Thursday, May 10, 2012

Etiquette: A Business Case for Maximizing Deal Advantage

Are lapses in etiquette a potentially serious detriment to business growth and development? Can proper use of etiquette and manners enhance the competitiveness of your organization? Sales executives, trying to gain competitive advantage for every opportunity, might not be giving enough consideration to the role etiquette plays in developing and maintaining business, and in building long term relationships.           

Demonstrating good etiquette may seem old-fashioned by today’s informal standards, but in our view it continues to hold considerable relevance in business, and importantly, is a key factor in differentiating players. Proper etiquette and manners make a long lasting impression and a significant contribution to the foundation of relationships.  Furthermore, the higher up the corporate ladder the decision lands, the more influence manners and etiquette are likely to have on any given business decision.

Let’s look at a case study where manners and etiquette played a key role in the decision process.

Case Study: Poor Manners are Risky Business

When asked to conduct a post-mortem on why an important deal was lost to a competitor, what we learned about the possible consequences of poor business etiquette was astounding and thought provoking.

Our client, a large accounting firm, asked us to interview the decision-making team of the organization to which they had proposed a large IT consulting project. Our client had just learned they lost the business to a key competitor, and were convinced they placed second out of five firms proposing for the business.

When asked to comment on the strength of their proposal, our client team was quick to say it was priced very competitively and had more creative IT consulting approaches. They commented that they had put weeks into developing the proposal, aligning the right people and expertise to the possible engagement.  Not surprisingly, our client saw their proposal as the best on the table.

The interview of the three prospect decision-makers revealed a different story, one that was to teach a valuable lesson on etiquette.

During the first few moments of the post-mortem discussion, the prospective customer’s team stated emphatically it would never consider our client for any engagement. When asked to compare proposals, they noted that our client’s proposal was good, similar to the other accounting firms in pricing and approach, but also remarked that good proposals are expected from well-known and respected accounting firms.

We then asked the key questions: “what happened and why wouldn’t our client be considered for any engagement?” The prospect team pointed to an unfortunate deal breaking “incident” that occurred.  During the bake-off presentation, one team member abruptly interrupted another member while an important question was being answered and gave his own response. Unfortunately, interrupting a colleague or a customer may be an all too common informal standard today, but to this prospective customer where teamwork was highly valued, it was viewed as unprofessional and disrespectful, an unforgivable error that resulted in the decision not to award the engagement to our client.

Our client, obviously distressed and dismayed losing the business to a courtesy blunder instead of deal pricing or structure, admitted to gaining insight and strategy for future sales endeavors.

Etiquette Insight for Sales Professionals

This type of scenario highlights the importance of demonstrating high professional standards of manners and etiquette.  

Key Sales Strategy Points:

  • Proper etiquette and manners are indicative of quality and value and may be a deciding factor.
  • Be aware of treating your colleagues with respect and consideration even during stressful sales situations
  • When planning a team sales meeting, ensure team members are conscious of professional courtesy when interacting in front of clients, as this will be noticed and may impact the decision. Be especially aware of how the team may react when fielding tough objections and questions.
  • Debrief your team sales meetings with a critical eye on how well the team demonstrated proper and refined etiquette.

Written by Catherine Flynn and John Blankin, May, 2012

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Wisdom of Role Playing (Shhh!, Not So Loud) for Sales Success, Part II (please read Part I first)

In Part I of this article, I explained why sales people should role play. Here in Part II, I offer the following guidelines for structuring productive and skill-based developmental role plays:

The Rehearsal: Developmental Role Playing Guidelines

1. Identify challenging client situations.

Common sales challenges might include:

  • Responding to tough objections
  • Differentiating yourself and organization
  • Selling value over price
  • Positioning products and services
  • Asking need-based questions
  • Gaining an appointment with a prospect
  • Closing business or gaining action steps

2. Ask a colleague or manager to play the role of a client or prospect, depending on the situation.

This person will also be the “coach” who provides feedback after the role play. This is a good time to agree on role play and feedback ground rules:
  • Feedback should be balanced with strengths and areas for development. The coach should be prepared to provide both.
  • The role play should be viewed as a developmental process and not a performance evaluation. It’s a perfect time to go out of the comfort zone and try something new.

3. Verbally set-up the sales situation and the events leading up to the practice moment.

For example, you might use a set-up that reflects a first meeting with a prospect who has a tough objection:

Right now we are meeting for the first time. You got the meeting using a third party referral. After a brief introduction and agreement on a meeting agenda, the prospect says: “I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me, but I just want you to understand that we have been with our current provider for several years and we are quite satisfied with our relationship.”

4. Start the role play at the moment the prospect makes the statement.

5. Conduct the role play until you feel you’ve completed the dialogue with the prospect role.

The role play most likely will take 5 to 10 minutes. Do not interrupt the role play, unless it goes way off course.

