This is “The Preapproach: The Power of Preparation”, chapter 8 from the book Powerful Selling (v. 1.0).
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You met Tonya Murphy in Chapter 3 "The Power of Building Relationships: Putting Adaptive Selling to Work" when she talked about the power of relationships. Part of building relationships that work is doing your homework. It’s not enough to simply use the information you gathered when you were prospecting and qualifying.
Ride along with Tonya and learn how she researches and develops an “I know” statement as part of her preapproach before every sales call.(click to see video)
Spring break is just around the corner. You and your friends definitely want to go away somewhere great. You decide on Cancún, Mexico, as a destination. Since you want to get the best plane fare and hotel rate, you will have to book early. That means planning, coordinating, and even doing some research on the area. You want everything to be perfect—after all, this is spring break.
Just as preparation made your spring break trip come together perfectly, preparation also makes a sales call successful. By now you’ve identified and qualified your prospects, you’ve come up with an action plan, and you’re probably eager to get down to business. However, you can’t just call your prospect or show up at his door without doing your homework first. How big is his business? What are his business goals? What is his company culture? Is he already doing business with any of your competitors? In what ways do your products or services present a solution he could use? The preapproach, or the process of finding out the answers to these questions, is critical.Neil Rakham, The SPIN Selling Fieldbook (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 39. Doing your research and coming prepared gets your prospect’s attention and shows him that you care. It gives you the power to sell adaptively and puts you ahead of your competitors.
Keep in mind that when someone ultimately decides to do business with you, he is trusting you with one of the things that’s most important to him—his money. Furthermore, he is trusting in you above all other people and companies to help him with his challenges. Consider that your company is using personal selling because customers want additional information or customization of the product or service in order to make a decision. People only buy from people they trust.C. J. Ng, “Customers Don’t Buy from People They Like, They Buy from Those They Trust,” EzineArticles, August 7, 2008, http://ezinearticles.com/?Customers- Dont-Buy-From-People-They-Like,-They-Buy-From-Those-They-Trust&id=1391175 (accessed July 15, 2009). You have to earn that trust every day. The first step starts here: how well are you prepared to earn his respect and trust?
By the time you’re ready for the preapproach, you’ve already done some initial research as part of the qualifying process. With the preapproach, you take your research to the next level; you find out as much as you possibly can about the company or individual with whom you want to do business. As marketing and strategy expert Noel Capon says, a thorough understanding of your prospect’s business processes and challenges gives you the crucial insights you’ll need to offer specific, workable solutions your customers can use. Gathering this information demonstrates personal commitment and boosts your credibility with your prospects.Noel Capon, Key Account Management and Planning (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 142.
Your research will pay off whether you’re preparing to contact a new prospect—a target accountA new, qualified prospect.—or whether you’re working with an existing customer. In Chapter 7 "Prospecting and Qualifying: The Power to Identify Your Customers", you read that some of your best prospects are the customers you already have. It’s particularly important to identify your key accountsAn existing customer that is (or has the potential to be) a significant source of sales for your company., your current customers who are—or have the potential to be—your most significant sources of sales. Maybe you sell insurance, and you’ve contracted with a large restaurant chain to provide their employee health and dental plan. This key account is one of the largest companies with whom you do business, so you make an extra effort to stay informed about developments that affect this company. You’ve recently received a news alert that due to an unstable economy the restaurant chain has decided to cut employee hours. As a result, many of the staff members are now working part-time and no longer qualify for full health benefits. Based on this information, you call your contact at the company and offer to provide a more flexible and less expensive partial employee benefits package for which their part-time workers could still qualify. You tell her that this solution will serve her company’s need to cut costs and will allow them to retain employees who might otherwise become dissatisfied and leave.
Whether you’re contacting new or existing customers, it’s important to have your specific call objectives in mind and to clearly map out the information you’ve already gathered about the company so that you can refer to it during the call. You can keep this information organized using a precall planning worksheetA document that details the goals you hope to achieve during a particular sales call. that lists the key company statistics you’ve identified as part of your research and includes a checklist detailing the purpose of the call: the information you’d like to learn about the company, the solutions or key facts you plan to communicate, and any other goals you hope to achieve. The worksheet doesn’t have to be complex; it can be as straightforward as the sample in Figure 8.1 "Precall Planning Worksheet". Your customer relationship management (CRM) or contact management system (CMS) may also provide a place for you to do your precall planning work. A sample precall planning worksheet is shown in Figure 8.1 "Precall Planning Worksheet".
Figure 8.1 Precall Planning Worksheet
Listing your goals in writing before you make a sales call gives you the power to measure the success of your call. Did you get the information you needed? Did you communicate the information you listed in your checklist? If not, how can you adapt your approach and set goals for your next sales call?
The first sales call (or calls) is often an extension of the qualifying process. Even if the company passes initial qualification, as you learn more you might find out that they aren’t your ideal customers after all. You might discover that your contact at the company is about to leave or change positions. Or you might realize that the company’s current situation isn’t one in which they’re willing or able to buy. The following are some things you’ll want to know as you research the company during your preapproach.
Company news. Tracking company news is another way to discover opportunities for sales. Has the company put out any recent press releases? (You can generally find these on the company Web site in the investor relations, press release, or press room section.) Has the company recently appeared in the news? (Setting up Google News Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts for your current and potential customers will keep you up-to-date on this.)
