A football game isn’t won on the field. A game is won in the days, weeks, and even months leading up to the 60 minute of actual playing time.
The game is won by the preparation is team does watching film, memorizing plays, hitting the gym, and eating properly. Preparation is key!
Just ask the all-time greats of any sport. Jerry Rice started training for the next football season the day after a season ended. Michael Jordan was the first person on the court and the last one off. Every minute Wayne Gretzky wasn’t playing hockey, he was watching and studying it.
Sales is no different.
If you want to be the best in sales, you have to become a better salesperson off the phone, away from your email, and disconnected from LinkedIn.
Here are the top five things that the most successful salespeople do to prepare themselves for success before they ever contact a prospect.
- They’re prepared for anything – especially the negative circumstances
- They’re genuinely interested in their prospects
- They check their ego at the door
- They master the art of managing expectations
- They have done their research
Let’s dive in and explore each.
1. They’re Prepared for Anything – Especially Negative Circumstances
If you expect positive results, you must be prepared for anything and everything thrown at you – especially rejections, questions and objections.
To do that, you must think of every negative circumstance, and then thoughtfully and carefully construct a way to handle them in advance. Examine every potential weakness in your product and position, then craft effective responses. A mentor of mine, Dan Kennedy, calls this “the positive power of negative preparation.”
Preparation not only includes objections, but it also includes questions about your competition. You need to know your competition and their product as well as your own so can you articulately and intelligently answer questions that arise. If you don’t know about your competition, the only option for your prospect is to visit their site and talk to them (and you definitely don’t want that).
That is how you easily lose control of the sale.
Here are four steps for using the positive power of negative preparation:
- Make a list of every question, concern or objection that your prospect might come up with. List of everything that could go wrong.
- Develop clear, logical, and persuasive responses to every possible question, concern and objection.
- Think of how you can get ahead of these negative circumstances if possible, by using stories and anecdotes, case studies and testimonials, statistics and facts, demonstrations, etc.
- Have your information, ideas, and documentation well organized so you can reference the appropriate notes and materials at a moments notice.
For more on preparing for the negative, check out the book The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking by Julie Norem.
2. They’re Genuinely Interested In Their Prospects
As salespeople, we all know the importance of asking questions. However, we get this instinctual drive to tell prospects how we can help solve their problem as soon as the opportunity arises.
It’s vitally important that you DO NOT pitch your product or service and go in for the close at your earliest chance. (click to tweet)
Asking the right questions makes a good sales rep successful. Remember, this is not sneaky salesmanship– it’s simply understanding needs before speaking. By doing this, you’re more efficiently moving buyers through a progression from unmet and implied need into fully developed, explicit need taps directly into the psychology of human buying behavior.
The only way this happens is if you, the sales rep, focus on listening to your prospect and being genuinely interested in uncovering problems. Let them help you make the sale! Research by Sales Benchmark Index shows that a sale done without needs discovery is 73% less likely to close successfully.
Why Salespeople Suck at Listening
There are many reasons the average sales reps doesn’t listen:
- They’re preoccupied with other thoughts
These thoughts range from “What do I say next?” or “How can I overcome that objection?” to “Where should I go for my afternoon coffee?” However, the sales pro learns to turn off all other thoughts and center his or her attention on the prospect.
- They’re tired
Salespeople wear the “I don’t need sleep” badge with honor. I’ll be honest – when I was closing a deal from my corner office in New York, I was guilty of this too. However, only with time and experience I learned that the lack of sleep impeded my ability to sell. Selling isn’t easy. It takes a lot of physical and mental energy. Why put yourself at a handicap by running on coffee and fumes? If you’re tired, you’re concentration dwindles, memory wanes and patience declines.
- They’re impatient
Speed doesn’t always mean efficiency. In fact, speed often leads to inefficiency. Doubling back to fix errors costs you more time than if you have taken the time and are to do it right in the first place. This is especially true in sales. There’s no way to speed up listening. You have to let the sale come to you.