6. After the role play, use the following feedback process.

  • The person in the role of the sales person provides a self-assessment of strengths and areas for improvement, providing specific examples of each.
  • The coach provides balanced feedback on strength and areas for improvement, providing specific examples of each.
  • Both discuss the key learning points and how to apply them to real life.

7. Re-do the role play to rehearse learning points.

Remember, role play is rehearsal, your practice before the big game or race. It creates patterns in the brain that you can rely on during stressful or challenging sales situations, giving you a been there, done that confidence. Now, go rehearse your next sales call!

The Wisdom of Role Playing (Shhh!, Not So Loud) for Sales Success, Part I

OK, here they are, the dreaded words: role playing. You may be tempted to skip this article because you detest the thought of role playing and dismiss its value as a training technique. Role playing has such a bad reputation that I’ve had clients ask me to refer to it as skill practice on sales training agendas. Based on my experience with thousands of sales professionals, role playing is the training tool most often met with fear and dread.

Just the thought of role playing can cause heart rates to increase and temperatures to rise. I’ve heard salespeople say it can make them do and say things they claim they never would in real life
. Playing roles, many complain, is not real-life. Remarks such as, I don’t like to act, or, it doesn’t happen like this in real life, are common.

I agree that role playing makes sales people nervous, uncomfortable, say strange things, and that it is not real life. That’s why it’s called role playing.

Despite the complaints, it’s remarkable how often sales people who were initially resistant to role playing later comment that they would have liked more role playing. After the training, they admit they like the practice and feedback and that it’s useful to have the opportunity to practice and refine how they will say things during sales calls.

The question then is why should sales people role play? The answer is simple. It’s a fact that you will perform better in real life after you’ve rehearsed.

Let’s look at why and how role play rehearsals can give you a competitive advantage.

Role playing is a process requiring reflection and self-assessment. If designed with the right objectives and with as realistic as possible situations, role playing gives people the opportunity to experience scenarios they may face in the future. As a rehearsal for real encounters, role playing allows sales people to make mistakes in a safe environment. It is an invaluable tool for testing multiple and successful sales strategies.

According to Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, the brain works by pattern recognition and when it’s in an extremely frightening situation it sorts through a database for a script. Even though sales transactions are not usually considered extremely frightening, the brain responds in a similar way, looking for a memory or script to use in a challenging situation. Ripley further states: Your brain relies on that memory and responds to it much more quickly and fully than words. Rehearsing with role play creates the pattern the brain needs to trigger a successful response.

Think about how and why athletes practice (does practice makes perfect sound familar?). A football team will scout each opponent, learning all they can about their schemes and personnel. In practice, the team will simulate playing their opponent, familiarizing themselves on how to react to different situations until it becomes second nature for game day.
The repetitive nature of athletic training also produces muscle memory, the process of creating increased accuracy through repetition. Similarly, a runner will incorporate speed workouts into their training (running at or faster than their race pace), allowing their muscles, lungs and heart to be accustomed to running at a fast pace. Additionally, many athletes use visualization to mentally rehearse their event. None of this is real life, but an important simulation (role play?) for real life.

Of course, not all role playing is productive and valuable. It has a bad reputation because of how it has been misused as a tool. Sales people dread it because their experience has been that it was used as a method to expose their weaknesses in front of colleagues or management, causing embarrassment and pain. Some managers think this is the right way to learn, but I completely disagree.

In Part II of this article, I will offer guidelines for structuring productive and skill-based developmental role plays.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Three Key Questions to Mortgage Originator Survival

You are in the mortgage origination business during one of the most adverse mortgage environments for buyers we've seen in a long time. As credit standards tighten and financial markets wrestle with losses and bad press, your ability to build trust, help the home buyer understand fewer and changing options, and obtain an affordable mortgage, has never been more critical. How can mortgage originators not only survive this market, but achieve new levels of success? Now is the time to reflect on ways to adopt new strategies and tactics to make sure you can be as successful as possible.

Three Key Questions
To help you achieve new approaches and fresh ideas, let's use the power of self-reflection and assessment to gain a current perspective on your mortgage origination business. Please take a moment and answer the three key questions below before you read the text that follows them:
  1. What business are you in?
  2. What are you doing well that's helping you achieve success today?
  3. What do you need to change to achieve greater success?

What Business Are You In?

This question should elicit a client-centered response and not a technical response. If you answered, I am in the relationship business, or a similar answer such as customer service, the American Dream business, you are client-focused. Your answers "speak" from the client's perspective. If you answered I am in the mortgage business, or a similar answer with a focus on your products, you are product-focused with a more technical perspective.

