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What The Martian Can Teach Sales Professionals

This week, I finally watched the movie “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon. Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut trained in botany who is left for dead on Mars. Watney must stretch his food rations to keep himself alive in case help arrives. Using all the tools in his mental toolbox, and with no way to communicate with NASA, he engineers methods to keep certain death at bay until the next planned Mars mission touches down. In four years. Thousands of miles across the freezing cold planet. Not that I’ll ever be alone on Mars—I hope I’m never on Mars at all … they have the worst coffee there—but I do know that in this business you can sometimes feel like you’re on a strange planet. It’s called Sales. And if you’re going to survive here—and hopefully thrive—you need to use your inner resources to get ahead. But unlike Mark Watney, you’re not alone.

Don’t Give Up!
Damon’s character goes up against impossible odds, yet he never crumbles, instead finding solutions to whatever problem he faces. In sales, we also must contend with issues that could undo us—objections and other roadblocks that can shoot our deals into outer space and negatively impact our livelihood if we’re way behind in our numbers. If the “Martian” were in sales, he’d take a systematic approach, looking for the root cause and then finding a fix. There’s a good chance that what you’re facing off against is not an alien presence, but something that starts with your own behavior, or stems from a team issue. Whatever the problem is, share it with your manager and find a solution together.

Respect the Process
In “The Martian,” the main character changes his destiny by taking small steps that lead to a better outcome for himself—getting his feet back on the ground on Earth. Process is key in sales as well. To be successful in this business, you must trust in the process that works best for getting you and your team where you want to be. Don’t skip steps! Damon wouldn’t neglect to put on his space helmet before exiting the airlock. Dur. Similarly, avoid suffocating out in the sales-verse because you skipped a pivotal process point. You’ll never make it if, for example, you try to rush the discovery or presentation phase. Adhere to your process to the letter.

Expect the Unexpected
An unfortunate series of events comes together to maroon Damon’s character on Mars, despite his being a good astronaut and doing everything by the NASA playbook. It’s all sadly out of his control. But he makes the best of being trapped, troubleshooting right away—and using copious amounts of duct tape. A good salesperson is no stranger to circumstances that are beyond their influence. Customers experience budget shortfalls, key contacts leave the company; maybe bad weather brings everything to a halt. Basically, any number of internal events can result in lost revenue and cancellations. Take your losses and move on to other opportunities in your pipeline.

You Already Have the Tools for Success
Being marooned on Mars, Watney uses knowledge and ingenuity, MacGyvering together modes of survival by salvaging NASA equipment left over from previous Mars missions. In sales, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that you need the latest cyberspace gadgets in order to do your job. Yes, the past decade’s technological advances have enabled us to work in a more streamlined, efficient way; we can connect with customers in ways that are universes beyond phone and email. But in the world of B2B sales, even the latest gadget is no substitute for those crucial human moments between buyer and seller that happen during the sales process. Sure, up your game with the tools of the trade, but remember that people still buy from people—and always will. Keep your focus on the basic elements required for a successful sale.

Out of Adversity Comes Success 
Whether on Mars or on Earth, the best way to improve your outcomes is to learn from failures and mistakes. We all flub things—it’s what you do from there that matters. Be like the “Martian” and know that there’s no perfect method for getting ahead. Trial and error come with the territory of making customer connections, architecting great deals, and nurturing long-term client relationships. Figure out which steps and processes work best for you, and then replicate those methods as you make first contact with each potential client.

If you haven’t seen the “The Martian” yet, give it a look. You’ll learn a lot about inner strength—and maybe come away with more of an appreciation of having your feet on the ground, on planet Sales. (Duct tape not included.)

How To Overcome B2B Price Objections

Bar none, the biggest objection a customer ever raises is price. Often they don’t comprehend the value of your solution, therefore concluding that the number you’ve quoted is completely arbitrary, maybe even greed-based. It’s true that today’s customers exist in a climate of global competition; they know how to “Google it,” etc. But information isn’t always knowledge, so they’re not necessarily well-versed when it comes to your products and services. At the decision-making phase of the sales cycle, act as a trusted advisor and guide your prospects toward a deeper understanding of how you can fill their need.

