This is the little-known story of how Albert Einstein changed sales performance forever. And, though history may not be your thing, this story may help you strengthen your performance next year and beyond…
This is the little-known story of how Albert Einstein changed sales performance forever. And, though history may not be your thing, this story may help you strengthen your performance next year and beyond…
Because B2B purchasing decisions are increasingly made by committee, B2B selling organizations respond by deploying groups for high-stakes meetings. These groups can include leaders, salespeople, subject matter experts and co-selling partners. This many-to-many dynamic adds pressure and complexity to the sales interaction. This post provides a baseline to help sales and client-facing professionals better understand and adapt to these changes.
Imagine you are an 18 year-old college basketball player and, despite limited playing time during the regular season, you are pulled off the bench and put into the national championship game, with 13 minutes left on the clock and your team down by nine points.
If you’re Duke University’s Grayson Allen during the final game of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, you steal the ball from your opponent (who happens to be the national player of the year), sink a three point shot, and get fouled, hitting both of your free throws. All in the space of 70 seconds. And in the process, you change the game’s momentum and turn a sure loss into a national championship.
In B2B selling, subject matter experts (SMEs) come off the bench to play an increasingly important role in high-stakes sales meetings. Because, however, selling is probably not SMEs’ strong suit, the salesperson faces a similar question Duke’s coach confronted as he eyed Grayson Allen: Will my SME be ready when I need him?
Let’s address how to leverage a subject matter expert (SME) for maximum impact in an effective sales meeting.
SMEs span a wide range of roles in various sectors. Examples include: in technology, a systems engineer, solutions architect, or applications specialist; in professional services, a practice leader or specialist; in wealth management, a tax, estates, or fiduciary specialist; in investment management, a quantitative portfolio manager, operations, or compliance officer. Just as Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s call was calculated and informed, so should yours in calling on even the most receptive and articulate SME. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — could prove to be an asset or liability.
Here are common mistakes salespeople make when including an SME in a sales pitch or client meeting:
Without guidance, experts are likely to do what they do — demonstrate their subject matter expertise. They may take control of the discussion, go deep on an issue that takes you away from an otherwise winning game plan, and hurt your credibility with the client.
An SME playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your SME? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?
Subject matter experts, coached skillfully, can be a game-changer in your efforts to create a winning sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging an SME in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.
Technical expertise is a given. How will your SME’s delivery style mesh with those of your client stakeholders? What will they be like as a collaborator in your preparation and presentation? Prepare for the ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes” from the person most likely to help you win. Decide and convey to the SME why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.
This should include:
Include your SME in prep sessions, being sure to:
Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.
Make sure your SME takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with her likely counterpart representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. It can be tough for a SME (especially those with no direct sales experience) to pivot from internal meetings where she is the expert and center of attention to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is set by others.
She can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Receiving feedback from you can strengthen future meetings and pitches. Be sure to acknowledge her time in preparing for and taking the meeting, her contributions, and ask how she would like to stay apprised of future developments.
Including an subject matter expert in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. Given the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.
Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your SME, properly positioned, can be a game-changer in your sales efforts, and can jump off the bench to give you the extra boost needed to convert your opportunity into a win.
Turbocharger. Hear the word and you probably think “robust power source.” Competitive drivers and car manufacturers have used turbochargers for decades to boost engine power and race performance. In the hands of a skilled driver, this extra power can offer a competitive advantage. Putting that power, however, in the hands of someone less skilled or at the wrong time, can be fatal.
In the competitive world of selling, it is natural to seek a turbocharger equivalent to boost your performance in a sales meeting. At times this means asking a C-level executive — i.e., CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. — to join a sales meeting or presentation. And why not? A C-level executive may be able to help advance a sale or retain a relationship, and in the process build your credibility with a client and even your colleagues.
However, it would be a mistake to take this step lightly or impulsively, even with the most receptive and charismatic C-level executive. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — may prove to be an asset or liability. Here are some of the more common mistakes I have made or seen during my time at Richardson Sales Training and Effectiveness Solutions as it relates to including a senior-level executive in a sales pitch or client meeting:
Without guidance, a leader is likely to do what they do: lead. They may grab control of the meeting, taking you away from an otherwise winning game plan and hurting your credibility with the client. A senior leader playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your C-level executive? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?
C-level executives, when coached skillfully, can be a great asset and turbocharge a sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging a C-level executive in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.
Obvious, yes? Less obvious is what it takes to prepare for that ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes.” Convey to the executive why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.
