Nothing is more tragic than a sale agreement that is lost during the final negotiation. You have put your selling skills to use drawing out the customer's needs, positioning your product to fill them, satisfying objections, and closing. Now the whole thing looks like it is going up in smoke if you don't make concessions to satisfy a customer's demands.
It’s ironic that often, in making a concession, you reduce your product’s attractiveness, thus calling into question everything you’ve said about it. Does the customer think your product is overpriced? The quickest way to confirm her belief is to lower your price. For this reason, we suggest you not make concessions. Make trades. This can be a real test of your creative selling skills. In order to buy yourself time to think about your trade, Communispond recommends a specific four-part format for these trades.
1. Play back the customer request. Selling skills are all about active listening. Use your active listening techniques to show the customer you understand the request. While you’re playing it back, think about your counteroffer: “Let me be sure I have understood your request. You say you need a 60-day delivery instead of our usual 90 days, because you need to be able to use the product in 90 days, and you have to build in time to train your people on it. Is that correct?”
2. Explain why the request exceeds your limits. Don’t try to be secretive about this. Up until now, your selling skills have been all about openness and candor. So be up front with the customer. Let her know your limits, partly so she will understand why she’s not getting what she wants, and partly so she has more information to use in proposing solutions on her side: “I want to explain to you why that’s more than we can do. Because we customize the product to your needs, we need 90 days to accomplish the customization.”
3. Invite the customer to respond to a counteroffer. Don’t just state your counteroffer. Your selling skills are supposed to facilitate two-way communication. So make your counteroffer a subject of discussion: “Would you like to discuss an idea that might meet your needs in another way?”
4. Present the counteroffer, with benefits. Your selling skills should allow you to know the customer well enough at this point to understand her needs. The template for your counteroffer is “If you/then I.” Here is how it looks: “If you would agree to a 90-day delivery, then I would arrange for your people to train at our plant for 30 days before delivery, so you could be up to speed when the equipment arrives and be using it productively in 90 days.”
Your counteroffer is less a negotiating strategy than a subject for discussion. Your selling skills are all about continuing the conversation. The customer may agree, may find fault with it, or may suggest a counter-counteroffer. In any case, you’re still talking, you haven’t conceded anything you couldn’t afford to concede, and the sale is still alive.
Selling skills are all about preparation. Before the negotiation even starts, you need to know what you have to make counteroffers with. Every sale is unique, but here is a list of possibilities to get you started:
- timing of delivery
- timing of payments
- extra resources
- product model
- service and support
- related supplies and ancillary products
- expertise (i.e., consulting)
The prolific inventor Thomas Edison said, "Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success."
Especially in technical fields, it's easy to focus on features - what your product or service does, or how it's different than the competition. What your audience - and successful companies care about - is how the customer will use it.
Utility is success - they have to know how they'll use it to be excited.
We've all seen presenters who do a good job of making their point, but who end their sentence or thought by looking down at the floor in front of them or their computer, ready to change visuals. Here's a tip to prevent that from happening to you: Make sure your last thought goes to someone at the back of the room.
By consciously directing your last thought to someone farther away, you will keep your head up and your voice strong. Remember, always direct your thought to someone's eyes, complete the thought, pause and THEN change your visuals.
I recently read an article on high-stakes presentations that turned out to be about giving presentations to audiences of Fortune 500 CEOs. This struck me as woolly thinking. Just because you're presenting to a high-powered audience doesn't mean it's a high-stakes presentation. Say your company is going into bankruptcy if you don't win over the audience... Your community will lose its conservation land to a gas pipeline if you can't get residents to stand up against it... A regulatory agency is going to take your flagship product off the market unless you persuade them otherwise... These are high-stakes presentations, and they may or may not involve intimidating audiences. Chief among your presentation skills is the ability to separate your analysis of the audience from your goals for the presentation.
There are, indeed, specific presentation skills you can use to present to an audience of Fortune 500 CEOs, and I may discuss those in a future post. Since the article I read didn’t actually say how to prepare for a high-stakes presentation, however, I thought I’d offer some ideas here. First, the proper ratio of planning time to slide creation is about three to one: that is, for every hour you spend in creating slides, you should be spending about three hours researching and planning. Also, if it’s at all possible, get help. You’ll need to do a lot of brainstorming, and that’s always more productive with a team than when you try to do it alone.
