How to Separate the Good Consultative Sales Hire from the Bad

It is all too easy to be persuaded by a consultative sales candidate that they are right for your job opening—effective persuasion is their stock in trade.

But that does not mean that they will be a good addition to your sales team. How do you sift through multiple job seekers to find the select few good hires?

There are no guarantees, of course, but here are some tips that, if followed, will significantly enhance the odds that you choose the right consultative sales person for the job.

  • Don’t rely on talking just with the interviewee. Talk with references who can give you the inside scoop. Seek out former customers. They are likely to be forthcoming with their impressions and you want to know that the candidate you choose will represent your company in a positive way.
  • Marshal sales team members as interviewers. They know what it takes to succeed at the job and what personality characteristics would mesh well with current co-workers.
  • Use documents to substantiate what you are hearing from the candidate. A quick look at W-2 records will let you know if they were as successful in driving revenue as they would like you to believe.
  • There are many assessments available that predict sales success. Make use of them. You want to know upfront if the candidate can succeed through the entire sales cycle from cold calls to closing, from qualifying prospects to effective negotiation, from product/service presentation to account management. All these skills will be tested and the scores will give you a pretty good indication of a salesperson’s overall ability to sell consultatively effectively.
  • You will hear about their record of success without asking. But often it is the failures that measure a salesperson’s perseverance and willingness to learn and adapt. Ask the candidate to tell you about a situation where they lost the consultative sales deal and what they learned from the experience.
  • Test them on the spot. Pick an object in your office—a paperweight, a lamp, whatever—and ask them to “sell” it to you. You will quickly learn their methodology and style. Are they pushy? Do they ask questions in discovery mode? Do they consider your needs? Would you characterize their style as product-focused or consultative? It is then up to you to determine which style would fit better with your company. 

Use the checklist above next time you are in hiring mode as sales manager. You will have far better chances of bringing a “keeper” aboard.

Use Stories to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Presentations

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Stories Are Not Just for Bedtime 

Stories at bedtime are often designed to put children asleep; but a well-crafted story that relates to a key point in your presentation will keep your audience wide awake and focused. That is our first tip for grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. Here are a few more…

    • Keep it short. Make your points clearly and cleanly and repeat them only for a quick summary at the beginning (for an executive audience) or end (for the audience take-away). There is no need to belabor the obvious. In fact lingering too long on one bullet will bore and even annoy your audience.

      And beyond moving quickly through each major point, remember that it is always better to end early rather than late. Your audience will appreciate your respecting their time and you will have time for questions or to follow up with individuals as needed.

 

 

    • Beware of how you use slides. Too many presenters “kill” their audience with too many slides and with slides that are too dense. Keep them simple and use them only as back-up to what should be the real center of attention—you. The worst faux-pas is to read them. If you have bullets, they should contain only the key words of your broader point. If you have a graphic, it should be a simple illustration of an overall concept.

 

 

    • Watch your language. Do not speak in jargon. You cannot count on your audience being as familiar with industry-specific terms as you. Using overly technical, complicated language may sound impressive but you risk losing listeners who cannot follow your thinking. It would be like getting a diagnosis from a doctor who speaks not in simple lay terms but as if you had gone through medical training too.

 

 

  • Use a story or two. How does this help a presentation? A story not only can illustrate the gist of a critical point but it can also engage your audience emotionally. By not overwhelming your listeners with dry facts and figures, they are much more likely to leave with a visual image that encapsulates a key thought. If you are reporting on climate change, for example, you can paint a picture of how the local area would be adversely affected…drought or flood, loss of flora or fauna, more extreme weather in winter or summer. The more personal and relevant the story, the more it will grab and stick.

The Pros and Cons of Sales Commissions

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Sales commissions are supposed to encourage the performance of your salespeople.  But do they work?  Are they actually effective in driving increased revenue?

As an incentive to drive greater performance, sales managers will continue to debate this question. You will have to determine whether or not commissions will work in your industry with your product/service. But here are some factors to consider as you set up your compensation system.

Overall – the simpler the better. If the system you devise is too complex, you invite many problems.

  1. Overhead. Tracking and rewarding according to multiple variables is just asking for high maintenance, confusion and misappropriation which creates mistrust, unhappiness and divisiveness on your team. With too complicated a system, you will find yourself as sales manager spending an inordinate amount of time resolving disputes and worrying about how to distribute leads. Every salesperson on your team has a good sense of what lead will result in business and, therefore, commission. Think about the grumbling that will ensue if leads are not perceived as evenly distributed.
  1. Fairness. Most often territories or sales responsibilities overlap; how are you going to assign the commission fairly? Will it be shared among team members or across boundary lines? And what about the engineer who spent so many hours on site with the customer and was critical to the final sale?
  1. Assimilation. If current team members have difficulty understanding the nuances of the commission assignments, how are you going to explain the system to your new hires? This is a time when you want their enthusiasm, not their bewilderment and resistance.
  1. Encouraging Change. Perhaps you have been given the task by the CEO of changing to a different product mix. The CEO is convinced that this will help the company in the long-term but, in the short-term, you know that sales will decrease and your sales team will suffer lower-than-expected commissions. They will not be happy campers. 

