Swinging a Blunt Axe

May 28, 2020 3:56 pm

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“If the axe is blunt, and one doesn’t sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength.” ¹

Without pausing, reflecting and observing, we can easily end up swinging a blunt axe. Maintaining sharp skills and organisational effectiveness warrants constant attention and application, but far too often, we accept things as they are rather than attempting greater effectiveness through a sharper blade.

Here are some examples to reflect on.

  • An accounting firm had lost its edge, having plateaued for 8 years. They took 8 months to sharpen the blade and launched off the plateau to report record growth in subsequent years.
  • Another business, after analysing who its buyers were, sharpened their blade and went more directly to the decision-maker with reported improvement in the following quarter.
  • A supervisor lost his work fulfilment edge over a period of time which started to show in the quality of his management. Once reassigned to a different position he regained his happiness and corresponding sharpness.
  • The 90+ debtors for one company was well out of hand. Sharpening the retrieval blade, we reduced the amount by 97%.
  • A salesperson, disheartened from the realisation they were swinging a blunt sales axe, took a week for reflection and review, found the fail-point, made corrections to their process and went from a 25% to 72% win rate in the following 7 months.

These examples all refer to people gaining insight into their current situations and then responded by the sharpening of their efforts.

In recent times I have had the pleasure of working with a manager who exemplifies a more ahead of the game approach. Recognising an opportunity to sharpen his blade, he requested a rehearsal meeting prior to a sales call with a prospective client.  He wanted to ensure he was swinging a sharp conversational axe. Smart.

A blunt axe equates to increased effort with minimised results whereas a sharp axe reduces required effort but dramatically shifts results and in many cases, almost immediately.

 

 

¹Solomon is generally attributed to writing this around 935 BC

Photo by Markus Spiske

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Sales is a Process, Not a Personality

July 23, 2019 6:11 pm

Once upon a time, two brothers and their father went into business together. Without them selling their services, there would be no business. One day, the younger brother said to the older one, “how will you ever be successful? You are way too quiet.” That older brother was me and at the time, I didn’t know that you were “supposed” to be an extrovert in order to sell effectively.

Fortunately, after his “motivational” speech, I recall hearing someone say they would rather employ an introverted salesperson than the extroverted for it was much easier to help the introvert open their mouth than help the extrovert shut their mouth. I’m still not convinced about that as I think anyone who wants to learn a skill can, despite their personality, but it gave me great encouragement at the time and has seen me involved in sales for almost 20 years, and successfully I must say, dear brother.

1. The Sales Foundation: An Interest in Others.
An interest in people and their well being is the foundation for a successful sales career. Yes, I can make a quick buck by not giving a damn but having a successful career with repeat customers is all about care for the person. Taking an interest in the well being of another has nothing to do with personality; it is simply part of our humanity. We choose to care, or we choose not to and that choice is ours.

2. Sales As a Process.
When I was a musician, I recall the importance of learning first the structure, then from that basis, to improvise. And when improvising, it was still centred around the structure.  Selling is no different. First, create the process, learn it and then the improvisation comes once that mental sequence is embedded.

3. An example of a Sales Process.

Enquiry Stage – Sales Assistant

  1. What does the customer want?
  2. Ascertain who the decision-maker is.
  3. Ask, “when do you want to do this?”
  4. Ask, “is there a budget you have in mind?”
  5. If qualified, arrange a time for the customer (decision maker) to meet with the salesperson.

Meeting Stage – Salesperson

  1. Document requirements on the quote form.
  2. Uncover emotional drivers.
  3. Reconfirm budget.
  4. Ask “are there any areas that we haven’t discussed that could prevent this project from moving forward?”
  5. Confirm when quote will be sent.
  6. Arrange a time to follow up quote via phone.

Quote follow up stage – Salesperson

Ask:
a) “was the quotation a reflection of what you wanted?”
b) “which option would you like to proceed with?”
c) “which day will suit you best for us to arrive onsite?”
d) “would you like to transfer the deposit or make it now over the phone?”

Your business will have its own sequence according to what you provide and what the customer requires but the documenting and memorisation of the process transforms sales volumes dramatically.

4. Objections and Rebuttals.

Here again, the process comes into play. List all the major objections you receive from prospective customers and create rebuttals to them. Having these embedded into the memory so you can respond in the moment is essential in making it easy for the customer.

5. Please make it easy.

When I purchase something, I want the salesperson to make it easy for me. It’s not their personality that interests me but it’s their interest in me that is most important.  I want them to guide me through the process so I end up with what I want (or what is best for me according to the salesperson’s expertise and suggestions). I want them to be confident and to answer my questions and objections adequately. I want them to stay focused on me and my needs, nothing else.

