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Productive selling – Manage your time and make more sales (coming soon!)


I’ve spent the last few months working behind closed doors on an online training course : Productive Selling – Manage Your Time and Make More Sales and thought it was about time that I told you about it!

When I began sales consulting and blogging on the subject it occurred to me that for people who sell there are only two ways under your control to win more sales and increase your income. The first is to improve your selling skills – something that I suggest you strive to do and have blogged on at length. The second is to use your precious time more effectively.

Selling is unusual in that typically your income is highly dependent on performance. It’s also by nature a competitive activity. If you lose a sale by a margin of 1% you get zero (0), not 99% of the revenue that you had hoped for. Yet to make those sales you are faced with unique challenges including interruptions that you can’t ignore, lack of routine, often no fixed office, travel and dealing with the unpredictability of people.


This is why I’ve developed Productive Selling – Manage Your Time and Make More Sales. The course is in the final stages of production and will be released on Udemy very soon. To register your interest please click one of the links above and I’ll let you know when it’s available including an exclusive offer for those who’ve pre-registered. The course is intended for sales pros, small business owners and entrepreneurs.

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Why do sales people make things so hard for themselves?

heBuying is a great way to learn about selling. Some years ago I worked with an organisation and several of their members became interested in using a particular product. Because I knew about these products they asked me to contact the vendor to arrange a meeting and negotiate a group deal. So I contacted the vendor’s CEO who confirmed that they would be delighted to meet up and arrange a group deal. Their VP Sales was cc’ed on this response and I was told he’d be in touch.

Over a month later I hadn’t heard a thing. Frankly if I’d been buying the product for my own company I would have gone elsewhere. But my client’s members were still interested so I persevered, a meeting was arranged, a deal agreed and business was done. But this was despite their sales guy’s poor follow up on multiple occasions.

The VP Sales was charming and knowledgeable face-to-face and in some ways this might be the root of the problem. Many sales people are charming and knowledgeable and love the face-to-face aspect of their job so much that they lose track of the dull, boring stuff such as following up on actions agreed. But you have to remember that people might buy from you the first time because they like you, but they’ll only buy again if they trust you. And by trust I don’t mean honesty, 99.9% of us are honest, I mean trust in the sense of knowing that what you say, you’ll do.

If you find it difficult to follow up promptly on your meetings, it’s up to you to improve your time management skills and effectiveness.


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Judge me by my questions

We all know that asking questions, particularly open questions is a key sales behaviour. We also know some of the reasons for this. The primary one being that you need to understand your customers issues, situation, problems, goals, priorities, hopes and aspirations before you can begin helping them through your product or service.

That's a very good question

But there is another very important reason why questions are so important. The 18th century philosopher Voltaire captured it when he said “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” Any fool can stand up and parrot a Powerpoint presentation. But when you ask that hit-the-nail-on-the-head quality question that stops your customer in their tracks and makes them think; that is when you show that you really do understand the issues they face. You often know when this has happened because they tell you! ”Hmmmm… that’s a very good question”.

As with all things in sales and life in general the ability to do this is part inspiration (which comes from experience) and part persperation (preperation). When you research your customer before the meeting (I’m sure you do that) you should be able to put together two or three questions really specific to them and/or their market.

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Sales goals – Q1 review

It should look like that!

You will recall that in late last year we looked at setting goals for the next 12 months. Well it may have escaped your notice but it’s getting to the end of Q1, so how are you doing? With a couple of weeks to go, now is about the right time to start worrying if you’re not there yet. So to help you along the way here are a few short term and longer term ideas to help you achieve your quarterly target.


  • Don’t panic. It won’t help and customers, like dogs, can smell fear. If they know you’re desperate and it’s end-of-quarter, expect some “take it or leave it (until Q2)” low-ball offers.
  • If you need to chase someone up to try and get an order placed, now is the time to do it. If you leave it until the last week of the quarter sure as eggs is eggs the one person you need will be on vacation.
  • Take a systematic look at your Q1 numbers, particularly if you are coming up short. What can you sensibly try to pull in from Q2?
  • If it looks like you are going to miss your numbers through something beyond your control (e.g. customer went bust) now is the time to try and negotiate something with your boss on your Q1 quota. When the numbers are in it’s too late.


