Sales Performance – Choosing the Right Tools

Recently we interviewed fourteen sales executives to learn what they think really contributes to improved sales performance. We asked them the following question: what is the correlation between the tools they provide to their sales teams, and the results those sales teams achieve? Our colleagues told us that the way management goes about selecting, designing, and implementing sales practices, processes and software applications makes the difference in sales performance, not the tools themselves.

Our colleagues all represented major corporations in the B2B sector, with large sales organizations, major or national account teams, and well over a hundred years of combined field experience. They included senior executives, sales managers, and individual contributors. But overall, they agreed on four key points, with a bonus point thrown in for good measure:

1. If they build it, they will use it. In other words, if sales people who will use the sales tools have a say in building or selecting them, those sales people are much more likely to adopt and use the tools.
2. They will use it if they understand it. In the world of sales, ease of use seems to mean rate of adoption. If the tools make sense to sales people, if they produce useful insights without imposing a lot of data entry overhead, then sales people will use the tools.
3. If they use it, they are more likely to get desirable results. Once sales people have easy access to tools, methods, training programs, or technology that they had a hand in building, they use the tools. Then both sales and management can measure results. And once you measure the results you can manage them pretty well.
4. Once they get results, they want more and better results. So it was worth the effort to get the right technology, training and business processes in place, in the first place.
And the bonus: if you don’t let them build it, and they don’t adopt it, you probably won’t get the results you want.

Ease of Use vs. Rate of Adoption
The first thing we discovered was ease of use doesn’t really mean ease of use at all. It means “did you guys come up with something that makes sense to us sales people and makes it easier to do our jobs? Because if you did, we’ll use it. If you didn’t, forget it.”

Of the fourteen people we interviewed, one thing was absolutely consistent, regardless of the size of business, industry sector, experience level of the sales team, or anything else. The sales team simply won’t use any processes, methodologies, training programs or technology tools if they don’t make sense and provide meaningful feedback no matter how elegant, popular, powerful or fashionable they may be.

In our limited sample, those who reported the greatest success and the happiest outcomes said that their sales force had had direct input into the choice or design of the tools, understood what they were designed to accomplish, or both. Further, several interviewees reported a correlation between the narrowness or specificity of the problem to be addressed, and the success of the tools chosen to address it. In other words, solving a small and easily identifiable problem had more success than sweeping change.

Examples:

  • A high-tech manufacturing firm sought and obtained sales input to design a new CRM solution to replace their outdated investment. Result: a streamlined system with significant increases in adoption followed by improved employee engagement and measurable growth in sales dollars.
  • At a transportation company, the account managers had a hard time managing their pipeline, so they chose a web-hosted software package to simplify pipeline management, and do nothing else. Result: high adoption, greater sales control, increases in business and virtually no budget impact on the IT department.
  • A provider of commodity products wanted to change from a product/channel focus to a market-segment focus. To make it easy for the sales force to adopt the new approach they invested in a formal change-management process that engages the people involved in the change. Result: a sales organization that has renewed motivation and is showing positive early results.
  • A large communications company maintains its competitive advantage with a consistent focus on customer retention and executive sponsorship based on carefully documented processes and policies. Sales people find it easy to engage a senior executive, even a C-level person, in account campaigns and visits. Result: commanding market share. Sales people in this company really know that Sales is king.

On the other hand, those reporting lower rates of success believed that management seemed not to understand or appreciate the realities of the sales mission, function and organization. As a result, sales people were less likely to be included in designing the desired tools and methods, or in identifying the need for change in the first place.

Examples:

  • An otherwise successful company provided all kinds of useful tools to its sales force, with high levels of adoption and success, but management decided not to address the need for mid-tier sales support. So those senior sales people must do their own “administrivia” at the cost of hours of productive face-time with customers.
  • One large industrial firm has spent years changing the business model from product focus to industry focus to account focus and back again, producing the response of “duck, here comes another initiative!” from sales people. Sales reps distrust management and are reluctant to adopt the next iteration. It’s tough for this company to improve results in a systematic fashion.
  • A group of technical experts, none of whom had field sales experience, launched a successful business. But when they decided to launch a national account team, they failed to provide effective sales-force automation or rational sales processes. The national account team now spends a considerable amount of its time making the internal sale, again cutting into productive face-time with customers and prospects.

Sales Performance and the Right Tools
So what’s the relationship between sales performance and the right tools? The answer lies not in the tools themselves, but in the strategies by which those tools are selected, designed and deployed.