- They’re don’t realize their prospect’s need to be heard
Some buyers just need to be heard, even in B2B situations. You’d be surprised how far the simple act of listening can go. There are few things more flattering than having someone’s complete attention on you.
What Are You Listening For?
The proverb “seek first to understand” goes a long way in selling. Don’t listen just to be polite. Don’t listen just to “build rapport.’ Don’t listen as a persuasion tactic. Listen with the intent of understanding and gaining vital information.
To accomplish this, you have to be genuinely interested in helping your prospect.
So what are you listening for?
- What problem keeps your prospect up at night?
- What does your prospect fear she will lose?
- How is this problem affecting other areas of his/her life or business?
- What other implications does that have on your prospect?
- What does your prospect think the solution is?
- What does your prospect wish the solution is?
- How would his/her life change if the problem were solved?
- What would fixing the problem allow him/her to do?
Here’s how you can be a better listener.
- Clear your space. Before you take your next call, clear not only your physical space, but also clear your mind. Dr. Maxwell Matlz calls this Clearing the Calculator. Before you move on to the next math equation, you need to hit the “clear” button.
- Get on the same team. Understand that you and your prospect are seeking the same result. You both want to solve the prospect’s problem, and in order to do that effectively, you have to work together.
- Give feedback. Active listening means nodding, leaning in, and acknowledging and reaffirming your prospect’s needs.
- Take notes. There’s debate about whether notes should be handwritten or typed. When you annotate freehand, a deeper level of processing occurs, which leads to a deeper understanding of the situation.
For more on becoming a better listener, check out The Art of Listening by Erich Fromm.
3. They check their ego at the door
The media portrays salespeople as egomaniacs with slick-backed hair and a “do whatever it takes to close the deal” mentality. While there’s always some truth to stereotypes, the biggest exceptions to the rule generally lie at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
Ego plays a huge role in top sales reps’ success, but not how you’d think.
In most sales situations, ego can (and does) hurt you more than help you. Here’s what I mean:
The sales rep with a large ego can easily mistake refusal with rejection. When you make this mistake, it’s all too easy to take it personally. The worst part is that far more people will say no than say yes.
So, how can you fix this?
You must learn to not internalize rejection. Dr. Maxwell Matlz teaches us that “you are not your failures” in his book Psycho Cybernetics. Exerting power over your emotions is a useful skill in business and in life.
At the Sales Kickoff Summit 2016, Gary Vaynerchuk put it well: “When you are about the other person more than you care about hitting your quota, when you make that shift, you go into the jedi-ness of becoming a salesperson.” (click to tweet)
Here are the four steps for handling “no” like a pro:
- Exert Control over the Situation. Determine that you are in control and can (and will) get positive results even when faced with rejection. Perception is reality.
- Let Go of Your Ego. Believe it or not, it’s not always about you. The prospect is not saying no to you, she is saying no to the product.
- “No” Does Not Always Mean “No”. Don’t confuse rejection with refusal. “No” could mean “not now.” Following up appropriately and offering true value often leads to a “yes” in the end. This doesn’t mean badgering prospects, rather, it’s taking time to understand the prospect’s needs better in the context of your solutions.
- Learn. Every situation can be a learning opportunity. Once you adopt this perspective, then you can move on, conquer your ego, and become stronger. Failure only comes when you fail to learn from your experiences.
For more on getting past “No,” read 5 Most Common Reasons People Say No & How To Get To Yes.
4. They Master the Art of Managing Expectations
You must go into each call with clear expectations. By setting clear expectations and outcomes for the call ahead of time, you’re much more likely to achieve your desired result. This sounds simple enough, but you would be amazed at how many people go into a call in reactive mode, answering questions, overcoming objections and trying to put out fires?
In complex B2B sales, 99% of the calls you make won’t result in a sale. There are many things that have to happen, often in a specific sequence, before a deal closes. Do you know what these things are? Do you know where you’re at in the process with each prospect?
