The Old Gray Mare, Your Sales Funnel, Ain’t What She Used to Be

The sales funnel has dramatically changed because of the Internet and technology.  New research from McKinsey Decision Surveys revealed consumers are moving outside of the marketing and sales funnel with its traditional touch points. The findings reaffirm the marketing goal to reach sales leads at the moments that most influence their decision to buy. This is true for both B2C and B2b sales leads.

sales-funnelOver ten years ago,  I remember making a statement the marketing funnel is actually more like a web where there are far more touch points. These touch points can be direct through email marketing or paid advertising to more indirect through content marketing to social media sites such as LinkedIn. This report recognized the shift away from one way communication, product or sales based marketing to more two way engagement.

With additional research from the Corporate Executive Board suggesting 57% of the B2B buying decision is made before talking to any salesperson confirms how the sales funnel has evolved. Today’s buyer is more educated and more self directed in his or her solution research.

The challenge for 97.7% of all US business owners who have under 20 employees is how to adapt their sales funnel to the educated buyer who left that old gray mare and is now riding a far faster, more energized and agile marketing vehicle.  This challenge is even greater when the majority of these SMB owners have failed to engage in any strategic planning. They are still unknowingly riding that tired old gray mare.

Yes the sales funnel has changed.  I know this to be true because over 50% of my sales leads come from providing quality content through this blog and my LinkedIn Pulse articles. My sales leads are much more educated than when I first opened my executive coaching and talent development organization nearly 20 years ago.

If you are a SMB owner or a salesperson, this may be the time to rethink your sales funnel and dismount from that old gray mare. Remember as the buggy whip went out when transportation changed, your current sales funnel will evolve as marketing and sales continue to change.

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Giving Directions Is Value Articulation in Action

Value articulation is, according to decision makers, is essential within the sales conversation.  In speaking with a colleague, I was attempting to explain this concept when I suddenly realized how giving directions was a great example.

value-articulation

Credit: www.picjumbo.com

When someone asks for directions, they have a need and they are the decision maker.  How you respond to this request will demonstrate your knowledge (mastery) and your purpose (relating to others).  Additionally depending upon how you frame your response you may be providing choices for the other person.

Sales Coaching Tip: Understanding the Theory of Self Determination can be extremely powerful within any sales conversation.

When you give directions with extreme clarity, conciseness and simplicity, you are articulating the value within your solution, your answer, specific to this need.  Then you can also further connect with the other value drivers of the individual by sharing a shortcut, how to avoid tolls or excessive traffic. You can also provide recognizable landmarks as well as any other information.

Value articulation can be quite simple but not necessarily easy.  You as the salesperson must sometimes go with your intuition, your gut brain.  By picking up on body language, verbal syntax, actual spoken words, there is an opportunity to further identify what is important to your sales lead, hopefully your ideal customer.

For it is what is important to your sales lead that matters not what other past customers said or why they bought. This is why value creation is not possible because you don’t know initially what is driving the desire to solve a particular problem.  You may not even know what the real problem is.  In many instances, the experienced problem is a symptom.

Your goal is to successfully connect to the sales lead within your sales conversation. Value articulation is your connection bridge, your ability to give directions and ultimately your path to increase sales.

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Wow I Never Thought of Those Sales Questions

One of the results of this blog and my LinkedIn Pulse postings is the request to do podcasts from other sales experts to entrepreneurs.  These interactions usually are around specific sales questions that the listeners may find of interest.

sales-questions

Credit www.gratisography.com

Having over four decades of sales experience, asking asking questions that no one else has asked is something I do fairly consistently.

Since I truly believe in active listening, many of these questions come to me during these sales conversations.  I take particular notice of changes in body language, in syntax and in any emotional responses.  Through observation, I then find a question that is pertinent and yet uncommon.

For example, in fact finding with executive coaching sales leads, this sales question resonated with over 50%:

Imagine for a moment you are at an event this time next year. You meet someone who recognizes your name. What would you like that person to immediately say about you?

This question creates several moments to minutes of deeper thought. The answers in many instances reveal something not discussed or not clearly articulated.  In sales training, some may call these questions “indirect questions.” I think of them as subconscious desires the sales lead has never clarified consciously.

Sales Coaching Tip:  80% plus of all thoughts are subconscious

Within the SMB world, differentiation is essential.  How can you as I have written and asked “Be that Red Jacket in the Sea of Gray Suits?” To increase sales by asking different sales questions that reveal facts unknown to your competitors will reinforce this #1 sales buying rule:

People buy from people they know and trust.

CLICK HERE to schedule a quick phone call with Leanne.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Trusted Authority for Forward Thinking sales culture. She works to close the knowing doing (sales stupidity) gaps that restrict sustainable business growth. Call her at 219.508.2859 Chicago USA time.

