Our proactive approach to landing large accounts gives us the opportunity to engage a broad spectrum of people and companies whose businesses are poised for big sales and explosive growth.Having helped produce $8 billion in sales for his clients, Tom Searcy has earned his reputation as a nationally recognized author, speaker, and expert in large account sales.
At some point, we all say dumb things. It is natural and human, but for all our communication abilities, salespeople can say the darnedest things!
I have compiled some classic ones below, but hope that you will add to the list with your own. Think of this as the list of things to never say if you are a salesperson.
“It could be huge!”
We have used this four-word exclamation in almost every seminar we have ever given. However, when a salesperson says it, they’re asking for the owner to either berate them for exaggeration, or pepper them with questions. A salesperson knows that both of these reactions are painful, and yet can’t help but say it anyway.
“It could be the next . . .!”
Like the previous statement, this statement comes jam-packed with assumptions and pixie dust. Of course, the worst of it is that the salesperson thinks that the last really big deal that was brought in looked just like this one. Now, he/she is not only subject to the wrath and ire of the boss, but also to that of all of his/her co-workers, since they’re going to have clean up the mess that “the next” creates.
“This is going to be fairly easy … We only have to do a couple things different than usual.”
Whenever the salesperson starts talking about how easy someone else’s work is going to be, she has lost the audience. It is never as easy as they think, because they don’t have to do the work.
“We have the inside track on this one.”
I know that I shouldn’t be superstitious, but I’ve found that the minute you taunt the world by declaring how good you are, or how something is definite when it isn’t, you invite trouble. Trouble usually comes in the form of the unexpected, the unanticipated, and the unstoppable. Don’t brag to the sales gods.
“Now . . . this is full commission, right?”
Any salesperson dumb enough to ask this question already knows that the answer is most likely “no.” Salespeople that worry that they won’t receive full commission are either cutting a deal that doesn’t deserve it, or working for firms that have a history of not paying.
As a lifelong salesperson, I am certain that I’ve said all of these things before. This, of course, is why they are so familiar. What assumptive phrases have you heard
before from either your own mouth, or a salesperson you know?
A number of my clients are in the process of interviewing candidates for large account selling. To help them find the best candidates, we go through an exercise at the beginning of the process to define and rank the qualities and skills that we want the ideal person to have.
Here is a list of those qualities I look for in Superstar Salespeople through the interview process:
Get to the Top--The best start at the top rather than work their way up. In large account sales knowing how to get to the top of the executive chain, to those who make the real decisions of size and strategy when selecting vendors and partners, will be necessary.
Speak Senior Exec–“You get sent to whom you sound like” is a truth that shows up in action for most people in sales. The best salespeople can speak all of the languages of the members of the buying group, but most importantly, they can speak to the senior executive with confidence and relevance.
Translate–Complexity is the enemy of speed in the sales process. Superstars know this and work well in translating what appears to be complex into simple and relevant explanations.
Facilitate–Complex sales require a variety of people from your organization and the buyer’s to communicate, document, exchange information, and stay on task. A great salesperson keeps an eye on the details as if he or she was a Project Manager, ensuring progress and that nothing gets missed.
Create–Big sales are rarely large volume purchases of off-the-shelf products or solutions. Rather, they typically have some unique challenges included. The great salespeople have the creativity to design a solution that meets both their own company’s and their buyer’s needs
Move on–Superstars are persistent, but they can move on when they realize a deal is just not achievable. A clear ability to determine when it is time to move past a prospect that cannot or will not change from their current provider or approach is necessary in order to achieve all of the goals for the year.
The expectation is that questions and metrics are included in the interview process that give these qualities a thorough evaluation against attitudes, evaluation scores, and past experiences. Most average salespeople can anticipate what answer you want to hear. You have to design your interview to reveal the Superstars.
In Daniel Pink’s important book, “Drive,” he convincingly shows that pay-for-performance is inversely related to complexity. Simply put, the longer and more complex a desired outcome is to achieve, the less pay-for-performance matters. A strong example is in the world of large sales. Large account sales require more time. If you want to keep sales people motivated in these longer and larger sales, you need to provide more compensation in salary.
