“I want to buy from you, but the rest of the committee don’t.”

The words struck fear and dread in my heart. I was expecting to close the biggest sale I’d ever made, but when I called expecting to hear that the PO was on the way, instead I heard:

“I want to buy from you, but the rest of the committee don’t.”

“What committee?” I stammered.

“The other four professors. The rest of the purchasing committee,” came the reply.

“I didn’t know there was a committee,” I blurted out, incredulity infecting my voice.

“Well you never asked. I just assumed you knew.”

This was the first I had heard about any committee. What the heck was I going to do now?

This was back in the early 80’s. At the time, I was working for a company that made extremely sophisticated scientific equipment. One of the instruments they made was something called an X-ray spectrophotometer. This thing attached to an electron microscope, and analyzed the chemical composition of microscopic samples. It cost $134,000, which was a lot of money back then (and still is!).

I had been working on a sale to a professor of metallurgy, at a large university in Vancouver. We’ll call him Dr. Rock. My company’s instrument was fairly new on the market, and had clearly superior technology to the competition – something that Dr. Rock and his technician agreed upon. The company had only installed two of these instruments to date, so it would mean a lot to the company if we made the sale, and it would certainly help my reputation as a salesperson.

I assisted Dr. Rock in writing an RFP, with the specs weighted in our favour, of course. He made his submission for funds, which were approved a couple of months later. To celebrate, I took him out for lunch – a lovely little bistro called the Frog and Peach. That was on a Thursday, and I enquired as to when we might expect a purchase order.  He replied that they would be ratifying the decision by Tuesday of the next week.

As it happened, I had arranged a business trip to Winnipeg that following week. I didn’t want to jeopardize the sale, so I asked Dr. Rock if I should postpone the trip in case he needed me for anything.  He assured me everything was in order, that I needn’t postpone, and that I should phone and check in with him on the Tuesday.

So off I went to Winnipeg on the Sunday night. However, when I awoke on Monday, my instincts were bristling. Something just didn’t feel right, and by lunchtime I was feeling decidedly nervous. I put in a call to Dr. Rock, and was told that he was in a meeting. I called again at the end of the day and managed to reach him. That was when I heard the dreaded words, and discovered that there was a committee involved.

It transpired that the committee was composed of five professors who would all have be using the instrument. Dr. Rock would be the “owner”, but they all wanted to have input into the decision. Dr. Rock had assumed that I had been talking and selling to the other committee members as well. I hadn’t, but my competition apparently had!

Scrambling to think of what I could do to rescue the situation, I asked if he would be able to get the committee together later in the week and stall any decision until then. He promised to give it the old college try (pun intended!).

In the meantime, I called the company manager responsible for the instrument division. Fortunately, I had taken the time to develop a relationship with him, and he made the commitment to fly up to Vancouver, together with his head of engineering, to make a presentation to the committee.

The next morning, Dr. Rock told me he had persuaded the committee to defer the decision until we had the chance to present to them, so long as we could get there that week. I got myself on the next flight back to Vancouver, and my colleagues flew up from Tennessee to meet up with me that evening.

We went in the next day and after two hours of presenting to the committee, they made the decision to go with us. Result! Dr. Rock was happy, the company manager and head of engineering were ecstatic, and I made Salesperson of the Year.

It all turned out well in the end, but there were two very valuable lessons that came out of this experience for me:

  1. Build relationships with your company resources before you need them. I doubt very much that I would have gotten the cooperation I did if I hadn’t already built those relationships.
  2. Just because you are selling to the decision maker, never assume that there won’t be other influencers involved. Always, always, always ask: “Who else will be involved in making this decision with you?” If you do that, you won’t ever have to hear those dreaded words yourself!

When in doubt, don’t go out!

Who’s the worst salesperson who has ever called on you as a customer?

Relating the “Smelly socks sell, sometimes….” story in my last blog reminded me of another incident that ranks as the worst sales call ever made on me. This incident occurred when I was still working in pharmaceutical research in England.

As part of my duties, I was responsible for purchasing the radioactive isotopes my department used in our experiments.  When I first assumed that responsibility, the only source for these isotopes was a government owned facility. Since this was a monopoly, let’s just say that their pricing reflected that, and customer service was, frankly, non-existent.

One day I received a phone call from a German company who produced and sold isotopes, and were looking to gain entry into the UK market. Apparently the European VP of Sales and VP of Marketing were setting up appointments with people like me to discuss the possibility of buying from them. Apart from being fed up with dealing with the government agency, I was pretty impressed that two such senior executives wanted to meet with little old me, so I agreed to see them.

They were very imposing individuals, so much so that to this day, I can still see them in my mind’s eye. Dark business suits, white shirts, conservative ties, highly polished black shoes, very professional demeanours. I felt very shabby next to them in my T-shirt, jeans, and grubby lab coat. If they were unimpressed with me, though, they didn’t show it.

After qualifying my needs, they explained their plans for setting up a UK subsidiary, and that they were in the process of searching for a salesperson to spearhead that effort. They asked me if I would be prepared to meet with that person when they were hired, to which I readily acquiesced. I was looking forward to having a new source for the isotope purchases, and what that would mean for both my budget and my sanity.