This should include:
Invite your C-level executive to your prep sessions, understanding the realities of her schedule. When she is able to be there, be sure to:
Have you ever heard a senior-level executive introduce themselves and refer to their role as “overhead?” What can be funny in an internal meeting can be disastrous in a sales meeting. Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.
Make sure your C-level executive takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with the senior-most decision maker(s) representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. Pivoting from internal meetings where she is in charge, to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is being set by others can be tough for a C-level executive, especially those with no direct sales experience.
Consider drafting for your C-level executive’s signature a thank you note on the team’s behalf. He can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Individual feedback should be handled carefully. His feedback to you and team members take on extra gravity. Receiving feedback from you, done well, can strengthen future meetings and pitches. C-level executives tend to get very little objective feedback, which is a shame since they play such an important role in high-stakes meetings. Consider collecting and distilling the team’s feedback — both pluses and minuses — and deliver the key points in a one-on-one. Also, be sure to acknowledge his time in preparing for and taking the meeting, his contributions, and ask how he would like to stay apprised of future developments.
Including a C-level executive in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. In the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.
Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your C-level executive, properly positioned, can turbocharge your sales efforts and give you the extra boost needed to push you into the winner’s circle.
You may recall that oh-so-70’s TV series called The Six Million Dollar Man, in which a secret government agency rebuilds former astronaut Steve Austin after an accident into a spy with bionic speed, strength, and vision that make him unstoppable.
Leaders and sales managers, when faced with a steep goal or taking on a new business, will naturally look at their sales team and think, “How am I going to hit this new goal with the same team?” First, you come to terms with the goal and that, reluctantly, surgery and bionic implants are out — budget, OSHA, HR issues, etc. So, you turn your attention to less extreme methods, such as strategy, recruiting, sales training, and coaching. And then, you begin to focus on the question what are the “8 attributes of a highly successful salesperson?”
Consider the following sets of personality qualities:
|Quick on their feet||Thoughtful|
Question #1: From which column of qualities would you choose if you were: Throwing a party? Hiring people most like you? Seeking people to do a lot of outbound calling, meetings, and presentations?
Question #2: What if we turn around the question to instead ask: If you were a buyer, responsible for making a significant and complex purchase for your organization, under great pressure and visibility, which column of qualities would you choose for your sales contact or account manager?
In 2012, Susan Cain authored a best-selling non-fiction book titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She described qualities like those listed in Column A as the “the extrovert ideal” — those we tend to see as representing success. And yet, while these qualities are common among many salespeople, are they the ones embodied by your most effective, client-facing professionals?
Many sales leaders graduate into their position after gaining success as a salesperson. So, it is tempting for them to assume that people similar to them will perform as they did. This was illustrated well by Vivek Gupta, CEO of Zensar Technologies, in a New York Times interview on March 8, 2015. He shared: “There was a young girl, straight out of college, who walked into my office and said, ‘…I want to be in sales.’ I was quite nervous that she couldn’t handle the job. I had spent a rough five years doing sales, traveling all over the country. How would she be able to do that? … I gave the job to her, and she turned out to be the best salesperson in the company.” Consider those gems on your team who, though quite different from you, share your ability to consistently retain important clients or generate new business.
While society values Susan Cain’s “extrovert ideal,” consider how Column B qualities — those traditionally attached to an introvert — might be differentiators and highly valued by buyers. The truth is that the continuum between extrovert and introvert is a wide one, and effective salespeople are found between the extremes.
In my 30 years working among and coaching salespeople, here are the 8 traits of successful salespeople that I see consistently. They are:
To stay focused on these attributes, managers — as you recruit, restructure, and coach — you will be well served by the following reminders:
Highly successful salespeople come in all shapes and sizes and may not always be the life of the party. If, however, they are long on the 8 attributes above — Six Million Dollar Salespeople — they will outrun the competition in retaining and growing clients and finding new ones. Still, budgeting next year for bionic implants is an interesting thought…
As the year rapidly comes to a close, this is a great transition point to reflect on past, present, and future. Among the things that deserve some focus is closing. Whether the close is a client call, meeting, contract renewal or extension, or a new partnership or business agreement, each is an important transition point from the end of something to the start of something else. Done well, closing positions you for success, reinforces client confidence, and sets you up to execute on client expectations.
In my coaching and classroom work this year, I continued to see confusion and struggles around the topic of closing. To help you or your team close sales meetings more effectively in next year, let’s look at:
Closing a meeting or deal often gets fumbled due to several common missteps. See how many of the following questions you can check off with a “Yes.”
– Defined the close or the commitment(s) you will be seeking at this meeting?
– Shared and validated the close with your team?