Whether introvert, ambivert or extrovert, all of us can sell if: (1) We want to; (2) Desire the best for our customers; (3) Have a pre-designed sales process to follow (4) Make it easy for people to do business with us.

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It’s Not Rocket Science

October 30, 2014 8:50 am

In our attempts to promote growth, expanding our brand and presence, some of the basics of business get neglected. Take these for example:

  • Treating our people purely as workers not as valuable assets
  • Not returning phone calls in a timely manner (as per the customers sense of timeliness)
  • Communicating when you will complete a service or have delivery of a product and then not communicating when there is a delay
  • Not keeping the customer in the progress loop
  • Consistent lateness or cancellations of appointments

If you have happy staff, that happiness factor will overflow to customers. If you then keep your current customers and key prospects at the centre of your attention, doing what you say you will do and communicating when things change you will find your business will more likely grow intrinsically and word of mouth business will come your way.

Doing the basics well is not rocket science

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Front Of Mind or Out Of Mind

October 30, 2014 8:40 am

I have long held the belief that those who, on a monthly basis, keep in touch with their key prospects and customers are in the top percentile of their industry. At a recent speaking engagement to 70 electricians I asked the question “how many of you keep in touch with your key prospects and customers at least monthly either by calling, monthly newsletter etc?” It was worse than my prediction. No hands went up.

So…if you keep in touch with your key customers and prospects at least once a month, not only will you be in the top one percent of those who do so, you will be the one they call when they need your services.

You want to be front of mind – not out of mind.

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The 1 minute Survey

October 30, 2014 8:38 am

I get emailed five minute and seven minute survey requests from hotels I’ve stayed at and other companies that I have conducted business with. I never fill them out with the main reason being the 5 and 7 minutes time requirement. It is just not that important to me.

But… if they were to send me a one minute survey I would be more likely to complete it. One hotel sent an email with two options. A one minute and five minute survey. Smart. I completed the former.

Surveys are useful things and reducing the survey to even one question ie. “would you refer us to your friends and family?” will more likely be completed than one with fifty questions. If they answer yes to that, you know you’ve done a great job. Adding a section of ‘additional comments’ is also useful.

Treating customers time as a priority will more likely get you the responses you are after

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Providing Options

October 30, 2014 8:37 am

If you send a quote or discuss a product with a potential buyer always present options. Options provide the choice of “which one should I take?” If there are no options it then becomes “should I take this or not?” Providing options for payment type, delivery dates, sizes and anything else that is relevant is invaluable and significantly increases the likelihood of gaining a new customer.

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Customer Needs Verses Pushing Product

August 4, 2014 10:37 pm

I visited a high end hi fi store on the weekend. The salesperson asked me what I was interested in which was simply something I could play CD’s on that gave excellent separation of instruments and vocals. For the ensuing 15 minutes I got a download of all his musical education and how wonderful the product was. The system rotated, I could mount the speakers on walls, the remote could make coffee (joking) –  all of which 1% related to why I went in there in the first place. He lost me and lost the sale.

Most buyers aren’t interested in how good you are or how good the product is, and ALL of them are interested in themselves.
“What are the benefits to me and will it meet my goals?”
If you listen intently to your customers needs, identify their wants and centre your discussion around them, you might in fact create a new customer in five minutes than have them walk out the door empty handed after fifteen.

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The Good and the Bad of BMW Selling Techniques

May 15, 2014 11:41 pm

Over the last number of years I have encountered sales staff from BMW that has left me thinking that the societal ill feelings toward the current day car salesperson was justified – pushy, disinterested if they perceived you didn’t look the part, all about their commission and so on.
Having an early morning wander through one of their Brisbane car yards Paul Maddern (sales consultant) approached me. These were the things that impressed me about his sales approach that might be of help when you or your staff are talking to potential customers in your business:
  • his body language and vocal tone matched mine
  • his sales approach was in sync with my needs and wants, not the standard lineal approach encountered with other high pressure types
  • relaxed
  • interested in ME
  • didn’t try to sell me
  • when I told him I wasn’t ready to buy today he didn’t switch off, walk to the next customer, show disappointment or attempt to drag me over the line
  • didn’t hold back on fully answering my questions giving me quality information and value
  • relationship was more important than an immediate sale
All this built instant rapport making me trust him instantly. Subsequently he was the first car sales person from memory I have ever requested a business card from .
Given that BMW is my favourite vehicle, Paul will do very well from me over the coming years as well as the referrals (one immediate) I send his way. BMW would also do well from insisting that all their sales people emulate his approach.
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Transactional verses Relational Selling