Two months later, I received a call from the new salesperson to set up a meeting. Wanting to make a good impression, on the appointed day I got “booted and suited” which in a research laboratory setting meant a collared shirt, a clean pair of jeans, and an unsullied lab coat.

Things did not start well, and didn’t get any better. In fact, they got decidedly worse. About 15 minutes after the time set for our meeting, our receptionist called to announce that the salesperson had arrived, and brought him up to my office. I was absolutely taken aback by his appearance.

He was totally dishevelled. His suit looked like he had slept in it, his shirt and tie were stained, the top button undone, and the tie knot loosened. He looked and smelled like he badly needed a shower. And his breath stank of booze. His speech was slurred, and he could barely stay awake. He had obviously been on a “bender” the night before and looked like he had come straight from the bar.

He didn’t apologize or explain himself, and I didn’t ask. We spent a few very awkward minutes of him attempting to make sense before he mumbled that he didn’t fell well, and excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he hadn’t returned after ten minutes, I went to look for him and learned from the receptionist that he had stumbled past her and left the building without another word.

Now – he may have had a reason for being that way. Maybe his wife had left him the day before, or maybe he was grieving over a loved one who had just passed away. Whatever the reason, I never heard from him or his company again.

Until I went into sales myself, this was merely an amusing story. However, when I began my career in selling, I realized what a valuable lesson I had learned that day. I made a pledge that I would never meet with a prospect or customer unless I looked my best, was well prepared, and was confident that I could make a great impression. That has stood me in good stead, and I have been fortunate to have met with some measure of success. There have been a few occasions, though not many, when I have not felt my best due to illness or some other circumstance, and I have called to re-arrange appointments to avoid jeopardizing my chances of success.

The lesson I learned that day was:  When in doubt, don’t go out!

Smelly socks sell, sometimes…..

Would you buy from a slob?  This was a question recently posted to one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to, and it reminded me of an incident I hadn’t thought about for some time.

It happened 25 years ago when we founded Delaine Consulting. Like many fledgling companies, we initially ran the company from a basement office in our home. This was at a time when fax machines were fast becoming an essential business tool, so we decided we needed one for our business.  Back then, fax machines were around $2,500 for a decent one, and office equipment salespeople actually made sales calls on businesses who were interested in them.

I called a few suppliers and arranged appointments with two salespeople. The first salesperson didn’t keep his appointment, so he lost his chance for my business. The day of the appointment with the second salesperson was a cold and rainy day. When he arrived, he politely removed his shoes when he entered the house, which I thought was a nice gesture. We went down to my office, and he proceeded to qualify our requirements. He did a good job, and recommended a machine he felt would suit us. The price was right, so I made a decision on the spot to give him the business.

This was all well and good, except that as the meeting progressed, I became more and more aware of a strong and foul odour emanating from his vicinity. When he moved his chair closer to my desk to fill out the order form, I realized that the smell was coming from his feet. Although he was otherwise very smartly dressed, there was no mistaking it – his socks stank! And the longer he sat with me, the more unbearable the smell became.

I told him I was in a hurry, and urged him to complete the order form as fast as he could. I gave him a deposit, and ushered him out of the door as soon as I could. Smelly socks or not, he got my business, and although he wouldn’t be taking his shoes off in too many of his sales calls, I did wonder if he might be more successful by starting out each day with a clean pair of socks!

“My wife thinks I’m having an affair!”

This is another anecdote from my work with the company that sells high tech equipment to pharmacies. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. (For a previous anecdote, see: Make a sale – change a life).

I was coaching Geoff, one of their salespeople, and trying to help him make a sale to a pharmacist, whom we’ll call Ross. We sat down to review what Geoff had done so far.

As part of the sales process, Geoff had made contact with Ross two months before, and qualified that he would be a great prospect. Geoff had conducted a demonstration of the equipment for Ross, and had worked through a financial model with him, using the pharmacy’s actual revenue and costs from the previous year. The model showed that, even though the investment in the equipment would be several hundred thousand dollars, Ross could expect to double the pharmacy’s profit within the first year for a significant return on investment (ROI). They agreed to talk again after Ross had a chance to go through the numbers with his accountant.

The deal stalled there (as many of them do at this point), and that’s where I entered the picture. I had just conducted a workshop for the company’s sales team and had arranged individual coaching sessions with each of the salespeople in the week following the workshop.

During the coaching session, Geoff told me that during a previous dialogue, Ross had agreed that the technology was terrific. He could see how the equipment would significantly reduce the amount of time it would take to fill the same number of prescriptions, and that the expected ROI was very exciting, so Geoff was very confident of making the sale. However, the last time they had talked, Ross had still not spoken with his accountant.

Geoff had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Ross in the four weeks since then, so we decided that he would try calling Ross again, and I would observe the call. We discussed a strategy for moving the sale forward, and agreed that we had to find a way to make the purchase more of a priority in Ross’s mind, because the technology and financials weren’t doing it.