Can you eliminate commissions altogether? Some companies have done so and are happy with the results.

Salespeople, as do all other employees, have a base salary. Over and above the base, employees are compensated as the company thrives and they share in corporate profits.

You can still reward top performers as incentives but the system is simple, straightforward and transparent. No more late nights sorting out commission inadequacies.

Learn more about value selling…

Sales and the Art of Good Questioning: Four Important Tips

consultive-selling003No one wants to feel interrogated.

Good, well-crafted questions result in thoughtful, complete answers. Some people seem to come by this art of communication naturally. But the fact is that, with a few tips and some practice, we can all be better questioners. And in a sales role, there may be no more important skill than uncovering a customer’s goals, pain points, motivations, interests, and desires.

Here are four proven consultative selling questioning techniques to follow to improve your art of questioning.

  1. Ask the question and then stop. Nervous questioners tend to ask multiple questions or to fill a conversational void by talking themselves. This not only demonstrates your unease but it also defeats the purpose. Plan your question and then ask it. Allow for some silence while your customer considers their answer. Unless you are looking for a simple “yes” or “no” answer, ask an open-ended question that will give you much richer information about the customer’s situation. Open-ended questions often begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” or “how.” For example, rather than ask, “Would you like to solve Problem X,” try “If you were able to solve Problem X, how would that help you?” 
  2. Clarify if needed. It is OK to interrupt with another question either to clarify an answer or to keep the conversation on course.  Though it may at first seem impolite, most customers will understand as long as they continue to have the floor. The alternative is to appear to follow the answer when you are actually confused. This could jeopardize the whole flow of the questioning and show that you were not really listening. 
  3. Don’t ask if you already know the answer. Leading questions are unprofessional…don’t ask them. In fact, why would you ask the question if you already know the answer? Find another way to probe for our customer’s thoughts on a situation. For instance, if you already know that they resent the last-minute price hike in your recent negotiations, ask not “so what did you think of the price increase” but “how might we have introduced the need for a price increase without causing surprise and upset.” 
  4. Be genuine. If you pretend you know more than you do, it will show. Your objective is to understand your customer’s situation and needs as completely as you can. Be humble when appropriate, ask what may seem at first to be a basic question, and be comfortable reframing the question once again to ensure you understand the answer accurately. 

Getting “Sellers” and “Doers” to Work Together to Sell Value

A CEO recently told me that they do not have enough time to implement their strategy because they have too many “seller-doers.”  At another client, the SVP of Sales lamented that her sales force did not understand their products and services well enough to close the bigger and more complex deals that are paramount to their growth plans.

Many firms struggle with the best way to have “sellers” and “doers” co-exist.  While there is no magic across-the-board answer for every firm, it is always helpful to start with clear definitions and what is best for the customer.

Clear Definitions

We define “sellers” as those responsible for getting meetings with new target clients, closing new business, and expanding new business in current accounts.  We define “doers” as those responsible for designing and delivering the final work product and servicing the client.

In many firms, the role of “seller” and “doer” overlaps to best serve customers and drive more revenue.  While it is difficult to find (and sometimes afford) people with both skill sets, for many professional service organizations, the closer these two functions can work together, the more sales you will realize.

Why?

Best for the Customer

Here are two reasons from the customer’s perspective.

  • Customers do not like the bait and switch.  Customers are more savvy and demanding these days. And you, of course, want to encourage their long-term satisfaction and loyalty. This is more easily achieved if there is continuity throughout the sales and delivery process. While most sales people do not have the skill set to deliver the final goods, the farther your sales person takes a prospect to close, the more they need to be involved in the entire process.

    It is one thing if they are just opening the door and getting the initial meeting.  It is another if they have managed to forge a trusted relationship with the buyer while positioning your firm for success.  Most customers prefer working all the way through with the person who has built their trust and who will be accountable if things go wrong. Either the salesperson should be involved as a partner in the early stages of the product development or your “doer’ should have the skills and authority to complete the sale in a way that makes sense.


    Have you defined clear roles, responsibilities, and hand-offs based upon key buyer behaviors?

  • Customers want to feel comfortable and confident that you get it.  Knowledge and experience create confidence and credibility.  If there is any disconnect between what there is to sell and what you are trying to sell, you will lose customers.