In the early stages, be prepared for price objections to rise like odors from an ancient sea chest. It’s your job to both anticipate and neutralize those objections, “Fabrezing” them with explanations that will get prospects to understand that your price corresponds, as we’ve said, to the value of your solution. Below is a list of common price objections and how to effectively respond to each.

It’s Not in My Budget
When customers are bound by a budget, they’ll naturally base their range on its restrictions. But they may also use the old budget excuse for insisting on a lower price. Be a proactive seller, throwing out a number before the customer does. And then, if you choose, ask if that price falls within the range they’re comfortable with. If the customer does trot out a number before you’ve had a chance to name your price, ask how they’ve arrived at that figure, and then explain why, based on your value proposition, you can or cannot meet them at the price they say they’re locked into.

Shock and Awe
We’ve all witnessed the wide-eyed look of shock on a customer’s face, as if the price we’ve put forward has physically harmed them. The shock can be real, but it can also be a bit of theater. Don’t cave in to their emotion, real or “academy award-winning.” Just be direct and ask why they feel your price is too high. See this as an opportunity to link your benefits and features with their needs that you should’ve uncovered by now.

The Price Is Wrong
You could say, “This product is free” and that would still be too high a price for some customers. That’s because they’re poised to balk at the price before you’ve even begun the conversation. When they object to the quote, ask them why. In order to reason with them, you need to understand their rationale. Many things can account for customers’ unrealistic price expectations, including misinformation and limited information. They may have done bad research. When they say they’ve paid less in the past, gently point out that if they’d been satisfied with their last supplier, they would not be looking for alternatives now. Again you’ve got an opportunity here to make the connection between their needs and your goods and services.

Bait and Switch
It’s sometimes the case that a prospect asks for a quote for a large order, but then decides they want a smaller order, only at the same price per unit. Never give them your answer without first reviewing the pricing based on the new scope of the order. As a trusted adviser, look at the sale as part of a whole—you’re building a long-term relationship, not cutting a deal and then never seeing them again. Get more insight from the buyer, and then build on that conversation in order to reach a happy pricing ground. Even though the order is smaller than what you’d bargained for, offer concessions. Keep the relationship going.

Playing the Urgency Card
It’s not only bad sales reps who play the urgency card; customers will sometimes make it sound like a decision has to be made right away or the whole deal is going to blow to smithereens. They might use the line, “I’ve got a meeting in one hour and need to present my options. Is this the best you can do for me?” At which point, you’ve got a choice, you can get scared and cave, dropping the price to suit the “emergency.” Or you can say, “I can’t make that kind of concession without in-house approval. If I’m not able to meet your deadline, I hope we can discuss working together once your meeting concludes later this afternoon.” If you do get a reaction from them later in the day, you’ll know they were never going to dynamite the bridge.

Buyers whose sole focus is price will try one of the above to lower the dollar amount for what they want. They may pull two or more tricks out of their bag. Don’t lower your need based on their price expectations. What they really want is a good product; they know it and you should too. Remember that price isn’t the only thing that makes a sale. What you have to offer are great goods and services—stand behind the power of your solutions. Keeping that in mind will help you stay calm. Focus on asking about their objections and addressing those concerns. Be a trusted advisor, making sure that everyone walks away happy—and comes back for more.

Plan and Prepare For Your Sales Call

Research shows that salespeople will never reach their performance potential without a well-defined sales-call procedure that they can follow and learn from. “Winging it” on sales calls has grim consequences – lost sales, extended sell cycles, margin erosion and no clear path to improvement. Bottom line: Your entire sales career can be mediocre if you “wing it.”

Performance improves by as much as 50% when salespeople have a consistent game plan for their sales calls.

Most salespeople make the same mistakes over and over without realizing it. Without a logical sales call plan to follow, they can’t even identify specific problems, let alone correct them. A good sales process mirrors the pattern by which customers make buying decisions.The nine acts of Cosine break a sales call into its most important components, sequenced in the order of the five key buying decisions every customer makes. By analyzing each segment of a call and testing against the customer’s buying decisions, salespeople can quickly recognize problems and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Without a system like Cosine, the only thing salespeople can look at is whether they won or lost the sale. If you don’t know what went wrong or why, you can’t improve your performance.