Don’t just read the news; creatively think about what the news is telling you about selling opportunities with a prospect. For example, if you were selling paper goods (cups, lids, straws, bags, cup jackets, napkins, etc.) to coffee shops, you would have read a press release about the test marketing of McCafés several months before the national launch. Then you would have read about the announcement of the national launch a few months before it was planned to occur. These press releases are selling opportunities. You might think it would only be a selling opportunity if you were selling to McDonald’s, but that’s not true. The fact is McDonald’s announced that it was about to expand the market for premium coffee. That’s an opportunity to help your customers and prospects. For example, what if you suggested that your customers and prospects print an advertisement on their bags, napkins, cups, and cup jackets to announce a promotion called “Morning Joe Wake-up Call”? “Buy a cup of coffee every day for ten days and get a free cup of Joe!” This helps increase their sales, which ultimately increases your sales. You could bring this idea to your customer or prospect in advance of the McCafé launch and discuss how your idea can help him build his brand prior to the competitive effort. Now that’s using company news to drive sales.Gerry Tabio, “Creative Solutions,” presentation at Greater Media Philadelphia Sales Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, May 14, 2009.
Listen to the Most Current Quarterly Earnings Conference Call for Macy’s
Understanding customer demographics can provide important insight for selling. For example, each of the customers shown above has different demographics and different needs.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Customer reviews can tell you a lot about a company and help you identify your best prospects, as in the case of the customer reviews for Southwest Airlines compared to those for United Airlines.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Preparation Is Essential(click to see video)
Listen to Priya Masih, sales representative at Lupin Pharmaceuticals, talk about how she prepares for a sales call.
Your current customers are your best prospects. While you might be excited about a new account, make sure you don’t spend so much time and energy on new prospects that you neglect the ones with whom you’ve already established a relationship.
Opportunities to expand the relationship. There’s no better place to increase your sales than with your existing customers. They know you and your product or service, you know them and their needs and challenges. So start by leveraging the information you already know about your customer’s business. This is the best way to expand your relationship. For instance, if you have sold fitness equipment to a regional chain of health clubs and you know that it is important for them to minimize maintenance costs and down time, you could target the buyer as a prospect for the new line of weight machines with hydraulics. You could also expand your research and determine how much money the club could save in a year based on the number of machines and include that as part of your presentation. This is establishing your value propositionThe benefits of the product or service that a customer is willing to pay for., what you have to offer that your prospect or customer is willing to pay for.
If your customer is using some of your services in combination with your competitor’s services, this is also a sales opportunity: find out how satisfied your customer is with the competitor’s services and see if you can come up with a better solution. (“You’re currently using our hydraulic weight machines, but I see that you’re buying your exercise machines from this other company. Did you know that we offer treadmills, exercise bikes, and elliptical machines that come with free maintenance and product replacement guarantees?”) If your customer has a contract with this competitor, finding out when the contract expires will help you time your sales call effectively.Marcel Sim, “Leveraging Your CRM System to Expand Your Client Relationships,” Get Entrepreneurial, August 12, 2008, http://www.getentrepreneurial.com/customer-service/leveraging_your_crm_system_to_expand_your_client_relationships.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
And what about your contracts with the customer? If you have a service-level agreement (SLA)A contract between a customer and a service provider that sets out the frequency, length of time, and expectations for providing the service. with the customer, you can leverage this opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship. SLAs define the terms of the service you will provide, and they generally expire after a certain length of time (think about the contract you have with your cell phone provider). Establish open lines of communication to make sure your customer is consistently satisfied with your service. You might discuss expanded service options he can purchase, or you could offer a discount for renewing the contract early. Consider giving a short survey to gauge your customer’s satisfaction level and find out whether there are additional services you might be able to offer her.
You can also consider moving into other departments of the organization: use your CRM system to track the organizational structure of the company and find the influencers in other departments. Of course, you can ask your current contacts at the company for referrals of other prospective buyers within the company.Marcel Sim, “Leveraging Your CRM System to Expand Your Client Relationships,” Get Entrepreneurial, August 12, 2008, http://www.getentrepreneurial.com/customer-service/leveraging_your_crm_system_to_expand_your_client_relationships.html (accessed July 15, 2009). Maybe you’re formatting documents for the research branch of the company, but you know the company also has a communications department that puts out brochures, reports, and newsletters. You can scan your CRM database (or look on the company’s Web site) for the names of managers in the communications department and ask your contact in the research department if he could give you a good referral.
When you want to dig deeper with your research, you can often return to the same sources you used during the qualifying process and simply get more specific with the information you gather.
In addition to these sources you’ve already used, consider another powerful resource: people. If you’ve already formed a relationship with key people in your target company, you can ask them for referrals to influencers in other departments of the organization. Your contacts at an organization have inside knowledge and will usually be able to tell you whom to talk to if you want to make something happen. If they’re satisfied with the service you’ve been providing, these contacts are often happy to give you the names of others who might be able to use your solutions. Complementary salespeople can also be an excellent source of information about a prospect. For example, if you are selling computer hardware you might find nuggets of information from the person who sells office furniture. You can help each other by sharing insights and information.
It might surprise you to know that competitive salespeople can also be a resource. If you’re a member of a professional organization, if you attend conferences or tradeshows, or if you’re simply connected in your community, you’ll probably know competitive salespeople. While your competitor isn’t going to give you the inside scoop on a prospect he’s currently pursuing, he might share some useful insights about companies or people he has worked with in the past. Maybe he used to do business with one of your current contacts and can tell you things to avoid or things that will impress her. (“She will eat you alive if you don’t have all your information.”) Maybe one of your target companies is an organization he has sold to in the past, and he has some useful advice about the way they work. Never underestimate the power of relationships and networking.
Imagine you wanted to sell a new digital camera to your teenage sister. How would you convince her to buy? You might start by thinking of the things that matter to teenagers—specifically your sister. Maybe you’d say, “It’s small and lightweight so you can fit it in your purse and take it with you when you go out with your friends. It has a new sleek design, and you can customize it by ordering it in one of six different colors.” You’ve considered things your sister might need (a camera she can take on a night out), and you’ve identified an opportunity that might appeal to a teenaged girl (a combination of appearance, style, and functionality).