There are also additional people- not just salespeople, but your whole team. To land a big deal, you’ve got to load up your team with people of all skill sets (subject matter experts who can speak the client’s language), because one person (a sales guy) out there on his own is not going to cut it. How do you keep those people engaged as well? If they’re not seeing their efforts translate into money in a meaningful way (commissions, profit-sharing, bonus, etc), they’ll too be distracted by the not-so-shiny-objects of their every day job.
How to Take Action
1. Pay more for big sales — and spread it around
The sales representative is not the only person involved in the hunt. The fact is, after the initial interest is generated, the internal subject matter expert team does a lot of the heavy lifting.
2. Put a trophy-bonus on the wall
Make it specific and personal. At one point in my career, I had a competitor for which I had a personal distaste. I wrote up on the wall that competitor’s top 10 clients and told my team, “I will pay a 20% premium on commissions for every deal we land from this list in the next 6 months.” We got 3 and it tasted sweet.
3. Cut out the money on little deals
You can’t get people focused on bigger targets if they get similar ratios of money for smaller deals. Cut little deal commission in half. This is about changing behaviors and time investment.
Is there a misalignment between your company’s sales strategy and your business strategy? Perhaps you are driving toward significant growth, but your sales force is chasing small accounts that will never result in enough revenue for your company to achieve your goals. Or, maybe your sales team is focusing their efforts on landing large accounts when your business strategy is to grow by diversifying your client base with multiple smaller accounts. Either way, a misalignment between your sales strategy and business strategy results in lost growth opportunities for your organization.
See the article I wrote for Chief Executive on how to examine what sales strategy your sales force is currently following and determine the one you should be following.
“Is your Sales Strategy Properly Aligned with Your Business Strategy?”
Strategy 1: Get Super-Efficient at Transactions
Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their purchasing transactions without talking to a human. Therefore, if your business strategy relies on your sales force targeting numerous, small accounts, your sales strategy should drive your sales force to become the most efficient and effective transaction processor it can be. This can be accomplished by improving transaction efficiency. This is typically done online, through a portal, a store, or an inside salesperson. Through this process, your company is valued not for the salesperson’s knowledge, but for how quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively you can provide value.
In the past, sales managers provided oversight, facilitated requests back to corporate to ensure that orders were expedited, and generally stayed out of the way, unless additional support was needed to help underperformers. Today, it is now up to you as a sales manager to view territories, customers and products as if assessing a financial portfolio that you are responsible for investing. The people involved, the marketing dollars spent and the efforts expended are all for you to decide. It is your responsibility to make your investments wisely.
See the article I wrote for Sales and Marketing Management on the seven responsibilities that sales manages must own. You may find that you need to adjust the way you have been executing your sales manager responsibilities.
“7 Responsibilities Sales Managers Must Own”
Shifts in the business-to-business buying process have transformed selling as we know it. In the past, salespeople had a fair amount of control. They were given a territory, a pricing structure, a margin target and a set of products and services they could offer, and then sent off into the wild blue yonder. They were responsible for managing their territory and producing results. Sales management provided oversight, facilitated requests back to corporate to ensure that orders were expedited, and generally stayed out of the way, unless additional support was needed to help underperformers. That’s how things used to be. Now, the role of sellers – and therefore sales managers – is much different.
Most of us who were trained in sales since the 1970’s were taught the principles of “consultative selling.” However, the consultative selling skills of listening, relationship building, product knowledge, and implementation of incremental recommendations are no longer sufficient for reaching executive-level buyers.
Below is an article I wrote for Middle Market Executive on why middle market companies need to ditch consultative selling. Perhaps you will decide that your company needs to ditch consultative selling as well
“Ditch Consultative Selling If You Want to Reach Executive Decision Makers”
The conspiracy to keep sales people away from executive decision-makers by trapping them in purchasing processes conducted by non-executive gatekeepers is real. You are not imagining it. Organizations continue to seek efficiency through automating and regulating the buying process, which is code for “kicking sales people out of the picture.” This is evident in the trend of companies standardizing the buying process to the point that a spreadsheet or technology often replaces the need for a sales consultant. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their purchasing transactions without talking to a human.
