Silent salesman and bees in bonnets
6 tips for transforming stagnating sales processes
Every salesperson knows this all too well – we did everything right when laying the groundwork. We took all the care we could with new customer acquisition (find the most important tips here), we coordinated our campaigns to maintain existing customers, and we stayed on the case.
But still: No progress is being made. You follow up, and get non-specific, terse statements along the lines of: “No decision’s been made yet. The boss is still thinking about it. We’re busy with exhibition XY at the moment.”
Now it gets tricky. You don’t want to annoy the customer and get on his nerves by sticking at it, but at the same time you can’t risk losing him to a competitor who is more proactive. What to do?
Here are a few tips on how to speed up cases like these:
1. Keep on making contact, no matter what.
Don’t worry, and give them a call. It’s the same with new acquisitions and follow-ups – the initial email / first meeting rarely does the trick. When it comes to new acquisitions via email, 80% of the initial emails are never responded to. And when following up on offers, there is no reply to the first follow-up email in just over 70% of cases. With your second email, you can work on a 30% chance of success. Bottom line: Give up too quickly and you lose out! Be ambitious, let your customers know that you mean business. Prerequisite for this is that you qualify your leads accurately. This means you know for a fact that they have a need and that you will not be wasting your time with them.
2. Make it personal.
If you have inhibitions about sending yet another email asking “Is there any news?”, then there’s a good reason for this. Very few people like being reminded about unfinished business. It gives them a feeling of being on the back foot, of having missed something. You know yourself from experience how unpleasant that can be – but it need not be!
Because as soon as you establish a personal connection, you trigger positive emotions every time you make contact. The following-up part becomes a side show, and the personal contact the main content; there is a small yet incredibly important difference, which we’ll elaborate on using an example:
Your most important contact for a potential sale had postponed all decisions until after his return. You diarised the date. As did many of your colleagues from the competition. What kind of email do you think most of them will send on that day? A standard template. Depending on the size of the company, someone in the secretariat who does not even know the customer personally may send the email. And then customers receive follow-up emails such as these:
a few days ago we sent you an offer.
We look forward to some brief feedback.
To ensure speedy processing, kindly tick the appropriate answer:
_____ The offer is perfect; we could hereby like to place our order.
_____ The offer is in line with our expectations. As soon as we have information on how the project is progressing we will contact you.
_____ Unfortunately the project has been cancelled. I will gladly contact you again with future requests.
_____ The offer does not match our requirements. Please feel free to contact me so that we can work out a solution together.
In all honesty: Would you reply to an email like this? How would you feel? Valued, well advised or tarred with the proverbial brush? And what opinion do you, as the salesperson, have of the customer, if this is the type of email you send him? No. This is not the way to do it. I think we all agree on that.
So be creative, and make it personal. Take the time to consider what this contact likes doing, what you last spoke about and what could interest him. When you last spoke, did he fob you off until he returns from his sailing holiday? Great – that’s the hook right there:
Dear Mr. Bloggs,
we recently agreed that we would make contact again after your holiday. Did you have fair wind and good weather? If I had my way, I’d book a sailing trip right away, but before that we ought to discuss the pending XY offer. Wednesday or Thursday early afternoon would suit me. Can I contact you on either of the two days, at around 3 pm?
In this way, you create a good vibe and you present your counterpart with a choice – but it’s not about whether they want to chat to you, but rather a question of when. This is a popular, well-known, yet extremely effective trick.
3. Use your dummy salesman!
Dummy salesmen are valuable employees. They’re always present, never become pushy, don’t lose their patience (not even after the umpteenth consultation), are never on holiday and do not generate running costs.
Who are they? In bricks and mortar retail, they appear in numerous ways: as a stand-up display, poster, menu, billboard, etc. In the service sector, we’re talking about the offer. It stays with the customer once the sales pitch is over. It represents you until the decision to purchase is made: Your offer can sell – by just leaving it.
In many businesses the offer is a precursor to the delivery note and invoice, which makes total sense as far as merchandise management software logic is concerned. This is why it always looks the same: item numbers, quantities, prices. But unfortunately this does not do justice to the actual sales process and totally neglects the stage in which the customer has an open offer – he has a need, is prepared to make a choice and is considering purchasing your product. Just imagine we are talking about a restaurant. The potential guest with a rumbling tummy is perusing the menu in the window. Will the restaurant solve his problem (hunger) and satisfy his requirements (taste, preferences, etc.)?
