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How to Shop for a Sales Consultant

Monday, October 29, 2018

So, you’re considering bringing in someone to help ramp up your team’s sales productivity. Hiring an FTE doesn’t make financial sense just yet, so you are thinking a consultant might do the trick. There are lots of them out there, so how do you go about selecting the right one? Here are a few things to consider that might make the selection process clearer…

Tap Your Network: Ask your colleagues who they’d recommend. Interview someone they rave about. This will get you started and give you a benchmark by which to measure other candidates by.

Can I Trust This Person: Obvious, right? You are going to put this person in front of your staff and so low trust = a no go. During your selection process go to coffee or lunch with the candidate. You’ll see more of the “real” them vs. in the boardroom setting and can better dial into your trust radar.

Sales Chops: Decide what expertise you need in your situation and probe to learn your candidate’s acumen. Is it in sales method [how to conduct a productive sales interaction with a buyer]? If the way this person sells to you is off-putting, stop there. You won’t like what they teach your team. Is it sales process [mapping the steps to take an opportunity from the Lead stage to closure]? Ask to see the tool set they’d install in your business. Is it Lead Generation [filling the top of the sales funnel]? Again, ask to see their models. Good looks like Intellectual Property that is formal, organized, coherent and branded – maybe even a book. Bad looks like sales tips and tactics verbally delivered, stray MS Word docs and scribbles on your white board.

Years in Business: The longer in business as an active consultant, the better. This means you are dealing with a proven entity. Beware the friend of a friend who’s been a Sales Manager for forever, is between gigs and is “doing some consulting.” Unless they’ve got a solid pedigree [taken a company exactly like yours from start up to $100M] this person may be long on tips and tactics but light on road tested and proven teachable IP.

Company or Individual: One is not better than the other. There are awesome folks in either configuration. Generally, the size of your sales team will dictate which is best. You may need a big firm to manage a roll out to your 1000 sales reps.

Fee Range: You get what you pay for, to a point. If you are quoted fees that look weirdly high, continue looking at other providers to either confirm or deny if they are just high or if their offer is superior. Low fees mean you may be dealing with someone who is new to the role and perhaps not skilled enough to help you sufficiently. Or it may be that they are not comfortable to set fees that reflect the value they bring. If this is the case, you don’t want this person training your sales team anyway. Dig deeper into their sales chops to determine which.

Experience Base: Experience in your industry is an asset but not a necessity unless you are in a crazily narrow niche business. Actual proven success in multiple industries is a clear sign that this party’s methodology and IP produce results.

Skip the School of Hard Knocks

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

You likely learned a ton about how to run your business by attending the School of Hard Knocks. You are likely [and justifiably] proud of making it through not only intact but looking pretty good! When it comes to the sales function however, skip school this time. If sales aren’t your passion, your results aren’t great, or you already have 1000 other things to focus on, bring on someone to steer the sales function for you and you’ll be ecstatic with the results. Here’s why…

You are Human – not a machine. Running a business is tough enough without piling on another departmental leadership function on top of that.

Revenue is the Life Blood of Your Company – If you are bootstrapping, Cash is King. If you are funded, revenue lengthens your runway. If your sales results aren’t great, that should be addressed.

Sales is Way Harder Than It Looks – Look at those guys and gals over their blabbing on the phone closing deals. What could be easier? Trying to optimize and implement a sales process requires a lot of bandwidth.

The Sales Cliff Sucks – If the sales wheel isn’t continually turned, funnels dry up quickly, and revenue falls off fast.

Your Options:

Your first and most obvious option is to hire a Sales Manager, or the like. This works if you a) have the money and b) are at a growth point at which this makes sense.

If you are at 2-3 sales people and revenues are trending up, then hiring this person is an investment that will likely have a great ROI. Also, hiring this person lets you work more “on” your business rather than “in” it. If, however, revenue is light at the moment it may not make financial sense to spend the dough on an FTE. The time to payback may be longer than you are willing or comfortable to wait. In this case there is another option.

That other option is to hire a consultant – just as you would for any other business function. There are sales consultancies of all stripes. Some are awesome at pumping up your team with motivational speeches. Others are great at teaching your team how to conduct highly productive sales conversations with buyers. Some work with you to optimize the steps of your sales process to increase sales velocity and deal size. On the upside whatever your need it’s likely you can get it addressed by a credible expert for far less than the cost of an FTE.  On the downside if your team needs hourly/daily leading, then a consultant by design can’t fulfill this.

