Monday, July 21, 2014

The "NEW" Job Interview: What You Need to Know

Everyone has interviewed for a job and thought they "interviewed well."  We've seen interviewing trends come and go - where do you see yourself in five years, what's the greatest asset you'll bring to XYZ Corp, tell me about a time when - and we're on to a new one: the consultation. You are now a consultant giving free development advice to your potential employer.  This trend is growing fast, so get ready for it!

True story: 2 months ago a company with a national presence fired its sales force and decided to start from scratch.  They advertised exclusively for sales managers, in some ads specifying retail, in others B2B, and in still others, inside sales.  They narrowed the field to 10 very experienced and qualified managers, and no salespeople.  Then they ran the interviews.

Each interview was a series of questions by the company to the candidate of how the candidate would run the sales department.  What do you see as the 3 greatest strengths of the product?  What are the top markets would you want to cultivate?  What are the top three strategies you would implement to make your sales staff successful?  When the candidate would ask a question, the company wouldn't answer it.  You're welcome to ask us questions when we're finished.  Why would they do this?

At the end of all the interviews, the company had a list of 30 ideas in each category from qualified professionals; how to position their product in the market, who to target in sales and marketing, and how to develop a strong sales staff.  They had achieved a coup!  Free consulting from some of the best talent in the business!  They developed a sales plan incorporating the best ideas from all of the interviews, and then called back the people who best fit their new plan. They offered each of them a sales job (not management.)  That sales manager job?  They gave that to someone who would agree to implement their new plan.

True story: A medical office looked for an office manager.  They ran an ad.  They narrowed the field to 6.  They asked each of the six a series of management questions, including questions on accounts receivable policy suggestions, staffing solutions, benefits mapping, and more.  They took all of those ideas, had some meetings, and presented the best ideas to their current office manager for implementation.  No one was offered a job.

How does a qualified job seeker handle this new interview trend?  How does anyone break into a new field?  How can you tell if there really is a job?  Easy - don't fight it.  You won't know. Besides trolling for free business consulting, these companies have a good reason to interview in this way.  It shows them quite a bit about your social skills, your industry competence, and your willingness to be pushed around!

When asked these types of questions, I suggest you answer with your best idea, and stop at one. Indicate that you'll be happy to follow up with them at a later date to provide your answers after you've had more time to consider, and hold your ground.  You've done your homework about the company, and you should show it, but you're not a teammate yet.  You're showing skill and competence, and you're also showing you won't be rushed into answers by pressure from anyone.  If you go in and answer every single question with all your best material, you are demonstrating a lot of knowledge, but you're also showing you'll fold a bit under pressure.

Be ready with questions of your own: who will be your manager, what is the specific scope of work, how are certain responsibilities handled and implemented now, is the incumbent in the position doing an effective job and why...  It's important to show interest, and that you can think on your feet without giving away all of your expertise.  Their answers to these questions will tell you a good bit about whether you're a good fit for their position.  Ask them directly if they see you as a good fit for the position, and why.  You'll either get the job, or learn some of your interviewing strengths, or both!  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How To Get Promoted - 3 Simple Steps

In our careers few things feel as good or mean as much as getting a promotion.  We're not talking about a better title - we're talking about different responsibilities, managing staff, and making more money. We love when it happens, but it doesn't seem to happen often enough.  Why?  What is the secret formula for getting promoted?  There's no secret formula, just basic criteria.  Most of us don't understand the criteria most managers use to move people up the ladder.  

1) The Right Priorities - Sometimes it's easy to let our focus become so narrow that all we see is our own task, and we ignore all the other pieces of the process.  This habit will cost you at promotion and review time.  Managers have very specific priorities.  They want the work to come in well done, on time, and under budget.  But there are two priorities even above that: keep customers happy, and keep the team working at its best.  If you can keep the customer service component and the team component in the forefront, you'll be positioning yourself well for good reviews and possible promotion.  Be an asset to your team by exhibiting a good mood, a can-do attitude, and a willingness to help.

