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This is a list of sales questions and answers written and copyrighted by Dave Kahle. New questions and answers are added regularly so check back often. If you are a publisher, feel free to use these in your publication as they appear, or edit them to fit your publication's needs. Make sure that you print and return the publication terms of agreement if you decide to use any portion of the editorial content offered here. Thank you - and enjoy!

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Questions and Answers for Salespeople


Questions and Answers for Managers

NEW ARTICLE

I'm definitely known for having very high expectations that aren't so easy to meet. I wondered if you could elaborate on what strategies you have seen succeed regarding this? Believe me, I understand. It is so easy to look at an issue and think, "I (or we) can do … (some really high performance in that issue)" And, under ideal circumstances, you really could do that! The problem is of course, that rarely does it exist under ideal circumstances. For example, let's say that you determine your sales group could build the business by 25 percent this year. So, you, since you are in the habit of creating high expectations, decide to set a goal of a 25 percent increase in sales for your group. [Read More]

Being a branch manager and having 6 reps and no sales manager, how do you delegate some of their requests back to them without discouraging their efforts? Begin with clear expectations. What you expect the salesperson to do ought not to be a secret, nor a matter for negotiations. Now, before we go too far, let's stop and think about this a bit. One of the biggest time wasters for salespeople is the amount of clerical work that they are often expected to do. These typically include things like looking up prices, sourcing new products, creating quotes, managing price increases, checking on back orders, delivering literature, etc. [Read More]

What is the ideal number of sales representatives that a sales manager should manage? Good question. As is commonly the case, my answer begins with "it depends..." It depends, first, on the type of compensation plan that is used to pay the sales force. I often confront this issue in our work with sales compensation plans. One of my rules is this, "The nature and type of compensation plan directly impacts the quantity of sales management." For example, if you have a 100 percent variable plan, where the salespeople are paid purely on some formula for their results, then you can go with less extensive sales management. The idea is that a well-crafted, 100 percent variable plan will, to some degree, step into the gap and influence the salespeople to manage themselves. In such a case, I can see one sales manager for every 15 - 20 salespeople. [Read More]

I direct a sales force of 15 reps. My pain of getting them to do what I ask has been something that no human being should go through. First of all, we converted them from commission only to base plus commission. In doing so, you can imagine my challenges in moving them from coming and going as they like to getting them to stay on the job eight hours a day and live within the guidelines of a corporate environment. So, where do I start? At times I find myself getting angry and frustrated with them and at times I want to fire them all!

I recently changed companies. The first day I started my new position, I immediately recognized a lack of motivation. In this case, all the salespeople were on commission and were happy with their standing, financially. They quite simply didn't want to achieve more or become more efficient. (no one wanted to strive to be their best.) My sales force seems to be motivated by a day off, more than earning additional money or trying to become an elite sales group.

The lack of pride in their job and the way it gets done is frightening. I have tried to motivate not threaten. I have tried to give incentives, (spiffs and time off for a job well done) and it is taken as I owe them this time and money and not viewed as a reward. What can I do?
I wish I had a dime for every time I fielded a question like this. The question, regardless of the actual words and details of the situation, always boils down to this: "How do I change the behavior of experienced, satisfied salespeople? How do I make them more accountable, and get them to do what we (the company) want them to do, not just what they want to do?" I can empathize with both sides of this issue, as I have been in both the sales and management position. Looking at it from the salesperson's point of view... They have spent years developing relationships and routines with their customers that now pay them adequately. They feel like they have invested a major amount of time in their customers and now they are enjoying the fruits of their labors. And, as long as they are selling, who cares how they do it? Looking at it from management's point of view... [Read More]

We do not want to turn salespeople into collection agents, but there certainly is a role that salespeople can play in the process. Do you have any thoughts? Yes, I do. Like you, I don't want to turn salespeople into collection agents. Let's consider this piece by piece. First, I believe the credit department has the responsibility to ascertain an account's credit worthiness and to provide specific and timely direction to the salespeople. If an account's credit line is reduced, for example, that decision needs to be clearly communicated to the salesperson in a timely fashion so that the salesperson doesn't spend inappropriate time trying to sell to that account. Nobody wants salespeople spending time selling to an account when the company won't accept an order from that account. [Read More]

How can I help an experienced salesperson regain his interest in the job? It sounds like you have someone who is just going through the motions. That can be deadly for the career of a sales person, as well as detrimental to the company. One of the unique challenges of a career in sales arises out of one of the unique fringe benefits of being a salesperson. That is that salespeople have the opportunity to decide what they do with almost every minute of every day. Freedom! [Read More]

I am currently working in a family business. For about ten years sales have been decreasing. I was just appointed as the head of sales. I have several salespeople who have been with the company for 30-40 years. They simply refuse any system or training that shakes even slightly their comfort. They have made it very difficult to make any progress. Even the president has told me "they are untouchable." How can I manage them If you don't feel that level of support, then abandon the plan. If you try and fail because he backs down to the sales people, it will significantly hinder your ability to manage at all. At that point, you, and everyone else, will understand that you are impotent in your ability to manage these people. You might as well resign. If, however, you feel that the president will support you, then you must go ahead with the plans to redesign the sales structure. Since you are changing the structure of the organization, that change impacts everyone, not just these sales people, and is not, therefore, personal..... [Read More]

