Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Voicemail Paradox

How many times have you called a prospect or suspect and leave a voicemail? Better yet, how many times do you get a call back from that voicemail? It can be the most frustrating part of the day for any business development rep, calling and leaving voicemail after voicemail after voicemail. Never getting to hear their own phone ring because not a single person is calling them back.

Leaving effective voice mails is both an art and a science, much like selling itself. It is a skill that can be mastered, and there are a number of rules that need to be followed.

Less is More

Have you ever received a voicemail that went on and on? Did you listen to the whole message? Most people have an attention span of under 45 seconds when it comes to voice messages so I coach sales people to stay under 30 seconds. The catch is you need to say something that will interest the prospect enough to call you back, in as few words as possible. Leaving an entire 3 minute elevator pitch or value proposition will not get you a call back.

Regardless of your product and target market you can craft a creative and compelling short voicemail. Doing A/B testing is always a good idea. For some an ultra short vague first voicemail works best:

"Hi John, it's Paul. Sorry I missed you, I can be reached at 202-555-1212." 

Others require a bit more detail:
"Good morning Sandra. This is Anita at ABC Company. We provide specialized sales training that will increase the number of qualified appointments your sales teams make every week. We believe in our program so much we will guarantee the results. Call me at 202-555-1234 to learn how this program can increase your sales!"
Try a couple versions and track results to determine which will work best in your industry.

No Filler Words

This is one that drives me crazy. Listening to voice mails full of "ums" and "ahs" and "ers". If you are going to call a prospect you should know exactly what you want to say to them or their voicemail when connected.

Other words that fall in to the category of filler words include (but are not limited to):


Avoid these at all costs as they will weaken the impact of your message and reduce the chances of the desired call back.

Be Confident

Nothing encourages a immediate deletion of a voicemail more than a voice lacking in confidence and energy. Smile when you talk, stand up, move around if possible. Speak with volume (not shouting) and authority. Prospects can hear your smile, your energy and your excitement.

Be sure that your confidence does not grow beyond that in to arrogance or smugness. Speak slowly enough that the prospect will be able to write down your number the first pass through and not have to listen to the voicemail again.

Time of Day

Take the time of day in to consideration, remembering the goal is to speak to the prospect. If you know they will be available in the morning call then. The best voice mails are the ones you don't have to leave because you reached the prospect on the first call!

Any tips or tricks you use in your prospecting to increase call back rates? Leave them in the comments below.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How is That New Year's Resolution Going?

I have been reading a few things about fear of failure and relapses on resolutions and how most New Years resolutions don't ever last three weeks... sounds like a lot of doom and gloom out there!

This past Monday was allegedly "Blue Monday", the saddest day of the year. Likely because of bad /cold winter weather, holiday bills being due and yes the realization that we have once again failed to make a New Years resolution last in to February.

The key to getting that resolution to stick is to not be defeated by a lapse or two. Regardless of what the resolution is there is usually some element of breaking or forming a habit. Habits do not magically appear or disappear at the stroke of midnight the beginning of a new year, it takes time and it takes practice.

Changing behaviour and habits is a process, one that requires diligence, patience and persistence. Whether it is business behaviour (adding one extra sales call in every day) or personal (going to the gym every weekday morning) it is natural to have set backs as we adjust to the new behaviour and work towards establishing a new habit. Skipping the gym on Tuesday because you are tired does not mean you can't go on Wednesday, and again on Thursday etc,

Think of the first three months as the practice needed to perfect the new habit, but don't use that as an excuse. It is not failure if you miss a few days of your targeted sales calls, unless you give up and stop trying again. Use the practice time of  the first 90 days of 2015 so that you can hit your stride in Q2!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WIIFM? – It Could Increase your CRM Usage and Adoption

WIIFM? – It could increase your CRM usage and adoption

As sales leaders we always coach our front line reps to distinguish themselves and our products, to understand the clients decision making criteria and to customize a solution that aligns with their corporate and personal goals. These personal goals are often referred to as “What’s In It For Me” or WIIFM, and when addressed properly will lead to shorter sales cycles, usually with higher margins.

It is this simple concept that sales leaders often miss or disregard completely when selecting tools like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, believing that tracking activities and documenting opportunities is what will make sales people more successful. This is completely backwards.