February 16, 2014 11:48 pm

I was having lunch with a client I had completed a project for and he told me of a company that had come to discuss their services with him. The word ‘bludgeon’ came to mind. The sales person was all about getting the sale NOW. Wasn’t interested in establishing a relationship with my client but was all about the transaction. This form of selling while it still works (people buying out of fear and pressure) is the least effective sales approach. The strategy has been around for decades and those in sales should recognise it should be buried in decades past. Here is the best approach by far for selling in the current times:

1. Establish a relationship with the person. Build rapport and gain trust
2. Gain mutual consensus on moving forward together providing options so THEY can choose
3. Ensure your product or service is right for THEM, not just of benefit to you
4. Walk away if point 3 isn’t met and refer them to someone or another product that is better suited
5. Stay in touch. This is called relationship. They might not be ready now but they might be in 12 months time.

Transactional selling is about now. Relational selling is about now and the future. A sales pipeline reflects people at different stages in their buying process and timing. If you are all about today then there is effectively no pipeline.

High pressure, bludgeoning, transactional selling is all about the seller not the buyer. There is no care, no concern, no recognition that people matter. Establish a relationship and you’ll establish a successful future with the added bonus that people will be calling YOU because they’ve heard that you are the best.

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Selling is not Telling

September 30, 2013 9:11 am

Many approach selling from the historical erroneous proliferation (by the many ‘sales gurus’ that have gone before us) that it is all about the ‘telling’ in selling. In that, we are there to tell the potential buyer about how good our product or service is, rebut objections, convince them to buy and walk away with an order. I think there’s a better way?
Approaching a sales situation from the buyers perspective and not our own makes a whole lot more sense, especially given the fact that they obviously have a need or want, we potentially have a solution and it’s not until we truly ascertain what that need/want is do we know whether our product or service will assist them. We can’t get understanding if we are in telling mode.
Asking well directed questions, listening, asking, listening is the priority for any situation. Advising a buyer that we are there to find out about them and to see if there is a potential match and synergy between us puts the sales situation into a whole new light, especially when they know you are more than happy to refer them to a better product or service if that is best for them. That communicates integrity. We approach it from the perspective of mutual benefit not in just getting a sale.
The 80/20 rule applies here. Listen 80% of the time, talk 20%. I think that ratio also applies to our success. If we listen and carefully provide a solution chances are we’ll be successful 80% of the time. Sell by telling and you’ll effectively reduce it to 20%. I know which I’d rather.

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Stupid Language

September 24, 2013 11:07 pm

I just received an unsolicited email from an unknown saying “just thought how similar we are in our approach to problem solving…I am personally inviting you to join me in helping sales team all over Australia for a better Sales Improvement Process.” It was OK to this point.
THEN…
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to make YOU the HERO just like Steve Jobs to your clients.”
Delete…… 

If you want to sell your services don’t use stupid language

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In Your Prospects Best Interests

August 26, 2012 7:14 am

My wife and I were given a ‘free’ night at a luxury resort on the one condition that we attended a 90 minute session to hear about the time share offers they had available. We went through the talk quite impressed by what they were offering and then afterwards were directed into a room with one of the salesman. At the end of our discussion he then said the following words, “now, I will give you both a few minutes to discuss this wonderful opportunity.” I responded by saying that we never make on the spot decisions and would prefer to discuss this and come back to him later. That caught him from left field and landed a blow to the effect that displayed immediate disappointment on his face. And he never rebounded. He quickly shut the meeting down, showed us to the door and we’ve never heard from him since.

Some lessons for all of us in sales:

1. Treat people with respect, with THEIR interests as center, not yours

2. When they say they won’t be making a decision on the spot, respect the person and instead of showing disappointment simply say “yes, it is a big decision and you need to make sure you are very comfortable in what you decide. May I ask what the main reason is for not being able to make a decision today? Is it the money?” If they say that no, it isn’t the money then ask what the main thing is holding them back at this point.
By going down this track you have shown respect, kept the conversation and relationship flowing and are now getting to the key objections by asking “is it the money?”

3. If you don’t end up with the sale, keep in touch. Ask permission to contact them at a set time within the next week, add them to your mailing list with their consent and reinforce that you have their best interests in mind.

When it comes to sales, it’s all about the buyer not the seller.

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