Before he made the call I asked Geoff why he thought Ross appeared to be stalling, and his best guess was that the accountant had found an error in the financial model calculations. Geoff and I went over the numbers together, and couldn’t find anything amiss. During the workshop, I had suggested to the salespeople that they focus their prospects on the emotional side of the sale by asking how the purchase of the equipment would impact not just on their business, but also from a personal perspective. I queried Geoff on whether he had asked Ross how the equipment would impact on his personal life.

“No, I didn’t.” Geoff replied.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Let’s call Ross, and if we reach him, you can ask him today.”

“What should I say?”

“How about something like: Ross, the last time we talked, we focused on how the equipment worked and the financial benefits you could expect. What we didn’t do was talk about how this purchase would affect you personally. Do you mind if I ask how this would impact on you personally?”

“Oh no,” Geoff replied. “I couldn’t ask that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It just seems too personal.”

“Do you think Ross would feel it’s too personal?”

“I don’t know. I just feel it would be.”

That struck me as somewhat incongruous. Geoff was a very gregarious person, and didn’t seem the type who would be afraid to ask that kind of question. He had previously told me he had built a great rapport with Ross, so I didn’t feel it would be too intrusive to pose an emotionally directed question.

So I asked Geoff what he had to lose by asking. He was still very unsure, so I counselled him that nothing bad would happen. His house wouldn’t burn down, his arms wouldn’t fall off, and his dog wouldn’t die just because he asked the question. The sale was stalled anyway so he really had nothing to be afraid of.

Geoff took a deep breath, said he would try it, and dialled Ross’s number.

“Geoff! Hey, buddy – how’s it going? Long time no talk.”

“Yeah. I was trying to reach you to see if you’d had a chance to speak with your accountant yet?”

“Gee – no I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to get to it, but it’s just so darn busy around here, I just haven’t had the chance.”

On hearing that, I urged Geoff to ask the personal impact question. To his great credit, he did.  There was a few seconds of silence, during which Geoff looked horrified because he thought he had blown the deal. Then Ross started talking, and didn’t stop for 10 minutes.

He explained that most weeks he worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. He hadn’t taken a vacation in five years, he had a cottage that he hadn’t spent more than a few hours at for over three years, and he had missed most of the important milestones of the last few years of his children’s lives.

“I’m telling you, Geoff, at one point my wife even thought I was having an affair. She came by the store at 11:30 one night just to check that I was actually working. You know, Geoff, I’m realizing more and more just what a toll this business is taking on my life. You really feel this equipment could reduce the time I have to spend here?”

“Absolutely. I can send you the results that other pharmacists have experienced, and I’d be happy to put you in touch with some of those customers so you can ask them yourself.”

“That would be great, Geoff. You know what – why don’t you send me a contract as well at the same time. How soon could you get that out to me?”

“I can courier it this afternoon and you’ll have it in the morning.”

Three days later, Geoff had the signed contract in his hand.

The moral here is that technical specifications and financial benefits aren’t always enough to motivate a prospect to take action. Sometimes you need to focus on the emotional values that the prospect will enjoy from using your product or service. To discover which emotional aspects will be important to a prospect, all you have to do is ask:

“If you go ahead with this, how will it impact on you personally?”

Try it – it works!

Make a sale – change a life!

Let me tell you about one of the best prospectors I ever met. His name is Josef, and he is fearless when he is making prospecting calls. His resilience and tenacity in securing meetings was awesome. Josef worked for a company that sold high tech equipment to pharmacies. The equipment can be a substantial investment, but the pay-offs in extra revenue and in time saved can be substantial.

As part of their approach, the salespeople make phone calls to pharmacies to see if they can generate enough interest for the pharmacy owner to agree to a meeting. With many independent pharmacies, the owner and the pharmacist are one and the same.

Time is at a premium in a busy pharmacy, and this often means that prospecting calls are met with the “I’m too busy to talk!” rebuttal. This is actually music to the salesperson’s ears, since their products are better suited to pharmacies dispensing a large number of prescriptions. Therein lays the dilemma. They want to speak to busy pharmacists, but the busy pharmacists are too busy to speak to them.

We helped the sales team develop and implement opening statements, qualifying templates, and value propositions to garner interest to want to hear more. They worked very well once the salesperson was able to get past the “No time to talk” obstacle. We developed a couple ways to get around this, and they were fairly successful. The best come-back of all, though, was executed by Josef, and I just happened to be listening to a call for coaching purposes when he used it.

Josef’s territory included New York City. As you can imagine, pharmacies in New York tend to be quite busy. He was calling in to one of the prospects he had researched, and asked for Mr. Jones (not his real name), the pharmacy owner.

The following exchange took place:

“Yes, can I help you?”

“Mr. Jones, this is Josef from <xxxxxxxx>.”

Click. Dial tone.

Josef looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I asked him what he was going to do, and he said he was going to call back. Which is exactly what he did. He called and asked for Mr. Jones again.

The second exchange was exactly the same as the first – a hang up.

Josef’s reaction was exactly the same as well. He shrugged and said: “Oh well, third time lucky!”

With that, he dialled again and asked for Mr. Jones yet again. This is what happened:

“Yes, can I help you?”

“Mr. Jones, this is Josef again. Obviously you must have had a good reason for hanging up on me, do you mind if I ask what it was?”

There was a pause, and Mr. Jones barked out: “Look – what is it you want – I’m extremely busy.”