– Decided who will close?
– Overcome self-limiting obstacles, such as:
– A full appreciation for the importance of closing well — for you, your organization, and (often forgotten) for the client?
If we can agree that business relationships are advanced when every client or prospect interaction is ended professionally and completely, here are some reminders on best practices that lay the groundwork for an effective close that you, your team, and your client can feel good about:
PROCESS: THE NEW “A-B-C”
When prompted to close, many of us immediately remember a young Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” coaxing a group of weathered salesmen to “A=Always, B=Be, C=Closing.” A good close is not heroic or chest-thumping — it is a natural step in a conversation, is polished, and gains clarity on commitments and next steps. The new A-B-C of closing that is fully in line with today’s market dynamics is: A=Ask, B=Be Clear, C=Chronicle:
1) A=Ask about remaining issues, concerns, or needs.
2) B=Be clear on what commitments are being made.
3) C=Chronicle next steps.
In summary, approach your close methodically — with preparation, a positive mindset, and client feedback. And, follow the new A-B-C to close that next dialogue confidently and completely — and with clarity!
Challenger® Selling: “Courageous Questions” Differ from “Grenades”
Many sales leaders are urging their salespeople to adopt CEB’s Challenger Selling™ model to ask “challenging” questions to have effective sales meetings with prospects and clients. The intent is to be more provocative, create differentiation in a crowded market, provide insight, and hopefully add more value to the conversation. This post is designed to share some mistakes I have been seeing with this approach and to offer suggestions for properly asking “courageous questions” in an effective sales meeting.
First, what is a courageous question? Many questions can take courage, including ones that are:
Courageous questions — relevant to the client and well asked — can take a relationship in a new and positive direction as part of an effective sales meeting. Yet, why are some received as “grenades?” The movie equivalent is Bruce Willis walking away from the villains’ hideout, pulling the pin on the grenade, tossing it over his shoulder … BOOM … causing a huge explosion in his wake. Throwing a grenade question on the table is not courageous, it’s a selling mistake.
On this topic, I have been seeing different problems from two categories of sales professionals. The first group of salespeople — long on confidence, armed with industry marketing intelligence, and feeling empowered by their leaders — are more than willing to ask challenging questions in prospect and client meetings. Of course, challenging current thinking is likely to cause resistance. Instead of getting either mild resistance or the “wow” factor that they are expecting, they are met with significant blowback or stunned looks. Rather than marking an inflection point from which the relationship advances in a new and positive way, it now marks the fall-away point.
The second group of sales professionals, not as long on confidence and without a process to challenge thought, avoid asking the courageous questions. And, while competitors start to make inroads in the relationship, these salespeople wonder why the client relationship has stalled.
So, how do you ensure that your courageous question is received well and not as a grenade? Here are eight best practices for integrating courageous questions into an effective sales meeting:
Remember the movie “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise (“Maverick”), the classic 1980s film that glamorized navy pilots? In a practice drill, Maverick locks onto an enemy fighter, and his flight instructor coaxes him to “take the shot.” Grenade questions ignore the best practices above, and taking the shot may result in a crash-and-burn, eroding trust and credibility. In cases where you’ve earned it, leverage the best practices above in an effective sales meeting, take the shot confidently, and enjoy the new dialogue stream — and opportunities — created by your courageous question.
Cross-selling Effectively into the Crosswinds of Financial Services
It is said that oak trees grow strong in contrary winds. In the crosswinds of deregulation and re-regulation, financial institutions have gotten bigger, more complex, and more attuned to risk. As they turn up the pressure to drive revenue, cross-selling effectively takes on new levels of urgency and complexity. So, how does a client-facing professional stay grounded in these crosswinds while still advocating for his or her clients?
Let’s start with the issues.
As financial institutions continue to grow their fee-based businesses, they have pushed into an increasing number of product lines, and leaders are seeking cross-sell production across these product lines. This makes it more difficult for the client-facing financial professional to stay current on a wider scope of client needs, keep pace with a broader range of capabilities, and to build trust, skill, and alignment with a new and changing group of partners.
What’s changed with clients and internal partners? Attractive clients are exercising their buying power and are increasing demand for customized services and pricing. At the same time, there is growing pressure to standardize as financial institutions seek to reduce risk and increase profit margins. Historically, client-facing professionals felt the advantage in these discussions, always able to invoke “the client” to push through an unusual structure or fee arrangement. However the balance of power has shifted, as influence has grown among risk, legal, compliance, and finance professionals. This has created unusually high tension with what used to be considered “support” groups, and makes it increasingly difficult to deliver on client demands. As a leader, have you noticed the rising intensity of these competing pressures as you get pulled into heated client and internal discussions?
