Sales Success: 'Be Prepared'
Who knew that the best two-word definition of sales success would come from the Boy Scouts? “Be Prepared” is a motto where simple wisdom goes all the way from the campfire to the conference room. Boy Scouts are taught to think ahead of what might happen and get ready for all possibilities. Thus, they are able to stay dry when it rains, fend off attacks from large, angry animals, and have a smooth line to use on the Girl Scouts at the campground next door.
The life of a print sales rep is predictable enough that “Be Prepared” is advice well-taken in a number of areas. Everything that happens to a sales rep will happen again. The high highs will delight and the low lows will depress. The sales objections won’t change. And the obstacles that prevent you from selling more remain static enough that thinking ahead and preparing a strategy for each will shorten the distance between you and success.
Time Management — The most important part of time management is preparation, with the ultimate goal being to envision the day, week and month ahead. Most of us are busy but few are productive, and productivity is born from thinking ahead to plan around the known, upcoming events and tasks.
For example, if you gain an appointment during the week ahead, what else can you do while you’re there? By training your prospecting guns toward that geography, you can make the most of your time away from the office. Likewise, preparing for the day ahead means setting an alarm on your cell phone to go off 10 minutes before you expect to leave for the day, sitting with a pad of paper and pen, and thinking through the following day. What appointments are already set up? What are the top priorities that you want to get accomplished? Doing so not only makes it easier to get the most out of the time, it gives you the chance to mentally shut down for the night and leave work at work.
Overcoming Objections — As certain not to change as the menu at a McDonald’s are the sales objections a sales rep encounters on a regular basis. You need to have a strategy prepared so that you can either overcome them or avoid them entirely, the preferable option. For example, the most common sales objection is: “Your price is too high.”
Avoiding that phrase is best done through solutions selling whereby a business need is uncovered and a print solution is offered. This way you are not competing on price at all, but rather it’s your idea that is under consideration.
A second “Be Prepared” lesson is an understanding that once the words “Your price is too high” are uttered, your options are limited, so preparing for sales objections also means gathering any and all valuable information upfront, such as when the job is being awarded, who’s making the decision, when and how can you follow up. That way, you have more and better information, increasing your chances of closing that sale.
The Disappearing Customer — If you’ve ever lost touch with a client after either a good first meeting or after delivering a quote, you recall kicking yourself for not asking more questions when you had the chance. Preparing for “The Disappearing Customer” would mean playing “What if?” with the client: “What if I can’t get you when I call? What do you want me to do? What is your preferred method of communication? Phone? Email? Text? … ”
Priorities come and go with clients. What was hot yesterday (“I need a quick price on …”) drops off their radar by the time you hit the “=” sign on your calculator and the quoted price appears. They are off to do something that has suddenly become a hot subject, leaving you to call and call and call. Preparing for this common occurrence answers the question that you would desperately ask yourself otherwise: “NOW what do I do?”
Beating Voicemail — Breaking news: Your clients and prospects have built a moat around themselves, preventing direct access and contact from the outside world. This evil device is called voicemail and you need a strategy to be ready for it because it isn’t going away.
First, have a pattern to your prospecting calls. Break the message into three parts: an introduction, the main message and a big finish. Then, practice it before you call and be upbeat and pleasantly persistent. Voicemail is no longer about leaving messages with the expectation that they will be returned. Now, they allow you to build a brand by delivering a professional message. But that doesn’t happen without some forethought.
Sales Management — Salespeople who don’t take advantage of the meetings they have with their managers are missing out. Sales managers are your personal trainers. You can (and should) be meeting with yours on a weekly basis. Scheduling a quick (10-15 minutes, tops) conversation to talk about your plan for the week ahead and to review the past week forces you to be prepared and focuses your sales efforts on what they need to be. It’s an asset that benefits everyone, regardless of their level of experience.
Selling “Through” Someone Else — On occasion, you might find yourself unable to speak directly to a decision-maker. Perhaps you are talking to an underling who is gathering information or maybe it’s an agency that wants to maintain control of the client and requires that you speak through them.
This can be a difficult scenario since you are relying on the sales efforts of others. Prepare for this by giving the middleman talking points, summarizing why they should buy from you and even anticipate their objections.
Client Retention — The day will come when you are minding your own business and suddenly the phone rings. It’s the customer informing you that they have shifted their business elsewhere. Clients are like waves: eventually they all hit the beach! Are you ready for that call?
While there are no cradle-to-grave customers anymore, preparation can help you to fend off that moment for as long as possible. Remind the customer exactly what you have done for them and send them a thank you note every time a job goes well (“Thank you for the opportunity to be of service. I know you have lots of other vendor choices and appreciate your patronage.”). This builds a positive balance in the bank of goodwill.
Veteran, legacy salespeople sure make it look easy. They arrive in the office with a plan. You hear them on the phone handling an objection and closing the sale. Their client retention rate is ridiculous. Others view them with Dos Equis (“Most Interesting Man in the World”) reverence. What it took to get to that level was years of repetitive sales situations and strategies for getting ready for those situations. Because they expect and prepare, their sales results are easily predictable as well.
There are no new sales challenges. Whatever obstacles you are facing have been overcome by someone else or perhaps by you. Thinking through the “what ifs” of any given situation dramatically increases your productivity, efficiency and sales volume. Be prepared and you, too, can earn your merit badge. PI