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Selling Technical Products to Non-Technical Buyers

  
  
  

Selling technology solutions can be problematic for sales people, especially if the buyer does not share your level of expertise in the area. A common trap we fall into is to try to "educate" the buyer on the product and sometimes the entire field of expertise. This can overwhelm your clients and sometimes cost you the deal.

The best way to avoid overwhelming your customer is to consciously use the phrase "why this matters is..." when talking features and benefits of a product. If you can't honestly finish that sentence with something that the customer cares about, leave it out unless they ask for more information. Start your presentation with the things that answer your customer's specific concerns, and move on from there.

Customers want to be educated on how to solve their own needs and challenges. Very few are trying to develop their own expertise...that's what they need you for.

Glossing over Glossophobia

  
  
  

There is an old expression that if you name something, you have control over it. Well, then, here it is: Glossophobia is the ten-dollar word for good old-fashioned stage fright. What people experience prior to speaking is a variation on the "fight or flight" mechanism we all have. While we won't diminish it, most of us find that once we get going, those feelings dissipate.

  • Start by getting into position, looking up and finding a friendly face.

  • Pause, taking a good deep breath.

  • Take everything out of your hands...let them gesture freely. You'll be great!

The Annual Training Plan

  
  
  

Training PlanDoes your 2015 budget include a training plan? Let me tell you why it should.

A friend of mine just finished drawing up his training plan, and I found his experience instructive, even though it's not a business training plan. My friend is a triathlete, and he intends to make his first Ironman attempt in the Fall of next year.

The Ironman is a race that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. For an athlete who has never done one, it takes a year of training. 

My friend tells me that since he signed up for the race, he has never been so focused. His Ironman attempt is nearly a year away, but every day he works toward it, whether by swimming, biking, running, weight training, or resting (which he tells me is a critical part of multisport training). 

What does this have to do with your training plan? Just that you need to have one. Too many organizations think they can simply schedule training whenever they “need” it. But you always need training. You need training because, like my friend and his Ironman attempt, you have goals you are not yet capable of achieving. If you don’t have goals, you are not doing it right. And if you’re capable of achieving your goals, they are not goals. They are activities. 

Here’s the process my friend is navigating with the coach he hired to help him achieve his goal. First, he and the coach negotiated his goal for the year. That was easy. His goal is to complete the Ironman on October 3. The coach gave him a blank spreadsheet with a row for each of the 52 weeks of 2015. My friend put in all the races he planned to enter in the appropriate weeks (he’s going to do a couple half-irons leading up to the Ironman and some foot races to build up his running, which is his weakest discipline). He also filled in the weeks of his family and professional obligations for the year, so the coach would know to avoid critical workouts on those days. 

Then the coach uses his expertise to figure out how to bring my friend to the peak of fitness on the day of his Ironman (and to interim peaks for his shorter races). This involves 4-5 week cycles of base training, build training, and recovery days. Then the coach breaks down the training cycles into individual workouts and loads my friend’s calendar with detailed, scripted workouts, about a month’s worth at a time.

My friend does one or two workouts each day (except for a weekly rest day), and he does them wearing a GPS-enabled watch that tracks his location and speed, his heart rate, and a host of other measures. When he uploads the workout files to the coaching website, he also adds a brief report of his own impressions of how his body responded to the workout. The coach reviews the data files and reports and makes adjustments in the plan to accommodate my friend’s increasing fitness or to back off if the coach senses he may be courting an injury.

If you have employees reporting to you, take a leaf from this coach’s notebook. Negotiate annual goals with your people. Give them one of those week-by-week spreadsheets to fill out, and use those spreadsheets to plan activities, training events, and exercises that will help them peak when they need to, whether it’s for a product rollout, a marketing campaign, a major initiative, or a big presentation. Have them report on each activity, training event, or exercise and adjust the plan accordingly. Imagine what it will do for your employees and your business when every single day involves work toward a major goal. That’s why your 2015 budget needs a training plan.

Virtual Relationships

  
  
  

Sales professionals do an unprecedented amount of work with people they've never met. Modern communication technology means you can connect and do business all over the world at any time-which can create some unique challenges.

Most important, the lack of visual feedback means that we don't get a full picture of customers' responses, meaning that we can easily assume a relationship exists even when it doesn't. What's more, a joke that you would share with a true friend might be inappropriate in a business relationship. Anyone who's ever gotten negative feedback about the tone of an e-mail knows that problems can develop even when we mean no harm.

In short, don't drop your professional demeanor even if you think you've developed a great relationship with someone you don't know.

About Pointers

  
  
  

Generally speaking, we tell people to avoid using pointers if they can. This is for several reasons:

  • They usually don't point to what you want them to point to, anyway.

  • They become a distraction. The presenter spends time and energy playing with them.

  • When the presenter holds a pointer, they usually stop gesturing with that hand, making them appear less interesting to their audience.

Instead of gripping a pointer or driving people crazy with that little red dot, try some of these options:

  • Use the "A" key when in PowerPoint's Slide Show mode...That arrow will appear, it's clearly visible, and you can put it right where you want it to be.

  • Use your hand and descriptions to point...that's usually all the guidance the audience needs.

  • If you really have to be precise about where you're pointing, use the pointer and then put it down and continue speaking. Your hands should be free to gesture.

Selling Skills: The Crucial First Question

  
  
  

Selling SkillsYou're having your first meeting with a prospect. After the small talk and the little jokes that help take the edge off, you sense it is time to get down to business. That's a critical moment for your selling skills. The prospect expects you to begin the business part of the meeting. At this point, many sales professionals feel it's time for the presentation. They pull out the briefing book or start up PowerPoint on the laptop and launch into "Who we are and what we can do for you."

