Archive for Communication

Make your prospects comfortable

Low-pressure conversationOne of my clients recently talked with me about how challenging himself to make his prospects comfortable has benefited his commercial real estate business.

Not long ago, he was meeting with an acquaintance to look at a very large property. My client talked with his prospect about the building and the surrounding area, but he also shared with his prospect how and why he works with people the way he does.

He told his prospect, “Hey, if any part of this makes you uncomfortable, let me know. I don’t want you to make the wrong decision-I want you to make sure you’re comfortable with the decision you’re making and seeing where that goes.” He gave his prospect total freedom to back out of working with him as a real estate agent and looking at that property in particular.

Instead of choosing to back out of the process, the prospect was comfortable enough that he wanted to work with my client at the end of that conversation.

In most sales conversations, there’s the possibility of discomfort on both sides. You usually can’t know how comfortable or uncomfortable a prospect is without a conversation. When you try to make the prospect comfortable, that changes the interaction.

If you’re sincere when you tell prospect they should choose whoever they’re comfortable with, that’s a huge pressure reliever. You don’t have to be the right choice for every lead you generate.

Personally, I love it when we get hired by churches and nonprofits to work with them, and I encourage them to use language like my client used in his sales interaction. Telling a prospective member that you don’t know if you’re the right church for them, but you’d be happy to help them find the right one if you’re not-that really changes the dynamics of the situation.

If you’re prospecting, you can let someone know up front that you don’t know if the two of you should visit or not. Offer to take 30 seconds to tell them why you’ve called, and then they can let you know what they think. Let the prospect determine whether or not you continue the conversation.

Because ultimately, if they don’t have a pain that you can address, they’re not going to be a good fit for you anyway. Giving the prospect the opportunity to decide whether they want to continue the conversation makes them more comfortable, and can save you time if they really aren’t a good fit.

Others won’t respect your time unless you do

Running lateOne of my clients suggested a meeting from 10-11 AM recently, and his prospect assumed my client was offering to meet up at either time-not that my client was setting the boundaries for an hour-long meeting!

Once you’ve been involved with Sandler for a long time, it becomes very natural to set a meeting time with an end time (say, 11-12) and both people know that’s a one-hour meeting. But outside of Sandler, that can present a communication challenge.

Sometimes we have to change the way we serve information up and be more specific in setting the time.

Another client of mine has a referral partner she meets with frequently. This referral partner is often late, and my client was getting frustrated about it. At their next meeting, he arrived just as she was standing up to leave. Rather than reworking her schedule, she told him that she would love to sit down and have a conversation with him, but she only had a few minutes at that time.

The referral partner called her two days later and apologized! He told her that he wouldn’t be late the next time they met up.

I would encourage you to change the emphasis, if you’re having a consistent timing mismatch for your meetings. Instead of saying, let’s meet from 1:30-2:00, reframe your time-setting. Try something like this:

“You know, I think we’ll need about half an hour for us to adequately address this concern. I’ll block out from 1:30-2:00, and if you can meet me at 1:30, I think we’ll have enough time to cover everything before we have to wrap up at 2:00."

Of course, some people just won’t respect your time as much as their own. But some people may be legitimately reading your suggested meeting times differently than you’ve intended them to.

By being very clear about your time frame, you let both types of late-comers know what your expectations are. Then if you have to cut the meeting short or reschedule, that’s become part of your upfront contract.

You can’t expect other people to respect your time unless you do! Setting clear expectations can help you do that.

Adjust to make your prospect feel OK

Working togetherOne of my clients has been in conversation with a prospect for many months, and there’s been a lot of back and forth between them. After an initial proposal and another, revised, proposal to this prospect, my client finally got a phone call with the decision-maker himself.

He was pressuring my client for a better price. That much was obvious, but my client hadn’t yet been able to uncover why the initial two prices hadn’t worked for this prospect. And he wasn’t going to just keep throwing out lower and lower numbers.

So my client said, “Listen. I understand what you’re trying to accomplish. I want to give you a number that you can use too, but so far, I’ve put out two numbers that are not going to work for you. Instead of just dancing around the topic, help me out. I can’t give you another number unless you let me know what your budget is, and then I can tell you really quickly whether or not we’re going to be able to do business together.”

To my client’s surprise, the prospect opened up and shared his budget! He was not expecting to get that level of transparency with this prospect.

When I debriefed with my client about this encounter, he told me that his instinct would have been to be more aggressive and direct about the fact that the client had avoided giving him his budget.

But instead, he softened his message to make sure his prospect was feeling OK. And because he made the conversation about the prospect-his needs, his budget, even his timeline-the client felt OK enough to share his real budget.