Any good CRM (and CRM implementation) will need to take in to account not just the reporting needs of management and executive leadership but also the Sales Force Automation (SFA) and usability for the front line sales people. A seasoned sales veteran once asked me “If I put all of this in to our CRM what is it going to give me back?

It was refreshing to see the WIIFM in action coming from a sales rep, and highlighted the need to understand behavior and decision making drivers. With regards to the question though, in some instances CRM usage is so inadequate the unfortunate answer is “nothing at all”.

What would a sales person want from a CRM? The biggest request I have heard over the years is for a tool that actually helps them sell more, not for a tool that only allows management to review/inspect what they are doing.

Too many CRM’s are selected by sales leadership to enable “greater visibility and reporting” which may allow for analytics that can be used to sharpen marketing efforts to increase sales, but how many marketers at small to mid-sized businesses are actually using CRM analytics today? I would be interested to see some data on that. (Comments below are welcome)

Some of the SFA features that sales people would like include automatic follow-up appointment scheduling, lead creation based on past opportunities (lease term, product life or warranty driven time frames), email campaigns by themes, mobile access (iOS, Android and BB) and  have real time visibility to their person performance and commissions calculations.

If you want your sales teams to be able to sell more they will need the tools you provide them to help them do just that. When selecting a CRM solution for your business did you consult your sales team? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quality vs. Quantity

As a sales leader I am often besieged by my direct reports about the number of calls/appointments/activities they are expected to complete on a daily/weekly basis. I have even read sales playbooks that out line exact metrics, as well as lively debate in a group on LinkedIn. 

The number is too high, the number is unrealistic, is all I want that “number” or do I want “real” data/activities. The real question sales people are asking is “Do you want quality or do you want quantity?”

My answer has always been the same – “Yes!”

The issue should not be how many, it should be how many done well. I want quality and I want quantity, in fact I require them both. What has always perplexed me is why sales people tend to look at this as an “either/or” problem while I look at is as the perfect “and” situation, since quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.

Activities do drive results, no one can argue that. For sales to happen, sales people have to do something and calling on clients is one of those things. Better quality activities will drive better results, I think it is equally difficult to argue against this point also.

Think of sales calls as golf strokes (there will have to be a separate blog post on this idea soon), the fewer the number of calls to get the sale the better your score. Why? Because better calls mean that sales people can make more calls with more clients selling more dollars making more commissions. Quality should never replace quantity, it should magnify it!

How many sales calls are needed to close a sale? More than one? Less than five? There are a lot of variables, I’m interested to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prospecting - It Needs to be a Habit

Recently I overheard a salesperson say “I’d rather clean the office bathrooms than prospect” and it got me thinking about why prospecting has such a bad rap. More importantly why average salespeople procrastinate and find excuses not to prospect.

A sales funnel is a precious thing that too many salespeople take for granted. It is the beginning of the sales process and without a beginning there can be no successful ending. Knowing that why is it that salespeople resist prospecting to start the sales process? Better yet what can salespeople do to make prospecting less painful?

The best way to answer these questions is to examine the habits of serially successful salespeople to understand what they do and how they do it. There is always more than enough in their pipeline every month for them to achieve and over achieve their quota. They understand the importance of adding to their sales funnel and “book” time in their calendar everyday to do quality prospecting.

Prospecting is hard work. Prospecting effectively takes dedication. Prospecting is a requirement for sales success and needs to be a habit.

It is the concept of a structured day that most average salespeople ignore. They intend to prospect for 1 or 2 hours every morning but allow any and all interruptions to distract them from this commitment. Maybe a current client called with a billing issue, or an existing prospect emailed a question about the proposal sent two weeks ago. Whatever the excuse that is all it is, an excuse to not prospect.

Do you put off prospecting for any other activity? Would you rather clean a bathroom than pick up the phone a make a cold call? What do you do to make prospecting more bearable or fun? Feel free to add your comments!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sales and Golf - Success Starts With Preparation

This is a follow up to my post last year titled Why Sales People Love Golf that I posted on my blog You Don't Have to Read This.


I believe there are many similarities between the craft of selling and the game of golf, more than can be detailed in this one post. The best place to start the comparison is with preparation.


Before I step up to the first tee I like to stop by the course driving range and hit a few balls. It allows me to limber up a bit, to loosen the “golf” muscles so to speak. It also helps get me in the right frame of mind, to focus on the golf and not the 10,000 other things I have going on at any moment in time.