I have written blog posts before about audience analysis. Your presentation skills come into play before you say your first word or put up your first slide. Find out everything you can about the audience so you can understand what motivates the decision makers. Based on what you know about the audience, brainstorm possible audience objections to your argument. Put these objections in the order of their strength so you can make sure you get the strongest ones covered. Develop specific responses to the objections, and write them down to use only if the objections come up.
Presentation skills include a behavioral component and a planning component. It’s important to get the planning right. Examine your position for benefits – not benefits to you or your organization. Those are irrelevant to the audience. Put them out of your mind. Examine your position for benefits to the audience. Brainstorm those, too. Put all the benefits in the order of their appeal to the audience, so you know which are your strongest. You will want to emphasize those. Explain the benefits precisely. Make certain your evidence is solid.
One of the benefits you found is likely to be dominant. Write a one-sentence description of your presentation based on the dominant benefit: e.g., “This presentation will explain how your support will protect our town’s conservation land for the use of our children and their children long after we are gone.” Organize your presentation around that statement and consider opening with it when you actually deliver the presentation. Omit everything from the presentation that is not a benefit or evidence in support of a benefit. Make the presentation as brief as possible. Practice your behavioral presentation skills so you can deliver with charisma. And, on the small chance your audience is mostly Fortune 500 CEOs, just remember that they are people, too, and they have their own hopes, fears, and aspirations. Your success lies somewhere in those hopes, fears, and aspirations.
The great basketball coach John Wooden once said, "Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do."
This is critical for sales professionals, since so often the client will make a request that you can't meet. Rather than get hung up on that, here are some ways to counter that problem:
- Find out how important it is to the customer, and why (it may not be the deal breaker you think it is).
- Focus on the customer's priorities, and how well you can meet all the major criteria for success.
- Find ways to mitigate or eliminate the results of your not meeting that need.
Rather than focus on what you can't do, focus on where you can add value to your customer.
Statistics are powerful proof when used appropriately. When used inappropriately, they can overwhelm an audience with detail. Here's a simple guideline for using statistics: unless the exact number is critical, round off the number.
For example, as of this writing, the population of mainland China was 1,366,370,000. By putting a number that big up there, it invites people to try to decipher the number visually (and thus not listen to you) and argue over trivial details, and to be honest, by the time they get this information, the exact number will have changed.
Isn't it easier to say "more than 1.4 billion people?" It still makes your point and doesn't distract your audience with trivialities.
A man I once knew who made his living selling over the telephone kept a small mirror on his desk. When I asked him what the mirror was for, he explained that it helped him keep his smile. He was convinced that people could "hear" his smile over the telephone. I think his explanation was mistaken, but his method illustrates a useful concept in leadership training.
The concept is that attitude often follows behavior. I am fascinated by this idea. We may act as if we believe our inner lives are independent of our surroundings. But the ability to isolate one’s own character from the surroundings is very rare, even though it’s a staple of a great deal of fiction and literature. Just think about all the spy stories about “sleeper agents,” who take up a foreign lifestyle and live as something they are not, sometimes for decades. It’s not impossible, I suppose, but I suspect a more realistic view comes from the 1976 science fiction film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which an alien sent to Earth fails in his mission after living like a human being and becoming addicted to television and alcohol. Your inner life is probably more adaptable than you believe it to be. When you act habitually in a particular way, you will likely change your attitudes eventually to align with your behavior. What does this have to do with leadership training?
I touched on it when I wrote about leadership training last May. I described how Communispond trains people to deploy the behaviors that others perceive as charisma. I said, “On the question of whether you can be taught to have more charisma, our position is simple. If you appear to an audience (of one or one thousand) to have charisma, then you have charisma.”
In a subsequent blog post, I mentioned that, although we can train you to be charismatic, it is strictly behavioral training. We don’t try to train anyone to have the character of a leader. Character emerges from a combination of heredity, early childhood, exposure to role models, peer influence, education, and environment. Changing those influences through training would be more invasive than is acceptable in a business situation, so we must assume that those who come to us for leadership training already have leadership character. And we recognize that maintaining that character requires some struggle, because you often need to resist the influences of your surroundings so you can be an important influence in your followers’ surroundings.