If you’re the landlord, it will be pretty obvious that a simple list of ingredients is not going to do the trick: 1 slice of veal, 4 dried mushrooms, 55 g long grain rice, 2 cl cream. It’s so much better to write: Tender escalope of veal in a delicate mushroom sauce served with fragrant Basmati.
After all, the guest at the restaurant is not doing the cooking. In the same way, the customer requiring a software and/or hardware solution is not an IT specialist. It may occasionally be the case, but even then he will ask us to develop a solution that he is unable or unwilling to work out himself. And precisely for this reason, an offer in the IT sector deserves just as much attention as a menu.
Structure the following elements with due diligence:
- Item description: The majority of merchandise management software programs provide a field for a long item descriptions. Use this text box for additional impact to your pitch. Enter meaningful text and use descriptions that clearly indicate the function of the relevant component and what problem it will solve. And don’t hold back when it comes to commending the product: “reliable, award-winning, robust, stable, bestseller, etc.”
- Intro text: Start with an intro text addressing the customer’s requirements (and if that’s not possible, at least do so in a cover letter) before providing the item list. Often it is already enough to exchange a few words adopted from the text module: “Attached please find your offer for Student Residences XY: reliable, robust and legally compliant WLAN for residents and visitors. You will need the following components:”
It is then much more tempting to look through the item list …
4. Fine feathers make more than just fine birds.
You should bear the following in mind with your silent salesman, the offer, and in personal sales discussions: The price must not be listed on its own at the end of an offer.
The human mind always has the strongest recollection of whatever was mentioned last. It is therefore imperative to list the benefit that the customer will derive from purchasing the product immediately after the price: “By investing XY EUR today, you will gain a long-term, reliable and powerful solution that will make guests happy and take the pressure off the reception desk.” This will ensure that the customer remembers the benefits and reduces the likelihood of you having to haggle over the price.
5. Put a bee in your customer’s bonnet.
Do you enjoy reading, are you a movie or video game fan? If so, you’re bound to know the feeling of being completely immersed in a story and forgetting everything else around you. The reason good stories can do this is because the human brain does not distinguish between reality and fiction. They both trigger the same physical reactions and emotions. You can take advantage of this psychological fact by making your customer believe that he has already purchased the product:
“Let’s assume you’re already working with the IACBOX. What would the most important benefits/features be for you?” Or you could also keep it more general: “What would you appreciate most/use most frequently with an IACBOX?”
In this way, you don’t only establish what is most important in the product you’re offering the customer, but you’re also making him visualise it all very clearly.
We human beings get used to things we like very quickly, and once we’ve experienced them we are not so keen to give them up again. Do this and you’ll reinforce purchase propensity and boost your pitch success.
6. Never stand still.
You’ve heard of the Chinese proverb: Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But if the journey is to lead to a destination, it is at least as important that one step always follows the next. Otherwise we come to a standstill – which is obviously the case with a stagnating sales process. This can actually only be due to one of the following three factors:
The next step
1. is not defined.
2. does not have a time limit.
3. requires overcoming a hurdle.
In cases 1 and 2 there is a relatively easy solution. Usually the stagnation is caused by neglect on the part of the salesperson. So always be sure to designate the next step precisely and clearly and to set a fixed time for it:
- „Mr Muller, you’ll be presenting our offer in the next management meeting. I’m looking forward to your feedback.” (you’re already laying the groundwork for a deadline; see below.)
- „Ms Huber, so you’ll download our trial version and integrate your technology. Who is actually responsible for running the test?“ (you’re simultaneously consolidating the company contact.).
Set a time:
- „When is the meeting actually scheduled to end? Please let me know right away how it went. I’ll be happy to give you a call.“
- „I’ll contact you after the trial run.“
Don’t be shy to ask for a date and feedback; do not leave it to arbitrary action on the part of your counterpart. After all, you’ve provided the customer with an offer and taken time to look into his requirements – so you’re fully within your rights to request feedback. If the customer remains vague and does not want to commit to a date, take control: “You’re not meeting until after the holiday season, so that would be in autumn? I’ll be happy to get in touch again at the beginning of September.” And then you diarise the 1st of September.
But is all of this actually worth the effort? If you have qualified your customers accurately, most definitely. Because then you’ll only submit offers if there really is a need. And then one step after the other will bring you closer to your goal and catapult your rate of closing to new heights.
And what about the case 3? That is the topic of another article, you can find here.