Friday 5th October marked one year since the death of Steve Jobs, but his legacy as an entrepreneur lives on. In particular, there are important sales lessons that we can learn from Steve Jobs.
In particular I admired his ability to release new products that people didn’t even realise they needed until he released them! At which point they became must-buys for a lot of people — and that’s coming from the owner of an iPod, iPhone, Macbook Pro and iPad 2.
So what sales lessons can we learn from him?
1. Don’t be afraid of being different
Steve Jobs was never afraid to stand out from the crowd and to pursue things that other people thought were stupid. Until he did them and the people stood back and applauded. In a sales context, what aren’t you doing right now because other people think it’s stupid?
2. Love what you do
One of Steve’s favourite sayings was “love what you do”. My question to you is “do you love what you do?” The answer for most salespeople, and most people in general, is “yes, when things are going well”. I’ve always said that in my opinion, sales can be the best job in the world when things are going well…. And the worst job in the world when things are going badly! So for those of you that don’t currently love what you do, you need a more compelling reason for doing what you do.
3. Turn your TV off!
I remember Steve saying: “We think you watch television to switch your brain OFF, and work on your computer when you want to turn your brain ON”. I’ve always loved that saying. When I ask most salespeople “how much time do you spend on trying to improve your sales or your sales career against how much time do you spend watching TV?” guess which one is normally most popular? Most salespeople I meet rarely work on their sales career outside of work and even inside of work they rarely work on improving it — they just end up doing it.
4. Create a buying experience
Steve Jobs and Apple were fantastic at creating a “buying experience” every time you bought one of their products. Anyone who has bought from Apple will confirm this! Whether it’s an iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac or anything else in their product line, if you’ve bought one you’ll know that it’s a bit different from the usual buying experience.
An Apple store experience is just that — an experience. The majority of people on the shop floor know exactly how to answer your query, or find someone who does in a minute. Does that have any impact on how many people buy more products from Apple? Of course it does!
5. Don’t fear failure
The majority of people I speak to, at some point, have to deal with failure. So therefore most people also have to deal with a fear of failure. Something that happens in advance of an event that they think will mean failure for them. So one of the things that I do when I work with an individual or sales team is to look at what failures they’re afraid of. Number one on this list is usually cold calling, or in some cases, any kind of sales calls at all! How many of you or your team are putting off calling a prospect that could be a really good source of income for you, because you feel like you’re not ready?
Selling has changed over the years although much remains as it always was. Many of the attitudes of a successful salesperson have remained consistent but to be successful, salespeople also need new types of behaviour, skill sets and knowledge.
A useful model is BASK (Behaviour, Attitude, Skills and Knowledge)— getting all four right is essential for successful selling. Attitudes tend to be constant within a person. And while we can choose our behaviours, they naturally align with attitudes. Meanwhile, both skills and knowledge can be learned.
There has been a big shift in recent times. Our customers are more discerning and knowledgeable than ever. Sometimes they may have picked up the wrong information, or only have partial knowledge but it’s our job to use our knowledge and sensitivity so the customer doesn’t feel they have it wrong.
Don’t be pushy
We know that customers go through a buying process, no matter what they are purchasing. Salespeople have to guide customers rather than “push product” at them. Our approach needs to reflect that buying process rather than solely focus on a sales process. A successful sales process is structured and yet flexible and it helps the customer through their buying process.
It’s all about finding “congruence” — the point where the offering meets the customer’s needs and aspirations and the salesperson and the buyer are agreed on a course of action. And that is when the sale is made.
Understanding the personality of the customer is a vital part of the process. Some customers may find a particular approach patronising or even annoying.
Being congruent is not about imitating the customer, but it is about making our approach more acceptable to them and engaging with them more readily. Some may call this rapport — although we believe true rapport takes longer to form — but at its simplest, it is about establishing a connection with the customer.