Now what if you were selling the same product to your grandmother? She might be more concerned with reliability than appearance, and she might also be intimidated about using a digital camera if it’s a technology she hasn’t tried before. “This camera doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles,” you could say. “It’s straightforward and easy to use and makes an excellent choice for a first digital camera purchase. It’s perfect for taking pictures of the grandkids. It has also been highly rated as a reliable and high-quality product.” You’ve addressed her problem (intimidation about using a new technology), and you’ve helped her discover opportunities (taking photos of the grandkids).
Even though you’re selling the same product to both people, you’re using a very different approach. Ultimately, what you’re selling is not a product but a solution based on your customer’s specific needs. This is the heart of the preapproach. There are three simple steps you can follow to turn your products and services into customer-specific solutions.
Great salespeople don’t sell, they solve. As you research your prospect, you should be able to identify problems that are specific to that person or organization: Do they need to reduce costs? Do they need to increase sales? Do they need to drive traffic to a Web site or generate leads for their new service? Or maybe they need something that will set their brand apart from their competitors. In the case of individual consumers, the problem might be very different: Does she want to have the latest in fashion without couture prices? Does she want the latest technology “toys” as soon as they are available? Does she want a car that is a dependable form of transportation and friendly to the environment?
Sometimes people are forthcoming about their problems, but many times it’s up to you to ask the right questions; the ones that will uncover what your prospect needs or where opportunities exist. (Remember from Chapter 1 "The Power to Get What You Want in Life" that is one of the traits of a successful salesperson.) For instance, if your prospect is buying from a competitor, you might ask questions like “What were your expectations when you signed up for this service? What has your actual experience of the service been? What would you like to see happen differently?” The prospect might not fully realize what his problems are.Paul Cherry, Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants (New York: AMACOM, 2006), 25. Often, especially in B2B sales, the goal of your first sales call will simply be to identify your prospect’s specific areas of need. You won’t make a pitch; you’ll just ask questions and listen.Mark Anthony, “The Psychology of Selling,” BNET, April 1995, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3629/is_199504/ai_n8730867/?tag=content;col1 (accessed July 15, 2009).
Asking questions often opens up opportunities you might not otherwise discover. There will be occasions when your prospect doesn’t have an immediate problem she can identify, but if you’ve done your research and know something about her goals and priorities and if you ask the right questions, you have the chance to uncover useful opportunities. What can help him achieve his goals even more efficiently? What kinds of results would he like to see?Geoffrey James, “Solution Selling Is Dead,” BNET, October 29, 2007, http://blogs.bnet.com/salesmachine/?p=158&tag=content;col1 (accessed July 15, 2009). What would he like to have if he only knew it was possible?
Think about the advent of the cell phone. Consumers had a problem: their lives were getting busier, and they wanted to be able to communicate on the go. They needed a phone they could use when they weren’t at home or in the office. What do you do on a car trip if you get lost or your car breaks down? How do you find someone in a crowded place? How can people get in touch with you if you’re almost never home? Cell phone providers figured out consumers’ problems, and they solved them. Then along came the iPhone. Most cell phone users wouldn’t have said they needed a device that could capture videos and photographs, play MP3s, store a day planner, surf the web, run hundreds of different applications—oh, and make phone calls too—using a single slick interface. But Apple saw an opportunity, and they helped consumers to see it too: over a million iPhones sold the first weekend the product came out in stores.Philip Elmer-DeWitt, “Munster: 500,000 New iPhones This Weekend,” Fortune, June 18, 2009, http://apple20.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2009/06/18/munster-500000-new-iphones-this-weekend/ (accessed July 15, 2009).
Once you’ve identified your customer’s problems, take the time—either with a team or on your own—to brainstorm solutions and opportunities that address your prospect’s specific needs. Sometimes solving your prospect’s problem is a straightforward task, but often with larger sales, particularly B2B sales, coming up with a solution that is tailored to your customer’s needs requires time and thought. No two prospects are the same, so no two solutions will be exactly the same. When Joel Ronning, CEO of e-commerce company Digital River, wants to solve customer problems and generate ideas, he sits down with the senior employees of his company for a brainstorming session. The technique has boosted sales, earned the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and led to a small business award for “best idea.”Allison Stein Wellner, “A Perfect Brainstorm,” Inc., October 1, 2003, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20031001/strategies.html (accessed July 15, 2009). As a salesperson, your job is to solve customer problems, not push a product. In other words, you’re offering solutions that include unique and different ideas, not selling products. For this reason, brainstorming—the process of generating ideas—is a crucial part of the selling process.
When you go into a brainstorming session, there are several techniques that will help you generate effective results.
Figure 8.4 Five Fs of Brainstorming
Brainstorming, as an idea-generation tool, is a proven and powerful part of creative development. However, keep in mind that some of the ideas you come up with in the brainstorming process will be stronger than others. A great idea has two important elements: it solves your customer’s problems and, in B2B sales, it reinforces your customer’s brand. Consider consultant Mike Rubin’s solution to a problem faced by one of his customers, a Harley-Davidson dealer, who wanted to boost sales and appeal to a broader customer base. Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson Dealership was already drawing in the “hard-core” bikers, but the store’s owner wanted to reach the more conservative, baby boomer demographic too. By turning the dealership into a destination, complete with a Harley museum and restaurant, Rubin hit on a solution that both addressed the customer’s problem and remained true to the Harley brand image. The restaurant, designed to resemble a factory cafeteria, appealed to tough bikers and families alike, and the museum—also a family-friendly draw—was laid out in a warehouse style that reflected the company’s brand image of independence, toughness, and the open road. The result? In three years, bike sales increased from 800 to over 1,700 annually.Donna Fen, “(Re)born to Be Wild,” Inc., January 2006, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20060101/reborn.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
They Practice What They Preach
Ideo, a premier product development company, believes that innovation is the only path to success. Collaboration and idea generation are a way of life at the company that invented the Apple mouse, Polaroid I-Zone pocket camera, and Palm V. This article highlights how they support and encourage this creative culture.Linda Tischler, “Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming,” Fast Company, December 19, 2007, http://www.fastcompany.com/articles/2001/03/kelley.html (accessed October 31, 2009).