2) Prove You Can Do More - Most good management teams try to maximize the efforts of those on their staff, and leave you very little time for going the extra mile.  How do you show you can do more, when you're barely keeping your head above water?  You need to stop drowning and make your time more effective.  Reach out to team members whenever it's reasonable, and look for any time-saving or streamlining techniques they're using.  Streamline your own process wherever possible. Read articles and books about your industry.  Attend seminars out of your own pocket if you can.  The more you know about your industry beyond your own level, the better you'll be at seeing the big picture.  As you learn more, help your team members do a great job.  When management sees that you're the "go to" guy who can fix anything, they'll start grooming you for the next level.

3) Excel In Your Current Position - This is one of the most overlooked steps toward advancement.  If you are so focused on being in the executive suite that you think your own work is beneath you, you've missed the boat.  Managers want you to make their job easier by doing your job well.  If you can do it well, but only do it well sometimes, this is a big red flag for your manager.  The ability to motivate and manage yourself shows your boss you have focus and discipline.  Do your job well, and do it with a great attitude. 

These three steps will help you move up the ladder. Remember, your team is an important part of the process. If you get along with and motivate your colleagues, you'll increase the odds of being promoted to being their boss.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Art of the Probing Question

To fully understand what products and services your client needs, you need to learn about their pain.  What isn’t working?  Why doesn’t it work?  How does that affect their business?  These questions are all about establishing the specific needs of your customer, and bringing those needs to the front of your mind and theirs.  (Make notes of the answers!)  Probing questions should be a major part of every sales call you ever make.  Finding a way to discuss what your client finds to be a problem and then keeping them talking about it is the bread and butter of daily sales work.  It tells you what to sell them.  

The question I get a lot from sales pros is this: How do I work them in without sounding like I'm interrogating the prospect?

Let’s use the example of a vacuum sales pro.  “What’s the dirtiest area in your house?” “Does anyone in your home have allergies?”  “Who uses the vacuum at your home?”  “Do you vacuum the stairs or curtains?”  “Will you be vacuuming hard floors, or carpeting, or both?”  These are all probing questions that will help the salesperson guide the consumer to the right product, while also reminding the shopper of all of the ways they use their vacuum.  It might come off a little abrupt without some polishing.

You need to open the conversation with a warm greeting, and ask about their goals for having a new machine first.  Then you keep the conversation focused on the customer by responding to whatever they say as a person first, and following up with a professional option, second.  

Client: I want to finally get rid of the dog hair in my carpet once and for all!  You: I know! That can be so aggravating!  That's why Acme Corp designed this Pet Defender model.  Pet hair is removed in one pass.  No extra work!  Now you can move on to your next probing question.  You: What kind of dogs do you have?

Focus on the problem.  Every product or service represents a solution to a want or a need.  The right probing questions will lead to a sense of urgency on the buyer’s part.  All probing questions should focus on the pain, or how the solution will be implemented.  What problems has the unmet need caused?  How it will affect their life or business the longer their need goes unmet?  Does this need arise oftenHow long has it been unmet already?  How would it be if the need were met today? 

Sometimes the consumer doesn’t know there is a solution available for a need, so they don’t mention the need.  If our vacuum sales pro doesn’t mention the robot vacuum that cleans floors by itself, how many will he sell?  If he asks how much time people “waste” vacuuming rooms that could “clean themselves,” would he sell more?

Picture your conversational flow like this: Client information>respond like a human, then with a professional option< ask the next probing question. Remember, as the sales pro your job is to provide the best possible solution to the problem or need.  You can't assume the prospect knows what all of their options are, even if they tell you they do!   Ask the right questions, enhance their urgency to buy, and sell them the right solutions.  You're right on target.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Build New Business in 6 Simple Steps

Your New Business pitch needs to have a plan, but not a script. (In some cases, your pitch will have some language you use verbatim in every sale. If you have disclosures, they are usually mandated to include certain language.) Strong outlines and agendas for New Business calls are very effective. Rote-memorized scripts are not. What follows are skills and dynamics to add into your outlines and agendas. Stay in control of the conversation to hit your agenda points, and use these tools to educate, excite, and close your prospect.