We are discussing the role of the sales person in collecting bad paying accounts. We don't want to turn the salespeople into collection agents, but we do see a role for them. What are your thoughts? This is one of those questions that come up regularly. It's easy to see why. On one hand, you don't want the sales people to be collection agents. Their time is better spent selling the product. Every collection call they make is one less sales call that could have been made. On the other hand, if the bill isn't paid, the sale isn't really made. And you shouldn't be paying commissions on invoices that aren't paid within a reasonable period of time. So, the salesperson has a vested interest in seeing to it that the customer pays the bill. Otherwise, the commission is forfeited. So, what is a reasonable position that accounts for these conflicting pressures?.... [Read More]

We are intent on revising our decades-old sales compensation plan. Management is divided. One half favors straight commission, and the other doesn't. What are your thoughts?
In my work as a sales consultant, I am routinely involved in helping my clients revise their sales compensation plans. My company, on any day of the week, almost has an open compensation plan project that we are working on for some client. I say that to let you know that I have extensive experience with sales force compensation plans. The ideas that I am going to share with you arise out of this extensive experience.... [Read More]

How often should a sales manager visit the customers? There are a couple of ways to answer the question. From one perspective, you need to have your own relationship with the good customers in your area of responsibility. There are several reasons for that. First of all, you're a boss - part of the company's management. As such, you are perceived to have more power and influence than a salesperson. Your good customers will want to know you, because the relationship with you gives them access to higher levels within your organization. Additionally, many of these customers will tell you things that they won't tell the salesperson.... [Read More]

Dave, I'm wearied by the preponderance of books and business advice by all these sports coaches. What's your opinion? How many different coaches do we need to hear from? What makes these books so popular? Is it another example of our infatuation with sports and the desire to bring that into our own lives? I can understand the fad for sports coaches dolling out success formulas. From the athlete's perspective, the character traits that are developed through successful sports involvement will serve anyone well in the business world. From the point of view of the manager or executive, many of those leadership techniques that make a sports team a winner are techniques that help the team play at their very best. Those are desirable and helpful in the world of business. And, it's been my observation that as kids grow up, those who participate in sports have a much better chance of staying out of trouble and succeeding than do those who refrain from athletic competition. So, on the surface, I can understand, and to some degree, support the fad... [Read More]

Which of these two choices is more likely to result in an effective salesperson:

  1. Hiring someone with technical expertise and training them to become a salesperson,
  2. Hiring someone with sales aptitude, and training them in the product knowledge and technical aspects of the job?
That's simple. I think you are almost always better off hiring someone with sales aptitude and educating them in the technical part of the job. Here's why... ONE: In any population of people, there are far more people with technical aptitude than there are with genuine sales aptitude. So, good sales people are harder to find then good technicians. That's one of the reasons why a good sales person earns more than a good technician. [Read More]

How can we get inside sales to do some proactive sales activities each day? We expect our inside salespeople to use some of their time to shift into the proactive mode to make outbound phone contact to existing and new business. But it is hard for them to do this regularly.
First, how do you get inside sales to be proactive? Answer: You don't. It is far easier to refloat the Titanic than it is to get a group of essentially reactive customer-service-type personalities to change their mode of operation and make proactive phone calls. That's because of the personality of the typical inside/customer service person. Generally, the people who fill these positions are very reactively oriented. By that I mean that if a customer comes to them with a problem, they will knock down walls to fix the problem and help the customer. They are great helpers and problem-fixers. That personality characteristic is one of their strengths, and one of the reasons they are good in that job. [Read More]

How does one stay non-threatening when you sell a distributor who sells customer A. Customer A grows and starts to buy direct from competitors (one step vs two step). How does one start selling direct to Customer A without threatening the distributor?
This is one I can really empathize with, having been on both sides of this issue (distributor and manufacturer) on several occasions. From my experience, the best results come from clear, above-the-board discussions with the distributor. A frank conversation that addresses the issue: This customer is not going to buy from you. In order to save the business, we're going to approach them direct. We're doing you the courtesy of letting you know our plans. That's life.... [Read More]

How do I devise a program from the manufacturer to encourage our dealers to push their sales forces to sell our product instead of some other product, motivate the salesperson to quote our product more frequently in overlapping situations, and appeal to retail users that are taking bids from outside competitors not represented by our distributor?
I think too many of us operate on the assumption that money is the only motivator, whether it is for an employee sales force, or a group of dealer or distributor salespeople. I'm coming to appreciate more and more the power of other kinds of motivators. Let's start there. Don't assume that more money in the deal is going to get you the results you want. What else can you do? The best thing, of course is to have a product that uniquely solves some of the end users' problems, so that you and your dealers are selling a unique solution. While that may be the ideal, it's very rarely the real situation, and most products have competitors which, at least in the mind of some customers, are thought of as equal.... [Read More]

