How an Air Traffic Controller Transitioned to Sales

After 12 years as an air traffic controller, I was looking at alternative fields

Training That Really Works

Clients and prospective clients sometimes see us as “naysayers” when it come

Best Practice

Best Practices – Price Objections

Price is often the easiest way for a buyer to mask consequence issues. Customers and consumers find it much easier to tell you they have decided not to buy because of cost than to explain the real reasons for them not buying from you. Not buying because of a purported price-based decision often also has business respectability within their organisation and can therefore be an equally convenient internal justification for not going ahead with you.

Best Practices – Selling at the “C Level”

Many salespeople, when they meet with a key decision-maker, allow the decision-maker to take complete control. Whilst Senior Executives are used to being in control of the conversation, that doesn’t mean you should sit back and let them steer the conversation. It is essential to have a plan about how you intend to use this valuable “C Level” time effectively. Structure the meeting by setting 2-3 agenda items that you know, from research and account knowledge, are going to engage the other party early in the meeting. Decision-makers appreciate preparation and expect you to use your time with them well. If they sense that you have no real purpose for the meeting, or you do not demonstrate one, it is likely to be difficult to get another meeting in the future.

Best Practices – Sales Targets & Ownership

When setting your sales budgets, make your sales team part of the process. Having salespeople owning their sales targets will provide you with a significant advantage over your competitors who are likely to have imposed sales targets that their sales force simply does not believe in. Best Practices – P P Syndrome Do you suffer from “premature presentation” syndrome? If you do suffer from “PP”, you may find yourself presenting often, with positive and encouraging responses, but not getting the sales results that you should. If you have strong industry sector knowledge and highly competitive products and solutions, prospects and customers are going to be more than open to listen to you and to even see product demonstrations and the like. But the question you need to ask yourself before you present is ‘Does the prospect / customer have a problem you can solve?’ Presenting too early and in the absence of admitted need is putting the cart before the horse. Start doing your Qualify and Develop steps of the sales process properly first and watch out for the difference in outcomes.

Best Practices – Telling is not Selling

Unfortunately for salespeople who just love to talk, the old saying that “selling is telling” is a complete furphy. Good selling is actually just like good conversation. The best conversations involve genuine mutual engagement, the asking of good relevant questions and real listening. The best sales calls exhibit 80% / 20% conversation share – in the buyers favour. This is the sales equivalent of the Pareto Principle. Here’s a good activity to test your persuasion style:
  • Give yourself 3 minutes to persuade someone on a relevant topic that they will be mildly to strongly resistant about;
  • Record the conversation on your mobile phone / hand held;
  • Review the tape at 10 second intervals and determine who is talking at each 10 second point (this will give you 18 data points)
  • Count the number of points at which the other person (i.e. the persuadee) was talking at the ten second mark; divide by 18 and multiply by 100. This will give you the % of time the persuadee was talking.
  • Compare it to the 80/20 rule described above.
  • What does this tell you about your persuasion style?

Best Practices – Avoiding early price concessions

Recognise that smart buyers will always be negotiating – yes, from the very first sales call! Most salespeople start negotiating way too soon. A key rule is that you should never negotiate before you must. By giving ground early, you create an expectation that even larger concessions will follow. There is a time to sell and a time to negotiate – don’t confuse the two. There is no need to give price concessions or to even indicate that they are a possibility, early in the sales process, especially if need is not diagnosed and admitted by the buyer. Every unnecessary concession you make will come back to bite you later. Life Messages - The value of Time To fully understand the value of time… One Year: Ask the child who had to repeat a grade at school One Month: Ask the mother of a premature baby One Week: Ask the salesperson who was the only one not to make target and worked in the office the week everyone was away One Day: Ask the man who forgot his wedding anniversary One Hour: Ask the lovers about to be apart for a year One Minute: Ask a person who just missed their international flight One Second: Ask a person that just came along just after an accident One Millisecond: Ask the Olympic sprinter who came in second Best Practices – Opportunity identification Where your immediate focus is to gather information about a prospect company, a “Focus of Receptivity” is your best initial target. These individuals are in roles and functional areas most likely to be receptive – and to therefore provide you with access – because they have subject matter and organisational knowledge about the issues and opportunities you want to explore. Best Practices – Diagnose before you prescribe.“Whoever it was that said “you should always be selling” was wrong. There is a time to start selling and that is only when you have an admitted customer need. Until you have that, selling is pointless – but diagnosing is not.”