When sales people are equipped with the right tools, they have two advantages. First, the right tools capture pertinent information and data that helps sales people to make consistently good decisions, contributing to predictable and consistent sales results. Second, and even more important, good tools, methods, and processes make the sales job less time-consuming, more efficient and less costly. And that means that sales people can devote MORE time to selecting the most qualified prospects, cultivating high-potential relationships, offering the most beneficial solutions, and winning the most profitable deals. Those are the sales tools that predict success, no matter what the state of the economy.

Sales Questioning Techniques and How to Use Them to Close a Sale

Do you use effective questioning techniques that discover the buyer’s needs, wants, and desires, or do your customers feel bullied and interrogated? Can you get buyer’s talking freely, or do they give you short answers with little content? Learn to question your buyers with effective sales skills that lead you to the benefits the buyer wants, and help you to close the sale at the same time.

Many sales courses tell the delegates to start with open questions that begin with who, what, where, when, how, and why. Think of a question about your product that starts with one of the above words. Could the question be answered with one word or just a very short sentence? Many questions starting with these words can be answered very briefly. They do not encourage the buyer to talk. A low reactor type customer will not open up when asked this style of question.

So how do you get your prospect talking and telling you about themselves, and their wants, needs, and desires. It’s easy, just do what you would in casual conversation with friends. Use a question that encourages the buyer to open up and give you more than just a short answer. This is a great sales skill to have that will help you close more sales. Start your questions with, tell me about, or, give me an idea. Ask them to, build you a picture, or, describe for you. How about, explain to me, and, bring me up to speed. Think of a question about your product that starts with one of the above phrases. It should be difficult to answer with a short sentence or just one word?

The key is to get the prospect talking and then give them direction. You don’t want a stop-start process that interrupts the flow of the conversation. Once you have them opening up to you, use questioning techniques that guide them to where you want them to go. Move them towards describing their needs, wants, desires, and what they are currently dissatisfied with.

The next questions to use in the sales process will give the conversation direction. These are the who, what, where, how, and when questions. They elicit more detail and give direction to the now flowing conversation. And remember, this is a conversation, not an interrogation. These sales questions should be open ended and will give you information on the more general topics brought out by the opening questions. For example, what are you looking for, when do you do that, how important is that. All in response to, and focused on, the areas raised by the prospect.

Now you want more detail on the benefits the buyer is looking for. You want to ask open sales questions, on specific subjects, to start narrowing down the information. Think of the sales questioning process like a funnel. You have started with a wide open, conversation provoking question. Then narrowed the possible answers slightly with the where, what, how, type questions. Now you close the funnel a little more and look for tighter specifics. You ask questions such as, what size, how many, who else uses it.

You can now get to the real specifics, and fill in the gaps in the information you have. Ask alternative questions like, red or blue, Monday or Wednesday. Offer specific suggestions and ideas and look for their responses. Use direct questions that require yes or no answers. When you think you have all the information on one particular subject you can check your understanding of their needs. Then summarise and look for approval and agreement.

You may have only covered one area of the needs that they gave you in response to your opening question. Think of this as one funnel that you have completed. If there are more needs areas go back and start another funnel. Do this until you have covered all the topics related to the benefits they want that your opening questions brought out. After each funnel check your understanding of what they want. When you have exhausted all the benefits and needs topics, summarise and check your understanding of all the needs, wants, and desires that you have discovered.

This also helps towards the closing of the sale. You are gaining agreement that this is what the customer wants. Depending upon your product and your market you can gain agreement from the buyer. You can ask, in your own words, that if you can provide the needs you have just summarised are they in a position to buy from you. In a market where it is appropriate, you can ask the, If I Can question. If I can provide all these benefits will you buy from me today. But only if it is suitable for your product and your marketplace. Gaining this level of commitment throughout the sale makes closing the sale so much easier. This is how top sales professionals make selling look so simple, and why they close so many sales.

The above sales questioning techniques make the sales process more pleasant for the buyer. Compare the smooth style of communication, and letting the customer talk as you guide them, with the short sharp questioning techniques used by many inexperienced sales people. When you ask a sales question that needs only a short answer you get the stop-start sales meeting. Pauses and silences, no real communication. The buyer will feel like they are being interrogated, or completing a questionnaire. When you ask several individual questions in succession the customer will feel stressed. This is because they are having to think before each answer. They feel like they are on a high pressure quiz show. When you use conversation style sales skills the customer feels relaxed, as they would in an informal setting. When you talk in a flow of communication about one topic, down one funnel at a time, there is no stress. Just an exchange of information, gently brought out using an effective sales questioning process.