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The Impact of Conflict Avoidance on Sales Teams

In reading some research by VitalSmarts, the impact of conflict avoidance suggested employees (and sales teams are made up of employees) waste an average of $1,500 and an eight hour workday for every crucial conversation they avoid. Can you hear the cash register just ringing away?

sales-teans

Credit www.gratisography.com

This research further reveals 95% of the employees avoid directly speaking up to their colleagues about their concerns. Instead they engage in complaining, anger, avoidance to passive, aggressive behaviors.  All of these behaviors weaken a forward thinking sales culture.

How many times do salespeople wish they could have a crucial conversation with their sales managers and yet find such conversations impossible?  After working with numerous top sales performers, these crucial conversations do zap the sales productivity.

Conflict avoidance is for many a standard behavior. No one wants to enter into a conversation that may potentially have a negative impact.  Sales teams are particularly sensitive to the impact of crucial conversations because of the feat of retribution by the sales managers to SMB owners.

To turn these necessary and yet potentially negative conversations around requires an understanding of emotional intelligence. By integrating emotional intelligence into the conversation, those in sales can turn a negative into a positive.

Yes it does take time to learn how to change the tone of the conversation. More importantly it also requires internal talents including internal self control and emotional control.

The Attribute Index Can Quickly Determine Your Internal and External Key Talents 

When sales teams are developed to leverage their existing emotional intelligence, conflict avoidance is reduced and more time is devoted to selling.

Doesn’t that make sense?

The advantage of understand and applying emotional intelligence for sales teams is it solves two barriers. The first is underlying conflict avoidance with management. The second is any potential conflict avoidance with current customers or sales leads.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Trusted Authority for Forward Thinking sales culture. She works to close the knowing doing gaps that restrict sustainable business growth. Call her at 219.508.2859 Chicago USA time.

 

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Sustainable Sales Success – Tip 06 – Cold Calling Etiquette

With caller ID, many SMB people are reluctant to answer their phones. For me, if I want sustainable sales success, I answer all calls. What I have noticed is many who engage in cold calling have failed this important aspect – etiquette.

sales-successCold calling interrupts the sales leads from doing what they are doing.  For me in many instances, it is working on the back end of executive coaching clients’ engagements, doing administrative work or engaging in content article marketing such as this blog or LinkedIn Pulse.

Yesterday I received a call from a number I did not recognize.  I answered it and there was this momentary delay which suggested it was one of those prerecorded robotic messages or a real salesperson dialing for dollars. In this instance, it was the later.

However I was not 100% sure because of technology, so I waited the few seconds for the voice to come onto the line.  The real salesperson introduced himself and his company, yep cold calling for dollars, and attempted to identify me as a qualified sales lead with the question: “Are you the owner of the home?”

His first mistake was he failed to ask this question: “Do you have a moment to speak?”  By giving me a choice and recognizing I may have been engaged in another activity, is the polite action to take.

Sales Coaching Tip:  The Theory of Self Determination recognizes autonomy as one of the three elements of intrinsic motivation common to all people.  Autonomy is the most important element. By giving people a choice, the salesperson is working with the intrinsic motivation instead of working against it.

I then politely told him he failed to ask this question and had he asked this question I might have listened to the rest of his sales pitch (sales script).

In cold calling, remember to always be polite.  Ask if this is a good time to speak. Respect the potential buyer from the first moment of contact for it is always about the buyer and not you as the seller.

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I’m New to Sales, Now What?

The phone rang again and I heard this familiar statement “I’m new to sales.”  This is usually followed by “Now what do I do?” or “How can you help me?”

new-to-sales

Credit: Hubspot

For recent college graduates, entering the B2B sales arena within the SMB marketplace can be overwhelming.

  • How do I find sales leads?
  • No one calls me back!
  • What do I do after I connect with someone?

Being new to sales in the SMB marketplace is far more about marketing, attracting attention, than selling.  Getting and keeping a full and active sales funnel is difficult especially when the SMB does not have the financial resources to segmented departments of a much larger business.

Then what happens is fear steps in and immobilizes the new salesperson. Thoughts of “I don’t have any sales skills” take over quashing the natural and strong talents. A negative cascade of  weaknesses now fill the daily thoughts of the person new to sales. Self esteem is capsized and the salesperson begins to drown in his or her own mind.

Possibly the first barrier to be addressed is just this simple question:  Do you like to sell?  From my experience, most young salespeople say yes.  These excited professionals may lack some of the technical sales skills, but their passion for meeting new people, for sharing their solutions, for wanting to help others is very evident.