Your perspective, whether client or product focused, matters more today than ever before. However, when you are client-centered, you build and foster trust. Buyers today need you to have their needs and struggles on your mind while you help them. They want you to understand and consider their goals, values and priorities before you offer a mortgage option.

What Are You Doing Well?

It's time to self-assess and really know what's working for you. You should be able to cite at least five strengths that are helping you succeed in this market. For example, one mortgage originator I interviewed answered this question as follows:

  1. I am following-up more frequently on all my leads.
  2. I am taking time to get to know the needs of my referral business partners.
  3. I am joining more professional networking groups to build my presence.
  4. I am re-thinking how I market to my niche solutions and building new strategies.
  5. I am sharpening my ability to create dialogue with buyers and listen more intently.

What Do You Need To Change to Create More Success?

This question is tough because it requires full knowledge of what's working and what's not working and sometimes we have a "blind spot" preventing us from seeing our limitations. Remember, this question is not about what wrong with the market or your company, it's about you and what you could be doing better or differently to change your results. This is what I often hear when I ask mortgage originators this question:

  1. I need better time management.
  2. I need to figure out what to say to a buyer who says: "I'm not interested in your option."
  3. I need to ask more insightful questions to understand needs.
  4. I need to be more persistent.
  5. I don't know what I need to change.

The last response is both sad and insightful. The sad truth is that many people don't know what to change. In this case, it is critical to get another person's perspective. I recommend asking colleagues, buyers, referral partners, and sales managers for help. Ask them to provide feedback on what they observe about your sales process and skills. Ask for strengths and areas for improvement. When you hear something you disagree with, don't defend yourself, but thank everyone who gives you feedback.

There will always be challenging times and change in the mortgage industry; it's part of the package, so to speak. As a mortgage originator you only have control over your process, activities and skills. The important thing is to make sure they are ever-adapting to change. Use the three key questions as a tool to sharpen your game and build your business.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coaching For Success: It's The How, Not The What

Most Sales Managers accept the premise that the majority of salespeople will achieve their sales goals if they follow a focused and disciplined sales process combined with flawlessly executed consultative sales skills. Unfortunately, based on my experience working with hundreds of sales professionals, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that Sales Managers are providing direction and feedback on anything but the sales process (“what to do/not to do” - goals, priorities, reports, etc.), leaving salespeople isolated to figure out “how to” execute the process using their existing, sometimes ineffective, sales strategies and skills.

I’ve often heard the argument that “experienced” salespeople don’t need to be coached on “the how” because they are hired and paid for their existing sales skills. This way of thinking can lead to not only frustrated salespeople, but average results with salespeople stuck in the “comfort zone,” unable to adapt to a dynamic, highly competitive landscape.

A recent conversation I had with a Sales Manager highlights the nature of the problem and his lack of understanding of how salespeople develop, refine their skills and achieve breakthrough sales results:

Me: How are you coaching your salespeople?
Sales Manager: I have weekly meetings.

What happens at the meetings?
I put up the results, you know the pipeline, and everyone gets to see how well they are doing relative to each other.

How do you see this as coaching?
The salesperson who’s at the bottom knows where he stands; can see that his performance is, you know, “light.”

OK, I agree some “peer pressure” can motivate, but what do you think he’ll do differently as a result of his ranking at the bottom?
I’m hoping he’ll fill his pipeline.

How do you think he’ll do that?
He’s got to get better on execution.

What type of execution?
Prospecting. We are unknown in this marketplace and he’s not very good at getting in the door with prospects.

Have you coached him on this?
Yes, I told him he needs to see at least five prospects per week.

In the above example, the Sales Manager tells the salesperson “what to do” (make five prospect calls per week), but fails to address the more likely underlying problem: the salesperson’s struggle with the same old obstacles, using old habits and ineffective strategies and skills. Obviously, the salesperson will try harder because he is under greater pressure to fill the pipeline, but he may not succeed if he doesn’t have the skills to gain meetings with prospects.

I’m flabbergasted during sales training when I hear I’m the ONLY person who provides skills development feedback. After skills coaching, it’s not unusual for me to hear a resounding “thank you” and comments such as:

“I don’t get any coaching, except when my numbers are down, and then my manager sends me an email saying that I need to quickly improve.”
“No one ever tells me what I’m doing right.”
“I wish I had this feedback years ago. It’s nice to know that I can improve, because I’ve been so frustrated.”

If you are a Sales Manager, you need to hear this! The “what to do” is not the “how to do it.” Salespeople are starving for developmental skills coaching! Now I don’t mean that they need feedback on sales goals, results, wins, losses, etc., you probably already provide enough of that. Salespeople are hungry for direct, specific and practical coaching on what they are doing that’s effective, and what they ought to be doing to increase effectiveness. This type of coaching is skills development coaching.