In a calm, measured voice, Josef said: “Actually, I’m calling you to give you your life back.”

“What the heck do you mean by that?”

Josef looked across at me and winked before continuing:  “Obviously you are a very busy person – I wouldn’t be calling you if you weren’t. I’ve talked with a lot of pharmacists over the past couple of years, and one of the biggest complaints that they have is they are working ALL the time, and they have no life. Would you agree with that?”


“Well – that’s why I’m calling. To give you your life back.”

Brilliant. They got into a dialogue, the pharmacist agreed to meet Josef, and it all culminated in the pharmacist investing in the equipment.

What Josef did was incredibly well executed. He understood the overall life changing value of what he was selling, and he wasn’t afraid to use it to generate enough interest in taking things to the next step.

Too many salespeople try to sell using features and specifications alone. But it’s emotion that spurs people into action. Do you know what emotional triggers to use when communicating the value of your products and services? Do you know the challenges your potential customers are facing? Do you know what will impact them to the degree that they will take action on your proposal?

Don’t just sell products – change people’s lives! They will become customers for life.

Try it – it works!

How to leave voice mails that entice prospects to call you back

To paraphrase Shakespeare: “To leave or not to leave, that is the question….” That is the question I posed on a recent discussion of our LinkedIn group: Should we leave a voice mail when calling new prospects, or not?

Interestingly, even though I thought there would be mixed responses, the comments were unanimous:  “Yes”.  However, most of the respondents also said that the voice mail had to be an effective one. Informal polls of salespeople over the years have indicated that most voice mails do not get returned. That, and some of the messages that have been left for me, lead me to conclude that many voice mails are not nearly as effective as they could be. And since you will get voice mail 90% of the time that you dial new prospects, instead of asking: “Should you leave a voice mail?” the question should be: “How can I leave voice mails that get returned?”

Before we discuss how to do that, let’s look at a typical message I received recently (the names have been changed out of respect to the caller!):

“Hi, this is Jill Smith calling from ABC company. I wanted to introduce myself as your new dedicated Account Executive for ABC. We’re a leading blah, blah, blah provider. Our primary differentiator is in our diversity of offerings, with service delivery being a close second. I would like an opportunity to explore how we can also work with your organization moving forward.  I look forward to hearing back from you.”

Now – let me ask you this: How many of you are still awake after reading this? Imagine how it sounded on the phone! How far along would you have allowed this message to get before you deleted it? Personally, I would have deleted before the end of the second sentence – in other words, about 5 seconds into the message. Why? Not because it’s a bad message. It was informational, delivered in a pleasant voice, and it’s nice to know I have a dedicated Account Executive. But unless I happened to be in the market for ABC’s products right now, there’s really no reason for me to call back. And the chances of you making a proactive outbound prospecting call on someone who actually has a recognized need for your product or service at the exact moment you called are slim to none.

Therefore, it’s important to understand that most prospecting calls are not to sell a product or service, but to initiate a relationship, so that when the prospect does have a need for your product, they will contact you. And in initiating relationships, first impressions are very important when you are proactively calling out. If you haven’t spoken to a prospect before, your voice mail will be the first time they hear your voice. So what do you say to generate that great first impression? Let’s look at some principles and practices of voice mail that, if followed, will generate more calls backs.

First, some general rules. Providentially, I received a voice mail this morning before I sat down to write this article that illustrated the points I am about to make. After stating his name and company, this gentleman went on to say: “I have a few questions about the marketing for your website. My number is 555-1212. I hope to hear from you soon.” That was it. Very brief and to the point – much appreciated. He was prepared, with no fumbling for words, no hesitation. Again –much appreciated. However, the message was delivered in such a dull monotone, with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever, and it left me with no idea what he was offering or what value there was in it for me to call him back. Instantly forgettable, and guaranteed not to entice me to call back. In fact, the only reason I remembered what he said was that it was so bad, I wrote down exactly what he said. Except for his name and company which I had already forgotten by the time I reached the end of the message.

Here are the general rules:

  • Be pleasant and cheerful. Nobody wants to talk to a miserable salesperson.
  • Be enthusiastic (but not overly so). If you’re not enthusiastic about your offering, how can you expect the prospect to be? Your tone of voice on the message can have as much bearing on whether you get a call back as the actual content of the message.
  • Be brief. By that, I don’t mean that you should rush through your message. I mean don’t use too many words. People are “time poor” these days, and they have no tolerance for anyone who is deemed to be wasting that time. There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus where Salieri is asked for his opinion of Mozart’s music. After a moment’s consideration, Salieri replies: “Too many notes!” And that’s what’s wrong with many voice mails – too many notes!
  • Be prepared. Know what you are going to say. You can’t afford to wait until the beep to think about what you are going to say. You have about 5 seconds to grab the prospect’s attention, establish your credentials, and make them want to listen to more. That’s it. If you don’t capture their attention by then, you’re toast. Deleted. If you do manage to grab their attention, you have another 10 seconds to communicate your value, and another 5 seconds to conclude the message. Script your voice mail message before you call, memorize it, and rehearse it – but never read it when leaving the message. Also, record yourself and listen to what you are saying. If your message is boring to you, guess how it will sound to the prospect?
  • Be persistent. I never call back on the first voice mail I receive from a stranger. I want to see if the person is really serious about talking to me. Call me three times and I’ll call you back. Oh – and don’t bombard the prospect with a new message every three hours. Leave 3 or 4 days between calls.