Start building a pitch sheet. The goal is to present your product in the context of your prospect's business or life. Each heading below should prompt you to add specific concepts, questions, or phrases to your sheet. From there you can build an agenda of how you’d like your New Business calls to run, and polish some lines for your pitch.

Feature – A feature of a product is something positive and observable or concrete. It will include something that sets your product apart, like “leather seats” or “lightweight.”

Benefit – The way in which the customer’s situation is improved by the product. “Added comfort” or “time-saving” are benefits. They define experiences, not something concrete.

Differential Advantage – The differential advantage is the reason your product is the right choice for your customer, as opposed to other alternatives. Ex: When it comes to rain gear, most of us would like to stay dry, with style and durability for our money. When we’re at Niagara Falls and getting hit with spray from the falls, the flimsy little plastic pullovers at the merchandise stands have the differential advantages of being on site, and inexpensive.

Probing Questions - To fully understand what products and services your client needs, you need to learn about their pain. You need to ask questions. What isn’t working? Why doesn’t it work? How does that affect their business? These questions are all about establishing the specific needs of your customer, and bringing those needs to the front of your mind and theirs. Make notes of the answers. Probing questions should be a major part of every sales call you ever make. Finding a way to discuss what your client finds to be a problem and then keeping them talking about it is the bread and butter of daily sales work. It tells you what to sell them. Depending on your product or service, you may want to set a minimum number of probing questions for each interaction. I always aim for at least three, even on a grip and grin visit, and there is no upper limit.

Focus on the problem/solution equation 
Every product or service represents a solution to a want or a need. Focus less on your product, and more on the needs of the prospect. The right probing questions will lead to a sense of urgency on the buyer’s part. Encourage them to discuss how the solution will be implemented. The answer to any of the following questions can lead you to a solution-implementation conversation. What specific problems has the unmet need caused? How it will affect their life or business the longer their need goes unmet? Does this need arise often? How long has it been unmet already? How would it be if the need were met today?

Goal-setting – What are your prospect’s goals? It doesn’t matter if they seem to relate directly to your product at this point! Understanding what the prospect is working toward will give you more context for how they will make buying decisions. (If your prospect plans to sell their business within 5 years, and your solution will take 8 years to pay for itself, you may not want to emphasize the short term return on investment in your conversation.) Immediate, short term, and long term goals all matter to your current conversation. Of equal importance, they matter to your follow-up visits. Even if your prospect doesn’t buy today, you’ll have a relevant subject to discuss next time you talk – how’s that goal coming along? Remembering their goals (make notes!) and taking an interest makes you an ally, not just a supplier.

These steps will close more new business.  Incidentally, they'll also close more repeat business.  Commit to your agenda before you set foot in the door. Ask your questions, and present your product or service in the context of the client's world.  Help them see how buying from you helps them meet their goals.  You'll build your client base, and have more loyal customers. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To Make More Money In Sales

You're a "natural born salesman," right?  People have said it your whole life.  I’m here to tell you that they don’t exist!  There isn’t one, any more than someone is a natural-born brain surgeon.  Talent will make a good living some of the time.  Effective salesmanship is a group of skills - learned behaviors.  There are folks who are naturally persuasive in conversation.  That doesn’t mean they possess the skills to find new business, close a sale and maintain a customer relationship.  Sales is a combination of technique and creative application of that technique.

What are the magic techniques?  There isn't just one!  Each market is different.  What works in Des Moines definitely doesn't  work in L.A.. What works for everyone is this: read everything!  At least twice a year, buy a sales book, and get learning.  Why?  Because your market is evolving every day, and you need to evolve right along with it.  Each technique you learn is another useful tool in your toolbox.  Relationship selling may be the ticket in your area right now, but will not necessarily work tomorrow.  