My client adjusted his natural style to accommodate this prospect in their interaction. It’s simple to talk about adapting to your prospect’s communication style, but it’s not easy. It takes practice.

But when done well, it can open up conversations that will surprise you.

A horrible closing technique

Negotiating for carA while back, I held a bootcamp for a large company at their headquarters. I spent Thursday and Friday with sales representatives who sell all across the country, and on Thursday night I heard a story that is a great example of sales gone wrong.

When I speak in front of large groups, I like to ask if anyone has experience selling used cars before I use it as an example. In this group, there were two sales representatives who had worked in used car sales previously.

On Thursday night, we went out to dinner as a group and I happened to sit next to one of the guys who had been a used car salesperson several years before. And during dinner, he shared this story with me. He’d never been able to get over this sales tactic he was taught, and was relieved that the Sandler principles we’d gone over that day were so different.

The man that I talked to worked at a used car lot when he was younger. The owner owned about six or seven of these used car lots, and he worked with a sales trainer that he brought in to train his sales team.

This trainer spent about a day and a half training these sales people, and he told them, “If you want to sell more cars, here’s the best close you can use.” The trainer encouraged them to understand that for most people, buying cars is a pretty emotional experience.

At this point, I’m thinking, okay, this could be going somewhere good.

The trainer told them that if you’re with a prospect who’s wrestling with their decision, here’s what you should tell them: “Hey, I know this is a tough decision, but I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other a bit today. I just wanted to tell you, if you don’t buy this car from me, I won’t be able to feed my kids tomorrow.”

Immediately, I think, NO! That’s a terrible way to treat a prospect. When he finished telling me that story, the sales representative told me that he had a friend who visited that car lot recently, and that’s still the close.

Obviously, that’s the kind of behavior that makes prospects wary of sales people. And while I think that’s a terrible way to do business, it’s important to know that your competition includes all the sales people who use tactics like that.

Those are the kinds of expectations that you need to work around or disprove in order to have real communication with your prospects. Understanding that some of your prospects will have had that experience in their past can help you understand their behavior better when you’re working with them.

Careful with those fighting words!

Fighting wordsThe customer’s always right... Right? That’s great in theory, but it’s not always feasible in practice. Promises made and unkept are worse than promises not made. But not making the unreasonable promises of an angry client or prospect can seem like the makings of a fight!

That’s where Sandler Rule 28 comes in: When under attack, fall back. Falling back can be very appropriate when you’re trying to cool a heated situation.

If a customer is upset with your projected timeline, for example, falling back would look like this:

“Help me understand. If we’re not able to make this shipment within 3 months, we’re probably going to lose you as a customer. Knowing that’s the case, what would you do if you were me?”

It’s hard to stay angry at that. It gets everyone to a more okay place, and it gives the other person an opportunity to give you a suggestion they would be comfortable with.

One of my clients had a meeting scheduled with two team members from another company, to see if it made sense for them to do business together. Their Up-Front Contract stated that only those two team members would be present, but the CEO had other plans.

While the CEO wasn’t initially invited, he had a pretty dominant personality and decided he should attend. So he did. The CEO was very uncomfortable with the industry that my client works in-distrustful, even-but he kept asking technical questions during the meeting.

The answers to those questions required my client to use some industry jargon, and it didn’t go over well. The CEO accused my client of using a lot of words but not saying anything. My client was angry, but didn’t want to lose the rapport he’d already built with the other two team members.

At this point, my client knew he needed to fall back. He told the CEO, “I don’t have a horse in this game. If we aren’t a good fit for you, that’s really okay. I’m happy to explain the technical side to you, but if you don’t want me to, that’s okay.”

The CEO left early. But the other two team members actually tried to sell my client on how he wouldn’t have to deal with the CEO! They still wanted to do business with my client.

When you’re trying to get your needs met, instead of falling back, it’s easy to get defensive and lose bonding and rapport.

But my client wasn’t trying to get his needs met at the expense of this other company. Because he didn’t fight back when the CEO wanted him to, he was able to maintain bonding and rapport with the other two people in the meeting.

Instead of fighting back when you feel under attack, try to make the other person feel okay. You’ll be surprised at what doors will remain open.

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Avoid mismatched expectations

Mismatched expectationsIn Sandler, we have the concept of an up front contract. That’s not a signed document. Rather, it’s a clear agreement regarding how the meeting will go. It’s really about expectations.

Is it easy to have mismatched expectations? Of course! In Sandler, we call that Mutual Mystification. A mutually agreed upon up front contract is designed to avoid that.

Let’s say a roofer is working with a customer. That customer may have an expectation that everything will get done in less than a week, so the roof will be finished, and their house can be sold. That’s an expectation.

