should start to notice your eyes feeling almost as if they are crossed as you move back, because the image will be out of focus. Once you are about 12″ away from your monitor, the hope is that the image will snap into view for you.  If not, be patient.

Method 2: This is the method I prefer. Position yourself approximately 12″ away from the image and look through the image, rather than at the image. For example, if there is a wall directly behind your monitor, look upon the image as if you were able to see through it like a window to the wall. This will relax your eyes and allow the magic to happen. Give it 5-10 seconds without blinking. One trick that helps me recognize when the image is about to snap into place is I slightly move my head from side to side (i.e., just an inch or two). If the image is still appearing flat, like a 2-D image, your side to side motion will reveal nothing. However, if your lateral movement starts to show some depth in the picture, it is about to happen for you.

For those that experienced the mysteries of the Magic Eye artwork for the first time, congratulations! It is truly amazing! For those that still can’t see it, practice. Most people fail to see the image because their natural tendency is to focus on the detail of the flat image itself. It will come once you start to learn the skill of looking through the picture.

Similarities between Magic Eye and the Reframe
What I love about this illustration of the Reframe is how analogous it is to conversations with prospects. From our perspective, having been trained for what to look for in our prospect’s circumstances, we see things more clearly…more deeply than they are able to see.

We may even be inclined to get frustrated ourselves because what is so clear and obvious to us, our prospects just can’t see in the same way. It is as if they are staring at the surface of the Magic Eye picture and all they can see are repeating patterns. But seeing the patterns alone will not move them off the status quo. It is deeper than that. See the similarities to a Reframe?

One Final Note about Reframes….
Being able to properly Reframe a customer is important, but it is not the goal. It is the entry point to getting deeper in conversations. If we don’t practice discipline in this area and recognize that fact, we can take a perfectly great insight and not move any further through the choreography.

Focusing on the insight alone is like staring at the surface of the Magic Eye picture. It is 2-D. Instead, look at the Reframe as looking through one stage to another…from how they have inaccurately seen their picture (Warmer) to the consequences of not changing their picture (Rational Drowning).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Focusing on your insight puts you at the center of the story instead of the prospect
  • Instead, use the insight to focus on teaching prospects a new and different way to see their picture
  • Prospects will see the deeper picture at different times and in different ways; Be patient
  • Seeing the deeper picture for the first time requires discipline in looking at things differently
  • It is possible for a Reframe to be 2-D; This happens when you try to tell prospects what to see
  • Concentrate your Reframe instead on how to see for a 3-D experience they will never forget

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger: Use a Warmer to Build Credibility

Challenger Sale WarmerIn my previous post, Are your questions killing the sale?, I framed the ineffectiveness of reps using exploratory questioning with prospects to get deeper into their business issues.

The consequence of this approach is that the prospect gives little more than short answers to your questions, with no meaningful information shared. This is because your initial questions suggest you know less about the type of problems they face than they do.

If you are a rep that struggles to get deep in conversations about real issues with prospects, or a Sales Leader struggling to improve your team’s close rates, this post is for you.

Brief Recap of the Problem
Your opening statements and questions will immediately convey one of three things to the prospect about your ability to address the problems they are facing, or will face in the future. Your question will either show:

  1. You know more than the prospect about these areas
  2. You know equal to the prospect, or
  3. You know less than the prospect

For example, if a rep asked the following question of a prospect, what would it suggest about their knowledge of the customer, their industry, and/or the issues they are likely to face?

“What are some of the challenges your business has been experiencing?”

If you chose #3, you are correct as the question suggests the rep knows less about the prospect, their industry, and problems they will face than the prospect does.

Important to note is that questions or statements that infer you know equal to or less than the prospect creates no value in their mind. They have no need for you unless you can successfully demonstrate you have traveled this path before and have successfully navigated businesses like theirs to better outcomes. The trick is not to make it all about you.

Aim Higher in Your Opening
The goal of the Warmer in The Challenger Choreography is to build credibility by quickly demonstrating you understand business issues like those that they face. This is a critical first step, especially since the next step is to Reframe the way they have been thinking about their issues.

“A proper frame (a.k.a. The Warmer) must be in place before a Reframe can occur”

A proper Warmer statement contains 3 elements:

  1. Relate – This gives the prospect the sense that the businesses and issues you work with, will relate to them as well. They aren’t alone. (e.g., “I work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country”)
  2. Demonstrate – Saying you work with others like them isn’t enough. You must demonstrate understanding by identifying the issues they are likely facing. (e.g., “Three of the most troubling issues we see them face are [x, y & z].”
  3. Validate – This is not a monologue. Therefore, take a minute to validate you are on track with what they are facing by asking a question. (e.g., “Are you experiencing these [business issues] too, or are there others you would add?”)

If you truly know and understand what businesses like theirs are experiencing, the underlying message to the prospect is, “I understand you and companies just like you.” This builds their confidence and your credibility, which will lead you into deeper discussions with prospects more quickly.

Warnings on Assumptions and Arrogance…
It is common for reps and leaders to ask, “Isn’t it arrogant to assume we know more than they do without talking to them and asking them questions first?” My answer? If these concepts are misunderstood and misapplied, then “Yes.”

The only real assumption made here is that if you have worked with many other customers, affected by similar issues, you have a reasonable belief that this has, or will, affect them too. If so, you have a broader perspective and expertise from which to help. That isn’t arrogant, nor assumptive.

Upcoming Posts…
Next, I will be addressing what I have labeled the ‘PreFrame,’ followed by the Teaching Point. Both of these precede the Warmer, but the Teaching Point should precede any interaction with a prospect or customer.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.