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What makes a great salesperson? The answer might surprise you...

October 05, 2015 by Andy Bounds

What makes a great salesperson? The answer might surprise you…{{}}The Sales Executive Council (SEC) has found that salespeople behave in one of five ways, depending on the situation. Here's what they found.

(As you read this, ask yourself two questions: "Which am I?" and "Which is best?")

The relationship builder

  • Gets along with everyone;
  • Builds strong advocates in organisations;
  • Is generous in giving time to others.

The reactive problem solver

  • Reliably responds to internal and external stakeholders;
  • Ensures that all problems are solved;
  • Detail-orientated.

The lone wolf

  • A bit of a maverick - follows their own instincts;
  • Self-assured;
  • Can be difficult to control.

The hard worker

  • Always willing to go the extra mile;
  • Doesn't give up easily;
  • Self-motivated;
  • Interested in feedback and development.

The challenger

  • Has a different view on the world;
  • Understands the customer's business;
  • Loves to debate, often creating "positive tension" with the customer to help arrive at the best outcome.

Those two questions again:

  1. Which are you?
  2. Which is best?

The SEC found that most salespeople were relationship builders. The idea being that the better someone likes you, the more likely they are to buy from you.

But they found that the most successful salespeople were challengers. In other words, those who provoke customer thinking.

So, whereas the relationship builder often seeks to agree with the customer to enhance the relationship; the challenger often seeks to disagree, to provoke discussion to ensure they arrive at the best solution.

The rationale here is: customers don't always know what's best for them. As Henry Ford famously said "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse".

The simplest way to ensure you challenge others is to teach them something. To make them think "Well I'd never thought of it like that". When this happens, they see you as value-adding. And they want more of it. They seek you out again. Great for them; and for you.

Copyright © 2015 Andy Bounds, communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips.

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Seven ways to improve your sales proposals

September 01, 2015 by Andy Bounds

Seven ways to improve your sales proposals{{}}Persuading people to do what you want is hard; especially if you aren't there to do it – which happens when someone has asked you to submit a written proposal.

Here are seven quick ways to make your proposals more persuasive:

  1. Agree your solution before writing it.
  2. Agree the layout before writing it.
  3. Agree the follow-up before writing it.
  4. Ensure your titles engage ("Our proposal" doesn't).
  5. Ensure your emails impress.
  6. Include a timeline.
  7. Make it easy to read.

1. Agree your solution before writing it

You are more persuasive than any piece of paper could ever be. So, don't rely on your proposal to do your selling for you. Instead, make your proposals a confirmation, not an exploration.

In other words, agree your proposed solution verbally during your meetings with your prospect. Then use your proposal to confirm with her what you've already agreed.

This is much better than using your proposal to explore possibilities you haven't discussed with her yet. (A good check: you should be able to write "as discussed" before every sentence in your proposal).

Benefits: it's more likely to work; it's much quicker to write.

2. Agree the layout before writing it

It's also important to agree with her what you'll write in the proposal. If you don't, you're guessing what she wants to read. And you'll be wrong. You'll write too much. And it'll take ages to think what to put in there. And, even then, she won't read much of it.

To bring this up in your meeting, simply say "I don't want to bore you by sending irrelevant information. So let's agree what the headings of the proposal will be".

How can she possibly refuse? She isn't going to say: "It's ok - be irrelevant".

Benefits: it's much quicker to write; she's more likely to open it instantly, because it contains exactly what she asked for.

3. Agree the follow-up before writing it

If you've ever written a proposal, you'll have experienced the Black Hole of Doom that many proposals fall into. You send it. You don't hear back. You then worry - do you chase (and maybe annoy her) or wait (and feel powerless)?

The simplest way to resolve this: agree before sending it when you'll speak afterwards. Something like "So, I'll confirm what we've agreed in a proposal for you. When shall we speak again, to discuss it?"

Benefits: you keep momentum high; no Black Hole of Doom.