In The Field

A leading architectural services faced a common problem. They were having trouble trying to sell an intangible service that was seen more as a luxury than a necessity. The firm’s growth had stopped and they were losing business to far less capable competitors.

The Sales Board delivered a 2-day onsite Cosine sales training workshop for their sales staff, teaching the Cosine process and documenting the company’s Best Sales Practices. Twelve weeks of Skill Drill Modules followed, further honing the new selling skills the group had acquired.

Within only three months the CEO reported business grew by 20%. In addition, he said, “My sales team’s professionalism and sense of confidence increased as a direct result of the Action Selling program. Having a clear understanding of the selling strengths and weaknesses of each sales team member has made sales management both focused and effective for the first time.”

6 Tips to Retain Your Top Sales Talent

In business, there’s an expression: To have and to hold, from this day forward. … Oh, wait, that’s a marriage vow. And even then it doesn’t bind. Here in the sales-verse, people coming and going like serial monogamists can sting your bottom line: Onboarding new hires is costly and time-consuming. Organizations must pay to find and vet potential new hires; they also need to invest at least six months and many person hours getting the newby up to speed and transformed into a contributing member of the organization. That initial investment can include helping them up and over the steep learning curve to know your product/services line by heart, as well as helping them understand how to sell to what could be an unfamiliar demographic for them.

Ultimately, you’d like your new hires to be whistling while they work to bring in business and increase your earnings. But if your organization suffers from RDS (Revolving Door Syndrome), you’ll squander company dollars making up for your attrition rate. In other words, until you get to the source of your retention problem and remedy it, you’ll keep feeding monster.com.

On average, it takes seven months and around $30K to find and onboard a new sales rep, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group. Such associated costs should be expected if your organization is in growth mode. Growth is a good problem to have! But if turnover is high year over year in your sales department, you’ve got a systemic problem. Even worse is losing top performers when they decide to move on to a better opportunity. Suddenly you’re busy trying to plug leaks in a ship from which everyone’s jumping.

From the Get-Go, Be Honest About Expectations
Just as you need to know who your prospective sales reps are, they need to know what sort of work environment they might be bringing their lunch box and framed family photos to. Signing them on to what they hadn’t bargained for will hurt you as they grow disgruntled and cynical on the job and/or quit in frustration. Instead of that fiasco, set realistic expectations at the interview stage, being honest with prospective hires about the workplace. You don’t need to scare them off, just be upfront about challenging aspects they might face at your company. If they’re good, they’ll understand that no sales opportunity is without its pros and cons.

Setting Realistic Goals and Monitoring Progress
Because sales folks are a competitive bunch, you can set goals for them that are challenging—but also attainable. And in doing so, don’t fail to provide the resources necessary to reach those goals. Keep tabs on individual contributors’ progress, and hold supportive one-on-one’s in which you discuss their performance. What you’re doing here is opening the lines of communication regarding job performance, and revealing where improvement and coaching are needed. Ever-competitive, your sales reps will take up the gauntlet.

Outline Realistic Goals and Coach Accordingly
While we’re on the topic of coaching … one of the best investments you can make in your new hires is to coach them. Coaching benefits the company by increasing staff competency rate, while at the same time signaling to your workforce that they are worth investing in. Coaching is something we’ve blogged and “articled” about before because it’s so important for the health of a company. Failing to nurture reps through ongoing coaching will result in a workforce that’s frustrated at being underprepared and under-supported when doing their job.

Reexamine Your Compensation Package
Money is on the mind of top-performing sales reps. They’re not coming to work for the free instant cocoa in the breakroom (with or without mini marshmallows). Casual Friday isn’t tooting their horn. If not properly compensated, they’re likely to shop their résumé around to more generous companies. Reexamine your compensation package on an annual basis, taking into account what’s being offered at competing organizations. Tiered plans with rewards for top performers can attract stronger candidates, as can additional compensation for lower-performing but still valuable reps. Put this question through the thought mill: How much are you saving with your slim-pickings compensation compared to how much you’re losing in attrition costs each year?