At what point during the superstar building process can management step in and provide support for their sales staff?
First, notice that the question is based on the assumption that there is a superstar building process. Let me refine my understanding of what that means. I'm not sure that it is as cut and dry as this phrase would indicate. Superstar building process implies that you can put someone in the front end of the process, intervene in some ways, and pop out the back end of the process a finished superstar. Sort of like dumping chunks of granite in a machine, and having a reproduction of Michelangelo's David pop out the back end. It's just not that simple.... [Read More]

Dave, I'm interested in what you would recommend for a subscription to a monthly sales magazine and a sales improvement seminar.
As amazing as it sounds, I have come to the conclusion that only about 5% of salespeople ever invest in their own growth and improvement. My understanding of that number has evolved over the years. I used to think it was much higher, but the more experience I gain, the more I'm convinced that it's a rare and unusual salesperson who will actually spend $20.00 or so to improve himself/herself, much less to actually go to a seminar. So, just by asking the question, you have indicated that you are probably in that top percentile of salespeople. And, the fact that you probably will invest in improving yourself means that, over time, you will distance yourself from the pack.... [Read More]

How many sales calls should a salesperson make?
Why do I not know how many sales calls a person should make? Because of all the variables. For example, if you are brand new in your territory, you should make more calls than someone who is well established. If you have a compact geographical area, you should make more calls then someone who has a large, rural area. If you carry 20,000 items, you should make fewer calls then someone who sells three lines. If you sell a non-technical commodity product, you should make more calls then someone selling a highly technical piece of capital equipment. And so it goes.... [Read More]

What would you recommend for goal-setting for sales managers?
I believe a sales manager should be involved in goal setting in two ways. First, the sales manager needs to insure that all of his/her salespeople have well designed goals. Second, the sales manager needs to have a series of goals for his/her own performance and growth. Let me just emphasize that an effective sales manager makes sure that all the salespeople have well done, motivating goals. Now, what about goals for the sales manager, apart from those of his/her group?.... [Read More]

How do you teach unorganized sales people to become organized?
I have come to believe that the best way to do this with salespeople is to have a system that the entire company uses. This system requires the salesperson to maintain files, both hardcopy and electronic, to capture certain customer information, to retain certain documents, etc. By setting up a system that everyone uses, you then can expect each salesperson to use that system. Since there is a specific way to do something, and a specific set of tools to use, that makes it easier to enforce.... [Read More]

We're faced with many of our customers being very slow about paying their bills. What would you suggest?
Have face-to-face conversations with your slow-pay customers, and require your salespeople to do the same. At those meetings, lay out the issue - the company, your customer, is not paying their bills according to your terms. Stress how important it is to you to have the bills paid on time.... [Read More]

Our business has been struggling for the last year or so. Several of my salespeople are just not producing. I'm not sure I can continue to work with them. When do I decide to terminate their employment?
In an ideal world, everyone would succeed, and our biggest problem would be how to acknowledge the real heroes among a group of deserving colleagues. But it is not an ideal world, and every sales manager is, at some point, faced with this decision. At what point do you decide to fire them? This is a very personal decision embedded with emotional ramifications. There are all sorts of individual mitigating factors which influence the answer to this question.... [Read More]

Salespeople should set goals for improving themselves every month. As a sales manager, can you give me a more specific idea of what kind of goals I should be insisting that they develop?
Sure. This is one of my hot buttons. I believe that sales people should be continually focusing on personal development - continuously improving them selves. That means that they should create specific goals, each month, to become better, more competent and more valuable people. These goals articulate an improvement in skills, the acquisition of competencies, the addition of knowledge or the participation in learning events that you would like to achieve this year. I'll explain each.... [Read More]

What are some of the most effective sales force automation tools you have seen?
The options today seem limitless. And there is so much innovation in this area that new solutions appear almost weekly. It seems that by the time you have examined all your options, new ones will have cropped up. There are just too many good options available for me to point out any particular brand of software. I do, however, have some observations to share. Some things I've learned about sales force automation tools include these.... [Read More]

How much responsibility for collections should a salesman have?
Good question. This is one that comes up a regular basis when I'm working with a client to refine their sales compensation plan. It usually is expressed something like this: "Should we deduct old or uncollectible receivables from a salesperson's pay?" There are two sides to this issue. On one hand, there is an argument to be made that a sale is not complete until the money is received. Therefore, a salesperson should be involved in collecting any old or doubtful receivables. Besides, the argument goes, the salesperson is close to the account, knows the people to talk to, and can probably be more effective at collecting than the collections department.... [Read More]

How many appointments or conversations per day or per week should a salesperson make in order to be successful?
More important than the number of sales calls made is the quantity and quality of sales opportunities unearthed. In other words, if you sales person can uncover $1,000,000 worth of viable sales opportunities in five calls a week, more power to him/her. If another makes 25 calls to uncover the $1,000,000, so be it. Figure out what a viable quantity and quality of opportunities per salesperson is, and track those. It's closer to the mark than calls. The number of calls measures the amount of raw activity your salespeople engage in. The quantity and quality of sales opportunities measures a more significant thing -- the amount of worthwhile activities your salespeople engage in..... [Read More]

