Monthly Archives: March 2011

How to Steal Competitors’ Customers for the Price of Breakfast

When budgets get frozen many sales people stop calling customers who have put their purchasing decisions on hold. After all, when there’s no budget there’s nothing to sell, so why make a sales call? In addition, customers are reluctant to be taken to lunch when then have no opportunity to return the favor by placing an order.

But the secret to long-term success lies in being the trusted advisor—the go-to person—for your current and future customers. Although most sales pros know this, few know how to effectively accomplish it.

Here’s the problem: 

How can you remain a trusted advisor to your customers when you aren’t talking with them? You can’t. If you want customers to buy from you when they DO get budget, you must stay in touch and offer value now.

Here’s the two-part opportunity: 

First, cement your current relationships to keep your competitors out of your accounts; and second, begin the process of becoming the trusted advisor for your competitors’ customers. If your competitors are ignoring their customers, it may be easier than you think.

Now is the time to call everybody on your prospect and customer list. If your business is slow, you should have plenty of time to make these quick calls. And you most likely won’t have much competition.

Here’s a sample script to start the conversation:

“I know you don’t have budget right now. But I also know that’s not a permanent situation because you still have your job. (Pause) So let’s have a conversation about your future plans, after all, I’m here to offer advice and help you plan for the future. So let’s meet for breakfast this week. I want to show you what’s coming, so that when you do have budget, you’ll be ready to get the edge over your competition. What morning works for you?”

Breakfast makes the best time for meetings because everybody appreciates a free breakfast and it’s the cheapest meal you can buy. Most customers will accept a breakfast meeting even when they would be reluctant to meet you for lunch.

If you schedule correctly, you can have two breakfast meetings every morning, giving you 10 face-to-face calls a week that your competition may be ignoring. (A note of caution, if you’re eating 10 bacon and eggs breakfasts, you’ll have to schedule extra time for your workout.)

In the meeting, instead of pitching your product, ask these four questions.

1) “When do you think your situation is going to turn around?” This question identifies the people you need to track. If they think things will get better soon, they are more likely to buy than someone who’s afraid to spend.

2) “What’s the next step in moving towards your vision for your company?” This identifies their next logical purchase. If you can help them take that step, this is a warm prospect.

3) “Where do you think the funding will come from to do that?” If funding is coming, you’re getting hotter. If not, perhaps you can help with leasing, trade-in allowances, or budget reallocation from operational savings.

4) “What can I do to help?” This is the ultimate sales close because it doesn’t sound like one. You’ll be surprised and delighted with the answers you get.

Now you can talk about your offerings in the context of helping them get to where they want to go. Voila, instant trusted advisor. When their budgets return, these customers will now come to you instead of your competitors—all for the price of breakfast.

Now you’re CompetitionProof!


Make the Sales Process Resistance Free to be CompetitionProof

I’ve recently delivered a number of events to clients about selling big-ticket products to executives. The key concept: selling to executives is about minimizing their resistance to your message. If the sales pro says or does something that raises a red flag, the audience with the executive may terminate, with little chance of a repeat engagement. The best sales pros do this instinctively and the newbies learn it fast, albeit expensively.

Taking this a step further, you can apply this concept to anyone you sell to and increase your success. So, how can you minimize resistance to your message? Here are four strategies to make your discussions CompetitionProof.

1) Ask smarter questions.

So many canned sales questions are “Hey, Stupid” questions such as “Would you like to save 50 percent on your operating costs?” Only an idiot would say, “Let me think about that.” 

The question is manipulative, extracts no meaningful information, kills dialog, and makes the questioner look like a dope. And almost every sales hack asks the question. (You might want a tongue in cheek answer ready the next time you’re asked this question, such as, “No, we are only interested in saving 100 percent. Can you do that?”)

A much better way to make the same point is, “Our customers have discovered that they can slash operating costs by 50 percent with the method I propose to discuss with you. Is this something that you’d like to explore?”

Notice that we introduce the savings by reporting success that you’ve already achieved with customers, which increases your credibly and makes your assertion inarguable. Success stories and third party endorsements increase your persuasiveness and make your claims stick. This combination decreases resistance to your message.

2) Talk efficiently.

You only have to tell an executive something one time. They are expert at grasping the facts, a demand of their position. So practice your discussion to clearly and quickly make your point.

Understand the importance of BLOT (Bottom Line On Top) when talking with executives. This means starting with the conclusion and then moving through the supporting rationale. If you attempt to lead executives to a conclusion, you will create resistance that may result in dismissal before you’ve made your key point.