Engage in Incentivizing
Developing fun and creative ways to show your appreciation for your valuable staff will further motivate them to stay with you. Incentives such as gym memberships, flex time, additional time off, even an in-house concierge will build loyalty; they also promote a more stress-free work environment. Holding weekly, monthly, or quarterly sales contests will additionally motivate your naturally competitive sales staff to do their best.

Exit Interview: What Went Wrong?
Sometimes despite a company doing everything right for their employees, they lose top people. That’s just a difficult reality you face in business. But these days too many companies fail to take advantage of a relatively painless datamining tool: the exit interview. If you want to know why Jane or John Doe is “breaking up with you,” sit them down one on one and ask why they’re resigning. And don’t have their direct supervisor be the one doing the asking—you don’t want those on the way out to hold back anything. Ideally, the exit interview should be conducted by a member of the HR team.

Remember, when it comes to employee retention, it’s one thing to get them to say “I do”; it’s another to hold them and keep them.

Why Your Sales Forecast Is Off

Sales forecasting is commonplace among sales managers, despite the fact that it’s a ridiculously difficult undertaking and the further fact that forecasting accurately is nearly impossible.

It’s typical to end up with forecasted numbers that miss the mark by a sizable margin. Sales managers often find themselves in a familiar situation: running around in a postmortem panic over why their numbers are off. But neglecting to actually get to the bottom of the bad forecast is another classic misstep, the result of which is being in the same forecasting predicament quarter over quarter.

The act of forecasting is an exercise in futility if you fail to identify the culprits behind bad numbers. We’ve spent a lot of time researching and thinking about the topic, and we’re passing our learnings on to you. Read on to find out the root causes of faulty forecasting so you can stop predicting sunshine when there will in fact be rain.

You’re Relying on Bad and Incomplete Data
Your CRM is more riddled with holes than a wool sweater in a moth infestation. Some of your data is missing, or it’s outdated, or it’s simply inaccurate. Holes such as these can lead to skewed forecasts. Remember, what you get out of your CRM depends on what you put into it. The more data points your team inputs into your CRM, the more solid the data will be as far as forecasting. The more data you’ve amassed, the more accurately you’ll be able to forecast.

Direct your team to engage in data input as a best practice. Make sure everyone’s diligent about documenting communication points and populating fields at the account and opportunity stages. This collective effort will draw a data-driven picture of why some deals are successful and others cough their last breath and die. Adhere to this rule: “If it’s not in your CRM, it does not exist.”

You’re Being Blinded by Positivity Fairy Dust
The mantra of this industry could be, “Be optimistic or be obsolete.” Sales is chancy, yet despite what might be repeated setbacks, you must maintain a sunny disposition, staying positive when it comes to growth opportunities and deal closing. That said, you don’t want to go through your sales life being a happy idiot. Engage in that other “ism”—realism. Meaning, don’t clog your pipeline with too many potential deals that are built on wishes and dreams. That magical-thinking “user error” often results in an overinflated, unrealistic forecast. Making the effort to debug your pipeline is time well spent.

You’re Betting on the Wrong Horse
Be careful not to funnel your resources into unpromising deals. Emotion can be the driving force sometimes—“I like that company … I’d love to work with them … they seem cool!” Next thing you know, resources spent on your dream company have not resulted in a deal, and now you’re short on TME (time money energy) that was better spent pursuing more realistic leads. Again, this can be the result of too many deals in the pipeline, and/or the wrong ones getting special treatment while the right ones get ignored. Forget that glam deal you’d love to land. Focus on data management. Or, if you’ve mastered the art of data management already, use what you know about data science to rank and prioritize opportunities for reps, teams, region, or product lines, taking into account things like close probability, momentum, size, and market trends.

As people like to say, “No one has a crystal ball.” True enough, but forecasting can be thoughtful or it can be stab-in-the-dark reckless. When you make thoughtful, intelligent predictions, it’s more likely the clouds will part and you’ll have your day in the sun.