Okay. Those are the general rules. Now specifically what do you say? There are five basic steps to an effective voice mail:

1. State your name and company.

2. Establish your credentials.

3. Give them a reason to call back.

4. Suggest a specific time for a call.

5. Repeat your name and give your call back number.


Let’s look at each of the steps in more detail.

1. State your name and company.

Firstly, do you state you name and your company name right up front? I have seen this point debated many times, so let me state my position on this: Of course you do! The voice mail is not a mystery novel, and you have nothing to hide (or at least, you shouldn’t have), so say who you are and where you are calling from.

2. Establish your credentials.

Having stated who you are, you then have 5 seconds to establish your credentials as a professional who should be taken seriously. Please don’t say: “I’m just calling to introduce myself as your new Account Executive….” Having spent three years as a Purchasing Agent in a former life, I have heard those words about one thousand times too many. This is a terrible thing to have done, and I’m not proud of it, but I got so tired of this approach that as soon as I heard those words, I would interrupt and say: “Well, it’s very nice to meet you. Thank you for calling.” Then I would hang up. Just by stating your name and company at the start of your message you have already introduced yourself, so it’s a total waste of time to say that’s why you are calling.

There are several ways you can establish credibility in those first few seconds, and which way you do it will depend on your research and why you are calling. One of the best ways to establish credibility is to reference someone the prospect knows. For example: “I was speaking with Don Smith and he suggested I contact you.”

Another way to establish credibility is to demonstrate you know something of their industry or business. Example: “I talk to a lot of people in your industry and I find that one of the biggest challenges facing them is the shortage of qualified people….”

When it’s applicable, you can refer to a news item or an announcement on their website: “I saw the article about your company bidding for the new subway cars for Toronto, and I…..”

An alternative way to gain credibility is to relate a recent success story: “The reason I’m calling is that we’ve worked with a number of companies similar to yours to help them reduce their operating costs….” Does that sound like a sales pitch? Of course it does! You’re a salesperson, and you’re not fooling anyone by pretending you’re not. Be proud. One note of caution here is that, at this point, it may be dangerous to talk about the prospect’s direct competition. Choose an example of a similar size or type of company, rather than a direct competitor.

So those are some ideas for quickly establishing your professional credentials and getting the prospect’s attention.

3. Give them a reason to call back.

Now what? Now you have to give them a reason to call back. Here’s a hint – if the prospect doesn’t see any value in calling you back, they won’t! Use a strong value statement that lets the prospect know why they should call you back. Another hint – use actual results other customers have seen from using your product or service. For example: “One of our clients experienced a 15% drop in their IT operating costs over the last six months.”

Then let the prospect know you’d like to set up a dialogue to see if they could benefit as well: “I’m wondering if we could help you enjoy a similar reduction in costs”

4. Suggest a specific time for a call between you

“Would you have 5 to 10 minutes for an initial phone dialogue on Thursday morning at 10:15?” Make sure you call at the stated time to further establish your professionalism. People notice these things.

5. Repeat your name and give your call back number.

Now is the time to state your name again (they won’t have remembered it from the first time you said it at the start of the message). Then leave your number – twice. Say it the first time at talking speed, and the second time at writing speed: “Again, my name is Derrick Pick, and my number is 416.752.1107.That’s 416.752.1107. I look forward to hearing from you.”

So, putting all together, it will sound like this (obviously you customize the message to your situation):

“Mr. Smith, this is Derrick Pick calling from Acme Industries. The reason I’m calling is that we helped a company very similar to yours to reduce their operating costs by 15% over the last six months, and I’m wondering if we could help you enjoy a similar reduction in costs. Would you have 5 to 10 minutes for an initial phone dialogue on Thursday morning at 10:15? Again, my name is Derrick Pick, and my number is 416.752.1107. That’s 416.752.1107. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Will this voice mail guarantee you a call back? Of course not. Will it work some of the time? Yes it will. Certainly more times than most of the messages I’ve received over the years.

One last piece of advice: follow up your voice mail with an e-mail stating exactly what you said on your voice mail. The salespeople I work with tell me this generates more call-backs than just leaving voice mail.

Try it – it works!

Boost your prospecting success with LinkedIn

In early 2005, I received an e-mail from Alan Birrell, a client and friend, inviting me to connect with him on LinkedIn. Never having heard of LinkedIn, a number of thoughts ran through my mind as to what Alan was inviting me to do. Was it a gag, some kind of spam, a virus, one of those Facebook-ey types of things? I suppose I could have looked it up on the internet, but that would have taken time and effort.

I didn’t know what to do with the invitation, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know what to do. I didn’t do anything. Actually, I did do one thing – I deleted it, and didn’t give it another thought until about three months later, when the invitation reappeared in my Inbox. Again I deleted it. Then it re-appeared again three months after that. This time I decided to accept the invitation, if only to stop it reappearing again! Of course, I had to set up a LinkedIn account for myself in order to connect with Alan, which I did because there was no charge for it. So I opened my free account, and then, not knowing what else to do with it, let it sit idle, apart from adding a few connections here and there.

