Guest post Monday and we have Tim Wackel, a leading business speaker known for making sales processes come to life.  Listen up as Tim shares why you need to stop blaming the economy and start moving toward sales success.

Three Tough Questions for Winning More Business in Today’s Soft Market

The experts whisper recession and you can hear the collapse of sales funnels everywhere. Account managers complain about how difficult it is to close business in this slowing economy. This isn’t a big surprise.

Less than half of today’s business-to-business sales professionals have ever weathered a true economic downturn. These folks learned how to sell in the nifty ‘90s which was one of the longest business expansions in U.S. history. Hey, it’s not that hard to hit quota with double digit market returns and huge growth in the number of new jobs. But what should you do when the economy starts to tap the brakes?

Rule one—don’t blame the economy.

Companies still have to buy goods and services no matter what the economy is doing. They may buy different, they may buy less, but they still have to buy. If you can’t convince prospects that what you’re offering is a solid investment with meaningful return, then maybe the problem lies closer to home.

Let’s look at this a different way. The major objection most reps face during slow times is, “I have no money.”  How is that possible? If your customer has no money, then they’re out of business. What they are really saying is, “Your ideas stink.”

What can sales organizations do to close more business in a slowing economy? Start by answering these three questions that will put you back on the path to success. I can’t guarantee that they work for everyone, but I can guarantee that they work.

How much energy are you wasting on insignificant activities?

You’ve probably heard that business will improve if your account managers just make more appointments, increase the number of demos, give more presentations and ramp up their number of cold calls. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with increasing these selling activities; especially if you sell low-value products to one time customers.

But experience tells me that chasing everything that looks like an opportunity keeps account managers busy but it doesn’t make them more effective. They’ll be working hard, but they won’t be working smart. Eventually they will burn out their prospects and themselves – toast for two!

Start today by re-evaluating every opportunity in the pipeline using these three questions. The quality of answers determines the quality of your future business:

Why should this prospect buy—what compelling business reasons have been identified and agreed to?

Why would they buy from your company—does the prospect understand and value your unique differentiators?

Why buy now—what negative consequences will the prospect experience if this opportunity stalls?

Focus your team on the best selling opportunities and invest there. You’ll create more success by investing the right resources into ten solid opportunities than you will by chasing twenty five half-baked leads.

Are you making every conversation count?

Challenge your sales organization to create a list of compelling reasons why decision makers should give them 20 minutes. This list needs to be focused on the real benefits in meeting with the account manager—not the account manager’s motivation in wanting to meet with the decision maker.

I know this is hard work but it’s an exercise that too many sales reps have ignored for too long. Get other members of your organization to participate, brainstorm ideas and scrub them until they are clear and compelling. These ideas are the springboard for getting in front of the right decision makers and motivating them to explore ideas.

Clients should also be impressed with the preparation around each sales interaction. When your team demonstrates that they’ve done their homework, prospects will be more willing to have an open and honest dialogue with them.

When the economy slows down, people get nervous. They don’t want to waste time unless they see potential value and they’re comfortable that your reps aren’t just trying to sell them something.

Encourage your sales professionals to start client conversations with this simple phrase, “In preparing for this meeting I took some time to…” Then simply have them highlight the two or three critical things that they did to prepare and watch what happens to the atmosphere of the call. They’ll blow away the last rep that opened their meeting by announcing that they were just “checking in” to see if anything new was going on.

The goal is to stop trying to educate your customers. They don’t care unless they are engaged. Talking about your company, your products and your reputation will not engage customers. Talk about them, ask about them, provide ideas for them and communicate in terms of them.

Who are you talking about–you or them?

Do you have any questions?

Knowledge is a key ingredient to sales success, especially in a slowing economy. The more your account managers demonstrate knowledge, the more prospects will take time to listen. And the best way to establish expertise is not by pitching features; it’s by asking questions. Questions that can differentiate the value your account managers bring to every call.

Many selling professionals fall into the common trap of asking questions that are self serving. “What does your purchasing process look like?” is a mind numbing, self serving question that doesn’t create new insights. Your customer hears these types of questions every day and they bring zero value to the dialogue.

Instead, ask questions that get customers to stop and think. Ask questions they haven’t been asked before. Ask questions that get the customer to pause and say, “That’s a really good question.”  Here are some simple examples to help jump start your thinking:

“There’s a lot of information that I could share with you, but I’d like to know what your specific goals for this conversation are. What are the most important things you feel we should focus on to make this meeting a valuable use of your time?”

“At the end of the day, what’s going to be the biggest differences between the one representative that will win your business and the 9 others that don’t?”

“What questions need to be asked that no on else is asking you?”

Creating high impact questions takes extra time. But it’s worth every minute. Start investing more time doing research and preparation, less time running from sales call to sales call. I know this contradicts traditional wisdom, but this isn’t a traditional selling environment.

Don’t pick up the phone or walk into the lobby until you’re absolutely ready to engage in a meaningful dialogue. You’re not going to get a second chance in a slowing economy, so make sure every one counts!

Tim Wackel is hired by sales executives who want their teams to be more successful at blowing the number away. Tim’s “no excuses” programs are insightful, engaging and focused on providing real world strategies that salespeople can (and will!) implement right away.

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