Hiring sales people always feels like a pretty straightforward exercise. And really, the job itself seems pretty straightforward as well. But don’t confuse straightforward with easy. It’s not – and if bad practices creep into the sales reps bag it becomes even harder. It never ceases to amaze me the bad practices utilized by many sales reps. Avoiding the sales tactics I’ll discuss below seem like common sense, but these often become habits that I see software, SaaS and hardware sales reps engage in with all too much frequency. Let’s take a look at a few of the most egregious:
Talk more than they listen
This one drives me crazy most of all the items on this list. It also reinforces the unfortunate stereotype of the “fast-talking” salesman. It’s such bad practice that it’s hard to believe anyone would do it. After all, this isn’t the door-to-door salesman trying to pitch his way into your house to sell you a vacuum cleaner (for those of you old enough to remember that fantastic experience!). Technology sales by their very nature demand a consultative, educational approach. The basic approach should start with understanding the problem(s) that your customer needs to solve. This is job one of any type of sales call. To do this, you have to listen more than you talk – at least in the beginning. You may need to provide a basic product intro and you will certainly need to ask some questions. But the goal should always be to get the customer talking as soon and completely as possible about their issues and interests. Only then can you properly educate the customer on the benefits of your product RELATIVE to his or her needs. So please don’t let your reps launch into that 90 minute, PowerPoint-driven monologue at the very beginning of a sales call. Not only will the prospect often be bored to tears, the presentation will likely miss the mark on addressing individual prospect’s needs. Most importantly, it will often cost you money.
I believe that one of the most important attributes in sales is the ability to work as efficiently as possible. .Although many companies go to great lengths to minimize this aspect, to a great extent sales is a “volume business”. Regardless of how well leads are qualified or the sales tactics used, there is still the important component that more sales calls = more sales. So working efficiently is usually critical to the success of an individual sales rep. What does this mean for a rep in actual practice?
- Reps should start the day off on key selling activities as soon as possible; early morning focus on secondary areas can lead to procrastination and a sub-par selling day
- Reps need to prioritize their activities for the day; what’s most important now? Some days that will mean filling the pipeline with new deals; other days closing those deals that are in-progress will take priority
- Your company should do everything possible to qualify and prioritize leads prior to receipt by the reps
- Sales Management should track activity to make sure that those valuable leads are being worked – and in a timely manner
- Reps need to understand when a prospect isn’t ready to buy as soon as possible and cut bait. Yes, that means “take no for an answer” regardless of how this conflicts with the aggressive sales rep stereotype. This is usually the right time to move the prospect to a lead nurturing campaign. What I call “door-to-door marketing” (lead gen/lead nurturing by sales reps) is very expensive and highly inefficient.
Telling everything – or next to nothing – about the product
Above I discussed the importance of not talking too much as well as drawing the prospect interests out by listening. There comes a point in every sales call, however, when a Rep does need to sell the product. When this time comes, the rep better have a good enough grasp of the product to explain how it meets the now-well-understood needs of the prospect. If the requisite amount of product knowledge isn’t there, the sales call will be a failure regardless of what other sales tactics are used. That doesn’t mean that the rep needs to have the deep knowledge of a product engineer, or be able to answer every prospect question flawlessly. Saying “I don’t know but I’ll get you the answer to that by Friday” to some questions is perfectly ok. Answering every question that way is not. So it’s important in the technology business that product training be as prominent as sales training. BS in the tech business is smelled very quickly and credibility lost is not easily regained.
The converse of knowing and saying too little about the -product can be almost as bad. Prospects have jobs too and are very busy. It’s critically important in many sales calls to get right to the points that the prospect is most interested in as quickly as possible. A rep showing off their product knowledge about every software feature or hardware widget detail can be nearly the turnoff that an unknowledgeable rep is. Either way, the prospect’s time is being wasted and your goodwill with them along with it.
Reliance on discounting sales tactics
Of all sales tactics, discounting is usually the go-to crutch of the uneducated or inferior rep. Does this mean that discounting is NEVER appropriate? Definitely not. Maybe your product is truly inferior to the competition, or the list price is way too high for the market segment. Maybe the rep is dealing with an enterprise customer with real buying power who knows how to use it. There are other circumstances as well where discounting makes sense. But a sure sign of trouble is a rep that almost immediately turns to this form of deal-making at the first sign of customer objections. Sometimes you have to just cut price to get a deal, but in most cases there should be an attempt to get something back from the customer to balance the discounting. If you see reps turning to discounting in situations where there appears to be no good reason, it’s time to train or retrain them – or worse.
Follow up too little – or too much
This is a difficult – but extremely important topic when it comes to sales tactics. It should be obvious to anyone with a shred of common sense that a rep should neither want to pester their customer to annoyance, nor leave them waiting and wishing for a follow up call. The key – and difficulty – is judging what lies between these two extremes and “living in that lane”. While it’s impossible to read a prospect’s mind (sometimes at a given point in time they don’t even know what THEY want!), a good sales rep will look for cues and follow them. I believe that this skill is one of the most under-rated in technology sales. It’s as much of an art as it is a science, but here are some best practices for sales reps to consider following in order to maximize the likelihood of a sale:
- Whenever possible, don’t ASSUME. ASK the prospect for an appropriate time-frame to follow up
- Make sure to provide all discussed follow on answers and materials within the agreed upon time-frame
- Become a student of body language and speech tone; these subtle attributes can often be more revealing than polite words
- If in a follow up call the prospect seems annoyed, reduce the frequency of follow up
- If in a follow up call the prospect appears stressed by deadlines which your product can impact, do everything possible to pull follow up activities forward
So there are some pretty strong opinions that I hold on dysfunctional sales tactics and practices that I’d recommend you keep a look out for . Many have experience and opinions on this topic, as sales is such an important activity in EVERY technology company. Please chime in with your own views by leaving a comment below.
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