Fast forward two years. During a conversation a friend asked me if I was on LinkedIn, and I replied that I was, but that I didn’t do much with it. When he asked why not, I told him I didn’t see much use for it apart from just keeping in touch with people I know. His reply took me by surprise:

“Why not? It’s freaking awesome. Don’t you use the Advanced Search function at least?”

Duh! Use it? I didn’t even know where to find it, let alone use it. My friend made me log on, and then in just a few clicks, he opened up a whole new dimension of prospecting to me. We did a search on VP Sales for IT companies in Toronto, and there were 490 results. 490 new prospects! I was amazed at the power of the program, and what I had been missing out on, and I have been a raving fan of it ever since.

In talking with salespeople, though, I’ve come to realize that while a lot of salespeople have LinkedIn profiles, there are a lot of them who aren’t aware of the full potential of the tool to help them sell. So I thought I would share some of the ways you can harness the power of the tool to help you prospect and sell more effectively (please note – this blog is not an advertisement for LinkedIn, and I am not receiving any payment for this posting! I am only interested in one thing – helping you sell more):

  • First and foremost, you need to make sure your profile is well written and complete, so that it properly showcases your credibility and expertise. The system will help you complete your profile with various prompts. A comprehensive profile will also ensure you appear in more searches.
  • One of the most valuable features of LinkedIn is the “Advanced” button. (Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know where it is – I had to be shown myself. It’s to the right of the People search bar).  This will take you to the Advanced People Search screen where you can perform a targeted search for new prospects by specific geographies, job titles, companies, industry, company size, and more. You will need to upgrade to one of the paid versions to take full advantage of the Advanced search capabilities, but I’d highly recommend it. Upgrading also gives you other privileges such as access to far more profiles during searches than the 100 with the free version. This is worth the upgrade alone. Some of the other benefits of upgrading are that you can see everyone who has viewed your profile, and you get free InMails each month.
  • In the Advanced screen you can also search for 2nd connections to the prospect you are targeting. The search results will show you all of the people that both you and the prospect are connected to. If appropriate, you can then ask the common connection to introduce you to the prospect – either personally or through LinkedIn. Having a common connection also helps you build rapport with the new prospect, since one of the aspects of good rapport is commonality. So it pays to build your network of connections that you can call on for referrals. Be cautious, though, and only invite people to connect with you that you know, and only accept invitations from people you know. Remember that it’s the quality of your connections that counts, not the quantity. And don’t forget to thank the person who referred you, and offer to reciprocate.
  • If you don’t have a 2nd connection to introduce you, you can also use InMail or the Open Link function to contact new prospects, or regular e-mail if you have to. Be respectful, though, and go easy on the sales pitch. Use the opportunity to initiate a relationship and direct the person to your profile. If they like what they see, they’ll reply. You can also follow this basic process to get referred to decision makers.
  • When calling new prospects, have two files open on your computer: the prospect’s company website, and their LinkedIn profile. Not only does the profile show you which connections you have in common, but it also gives you their work history, interests, and group memberships, all of which can give you valuable insight into the person that can help you in gaining access to them, and engaging them in a dialogue.
  • Use the Company search function to find the appropriate contacts for your product or service within a target organization.
  • Check your Network Updates on a regular basis. Whenever I see someone has moved to a new organization or has been promoted, I make it a habit to send a congratulatory message through LinkedIn. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your connections, and it can lead to new business. I recently sent a note of congratulations to a connection who had been promoted to National Sales Manager, and it led directly to a contract for sales training.
  • It’s also great for maintaining existing relationships. Once a month, scroll through your connections and choose five people who you haven’t contacted in a while, and send them a short note to say Hi. I’m currently negotiating a contract with one of the people I sent a note to last month.
  • Once a month, in case you missed them in the network updates, look through your connections for anyone who has recently changed organizations. Contact them after they have been in their new job for a couple of months and enquire about a referral into their new company.

These are just some of the ways that LinkedIn can help you boost your prospecting success. It’s by no means the only tool I use, but it is the one that has helped me the most in growing my business over the past 5 years, and I fully expect will continue to do so in the future.

And I have to give kudos to Alan for having the foresight to recognize how useful LinkedIn could be, and for becoming an early adopter of the technology.  Oh -and thanks for introducing me to it. And thank you to all the Delaine Alumni group members who contributed to our discussion on using LinkedIn. You know who you are.

Try it – it works!

The five trust builders

Trust is the binding force of great relationships. When trust increases, communication is more effective and understanding in enhanced. This leads to greater cooperation and better solutions, especially in sales and customer service situations. Since most people won’t buy from someone they don’t trust, building and maintaining a strong bond of trust is essential for developing long term customer satisfaction and loyalty. Fortunately, it is possible to consciously build trust in a very short time by following five simple trust building principles:

Trust Builder No. 1:  Integrity

Integrity encompasses professionalism, conscientiousness, and above all, honesty. We should never lie to our customers, but we do need to be judicious at times as to what we tell them and how.

