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In sales, time is very often money. That’s why you regularly see Dickie Dee ice cream truck drivers, food vendors at hockey games, and even SunLife insurance sales people moving at twice-the-normal speed.
It’s also why most successful sales people at higher levels are permanently glued to their calendars in order to ensure that every minute of their selling time is used effectively.
But too often, they haven’t dug beneath the surface to eliminate the deeper, more devastating forms of inefficiencies that place unnoticed, but impactful, limits on their success.
It only takes a little bit of inner reflection to realize that one of the sales profession’s greatest inefficiencies is investing time and effort into cultivating a new prospect who – for whatever reason – turns out to be a dud. How can you reduce or eliminate these occurrences?
Here are 3 common forms of inefficiencies that can undermine your sales efforts along with some tips on what you can do to eliminate them from your day:
1) Strategic Inefficiency: Wasting your Time on Poor Prospects
Eager to secure more sales, the inefficient sales person spends time and energy on every apparent sales opportunity, burning energy and hours on prospects whose problems they can’t solve or who have insurmountable objections to buying from you. The more successful sales person prioritizes opportunities and focuses on those with the greatest chance of converting to customers.
Recognize that prospects come in all sizes, shapes, flavours, and – most importantly – “heat” levels. The “hottest” prospects are often those to whom you are referred by current, satisfied customers. People who already like and trust you (and your line of products and/or services) are your best bets for steering you toward prime-quality prospects who are more likely to be receptive to your sales efforts. Next in line, are those with many of the same characteristics – industry, company size, position, and perhaps personality – even if they don’t come from a referral.
Such prospects require less time to close, too, because they are often looking for relief from the same kinds of problems you’ve already solved – and to gain the same kinds of advantages you’ve already delivered – for your current customers.
To eliminate wasting time on prospecting among people who require cajoling or coercion to buy from you, concentrate your efforts on enlisting the help of your most satisfied customers instead of cold-calling primarily.
Ask them for recommendations. Offer them incentives for their cooperation. Share with them your need to increase your book of business, and your desire to increase your professional success and personal happiness. If you have a strong enough relationship and have enough authority to reward them in future transactions for special efforts on your behalf, you can also encourage them to go beyond recommending a prospect: they can also to make the first connection, stay in the loop as you set your first appointment, and (where appropriate) perhaps even to join you during your first visit.
Understand that getting top referrals from your satisfied customers is the fruit of a long-term program that involves:
• Asking directly for their help
• Sharing with them success stories of how you’ve helped others
• Earning the respect of your best customers, and
• Waiting for referral opportunities to develop.
Start now, and in two to five years, you’ll be swimming in high-quality referrals to very hot prospects.
2) Tactical Inefficiency: Pressing Too Hard and Fast for the Sale
Sales people struggling to be successful often bypass the important “foundation-building” portion of the sales cycle, hoping to close more sales in less time and climb the ladder of success by skipping some of the essential rungs. It takes maturity and confidence to “let the sale come to you” instead of chasing it.
The most successful salespeople understand the inefficiency of trying to close a prospect who simply isn’t ready to buy. They recognize that sales calls early in the sales cycle are more productive when aimed at starting and building a relationship, rather than pushing for an immediate order.
For example, it’s more helpful than you may realize to spend plenty of time in the “pictures on the wall” phase of a sales call. Ask open, friendly questions about what you see posted there. Look for common ground between you and the prospect, and when you find some – no matter how small – build on it by sharing an honest personal experience and by offering something or some information the prospect is likely to value.
If you found this prospect through a referral, use the opportunity to learn more about both ends of the burgeoning relationship between you and the person referred to you: not only what you and the prospect might have in common, but also what the prospect has in common with your customer who made the referral.
What you learn about your new prospect can help you forge a worthwhile, trusting relationship that can pay two or even three kinds of dividends:
• First, a solid relationship can make you the new prospect’s first choice next time a purchase opportunity comes up.
• Second, it can help you understand your new prospect’s wants, needs, and desires. These are the basic building blocks from which top salespeople construct strong personal ties and a steady stream of sales.
• Third – when the prospect is a referral from a current customer -- what you learn about the relationship between your prospect and your customer can help you deepen and strengthen your own relationship with that customer.
3) Technical Inefficiency: Treating Objections Solely As Rational Arguments
Sales people submerged in the details of their product or service often forget they are people selling to people. They mistakenly believe that rational arguments are the only channel of communication they need to master in closing sales. This viewpoint ignores a great deal of what goes on in the minds and hearts of your prospects and of what makes the difference between successful sales people and the crowd.
As your relationship with a prospect or customer strengthens and deepens, you’ll begin to recognize any objections to your request for an order as both rational arguments and expressions of some deeper fear.
Sure, your customer can’t order today because your price is a little too high for his budget, or your earliest delivery time is too far in the future for his immediate needs. But he may also be afraid of something else: perhaps that the quality of your product will force his team into additional rework that will drive up costs or slow down production. Perhaps that your company is too small or running too near full capacity to comfortably provide all the products and services he needs from you.
It’s highly inefficient to deal solely with the rational side of the objection, because you won’t get the sale until you also identify and put to rest all your prospect’s underlying fears.
It takes astute listening to identify opportunities to press customers for referrals, to allow sales to flow naturally from a trusting relationship, or to hear the substance of a prospect’s objections. But striving to gather this information, and honing these skills until they become second nature are fundamental to eliminating the career-killing deeper inefficiencies that plague so many sales people.
Without the right attitude and abilities, a sales call is a hit-or-miss proposition. With them in your sales repertoire, you can sidestep the deeper inefficiencies that are enemies of long-term sales success.
About the Canadian Professional Sales Association
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