Another barrier to overcome is the self doubt.  Lacking experience as noted earlier creates a flow of negative experiences. These experiences marry to the subconscious thoughts of the salesperson and are unknowingly broadcasted to potential sales leads.

Finally, with many SMB owners never engaging in strategic thinking and lacking a written strategic plan, the marketing potentially lacks a cohesive message.  Value articulation, one of the most noted barriers to successful sales, is never clearly communicated.

When those new to sales, take a measured and managed approach to developing their own sales presence, they can overcome these barriers. By taking this action, they can enjoy selling with even more enthusiasm.

New to sales? Want to talk?
Click HERE to schedule the time that works best for you.

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Sowing the Seeds of Sales Distrust Part 2

As said previously sales distrust can be sown anywhere along the sales process path. By understanding the simplicity of the trust cycle any salesperson can avoid these distrust pitfalls.

sales-distrustIn the book, Building Productive Teams by Glen Varney, he discussed the “trust cycle.” This simple explanation reveals the various weak points in building trust and avoiding sales distrust.

The cycle begins with the individual in this case the buyer receiving adequate information. This leads to influencing the decision making process of the buyer. More trust is built and the cycle repeats itself.

Adequate Information

In your marketing messages and within your sales conversations are you providing adequate information about solution.  Does this information build upon your credibility? Sales research from the Corporate Executive Board suggests B2B buyers get 57% of their information before they make any outreach to a specific solution provider.

Sales Coaching Tip:  Provide necessary information in your interactions, but do not provide your solutions. Rather show the impact of the information if no decision is made to take action.

Influencing the Decision Making Process

Your information must be emotionally compelling as well as logical. People buy first on emotion; justified by logic. The words you speak and your behaviors all influence the buying decision making process and have the potential in sowing the seeds of sales distrust. At this juncture within the trust cycle, emotional intelligence becomes very critical.

Sales Coaching Tip: Words such as “should,” “need,” or even “think” may negatively influence the decision making process.

More Trust Is Built

Some trust is now established and more trust begins to build. Again, a simple failed action of not returning a phone call can sow the seeds of sales distrust.

Sales Coaching Tip:  Do a self-check moment of reflection after each conversation to ensure you are still building trust.

Yes people do buy from people they know and trust.  As the salesperson, it is 100% your responsibility to consistently demonstrate your knowledge and trust with purpose and without being “pushy” or a know-it-all.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Trusted Authority for Forward Thinking sales culture. She works to close the knowing doing gaps that restrict sustainable business growth. Call her at 219.508.2859 Chicago USA time.

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Sowing the Seeds of Sales Distrust Part 1

sales-distrustPeople buy from people they know and trust. The seeds of sales distrust can be sown anywhere along the sales process path.

When working with a small business coaching client, I again saw how the seeds of sales distrust were being sown. My client and I are working on his succession plan.

In speaking with his financial advisor, he was encouraged to work up to age 67 even though he told the advisor he would like to sell his business earlier if the opportunity presented itself.  This recommendation began to create distrust with my client because my client saw the advisor thinking of his own wealth first and not putting his client first.

Sellers must always recognize the wants and needs of their clients before their own.  In this example, given my client and his wife invest thousands of dollars each in their retirement funds, his financial advisor was looking at less investment vehicles being purchased probably to the tune of at least a $100,000 over the next 9 years.

The seeds of distrust can be sown with that first handshake, the first sales conversation or even after the sales lead has become a client.  To be successful in sales is to continue to build upon the established trust.

Sales distrust for many begins with that first contact especially if it is a direct mail piece or an email.  Not only can the words create distrust, the overall look can begin to sow the seeds of distrust.

Yet with so many people having distrust of their leaders from managers (69%) to executive board positions (80%), there is a virus called distrust growing and running rampant in our business or sales culture. (Source: Harvard Business Review). Tomorrow’s posting with be part two and examine one simple trust building model that can be used not only for sales, but in all interactions.

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Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Trusted Authority for Forward Thinking sales culture. She works to close the knowing doing gaps that restrict sustainable business growth. Call her at 219.508.2859 Chicago USA time.

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How Much Do You Really Want to Increase Sales?

Funny thing about people in sales.  Most say they really want to increase sales. Yet when provided with viable sales leads, they do not return sales calls or actually if they accept the call, they insult the sales lead.

increase-sales

Credit www.gratisography.com

I have a friend who is rather well off. She and her husband own a very nice home in a rather exclusive subdivision. Her husband is a doctor. The reason I share this information is to show she is more than willing to pay for having work done. She appreciates quality work and will pay for it. We became friends after my husband did work on her chimney many years ago.