For example, I was coaching an inside salesperson for an electrical parts distributor (we’ll call him Mario), and he received an inbound call from one of his customers (whom we’ll call Louie). Louie was calling about one of the distributor’s vendors, a wire manufacturer. This is how the dialogue went:

“Mario – it’s Louie.”

“Louie, my friend – how are you today?”

“I’m good, but I’m trying to get some information about Acme wire. I’ve called them three times in the past week and left messages and I haven’t heard back from them once. What the heck’s going on?”

“Oh – sorry about that, Louie. You should have called me. Those guys at Acme are weasels – they never get back to customers. Even I have a hard time getting information from them sometimes.”

“Is that right? Well, that’s very interesting. Thanks, Mario. You know what? If that’s their attitude, I don’t think I’ll be buying their wire anymore. I’ll call you later.”

With that the call ended, and Louie headed off to buy from the competition. Mario was devastated. He thought he was acting with integrity by telling Louie the truth, which he was. Unfortunately, he completely undermined the integrity of the manufacturer to the point where Louie went and bought from the competition. So, while we should never lie to a customer, we do sometimes need to be careful in how we relate information. As my lawyer once said to me: “Derrick, you should never lie, but there are a hundred ways to tell the truth.”

In Mario’s case, how could he have handled the situation differently to maintain the customer’s trust, not just in himself, but also in the manufacturer? By simply saying: “No problem, Louie – tell me what you need, and I’ll get that information for you and call you back by noon.” Problem solved for Louie, Mario retains control of the situation, and trust is maintained all around.

Trust Builder No. 2:  Competence

Competence is demonstrating to the customer that you have the knowledge and ability to help them. Stay abreast of the latest knowledge of your industry and products. Ask clarifying questions for anything you don’t fully understand. Show that you are a competent listener by repeating information back to customers, and summarizing content at the end of a dialogue. Don’t bluff your way through questions that you don’t know the answers to. Instead tell customers you want to double check the information to make sure you are giving them the right answers.

Trust Builder No. 3:  Empathy

The Harvard Business School once identified “I understand…” as the two most important words in business. Empathy is showing other people that you understand their emotions and problems. It allows you to display a genuine concern for the customer’s welfare, and a sincere commitment to acting in their best self interests. Discover why people are feeling the way they are, and why they need what they are asking for, and do what you can to help them. For more on this topic, see our previous blog: How to turn $5,000 into $8 Million with one simple question.

Trust-builder No.4:  Dependability

Demonstrate that you can be trusted to follow through on your promises. Do what you say you will, when you say you will, and how you say you will. Nothing will break trust faster than breaking a promise, and as Debbie Harry sang in Blondie’s hit Heart of Glass: “Once you mistrust, love’s gone behind.” Don’t just tell customers what they want to hear. Give them realistic expectations as to what will happen to give yourself the best chance to display your dependability.

Trust-builder No. 5:  Likeability

It’s been said many times: “All other things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like.” There are many factors that contribute to how likeable you are as a person, but in the context of relationships with your customers, these factors encompass courtesy, respect, remembering names and key facts, treating each customer as special, and being interested in them and their lives. (Watch for more on this in a future blog).

To sum up, act with integrity, show you are competent, demonstrate empathy, be dependable, and be likeable, and you will build a lasting bond of trust with customers that will ensure they remain loyal to you and your company for the long term.

The five trust builders. Try them – they work!

How to turn $5,000 into $8 Million with one simple question

Here’s the question:   “Why do you need this?”

This simple question helped a salesperson turn a $5,000 opportunity into an $8 Million contract. Too simple? Perhaps, but maybe you’ll think differently about it after I’ve shared the story with you.

I had just spent two days conducting sales training for the inside sales team of a global computer manufacturer. Their job was to support the field salespeople by providing customers with information, quotations, etc. Essentially, the field salespeople treated them as glorified Executive Assistants. In working with this group, however, I believed they could be much more of an asset to the company by taking a proactive role in the sales process than just simply responding to requests from the field. So one of the things we discussed during the training was qualifying, and what questions should be asked in order to ensure customers were investing in the right solutions.

When we finished the training, I headed out on to the sales floor to do some side-by-side coaching with individual salespeople. Round about 3:00 in the afternoon, I landed at Craig’s desk. Craig was a seasoned pro, with over 25 years of sales experience. I asked him what calls he had lined up for me to coach him on that day.

He told me he had just received a request from his field salesperson to provide a quote to a customer for a computer server.  Craig showed me the e-mail from the field person, and the gist of the message was:

This guy called me and left a voice mail. He wants a quote on a server, but didn’t give me any specifications. I haven’t been into this account since they do very little business with us, and I’ve never met him or spoken to him. Could you give him a call and find out what he needs, and send him a quote? Thanks.

I asked Craig how he intended to proceed, and he said:

“Normally I just follow orders from the field person, so I would just call the customer, get the specs, and send him a quote. End of story.”

“Well,” I replied. “Today isn’t a normal day is it? You have me sitting next to you observing everything you’re doing. So what are you going to do differently today that you wouldn’t normally do?”

“I guess I’m going to have to use some of the stuff you’ve been teaching us, aren’t I?”