  • Now is the time to start setting your goals for Q2, although you may need to fine-tune them based on Q1 achievements. All too many companies wait until the dust has settled on one quarter before setting goals for the next. If you’re not careful those goals aren’t finalised until you’re midway through the quarter.
  • Take the time to review goals for you and your team for the whole of 2010.
    • Are they unrealistic?
    • Has anything critical changed?
    • Are they too easy?
    • Do I need to re-deploy my resources based on Q1 performance and markets?
    • Do I need to re-prioritise my customer list?
    • Should I reset my goals for the rest of the year?
    • Is there anybody in my team struggling? Do they need extra coaching or help?

Good luck with the end-of-quarter, I hope you hit your goals and have healthy bonuses to spend in Q2!

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Prospecting by email: Does the early bird catch the worm?

when to send your prospecting emailIf you’re prospecting by email a key question is: what time of day you should send your mail? Like any hunter you need to put yourself in the shoes of your prey to be successful (think wildebeest and waterholes). That means understanding the email habits of your prospects. Intuition suggests that most people check their email first thing in the morning (bad idea!), at lunchtime and at the end of the day. If like me you are a inbox zero person you perhaps think that it doesn’t matter what time the prospecting email arrives, because all emails in the inbox will be reviewed and dealt with. But inbox zero people are few and far between.

In my experience most people operate the “infinite inbox” system. Actually that’s an insult to the word “system”. They let stuff pile up in their inbox, occasionally filing the odd email that they think they may need again. When they check their email they do a cursory scan of the inbox, only opening stuff that looks like it might be important, for instance from their boss. What this means is that emails from people that they don’t know, even with the most eye-catching subject line simply won’t get opened. When they next check their email a few more will have landed and the earlier ones will have scrolled off the page into email oblivion (kind of like your Twitter timeline).

For this reason it’s imperative to send your prospecting emails at the right time. Ideally you want it to land as they process their email, or slightly beforehand and when they have time to read it. Research from Pure360 suggests that actually the best time is between 5 and 6pm in your target timezone. You can either do this manually or use a tool such as Boomerang for Gmail or Outlook to schedule your mail. So remember, in prospecting, as in life, timing is everything.

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Eye contact may not be such a great way to persuade (Psychology Today)

Eye contact and selling

Is more eye contact the answer?

David DiSalvo recently wrote in Psychology Today about the latest research on the role of eye contact in persuasion. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it appears that in some circumstances too much direct eye contact can be detrimental to getting your point across.

From a sales perspective, this makes sense to me. If you have a relationship with the customer you will automatically tend to have more eye contact. If you don’t know them very well, or they are raising an objection then using too much eye contact can be interpreted as “staring them down”. One thing that I’m certain about is that avoiding eye contact never comes across well.

How and when you look someone in the eyes is such an innate thing that it’s quite difficult to deconstruct what you’re doing (the researchers in the quoted study used the latest eye-tracking technology). Also the sales dynamic should be qualitatively different from that in the study where participants are passively watching a speaker.  In sales we’re aiming for an active conversation with a customer not to just talk at them. So who is talking, who’s listening, who’s taking notes, who’s thinking, who’s presenting at any particular time will all affect eye contact.

In fact this scientific research seems to reinforce the old adage “telling isn’t selling”. Have a read of David’s piece (the first couple of paras are below) and let me know what you think?

Few popular beliefs are as unshakable as, “If you want to influence someone, always make direct eye contact.” But new research suggests that this bit of sturdy pop lore is hardly gospel—in fact, in many circumstances a direct gaze may result in the exact opposite effect.

Researchers from Harvard, the University of British Columbia and the University of Freiberg used newly developed eye-tracking technology to test the claim during two experiments. In the first, they had study participants watch a speaker on video while tracking their eye movements, and then asked how persuaded they were by the speaker. Researchers found that the more time participants spent looking into the speaker’s eyes, the less persuaded they were by the speaker’s argument. The only time looking into the speaker’s eyes correlated with being influenced was when the participants already agreed with the speaker’s opinions.