4. Ensure your titles impress

Most proposal titles are dull - "Our proposal" and the like. And the section titles can also be dull – "About us", "Our experience", "Our track record"…

But titles drive everything. They're a document's first impression. So they have to draw the reader in. You know this to be true – after all, if this wasn't the case, every article in every newspaper would have the title "More news".

For the title of your proposal, include her number one priority. So, if it's to increase market share in Belgium, call it "Proposal: how we'll increase your market share in Belgium".

For the sections, think what she'll find most interesting in that section, and put that in the title.

For example, I recently helped a large IT company win a £multi-million contract with a customer that wanted to improve their competitive advantage. We changed one section's title from "Our cutting-edge IT" to "How our cutting-edge IT will transform your competitive advantage" – much more interesting to the client.

Benefits: great first impression; the prospect reads everything.

5. Ensure your emails impress

If you email your proposal, she'll have read lots of things before even looking at it. Ensure they all impress:

Covering email title: Not just "Your proposal". Instead, something like "As discussed: our proposal about increasing your market share in Belgium".

Covering email: Make it short; after all, you want her to open the proposal. But it must be well written and benefits-rich; plus remind her of the follow-up you've already agreed.

Your attachment: The attachment file name will probably be similar to your email title. This is much better than a proposal file name I saw recently – "Proposal TS000625April15".

Benefits: great first impression (plus, you don't undo all the good work you've done so far.)

6. Include a timeline

When people buy, they want certainty. So, help her visualise how things will go. Timelines work really well for this. They clearly show who is doing what, by when. And that, the sooner she agrees to go ahead, what will happen immediately. Always good for building pace.

Benefits: clarity of offering; injects pace into the process as she sees what she'll get the minute she says yes.

7. Make it easy to read

I know you think she'll print out your proposal, turn off her email, put the phone on divert, go into her favourite room with a cup of tea and devour it over many hours…
But she won't.

It will be a skim-read, where she's searching for the content she's most interested in.

So, it must be easy to read quickly:

  • Short paragraphs – four lines maximum;
  • Short sentences.
  • Short phrases/words. So turn things like "prior to the commencement of" to "before".

None of these seven approaches take more time than you currently spend on proposals. In fact, most reduce it.

So, seven ways to write better proposals… and in less time. Good for the customer; good for you.

Copyright © 2015 Andy Bounds, communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

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Why a new business meeting is like a blind date

July 03, 2014 by Andy Bounds

Why a new business meeting is like a blind date/Calendar mark with blind date{{}}Picture the scene: you’re having dinner on your own in a restaurant and the person of your dreams walks in. They come over to you. There’s good eye contact. You can feel a connection already.

Breathlessly, they whisper: “It’s great to meet you. Tell me about yourself…”

How would you respond?
Like this?

“Great to meet you too. Luckily, I’ve got this book with me (you ceremoniously whip the book from your pocket). It describes my family history in full — how many of us there are, all our names, the things that are different and interesting about us. It really is a One Stop Shop describing what’s special about us…

Hey, hold on, I haven’t finished yet…

Where are you going…?

Don’t go…

Come back!”

Devastating. Your one chance to make a first impression — totally ruined.

Do you think that’s a weird example? After all, nobody would behave like that when first meeting someone, would they?

So, why is it that some people feel it’s essential to take a brochure with them to first meetings with potential customers?

They’ve never seen you before. They don’t want to be reading stuff about you. They want a chat — one that you both find interesting and stimulating. One you both enjoy. And one that — like a first date — if things go well, leads to something much better for both of you.

Ditch the brochure

So, when you’re meeting someone for the first time, don’t take a brochure (you wouldn’t want to read theirs, so why would they want to read yours?)

Instead, prepare (in advance):

  • A list of questions to ask them, to get the conversation going and find out more about them;
  • A couple of interesting, useful things you could say about yourself (a good rule of thumb is “facts tell, stories sell. Tell stories about what you’ve done for others; don’t just list facts about what you do);
  • One or two useful bits of info/advice for them, so they get value from the meeting;
  • Your opening line, so you feel confident going into the meeting;
  • Your closing lines — suitable for two situations. If the conversation’s gone well, how you’re going to ask for Date Two. And if things aren’t going so well, how to end the meeting politely, with integrity, but without a follow-up;
  • Diarise, to follow-up with them immediately after the meeting.