Success in today’s dynamic marketplace requires a greater focus on skills, such as effectively persuading prospects to meet, determining needs and priorities, focused listening, differentiating the organization beyond price, sales planning and negotiation skills. Sales Managers who can help their salespeople develop these skills accept their full responsibility to ensure salespeople have the focus, discipline, and highly refined strategies and skills to thrive.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A New Way of Life in the Call Center: From Service to Sales

We’ve just received another training request to “support a culture shift,” transitioning inbound customer service representatives to proactive, outbound sales professionals. The stated business goal is to deepen client relationships with a large number of targeted clients that may not get enough attention from outside sales people. We’ve also found that many of our clients are in various stages of transforming their Call Centers from cost to revenue centers by adding cross-sales goals to existing service goals. These changes represent a new way of life in the Call Center.

We know that it can be difficult for many Call Center employees to successfully make the transition from skills needed to handle routine customer requests, questions, and problems to proactive sales skills, the ability to quickly identify customer needs and offer differentiated product solutions. While some are adjusting to their new responsibilities, it’s been an unwelcome and frustrating change for many, with some employees unable to meet challenging sales goals.

The problem involves several factors, including recruitment, management, compensation and training, but the biggest pitfall we see is that many service reps have negative impressions of selling and are fearful of it because they don’t know how to do it. We hear comments such as:

“I enjoy helping people who call in, but I wasn’t hired to sell.”
“We’re just pushing products on the customers.”
“They haven’t taught us enough about the products to sell them.”

And then there’s the friend of mine who remarked: “So you teach people to how to be annoying and sell people things they don’t need or want.”

Few people, Call Center service reps and customers alike, are thrilled with the sales experience. In fact, because of negative reactions to the sales process, one of our clients has replaced the word “sales” with “solution” as a way to instill the impression in service reps that sales should be needs-based, not “pushy” and manipulative. On the customer side, I’ve heard customers try to pre-empt the sales process by immediately stating to the service rep: “Now don’t try to sell me anything today!”

We know that when you provide the right sales strategies and skills to increase confidence and comfort with selling, service reps will more likely embrace sales as a way of life in the Call Center. Whether being expected to cross-sell during a service call or make outbound calls to targeted prospects or clients, the right product and sales training can dramatically reduce negativity and frustrations in making a successful transition to selling.

We suggest the following five key sales strategies:

1. Check Confidence

How people feel about selling affects their desire to do it and ultimately their success. Lack of confidence is the most common contributor to problems with motivation and the ability to close business. A sales person’s voice presence including tone, inflection, volume, pace and energy often reveal his or her mindset and confidence level. Customers are tuned into voice presence more than any other element so it is worth a self-assessment.

2. Do Client Preparation

Reviewing available client information and records helps to build confidence and rapport. Clients expect us to have a client-centered context for a recommendation or call purpose; without a context they will most likely view the call as “pushy” or as an intrusion, not needs-based. Transition statements help link a product or service idea to the customer’s immediate situation and should include a brief link to information available or something the customer said.

3. Do Sales Preparation

Like face-to-face-sales people, telephone salespeople are more likely to achieve their sales goals if they establish specific achievable objectives and back-up objectives for the call. “Winging it” is not a sales objective or strategy. While it is critical to maintain a focus on the client, having a clear sales objective and action step be it closing, referring, or sending information, helps create sales momentum.

Preparation also involves the process of ensuring the sales dialogue is client-centered. Many sales people spend too much time preparing for what they want to say to a client versus preparing a strategy for achieving client dialogue and uncovering their needs and priorities. We recommend preparing questions around the central theme, “What do I want to learn from the client?”

4. Learn the Client’s Point of View

Clients have a point of view. Uncovering and selling to the client’s point of view is incredibly persuasive. Now keep in mind that a client’s point of view is often stated as an objection or implied in a question. That’s a good sign! Because objections provide an opportunity to ask deeper questions and listen, they can be the dialogue path to building relationships and increasing the salesperson’s ability to be persuasive.

5. Build Trust

Don’t assume that trust exists because you are speaking with an existing client. Trust is earned during every contact through your ability to demonstrate your needs-based intent. The unintended consequence of a goal-oriented sales focus is that too often it makes customers feel manipulated and used, resulting in shallow relationships and long-term distrust.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Bluestar Group Launches Sales Blog

Welcome to the Sales Sight Blog.

The general goal of this blog is to provide thought leadership on a variety of sales topics. We've worked with thousands of sales professionals with face-to-face and telephone contact responsibilities who seek ways to continue professional development to increase their sales success and personal satisfaction.

We know that today's sales managers are working harder than ever before and will appreciate a helpful resource for coaching sales people to higher levels of performance. We will provide practical coaching strategies and tips.

In short, the Sales Sight Blog is a sales tool--read it, gain insight and grow.