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Whiteboard every time

whiteboard presentingGeeky types (of which I am one) often debate the pros and cons of software tools. No more so than when it comes to presentation software. Powerpoint is so omnipresent that the word is now almost interchangeable with “presentation” e.g. “She came in and gave a Powerpoint”. However younger, more creative and frankly better-looking folks trumpet the benefits of Keynote when it comes to winning that advertising account. Meantime at the bleeding edge those in the know may use Prezi with its hypnotic, swirling transformations.

Despite my geeky tendencies I suggest that the best tool for sales presentations is a good old fashioned whiteboard. Let me explain why.

Should you be presenting at all?

As we are often reminded, we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that ratio. Our most important goal is to understand the needs of the customer so that we can figure out if/how we can help them. Too often I’ve seen sales and marketing people arrive, exchange pleasantries and then launch with relish into an hour long Powerpoint presentation on how great their company is. Telling isn’t selling.

But I’ve got to tell them something at some point!

Sure you do. At some point the customer will ask you about your company and products. The whole idea is to have a two-way conversation with them, so you can’t keep asking questions forever. It’s not the Spanish Inquisition! But you don’t have to do this as a major presentation. You can tell them the relevant facts about your company and products face-to-face and leave them with the collateral material to back that up.

So where does the whiteboard come in?

The whiteboard is excellent to help test your understanding of the customer’s problem/opportunity and how you can help them. If you start sketching this out on the whiteboard the customer will immediately start correcting you, filling in the gaps and giving you feedback. When you start drawing in how your product can help the effect is more immediate, obvious and relevant. It’s not unusual for a customer to grab a marker and join you… suddenly you’re working together!

Why else?

  • It’s spontaneous and enthusiastic so breaks up and enlivens what might
    otherwise be a dull meeting
  • Once you stand up and grab the marker you are in charge!
  • It’s reliable. As long as there’s ink in the pens (keep one in your bag) a whiteboard can’t crash! We’ve all suffered from computer woes when presenting like this unfortunate TED presenter.
  • There are no distracting special effects. Prezi is a very cool tool, but I often wonder if people are concentrating on the zooming and whirling effects rather than the message.
  • You get to show your competence and understanding of their requirements. Any fool can read from a ppt slide

So it may not be right for every situation, but next time you get the chance leap to your feet and start “talking and chalking”.

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Always customize your LinkedIn connection requests

Who am I linking in to?

Who am I linking in to?

I think we all agree that LinkedIn is a invaluable business tool. However, recently I’ve had several requests to link in from people who I have never met and their invitation is the default LinkedIn connection request. There is zero chance that I will accept these invitations; I’m not against accepting invitations from people I haven’t met, but if they can’t even be bothered to write a couple of sentences then why should I?

So take some advice from someone who uses LinkedIn professionally, every day, to connect to people and win business for clients. I suggest you never, ever send a connection request without customizing it. If it’s someone you know well then out of common courtesy you ought to ask how they are and greet them. If it’s somebody you met in a meeting or at an event recently then you should thank them for the meeting, tell them it was a pleasure to meet them and ask to connect. If you want to connect to someone you’ve never met then at least explain who you are, what you have in common and why you want to connect to them.

Start by introducing yourself briefly (because the person can see your detailed profile on LinkedIn) and explain what you have in common, for instance:

  • You went to the same college
  • You worked for the same company
  • You met and did some business at some point in the past
  • You have some contacts in common
  • You’re members of the same LinkedIn group
  • You’re working on the same type of business, in the same market, etc
  • You admire what they’re doing

And then say why you want to connect. Be honest. Your product may be a great fit for their company, or it might be useful to kick some ideas around, or it would be good to “compare notes”. You don’t need to go to town on this because most people want to grow their networks and are willing to link in if you genuinely have something in common.

And here’s my final tip. Once someone accepts your connection request use the relationship tab in their profile to complete the “How you met” section. You might not need to contact them again for two years, and at that point you may have completely forgotten how and why you connected and what on Earth you had in common!