Since you’ve read this far, I guess you’re finding this advice useful? So, while I’ve got you, let me just quickly show you my holiday photos…
No, don’t go…

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Posted in Sales | Tagged Sales meetings | 0 comments

Five tips on selling during the upturn

June 10, 2014 by Andy Preston

Five tips on selling during the upturn/ The road to recovery signpost{{}}It’s funny how coming out of the recession hasn’t got nearly as much media coverage as when we went into it. Right now, savvy salespeople and companies are taking advantage of the upturn. But are you fully prepared?

1. Write a sales plan

If you’re a salesperson, you need to have a written sales plan of how you’re going to exceed your sales target. If you’re a sales manager, you need to have a written sales plan. If you’re a sales director, you need to have a written sales plan. If you’re a business owner, you need to have a written sales plan. There is no excuse for not having a written sales plan.

2. Focus, focus, focus

The next step is to make sure you’re focused. Most firms have had to be more focused than ever during the recession as they have faced a drop-off in enquiries and sales leads. This forced their sales team to concentrate harder on new opportunities and focus on how they were going to get it to convert into business.

If the market is starting to pick up, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of taking those enquiries for granted — as some companies had done before the recession really hit them. If you’re starting to get lots more enquiries, your sales plan will help you focus on the best opportunities, and the ones you and your team are most likely to convert.

3. Work to your strengths

This is an important point and one that’s often missed. The important thing is to be aware of your energy levels. Back when I was a sales manager, I had one rep that truly was a morning person — jumping around at 8.30 in the morning, yet when 3pm came he was almost asleep!

We decided to play to his strengths and arranged his diary to take advantage of his energy levels. We made his new business activity (cold calls, new business appointments) in the morning, and existing client calls and paperwork in the afternoon. Month on month his sales went up 50%. Amazing.

Are you playing to the strengths of your team? Think about how to best use your resources right now and play to the strengths of your staff.

4. Block out time for prospecting

I’ve lost count of the times people have said to me, “We don’t have time for prospecting/cold calling” or “I know I should have made some calls today, but things just got in the way”.

There is no excuse for not prospecting. Sales managers continually get frustrated with salespeople who “ride the sales rollercoaster” — a good month, followed by a bad month, followed by a good month, followed by a bad month.

This is usually because the salesperson has become so busy dealing with their leads that they haven’t had time for prospecting, which means less leads the following month — and that leads to a lack of sales.

Everyone should make time for prospecting. It should be the most important thing in your day. Too many salespeople don’t prospect because it’s easier to deal with existing customers but then they complain when they miss targets the following month.

5. Get motivated

Already this year, lots of companies have asked me to come in and help motivate their sales team. Companies that want to steal a march on their competitors are looking to get better results from their teams.

Motivation is vital to your success. Many firms make the mistake of assuming that their salespeople are already motivated. Yet in my experience, most salespeople generally work between 30-50% of their potential.

If you’re a manager or a director, what steps are you taking right now to work on the motivation of your team? If you’re the salesperson, what would it take for you to feel more motivated right now? And don’t say “more money”. That’s known as commission!

Andy Preston is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a leading expert on sales. His website is at

Posted in Sales | Tagged upturn, sales, recovery | 0 comments

An entrepreneur's guide to lead generation

May 21, 2014 by Marc Duke

An entrepreneur's guide to lead generation/ Lead Generation sign{{}}Lead generation is vital for any business. I have tracked with interest the evolution of marketing automation companies and lead tracking technology providers. Lead generation software gives marketers incredible power to scale marketing to thousands and to track, nurture and ultimately convert interested followers into paying customers.