I thought about that struggle last month when James J. Schiro died. He was a lead director at Goldman Sachs and had a distinguished career as a financial executive. He died of multiple myeloma, and his obituary appeared in The New York Times. The Times, as it happens, had interviewed him five years ago and asked him about the most important leadership lesson he’d learned in the course of his career. “People don’t like change, but they can manage change,” he said. “They can’t handle uncertainty. I think it is the job of leaders to eliminate uncertainty.” These strike me as the thoughts of a man who understood the constant struggle of leadership: the struggle to provide certainty to your followers while you control the effects of uncertainty in yourself. Of course, you get some help from the tendency of attitude to follow behavior. If you behave with certainty, eventually you probably become certain.
Last week, Intercall, the world's largest conference call company, posted the results of a survey of more than 500 outsidem full-time employees on their experience of conference calls. The percentage of time people use mobile devices to access conference calls has been growing and now stands at 21.2%. Using mobile devices, of course, leaves people more free to attend to other matters while they are participating in the call. The results of the survey were both funny and disheartening. Participants admitted to a number of unexpected activities during conference calls:
- 21% shopped online
- 25% played video games
- 27% fell asleep
- 39% dropped off the call without saying so
- 43% checked social media
- 44% texted
- 47% used the restroom
- 55% ate or prepared food
- 63% sent email messages
- 65% engaged in other work
Five percent even admitted to engaging a friend to take the call in their place. The writeup, by the way, is in the form of a fascinating infographic, and I don’t cover the whole thing here, so I recommend you visit the link after you finish reading this. The more bizarre elements on the list above suggest that conference calling, especially when combined with mobile devices, has opened a whole new era of shirking. But I’m primarily interested in the nearly two-thirds of participants who engaged in other work during conference calls. These folks suggest the presence of a business problem.
If your conference call is not commanding the attention of your (non-shirking) participants, you need to ask whether the call is the most important thing participants could be doing at that particular moment. If not, why are you asking them to do it? Can you get by on fewer or shorter conference calls? How important is the conference call to your organization’s work?
If the conference call is indeed the most important thing participants could be doing at that particular moment, find ways to make it more compelling so you don’t lose their attention to other responsibilities. Communispond has built its business on in-person communication and training, but we also do very effective remote training, and I have some tips for you.
First, remind participants to eliminate distractions by shutting down email or putting their computers to sleep. Second, make sure the conference call has an agenda, and share it with participants beforehand so they can follow the call’s progress. Third, minimize digressions and irrelevant discussion. If something comes up that is not of interest to everyone but needs to be discussed, designate a sub-group to discuss it after the session.
Fourth, address participants by name and frequently. When participants make good contributions, provide immediate reinforcement, and mention their names when you do. Build opportunities for questioning participants into the meeting plan. Poll the group as often as is practical and useful.
Fifth, help people see the relevance of whatever is discussed by describing specifically how it affects their jobs. Sixth, don’t lecture. If you simply need to get information out to people, send them an email. The purpose of the conference call is to discuss, so ask questions, and actively listen to answers by paraphrasing and reading back. To the extent that you need to get a point across, try to put it in story form. Stories are always more engaging than abstractions.
Finally, get to know everyone’s voices so a strange one will signify which participant has substituted a ringer.
One good way to add authority to claims about your product is to quote sources other than your own marketing material. After all, independent corroboration is much more credible to your client than your own claims. Still, don't forget to cite specifically where you get that confirmation from.
"X Magazine called us ..." is much more interesting to a customer than, "The press has been very kind to us." If possible, name the publication, writer or source of the quote. Then be prepared to offer a reprint or URL so the client can see it for themselves if they want.
Like so much else in life, the more specific the source of a quote or feedback, the more credible it is in the eyes of your customer. Just be careful not to overwhelm them.
The workplace has become more casual, and this means that little things can help you stand out... literally.
As more people get used to sitting while speaking to groups, the person who stands is going to attract attention. Since you want to look confident but not aggressive, here are some tips to stand out by standing up...
- Stand slowly, as you're speaking (don't jump up and scare someone).
- Move away from the table so you're not towering over people or leaning on the table for support (and thus towering over someone...he or she could find this intimidating).
- Use a white board or an easel chart as an excuse to stand and draw attention away from the table to yourself.