The roofer first needs to make sure the customer is comfortable through some good bonding and rapport. But once that’s done, the roofer needs to be sure to set a good up front contract.

There are five areas that an up front contract should cover:

1 – Logistics

This includes things like time, length of meeting, and the location. Be specific! One client of mine scheduled a meeting with a customer in the “conference room.” When the time for the meeting rolled around, my client and his team were waiting in their conference room, while his customer and their team were waiting in their own conference room!

2 – Purpose

Why are you talking? It doesn’t matter if you or the client scheduled the appointment, you both need to know why you’re meeting.

3 – Their Expectations

What does your client or prospect expect to get out of the interaction? This is key to making sure they come out of the meeting with their needs met.

4 – Your Expectations

Of course, you want your needs to be met as well! So you need to be sure that you share your expectations.

5 – Outcome and Next Steps

What do you expect to have accomplished by the end of the interaction? What will the next steps be?

Without an up front contract, it’s easy to have Mutual Mystification. With one, you can set the tone for the meeting and make sure there are no uncertainties.

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Your competition is every other salesperson

SalespeopleIn Sandler, one of the things we talk about frequently is that your competition is every other salesperson your prospect has ever run into. In other words, they have assumptions on how you’ll act based on everyone else in sales they’ve ever run into.

Here are a couple of stories that illustrate the power of that.

A while back, I got an email from a client sharing a story. Everyone at his organization was in one room having a staff meeting, when a salesperson showed up. He walked through their front office, and opened the door to their staff meeting.

“Hey, we’re in the middle of something here,” one of the people shared with him.

“It’s okay,” he responded, “I’m not annoying, I’m a salesperson.” He then proceeded to disrupt their staff meeting with a sales pitch.

Do you think they’ll have a positive image of salespeople in the future, or a negative one?

Here’s another story. A while back I got a voicemail from a company asking for a quote for some sales training. Since I was in meetings all day, it was a couple hours before I actually listened to the voicemail. By that time, I had several emails from them as well, all essentially saying, “Help, we need a quote for a client and we’re in a hurry! Here’s an RFP.”

The RFP didn’t have much information in it, other than a little information about the company-not the company’s name-and the fact that they needed sales training.

I picked up the phone and called the individual back. “Let me see if I can help your client,” I said. “What are they looking to accomplish with the sales training?”

He paused for a moment. “That’s not in the RFP.”

“Okay, how many people will be at the training?”

Again, the person replied, “That’s not in the RFP.”

“How many sessions?”

“That’s not in the RFP.”

“Is there anything in the RFP other than a little bit about their company and that they want a quote for sales training?”

“Nope,” he responded

“Okay,” I said, doing my best to sound confused. “How in the world could I put together a proposals with knowing objectives, number of sessions, location, people...”

Turns out, the three other companies he’d called about sales training had given him a proposal without even talking on the phone with him!

Did the salespeople from those other three companies give him any reason to expect other salespeople to ask intelligent questions? His expectation was that all salespeople jump at the chance to send in a proposal or quote because they’re desperate for the business.

Both groups of people were left with a distinct impression of the salespeople they interacted with. So when you approach them-or others-in a sales role, it becomes part of your job to overcome those impressions, so you can have a real conversation about whether you should work together or not.

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Uncovering expectations with magic!

Magic wandOne of the more powerful techniques we help people learn is how to uncover expectations. We call it the “magic wand” technique. A client shared a great story a while back that helps demonstrate how it works.

The client of mine is a roofer, and he’d received a referral from a realtor he had worked with before. The realtor had him look at a roof, and warned him that the owners were literally moving out that day. The husband had been transferred out of state, and they had just now gotten a buyer for the house.

My client knew it was going to be tight. Usually the whole process of getting an adjuster out to the house, filing the claim, and receiving the check takes a week or two. So usually it’s done several weeks before someone moves out. In this case, most of the family’s possessions were already loaded on the moving truck out front, and they were inside doing touch-up paint work!

As my client talked with the family, he found out they had never replaced a roof before. Not knowing what their expectations were, he immediately thought of the magic wand technique.

He asked them, “If I could wave a magic wand and you ended up with the best possible outcome, what would that look like to you guys?”

They answered, “We have to have this closed before we move into our new house. And if the roof’s not insurable, the buyer’s going to back out of the deal.”

Understanding the situation and their expectations, my client got the ball rolling quickly. He had an adjuster out there first thing the next morning, and got them an estimate and a check that same day. He also got a signed contract for them that day, and his roofing company completed the job just a couple days later.

Later, the family was saying goodbye to their neighbors, when the neighbors asked about the roofing sign in front of their house. “You guys just had your roof replaced?” they asked.