After hitting 20 or so shots with various clubs I like to visit the practice green to get a sense of the speed of the greens and complete my preparation process. Before each practice shot I go through my pre-shot routine, just as I will during the round ahead.


I do all this to hopefully eliminate a 50 yard slice off the first tee.


So what does this have to do with sales?


How many times have you made cold calls and stumbled through the first few only to hit your stride after five or so? What if you could have had your A game on the first call? Preparation will help with this.


Rehearse what you will say a few times before you make those first few calls, role play with a colleague or your manager. Everyone can have a different pre-call routine and a different way to warm up before the first call.

Have a pre-call routine that you follow before every call. This will help you start with purpose and focus, and keep you on track if you encounter any challenges.
Do you have a pre-call routine? What do you do before your first cold call to focus and get in the game? I’d love to hear how you plan for your success!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Skill of Listening

Sales people know stuff, lots of stuff. They want their clients to know that they know this stuff, so they tend to talk about the stuff they know. They are experts in their field and believe that if the client knows how much stuff they know, the client will have no choice but to trust their advice and buy from them.

Here’s the issue I have with this overly simple idea. The stuff that is important to the customer is usually unknown to the sales person because they are spending all of their time talking about the stuff that they know. Ironic isn’t it.

I am a firm advocate that the most powerful sales technique a sales person can employ is listening, and the best tools for this is their ears. I have also witnessed many sales calls where the sales person has talked themselves out of a deal.

Multitasking is all the rage these days. We all do it from time to time. I admit that I have sat through conference call or two while clearing out emails. Inside sales people are excellent at adding notes in to a CRM tool while actually on a call with a client. I hope most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. Regardless of the above it is impossible to talk and listen simultaneously.

I remember attending a sales training event many years ago that opened with a questionnaire containing 20 questions. At the top of the page were instructions to read the ENTIRE questionnaire before answering any of the questions. The last question asked us all to answer only questions 2 and 10 – most of us had already answered questions 1 through 19! The purpose of the exercise was to highlight a (possible?) misconception that sales people don’t read.

This is nowhere near as frightening as the possibility that sales people don’t listen. Not wanting to paint all sales people with the same brush, I know there are some very successful people that do a great job listening to their clients. I also know there are a large percentage of sales people that would be just as successful if they listened more. Here are some tips to help you be a better listener:

If you are explaining something and your client starts to ask a question, stop talking IMMEDIATELY and listen.

Chances are that what is about to come out of your customer’s mouth is pretty important, and could help you close the deal. They may even be about to say “I’ll take it!” but as the expert that knows stuff you keep talking about this stuff and say something that causes them to question something else.

Do not finish any sentence or question on behalf of your client.

This is never a good idea in any relationship, especially a business relationship. What you are actually saying to the customer is that you don’t care enough about them to hear them out. What you know about stuff is more important than anything they may know about stuff.  You may finish their sentence correctly but you also may not. Then you miss the opportunity to really learn about their interest in or concern with your offering. Do not assume you know what your customer is thinking.

If your customer asks you something that you do not know the answer to, admit it. Commit to finding the answer by a specific deadline and keep the commitment.

Many times I have seen a sales person answer a question with a bold assumptive answer to a question that they do not know the answer to. Their first assumption is that if the customer wants to know this I should probably know the answer. The second assumption is that if I do not know the answer then I will lose some credibility with the customer.

Sales people, while very knowledgeable, are not expected to know the answers to every question. That is why there are sales managers, product specialists and program managers in many industries. It will add to your credibility when you admit that you do not know the answer and that you have a resource that you will contact and get the answer on their behalf.

Do not, under any circumstance, answer your own question.

If you are going to answer it, why did you even ask it? One of the most uncomfortable situations on any sales call is silence; it is also an incredibly strong tool in its own right. If you ask a question, let the client answer. No hints for them either. If they didn’t understand the question they will eventually admit it, if they have other questions they will ask.

When you let them off the hook by breaking the silence you don’t get to listen to the silence. You don’t get to eventually hear what is on the client’s mind; you lose the advantage of knowing even more stuff, Stuff about the client, their interest and concerns. Not knowing stuff like this is much worse than not knowing stuff about your product.

As we start a new week, month and quarter remember that we all have two ears and only one mouth. We should all listen more and talk less. We will learn more, sell more and earn more.

Happy selling!