Like the rest of the world, watching the Olympic games in RIO captivated me. You can’t help but be amazed by the effort, determination, and lifelong pursuit of the athletes who have worked so hard to perfect their talents, craft, and sport. I especially enjoy watching the segments that highlight an athlete and give you a glimpse into their lives and the stories behind “The Athlete.” It always amazes me that the majority of athletes come from the simplest and humblest of circumstances, and how much work and dedication have gone into their life quest to be the best at their sport.
For most, that quest began at a very young age, from then through to the present, they have had one focus, one purpose, to be the best.
Another aspect of the Olympics that stands out for me and touches a very special place in my heart are the coaches, the men and women you always see standing in the background. These individuals represent, in most cases, a lifelong partnership in the athlete’s pursuit to compete in the Olympics. They are not the ones you will see standing on the podium when a medal is won, nor the ones who receive the accolades and recognition, and they are not the ones who receive the endorsements or acknowledgment from the world for what has been accomplished.
Yet none of the athletes would have made it without the coaches who have been by their side throughout their journey.
Olympics aside, when you take a deeper look into the individuals or team within any sport, or for that matter any career, those who are at the top of their game are most likely there because of the efforts of amazing coaches and mentors they have had along the way. In the world of sales, as a career, this also holds true. While sales can sometimes be categorized as more of an “individual’s game” the reality is even the best have been, at some time in their career, coached and mentored by someone willing to pass on the skills and lessons of the craft. If any of us are to achieve our maximum potential, we will all need to seek out great mentors and coaches. Great mentors and coaches can benefit all aspects of our lives, whether it is a sport, career or even personal endeavors. It’s what can push us further beyond what we ourselves think possible!
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” ~Vince Lombardi
The Value of the Ride Along
Over the years I have seen one of the most valued opportunities for providing mentoring and coaching slowly slipping away from common practice at a lot of companies. Admit it – as sales professionals, when was the last time you had your sales manager take the time to actually go with you on ride alongs? And if they did, was it just to fulfill the obligation or did they really leverage the opportunity to be a great mentor or coach… at the Olympic level or any level for that matter? When was the last time you actually pursued this opportunity to reach out to them and asked them to spend the time with you? Think back to my example of the Olympics, do great coaches search out the athletes or do the athlete’s search out great coaches who can take them to the next level? Regardless of where you are in your sales career, you can always benefit from great coaches and mentors. In most professional sports, it is often when the athlete is at the top of their game that they are receiving the most coaching and mentoring. Why should it be any different for us? Isn’t income reflected in direct proportion to success? Far too often in a sales career, those at the top feel they don’t need any coaching, or someone telling them anything new. Why is that?
The Mechanics of a successful Ride Along
The Ride Along creates the perfect opportunity for observation and learning, coaching and mentoring. The mechanics or steps to a successful Ride Along are simple, yet often left more to chance than followed with a level of discipline or precision. Again, think about practicing for an Olympic event, is anything left to chance? Of course not, it is all practiced with purposeful intent. Here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your next Ride Along. This list below will benefit both the Sales Manager and Sales Rep. The first two steps are preparatory for the actual Ride Along.
• Due Diligence and Pre-Meeting Prep – Make sure that both you and your manager are prepped and ready for the meeting. Take time to review the client, past history (if applicable), current situation, changes within the business environment that are motivating the visit, problem(s) you are wanting to help solve, the stated purpose of the meeting, individuals you are meeting with (titles, motives, emotional attachment to the problem, risk to them if your solution succeeds or fails), probing questions unique to each meeting participant and their role in the problem(s) you are discussing, who’s going to ask what questions of whom, specific outcomes and takeaways for the meeting both for you and the customer, material and collateral that will be used during the meeting, logical follow up and next steps.
• Role-play and Practice Session – How many athletes just show up without first practicing the routine? Why should it be any different for us? Take the time to role-play and practice through the meeting, asking each other questions and discussing the potential customer’s answers and objections. Doing this will allow both of you to think through how best to “frame” both the question and your answers. If this is going to be a larger meeting attended by others within your team make sure you include them in the role-play so you can help them know the part they are intended to play, and what questions they are intended to answer, and how you will help to direct or orchestrate the meeting. With each additional individual, you add to the meeting, the importance of role-playing exponentially increases. The role-play and practice session creates the perfect coaching and mentoring platform.