Source: Fast Company
If you are working out of your home and you don’t have a group of people with which to brainstorm, it’s not a problem. Get your colleagues in other areas involved by having a brainstorming conference call. Or have a virtual brainstorming session through your professional social network by using the discussion feature on LinkedIn, getting ideas from your followers on Twitter, or creating a wikiA collaborative Web site that allows multiple people to share information, documents, videos, and pictures. where people can share ideas at any time and see the ideas that others have created.
The bottom line is that selling is all about selling your brand (remember from Chapter 1 "The Power to Get What You Want in Life" that a brand is unique, consistent, and relevant and has an emotional connection with its customers). When you really understand your customer and their needs and motivations, you can be extremely creative about the way you position and tell the story of your brand.
How Ideas Are Born(click to see video)
Tim Brown, the CEO of the creative design firm Ideo, discusses how ideas are created.
Once you have brainstormed a customer-specific solution, you want to find a way to showcase your solution in the best light. How will you present this idea to your prospect so that he can immediately see its relevance to his situation? How will you establish the value proposition you have to offer? How will you position your idea as a benefit to your prospect, not a self-serving sales pitch? As part of your preapproach, you should identify both a general and a specific statement to highlight the benefits of your solution or opportunity. When you deliver value to your prospect, you earn the opportunity to be a business partner, not just someone who is trying to sell something.
Imagine you work for a dairy products distributor that sells wholesale to restaurants. You’ve researched one of your prospects, a downtown deli, and have identified one of its major problems: the company is losing business to the sandwich place across the street. Your prospect may not yet realize the source of the trouble, but you have an idea. It seems that the prospect’s competitor has cheaper sandwiches, and you know for a fact that part of the problem lies in the cost of the ingredients. Your prospect currently pays 10 percent more for the cheese it gets from its current vendor than you would charge for the same product. If the deli started buying cheese from you, it would be able to lower the cost of its sandwiches to a more competitive price and draw some of the sales that are going to its competitor. You have also brainstormed how the deli can create a “signature sandwich”: a unique combination of meat and cheeses that only it offers. The sandwich provides a point of difference for the deli and a reason for previous deli customers to come back. In other words, you are helping to build your prospect’s brand and business with a great idea.
This is a good solution, but you can’t walk into the deli and tell your prospect, “I want to sell you some cheese.” Your prospect doesn’t need cheese; he needs to increase his sales, and he’ll probably tell you to go away because he already has a dairy products vendor. It’s your job to frame the solution in such a way that your customer can easily see its relevance to his problem; you want to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question early on in the sales call.Todd Natenberg, “What’s in It for the Prospect? Everything—If You Tell Them,” SelfGrowth.com, http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Natenberg12.html (accessed July 15, 2009). Begin by drafting a general benefit statementAn opening statement for a sales call that gives the big picture of how your solution meets your prospect’s need., a statement that gives the big picture of how your solution will meet your prospect’s need. For instance, you might say, “I have an idea for a way to increase your sandwich sales by 15 percent.” Your statement showcases a solution rather than a product.
General benefit statements, as opposed to specific benefit statements, are broad enough that they would be important to most people.Philip Gerber, “The Sales Professional: Initial Benefit Statement,” Houston Business Review, April 2005, http://www.houstonbusiness.com/HBReview/contributors/philipgerber/gerberarchive13.html (accessed July 15, 2009). They might address things like improving company visibility, expanding the business, increasing profits, or cutting costs. The specific benefit statementIdentifies the way a solution addresses a prospect’s particular situation and needs., on the other hand, comes once you’ve grabbed your prospect’s attention. It identifies the particular way your solution applies to your prospect, and it demonstrates that you’ve done your research and understand the needs that are unique to his company or situation. For instance, you might say, “Your food cost is too high, and it’s keeping you from competing with other businesses. I can help you cut your food costs so that you can afford to sell your breakfast burrito for under $2.99. Would that be something you would be interested in?” If you’ve done your research and brainstormed an effective solution, your benefits statements are the tools that will give you the power to convey that information clearly and effectively.
Table 8.1 Benefit Statement Examples
|General Benefit Statement||Specific Benefit Statement|
|I have an idea that can help you lower your labor costs. Is that something you might be interested in?||If I can prove that I can help you reduce your labor costs by 10 percent, would you be willing to make a commitment?|
|I have some ideas about how to increase traffic to your Web site. Is that something that is of interest to you?||If I can show you how our social networking tool can drive 15 percent more traffic to your Web site during key seasonal periods, would you be willing to consider it?|
|I have some ideas about how to decrease your transaction time and take care of more customers every hour. Is that something you are interested in?||If I can show you how our product can decrease your transaction time for each customer by at least one minute, would you be interested in looking at the proposal?|
Assume you worked in the Apple Store. Identify one general benefit statement and one specific benefit statement for each of the following:
Identifying your prospect’s need is only part of your preapproach research. There’s still more research and planning for you to do before you meet with or speak to the customer.