6 Tips to Increase Trade Show Sales

Spring is starting to show through here in our hometown of Las Vegas. We’re in the midst of trade show season and companies from a host of different industries are visiting the city to promote their offerings and vie for future business.

The sales-verse is inhabited by better-educated customers these days, and we have innovations meant to streamline the getting and keeping of business, but trade shows, while somewhat expensive, still present a decent opportunity for showcasing yourself to a vast swath of potential customers. Hotels are booked solid and hosted afterhours get-togethers are packed with peers bonding over open-bar libations. It’s organized chaos; it’s also a lot of fun. And, like the hotels and casinos, you too can see a healthy ROI on your trade show marketing dollars. The difference is, you’ll be working your long game. Here are some tips for ensuring that your money is well-spent, along with practical ways to lay the groundwork for a future return on your investment this trade show season.

Don’t Wing It
“Let’s just show up and work the floor” is the wrong attitude for trade shows. Your booth might be snazzy. The polo shirts emblazoned with your logo might look great on your reps. But being the “cool” booth isn’t enough. Plan and prep for trade shows several months in advance, with your sales and marketing teams collaborating to align goals, set objectives, earmark budget dollars, and put in place any other plans you set in order to have a successful trade show season. Action items on your prep list should include things like nabbing strategically important trade show floor real estate to creating eye-catching collateral to brainstorming fun giveaways that go beyond cheap click pens and magnets to tracking leads and how to assign them.

Map It Out
Put in place a pre- and post-show prospecting plan, using your marketing team’s expertise to create awareness of who you are—among other things, this will help effectively drive foot traffic to your booth during the show. You don’t have to limit your outreach to an email campaign; work it via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and, if you have the luxury of an outbound team, by phone as well. If you cannot get an attendee list before the show, obtain the one from the previous year. There’s a good chance many of last year’s attendees will be there this year.

Keep Things Simple
From booth design to collateral, don’t go to the weird side. Attendees will likely be overstimulated walking through the show, with all the many sights and sounds putting their senses on overload. Be the compelling calm in the eye of the trade show storm.

Identify your target audience and develop a clear, straightforward yet engaging message for them to get their minds around in a relatively short time. It’s like the dying prospector telling where the gold is buried: If he hems and haws, he croaks before getting to the point, and suddenly no one’s interested anymore. Or, compare it to cold calls, during which you only have a few precious seconds to pique a prospect’s interest. Booth hopping is what it’s all about at trade shows, so if you blow your opportunity with a rambling, unclear message, an attendee will be out of there faster than a free fridge magnet drops into a hotel bathroom wastebasket. Both your booth design and your script should tell your story in a concise, compelling way.

Booth Camp
Thoughtfully plan for a booth design that looks good and meets your budget. Booths range from lower-end pop-up fiberglass jobbies to more involved aluminum numbers that take hours of set up. And in certain states, such as here in Nevada, you’re required by law to use union-scale labor if power tools or ladders are needed in setting up the booth. If your booth is too elaborate, you might be cutting into your trade show budget by paying out contractors before things even begin.

Calm Yourself
You don’t want to act like a carnival barker on the midway, heavy handedly ambushing visitors and hovering over them. Expect the foot traffic to come in waves throughout the day. At times you’ll only get a handful of folks at your booth. Don’t pounce. Wait for them to make eye contact before engaging them. Smile and let them browse your booth and collateral, giving them time to acclimate to who you are and what you’re about.

Even before the trade show wraps up, put together your post-show strategy. Attendees will have visited various booths, and they’ll be reached out to afterwards by numerous companies, including your own. If you stood out at the trade show with, say, a memorable giveaway, reference that in your follow-up messaging to prospects—“Hope you’re enjoying your insulated coffee mug/metal water bottle/Amazon gift card.”

Finally, code your trade show leads before inputting them into your CRM. This way, you can track your sales pipeline, separating out booth visitors from other leads to calculate your trade show ROI.

From all of us to all of you, have a happy, healthy trade show season!