How do you deal with a difficult customer who owes you money and constantly draws you out by hanging the money he owes you over your head?
It sounds like this customer is taking advantage of you. I suspect that this is not a profitable customer -- you are probably losing money on him. Let's try to sort this out. First, I'm not sure why you are involved in worrying about the money he owes you. I believe that a salesperson ought to help run interference for the company when it comes to collecting money. I also believe that a salesperson has the responsibility to not sell to accounts that he/she knows are in financial difficulty. Having said that, it appears to me, in this situation, that the money he owes you doesn't sound like a sales issue...... [Read More]

I'm finding it difficult to manage my salespeople in our straight commission environment. Any suggestions as to how I can get them to do what I want them to do?
I spent much of my adult life as a salesperson working on 100% commission. I would not have had it any other way. However, as a consultant and sales educator, I'm generally not in favor of 100% commission programs. Here's why: It is difficult to more finely direct a sales force when you pay them 100% commission. You can ask them to do anything, but if it doesn't allow them to make more money right away, it probably won't get done. For example, you can ask your salespeople to prospect for new accounts...... [Read More]


Questions and Answers for Salespeople


NEW ARTICLE Help! I'm so frustrated. I just attended a "sales training" program that never addressed the real issues that I have to deal with every day. What causes me problems is not my lack of sales ability; it is my company's back orders, the lack of responsiveness and competence in my customer service people, the mistakes in delivery by the warehouse. Those are the real issues. What can I do about those things?
Thank you for a " real world" perspective on the real issues that impact the ability of real salespeople to do their jobs. I appreciate you asking the question that so many salespeople are hesitant to ask. Believe me, I understand. For much of my life, I dealt with those same issues. It seemed like my results (and my income) were totally dependent on how well someone else did their jobs - materials management, customer service, delivery, etc. No matter how effective I was, my efforts could be totally sabotaged by a problem in inventory, quality control, warehouse or delivery.... [Read More]

Suppliers to the automotive industry do not accept price increases unless they have zero alternatives. How do we handle this?
I'm sure you are not the only person thinking this way, nor is the automotive industry the only industry that holds this position. We commonly hear from our customers that our prices are too high, and that they won't accept price increases. Now, I'm assuming that the reason you want to increase their price is because your cost has increased. In order to maintain your margins, you have to increase the sales price to proportionately reflect the increase in your cost. .... [Read More]

In regards to personality conflicts with an account, at what point do you walk away and let someone else in your organization try?
Great question. Let me answer in two ways. First, from a purely theoretical perspective, a professional salesperson should be able to build relationships with anyone regardless of the personalities involved. So, from a theoretical point of view the answer would be "never." It is the responsibility of the salesperson to figure out how to sell to every account. There are some selling situations where this "theoretical" position becomes part of the practical expectations for a salesperson. Large geographical territories, for example, don't allow for the option of letting someone else try...... [Read More]

How do you know how far to push a sale without overstepping your bounds and threatening the sale and/or the relationship with the customer?
First, understand that it is OK, every now and then, to overstep your bounds. That helps you understand where the boundaries are. If you never push it to the limit, you'll never know where the limit is. Let me illustrate with an example from my selling career. At one time I sold surgical staplers. I would approach a surgeon in the surgeon's lounge of an operating room suite, demonstrate the staplers, and then ask to accompany the surgeon into surgery where I'd talk him through the application of the instruments. Getting into surgery was the absolute essential step to selling our stuff..... [Read More]

If you dropped the ball with a customer, how can you redeem their trust again?
By "dropped the ball" you can be referring to two different situations. First, it was your company who messed up. Your company didn't fulfill the promises you made. Or, second, it was you. You didn't do what you said you would do, or you somehow personally violated the customer's expectations for you. Regardless, the remedy is similar. You must make a personal, heartfelt and detailed apology, as soon as possible. And you must do that to everyone who is impacted by the problem. If the problem was your company, apologize on behalf of the company. If the problem was you, personally apologize..... [Read More]

How do we get more calls in when driving time is so long?
I'm going to answer this on two levels. First, when you have a big geographical territory with lots of windshield time, you have to do a better job of routing your calls to maximize the time with the customer. Plan your basic itinerary at least a month in advance, and try to schedule your calls in a logical pattern so that you are not driving back and forth. Schedule the longest drives before your first appointment, during lunch, or after your last appointment so that you are using the 8 - 5 selling time to its maximum advantage. Make "ish" appointments. In other words, instead of making the appointment for 10 AM, make it for "10-ish." This gives you a window of about 15 minutes before the appointment to 15 minutes after when you can still be on time...... [Read More]