If you haven’t determined what you hope to achieve before going into your sales call, it will be difficult to figure out what to say once you arrive or once you have your prospect on the phone. Setting precall objectivesGoals that are determined for the sales call before the call is made. is a strategically important step. If you have clear goals, you will be more confident and appear more organized, and it’s more likely that you will see results. Your customers are busy people, and you don’t want to waste their time. They will appreciate your organization and will be more likely to trust your judgment if you come prepared. You also don’t want to waste your time or your company’s time. According to Hoovers, the average sales call costs a company nearly $400!Gary Duncan, “Every Sales Call Requires an Objective and Decision,” Denver Business Journal, October 13, 2006, http://denver.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2006/10/16/smallb8.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
As you plan your meeting, ask yourself this question: “What will success look like for this call?”American Institute of Public Certified Accountants, “Successful Selling Tips: The Sales Objective,” http://www.aicpa.org/Professional+Resources/CPA+Marketing+Toolkit/SellingTips6.htm (accessed July 15, 2009). That may seem like a question with a straightforward answer, but success doesn’t always mean closing the sale. In some situations, you’ll experience a one-call closeA sales call that results in a sale after one call., but with larger sales, particularly in B2B sales, the sales cycleThe length of time it takes to go from the first contact with the customer to closing the sale., or the length of time it takes to go from the first contact with the customer to closing the sale, is generally longer—sometimes even taking up to a year or longer. Consider Telegraph Hill Robes, a San Francisco-based company that sells bathrobes to upscale hotels with spas. Buying enough bathrobes to stock a hotel spa is a large investment, one that most customers have to carefully consider. The sale has to clear with two contacts at every company: the general manager and the head of housekeeping. As a result, when Telegraph Hill first started selling its product in 1996, its average sales cycle was two years!Susan Greco, “The Need for Speed,” Inc., April 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070401/salesmarketing-smart-selling.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
If you know that you are facing a longer sales cycle, the goal of your initial call might be gathering and conveying specific information to move forward in the sales process or further qualify your prospect. According to Gary Duncan, principal of the sales training organization Leadership Connections, “In more complex sales it’s realistic to set a precall objective of establishing rapport and trust, making new contacts in the organization, qualifying your prospect’s budget, or discovering what your prospect’s decision-making process is. For instance, you might decide you want to find out who your prospect’s current vendors are, any issues your prospect has with the services she is receiving, and what her goals are for future purchases.”Gary Duncan, “Every Sales Call Requires an Objective and Decision,” Denver Business Journal, October 13, 2006, http://denver.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2006/10/16/smallb8.html (accessed July 15, 2009). You should also consider your prospect’s objectives: what outcome is she hoping for from this call?
Sometimes, setting strategic, information-gathering objectives may actually help you shorten your overall sales cycle. Take Acumen, a company that sells high-capability accounting software to corporations. Originally, the company’s sales cycle lasted around nine months. However, once the company became more strategic in its precall planning, designing a system of rigorous qualifying questions that its salespeople had to resolve before making a sales pitch, Acumen actually decreased its average sales cycle to somewhere between three and six months. Asking detailed questions during early sales calls allowed the company to cut back on the time it wasted brainstorming solutions and making sales pitches for underqualified leads.Susan Greco, “The Need for Speed,” Inc., April 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070401/salesmarketing-smart-selling.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
So it’s early in the process of a complex sale, and you are setting your goals for your next meeting with your customer. You know it will primarily be an information-gathering session because you need to know more before you can propose a workable, specific solution. However, if you go into the meeting with a vague plan like “I want to find out more about my prospect’s business,” you won’t accomplish much.Skills Connection, “How to Get Better Results from your Sales Meetings,” video, March 3, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P6bU1efZbI (accessed July 15, 2009). Instead, you might come up with a goal similar to the one mentioned earlier: “By the end of this meeting, I want to know who my prospect’s current vendors are, what issues or challenges he faces with this vendor’s services, and what three priorities he has for future purchases.” This objective, like all effective precall objectives, is SMARTAn acronym to identify the elements of a successful sales goal: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.. That is, the goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.Virtual Strategist, “How to Set SMART Goals,” video, M3 Planning, October 17, 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uThBb3kGf4k (accessed July 15, 2009).
Figure 8.5 SMART Objectives
SMART objectives give you the power to sell strategically by setting goals you can achieve. Another powerful tool is the simple act of putting your goals down in writing. Not only are you likely to make a stronger commitment to your goals when you have them on paper, but you will also be able to use your written goals for reference later on—even during the sales call if you need to.Roy Chitwood, “Every Sales Call Must Have a Clear Objective,” Puget Sound Business Journal, September 26, 1997, http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/1997/09/29/smallb3.html?page=2 (accessed July 15, 2009).
Setting SMART Objectives(click to see video)
Watch this short video about setting SMART objectives for your sales calls.
Source: Skills Connection
Figure 8.6 Examples of SMART Objectives
Which of the following is a SMART goal for your first sales call on a prospect to sell car insurance? Rewrite each of the other goals to be SMART.
Once you’ve done your research, brainstormed your solution, and set your SMART objectives, you’ve got a good foundation to move forward. The only homework left to do is planning your sales presentation. Even if you have a stellar solution to offer, and even though your objectives may be clearly defined, you can’t make your sales pitch hoping to just “wing it.” A well-planned presentation can often be the thing that makes or breaks a sale. If your customer sees you as well prepared (i.e., if you have thoughtfully tailored your style, presentation materials, and agenda to match what you know about your contact and his company culture), you will go far in establishing a strong rapport with your customer and earning his trust and respect.
Preparing your sales presentation can seem like an overwhelming task. How long should you speak, and how much time should you allow for questions? Should you use demonstrations or examples? How formal should you be? What points should you address first? Here are four general guidelines to keep in mind as you begin the planning process.