There is no doubt that in a web-enabled digital age, the role of a salesperson has to change. Quite simply, in most markets, prospects now have more access to choice and information than ever before. This has altered the way buyers access choice and make decisions. Simple logic would, therefore, dictate that sellers have to react and alter their own behaviour.
Below are three questions every salesperson should be asking themselves today:
1. Where do I add value?
Quite simply, salespeople used to provide value by turning up. In a world where there was limited access to information, seeing a few sales reps was an efficient way for a customer to find out what was going on in a particular marketplace. This is no longer the case. Today, customer perception is that they can find out most of the information they require online. Therefore, salespeople have to define where they provide value in a face-to-face meeting. Regurgitating information that is already widely available, is not enough. Today, salespeople need to provide “insight”. That is, a perspective and understanding of which the prospect was previously unaware. This means that salespeople now have to be real experts in their field.
2. Do I understand the context of the purchase?
In a world where the customer is empowered, they have often undertaken much of their own research before they even speak to a salesperson. This means that salespeople are often seeing prospects a lot later in the buying cycle. In this scenario, it is imperative that the salesperson understands the context in which the purchase is being made. No-one ever wakes up in the morning and decides they want a new software system, training provider or photocopier. Understanding the events that are driving the interest in the purchase is vital.
3. How do I create a sales experience?
The web has provided everyone today with a voice. If they choose, people can post comments and views on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others and be read by an audience of which they could only have dreamed, a few years ago. People have become empowered and more active. For example, nearly all of the biggest shows on British TV today allow the audience to decide the outcome. People no longer want to be passive recipients. Now, they want to be involved in the process. In this context, just going through a boring sales presentation will not capture the imagination of a customer. Today, salespeople need to get the customer involved in the process. In other words, they must provide an experience.
These are just some of the new paradigms that salespeople have to deal with today. It is the best salespeople who will consider these type of questions and outperform others who are still trying to make the “old models” work in a world that has moved on.
You can read more about improving your sales in our dedicated sales strategy section.
Receiving good referrals from your business contacts is a great way to bring in new business. The prospective customer is more comfortable with the possible transaction as you have been recommended to them and a lot of the initial hard work of engaging dialogue is removed. Referrals are good news all round but how do you get more of them?
Here are my top three tips on how to make the most of potential referrals.
Nobody enjoys sounding confused or not being able to answer questions. If they don’t know how to articulate what it is that you do they won’t be able to refer you, so make sure your proposition is simple and that they have the tools to be able to refer you effectively. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent group of non-execs involved in a business a few years back, they were very well-connected but never brought any referrals into meetings. I challenged them on this and after much discussion it became clear that the company proposition was too cumbersome for them to articulate easily when they met potential referrals. I refined it, they brought referrals.
It is essential that if someone takes the time to give you a referral that you follow it up properly. Basic courtesy dictates that even if you feel that the referral is a waste of time it is important that you at the very least email/ call the referred party. You may be wrong, you really never know what potential business is behind the referral until you speak with the prospect. I received a referral a couple of years ago that seemed very random and a total waste but once I spoke to the company it transpired that they were looking to launch something new and that was what they wished to speak about, it was a great piece of business. You just never know until you make the call, so make the call.
This may sound like the most obvious tip of them all but it just doesn’t happen often enough. Whether the referral results in business or not you need to make the effort to thank the person that make the intro. In a recent exercise, a client of mine found that he had received over 50 referrals over a three-year period but not one had referred more than once, a stat which surprised us both. We went back six months and thanked them all, with an email update on what had happened with the referrals, sending an email plus a couple of bottles of wine to the ones which had led to business. From those 14, eight have since referred again. Not only is it the right thing to do, but thanking your referrers actually generates more business!
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
Qualifying a prospect is probably one of the most important elements of selling if you are a small business. The time you can save by not trying to sell to prospects who ultimately never would have bought anyhow is invaluable, as well as the mental advantage that can be gained by being able to focus only on the right prospects.