Five Best Practices for Cross-selling Effectiveness
So with all these crosswinds swirling around you and your team, how can you, your team, and your business get stronger? Here are five best practices that we see among leaders of winning teams to hit cross-selling targets in the midst of all the competing pressures mentioned above:
Use your team meetings, one-on-ones, and down time between joint calls to leverage these five best practices. This will position you and your team to get stronger — like the oak tree in the face of contrary winds — and to boost cross-selling effectiveness with partners and clients.
For Experts that Sell, A Surprising Key to an Effective Sales Meeting
Experts, circa 2014, sell. Are you a portfolio manager, consultant, lawyer, investment banker, engineer, architect, or estate planner? As an expert, you are highly educated and credentialed and have deep industry and subject matter knowledge. Though not in a typical sales role, you may be asked at times to participate on a sales call or pitch. The request may be driven by clients who increasingly want to meet and gain comfort with the person who will be creating their portfolio, solution, deal structure, strategy, or design. Or, the request may be driven by your firm, which has decided that your participation is essential to win the work. Regardless of how you feel about selling, the comments below are designed to help you contribute to a winning sales effort when asked.
Among the highly accomplished experts I coach, one common misconception is that the purpose of a sales meeting is to prove your expertise. There is no question buyers want to confirm what they learned about you from referral partners and their own research. As an authority, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing most of the talking, focusing on yourself rather than the client, missing the opportunity to gain feedback, and — despite your intent or the reality — coming across as arrogant.
So, how do you avoid this? To transform the discussion into an effective sales meeting, I have found that making one small adjustment in your mindset can lead to a significant impact on the meeting’s outcome. That adjustment is humility.
That does not mean that clients expect you to be humble about your accomplishments or to dumb things down. Humility, in the context of an effective sales meeting, is about recognizing not just what you know as a subject matter expert but also what you might not know about the client. There is growing appreciation for humility as a leadership quality. Look no further than Pope Francis — someone we could confidently call an expert —- and how quickly he has gained influence not just within the Catholic Church but as a world leader.
Consider how humility might change the way you prepare for and conduct an effective sales meeting:
So, for that next sales meeting, consider sidestepping the common mistake experts make when selling, focusing only on your qualifications, your approach, and your ideas. If you want to stand apart from the other experts waiting in the hallway, surprise the client with some humility to create an effective sales meeting. How will you incorporate humility into your preparation and comments in order to walk away with the win?
Leadership Do’s and Don’ts for Maximizing Sales Training ROI: Where do you Stand?
In the movie “Father of the Bride,” there is a memorable scene in which the father (George Banks), unsure where to stand during the bouquet throw, misses important moments at his daughter’s wedding.
Similarly, many sales leaders confidently invest in sales training (the wedding) yet are uncertain about the role they should play (or where they should stand). The purpose of this post is to share my perspective, as a facilitator and former sales leader, on three common mistakes to avoid and five best practices to leverage as a sales manager in supporting a successful workshop that will drive sales training ROI.
THE DON’TS: THREE COMMON MISTAKES
Leaders who maximize sales training ROI don’t:
I. Hand off early: once the training is scheduled, don’t move on to the next project, and don’t pass the ball to your colleagues in Learning & Development (L&D) to implement and to participants to learn and apply in the field.
II. Limit your participation to opening comments: After your opening comments, don’t leave the group for the day and assume your team will feel more comfortable without “the boss” looking over their shoulders.
III. Attend the workshop distracted: Don’t attend the workshop without a defined role or you will be quickly consumed by other responsibilities, including calls and e-mails.
While there is logic to each of the don’ts, they represent George Banks-like missed moments. Even limiting our view to perceptions, consider the contrast between you, if absent or distracted, and your team — having committed time away from their markets and personal life and being asked to focus and move outside their comfort zone. How does this contrast align with your intent and the importance of this training?
THE DO’S: FIVE BEST PRACTICES
Beyond perceptions, what are the substantive ways that you can contribute to and maximize your impact on the sales training ROI — before, during, and after a class? Here are five best practices that I see as a facilitator; I encourage you to consider how to employ some or all of them to drive excellent outcomes. Do:
So, the next time you decide to schedule training for your team, skillfully sidestep the three common mistakes, and leverage the five best practices above. Be clear in your intent about the role you will play before, during, and after the workshop to maximize sales training ROI. The actions you choose to take as a leader will send a powerful message and create a classroom culture that extends far beyond the dates and walls of a workshop.