3) Talk articulately and with purpose.

Record your practice presentation and listen critically to your performance. Notice how many verbal fillers are you using, such as: like, OK, you know, um, at the end of the day, net net, bottom line, and other hackney, overused non-words. (Listening to a recent press conference, it seems that our Secretary of State is addicted to “um.”)

Practice again leaving out the fluff and fillers. Practice again until you can deliver your presentation cleanly.

Here’s why this is important: executives will never consider someone that would embarrass them in front of their peers or board of directors. This means that you must be polished and professional in your diction and discussion. (If you want to see an example of this in action, watch the classic movie, My Fair Lady.)

4) Deliver real thought leadership

Recently, my colleague, Jeanine Edwards asked, “What’s the statue of limitations on thought leadership?” The answer is, “About a week.” 

Although most sales professionals want to be trusted advisors, that position is earned by bringing fresh ideas and insights to executives at every meeting. Executives won’t bring sales pros into their inner circle until that pro can consistently show value to the exec’s organization and career. 

Ninety percent of CEOs come from a sales background (reported in Anthony Perinello’s excellent book, Selling to Vito). This means that executives have seen and used virtually every trick in the sales book. Don’t ever use the manipulative sales strategies frequently taught by sales trainers whose thought leadership expired decades ago.

What executives value is integrity and intelligence. You can’t fake either of those for long. Nor can you claim them: these are characteristics that are attributed to you after consistently demonstrating them. (Same for thought leadership, innovation, and charisma.)

You can develop thought leadership by following other though leaders and using them for inspiration. Start forecasting what will happen in your industry and hone your skills to identify trends that have impact on your customer’s business. Read new ideas daily and develop your talking points, keeping them fresh.

Pros Win, Bunglers Fail

Most sales professionals stumble on these points, overshadowing the excellence of their offering. I’m amazed that sales people work hard to get an executive audience yet put little effort into developing the message when they get the meeting. 

Use these ideas–and practice–so that when you speak with executives, you become CompetitionProof.

How to Leapfrog Your Competition: What You Can Learn from Apple

If you want to keep your competition out of the running, focus on leap-frogging them. This means you jump so far ahead of them that your customer has no interest in considering anyone else. That’s CompetitionProof!

A great example of this showed up this week. While teaching a sales training class, I noticed that three of the attendees were taking notes with Apple iPads and two attendees were using Apple MacBooks. A year ago, all the portable computers in the class would have been traditional laptops from HP, Lenovo (formerly IBM), or Dell with an occasional other brand.

Two of the iPad users were taking notes with a pen device and the third using a wireless keyboard. All of the Apple users spoke enthusiastically about their computers, appreciating the extensive battery life (while the other laptop users were looking for power), instant-on with no booting time, easy to use, and a bullet-proof system. None of them had Web connectivity problems because they had either brought their own cellular hot spot or had the cellular connection built in. One of the laptop users took almost five minutes to boot up and log on to the local WiFi connection. (Why do companies make it so difficult to log on to their “guest” WiFi access?)

Here’s the leap frog: while traditional laptop vendors focused on the technology–adding more speed, more memory, bigger screen size–Apple focused on how people use the technology–adding battery life, ease of use, quick Web connectivity, virtually bullet proof. (I have to buy anti-virus for my Windows machines. Not required for my Apple machines.)

Unless Apple severely stumbles, their customers are committed and wouldn’t consider another vendor. Until other laptop manufacturers can make a compelling case, Apple has the corner on this market.

But the compelling case won’t be based on technology or even price. Apple is the most expensive in the market for comparable performance and they still rule. For 100 percent of Apple’s market, price isn’t the deciding factor. For 85 percent of your market, price isn’t the deciding factor.

What I found interesting is that all of the non-Apple users were making excuses for why they hadn’t bought an Apple “yet.” Couldn’t justify it. Wanted to see what would happen with the new HP tablet and the new Blackberry Playbook tablet. Didn’t like that it wouldn’t play Adobe Flash video files. 

Meanwhile the Apple users were productive, happily living with the short comings to get the key benefits. And they are illustrating to their customers that they understand cutting edge technology.

Here’s why this is important: buyers want to do business with obviously successful sales people because they are doing something right. They are leery of underfunded, old-technology-toting sales people because they aren’t keeping up. So how can they help a customer select technology that’s going to make them competitive and profitable? If you don’t believe enough in new technology to own it, why should your customers believe in your new technology?

When you can show your customers how you leapfrog the other options, you become CompetitionProof.