Car Sales Training on How to Close a Sale at an Unconscious Level

Car sales training focused on giving an attention grabbing sales presentation that closes the sale at an unconscious level.

Many car sales people hit the buyer with feature after feature. How boring. Is the customer going to buy a car because of a technical feature? How many of your buyer’s can even identify engine parts, or care about the technical features? They are going to buy that car from you because you have shown them what the car will do for them. You have presented the benefits of the car, that match their wants, needs, and deep desires.

You know all the features of your cars. You want to show off your great knowledge in order to build credibility with your customer. But if you lose their attention you will not get them to that magic buying state. To move your customers to an emotional place where they are ready to buy you must know what they want, and give it to them in a way that fits into their view of the world.

They don’t want a car

They want what the car will do for them. For some it will be a gleaming fashion accessory to attract admirers, and a sound system that is more important than the safety features. For others the car is a necessary tool, or a reliable means of transport. The buyer that cranks up the miles enjoying their leisure time will see a car from a different viewpoint than the daily commuter. The caring parent wants a safe way for the family to travel, and will benefit from in-car entertainment. While the rebelling student may want a unique statement on wheels that says who they are.

How are you going to meet that multitude of needs, wants, and desires, with technical features about a machine made of plastic and steel? The answer is, you’re not. The features of the car are only ways of proving how the car gives the buyer the benefits. You have to relate those features and show how they will make real the pictures and feelings they have about the car they are going to buy.

Never assume to know what they want

The above examples are only possible buyer needs. Use your skills as a sales person to learn your customer’s real needs. An important car sales training point is, the buyer may not be conscious of their real desires. Will that middle age man really admit to himself why he wants the sports car? He will tell you it’s because he always wanted one, and only now can he afford it. The customer that tells you they are concerned about the environment may really be more worried about the cost of fuel. How many 4 X 4 off road owners ever drive over anything more than a speed control hump? Even with technical evidence that the gas guzzling 4 X 4 is not a safer vehicle to drive, many buyers still give safety as a reason why they drive one.

Great automotive sales training is about matching features of the car to the benefits the buyer really wants. The buyer wants to achieve an emotional feeling from their purchase. To understand those feelings, and identify how they will achieve them, the buyer makes internal pictures and holds internal dialogue. You find the surface needs, wants, and desires of the buyer, at the questioning stage of the sales process. But there are car sales techniques that help you get the deeper emotional triggers, and very few sales people become competent at using them.

Find the customer’s real desires

What the buyer tells you they want may be only what they are willing to tell you, and are not their real desires. Beneath the surface communication will be deeper wants the customer has. For example, consider the business manager that wants a car that will project their high status to their staff. On the surface they may give you many reasons why they want a certain class of car. Reliability, image to customers, able to afford it, and many other reasons specific to them. The deeper reasons, of which they are consciously aware, could be that they want others to be envious, or to promote their own position. It could even be that they want to show off their wealth. It is unlikely that they will tell you this when you ask them what they want from a new vehicle. At an even deeper level there will be emotional benefits the buyer wants that are not fully within their conscious awareness. There will be benefits they want, their innermost desires, that they do not want to admit to themselves.

Back to the business manager that tells you they want a car that’s reliable, looks appropriate for visiting customers, and is within their budget. They are not telling you about how they want to display their wealth and position to others at work. If we go even deeper into their wants needs and desires, we could find other benefits that will close the car sale at an almost unconscious level. What if you felt the business manager was really very insecure about their position. That the image they want the car to project was to build barriers with their staff. By asking about previous cars they have owned you feel they have come from a much lower income background. You read from their verbal, and non-verbal, communication that they need to be constantly proving themselves to others. Displaying a picture of their wealth and position to overcome their insecurities.

Take a new look at your car sales training

Now imagine the sales presentation you could give if you had that sort of knowledge about your customers. Take a new look at your car sales training. Yes, you need to have an expert knowledge about the technical details of the vehicles you sell. But you also need to know what questions to ask your customers, and how to read the deeper levels of meaning in their answers. What you are really looking for is their view of the world, their map of reality. Then you can show them how your car will fit into that view.

Let me give you a starting point. Why do you really drive the car that you currently have? Be honest with yourself. Look for some deeper thoughts and become more self aware. Then study family, friends and colleagues. Talk to them, look for inconsistencies. You’re a sales person, you can read people. What is it about what the car does for them that lights up their face? Watch for the topics that leave them bored, or bring out the negative signs. This is a few simple paragraphs about people, not cars, and it could be the start of a whole new way of selling for you.