Each week as Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts on my weekly Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This is excerpted from my #SmallBizChat interview with Jill Konrath @JillKonrath. Jill is defined by her relentless search for fresh sales strategies that actually work in today’s business environment. She’s the author of two bestselling sales books Selling to Big Companies and Snap Selling and is a popular speaker who helps sellers crack into new accounts, speed up their sales cycles and win more business. Check out her website at http://www.jillkonrath.com
SmallBizlady: What are the characteristics of successful sellers?
Jill Konrath: The best sellers that I encounter have these qualities:
- Learners: They’re curious about learning new things. They read and ask lots of questions. They never get stale.
- Thinkers: They analyze what they know about a prospect’s situation, plan out the best way to approach customers, pull together long-term strategies, and change things when they uncover new information.
- Customer-Focused: They know that they’ll be successful if they can help their customers achieve their goals and objectives. This also means they work to acquire business savvy.
- Resilient: When they encounter problems, they don’t fold. Instead, they treat them as challenges that they haven’t figured out yet.
SmallBizlady: Are salespeople born or made?
Jill Konrath: Many people are under the mistaken belief that salespeople are born, not made. I wholeheartedly disagree — and I speak from personal experience. I’m an introvert who initially detested salespeople and their manipulative techniques.
- Plus, people who make that claim do NOT understand what it takes to be successful at sales. They think it’s about being pushy, having the gift of gab and being able to handle tons of rejection. It’s not.
- The best sellers I know are smart, savvy people who have committed themselves to learning what it takes to be successful in this profession. It’s a challenging job, but it is something that can be learned — as long as you don’t define your mistakes as ‘failures.”
SmallBizlady: Why are customers so much more “frazzled” these days?
Jill Konrath: Public companies are obsessed with maximizing shareholder value and quarterly earnings. They will do anything to keep costs down. Lean-and-mean is the name of the game. To remain competitive, private companies do the same things.
Their employees are simply expected to do more, with fewer resources and in less time. Is it any wonder that they’re burnt out and overwhelmed. I recently read that 78% of the workforce would gladly switch jobs if an opportunity arouse.
The bad economy has contributed to the problem. But, even if it recovers, companies will not go back to staffing up. People are working at a breakneck speed and expected to keep it up if they want a job.
Finally, there’s just so information and new stuff out there. People are bombarded with emails, advertising, data, statistics, reports, ebooks, manuals, webinars, seminars, new technology. It’s endless. You can never learn enough.
SmallBizlady: What is “SNAP Selling”?
Jill Konrath: SNAP is an acronym that stands for 4 key sales success strategies that sellers need to use today. Briefly, they are:
- Rule 1: Keep It Simple. Because crazy-busy prospects cannot handle complexity of any sort, savvy sellers will do whatever it takes to make it easy for make a change from the status quo.
- Rule 2: Be invaluable. Overwhelmed buyers want to work with experts who continually bring them fresh ideas. You, the seller, are now the primary differentiator — not your products or services.
- Rule 3: Always Align. This is all about relevance and risk. When you’re aligned with their critical business objectives and core beliefs, people will want to work with you.
- Rule 4: Raise Priorities. It’s an absolute imperative to work with frazzled prospects on their priority projects. With their limited capacity, that’s all they can currently focus on.
In my book SNAP Selling, I focus on numerous strategies that sellers can use to implement these new rules. Being aware of them is simply not enough. And, most people aren’t even aware of how they’re adding to the complexity or that they sound just like every other salesperson when they approach new prospects.
SmallBizlady: What common mistakes are sellers making that hurt their efforts to close more business?
Jill Konrath: Sellers who still think that sales is a numbers game are dead wrong. Quality trumps quantity all the time. If you’re making a bunch of irrelevant calls and sound like a product-pushing peddler or a gracious, helpful seller, you’ll never get in–no matter how many call you make.
Today’s seller is a savvy businessperson who spends time thinking and strategizing before taking action. They invest significant time planning for meetings.
Another huge mistake is giving up too soon. Most sellers will trying to reach a prospect after five attempts. Today it’s taking 8-10 contacts for mid-level managers and up to 14 contacts to reach an executive. They’re simply too busy to respond and they feel it’s the sellers job to keep reaching out to them.
SmallBizlady: Can you share an example of how a sales effort can become more valuable to customers?
Jill Konrath: Absolutely. Value can be deliveredthrough conversations, emails with links to solid resources, webinars, seminars, presentations, white papers, and ebooks. Sellers just need to realize that people want help running their business, not to be told why one product is better than the other. Here are numerous examples of what prospects might find to be “valuable.” They like ideas, insights and information on:
- Industry trends — theirs or yours
- What their competitors are doing
- Key issues they’re facing
- How other companies are addressing these issues
- What it takes to cost-justify a decision
- Changes in their customer base
- What questions they should be asking
- Comparing the various options
- How to reach an important business objective.
- Getting buy-in from others in the decision process
- Impact of new legislation
- Ways to improve their operation
As you can see, these are business related topics. You don’t find this info on brochures.
Just Think: How can you HELP your prospects improve their business? Then whatever you come across that could be of benefit to your contacts — pass it on!
SmallBizlady: We are all inundated with information now. How do you avoid becoming part of the noise?