• Day of Meeting, Actual Ride Along – Assuming that all of the prep above has been done, the actual Ride Along provides a perfect opportunity to observe the “Live Performance” first hand. If you do not already have one I suggest creating (and carrying with you) a Ride Along observation sheet consisting of all the areas that you would like to see demonstrated during the actual meeting. Prep, as noted above, would most certainly be included as the first steps on the Ride Along Feedback Sheet. I have seen these forms be extremely basic or very detailed. Greater detail affords the ability to provide more specific feedback and sometimes initiates a deeper discussion, leading to a coaching and mentoring opportunity within a specific area. As tenure and skill set to increase, so does the depth of specificity in demonstrated skill level. Again, think back to how an Olympic athlete would break down each individual step in their routine and work to perfect that specific step. Refinement of the key steps in a meeting allows the meeting to flow more efficiently/effectively driving toward the desired outcomes.
• The After Meeting Review, “The time for Feedback and Learning” – The after meeting review provides the perfect opportunity for learning and improvement. It’s when both the coach (mentor) and sale rep (student) can spend some valued time reviewing the Ride Along form and breakdown/evaluate each progressive step of the meeting. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate the prep work and role-play. Did we effectively do our due diligence? How did the meeting flow in relation to our role-play? Did we have the right information, assumptions, questions, answers, materials, players identified (ours and theirs)? Was the alignment of SME’s to their technical experts properly aligned – our proper team members to theirs? Did we effectively cover the proposed agenda, the purpose of the meeting, discussion topics, takeaways, and outcomes? How did we perform? How did our team players perform? What did we do right? What could we improve upon?
Sale managers, just think how quickly skill sets would improve if you followed this type of process. Sales reps just think how much you could learn and improve if your sales manager spent this type of quality time helping you perfect your craft! How would it benefit you financially?
Sale Managers, if you want to improve your team and their performance, get out and establish a routine with quality Ride Alongs. Sales Reps, if you want to continue improving and perfecting your craft, get your sale managers to come Ride Along with you. How can you be an effective coach if you don’t spend your time with the athlete in the gym? Ride Alongs are the single most effective way to transfer knowledge and improve performance.
Including a SME (subject matter expert) in your sales process is a very smart move. The SME has additional expertise and can often explain ideas with more depth and clarity than you can. The SME can help interpret your prospect’s business challenges and concern. You can often enable your expert to talk directly to the prospect’s expert in their own language.
Because a SME can relieve prospect fears and confirm client purchase decisions, they add to your credibility and are a valuable resource, if you prepare and use them correctly.
Tip #1. Give your SME context and a goal.
Preparing the SME is the salesperson’s responsibility. Don’t just hop in the car and assume they know what you need. A SME is an expert – but not in sales! – she needs to understand the players on the prospect’s side of the table and the role you want her to play. Explain the personalities and opinions, not just the org chart. For example, if you are hoping use your CFO to convert a resistant VP of Finance, make sure you provide context and the VP’s past objections. Most importantly, explain what “success” looks like for the SME, e.g., “If you can help Linda decide to sign off on the pilot program, that’s a win.”
Tip #2. Set guardrails for interaction with the prospect.
Sometimes a SME gets so excited to be part of a sales process that they talk a little too much or even try to negotiate the sale. Make sure your SME knows when and how to interact. For example, overtly explain how you will invite him to participate in the conversation during the sales call. (e.g., “Bob, can you speak to that question?”). Some salespeople use a subtle hand gesture or keyword to let the SME know when they need expert support. Or let him know it’s OK to jump in at any time, if that’s appropriate. One of the best ways to help your SME understand their role is to rehearse and role play ahead of time.
Tip #3. Listen to SME concerns.
Speaking of rehearsal, your SMEs may raise objections to sales pitch language. The SME may spot esoteric details that don’t really impact the sale (“The case study says we used the X4RT2 component, but it was the X4RS3.”). Or he may point out potentially damaging claims that should be corrected (“Your slide says 25% improvement but it was 21.7%”). You can get frustrated with their objections, or you can use them to your advantage to tighten your pitch. If a SME is uncomfortable with your “sales spin” that is usually a sign your prospect (or their experts) might be as well. Use the SME as your canary in a coal mine, and learn from their reactions and concerns.