Best Practices - Opportunity identification

Qualification does not just happen once… it is a continuous process. Opportunities should be periodically reassessed and qualified to ensure that they meet your qualification criteria. You may find that a once-qualified opportunity has become unqualified as a result of changes within the buying organisation or other factors outside of your control. Remember.. the only thing wrong with being wrong is staying wrong!

Best Practices - Attitude

Attitude can be described as your mental position on the facts. Or more simply, the way you view things. There are five important things to realise about your attitude:
  • Your attitude towards customers influences your behavior. You cannot always camouflage how you feel.
  • Your attitude, to a large extent, determines your job satisfaction.
  • Your attitude affects everyone who comes into contact with you, either in person, or on the telephone.
  • Your attitude is not only reflected by your tone of voice, but also by the way you stand, sit, your facial expressions and in other non verbal ways.
  • Your attitude is not fixed. The attitude you display is up to you.
Even on ‘down’ days, you can have control of your attitude. Control begins when you decide to be responsible for the attitude you display. Best Practices – Establishing buyer requirements Usually a buyer will develop a list of requirements for a potential purchase. That list may be developed by the buyer or with a third party, but normally it is developed with some seller input. Column “A” seller’s capabilities match “one-for-one” with the list of requirements the buyer has developed. Why? Because the seller who engages first gets a chance to influence and guide the development of the requirements. Then the buyer (usually) performs due diligence by talking to other sellers. All things being fairly equal between sellers, the buyer tends to favor the Column A seller. Why? It is due to the phenomenon of “the bond of joint discovery”; an inherent trust developed between the seller and the buyer as they jointly figured out how they can best address the buyer’s needs. When Company B and C are brought into the buying process, their capabilities typically fall short of the requirements. These companies are being used to validate what the buyer really wants to do with Company A. We call these companies “column fodder”… much like cannon fodder. Cannon fodder: Soldiers deemed expendable during battle. To be effective then, we need to know which organisation’s we are selling against – and set a plan to clearly differentiate from the Column A seller. Otherwise, Column A is most likely to win. Best Practices – Establishing who can buyHow often do we spend time with someone who will listen to us, who seems interested in what we have to say, but who we know can’t really move the opportunity forward? Why do we stay with someone who can’t make a purchasing decision?
  • Comfort?
  • They’ll listen to us?
  • We don’t want us to go around them or over them?
  • We aren’t comfortable talking at higher levels in an organisation?
Probably the quickest way to shorten a sales cycle is to minimise the time spent with people who can’t make purchasing decisions, instead interacting with people who have the ability to make or influence the buying decision. If you can’t get yourself to someone who can buy, then you have limited opportunity to influence the buying decision. The best you can do is coach the person you are talking to, to positively influence the buyer. This is, of course, possible - but difficult and prone to failure. Best Practices – Risk as a buying signalWhen a buyer shares thoughts about “risk” with us, it is a positive buying signal. It tells us that we are near the end of the sales cycle. Instead, too many sellers take this as a negative buyer response. They panic thinking they are going to lose the opportunity… and then they demonstrate negative behaviours like:
  • Discounting - which gets the buyer thinking … “their product / service is not worth what I thought / they proposed” ….i.e. less valuable.
  • Being confrontational about the risk - when the buyer wants the seller to listen, empathise and help them mitigate their own risk…..
...the mentioning of risk is in fact, very often, an invitation for the seller to help mitigate the risk for / by the buyer. Best Practices – Asking Questions
  • Questions are the key to effective selling
  • The best salespeople in any form of selling ask the best questions
  • Asking quality questions at the right time is a real skill
  • The right questions at the right time establish genuine rapport and engagement
  • Conversation share is optimal at around 70-80% in favour of the buyer in the most effective telephone sales interactions
Best Practices – Confirming Questions Always try to ensure that both you and the client / buyer are in sync. Examples of confirming question are: “So, from what you have told me…….”;“Based on what I have heard so far…….”;“ As I understand it , your situation is such that……” These questions summarise your understanding of what the client / buyer has told you. Importantly, they demonstrate your ability to not only listen, but more importantly to hear. Clients / buyers want to deal with people who hear and understand them. Confirming questions can also help rectify any misunderstanding that may have occurred during the preceding conversation. Good confirming actions also generate strong feelings of empathy and can differentiate you from other salespeople who may be intent upon talking at the client / buyer. Best Practices – The value of diagnosis Diagnosis is often looked at narrowly in the context of developing an understanding of buyers’ needs alone. Diagnosis is however also key in gaining buyer loyalty in the creating, participating in or reengineering of the buyer’s vision of a solution. If you do this well, the buyer’s vision will become aligned with your product or service. Even if the buyer’s vision is unaltered, by taking the buyer through the diagnosis process, you will achieve a much greater level of engagement than you would otherwise achieve. Put another way, the diagnosis process is key for the buyer to buy into you personally, your sincerity, your expertise and your experience. People want to buy from people who validate them, who understand them and who can see their world through their eyes - who share their vision and who empower them to see themselves in control of their situation. (This does not mean they have to be agreed with however). Without commitment to the diagnosis process, you will find yourself dealing with a lot more buyers who are happy, friendly and who engage positively in the form of gathering information from you, but who don’t buy from you because they are already or better aligned with another seller. Best Practices – Conversation control in telephone selling The person asking the questions is the person in control of the conversation; and this should be you 80 per cent of the time. Your dialogue prompters are predominantly questions and link phrases; which are deliberately designed to help you achieve this. Selling is really quite simple:
  • Ask questions to develop a conversation around the subject at hand
  • Understand and develop the prospects’ needs
  • Meet those needs as specifically and competitively well as you can
  • Recognise the appropriate moment and gain commitment to proceed
By the way…. “it has been nice talking with you …if I can help you with anything else please let me know”……… definitely not a close! It is a polite response; avoiding seeking commitment; typically due to a fear of rejection. Best Practices – Qualification criteriaQualifying the buyer is not typically recognised as the most important part of the sales process. Good qualifying identifies:
  • What the buyer is looking to do
  • What role the buyer is playing in the fact finding and decision making
  • Who else is involved
  • What they have considered doing to address the problem / opportunity up until now
  • What other solutions have been looked at / considered
  • What they thought about those other solutions
  • Why they have contacted you
  • When they want to get a new solution in place
Life Messages – The value of a work ethic Although Tiger Woods is very gifted, he would tell you that his success is grounded in a father who began teaching him the game at the age of seven months. Tiger would watch from his highchair in their garage as his father hit golf balls into a net for hours a day. When Tiger could walk, he and his father were at the golf course playing and practicing regularly. Then at the age of four Tiger began practicing under professional teachers. So when Tiger entered regular international competition at the age of nineteen as a member of the U.S. team in Walker Cup play, he had been practicing golf with tremendous intensity for seventeen years. Talented? Yes. But when asked to explain his phenomenal success both father and son always gave the same reason: hard work and analyzing and fine-tuning his game. All you have to do is look at Tiger Woods’ daily practice schedule to understand why he is so good at what he does. 6:00 Weight workout (90 minutes) 7:30 Breakfast 8:00 Practice tee (2 hours) 10:00 Putting green 10:30 Play 9 holes 12:00 Lunch 1:00 Practice tee (2 hours) 3:00 Short game work 4:00 Play 9 holes 5:00 Putting green 5:30 Home So what is Tiger’s secret - one of the keys is that he watches his swing on video and continually works on it with his coach’s assistance. Sales is no different! One of the things that separates the best is that they know what they do to be successful - and they work at replicating that consistently. And in telephone selling, you have the opportunity to continually listen to your game. If you don’t know exactly what you are doing in calls now (mapped against our best practice process) then how will you know what you should be doing to improve? One thing is for sure, “winging it” won’t work. If you want to be the best, take the opportunity to understand and work on your game by reviewing recordings of your calls every week - and identifying opportunities to improve. If you are serious about achieving and being the best sales person you can, then you will consistently work on your “swing” – and if you aren’t, then you won’t. The choice is all yours. Best Practices - Efficiency & effectiveness Sales efficiency is about engaging with the right amount of customers, for the right amount of time at the optimal cost Sales effectiveness is about utilising best practice techniques, tools and skills to maximise sales potential Best Practices – Developing rapportWhy do people feel comfortable talking with a good salesperson? Because she / he has?
  • Asked questions to understand their situation
  • Listened
  • Built rapport naturally
  • Established trustworthiness (sincerity + competence)
  • Established credibility
  • Provided evidence of your and your business’s capability
Best Practices – Call backs
  • Every call is an opportunity to develop the customer relationship
  • Every call is an opportunity to learn more about the customer and their needs and concerns
  • With a high volume of opportunities running in tandem, records notes within your CRM are a real asset
  • Patience is key
  • A change from pull to push behaviour will be noticed and not well received
  • If you think a call is needed, it probably is – so make it now
  • Spend 3-5 minutes planning each call - anticipating issues and questions
  • There will be a direct correlation between:
    • number of outbound supporting calls
    • preparation and planning for calls
    • conversion
  • The best way to move stalled opportunities is to ask the customer why
  • Be efficient, but do not rush the execution of these calls, having conversations is the key
Best Practices – Handling objectionsAcknowledge
  • Show empathy (do not appear challenged)
  • Deal with the facts
  • Use questions to understand and clarify the issue
Action the objection Use a factual and well-reasoned
  • Savings
  • ROI (commercial)
  • Efficiency
  • Quality
  • Proof
based argument to overcome the objection Advance the conversation Best Practices – Developing rapport Top 10
  • Using the customer’s first name consistently throughout the conversation
  • Demonstrating genuine interest in the customer
  • Asking engaging questions
  • Demonstrating active listening
  • Influencing and leading – but not “pushing”
  • Remembering what has happened up until now with this prospect / customer-and evidencing it in the call (the booking tool is your prompter)
  • Understanding their real needs
  • Valuing the customer’s time
  • Confirming actions as you progress through the call
  • Acting in their best interests always

