Throughout much of the late 90’s and early 00’s, I had Skip Miller as a client, CEO of M3 Learning and author of Proactive Selling. He is a very energetic guy and has been highly successful with his approach to teaching people how to sell.
Skip and I always enjoyed the contrasts of our personalities. He would needle me for being too nice and gentle in my sales approach (aka “wimpy and spineless”), and I would harass him for being a hard core negotiator (aka “pushy and aggressive”). Besides the occasional times that we drove each other crazy, we learned a lot from each other.
Before working with him and really studying the art of sales, I had an almost allergic reaction to the thought of selling my services. Skip helped me see that the way I had been attracting new clients for my consulting business was indeed selling (every new client I ever had was the result of a referral from another). I had the perception that selling involved horrendous cold calls, death by PowerPoint presentations to hostile executives and underhanded, pushy tactics that would trick people into buying something they didn’t want. What can I say, I was wrong.
Of the many important things I learned from Skip, there were two primary:
- Selling is a process
- Yes’ are great, nos are great, maybes will kill you
To the first point, selling is a process, Skip outlines 5 steps in the sales process with my summary of the objectives for each.
- Step 1: Initiate. Objectives: Become familiar with your prospect at a high level. Have them get to know you and what you offer and generate interest. Figure out if it makes sense to move forward.
- Step 2: Educate. Objectives: Find out the in-depth needs and motivation of the prospect. Give them the appropriate information about your product or service to help them decide if you are a fit for their needs.
- Step 3: Qualify. Objectives: Find out if your prospect has the money, authority and motivation for buying what you are selling. This step is quite thorough, and is a bit different than just asking “So, do you have any money to pay me?”
- Step 4: Justify: Objectives: Create the business case to help justify the money the prospect will spend on you. As Skip says, “When people give you their money, they want it back!” You have to prove that you will give a good return on investment for the money they spend with you.
- Step 5: Decide. Objective: Have your prospect make a decision to move forward, yes or no. If your prospect is still fuzzy at this point, you may need to go back to another step in the process and clarify.
Get rid of your “maybes”
As a new business person, you may have all kinds of leads in your “sales funnel,” which is just the imaginary storage container you have for potential clients and customers. You may have had someone call you up and express interest in one of your services. You may have been talking to a joint venture partner about a new project. You may have met someone at a networking event. You may have lots of people on your newsletter or ezine list that you think would be interested in your services.
The danger of lumping all these prospects into one group is that you may not realize that some people in your sales funnel are not ready, not convinced, not serious or not impressed with what you have to offer. These are your maybes.
Often, these maybes are the ones that take up the most of your time and effort in the sales process as you send follow up emails, calls, visits and anything else that will try to PUSH them into doing business with you.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather walk across hot coals barefoot, without Tony Robbins coaching me how to not burn my feet, than try to hard-sell someone into closing a deal.
The way to clean the maybes out of your sales funnel is to make sure that it makes sense to move forward with each step of the sales process, and when the time is right to make sure your lead is qualified. When you get to the Qualify step, you want to be sure of things like:
- Your prospect has the money to pay for your product or service
- They have a real, burning personal or business need to make a change
- Your product or service is the right fit for their problem
- If selling to a company, they have the authority to make a decision or can influence the person who does
You shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of any prospect at any stage of the sales process that isn’t a good fit. They will appreciate that you aren’t wasting their time and you can get on with looking for prospects that are in the heart of your target market. They will also appreciate it if you refer them to an associate that would better meet their needs.
Does turning away prospective clients sound like heresy to you?
Just think of it like the popular dating book for women from a couple of years ago, He is Just Not That Into You. The author and his wife argued that women have fooled themselves for years waiting for Mr. Maybe to call or commit, when in reality, his non-committal behavior speaks for itself: he’s just not that into you.
Your prospects are the same. Many people are afraid of hurting your feelings and will let you call and email for many months even though they know they are not interested in what you are selling. I would much rather turn away a client that I know is not a good fit for me in the first phone call, rather than waste both our time in multiple follow ups.
If, by process of more aggressive weeding of your sales funnel, you find that you have no prospects, congratulations! You know you are doing something wrong in either your marketing efforts or in your offerings and you can fix it.
Getting out of maybe land will be like a splash of cold water to your face. Don’t be afraid, the truth will set you free.
I realize that I am just skimming the surface of selling techniques. If you are serious about being in business, you must learn how to sell ethically and effectively. Jill Konrath has a great blog to check out for those selling to corporations called Selling to Big Companies. I am sure you know of more resources … let me know your favorites.
I love this post. In fact a coach friend of mine asked me how I can grease the revolving door for prospects who aren’t perfect customers so I burn less time & energy on them, move them through & out (and out can be a referral to someone else as well).
You mention the question “do you have the money to pay me?” Short of asking folks what their budget is (say for a web project if you’re a web designer)? What are some other great ways to make some of these assessments you mention so you’re thorough yet not obtuse in your dealings with prospects? Would love to see an article on that 🙂
Fantastically helpful, Pamela – thanks so much.
most of what I learned about ‘selling’, I learned from my mentor, Adam Urbanski of The Marketing Mentors:
although his website looks a bit “salesy”, his approach is so refreshingly creative and exciting and smart. He is a delight to work with and he knows how to turn your head around. I honestly can say my business completely transformed from just one 5 hr session with him!
all the best,
Jessica from It’s Not About Your Stuff
Nothing worse than a burned cycle. I think it surprises people when you say no thanks, in some cases I’ve actually seen it close the deal. It gets them off the fence.