“Yes, we did,” the family responded.

“Wow, that was fast!” the neighbors said. “It’s been years since we’ve had our roof replaced. Think we should talk to your roofer?”

Of course, the family said they should, and went on to rave about what a great job my client had done at meeting and even exceeding their expectations!

You can use that magic wand in a variety of situations to uncover what the best case expectations are when you’re talking to a prospect. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a $20,000 sale like that roof, or a $20 million one. It’s all about putting the focus on the other party and learning what they ideally want to happen. It’s about making the situation comfortable enough that they’re willing to share that with you.

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Getting cell numbers for CEOs

Cell phone on deskOne of the things I often see in salespeople is nervousness about asking people for their contact information. Too often, they accept, “I’ll get back in touch with you,” from their prospects, when they should really take more ownership for the next step.

I’ve got a simple method I use that gets me the right contact information every time. In fact, with CEOs, it’s gotten me their cell number every time but one!

First, let’s look at a situation where one of my clients could have used this method.

A while back, one of my clients got connected with someone through a personal situation, and the subject of business came up. Turns out the person he was talking to was in an industry related to his, and my client wanted to get together to discuss how they might send some referrals to each other.

My client said, “Hey, we should get together for coffee sometime. I’d love to figure out who you know that I should know, and the other way around.”

The other individual responded, “Yeah, that would be great.”

Unfortunately, then my client lost his nerve. He didn’t ask for the other person’s contact info. Given the personal nature of how they got connected, he felt it was too awkward. Eventually, online research turned up some information, but it took my client a decent amount of time to find it. And he still didn’t know for sure if what he found was the other person’s preferred method of contact!

Has something like that ever happened to you? Or maybe you’ve guessed what contact method they wanted you to use, and you ended up playing phone tag.

There’s a simple question that can avoid that: “What’s the best way for me to get in touch with you, so that this doesn’t turn into a long game of phone tag?”

Nobody wants to play phone tag!

I ask CEOs some variation of that question all the time. I’ve only ever had one CEO that didn’t tell me to use his cell phone. All the others gave me their mobile numbers, and many of them even told me to text them on it!

It may seem crazy, but it’s all about permission, and making it about the other person. You need to take ownership of making the next step happen. By asking that simple question, you take responsibility. And that’s how you get the best contact info for people, including cell numbers for CEOs.

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The lesson from buying a condo in Colorado

Skis in snowIf you don’t ask questions and uncover information, you’re missing sales opportunities. A friend of mine saw this first-hand years ago when he was looking for a condo.

My friend and his wife were looking for a condo in a ski resort town in Colorado. They began working with a real estate agent who was supposedly one of the highest producers in the area. The guy spent several weekends driving my friend and his wife around, showing them condos.

The approach he took was definitely a traditional sales approach. He would show them a condo and spout its features and benefits. Of course, he was puzzled when none of the houses caught their attention.

Finally, one weekend my friend attempted to connect with him, and the agent brushed him off. He said, “Sorry, I’ve got another commitment. I can’t help you. You’ll need to work with this other person in my office.”

The “other person” was a much younger, less experienced agent. However, by sheer coincidence, it was someone that had some familiarity with the Sandler selling system. Specifically, he was aware of the concepts of questioning and knew that people buy emotionally.

My friend and his wife spent about 20 minutes with the new agent on the phone. Remember, the other agent had already spent hours driving them around town for several weekends. But in that short phone call, the new agent asked questions and uncovered something the more experienced agent hadn’t.

My friend and his wife had young kids at the time. And it was important to them that wherever they lived, the location made it easy to ski with young kids.

The younger real estate agent knew that some of the neighborhoods have private clubs. The advantage of those clubs is that you can call up and say when you’re going to be there, and they’ll have your gear (and your kids’ gear!) ready for you.

He agent picked my friend and his wife up. Before going to any condos, he took them to a club. He knew that at this particular club, at that time of day, there would be a lot of parents getting their kids ready to go ski.

When my friend and his wife got there, their jaws dropped. “Holy smokes!” they said. “This is what we want!” They turned excitedly to their agent. “Where is the nearest condo?”

They bought the very first condo they saw in that neighborhood. Because it wasn’t about the condo. It was about access to that club.

The first agent didn’t ask many questions. He invested hours and hours driving my friend and his wife around, but he didn’t find out what was really important to them. The younger, less experienced agent invested just 20 minutes in that initial phone call, but spent that whole time asking questions. Then he spent less than a day with them before they made a decision.

Asking questions and knowing that people buy emotionally helped the second agent close a sale that had escaped his more experienced colleague.

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