    For example, many field engineers may not want to do the kind of networking and relationship building that is the stock in trade of good salespeople.  But often sales folks do not have the technical expertise required to create a value-added solution that makes sense form a customer’s perspective. If sales and engineering work hand-in-hand, however, together they will be far more successful as a team.

    How can you position your teams to best play to their strengths to serve your customers?

There is value and necessity in the strengths of both sellers and doers. In fact, if you want to increase the appreciation of these two factions in your company, expose them to the others’ role. Cross-training can produce a hybrid, the best of both worlds. Your business developers will learn what it is like to do the actual work of production.  Your doers will learn how hard it can be to reach out and develop the initial customer relationships.

When you ask whether you as a business leader should emphasize doing over selling or selling over doing, perhaps a better question would be, “How do I blend the roles so the teams can work together?”

Not only will the customers win as they gain continuity and accountability from end to end, but your company will also win as sales are bound to increase through effective teamwork and knowledge sharing.

Three Ways Good Sales Leaders Keep the Engine Humming

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An efficient, effective sales team is a beautiful thing and it deserves loving care.

Although external factors in the industry or economy can clog up that smooth running engine, there are internal factors over which you have control that need your attention. As a sales leader, it is up to you to do all you can to keep your sales force engine in good working order and with all gears in sync.

Here are three areas to get right.

  1. Create an Effective and Consistent Sales process.  Identify, adopt and implement a sales process that makes sense…not just for you as manager but for every member of your team. Document the process and keep everyone on track. It is important that all salespeople follow the same procedures from initial customer contact through successful sale and follow-up. Otherwise, there is confusion as team members run their own show and approach business from different directions…often at odds with other members of your organization.
  1. Do not tolerate poor performance. The consequences of retaining salespeople who are not performing according to team standards are twofold: overall sales numbers are dragged down and higher performers lose heart. It is easy to understand why. Imagine that Lisa is working hard to reach her team goal—following process guidelines, connecting with customers regularly, creating customized solutions for individual customer needs, etc. Next to her at team meetings sits Dana who makes little effort to prospect, keep in touch with current customers or understand their problems…and his sales results are correspondingly poor. Lisa could well wonder why she should continue her conscientious and dedicated effort. Her morale and the morale of other high performers suffer and the success of the whole team is threatened.
  1. Invest in On-Boarding.  As you fill open slots, invest heavily in your new hires. Though it may be tempting to focus on your already productive salespeople, think about what an effect eager, well-trained, well-oriented new salespeople could have on the team as a whole. The more effort you pour into introducing new hires to your organization, to your product/service, to your sales process, to your customer base, to your competitive challenges, the more likely they are to hit the ground running. By incorporating the new hires into the team quickly, you secure their feeling of belonging and their commitment to the team goals. They are less likely to leave and you avoid the cost in time and money of starting to hire replacements all over again. 

Keep your sales engine running smoothly with a finely tuned sales process, high performing team members and well-integrated new hires.

To learn more visit our consultative selling best practices blog.

Social Media: A Blessing or a Curse for Value Selling

Social-Media-Blessing-or-CurseIn this brave new world where nearly everyone has a Facebook page, can you survive as a value salesperson without a web presence?

We say, “No.”

A web site is the ticket to play the game. Without it, those customers who do proactive research before buying will have no easy way to find out about you. And they could be easily waylaid by a web site that promises what you say you can deliver. Don’t let potential customers take that other path.

Your web site must be designed with your likely prospects and customers in mind. They won’t get there unless you have content that attracts them. You need the right sales messages in the right place to draw the right audience.

Beyond establishing a site that will provide information on what problems you solve and what you sell, here are some tips for success in order to ensure that social media becomes a blessing, not a curse, for your business:

  1. Choose the appropriate channel for your business. Determine which online community can help you connect with potential buyers. For business to consumer sales, Facebook is your best bet; for business-to-business, LinkedIn is the more professional platform.Beyond these two online environments, join conversations where the kinds of problems your product/service can solve are being discussed. This can lead you to someone who needs your help. But don’t be pushy…nothing chases away a possible contact faster than a blogger who is clearly selling. Listen and learn and then join the chat.
  2. Build a relationship. An online relationship is never as valuable as a face-to-face relationship. But if your network needs some rejuvenation, you can start a connection online. As you establish some history and gain some trust, you can build a more meaningful relationship. When the time is right, you can offer your thoughts on how your product/service could fill a need your target has expressed.
  3. Listen and share. Keep your goal in mind—to leverage social media as a marketing strategy. By listening to the online conversations, you will learn about trends and needs so that you can identify ways to collaborate and provide value. Share other online sites that have been helpful to you. By sharing good content and your expertise, you increase your visibility and credibility as a helpful resource. 

Social media is here to stay. Make sure you use it wisely so it helps, not hinders, your sales efforts.