Jill Konrath: The first thing to do is define noise. From my perspective, it’s “stuff” that doesn’t contribute to helping me get my work done. With that in mind, I’d suggest that you:
- Practice ruthless relevance. By this, I mean that every contact with your prospect must be focused on a critical business issue, a challenge they’re facing, an objective they’d like to achieve. And, if you can send info on something that is a high priority today, then you’ve really got a winner. (Rule #3: Always Align; Rule #4: Raise Priorities) And here’s the kicker: Your product or service offering is NOT relevant. So don’t send anything on that.
- Think small & parcel info out. Our natural tendency as a seller is to give people all sorts of good info upfront — so they really know how great we are. Unfortunately, that has exactly they opposite affect we’re hoping for. Short emails are better than long ones. Send the message over multiple contacts. Only attach one PDF, not three. Only send one link, not five. Only have one purpose per email, not six. (Rule #1: Keep it Simple)
Hopefully you get the picture. It’s very tied in with the SNAP Rules. And, by providing this good information, you also practice Rule #2: Be Invaluable.
SmallBizlady: Why do you think sales people should “Kiss your Powerpoints goodbye”?
Jill Konrath: PowerPoint is not the enemy. We are. Over the past decade, sellers have come to rely on these massive decks to tell their story. I’ve seen people with 60-80 slides for just one meeting.
First of all, the slides are all wrong from a SNAP perspective. They’re all about the company, it’s history, locations, mission and products. And, they go into excruciating detail on these topics.
Sellers turn into drones as they cover all these points. And, buyer’s eyes immediately glaze over. They either get bored to tears, get critical of what they’re seeing or pull out their BlackBerry. No good comes from these endless, monotonous presentations.
So, I say get rid of them. We need to engage people in lively discussions, bring up challenging issues, address unanswered questions, and provide leadership regarding the next steps. The conversation is key. PowerPoints kill conversations.
SmallBizlady: It can be really tough to locate a decision maker’s name? How do you do it?
Jill Konrath: If you’re calling a bigger company, you need to focus in on which business unit or division you want to get into. This is the due diligence at the front end that’s necessary. Once you know that, you can begin your search in earnest.
You can do Advanced Google searches: “Vice President, Sales” “General Mills” “food service” to identify possible decision makers. You can also do the same thing on LinkedIn, with a current job search parameter.
To find contact information, you might want to use some of the excellent and low cost resources out there: Jigsaw, ZoomInfo, Netprospex are just a few that come to mind. From these databases, you can extract email addresses and contact information.
Finally, you can pick up the phone, ask to be transferred to the functional unit (marketing, customer service, legal, manufacturing) within the division. Then just ask for help, saying that you’re trying to reach the person who is responsible for the business issue you address.
SmallBizlady: How can you speed up the decision making process without being obnoxious?
Jill Konrath: Here’s some good news for you! Any obnoxious, pushy behavior actually sets you back so you don’t want to do that at all. I don’t believe in closing early and closing often. It simply creates barricades to your success.
I always tell sellers that if they really want to speed up their sales, they need to slow down. It’s one of my Paradoxical Sales Principles. Here are some things you can do.
- Focus on their business issues and objectives. I know I’ve said that a lot, but you don’t have to make a gazillion calls if you’re talking to prospects about what’s important to them.
- Leverage trigger events. Identify factors the create opportunities for your business (e.g., new markets, relocations, new laws, expansions, mergers) and pursue those companies. They make decisions faster.
- Eliminate complexity. Many decisions are simply so overwhelming that people decide that it’s easier to stay the same.
- Show them how to make a decision. If they don’t deal with product/service decisions like yours very often, they need guidance.
- Always suggest the logical next step. Before you leave, make sure your next meeting is on the calendar.
SmallBizlady: How can social media be used in the sales process?
Jill Konrath: For business-to-business (B2B) sales, I think LinkedIn is the best resource. There are so many ways you can use it. I love it for researching prospects and finding names. Also, since prospects check you out online, it’s a great tool to showcase your own expertise via your description, recommendations, answers and more.
My customers and my customer’s customers are spending minimal time on Facebook or Twitter. I’m experimenting with both of them because that’s my job, but I wouldn’t invest a ton of time and effort in this area.
Also, I like blogging and YouTube because both of these mediums can be used to attract targeted prospects. I think all small businesses should embrace these because they’re inexpensive, they showcase expertise and that have a huge magnifier effect.
SmallBizlady: Lots of experts recommend that sellers really focus on developing their qualifying and closing skills. What’s your opinion of that?
Jill Konrath: I have a different perspective. I believe in pursuing targeted prospects who already have a high propensity of doing business with you. By focusing upfront, you naturally eliminate many less qualified prospects.
But I also don’t believe in only pursuing people who are ready to buy now — which may be less than 10% of the prospects you contact. There are a whole slew of businesses that aren’t satisfied with their status quo. If they understood how much it costs them or how it negatively impacts their ability to achieve their objectives, they’d switch.
Sellers who bring them ideas, insights and information related to the business value of making a change can transform non-lookers into buyers in very short order. Plus, they’re seen as invaluable resources — which means they don’t have to fight the battles of commoditization.
Finally, I’ve always believed in leveraging trigger events to get create fresh opportunities out of thin air. Sellers who use this strategy are able to close more profitable deals in much shorter timeframes and with minimal/no competition.
My selling approach is focused on creating opportunities, not just finding ready-to-buy now prospects.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.