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Tennessean Column- Sunday, November 2nd

Posted on: November 03

Author: Tom Black
Tennessean Column- Sunday, November 2nd


The holidays are on us.  Time will be at a premium.  Everyone will be busy with shopping, parties and bad weather.  At the same time the holidays will put more on every salesperson’s plate.  In addition to scheduling, it is everyone’s last chance to hit their annual numbers or win the prizes and trips.  What’s a salesperson to do?

Well, the statistics I have been sharing with you indicate salespeople waste a lot of time.  The more companies I work with the more convinced I am that we just do not know where the prospect is coming from.  The difference between the deals we project and the ones we sell is roughly 50%.  That is a national number based on a survey of over 1000 companies.  Ask yourself what the difference is between what you project and what you actually sell.  One company I work with is running at 22% sold of what they projected.

If we, as salespeople, are experts in communication this statistic is pitiful.  We can be better at forecasting and thus use our time better.  Not just at the holidays but all year long.

National statistics say salespeople only spend about 37% of their time face to face or on the phone selling.  Ask yourself what your time allocation is.  If you are at 50% you are 30% better than the average and 50% is still bad.  We can spend more time with our prospects if we focus on it as a measurable activity. 

Here is one more fact and then some advice.  Research estimates show that 53% of the overall decision to buy new solutions is based on the efficacy of the sales experience.  Effective communication and an accurate assessment of the prospect’s needs is over 50% of the decision to buy.  In a previous article I indicated 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact.

With all these facts it is easy to see how valuable our time with a prospect is and how important it is to know if your prospect is really a buyer or not.  How can we know?  It comes down to the questions we ask and the answers we get. 

First, eliminate your fear of the answers.  Know that any answer is better than not knowing.  Wordsmith your questions to get the answers you need and make the best use of your time.  Salespeople fear being told no.  No is your friend.  It saves you time.  Realize prospects do not want to say no most of the time.  They want to make you feel good too.  So ask direct questions.

Here are some questions that are non-threatening and let you know where you stand. 

  • “Can you see yourself doing this, this year?”
  • “If you did move forward would it be in the next week or so?”
  • “Have all the influencers and decision makers in your organization been  brought on board?”
  • “Have you had a chance to look at the agreement?”

If you ask just these questions your forecasting will improve and your time utilization will improve.  Try this, get on the phone with sales you are forecasting and ask your prospect these questions (unless you already know the answers).  Do not assume that you know- ASK.

Second, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes.  One of the many t-shirts I have been given has “TOPS” on the front.  It stands for “The Other Person’s Shoes”.  If you ask yourself what the prospect’s needs are and what hurdles they must overcome to make the buying decision, the better you can communicate.  If you suspect hurdles ask about them.  Do not be afraid of the answer.  In fact, it is a good question.  “What hurdles do we have to overcome to move forward?”

It is hard to start asking these questions if you aren’t.  It is hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  You must leave your current comfort zone.  Max De Pree said, “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” 

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