“That would be nice,” I said. “What specifically are you going to do?”

“Well – I usually wouldn’t ask this, but since you stressed it, I guess I should ask what they are going to be using their new server for, instead of just blindly quoting it.”

“Sure – that would be good.”

I could see that, even with such a simple question, Craig was out of his comfort zone. He was used to following the orders of his field person, and was nervous about trying something new that the field person hadn’t sanctioned. I suggested we rehearse the call first, with me playing the customer.

We rehearsed how the call might go and how he would work the question into the dialogue. I also reminded Craig not to forget to engender cooperation from the customer by first conditioning him that he needed some answers to a few questions.

When I felt Craig was at least somewhat more comfortable, he made the actual call.

“Hi, this is Robert.”

“Robert – this is Craig calling from ……  I’m your Inside Account Manager, and I work with Andrea Jones, the field manager for your account. Andrea told me you had requested a quote for a server so I’m just calling to get some specs so I can send that out to you.”

“Okay….” and then Robert was off and running, relating his needed specs to Craig, which Craig duly started to note down. At this point, I knew if I didn’t intervene, Craig would slip into his established habit of just taking down the required specifications, and then writing up a quote. I gestured to Craig that he should ask the question. First, Craig remembered to preface the question with:

“Robert, to make sure you’re investing in the right solution, do you mind if I get your answers to a couple of quick questions?”

“Sure.” Robert said with a sigh. He was obviously just expecting to be able to give his specs, and get a quote.

“Do you mind if I ask why you need this server? What you will be using it for?”

There was a 2-second pause while Robert weighed up whether or not he should enter into this dialogue with Craig, and then he said: “Do you have half an hour to spare?”

“Absolutely!” Craig replied. He looked over at me with a quizzical look as we both wondered what this was about.

Robert then proceeded to tell Craig the reasons why he needed the server. He had joined his company just a month before. He had been hired to organize and complete a physical move of the company’s data centre from Chicago to San Francisco – a massive undertaking, of which the purchase of the server was merely the first step. Robert shared that the project was much larger in scope than he originally believed, and he admitted that he was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all.

“I really need some help here – can you help me?” he asked plaintively.

Long story short, Craig connected Robert with his Services Division, and Robert ended up contracting out the data centre move to Craig’s company – an $8 Million contract for the firm.

Craig would have been happy that day taking a $5,000 order for the server, and his field person would probably have been happy with that also. They both would have been blissfully ignorant of the massive opportunity that they would have missed out on if it hadn’t been for that one question:

“Why do you need this?”

Try it – it works!

Selling on purpose – Part 2: Forget about yourself completely

Not long after we founded Delaine Consulting, I made a sales call on the CEO of a mid-sized company based just outside of Montreal. To get to the meeting, I flew into Dorval airport and then took a 45-minute cab ride to the prospective client’s office. When I say a cab ride, it was actually one of the most terrifying journeys of my life. Montreal drivers have something of a, shall we say, reckless reputation, but this cab driver was something else! Speeding, changing lanes at whim, it was as if he didn’t care if we got there safely or not – he just wanted to get there as quickly as possible. I braced myself in the seat, and hung on for dear life. I was traumatized by the time we arrived.

After the CEO and I introduced ourselves and were settled in his office, he asked me how the journey was. I started to regale him with the story of my cab ride. After a few minutes, I noticed that his eyes had started to glaze over and he was shifting in his chair. He may have been genuinely interested in my journey when he asked the question, but 10 minutes into the story, his interest was definitely on the wane! Realizing this, and hoping I hadn’t blown the opportunity, I transitioned quickly into my prepared opening statement in order to focus us on business. His attention back on me, the call went well from there, and he became a client.

I’ll never know if I would have blown the sale if I had continued blathering, but I do know this incident taught me a couple of valuable lessons. I already knew the importance of empathy in selling, and how really understanding the customer and their needs helps me provide truly appropriate solutions. What I learned that day though, was that when I am talking, I’m not listening. Zig Ziglar once said that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions. I’ll modify that by saying that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions, and then listening to the answers. And since listening is one of the cornerstones of empathy, if you’re not listening with all your mental acuity, you cannot effectively be building empathy, and that is going to hurt your selling success.

The other lesson I learned that day was to forget about myself completely, and focus my attention entirely on the customer. It is quite natural, of course, to provide an answer when someone asks you a question. And we do like talking about ourselves – it is our favourite subject. However, in a sales situation, when we focus on ourselves and not on the prospect, we run a real risk of leaving the prospect feeling like we really don’t have their best interests at heart. After all, the purpose of qualifying in sales is to gain as much of an understanding of them and their situation as possible. In other words, the customer should be the focus of the dialogue, not the salesperson.

When you focus on the customer, it allows you to build a complete understanding of their situation. You will empathize so deeply with their concerns and problems that you will be able to provide solutions that far outweigh the competition in terms of their value. It may not win you every sale (I don’t know anything that works 100% of the time), but forgetting about yourself completely will certainly make it harder for customers to buy from your competition, and easier to buy from you.

Look for more ways that you can use empathy to help you sell on purpose instead of by accident in future blogs.