Your presentation should be well organized. Think about how you want to lead in, when you will introduce key information in your presentation, and when you will use product demonstrations. When Tom Szaky, CEO of the garden products company TerraCycle, gives a sales presentation, he prepares by drawing up an agenda that prioritizes the information he wants to convey and arranging it in a strategic order. For example, Szaky knows that if he presents his product near the beginning of the presentation, his customers will make their buying decision before they know what makes TerraCycle unique, so he starts off all of his presentations by talking about the features that set his company apart.Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html (accessed July 15, 2009). Not only will prioritizing your agenda give you a strategic edge, but it will also help your customer to see that you are organized. Bring copies of your agenda to distribute at the beginning of the meeting so that your customers can follow along with you as you give your presentation.
It’s best to dress the way your customers dress for a sales call. If in doubt, always choose conservative business attire.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
At this phase in the preapproach you should have some knowledge about your contacts in the company, and you should understand the company’s particular culture and priorities. As you plan your presentation, you can use this knowledge to tailor your approach to your prospect. What tone will you set for the presentation? Is your prospect a “fun” company that would respond well to humor or interactive opportunities during the presentation? Are you presenting to a group of busy executives who would value an efficient, no-nonsense approach? Think about the level of formality your customers will expect. This will dictate how you dress, how you speak, and how you design your visual aids and demonstrations. When Tom Szaky gives a presentation to buyers from Wal-Mart (one of his biggest customers), he dresses casually, perhaps wearing a corduroy jacket, a John Deere cap, and frayed shoes.Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html (accessed July 15, 2009). Wal-Mart presents itself as a no-frills company, and this attitude carries over into its corporate culture. Understanding this aspect of the company and the contacts with whom he’s working—representatives from the garden department—Szaky adapts his approach to match.
Do Your Homework…Even When You Know Your Customer
Cris Cavanaugh, now a CustomerCentric selling affiliate, learned the hard way that assuming in selling is not a good thing. He was asked by a customer to do a presentation at a conference. Cavanaugh accepted and gave a confident presentation. He failed miserably because the audience was not as well educated on the topic, so the audience was left confused. Cavanaugh now asks questions and gets input before every presentation because he realizes that every audience, just like every customer, is not the same.“Approach Every Presentation as If It Were Your First,” Selling Power Presentations eNewsletter, February 20, 2006, http://www.sellingpower.com/content/newsletter/issue.php?pc=569 (accessed March 16, 2010).
People respond best to things they can see and experience for themselves. Your sales presentation won’t be complete without product demonstrations and visual aids to inspire your customers and help them see the value of your product firsthand. As you develop this aspect of your presentation, consider slides or handouts that will reinforce key points. Consider the things that will best help this particular customer visualize your solution as a winning one. For example, in one presentation to Wal-Mart buyers, Szaky displayed a binder full of newspaper clippings in which TerraCycle had helped Wal-Mart generate positive publicity. He also used a short video and brought in a live plant grown with his potting mix. In addition, because his contact at the company had asked to see what the product might look like on the sales floor, Szaky brought in a merchandizing mockup to help his buyers visualize TerraCycle’s potting mix in their stores.Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
Practice makes perfect when it comes to a presentation.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Finally, once you’ve created your presentation, practice it. Practice in front of a mirror, deliver the presentation to family members and colleagues (if you can get a willing audience!), and run over your agenda until you know it inside and out.Lahle Wolfe, “How Do You Practice Your Sales Presentation?” online discussion board, About.com, June 11, 2008, http://sales.about.com/b/2008/06/11/how-do-you-practice-your-sales-presentation.htm#gB3 (accessed July 15, 2009). You want the presentation to come off smoothly, but you also want it to seem natural. Even experienced salespeople like Tom Szaky practice a presentation—perfecting their pacing and delivery and making sure they know their stuff—before going into a sales call.Stephanie Clifford, “Practice, Practice” Inc., February 2007, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070201/features-sales-performance-szaky.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
As you plan your sales presentation, keep four things in mind:
Think of ways you might personalize a sales presentation for the following situations:
Describe how your preapproach would differ (in dress, tone, conversation) for each of these situations:
Now that you understand how preparation can help you be successful in selling, let’s go back to selling the most important brand of all—you! In the Selling U section in Chapter 7 "Prospecting and Qualifying: The Power to Identify Your Customers", you did your research, identified and qualified your twenty-five target companies, and obtained the contact information for at least two key people at each organization. Of course, there is still some homework to do before you see the payoff of securing an interview. As Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, says, “You’re never going to find anything unless you apply.”Steven Greenhouse, “Bright Spot in Downturn: New Hiring Is Robust,” New York Times, May 5, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/business/economy/06hire.html (accessed July 15, 2009). However, you can think of this step in the process as the exciting part. Consider what happens when a company releases a new product. The company doesn’t keep the news to themselves, discreetly shipping the product out to stores with the hopes that the right buyers will just happen to find it. Instead, it leverages every resource it has to get the word out. Think about the new Prius. Toyota took advantage of publicity surrounding the car’s fuel efficiency to generate buzz with newspapers, radio, and television reporting on Prius-related press releases. Toyota leveraged Web resources (e.g., blogs, discussion forums, product fan sites) and highlighted positive product reviews in its press releases and online.“Toyota Promotes Prius Buzz with New Forum,” Company Car Driver, June 16, 2009, http://www.companycardriver.co.uk/news/article/?art_ID=315742919 (accessed July 15, 2009).
When a company has designed a new product or brand, it is excited to let people know about it. The more enthusiastically it shares the news, the better the payoff. The same should be true of your job search. You are a new brand that is about to go on the market, you know you have unique qualities to offer, and you should be excited to let other people know this about you, too. Sending the news to potential employers at your target companies is a good way to start. If you take advantage of this tool, in combination with five other power-packed tools for getting the word out, you will be surprised by the positive results you see.