Prospecting and closing are the basis for all sales.  Solution selling, challenger selling, trusted advisor selling, SMART selling - each one is a set of disciplines that keeps the customer talking about his needs, and each in a different way. That's the only "trick" in the book.  Keep your prospect talking about the trouble caused by not having their solution or your product.  If your current pitch isn't opening up the conversation, change tactics.  The only way you can do that easily is to have dozens of tools in your toolbox.

Focusing on the buyer's needs does several things: it teaches you how the prospect does business; it shows you what solutions they are shopping for; it demonstrates what solution has failed; if properly handled, it brings up the urgency of the buyer to solve the problem.  Urgency is what tips the scales from conversation to sale.  

If your only tool is a wrench, you'd better hope every prospect is a bolt.  Otherwise, build your toolbox.  Read, role-play, and continually sharpen your skills.  You'll close more business, and make more money!  

(Suggested reading: Zig Ziglar, Paco Underhill, Jeffrey Gitomer, Meridith Elliot Powell, Stephen Schiffman, etc.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Networking: Just Do It!

Networking meetings don't have
to be formal.  Make 'em happen!
Networking – verb.  Any process by which you expand your network of business connections.  Conventions, industry happy hours, and professional organization meetings all can be networking activities.   Charity events like fun runs, community events like parades and festivals, LinkedIn, other social media, and attending events where your target market recreates are also networking opportunities.  Don't attend these events blindly!  Target the connections that will be the most useful to you, and cultivate them.

Cattle-call networking event.  Don't!
Recently some sales professionals have been actively preaching against networking. Bad networking is out there, and a total waste of time.  What is bad networking?  Collecting business cards and shaking hands is not networking.  Don’t bother.  Effective networking brings you prospective, customers, job offers, references, referrals, and a bigger paycheck. 

Good networking is establishing a real connection with another business professional.   Customers can be valuable network members, but the most valuable are frequently folks from outside your customer base.  Inside your industry there are key players, and you want to know them.  Make it a mix of the two.

Networks are a
two-way relationship
Why build a network?  There are many reasons.  Connections in vertical markets can help you learn more about your business, and stay on top of changes in the industry.  Keep track of the competition.  Connections can become advisors,  and mentors on tough days.  They pave the way for introductions to hard-to-reach professionals.  Objectivity and different professional circles make network members effective for each other.  These are people you will make part of your professional life.  You’ll maintain contact with them through occasional emails and phone calls, and build your relationship over time.  Their objectivity will help keep you grounded.  Their professional networks will be resources for you, and yours will be for them.  Remember it's a two-way street!   Be there for them.  You'll often need to prove your value before the relationship truly blossoms.

Network members are often the missing
piece of the puzzle!
When you reach out to a network prospect, you'll treat it like a sales call.  (Having a big network is nice, but having the right network makes you money.  Woo them a little!)  You'll talk about them.  You'll focus on their position in their market, and learn what their goals are.  Helping your network members achieve goals is key to a productive relationship.  You'll make an effort to share articles with them, and connect them to appropriate business people in your world.  Follow them on social media.  Recognize their accomplishments and milestones.  As you demonstrate a genuine interest, you'll be securing their loyalty and their interest in you.   

Cultivate strong relationships with professionals in other industries, too.  Outside your industry, there are movers, shakers, and influencers.  Adding them to your network will help you stay ahead of the curve on local and regional business news.  Beyond keeping you "in the know," there is always someone your clients are looking to meet.  Your network members make great referrals to clients who have needs your company can’t meet.  Based on your personal relationship, your client will receive great service from your network members.  If you supply the name of a terrific plumber, landscaper, and dry cleaner to a new home buyer, your value to that home buyer has just gone way up.  A strong network of competent professionals is helpful in every profession.  Think about the connections that will help your customers, and build them.

A strong professional network also will help you when you need a job.  If you’ve been sending them business, and taking good care of the business they send you, your network will be happy to share the job openings they know of.  They will look at you as a competent professional, and will recommend you as such.