Tip #4. Never trap your SME.
When you bring an expert with you, it’s a bad idea to place the SME in a position where she has to contradict you in front of the prospect. You may have heard the sales advice: Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer. That is especially true with SMEs. Subject matter experts are more interested in being accurate than in closing the sale. Don’t assume they will follow allow with your pitch improve on topics you haven’t discussed in advance.
Including SMEs in your sales process can often allow you to reach further and higher inside your prospect’s company. SMEs are valuable resources, but always remember it is your responsibility to prepare them and apply their expertise where you need it.
Tom recently had the pleasure of doing a podcast with Will Barron from Salesman.red discussing his book How To Close A Deal Like Warren Buffett. Check out the recent podcast episode and note the rules are pretty simple and they tie in directly with success in sales –
1) Only Deal With Dealmakers
This is sales 101 but it can sometimes be tough to get in front of the decision maker. Don’t back down from getting those meetings as it speeds up the sales process considerably.
2) Go Big
Why close a bunch of small deals that require just as much energy each to close that big one?
3) When You’re Going To Eat An Elephant, Don’t Nibble
You can add massive value by simply respecting a prospects time. Don’t faff around, jump in with your offer when negotiating and take the deal off the table.
4) Victory Favours The Ready
One of the easiest medical device deals I ever closed (£230,000+) happened in the space of 2 hours over 3 phone calls.
The hospital had money they needed to spend before the end of the month and I was the quickest sales person to respond to a group email that went out to suppliers.
Have you got processes in place to enable you to move quickly?
5) The Last Step Is Always Slippery
The deal isn’t done until the money is in the companies account. “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong” so plan ahead.
Athletic events are often won or lost before the teams take the field.
Major customers are often won or lost before you even talk to them.
The reason? Information. Let’s discuss knowing your customer.
In my previous article I talked about customers, dating and marriage. Transformational Accounts (TAs)(10-20 times the size of your current average customer or 5-10% of your divisional revenue) are marriages. You get to decide whom you marry, and you can know in advance the quality of the marriage. Choose wisely (and selfishly) was the message. Your choices are deeply dependent on the accuracy of your information. Your instincts are not up to the task. I promise.
So how well do you know your prospective customer?
You can promise to put more sweat into selling than your competitors, but you’ll make a lot better decisions and make a lot more profit if you out hustle your competitors on the research side. And your research guide is your PROSPECT SCREEN. Everything you consider crucial in a TA needs to be posed as a question in your PROSPECT SCREEN so you can research it.
We tend to quit researching way too easily. The good news is so, do our competitors.
Tom Searcy often said to me when we were developing my business “Do you think it or do you know it”. It toughened my resolve.
Succeeding in research starts with a belief that you CAN know it. I challenge my clients and I am often met with “I just don’t know how we’d ever find that information”. And so they don’t, if they give in to that (often understandable) posture. But I don’t quit on the challenge. Most of the time we find a way. We get the information.
Tom wanted me to know total revenues for each of the 75,000 North American HVAC contractors in my database. Guess what? They are the only ones who know, and they won’t tell me that number. What are you going to do? First, continue to believe there is a way to find what you need. I live by the notion that if it isn’t impossible then there must be a way. I love to find it. I can call any HVAC contractor and they will proudly tell me how many service trucks they have. I know that to keep two workers and a truck viable you have to do $250,000 annual revenue. You can’t be profitable on less and you can’t really produce too much more. If the contractor tells me they have 12 trucks I know he has a $3 million dollar business. We updated the number of trucks into our database every time we contacted them.
Company websites will tell you where they have facilities. Online searches can answer so many questions (but verify). Counting the cars in a parking lot of a factory can tell you how many employees are there. And your Executive Sponsors need for you to have all the right information in order to serve their company well.
It all starts with taking on the challenge: I will make better decisions with KNOWING the information I seek on my Prospect Screen, and I’m not giving in until I get it. I am going to out work my competitors by learning more about my prospective customers.
Be ready to ask your organization “Do you know it or do you think it?” Provide a safe environment where they can say, “well, actually I just think it”. Then lead them and encourage them to get creative. Let them know they can KNOW it.