If Sales is a passion for you and you have the bandwidth to tend to the team and run your business as well, by all means, keep managing the sales team. Otherwise, take action now and hand the reins to an individual who can focus squarely on the task at hand and drive your revenue results.

What to do When Your Buyer Goes Dark

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

What do you do when your buyer goes dark?

This is one of the most frequent questions I get from my coaching clients. It’s always delivered with a distinct tone that’s a mixture of frustration, exasperation, and more than a whiff of "I feel hurt."

This is totally understandable. The wooing of a client is like a dance. When your dance partner excuses themselves to freshen up and doesn’t return to the dance floor, well it stings! Of course you feel frustrated and exasperated.

Here’s the thing...wooing a client is like a dance but in reality it is a business relationship you are trying to nurture. Different rules apply. Don’t get caught up in the romance of it. Remain objective and you’ll be able to navigate the process more adeptly.

Here is how I recommend dealing with the “my buyer has gone dark” conundrum…

Don't take it personally

If you have done your best, arrived for each buyer interaction prepared and carried yourself professionally recognize that a buyer going dark simply means the time is not right for them to make a decision. They need some space. 

Be empathetic

Like you, buyers are busy people. To state the obvious, making a decision on your deal has fallen down on their list of priorities. Your sales job [never an easy one] is to elevate that decision on their list. Given this...

Get analytical

Work backwards to where your buyer went dark. Analyze what happened in the sale to that point. Are there any A-ha’s here – any obvious reason for them disengaging?

For deeper insight try doing a Pain-Gain-Value analysis. Do you have a clear picture of the buyer’s Pain points, the Gains they were trying to achieve by resolving them and the Value they wanted to realize by doing so? [for more on Pain-Gain-Value theory and how it works click here]. If there are cracks here it can often explain why they went dark. Understanding why they went dark will help with managing the deal once you get reconnected with them.

The Mechanics

Here’s how you can approach getting reconnected with your buyer:

Let's say your previously responsive buyer has gone dark. Your last email about next steps in the sale was not replied to. After waiting the appropriate number of days [based upon your communication pattern with them to this point]...

  1. Resend the email to them. This time however include a header above the original email body text that says "I'm not sure if you received message below, so I thought I would resend it. If you could please confirm your thoughts about my notes that would be greatly appreciated." Put a row of asterisks below that sentence to separate it from the body text. This is a polite way of saying "I would like a response to my email please."
  3. Wait two business days and if no response, then call your buyer. If you get them on the phone simply say “Hi. I’m calling you to follow up on my last email. Do you have time to chat, or should we schedule something in the next few days to do so?”
  5. If you get their voicemail leave a message saying "I'm just calling to follow-up with you on the last email I sent. I’m wondering how you feel about proceeding from here. If you could please reply to that email or give me a call that would be greatly appreciated."
  7. Wait 5 more business days. If you still haven’t heard back then send a final email that says "I have done my best to reach you. Unfortunately, we were unable to connect. As such, I feel in the dark about how you would like to proceed. What I will do is respectfully leave the ball in your court from here. If you would like to speak I would of course be happy to do so. Otherwise, it's been a pleasure dealing with you." You may want to follow this up with a voicemail as well. You will of course have to tweak the wording I’ve suggested based upon your own unique situation but you get the point.
  9. Move on. Tag that deal as Dormant or Follow Up in 3 Months and start working on a deal that has a higher probability of turning into money.

I have suggested this approach to my clients and they're all pleasantly surprised with the response rate the last email generates. Buyers who went dark due to busyness or other priorities respond to say “I’m so sorry for not responding...let’s proceed this way...” Buyers who went dark due to disinterest either say so, or don’t respond. Either way, you get some closure.  

Note – A Good Sales Habit

Early in the sale, say at the end of your very first meeting with a buyer asked them "what is the best way for me to communicate with you – email, phone, text?" Follow that with "I know you are extremely busy. Just to help me understand you better, what's your usual turnaround time in responding?" By virtue of having this conversation around communication & expectations you will establish that communication is important to you. By no means will this completely eliminate a buyer going dark, but it may contribute to minimizing it.

A buyer going dark can be frustrating and may leave you feeling like you did something wrong. Most likely, you did not do anything wrong at all. Your buyer is simply not ready to buy. When this happens, be clear with them that you are there for them if and when they are ready. Then, move on to another buyer who is more ready to buy.

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