Sales Management - Best Practice: Recognition

Whilst your top performers are the ones who will receive the bonuses and major recognition on an annual basis, bear in mind that your top performers will respond to more simple rewards as well. Top performers typically need constant recognition which can be in the form of tough assignments which they typically enjoy, resources that will enable them to sell more or even a simple email or one on one lunch. Don’t wait until the annual awards dinner to recognise your best salespeople, do the little things along the way which will help your “eagles” maintain motivation and momentum.

Sales Management - Best Practice: Sales Meetings

Sales meetings need to be highly activity- and opportunity-oriented to be of genuine value to sales people. The majority of time should be spent on analysing, discussing and workshopping competitive issues, opportunities, deals, strategies and tactics in a pro-active and positive manner. This delivers knowledge and technique outcomes and has the net result of pipeline impact which is what you and your time should always be most focused upon.

Sales Management - Best Practice: Expectations

Ask yourself, ‘Am I using my own performance as a yardstick to measure others?’ You’ve probably progressed in your career by setting high expectations and achieving high levels of success. Assuming that others have identical motivations or strengths may well be unrealistic or unfair.

Sales Management - Best Practice: New hires

“When inducting new sales staff, ensure that they have a clear market and segment focus; and the support tools to generate the required activity from the outset. Manage activity under performers out within 60 – 90 days on that basis alone.”

Sales Management - Best Practice: Hunters & Farmers

Be careful what you believe in relation to “Hunter-Farmer” theories. If your Account Manager’s objective is simply to maintain or modestly grow an account’s revenues, the account will become particularly vulnerable to a competitor. The best way by far to protect accounts from your competition is to allocate them to salespeople who are proactive in searching for, uncovering and developing new opportunities.

Sales Management - Best Practice: Training at the Sales Conference

Your annual Sales Conference is an appropriate time to celebrate success, launch new initiatives and establish the future direction. Whilst you may want to leverage the travel costs and the convenience of having everyone in the same place at the same time, it is not necessarily an ideal time for training. If you must however, allocate day one for training before the festivities start and ensure that you set specific actionable plans to implement what has been learned when back at the office.

Sales Management - Best Practice: Coaching

As a Sales Manager, it is important to establish your own clear perspective on exactly what coaching is and is not. Coaching is…
  • A means for learning and development
  • Guiding someone towards his or her goals
  • The mutual sharing of knowledge, experiences and opinions to create agreed-upon outcomes
Coaching is not…
  • An opportunity to correct someone’s behaviours or actions
  • Directing someone to take actions to meet goals
  • Being the expert or supervisor with all the answers

Sales Management - Best Practice: Incentives for Over Performers

When structuring sales employee contracts, build in the opportunity to offer additional incentives at your discretion to sales performers who exceed targets. These salespeople are typically capable of significantly more and it makes no sense to have them cruise for the last 2-3 months of the year because they have made their number; and because they intend to spend the remainder of the financial year setting up a flying start to the next. The kind of flexibility we see working effectively in this situation will enable you to offer short term and completely tailored incentives specific to each individual situation.

Sales Management - Best Practice: Assessing new recruits

When looking for new sales people, assessment tools that measure sales aptitude and / or sales suitability will tell you only part of the story. “Aptitude” and “suitability” are indicators of sales potential – not sales capability. In addition, your assessment and selection process must establish actual knowledge and skill. Incorporate specific activities and exercises that require candidates to demonstrate real skills in selling situations relevant to their new role within your business. Banking on potential is usually a poor bet.