Mr. Kahle, was there ever a time in your sales life that you just decided to be the best? Or was it something that you have always had? I started a business a few years ago, and need to take it to the next level.
Let's begin by defining the terms. First of all, I rarely compared myself with other people. So, when you use the words "the best" it wasn't that I wanted to achieve more than other people. Instead, I wanted to become the "best" that I was capable of becoming. So, my motivation has always been to make the most of the opportunities and gifts given to me. It was never to be better than someone else. "The best" was never a statement relative to my standing with other people. It always was an internal goal, relative to the situations in which I found myself..... [Read More]

What are your views on dress? Does it matter?
Sure it matters. Everything that you say and do matters. Dress can be a powerful part of your persona. On one hand, how you dress can facilitate your objectives and make you more effective, and on the other, inappropriate dress can present an obstacle to your interaction with customers. Let's get some basics out of the way.... [Read More]

How do we handle an unethical customer? One who says he would do anything to make money on a job, or to get a job?
Fortunately you are not responsible for the ethics, or lack thereof, of your customers. The short term answer is that as long as your customer doesn't encourage you to participate in his greed-at-all-cost philosophy, it's a non-issue. Just make sure that you don't get tempted to sink in the mud with him.... [Read More]

Dave, how can a sales person have a life at night and not be reactive to customers calling at night - seven or eight per night?
I have a hard time imagining why you would need to receive seven or eight calls every night from customers. I think the issue lies in your view of what the job of the salesperson really is, and what strategy best brings success to the salesperson. A lot of sales people view themselves as merely extensions of the company's customer service operations. In other words, they believe that the reason their customers do business with them is because they (the sales person) bends over backwards to respond to every whim of the customer. These salespeople then inadvertently train their customers to call them with every problem and need they have. Many times, many of these calls and problems could and should have been better directed to the company's customer service representatives.... [Read More]

I recently gained an order from a new customer for 10 items. We back ordered four of the ten. My customer is quite upset with me and my company's purchasing agents. Our relationship is strained because of someone in my company's poor performance. What would you do?
Ah. The proverbial backorder problem. What would we talk about if we couldn't complain about backorders? First, let's recognize that the problem is as old as the job of the salesperson, and we will have to deal with this problem until the day we retire. The problem is a result of conflicting pressures. On one hand, your company only has so much money and space, and just can't buy and hold or produce everything in the hopes that someone somewhere will eventually buy it. As a salesperson, however, you want everything available instantly. So someone is always going to be disappointed. Throw in the fact the customer probably doesn't want to pay anything but the lowest possible price for the product, and you can see that there is an inherent tension here. If the customer would be willing to pay twice as much for the product, you company could afford to build huge inventories. But, since that is unlikely to happen, your company needs to control its investment inventory so that the company has a chance of making money. In other words, you are always going to have some backorders!.... [Read More]

I have many customers who refuse to even consider some of my products because the one they have now is working fine and they don't want to even consider changing something that is working well for them. They feel they are opening themselves to potential dangers, problems and nightmares by fixing something that isn't broken. Any suggestion for how to deal with the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude?
This is one that frustrates every sales person. Let's start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes. You've shown him your thing, and it's noticeably better/cheaper than what they are currently using. Or, they won't even take the time to look at your latest and greatest solution. Regardless of where you are at in the sales process, the problem is that you have something better, and they won't budge from using an inferior solution. Why not? Let's analyze the situation. As is almost always the case, the solution becomes really obvious when we have done a good job of analyzing the problem. So, let's consider the reasons why the customer won't budge. Here are the big three.... [Read More]

I find it difficult to stay upbeat and positive all the time. I have a tendency to get down on myself when something goes poorly and then find it hard to look forward to the next sales call. I can't be the only sales person who struggles with this. Can you help?
Thanks for asking a question that the vast majority of sales people don't have the courage to ask. Yep, the situation you described is an occupational hazard. Most salespeople have times when they are hesitant to make the next call or take the next step because they've just be rejected in the last. I think that sales people, in particular, are sensitive to this. Two reasons - first, we face rejection more times in the course of a week than almost any other job title. Second, since we spend so much time alone, we often mentally dwell on our shortcomings and failures much more than the person who works an office or in proximity to other people. So much for the problem. Are there any solutions? Of course..... [Read More]

My company wants me to sell a product that I do not believe is ready. I don't believe it does what they claim it will do. I'm afraid that if I promote it, I'll lose the trust of my customers. Have you ever encountered a situation like this? Any recommendations?
I lived through almost exactly the same situation. In my case, the product was a medical device that didn't do what the company said it would do. Not only were we expected to sell it, we were given quotas and told that our jobs depended on our performance. It bordered on a threat. So, to put it in perspective, I was being asked (more accurately I was being told) to do something that I felt was unethical. I suppose there are several things I could have done:.... [Read More]

I'm one of those salespeople who haven't spent $20.00 this year on a book or seminar to improve myself. I just don't want to go to the trouble. I believe that I can learn sufficiently on the job, and I'm tired of going to school. Should I feel bad?
Now that's an honest question. Should you feel bad? My knee jerk reacting is to say, "Of course." But, on further reflection, it depends on your approach to your job, and on your aspirations for yourself. First, a definition -- "mastery." You achieve "mastery" of any profession when you are in the top 5% of performers in that profession. Pursuit of mastery is the continuous striving to achieve and then to remain in the top 5% of your profession. I believe that every serious professional salesperson ought to strive for mastery...... [Read More]