Over the past 15 years I cannot count the number of phone calls she has made to me about SMB owners not calling her back.  Then there are the SMB owners who come out and say they will give her a quote and nothing happens. She makes repeated phone calls and no one ever bothers to call her back.

Another professional colleague and friend shares all the time the responses he receives when answering his phone.  His potential sales leads are genuinely surprised he answered the phone. If he must call back, he returns calls quickly as possible usually within 60 minutes because he knows to increase sales he must answer the “damn phone.”

Recently I noticed the same thing in dealing with real estate agents.  When our home became unlisted through our realtor, I received a plethora of direct mail pieces. Each piece said they wanted to sell our home. I am presuming they mailed these marketing pieces because they wanted to increase sales. This I learned as a bad presumption on my end.

We decided to go the For Sale By Owner route because the marketing reports from our realtor revealed 90% of all social media hits came from Zillow.  Also, the majority of showings came from other realtors. So I took these sales hungry real estate agents at their word they wanted to sell our home.

I called each of these realtors. I shared we were not relisting with a realtor however we were willing to give any real estate agent 2.5% of the $144,000 sales price. None of them were interested in that they wanted to list the home and their marketing would sell the home because we “sell homes in your subdivision all the time.” My response was “I did not see any of your business cards with all the showings we had.” 

One realtor said his clients would not deal with For Sale By Owner because of the legalities. My response was “Fair enough.” I then asked him if he was a real estate attorney?  He somewhat hesitated before he responded and said “No, but I have years of real estate experience.”  I then said “Not a problem, we have already hired a real estate attorney with years of real estate experience so this would not be a concern with potential buyers.”

Sales Coaching Tip:  Never insult the sales lead.

My sense is many SMB sales professionals want to increase sales, but they want the sale to be:

  • Quick and easy
  • On their terms not the buyer’s terms
  • To fit in their schedule

What Top Sales Performers Do Differently

Truly top sales performers recognize that all sales are not quick and easy.

They return all phone calls and emails quickly.

They will initially meet the sales lead, the potential buyer or customer on their terms.

They will build the relationship with positive and consistent communication.

If you are a SMB sales professional and truly want to increase sales, possibly you may have to leave your comfort zone and emulate what tops sales performers do. If nothing else, please have the common sales courtesy to return phone calls.

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Sustainable Sales Success – Tip 05 – The Educated Buyer

Sustainable sales success tips are all through the Internet.  Yet in my sales training research very few sales programs to even books on selling recognize this important key fact – The Educated Buyer.  Let me explain.

sales-success

Real Life Sales Experience

In speaking with a close friend just yesterday, she shared her ongoing problem when talking with salespeople. They presume she is unknowing, uneducated about their products or solutions. Her most recent episode involved going to a manufacturer’s representative and being told she could order her item on line.  She told the salesperson “No I can’t.”

The salesperson instead of asking several questions to learn more about her being an educated buyer immediately went to the computer to demonstrate the wrongness of her statement. After 20 minutes of scrolling through various products, the salesperson said “I guess you are right.”

Had the salesperson just asked “Why do you believe you can’t order online?” he would have learned my friend had already spoken with the factory’s salesperson who gave her the correct information. She also had the phone number and extension of the factory’s salesperson.

I have experienced a similar attitude among real estate agents, car salespeople and other sales professionals.  Even my husband who is very knowledgeable has shared similar experiences where the salesperson presumes he is an uneducated buyer.

A recent survey by Corporate Executive Board suggests 57% of the B2B buying decision is made before ever contacting the seller.  Another report (Demand Generation Report) moved this percentage of being an educated buyer up to 77%.

Isn’t it quite foolish for salespeople to presume their potential buyer is uneducated? 

This presumption of ignorance is a key barrier by both B2B and B2C salespeople seeking sustainable sales success.

My goal is to have sustainable sales success. To achieve that goal one one of my first actions is to acknowledge my ideal client is an educated buyer because he or she is a forward thinking SMB owner or sales professional experiencing both rapid growth and repetitive challenges. My presumption is forward thinking people know how to use the Internet.  And so far, that presumption has been correct.

Sales Coaching Tip:  Having crystal clarity about your ideal customer is essential.

For example, if the sales lead has connected with me because he or she is seeking an executive coach, I may ask what have you learned about executive coaching?  Then a follow-up question might be “From what you have learned what did you not like about executive coaching?”

After these questions are answered, I then may did a little deeper. However from my sales conversations’ experiences, these questions open the door to a lot more information than beginning with questions such as:

  • “What do you want to achieve in the next year?
  •  “Where do you wish to be?
  • “What has prompted this outreach?”

Yes the educated buyer can be an incredible contributor to sustainable sales success.  And it all begins with asking the right questions.

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