Every call must be intentional. “Just checking in” is not intentional. You must make sure every call is an intentional step that will get you closer to a “yes” or “no.” No the second best answer. (click to tweet) There’s a subtle but important distinction between continuing the conversation and advancing the conversation.
Here are five rules for managing expectations:
- Seek to understand what has come before
Expectations are based on past experiences. Ask questions like “what solution are you currently using?” and “How have you and your team made decisions like this in the past?”
- Don’t assume everyone knows what will happen next
After every call, recap what the call was about and set very clear expectations of what will happen next (and when). Make sure you provide your prospect with any and all supplies necessary to follow through.
- Anticipate your prospect’s needs before they even know
This takes time and practice, but when mastered can be one of the biggest game-changers in your sales career. The best way to stay ahead is to listen to your call recordings, take notes and begin to draw connections. A conversation becomes a well-choreographed dance, as you fluidly guide the prospect exactly where you want and sweep her off her feet.
- Communicate constantly and clearly
Though you don’t want to overwhelm your prospect with information, it’s better to give the customer too much than not enough. Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. If this happens just once, it can kill a deal.
- Under-promise and over-deliver
You’ll never have a client complain that you’ve done too much to help them succeed.
For more on managing expectations, check out the book Managing Expectations by Naomi Karten.
5. They Have Done Their Research
If you’ve been following the PersistIQ blog, this topic has come up a few times before, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see it again here. You’d think it’s pretty straightforward, but how many times have you been pitched to where the rep on the other ends hasn’t done any research on you beforehand? Probably more than you can count.
Now, think: how many calls have you made as a rep, where you didn’t do the necessary preparation beforehand?
Don’t worry, it happens. There are many legitimate reasons for being underprepared, but for every reason, there is a solution. Here are three of the most common reason that reps don’t do their research.
- Your last call ran long and you had to rush to the next one
This always leaves you unprepared, but there’s an easy fix. Refer back to point #4: manage expectations. The solution is setting expectations at the beginning of every call. It can be as simple opening with “Thanks for taking the time today. I have 30 minutes booked for us, so let’s dive in.” Then, when you’re coming up on time, say “I know we only have 5 minutes left, and I want to be respectful of your time. So, as we wrap up, I think our next steps are…”
There are few skills more vital to selling than the ability to effectively manage your prospect’s expectations (click to tweet).
- You’re counting on your memory from your last call
Newsflash: your memory is unreliable! Do you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? How can you expect to remember all the details of the last call with a prospect? Make it a standard practice to take meticulous note and review those note before a follow-up call. Better yet, go the extra step and do some additional research on them. Which leads to…
- You’ve assumed nothing new has changed since your last call
You’d be surprised how much can change in just a few days between calls. Always take a few minutes to do extra research on the company and contact before a new call. You may be able to find a new point to connect with the contact on, or you may be able to gain new insights that will help you sell.
This is where technology can come in handy. You can leverage tools like CharlieApp, Owler, Mention.com, Lead411 and Newsle to keep tabs on your accounts and contacts without having to do more manual research.
There are many other reasons why sales research falls short, but each excuse is as worthless as the next. If you want to be one of the top quota-carrying reps for your company, you cannot miss this easily-overlooked step.
For more one the important role that research plays in modern selling role, read Rethinking the R is SDR.
It’s worth saying again: a game isn’t won on the playing field. Your success is determined by what you do with every minute leading up to the big dance. If you want to reach the next level in your sales career, it’s imperative that you spend more time preparing. It’s foolish to say that it’s about working smarter, not hard. If you really want to win, you have to work harder AND smarter.
So, before you have your next call, remember to leave your ego at the door. Take a genuine curiosity in your prospects. Prepare for any and every situation. Learn to manage expectations. And do your research.
Stay tuned for more of the latest in outbound sales best practices and methods.
This post was brought to you by PersistIQ. Our software empowers salespeople to easily convert prospects into a qualified pipeline and create personalized outbound campaigns at scale. See how PersistIQ can help you make your own sales efforts more effective today.