Recently, as I was cold calling my target list in a new industry, I stumbled on my first serious opportunity. After meeting and gaining commitment from my new prospect, I asked the woman who first tried to screen me, "Why did you pass my call on to your boss?" She said, "You had finesse." That was the first time anyone ever described it that way. I have no idea what that means, nor would I know how to teach that to others. So, my question is, what is finesse? Can it be described and learned, or does one just have to learn it by years of enduring screening gymnastics excellently performed by gum-popping receptionists?
What an insightful and articulate question. Honestly, until this question was asked, I had never thought about it. But, I have now, and here's my response. Finesse, according to the dictionary, is "the ability to handle delicate and difficult situations skillfully and diplomatically -- artfulness." Let's think about this, and try to flesh out a picture of what the person with finesse looks like..... [Read More]

Dave, I have read your comments about the value of entertaining, and I agree with you. But, I have a problem. I still find a percentage of customers who keep me at "arms length." How do I overcome this attitude from the select few of my customers?
I have ideas to share with you on a couple of levels. First, it is possible that you may never create good relationships with a certain percentage of your customers. I'm assuming, of course, that you are not an abrasive, insensitive clod. If you are sincere, professional and committed to developing excellent business relationships, and if you have a modicum of people skills, then you can reasonably expect to successfully build excellent business relationships with most people. There are almost always, however, some customers who won't respond to you because of issues on their side of the equation.... [Read More]

In the last telephone seminar, someone asked about getting past the gatekeeper to find the decision-maker. If the name of the decision maker is known, is there any potential pitfall in stating to the gatekeeper, "This is my name and I am calling for Mr. Johnson," instead of asking, "This is my name, is Mr. Johnson available?"
It is my opinion that if you were to say you were calling for Mr. Johnson, then at least the gatekeeper will be of the opinion that Mr. Johnson is expecting you and that you may indeed get through on this premise. If however you ask if Mr. Johnson is available, then the gatekeeper has to call Mr. Johnson to find out, and if Mr. Johnson is a little busy he is more than likely to say he isn't available - too many choices for Mr. Johnson. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that if sales people make appointments they are more likely to see the person full stop. If you can say to the gatekeeper... [Read More]

How much time should you expect from a customer for an appointment?
This is one of those many questions for which the answer always begins with "It depends." It depends, first of all, if this is a prospect (someone who has not purchased) or a regular customer (someone who buys regularly). Generally speaking, you can expect more time with a customer than with a prospect. It depends, secondly, on the understanding your customer has about the purpose and agenda of the call. For example, if you asked for 60 minutes in order to detail your response to his request for a proposal or a piece of equipment, than you should expect 60 minutes. If you asked for a short period of time to introduce you and your company, than you are probably lucky to get 30 minutes. [Read More]

If the time allowed for a sales call is too short, should you cancel or reschedule?
Good question. To put my answer in perspective, remember that I believe that time is the customer's scarcest asset. They never have enough time. That's why they use voice mail, and gate keepers - to help them get the most out of their days. It is so difficult to actually get face-to-face selling time, that I believe any time should be treasured. [Read More]

In a situation where I have made contact with the decision maker, I have provided samples and prices but it needs to go to the prospects' quality control department. I end up wasting a tremendous amount of time to get one of three answers: No thanks / QC still not done / Yes, I'd like to plan an order. I repeatedly call back and leave voice mail requests for an answer with no response. Any ideas of how I can be more effective in this scenario?
Let's look at the situation from the customer's point of view. He probably has more important things to do than test your product. Your project has become a low-on-the-to-do-list item. He'll get to it when he gets to it. Why isn't it any big deal to him? Because you haven't made it one. In your proposal to him, you haven't hit any sufficiently sensitive and intense hot buttons to motivate him to push the project out of the mode of standard operating procedures... [Read More]

When we get through to the person we want to talk to, we most often hear that they are happy with their current supplier. How can we overcome that?
There are a number of ways to deal with this. Here's one. Let's recognize that the conversation seems to be centered on the wrong issues. When you call for an appointment, the issue is not whether that company should buy from you. The issue is whether or not the person on the other end of the phone should invest 15 - 30 minutes of time with you. You should be selling the appointment, not your company. In other words, focus on giving them a reason to see you. The reason to buy from you will come later... [Read More]

The thing that distinguishes us from our competition is service. How do I make service more tangible to our customers?
Let's put it into perspective. Believe it or not, almost every company I deal with claims to give better service than their competition. Interestingly, if you talk to the competition, they also claim to give better service! So who is right? From my experience - generally neither one. Here's the problem. Nobody seems to be able to clearly define what better service really means. And since the definition is so fuzzy, it's easy to claim to do it better... [Read More]