But while technology is great, when it comes to start-ups and small firms, I am concerned that lead nurturing technology actually confuses rather than helps. You don’t need a Ferrari to collect your groceries when you can walk around the corner to the supermarket or order them online.

Sales vs marketing

There is always the classic sales/marketing schism which runs like this: sales find that the leads they are provided with by marketing are no good, while marketing feel the leads were great but sales can’t close them. Entrepreneurs don’t have time for this.

I remember working with the ceo of a start-up who needed 12 trial customers within three months. I sat down with the sales director and asked how many leads they had in the pipeline. I also asked about the sales process. I then asked what key collateral was needed to help them close deals — case studies, fact sheets, press coverage, advocates. In this case, if marketing didn’t support sales then after 12 weeks neither would exist.

Meeting revenue targets

I also worked for an enterprise workflow start-up vendor and the ceo asked me to draft the business plan to help secure funding. I was delighted, as I knew that the revenue targets would shape how many leads marketing had to generate which would, in turn, flow down to a series of tactics I could deliver.

It’s not just about brand, share of voice, tone of message — it’s about leads. Yes, you need to get the other metrics right. But my experience has told me that we must be united about leads. As Bruce Springsteen puts it, “If you don’t stick together you won’t stick around”.

Once we have the leads, we need to work out which ones are really worth pursuing and which ones are time-wasters that will stall you. As entrepreneurs, we can’t confuse interest with commitment.

Ultimately, we are after customers and once you have a lead you need to know what to do with it — play or pass. The other point to remember is that going for glory — and the time, effort and resources involved in chasing the one big name account — may not be worth as much as the lower hanging fruit, the deals that are easier to close and will generate cash more quickly.

Marc Duke is a marketing consultant.

Posted in Sales | Tagged lead generation | 1 comment

Why it pays to admit you don't know

May 13, 2014 by Andy Bounds

Why it pays to admit you don't know/ 3D graphic illuminated question mark{{}}So, what’s the most useful business technique I could show you?

Well, I don’t know. It depends on all sorts of things — your personality, your skills, your priorities, your current challenges. But if I could just ask you a few quick questions, I’d be able to tell you exactly what you most want to know.

Using the words “I don’t know” in response to someone’s question can often help you. It gives you the chance to ask more questions first — ones that will show you the best way to answer their original question. It also stops you saying the wrong things or losing the power in a conversation.

Here are other situations where saying “I don’t know” could be extremely helpful:

  • When you’re asked “how much do you charge for X?”, say: “I don’t know yet. It depends what you want. Let me ask a couple of quick questions so I fully understand. I’ll then be able to tell you the exact price.”
  • When someone says “what will you cover in your document or presentation or workshop?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what you want the reader or audience to do after it. Let’s discuss that first, and I’ll then be able to answer your question.”
  • If a friend is going for a job interview, and asks “what should I focus on?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what the interviewer is most interested in. Have you asked enough questions to find that out yet?”
  • When pitching for work, and a colleague asks you “what are our best selling points here?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends on what the prospect will find most valuable. And, to establish that, we’re going to have to ask them more questions.”
  • One of the questions people often ask me is: “’I’m going to an important meeting. Should I use PowerPoint or not?” My answer always is “I don’t know. It depends what you’re looking to achieve, and what your colleagues want. Have you asked them yet?”

Take charge of the conversation

All these examples help you regain control of the conversation. After all, if you answer their question before you have enough information, you’ll be guessing. And guessing increases the chance of your answer being too long or irrelevant.

This is especially important for people who sell. The instant you give your price before discussing your value, people think you’re too expensive. They’re already thinking, “can you reduce it?”.

A price doesn’t make sense on its own. Here’s a question for you: “Is £10,000 expensive?” It’s impossible to say, isn’t it? It depends what it’s for. It’s cheap for a Bentley; but exorbitant for a sandwich. So you first have to discuss what they’re buying, and establish the value they perceive is in it. And the only way to do this is? Ask them what they perceive as valuable.

Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Posted in Sales | 1 comment

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