You learned about the power of networking, and especially professional social networking, in Chapter 3 "The Power of Building Relationships: Putting Adaptive Selling to Work". More and more companies are turning to professional social networks such as LinkedIn to identify potential candidates for jobs. But it’s not enough to simply create a profile on LinkedIn. To be noticed on a massive professional networking site, just as in the real world, you have to stand out. That means completing your profile, adding content, participating in discussions, and linking to other content, such as your blog. Also, share your content by joining groups on LinkedIn, such as The Power of Selling (a group of selling professionals to support you in this class and beyond), Sales and Marketing Executives, and Salesblogcast.com, or other groups in your area of interest. These groups include thousands of professionals with whom you can connect and network. And ask people such as supervisors from your job, internship, or volunteer organization; professors; or other professionals to speak on your behalf by posting a recommendation about you.
Meet Mig Pascual on LinkedIn by clicking on his profile using the link below. Mig uses content to build his personal brand by providing complete experience, including topical videos, slide shows, and book recommendations to demonstrate his skills. In addition, he has several recommendations from supervisors and colleagues. This powerful profile works—just take a look at the number of connections Mig has in his network. You can connect with Mig and ask him to join your network by clicking on “View Full Profile” (you will need to create a profile before you can ask Mig to join your network).
Direct mail is a powerful but often overlooked source you have for getting your cover letter and résumé to people who are making hiring decisions. Now that you’ve done your research and identified your twenty-five target companies and key decision makers at each one, it’s time to put that information to work.
You might think that sending letters to companies that don’t currently have open jobs posted might be a waste of time. The fact is that hiring managers don’t like to post jobs, as it takes time and energy to come up with the job description, clear it through all the proper channels, sort through résumés and cover letters, and interview potential employees. This means that a number of your contacts may have open positions they haven’t yet publicized, and they would be delighted if a qualified candidate like you could save them the hassle of a drawn out hiring process. And if you’ve done everything correctly (e.g., addressed your cover letter individually to key hiring managers, not just human resources), but your letter doesn’t end up in the right person’s hands, your contact at the company may very well pass your résumé on to someone else who would be a better fit. (“Hey Dave, is your department still looking for a marketing assistant?”) If you want your letter to stand out even more, consider sending it to some top prospective employers with a return receipt requested or via FedEx. It’s a good way to ensure that the recipient received your cover letter and résumé and there’s a good chance your letter will get opened quickly.
Sending your résumé and cover letter via direct mail helps you stand out and get the word out about your brand.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Sending your cover letter and résumé to several people at your twenty-five target companies will set you apart from your competitors because very few people send information by mail these days. Think about the number of e-mails you get in your in-box daily. A letter stands out, and the best part about sending direct mail to your target companies is that it’s easy to do. You can use the spreadsheet you created in Chapter 7 "Prospecting and Qualifying: The Power to Identify Your Customers" to easily personalize cover letters and envelopes to the people at your target companies by using the mail merge feature.Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 142. Watch the video below to see how it’s done. Keep in mind that hiring managers are busy people, and sometimes letters get lost or forgotten. If you don’t get the response you were hoping for, send your letter to the same people in your mail merge again in three to four weeks.Kim Richmond, “10 Ways to Get the Word Out about Your Brand,” presentation in the How to Market Yourself as a Brand to Get the Job You Want Workshop Series, Upper Merion Township Library, King of Prussia, PA, June 1, 2009.
How to Do a Mail Merge(click to see video)
You can personalize hundreds of cover letters in just minutes using the Mail Merge feature in Word (Microsoft or Mac). Watch this video to see how easy it is to do.
During the preapproach to a sales call, a good salesperson spends time at her prospective company’s Web site, researching the organization and its key people in greater depth so that she can go into the meeting knowledgeable about basic company facts and informed of any recent developments. This is also an important technique when researching prospective employers—and it’s a task that requires minimal effort on your part. If one of your target companies contacts you for an interview, the knowledge you gained from this Web site research will prove useful.
The online job boards for your twenty-five target companies are another avenue for getting the word out about your brand. It doesn’t hurt to apply for published positions, particularly if you take steps (using techniques described here and in other chapters) to set yourself apart from the majority of other applicants. If the Web site gives you the option, sign up for e-mail alerts that will let you know when new positions open up. Company Web sites are excellent resources for finding advertised positions because the job descriptions posted there are often more detailed than the descriptions you might be able to find through general online job boards.LT International, “Job Searching: The Importance of Examining Company Websites,” BNET, January 2008, http://jobfunctions.bnet.com/abstract.aspx?docid=915723 (accessed July 15, 2009). Moreover, many companies post open positions only on their Web sites to avoid the cost of posting on other job boards.
The benefit of online job boards like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and Yahoo! HotJobs is that they make it a snap to perform searches by industry and keyword, and they often return a wealth of results. In fact, Internet job boards have recently become one of the fastest growing online categories.Sarah Radwanick, “Job Search Ranks as Fastest Growing U.S. Online Category in 2008,” Reuters, January 22, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS243039+22-Jan-2009+PRN20090122 (accessed July 15, 2009). These sites can be an excellent avenue for learning about career opportunities in your target industry, and they should be an ongoing part of your efforts to find the right employer.Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 133. These sites might help you find job opportunities through companies that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered working for, and they will certainly keep you informed about the kinds of positions for which people are currently hiring in your industry and the particular qualifications for which many employers are searching.