How do I get to see new prospects who won't return voice mail?
This continues to be one of the most asked-questions I receive. I wish I could provide you with a magic phrase or set of "secret" words that are guaranteed to get the prospect to return your call and grant you an audience. But it is just not that easy. Influencing new prospects to return your call and to invest their time in the speculative venture of seeing another sales person is not a simple thing. And, clearly, it is growing more difficult. There is no one strategy, no simple guaranteed set of tactics that will work magic for you. There are, however, some principals and strategies that will increase the likelihood of you getting an appointment with the elusive prospect.... [Read More]

What is your advise on an account that is asking for pricing that is unreasonable?
That’s easy. Let them know that you have some minimum pricing restrictions, and they are getting your lowest price for the service you are providing. You may be able to work with them if they want to help refine your service. For example, if you deliver the product or service to them, suggest that you may be able to reduce costs if they would pick it up. You may be able to reduce costs if they would pay cash with the order, etc.... [Read More]

How do you go over the person's head without making them angry?
I'm careful about ever going over someone's head in regards to some specific issue. You may win a battle but lose the war. Also, more times than not, the supervisor will support his/her subordinate’s position. So, often, when you go over someone's head, you wind up making two enemies, not just one. Having said that, it is a solid strategy to create relationships with people as high up in the organization as possible.... [Read More]

What do you do with the person that implies they want something, i.e. gifts, to do business?
My personal philosophy is not to provide personal gifts for corporate business. That doesn't mean that I don't occasionally send a gift to one of my clients, but it is more in the form of "thanks for your continued business" than it is an incentive to do more business. There's a fine line between a gift and a bribe. I'd rather be well inside that line by walking away from any piece of business that I thought was tainted.... [Read More]

You stated "Anything else?" as one of your "really good sales questions" I see it as a close-ended question. Is "What else can I do?" as effective, or more or less effective?
I'm sticking with "Anything else?" as a "Really Good Sales Question." Yes, it is a close-ended question, but that doesn't make it bad. There is a time and place for close-ended questions. Remember, "Anything else?" is always used to follow up on some piece of information the customer has given you. Typically, it follows an open-ended question, as in, "Tell me what you look for in a vendor." You generally get one of two answers.... [Read More]

If the time allowed for a sales call is too short, should you cancel or reschedule?
To put my answer in perspective, remember that I believe that time is the customer's scarest asset. They never have enough time. That's why they use voice mail, gate keepers, and set agendas - to help them get the most out of their days. It is so difficult to actually get face-to-face selling time, that I believe any time should be treasured.... [Read More]

How much time should you expect from a customer for an appointment?
This is one of those many questions about sales issues for which the answer always begins with "It depends." It depends, first of all, if this is a prospect (someone who has not purchased) or a regular customer (someone who buys regularly). Generally speaking, you can expect more time with a customer than with a prospect.... [Read More]

I am having trouble coming to terms with constantly calling on customers and potential customers who are not buying. Some say they will call when they need something, and some say that they have no need for my products and services. I am having trouble figuring out how to approach the businesses without becoming a nuisance, and how to justify my presence when they have not contact me for assistance.
I have a number of suggestions for you. First, let's create some realistic expectations. You are always going to be challenged by this situation. It comes with the territory, and is part of almost every salesperson's challenge. There is no magic bullet, nor 25 word pitch that guarantees your customers will suddenly become open and receptive. Instead, there are some techniques that have proven to be effective. Your job is to pick those that seem most appropriate for each customer. Having said that, my first thought has to do with your comment that some say they have no need for your products and services..... [Read More]

How do you provide a solution when selling a commodity?
There are a number of options. First, before you even get to that point, think about calling after you have sent something to the prospect. In other words, the phone call is not the first contact you attempt, but rather follows some other contact. Now, let's say that whether or not you sent something first, you still have made a couple of phone calls, left voice mail messages, and the message is not being returned. What now?.... [Read More]

What's the next step after you have left two or three voice mail messages without receiving a return call?
There are a number of options. First, before you even get to that point, think about calling after you have sent something to the prospect. In other words, the phone call is not the first contact you attempt, but rather follows some other contact. Now, let's say that whether or not you sent something first, you still have made a couple of phone calls, left voice mail messages, and the message is not being returned. What now?.... [Read More]

I'm tired of my customers always trying to get a lower price. Anything I can do?
No one wants to pay more for something when there is a possibility that it is available at a lower price. That's true for your customers as well. They wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't ask for a lower price. So, don't be surprised if they ask for a lower price. Be surprised if they don't! That said, the real question is, What can you do to insure that you get the business at a decent price?.... [Read More]

You've said on several occasions that the most important part of my job is interacting with the customers. How important is it to spend time with the customers out of the office, and what percentage of time should I spend doing it?
The amount of time and money you spend entertaining customers, or spending time with them outside of the office, depends on the value of the account. The larger the annual dollar potential, the more time you should seek to spend with the customer on a personal level. For example, if you sell water softeners to homeowners at $1,000 each, you probably should not ever invest in entertaining. On the other hand..... [Read More]