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Why warm-calling via email is the way ahead

I recently came across this great infographic provided by my friends at Unifyo. It goes a long way to explaining why cold calling by phone is no longer successful and why warm calling by email is the way to go. Check out the infographic and then I’ll tell you more…

No More Cold Calls

by lewisspearman.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


Why prospect using email?

The fact is that prospects don’t want to be contacted by phone and are very resistant to buying when approached this way. Also modern comms technology means that it’s easy for people to hide behind voicemail, checking out caller IDs or just letting everything go to voicemail and then deciding whether to respond.

According to Unifyo’s research prospects claim they would far rather (77% vs. 2%) be contacted by email. The astute amongst you will be thinking that sending strangers emails is a far from certain way of winning business! So the issue is how we can successfully prospect using email?

Measure twice, cut once

If you’re going to prospect for B2B customers by email then your mails must be personalised. By this I mean it has to be specific to that person and company not just a merged email starting “Dear f_name”. You need to do some research to find the right companies, the right contacts and background on them. I’ve written on this before if you want to find out how.

Warm calling

Having done this I always start the email with “the hook” which is something linking me to that person and/or that company. There’s a pecking order in terms of the hook…
1. You know the person personally.
2. You have a contact in common.
3. You have a personal link to the person. e.g. you went to the same college.
4. If all else fails manufacture a link! E.g. You read in the press about their latest announcement (from the News section of their site) and felt moved to write.

email content

  • Subject: Eye catching, compelling and specific to them.
  • The hook: above…
  • The body: Brief and to the point summary of what you do and why it’s beneficial to companies like theirs. If you’ve done your research properly what you do/offer should be of interest to this person.
  • The call to action: Short, simple and specific. A good one is to ask for a brief conference call at a specific time/date.
  • The “get out of jail free” clause: Words to the effect “If this isn’t of use to you please let me know. I don’t want to waste your time”. It’s professional and better to get a “no” now than waste your time chasing them 10 times.

It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings

It’s not unusual to have a very low response rate to your first email. I get a far better response rate to the polite reminder that I send them a couple of weeks later. How long you’re willing to chase someone is up to you, but I give it 2 reminders and assume if they haven’t responded by then it’s unlikely they ever will.

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Seven tips to help you set next year’s sales goals

Achieving next year's sales goals

Achieving next year’s sales goals


It’s Q4 (where did the time go?) and whether you’re self-employed, a small business owner or a sales pro now is the time to be setting your sales goals for next year. Most customers are goal and budget setting as well, so it’s is an excellent time to sit down and set targets for the coming year. Here are some goal setting tips for you…

1. Top Down. If you have objectives set by your management they should, of course, be in there. If you have larger personal or life goals they should also feed into your 2010 sales goals.

2. SMART. Make your goals SMART ones…

  • S = Specific. What, why, and how?
  • M = Measurable. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it
  • A = Attainable. You probably won’t really commit to a goal that’s out of reach. Too easy and you won’t get that sense of achievement when you get there.
  • R = Realistic. Is it something that is under your control? If not it’s a hope not a goal.
  • T = Timely. Set a timeframe. Include milestones along the way… don’t just set a year-end goal.

3. Make your goals tangible. What will it feel like to achieve those goals? Imagine what you will buy with the commission, what will you do on your President’s Club trip, how will it feel when you get presented with the Sales Person of the Year award at the next annual sales meeting? Use all of your senses here… imagine what that champagne will taste like!

4. Include professional goals as well as sales targets. What job do you want to be doing this time next year? Do you want to move to another company? Do you want to set up on your own as a rep? What new skills do you want to attain in the next year?

5. Learn from your mistakes. Take the opportunity to look back on the last year. What did you do well, what could you have improved upon and how? What will you do differently this year?

6. Reward yourself along the way. Regardless of what your company’s reward policy might be, give yourself some treats along the way for goals/milestones achieved.

7. Keep the number of goals manageable. Nobody was ever one-sixteenth committed to anything. Better to have two really crunchy, very specific, achievable goals than sixteen flaky goals including how often you should back-up your PC.

Good luck and good selling for the next year.

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