Most sites will allow you to set up e-mail alerts (customized by your chosen keywords) so that new job postings come to your in-box regularly. It’s best to enter as many keywords as you can think of that are relevant to your interests and experiences so that you don’t miss anything. For instance, if you want a job in advertising, you would choose advertising as a keyword, but you could also list words like promotions, account executive, account manager, account coordinator, customer services, brand manager, advertising agency, and social media.Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 139. You might also consider creating a separate e-mail account to keep track of your job-related e-mails, particularly if you have subscribed to alerts through several job search Web sites. In fact, it’s a good idea to go through a number of Web sites so that you can stay informed about as many opportunities as possible. You can go through general job boards like Vault.com or CareerBuilder.com, industry-specific job boards like MarketingSherpa.com, location-specific job boards like SeattleRecruiter.com, or a combination of these options.
Table 8.2 Online Job Boards
|Career information and job board directed at college students|
|Job board, internship opportunities, and information on career planning|
|Job board, articles, and career planning advice|
|One of the largest job boards on the Internet; includes career planning articles|
|Job board and career planning information|
|Location-specific job boards|
|Large job board with articles on job searching|
|Job board and career planning information and resources|
Association Job Boards
|Includes links to Web sites of professional associations and job boards|
|Job board for sales and marketing executives|
Accounting Jobs Today
|Job board for careers in accounting and finance|
Jobs in the Money
|Job board for accounting and finance|
|Job board for accounting positions|
|Job board for freelancing, contracting, consulting, and temporary work|
|Job board for marketing; includes articles|
|Job board for marketing|
|Job board for marketing, advertising, and PR|
|Job board for fashion, apparel, and retail|
|Job board for marketing|
Source: Adapted from Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 221–23.
Although it’s important to use direct mail when submitting a cold-contact application, when you apply for positions you find on online job boards, you should apply through the Web site using the format they prescribe. Just make sure you include a cover letter when you submit your résumé. Hiring managers are likely to throw away résumés that come in without cover letters because a cover letter is what allows you to personalize your application, sending the message that you care enough to make an effort in your job search. Finally, keep in mind that while many job seekers rely entirely on online job boards for their searches, and while these sites can be a good avenue for learning about opportunities, they are not an end-all method. They are strongest when used in combination with your direct-mail campaign and the other power-packed tools mentioned in this chapter.
Finally, when you want to let people know you are on the market and have unique skills to offer, consider integrating a number of methods discussed in other chapters of this book to let people see your face. Phone calls, letters, and online communications are critical to your job search, but nothing creates an impression and establishes personal connections like face-to-face interaction.
Following up helps you maximize your efforts after networking, applying for an online job, sending direct mail, contacting someone via networking (online or offline), and visiting a job fair. You will leave a good impression, help your contacts to remember you, and set yourself apart from other applicants. Follow-up can sometimes have surprising benefits, so even when a door seems closed, make the effort to send a personal note or thank-you. Consider a college graduate who integrated follow-up into her job search. Shortly after applying for a public relations position at one of her target companies, she received a letter saying the position had been filled. Anika followed up on this letter with a note, thanking the interviewer for her time and mentioning how much she had enjoyed their meeting and her visit to the company. A week later, she got the position—the candidate the company originally hired had changed her mind. Because she was the only applicant who had followed up, she stood out, and the company hired her as a replacement.
Consider these techniques that will allow you to make the most of your follow-up efforts:
It’s also important to keep thorough records of your communications with your target companies and contacts. Use the Excel spreadsheet you created for your mailing list to record the date you mailed your cover letters and résumés, the date you followed up, the result of your follow-up, and any future actions you need to take (e.g., call back in one week). You can use a similar system when you follow up with your online job board applications. Postings listed on online job boards don’t always provide the contact info for individuals at the company, but whenever they do, make sure you follow up with this person by phone one week after you have submitted your résumé and cover letter.Kim Richmond, Brand You, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 145.
Follow-up is an opportunity to take advantage of the research you’ve been doing and any information you’ve gathered from tracking a company’s RSS feeds or Google News Alerts. For instance, say you want to work in the entertainment industry and you’re following up with a hiring manager at Epic Records. You’ve found out through the company’s RSS feed that they’ve recently released an online collection of bonus tracks, live recordings, and previously unreleased songs by the group Incubus,“Epic Records to Release The Vault—A Comprehensive Look and Listen inside Incubus,” Reuters, June 2, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS154717+02-Jun-2009+BW20090602 (accessed July 15, 2009). so you mention this to the hiring manager when you follow up about your application. This lets the hiring manager know that you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested in the company, which helps establish a rapport.
Now that you have read this chapter, you should be able to understand the preapproach in selling.
Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice. Following are two roles that are involved in the same selling situation; one role is that of the sales manager and the other is that of the salesperson. This will give you the opportunity to think about this selling situation from the point of view of both the sales manager and the salesperson.
Read each role carefully along with the discussion questions. Then, be prepared to play either of the roles in class using the concepts covered in this chapter. You may be asked to discuss the roles and role-play in groups or individually.
Green and Bright
Role: Sales Manager for GreenWay Lighting Company
You are the sales manager for GreenWay Lighting. Your product, LED lighting, can save companies up to 30 percent on their lighting bills starting in the first year after purchase. Target customers are industrial companies, such as manufacturers, that have large facilities. One of your sales reps would like to have a brainstorming session with you, the marketing director, product manager, and several other sales reps before approaching a new prospect, JR Papermills. Before the brainstorming session, you meet with the sales rep to discuss the following:
Role: GreenWay Lighting Sales Rep
Your company markets and sells energy-efficient LED lighting to businesses and other facilities. You have qualified JR Papermills as a prospect due to the size of the facility (500,000 square feet), number of lights (one million), and plans for expansion (new manufacturing plant planned to be operational by the end of next year). You’ve done your homework about the company, and you learned that they always like to invest in products that give them a return in the first year after purchase. You want to set up a brainstorming session with several people in the company to help develop ideas you can use when you approach this prospect.