In your recent phone seminar on handling objections, you talked about using "Proof" like letters of recommendation and testimonials. How do you get them?
The short answer is that you ask for them. That's overly simple, however. It's a bit more complicated than that. First, make sure that your customers are satisfied with the product or service you sold them. So, shortly after experiencing your product, call for an appointment and visit the customer..... [Read More]

How do you handle a customer who talks all the time?
There is an easy solution. Politely interrupt with a question. The question should direct the customer to the subject that you want to explore. When you ask a question, you direct the customer's thinking, interrupt his train of thought, and move him to think and then respond to your direction. Here's an example. Let's say your customer started in on last night's football game, and has been going on for seven or eight minutes..... [Read More]

How do you make in-roads with a prospect who is happy with another supplier, who is providing a similar product at a lower price? Product is lower quality, but perceived as the same.
It's OK to make a cold-blooded business decision not to pursue some accounts and some business. Assuming, of course, that your manager agrees. This is a situation that will take a lot of your time, and your success is certainly not assured. So, first decide if your time is best invested in this account or some place else. Let's assume that you have decided that the potential is worth the time, or that your manager has directed you to hang in there on this account. Now what?..... [Read More]

Sales are down, operating expenses are up, management is crying that sales expenses are up. What should a salesperson do in such a situation?
Work on keeping your attitude positive. A positive attitude for a salesperson is more than just a warm and fuzzy thing. It has very real, practical value. When you have a positive attitude, you look for opportunities and good things to happen. Since you are expecting them and looking for them, you see them. If your attitude is negative and pessimistic, you don't expect opportunities to present themselves. Since you don't expect them, you don't see them when they develop. As a result, you pass over opportunities, and your negative attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy...... [Read More]

I've heard you mention several times the importance of prioritize and targeting customers. Can you shed some more light on this?
I believe it is one of the ways to make the biggest, most rapid change in your results. Too much good quality sales times and talent is squandered on customers that aren't worth the investment. If I can help salespeople adjust their investment in time so that they are spending more time on the high potential and less time on others, they'll see an almost immediate improvement in results. I have developed a simple but incredibly powerful system for prioritizing and targeting accounts.... [Read More]

How do I insure that I get the last look in a competitive bid situation?
This is a question that I'm often asked. In a lot of industries, particularly those involved in construction, government purchases and large-volume manufacturing, most of the customers require an official bid. It's not unusual for these to be highly formal and structured. Here's a typical scenario. The customer sends a bid to five suppliers, and each responds with a written document by a certain specified date. The customer reviews the bids, and awards the business..... [Read More]

Occasionally, customers may say they have seen or received a lower price for the same product in order to receive better pricing from us. How would you handle that type of call?
You mean this only happens occasionally? I'll bet thousands of my readers see it frequently. Regardless, there are a number of things you can do. First, assess the validity of the customer's comment. Your question says that your customers "may say..." That implies that sometimes, at least, you think they are just saying it, and not meaning it. So, you have to determine the likelihood that they really have seen the same thing at a lower price. If you think they are just making it up, and they really don't have a lower-price option, then just diplomatically ignore it. Say something like this, "I really don't know what else is available, but I do know that this is a fair price. Should I send you one or two?"..... [Read More]

What do I do when my goals don't match the company's goals for me?
I can look at this is in two ways - expressing two different situations. In the first, there is a legitimate difference in the expectations for a salesperson, but a basic agreement on the issues to be focused on, as well as the values of the organization. In the second, there is a deeper and more significant difference of opinion. Let's consider each separately. In the first scenario, the salesperson and the company differ on the degree of what is possible. The salesperson expects a 10% increase, while the company thinks 15% is reasonable. Both agree that sales growth is reasonable, but the amount of growth is the issue. What do you, the salesperson, do in this case.... [Read More]

Here's a common problem we have. When we get the people with whom we want to talk on the phone, they say, "Oh, we're really busy at the moment. Could I give you a call back?" They rarely call back.
I'm sure it is frustrating waiting around the phone for them to call back. Here's a suggestion. You may try to turn this comment into a specific appointment for a phone call. In other words, when you hear that comment, you could say, "Sure. Just to make sure that we don't waste each other's time.... [Read More]

Dave, on several occasions you have said that our customers want us to understand their business. How do we do that when we call on lots of different types of businesses? How do we become experts in everything?
You prioritize your prospects and customers, focusing your best efforts on a smaller number of customers who you decide are the highest potential customers. So, you decide that while you cannot become experts in every customer, you can become an expert in a few. This requires you to demote some customers so that you can promote others. Choose those others well.... [Read More]

In most months our company keeps approximately 92% to 96% of the total revenue I bring in. I'd like to know your thoughts on this kind of pay plan.
Over the years, I've developed some criteria for evaluating a compensation plan. Here's one of them: A good compensation plan should be a win-win plan. That means, good for the salesperson and good for the company. From the salesperson's perspective, that means that the compensation plan should be competitive with others in the market, that it should fairly compensate them, and that it should financially reward exceptional performance...... [Read More]

 

 
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