But this is likely a waste of both your time and the prospect’s. If the prospect already knows who you are and what you can do for her—say, through a referral or through your company's excellent marketing—then you're just going over the same old stuff. And if she doesn't know who you are, she doesn't care. What she cares about are an assortment of needs that stand between her and the achievement of some goal. You must apply your selling skills to drawing out those needs.

Selling skills are all about keeping the sales process moving forward. Starting with a presentation or even with a brief description of your company won't move the sales process forward. In fact, you should not make a presentation during the first meeting with a prospect. The time to make the presentation is after you've learned the nature of the prospect’s needs. Then you can make a presentation on how you're going to meet them. The best time for a sales presentation, in other words, is when you’re making a proposal.

Most sales trainers advise you to open with a question, and that’s better than opening with a presentation, but it's only effective if it's the right question. And the right question is not, as we've heard some sales trainers advise, “How do you feel about our product?” Yes, it's important to get access to the customer's worldview, but how much opinion is the average customer likely to have about a product she hasn't bought yet?

Sometimes the opening question is suggested by the qualifying process you have used: “When we first spoke, you mentioned concerns about getting your people ready for a product rollout. Please tell me more about this product and the timing of its release.

Sometimes it is suggested by the referral that got you there: “Mr. Referral thought there might be a good match between your needs and our product. Could you tell me a little about those needs?

Sometimes it is suggested by your background research: “I have seen reports about overseas manufacturers gaining market share in your industry. How has your company responded to foreign competition?

There is no single ideal question for beginning this conversation, but you do need to have a standard question on hand in the unlikely case you are starting this meeting completely cold and have no preliminary information to work with. There aren’t many scenarios in which you would be meeting a prospect for the first time without having done any research on that prospect. But if it does happen, you should simply ask, “What would make this meeting most effective for you?

Learning how to devise your opening question is an element of our Socratic Selling Skills® program, which applies proven dialogue techniques to the sales process. Participants learn to ask the right questions of customers and leverage the answers in order to sell with power and flair.

Quotable Quotes

  
  
  

Sales professionals love to use third-party experts to back up claims about their products or services-and customers love them, too. However, don't you ever wonder what kinds of experts move clients the most? Here's a small sampling:

  • Highly placed business leaders like CEOs are good.

  • Respected scientists and subject matter experts are better.

  • Industry peers are better still.

  • Nothing beats a customer's colleague who can vouch for your services and says you can help.

Don't ignore references you have at your fingertips in favor of someone you think is more impressive. Generally, the closer a source is to your client's situation, the more the referral will resonate with them.

Commanding Presence

  
  
  

We hear all the time about presenters "commanding attention," but what does that really mean? It doesn't mean standing there and demanding it (tempting as that might be).

The things that reward the audience's attention are well within your control:

  • Dress appropriately for the audience and topic.

  • Look them in the eye.

  • Pause and breathe.

  • Gesture above the waist and away from the body.

  • Let them know exactly what you're there to accomplish, and back it up. You're not there to waste their time-let them know it.

Communication Skills: Who Wins the Argument?

  
  
  

CommunicationHumorist Dave Barry said, "I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me." It's not just funny; it's perceptive. The argument winner is one of the loneliest of people. Furthermore, winning an argument rarely achieves the goals of the arguer.

Have you ever seen someone force a recommendation on an organization by “winning” an argument? That kind of change never really takes. Nobody fully embraces the recommendation, the losers nurse their resentment, people continue doing things the old way. The real loser is the business itself because the costs of a change that doesn’t work out can be enormous.

And yet, argument remains one of the most common “communication” strategies. You see it play out incessantly in bars, homes, and cable television studios. I put communication in quotation marks because argument isn’t communication. Its goal is to create winners and losers. At best, it is recreation. At worst, it is vain struggle. Even so, nobody who enters an argument knows what winning will look like. This is because there are no rules for argument. You can see this in political debates, which end with various commentators saying who won and who lost. And each participant is pronounced the winner by his or her supporters. If you ask more than one spectator who won an argument, that question itself usually produces an argument.

Argument never changes minds, either for the participants or the audience. When you lose an argument, you don’t feel you’ve been persuaded to a new position. You feel resentful, sometimes even humiliated, and you often feel determined to strike back.

In many ways, persuasion is the opposite of argument. Where argument is all about using logic, reasoning, or intimidation to “win,” persuasion is all about raising someone's receptivity to an idea and then helping him find a way to embrace it. You do this partly by modeling your commitment to and passion for the idea and partly by showing the other person how she will benefit from adopting your point of view. To persuade someone is to make a sale. The persuaded person doesn't always pay in money, but there's a cost (even if it's just in mental comfort) to giving up a position, point of view, or attitude with which you're comfortable. The persuader’s task is to show the other person that the new position, point of view, or attitude is worth the cost.

The next time you are tempted to enter an argument, think about your goal. If you just want to have fun or put someone down, fine. Go ahead and enjoy yourself. But if you want to change that person’s mind, you’re not going to achieve your goal by arguing. And even if you win, you will lose. 

If you want to learn how to change someone’s mind, Communispond’s Persuasive Dialogue™ helps learners master what a truly persuasive person seems to do naturally – influence others by understanding and leveraging their point of view.

Holiday Gifts or Not?

  
  
  

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Many companies and sales professionals like to provide gifts or other considerations to their clients at this time of year. However, this display of generosity might backfire. Here's why:

In the United States, more and more companies are implementing strict rules about the types of gifts employees can accept from those soliciting their business. While a $10 Starbucks card seems unlikely to bribe anyone, it might violate a company's policy and put your contact in an uncomfortable position.

Before sending out anything of monetary value, check with your contact to see if a small gesture of goodwill will violate any of their company policies.

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