The eight key stages that should be followed can be remembered easily using the term SCOTSMAN.
(S) Solution — Have you clarified if your prospect understands what it is that you wish to sell them. What is your solution and why will it work for them?
(C) Competition — Have you an awareness of whether there is anyone competing with you to sell to your prospect or for the money they may use to buy from you? Your competition could be internal as well as external.
(O) Objective — Have you a clear understanding on what your client is looking for, what are they in the market for? What is important to them now and in the future? Do you improve their services or processes, or do you save them money?
(T) Timescales — Have you clarified what timescale the prospect is working to? Can you deliver within that timescale? Does the timescale work for you? Is there a timing factor that could be used in your favour, for example a financial year end?
(S) Size — Is the potential size of the deal worth the effort going to be needed to win the business? Have you a clear picture on what size the deal will be? Is it smaller than ideal but could open doors? Is it too big and may have a detrimental impact on your business?
(M) Money — Does the prospect have the money in their budget to pay for your solution? If they don’t have a budget, can they find the money or do you need to consider walking away?
(A) Authority — Are you speaking to the decision maker? The person who ultimately will sign the cheque? Are they even aware that you are speaking to their company? It is no longer imperative to deal with just the decision maker, there is a value in dealing with another contact within the business but very few pieces of business are completed without the main authority signing off on it.
(N) Need — Does the prospect actually need your solution? Very few deals happen in the current climate without a clear need. There are many reasons why they may need your solution and it is key that you find out which one is relevant and focus on it.
If you can answer all of the questions in a positive manner, then your chances of closing the deal are significantly higher than if you can’t. Very few deals will actually happen if one or more of these eight key stages are missing, and the time you may waste on chasing shadows is valuable.
It can be easy to get sucked into thinking that every deal will happen, and there is also a sort of comfort that some small businesses value in having a large pipeline that “could” close but I would encourage you to qualify properly and allow yourself to focus only the deals that have a chance. You are better off closing three out of five good prospects than two out of ten prospects as your focus was stretched thin.
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
All business owners get busy — it comes with the territory and we all have to make choices on what we prioritise and what we don’t. Human nature tends to encourage us to prioritise the tasks that we like or are stronger at, and this, more often than not, does not include selling.
To achieve sustainable growth and drive a business forward it is essential that we have a consistent approach to sales. How do we ensure that we continue to sell effectively during the periods when we are flat out and crazy busy?
When we are busy it is vital that we don’t waste time chasing shadows or lost causes and the best way to achieve this is by qualifying targets properly and only chasing the targets that could close.
There is a real value in meeting potential clients face to face and I am a huge fan of ensuring that the personal touch is always given precedent over email and phone but we have to be careful we don’t over do it. When you factor in prep, travel and the actual face to face time, meetings cut heavily into your diary. Pause and think — do you really need to attend a meeting to move the deal forward? Would a call be more appropriate? Does the meeting even need an hour?
Networking is an essential part of the majority of small business sales strategies. It is important and it needs to be done properly, but plan it. Work out how much time you can designate to networking and work a plan around that. If you can only attend one group, attend it properly and make sure you get value from it. Don’t try and attend a lot of groups sporadically, it won’t work. You need continuity to get benefit from any networking and if not done right, it is just time wasted.
If we have properly set targets and work towards them, it becomes a lot easier to focus our selling and avoid wasting time on the wrong activities. Too often small businesses either don’t have targets or don’t work towards them effectively and this can result in a lot of wasted time. If you know you are close to achieving a target or you are miles away it helps you make the right decisions on which meetings to take and what other activity you need to make time for.
No matter how busy we get we cannot afford to let activity levels drop to zero! It is a lot easier to keep activity going than it is to restart it. Too many businesses only sell when they have very little or no business at all and then they find it difficult. No matter how busy you get, your selling must keep ticking over. Identify your key targets and work on them, whether you choose 40 or 200, it is up to you, make a call on the number and get to work on them.
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.